Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What I Wish I Said to the Mom Who Approached Me After Mass

A few years ago, a woman I had never seen at church before approached me after Mass.  She had a toddler with her, and because there are very few other children that attend the Mass we do, I was pretty sure it was the toddler I heard during Mass.  I had a toddler of my own at my side, a baby in my arms, and two older kids off somewhere else (I think this was around the time the boys were infatuated with the confessional, so probably there).  

While my children are not always fabulous at Mass, they had been exceptionally good that day.  As the woman neared me, for a split second I wished my kids hadn't been so good that day.  She was coming toward me with a pleading look in her eye, and I didn't want to be on the Perfect-Mass-Family pedestal (I know it exists because I've put other families up there myself.)  She's going to ask me for advice.  She's going to want to know how we do it.  She's going to ask me... how do you get your toddler to behave at Mass?  Please don't ask me.  Please don't ask me.  Please don't ask me.  I don't know the answer.  I don't know!

I didn't know the answer to her question, but she asked it anyway.  How do you get your kids to behave at church?  She had struggled through Mass with a toddler as I had struggled before.  We had not done anything different that particular Sunday; there was no discernible reason whatsoever that my children had behaved so well at Mass that morning as opposed to any other Sunday morning.  So when she asked me how I did it, I stumbled over my words, admitted that taking kids to Mass is hard, agreed that taking toddlers to Mass might actually be a form of cruel and unusual punishment according to the eight amendment, and that I'm sorry, but I really don't have any advice for you.  

I mean, we do stuff to increase our chances of success... We bring religious picture books for our kids to look at.  We've allowed some of our babies to eat Cheerios in Mass.  We let our babies and toddlers crawl on the floor and on the pews.  We usually attend Mass with my parents so there's often a favorable ratio of adults to kids.  We take restless babies to the back to walk around (our church doesn't have a cry room so that's never been a thing for us.)  We have rules for the older kids on what's expected of them. We often bribe encourage good Mass behavior and participation with the promise of donuts.  We celebrate with donuts when deserved ;)   But none of these ensure good behavior from our children at Mass.  None of these guarantee that we won't make a spectacle.  And in no uncertain terms do they make it more likely that our children will grow up to be  pious daily communicants.  There are no guarantees.  

I didn't offer any of these suggestions to the woman who asked me how do you do it.  But in the pressure of the moment, I didn't give her my best answer either.  Since that day, I've often thought about what I wish I said to her.  If I could go back, I would tell her the two things I tell myself when confronted with kid-related struggles at Mass...  Keep bringing your kids even when it's difficult and Don't let your children's behavior be the measure of the Mass. 

That's all I've got.  But, it's the advice I take to heart when considering my own family and instructing my own children in the proper behavior, participation, and appreciation of the Mass.

Keep bringing your kids!  Try all the different strategies once you get there (books, coloring, snacks, rules, rewards, etc...) but keep bringing them!  Mass with toddlers is hard, hard, hard, but the Mass is so important that it trumps the toddler's difficult-ness.  Perhaps more to the point, kids will understand (maybe subconsciously, at first) that what we are doing is important because we continue to do it even though they make a spectacle, even though they throw a tantrum during the Consecration, even though they run out into the center aisle to confront the priest during the recessional, even though they swallowed the gum stuck under the kneeler.   I feel like I need to insert an inspirational poster here with a quote about perseverance and with a picture of a rock climber hanging by his fingertips in the middle of a cliff, because to be honest, Mass with a toddler often feels like how that cliff-hanger looks.  But I believe it truly is our perseverance in the face of the struggle that will impress on young hearts the significance of what we're doing.  Have you ever felt like attending Mass with your kids is a power struggle?  Go with it!  We will not let go or give in or surrender no matter what you throw at us!**  That's how important this is.  

Keep bringing your kids, but don't let their behavior become the focus of the Mass.  I never really have to convince myself to bring my kids to Mass - we've always done it; I don't have to rev myself up for it.  But I do  have to occasionally remind myself of the second part of my advice.  A couple years ago I remember spending an entire Mass watching my kids' behavior and participation to see what they got right and what they did wrong so that I could review it all with them blow by blow after the fact.  I didn't really attend Mass that day.  What I did was convey to my children that their behavior was more important than what was happening on the altar - the Scripture readings and homily, the communal prayers, the Consecration and Eucharist.  Now during Mass I periodically glance at my older children to see if they're paying attention and participating, or to gently pat them to remind them not to slouch, or to put my arm around the toddler as a reminder not to test out a twirly skirt in the pew... but I still occasionally catch myself playing hawk-eye and have to remind myself that the measure of the Mass is not how well my children did. We are not there so that they can have perfect behavior.  We are there to be in the presence of the Lord and to take part in the Eucharist, the "source and summit" of the Christian life.  That's more important than monitoring every little twitch and twirl and giggle.  And they will only learn that if they witness it.  

As parents, we still have a responsibility to instruct our children in age-appropriate Mass behavior.  It's our task to help form them so that eventually their behavior flows from their understanding and appreciation of the Mass.  But all the rules, and tips, and tricks, and  Cheerios and picture Bibles and Missals for young people won't help if we don't convey the unshakable import of the Mass by our committed attendance and our righteous attentiveness.  Providing our children with the witness of our holy commitment, devotion, and attention, gives them the best foundation for imitating and eventually owning proper behavior, reverence, and participation at Mass.  

I wish I could go back and look that fellow mom deep in the eye and smile and confidently say to her, You're doing great.  You're here!   And you brought your daughter and I know that's hard.  It's half the battle.  And you did it.  It's not always perfect, and you may not be the image of the pious family on the parish brochures, but you've done the important thing.  Stick with it!  

**The power struggle is real, and I realize that there seriously are times when the kids just have to be taken out of Mass.  Been there, done that.  So when I say "we won't surrender" it primarily refers to the decision to make getting to Mass a priority every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  It doesn't mean you wont have to take extreme measures to manage your children once you get there ;)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Yarn-Wrapped Sticks (easy. peasy. colorful. pretty.)

If there are two things we have a ton of around here it's yarn and sticks.  The kids are constantly dragging sticks home from our walks around the neighborhood.  We have more than we could ever possibly need for fire kindling, so we've started using some for crafts - you know, like for "God's Eyes" (which we call "decorations" because I just can't bring myself to actually refer to them as "God's Eyes"....)  and the very exciting project I'm sharing with you today -- yarn-wrapped sticks.  

You'd think by the number of photos that I took of this yarn-wrapped nature that this project was a real accomplishment, a wonder to behold.  The truth is... uh, actually... in fact, um... it's the easiest project in the universe requiring no thought and little skill.  (In fact I think in some countries people train monkeys to make these and then trick tourists into over-paying for them because they're a souvenir made by a monkey.)  

Now, I'm not comparing children to monkeys, but my own kids did catch on pretty quick, and we spent a lovely afternoon wrapping sticks with brightly colored yarn on our sunny deck.  And it's no secret that children doing things with brightly colored yarn makes my heart sing!  However, much to my chagrin, now these sticks are everywhere....  they've been used as magic wands, royal scepters, bows (as in bows and arrows...) and probably a few other things I don't want to know about.  

The point is, they're actually kind of pretty.  So I got carried away and took a lot of pictures of them and even included a photo tutorial in case you just want give your monkeys the powerpoint version.

Believe me... I know how utterly superfluous a tutorial for yarn wrapped around sticks is.   I just figured I had already taken an unnecessary amount of pictures, why not add a few more that actually have a purpose...  I put the instructions are at the end of this post so you can avoid looking at them if you feel it's beneath you.  I understand. 

I mean, just look at the colors!!  

You simply must store them in a clear jar and let the sun shine through...

Perfect for outdoor decor...

But indoor is nothing to sneer at either...

So, are you convinced that this would be a great project for you?!  I mean, your kids???

You'll need... yarn, sticks, craft (or tapestry) needle, maybe glue 

(1) Tie the end of the yarn two inches down from one end of the stick.  (2) Begin wrapping back up to the end, and then reverse directions and wrap all the way to the opposite end of the stick.  Occasionally "back-tracking" will give you interesting visual texture and pattern if you're using ombre yarn)  (3) Once you get to the end, reverse directions again going back about two inches.  (4) Loop yarn as shown and tie a knot two times.  (5) Use a tapestry needle or craft needle to weave in the end to secure.  Glue the ends if you want - especially if your kids will be waving them around trying to turn their siblings into stone.  






Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Want the Tidying Up, But Not KonMari's Brand of "Life-Changing Magic"

I recently finished the popular and much-discussed book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.  I spent several months on a virtual public library queue waiting for it to be my turn to read this thing.  Come on, people!  Have you seen my house?  I need this book yesterday!  

It took me about a week to read it, but that's because I only stole snippets of reading time here and there.  It's a quick and easy read.  I was very engaged through the whole first half. The first half is about getting rid of stuff, and I've always wanted to have the guts to do that in a major way.   I sped through the second half about storing things because the book was overdue (and the library seems to think that other people on the queue take priority over my renewal needs...)  And then the last few pages left me deflated.  And sad for Ms. Kondo...

But let me back up a little...

She calls her method the KonMari Method (it's a derivative of her name).  The basic principles of the book are these:

* You keep only the things that "spark joy"  (Riiiight -- basically, you keep things that swell your heart or give you a thrill when you touch them.  Soooo, that's a little weird, but I can work with it...)

* Following Kondo's categories of belongings (and in the order she tells you to tackle them) you physically handle every item in your home and discard those that don't bring you joy.  According to her, this is probably about 2/3 to 3/4 of what you currently own.  

* Once you have kept only those things that spark joy, you must identify the place where they belong and commit to storing things in their proper spots.

* You rarely need new-fangled storage solutions with her method.  You're not really tidying if you're just hiding things from view in clever organizational contraptions.  You just need to eliminate the things that don't bring you joy and use the storage space you already have for all that's left.

* If you do her method the "right" way, Kondo is emphatic that you will never have to do it again.  For her, tidying is a one time life event (usually spanning 6 to 12 months), and once done properly, you will never submit to clutter again.

* Your real life begins after putting your house in order.  The act of tidying is not the purpose of life, but a tidy home allows for your space and mind and time and energies to pursue "what brings you the most joy, your mission in life."

I buy into a lot of what she has to offer, and in fact, my husband and I, even though we weren't following her method to a T, got the decluttering bug and in three days we hauled out four huge bags of garbage, five huge bags of stuff to donate, and put several large items - like old high chairs and baby seats - at the curb.  It's addicting!  I'm on a roll, and will share about our decluttering in a forthcoming post.  (I don't want to confuse my thoughts on the book with the practical applications ;) ) 

Like many other Christian bloggers have referred to, there were several suggestions in the book that I did not take to heart... things like greeting your home when you enter it, thanking your belongings for a job well done, treating your clothes to a refreshing break after they've done "a hard day's work," not stacking items in your home because that squeezes the life out of them, totally emptying your purse at the end of the day (really????)  This isn't the way we do things around here.  Especially not the purse part, and especially not the talking to our house and possessions part.  It is right to appreciate the place of belongings in our life, but it is infinitely more appropriate and fulfilling to thank God for the blessing of those things.  In addition, we should be good stewards of the gifts we've been given, but giving undue importance to objects is at best weird, and at worst, idolatry. 

It's this last point that left me feeling uneasy at the end of the book.  For Kondo, a tidy home becomes the idol - the source of supreme happiness.  Since her childhood, the author admits to feeling ignored in family life and out of place at school because her interests led her to pursue activities not typical to a traditional childhood.  Discarding, organizing, storing, and tidying have always fascinated her and became her ultimate  happiness.  She writes, "I can think of no greater happiness in life than to be surrounded only by the things I love....  All you need to do is get rid of anything that doesn't touch your heart.  There is no simpler way to contentment.  What else could this be called but "the magic of tidying up."

All the things that I considered ridiculous up to this point in her book had been easy to ignore, or replace with a faith-based alternative. But this last bit sounded too sad for words.  In the end, a tidy home afforded Kondo her  "greatest happiness"  - being surrounded by the things she loved.  Not people.  Not a relationship with the living God, or any god.  Not faith or hope.  Not love.  

Like many, I too, long for a tidy home.  I long to live clutter-free.  I long to have a place for everything and everything in its place.  I long for my children to improve at putting away toys and books when they're done using them.  I long to have beautiful things surrounding me.  I long to keep my counter tops clear.  I long to "know" where my shoes belong because I tend to leave them everywhere.  (I'm the only one in the family w/o a designated shoe bin or spot and it shows....)  I long for all these things, but not because my greatest happiness will be fulfilled by sitting in the midst of my beloved belongings.  I desire a tidy home because it lends itself to virtue.  I desire a tidy home ...so that my family members become the obvious focus of every room ...so that loving and serving my family can be done with ease of motion (!) and without the distraction of clutter ...so that I do not trip on stuff when serving aforementioned family ...so that we can pray in a room that allows our hearts and minds to focus on God instead of what needs to be picked up around here ...so that we can sit down to a meal without having to move piles of school books and craft supplies ... so that we can extend holy hospitality to our friends and so that our guests feel at ease and at home and not concerned about disturbing the precarious piles of stuff ...so that I can eliminate all swearing due to stepping on Lego pieces ...so that our home is a reflection of the gratitude we feel for these blessings - four walls, a solid roof, our food and material possessions - all a testament to God's goodness in the specific ways he cares for our family ...so that we can share our bounty with others ...so that we can use our belongings as tools for growth in joy, friendship, and wisdom ...so that we can appreciate our things instead of grumble about them ... And lastly, (and this is totally and completely confidential between you and me.  pinky swear?  ok.) I desire a tidy home so as to break free from the clutter-induced temper tantrums from which I occasionally suffer (embarrassingly, this a real thing for me).    

Kondo has so much wisdom and experience to offer - indeed, plenty to keep me busy for some time!  We've only just begun, but it has already had a liberating effect :)  And I truly can't wait to continue our decluttering and to implement some of her method in earnest.  But where the book falls short, my prayer will pick up the slack.  God is the giver of all good things; he alone will be granted my prayers of thanksgiving and praise.  And my deepest desire, the prayer of my heart, will be that the efforts we put into discarding, sorting, and storing our belongings will reap mighty and holy rewards in the heart of our family.  For when we are more fully able to love and serve each other, and in turn love and serve Jesus Christ, there we will find true joy and happiness, and that is the "life-changing magic" that I want.  

Lord, True joy and happiness come from you!  In you alone do we find the peace, comfort, order and solace we want to convey in our homes, to our spouses, our children, and our guests.  Give us your guidance as we tidy our homes, and in turn our hearts and minds, so that there may be more of you and less distraction and clutter.  Grant us the grace to grow in virtue as we order our homes to better and love and serve you.  Amen.  

Paul Klee (Fourth Quarter Artist Study)

Woah, did I drop the ball on our artist studies this past year.  We've done one so far, and that was because I really didn't want to school year to end without having done any.  But the beauty of homeschooling the way we do it, is that it's never really over, and we already have our next batch of books on their way from the library so that we can continue on into the summer :)  

Last month we had quite a bit of fun looking into Swiss-born painter Paul Klee (pronounced "clay").  He was the first very abstract painter we had studied, so it was interesting to get the kids' take on his intentions and artistic suggestions.

The books we read were...

Paul Klee (Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists), Mike Venezia
Paul Klee for Children, Silke Vry

Our "prints" were from calendars from calendars.com   (as always!)

And we did two projects, one inspired by Klee's painting "Castle and Sun" (we used oil pastels)....

I used this Pinterest-found project for inspiration.

And another was sort of a mash up of his works "Cat and Bird" and "Head of Man" (with chalk pastels).....

I used this "tutorial" for creating the face.  It's on Pinterest, but links to nowhere :( 

And I'm proud to announce that today we started a little Degas study (the boys are very suspicious of all this ballerina stuff and infinitely prefer his paintings of horse races ;) )  and soon we'll be cracking open our Gustav Klimt calendars.  So like I said, summer makes up for all sorts of opportunities lost during the actual school year ;)  

*   *   *   *   *   *

I occasionally Pin projects I find that will fit into our "home brew" artist studies.  You're welcome to follow my Art for Kids Pinterest board and you'll most likely have a sneak preview at what we'll be doing next.... ;)  

Sunday, June 14, 2015

DIY Coconut Oil and Sugar Body Scrubs

Last Christmas, my sister gave homemade vanilla sugar body scrub as gifts.  Although I love handmade gifts (and her scrub in particular), the gift had one major flaw - it was gone altogether too soon.

I was out shopping with my mom a few weekends ago when she mentioned she was going to buy some sugar scrub because she'd run out of her Christmas stash a while ago.  It was an inspired moment when I said don't buy scrub, let's make our own!!!

This morning after Mass and Second Breakfast, my mom, sister, and I got to work making bulk amounts of uh-mazing sugar scrubs.  This brilliant stockpiling of scrub could become a regular thing.  It was so very fun and efficient with the three of us working together.  (Actually, I think my mom and sister did most of the work...I drank coffee and supervised.)  

We had intended to make a simple sugar scrub with coconut oil and a vanilla essential oil.  However, the creative juices were surging and we ended up concocting four scrumptious boutique aromas.  

If you're in the market for some body scrub,  I highly recommend my sister's basic recipe and the variations we created.  Gather some friends (or sisters.  or your mom.) and turn it into an event like we did!  It was much more efficient to make a lot at one time.  And let's be honest - it's was just fun girl time, plain and simple.  At one point, my sisters said, "Too bad it's not the evening, we could be having wine."  Too bad, indeed.  If you have your scrub making party at night, it's a perfect wine-sipping event :)  


* The base recipe for each scrub is 1/2 c. coconut oil and 2 c. white granulated sugar.  

Whisk together until the oil is incorporated and the sugar is somewhat fluffy.  Adjust amounts if necessary.

We used organic unrefined virgin coconut oil.  It retains its coconut-y scent and it's wonnnnnderful.)  Just so you know, it doesn't matter one bit whether the oil you use is in liquid form or is solid.  Ours was mostly solid, but slightly softened from the warm weather.

This base makes enough scrub to fill three half-pint-size mason jars.  (So make this amount of each scrub if you're working with two friends ;) )  

These were the fancy schmancy scrubs we made...

#1 Orange Ginger... 
Add in the zest from one large orange and approx. 1 T. ground ginger (or an amount to your taste) (photo shows 1 tsp, but it really is 1 T :) ) 

#2 Lavender and Lime...
I had a jar of culinary lavender, so I ground some of it in my coffee grinder.  We added 2 T. of ground lavender and the zest from two lemons into the scrub.

#3 Vanilla Rum Espresso...
We knew we wanted to make a coffee scrub, and had decided we were probably going to add vanilla, but because we were really trying to be fancy I thought "why stop at vanilla when I have rum extract in the cupboard."  We did a sniff test of the three scents together and basically it was heaven.  
Add in 4 T. of ground espresso beans, 1/4 tsp. of rum extract, and 1 tsp. of vanilla essential oil.

#4 Rose and Basil...
Add 1 tsp. rose fragrance oil and 6 - 8 finely chopped fresh basil leaves.  Such a beautiful combination!

Don't these sound amazing?!  I wish blogger had a scratch n' sniff option.  They smell divine.  I can't wait to get in the shower in the morning!  (Wait, can you say that on the internet??)  

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Summer Crafts (Projects are Planned and the Supplies are Stashed)

I mentioned last week that in summers past, I had pre-planned some craft projects to do with my kids.  It only just occurred to me today that I've really been doing this sort of thing for a long time.  When I was in junior high and high school, I'd babysit my younger siblings on weekday mornings and we'd do lots of crafts.  They remember it, er... fondly.  And even if they don't (which they better), they probably at least appreciate the life skills they learned early on - like using a glue gun, making pop-poms, wrapping pipe cleaner friendship dolls with embroidery floss (remember that?!?!), and making friendship pins. 

It's clearly part of who I am to encourage people to get crafty with me :)  This summer is  looking to be no different.  Some moms look at June, July, and August and see an opportunity to let their kids roam the neighborhood and hang out on street corners.  I look at June, July, and August, and see hours of opportunity for Forced Family Craft Time!  Believe me, they love it!  (Have you ever noticed that when someone says "believe me," you probably shouldn't believe them??)

Anywayyy...  I spent an evening scoping out Pinterest, making a shopping list (and a gather-from-around-the-home list) for the supplies we'll need and we're ready to go!   Here are our options for this summer... 

(links to original sources)

Glitter Bottles... (the boys have made these before, but I think it would be a nice project for the girls this year)  

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