Wednesday, July 11, 2018

What Worked & What Did Not 2017-18

I read on Instagram a post that talked about discussing the things that worked and didn't work from the year before, before you start planning your next year.  This really is honestly very good advice.  I tend to jump right in and get all organized and then when the time comes, I recall, oh yeah, we hated that... why did I schedule that in again?  Or why did we stop doing X, Y, or Z?  We loved that!

So with that in mind I decided to try and look bak at our last year and pick apart the things we did that worked and what didn't work.  My biggest take away from this exercise is that I know right now what didn't work... not working.  Burn out and battling the demon of depression, really took a toll on my last few years.  I know that this year that has to change.

So last year...


  • I once again tried to change things with math.  We started using Teaching Textbooks again and quickly remembered why we stopped using them years ago.  All my kids start out excited about this nifty looking math program and quickly, for us, things fall apart and they start getting every problem wrong and it ends up being more work rather than the freeing thing I hoped it would be.  This also leads to starting a new math program in the middle of the year, or later, and math programs are NOT cheap.
  • Although I have a love/hate relationship with Saxon, I have to admit it works.  So we are back on that train and while we are now about 3/4 a year behind, at least we are plugging a long.  When we finish the last year books, which we are doing two lessons in a day to catch up (when possible), we will go back to one lesson a day.
  • Theo did great with his math goals for the year.  I wanted him working on counting to 100 and being able to write the basic numbers.  He did this with ease.  He even started skip counting by 2s.

  • Grammar?  We don't need no stinking grammar.  Mad Libs counts right?  Seriously, I tried to do some grammar things during morning time as a group and while this still sounds like a great idea it didn't really bear much fruit.  Also, see spelling.

  • Mad Libs was great.  The kids did learn a lot.  I am not one of those people who think grammar needs to be visited every year, and some of it is just busy work.  But we will be doing more formal grammar next year.  Plus Mad Libs.  We love Mad Libs.  Download the app for ease!

  • We tried something new by doing Brave Writer's Arrow program.  They had copywork and grammar lessons worked into your family read aloud.  I liked the idea behind the program, but I have to admit we only somewhat successfully did one book.  No one's spelling improved.  Even tried to make lists of words they misspelled.  It became a big mess, with sheets of paper everywhere.  It did not work for us, sadly.  

  • I hate to say, I don't think there were much positives on this front.  Our spelling did not improve, in fact, it might have gotten worse from sheer neglect.


  • I think we honestly don't have much to complain about, other than wishing the older kids read more.

  • While I love the Seton readers, it was hard for the kids with ADHD.  So I actually went back to a book I hated in the past, out of pure desperation.  Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons works really well for them, even though it can be very tedious for me.  It really has been the only thing that has worked for them.  Ben is still doing the Seton readers and they are fabulous.


  • History has been a real struggle for the last few years.  It feels like a lot of times it is very boring or I read bad reviews, or too much work, or...  We did try Playful Pioneers, which we liked, but for some reason it just tapered off.  It really was for the little kids and there was nothing for the big kids.  This was just a big mess this year.  
  • I also, like an idiot, decided halfway through the year to clear off my shelves.  That I had too much curriculum that we simply did not use.  Yeah.  That was dumb.  I regret selling off the Mother of Divine Grace stuff, big time.  I was so sure I would never want to use it again.  Within in a few months, I was like... well, shoot.  Wish I had that to just use as a reference.

  • We did do some great read alouds, from historical periods.  This was about the only "real" history we did.  And while I think that good literature is really an excellent history program, it was not organized enough to call it an actual program.  


  • We tried to do the Real Science for Kids program.  I had successful done the Biology year awhile back and we learned a lot.  However, every other one we tried to do was a big fat failure.  This year was no exception.  
  • Middle school science was also a failure.  We struggled getting through the Physical science book.  Hopefully this year with dad home more, he can help in this area.

  • We ended up giving up on The Real Science for Kids books and working on reading through The Solar System and doing coloring sheets.  This was great.  I also got a plant memory game which was amazing.  We had a lot of fun with that.  
  • We did some amazing nature walks this spring and summer.  I need to make that a priority during the time of year when hiking is at its best.

  • I decided to try something different this year and sell all our Faith and Life books.  That was stupid.  Do you see a pattern here?  We ended up doing nothing really.  Hardly even living the liturgical year.  I had plans of reading the lives of the saints and reviewing baltimore catechism a few times a week.  It didn't happen.

  • I really can't think of any!  How terrible.  The kids did write a few saint reports, which is better than nothing.  I guess.  Ugh


  • We really didn't do enough.



I am actually kind of surprised by what I figured out.  Grateful that it looks like we did something, rather that the big nothing I thought we had done.  I also think it is important to note that most of our real learning took place between the pages of good and engaging books.  This furthers my suspicion that we are geared more towards a Charlotte Mason education.  I know that I will need to make up some real plans on my own, and stop relying on already written curriculum.  I either tend to sell it off too quickly or throw the baby out with the bathwater.  

So in planning for next year,  I will take into account the need for good books to help bolster up our history and science, not just dry textbooks.  Textbooks will be good for giving foundations only.  

I also need to take into account my husband's new work schedule and how he will be home several days a week and how they will be different days on different weeks.  This will make it hard to establish routine, but we have talked about this and plan on working on a routine that will work when he is home to help.

Monday, July 9, 2018

My Beautiful Dream

This post contains affiliate links

Back when Jennifer Fulwiler's book One Beautiful Dream came out I bought it right away.  I loved her book Something Other than God, it had come at an opportune time in my life.  It really helped enlighten my heart and my love for our church.  So as you can imagine, I was thrilled at the prospect of another book discussing how to pursue your dreams.

I sat down on the back deck and cracked open the book, a glass of red wine next to me.  It was perfect.  That was when the dog pushed through the gate and ran into the front yard.  I put the book down and ran to get him.  I secured the gate and sat back down.  Where was I?  Ok, found it.  That was when Eva needed a glass of water.  Ok.  Put the book down, get water.  Where was I?  Ok, found it.  That was when Theo hit Ben over a intense game of Pokemon, in which he had lost.  Time out.  Threaten to take away Pokemon cards.  Done.  Ok, Where was I?

You get where I am going here.  Glass of wine forgotten, I picked up the book and seriously considering throwing it across the yard.  It was not the book's fault, I assure you.  It was simply the idea: how could I read a book about pursuing my dreams amidst the chaos of family life when my family won't let me!?!

As you can imagine, I put the book on my shelf, where I could admire it and wonder if I would have to wait till my three year old was 20 before I could actually read it.

Several months later, after thinking I would not be able to go, I was able to travel to the beautiful high desert of central Oregon to attend the Northwest Catholic Women's Conference.  If you can go to this thing, I don't care where you are, you go.  Anyway, it occurred to me that I was going to have a 4 hour drive there and then another 4 on the way back, all by myself.  I'm not sure if you can even imagine what this idea was like for a mom of 9 who could not remember the last time she went somewhere other than the grocery store alone.  So I downloaded two books with my credits on Audible, one was, of course, One Beautiful Dream.

I got into the brand new rental car, red and shiny, hooked up the bluetooth for my audio book, and took off into the mountains.  It was amazing.  I was going to listen to something just for me, no interruptions except for coffee and sketchy roadside bathrooms.

I remembered a few bits and pieces from the first few chapters, but they flowed much better without the constant interruptions of the chaos that is my beloved family.  On the way there I literally cried and laughed at her humor and her insight.  On the way home I actually had to pull over at one point.  I was so moved by one of the stories I found myself big messy crying one moment and laughing hysterically a second later.

To finally get to the point, the book was nothing like what I expected.  I thought this book was going to be about how I had to be super mom.  How I needed to make sacrifice to be who I was meant to be.  You can see why, even though I had this deep desire to kindle the spark that is my blue flame, I felt like it was impossible.

The last few years of my life I have been handed one slap in the face after another.  My faith has been tested, my choices tested, the very things that I had dedicated my life to were threatened by the judgment of people I trusted.  I had not handled it at all well.  I put my life in the hands of other people and let their judgment of me destroy the very things I had dedicated myself to.  I had felt like a failure.  I had failed everyone, not just myself, but my family and God.  So I shut down.

During the conference, I learned to forgive myself.  I, also learned something else one morning after breakfast.  I had sat there and talked to a woman I did not know very well, but attended one of my local parishes.  I told her I wished that I didn't worry so much about what other people thought.  I told her I worry so much about other people's approval and it keeps me trapped in a prison of my own making.  She said to me with this incredible intensity that made me sit up a bit.  "Ask me to give you a gift to help you with this."  I thought she was going to slap me.  I even said as much.  She did not so much as crack a smile.  "Ask me," she stressed, "to give you a gift that will help you with this."  Awkwardly, I did as I was told and she handed me ta holy card with the Litany of Humility on the back.
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...
That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…
It now resides in my Bible with a copy of the Saint Monica novena, which I attempt to pray daily for my loved ones who have left the faith (I say attempt, because see paragraph two above).

What has this to do with Jennifer Fulwiler's book?  Everything.  This book was not a how to on becoming a success despite being a Catholic mother to many.  This was about being a success because you are a Catholic mother to many.  It was not some infomercial with 5 points to selling yourself.  It was about how faith and family are the very cornerstone to anything we do.  It is about embracing the things that make life challenging because, honestly, those are the very things that make life worth living.

I had about an hour left in the book when I pulled in front of my house at the end of that incredible weekend.  Over the next two weeks, yes it took me two weeks, I was able to finish it, I even listened to the acknowledgments.   I "closed" that book feeling more confident than I had in years, more in love with God and the crazy vocation He called me and Tony to.  It is not always easy to do this Catholic thing, and I have failed many times, but it has been the greatest blessing in my life.

Jen Fulwiler promoted her book by giving a few copies to some great Catholic voices in our community with a little blackboard and asked them to give three words about the secret to following your dreams.  I would like to leave you with mine:

Trust • Fortitude • Love

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Northwest Catholic Women's Conference 2018 - Saturday

The chapel

The night before, after one of the best confessions of my life, I had felt God's overpowering forgiveness.  I had no idea what work He still had to do with me the following day.  We had stayed up late into the night, my roommates and I, talking about our lives and our crosses.  We woke to pray the rosary together and the Divine Hours in the chapel.  We were blessed with beautiful music by Sister Maximilian and Sister Ave Maria from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

After breakfast I had no idea what was about to happen.  I was joyful and hopeful for the first time in what had felt like years.  You see, I have been struggling so much in the last few years.  I have been dealing with postpartum depression that would not go away, social anxiety, health issues, and an inability to forgive myself for mistakes I had made.

When Lorissa Horn (@lorissahorn) took the stage to share her testimony there were moments in which I knew that God was speaking to me directly through her.  I'm not sure how to explain this other than through my tears, I knew God was telling me to forgive myself and let go.  Lorissa's message was so powerful that I truly believe it will forever change the way I receive communion.  She spoke about how through a monk in the mountains of Utah she had come to hear God tell her and all of us, I love you, Amy.  You are good, Amy.  You are beautiful, Amy.   When I write those words they do not seem to come close to the power of what Lorissa shared.  I heard those words spoken directly to my heart.

The temporary tattoo we got in our goodie bag. 
I used it to trick my older kids into thinking I got tatted up on my weekend.

Lorissa urged us to, also, give our past to God.  Bishop Liam had also shared with me something very similar.  We can never move on if we spend our present with a foot anchored in the past, sure that somehow we can make it change.  Lorissa told us, to live in the present.  Let go of the past, trust the future to God's providence, and live in the moment.

After her talk, our wonderful hostess Scout made sure there was kleenex on every table.

After Lorissa, who has made me want to move to Boise, so my kids could be in her youth group, Sister Maximilian of the Dominican Sisters of Mary gave a talk on the Shroud of Turin and the suffering of women.  She shared a Bible story, that for some reason I was sure I had never heard before (2 Maccabees 7), though I was told later there was a Veggie Tales show about it.  I cannot recall which episode, if you know tell me in the comments!

The wonderful and incredible Mary Lenaburg and Heather Renshaw (go preorder her book!)

There was a short break and then the incredible Mary Lenaburg (@marylenaburg) took the stage.  She had told me when I stopped to chat with her that Lorissa had given a talk so similar to her own that she was going to be giving a talk on who knows what.  She later said it had been her beloved Courtney and the Holy Spirit who spoke through her.  She gave us a beautiful testimony of her life.  There was so much, so beautifully much, that I was overcome completely.  She spoke about acceptance.  Accepting the crosses and the joys that God puts in our life.  Most powerfully, she spoke about how no matter what mistakes we have made in our life, whether the are big or small, God is always there to accept us.  That we must be Brave in the Scared.

After the vigil mass, in which Bishop Cary sang the gospel (I missed that so much), the conference was over.  I was staying one more night and was blessed to get to go to dinner with Bishop Cary and three other friends from our local parish.  This was such a gift to hear his wisdom, to share our troubles and joys with each other over a glass of cabernet and Mexican food.  I can honestly say I have never received a blessing from a bishop before and definitely not behind a Mexican return at 11 PM.  And I needed it, since I had to drive in the pitch black a half an hour through the eastern Oregon high desert to get back to the cabin!

A sleepy and overjoyed me with Bishop Cary

In all, this experience was one of the most uplifting of my life.  I came home on little sleep, on fire with love for God and the gift of this life he has given me, despite my trials.  And believe me, I am not sure I would have made it the next three days afterward if it had not been for this retreat.  Let's just say, there was broken dishes, a broken freezer, I rebroke a toe, the zipper broke on my purse and I had to cut it open to get my glasses and insurance cards, I had a dentist appointment in which they found a cavity (I have only even had one before this in my life), I went back to get the cavity filled to find out that I have a complete and total inability to let people put tons of stuff in my mouth and led to a total complete meltdown in the dentist office in which I sobbed uncontrollably and had to reschedule the appointment  for later this summer and will be having lots and lots of laughing gas.  And that wasn't even all, but you get the gist.

Stopped at Union Creek to dip my toes before the final leg of my journey home

The most important thing I took away from this blessed retreat was that God loves me.  I know, I know.  We all say we know God loves us.  But do we in our heart?  Do we really know that he accepts us and loves us just the way we are?  How many people walk away from the unfathomable love of our Divine Creator because they think too much and don't feel enough?  Live in the moment sisters, love without ceasing, and trust in God's plans even when they are hard to bear.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Northwest Catholic Women's Conference 2018 - Friday

 Honestly, I don't even know where to start.  This experience was so guided by the Holy Spirit, that it is almost impossible to truly begin to tell you what it was like.  From the moment I picked up my rental car, a brand new red Subaru Outback with a total of 4 whole miles on it, to the moment I pulled in my cul-de-sac and seeing the faces of those I love so much, this weekend was a gift from God that was so incredibly needed.

I was nervous about attending because it was over the weekend of my husband's birthday.  He knew how much I needed this and told me I had to go. He knew the trip would bring me back refreshed and he was more than right.

When I arrived on Friday evening the retreat center was beautifully decorated, the smell of delicious food filled the room, and everyone was smiles.  I took all my things to my cabin which I shared with four strangers who became wonderful friends.  When I went back up to the main hall I immediately spotted someone I have been dying to meet for I don't know how long.

It is the most curious experience to see someone you have followed online in person.  I don't know if it was just the two ladies at this conference who I had been longing to meet or if this happens with everyone, but I felt immediately like I knew them.  The lady I saw was the incredible Mary Lenaburg (@marylenaburg).  I walked up to her and she gave me a hug and it felt like I had known her all my life.

I then found that three women from one of our local parishes that I had not really gotten to visit with in such a long time.  

We all went into the church for adoration and confessions.  Those of you blessed to have met Bishop Liam Cary of the Archdiocese of Baker know that if you get a chance to go to confession with this man, even if you went an hour earlier, you will want to go again.  I had only been a week and half earlier and I was so going.  I stood in line for over and hour to get the honor of sitting with him and hearing his beautiful spiritual direction and to receive absolution.

I walked out of the confessional and felt the absolute lightest I had felt in years.  It was worth the 4 hour drive just for that.  I had no idea, however what the next way would do to lead me to healing and love.