Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Poem 2013

The hard copies should be arriving in family mailboxes later this week!   To all of our friends, we're sorry we can't send out hard copies to everyone!!  Please accept the virtual version, and know that if we could possibly mail this to all of you, we would!!  

Much love from the Circus and Merry Christmas to all!

‘Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the Tent,
The Circus was sleeping, as all were quite spent!
2013 had brought many changes, and as snow was beginning to fall,
the time had come for cuddling and early bedtimes for all.

Mike’s new job had brought them back home to good old Maine.
Though they missed Arizona, it was great to be in the Pine Tree State again!
He loved his new job, though, and the Circus settled in well.
Right back in their old New England home, with many desert stories to tell.

Heidi worked hard at home, as the head teacher to three little boys.
Their days were full of lessons, laughter, and lots of toys.
She loved her days, snuggled in the house in the trees,
Surrounded by four boys, two dogs, one hamster, seven chickens, and lots of leaves,

Believe it or not, Joseph has turned nine.
His favourite activities are reading and playing out in the yard of pine.
He’s a state champion gymnast, who loves flying high.
You’ll often find him twisting, turning, and flipping through the sky.

Graham is now seven, about to be eight.
He loves spending time in the kitchen with Mommy, and crafting a plate.
He, too, was on the state champion gymnastics team.
His focus, strength, and willpower make his teammates cheer and scream.

Nicholas is now five, and quite the little rascal.
He loves to cuddle and read, and cheers us all with an awesome cackle.
He’s quirky and fun, a true joy to behold.
We just can’t wait to see him grow up, and imagine the stories that will be told!

A toddler named Theo will be our newest addition,
As soon as we’re called to send our obstetrician.
To the other side of the world, Daddy will fly,
Hopefully next February, to bring home our little guy.

Circus clown 5.0, we are happy to say,
Should be here to join us, sometime next May.
This little one is growing quite well, and seems to be strong.
We can’t wait to have him/her at the Circus, just where they belong.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for following along
With our silly little poem, or perhaps even a song.
Healthy and happy, we hope that you all are,
Please know that we love you and send Christmas wishes from afar!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I've been spending a lot of time recently wondering just why I've been feeling such a strong call to "unplug."  I've mentioned it here before, so it might sound familiar to some of you out there.   I've felt a nudge to limit my time online, not blog, and try to stay off of the computer and so on and so on.   I originally thought it was so that I could be focusing on the "here and now" - focusing on being present in my day to day life with family and friends.

It's been about four months now, and while those four months have been filled with beautiful moments, sorrow and joy, laughter and tears......I haven't really felt the urge to put those things into written word. I haven't really felt it necessary to put it all out there on the interwebz.

I've spent the last little bit of time wondering just why that is  (and yes, I recognize the inherent silliness of blogging about it now!).  I'm hesitant to even put it out there at this moment because of that silliness, but writing has always helped me to get my thoughts sorted out.......so writing is what I turn to now.

The past four months of not blogging or not sharing every last thought or contemplation on places like Facebook or CMOMC has actually had a side effect that I didn't really expect.   I went into this hibernation anticipating a more fruitful, more disciplined daily life and family life.  A more dedicated or committed observance of my primary vocation of wife and mother, if you will.   And while the past four months have been just that - a rededication to my vocation - they've turned out to be so much more than that.

You see, during the past four months, I've come to understand one very important lesson:

It's not about me.

Yes, my vocation is the path that God is calling me  - only me - to on my way to Heaven, but deep down....it's not really about me.  Being a wife and mother should be helping me to look outside of myself - toward the world around me, and helping me to evangelize to that world......and ultimately drawing myself and those around me right back to Him.

It shouldn't be about me.   That's what I've come to realize over the past four months:  it should be all about Him.   Glorifying Him.....not me and my accomplishments or great ideas.   After all, none of that was my own doing.  It was all Him.

Being "quiet" the past four months has shown me just how important I thought I was....and how little importance I gave Him.  I'd convinced myself that I was using these different outlets as a way of witnessing to Him, but if I was going to be 100% honest with you.....I really wasn't.   I wanted the glory for myself.  The "What a great idea!"s and the "You're so right!"s and the "Your kids are so cute!"s that each posting garnered.   I wasn't really looking for any "Praise God!"s or "God is so good!"s or anything along those lines.   I'd convinced myself that I was doing it for Him....but at the same time, I was keeping all of the glory for myself.

Isn't that the way it works sometimes?   A good idea - a perfectly legitimate, moral idea - snowballs into something that's not-so-great.    Something as seemingly innocent as an online journal turns into non-stop chattering with the intention of stroking my own ego.   I didn't want to be challenged - I wanted to be affirmed.   I'd started talking and forgot to leave room for Him to do His thing, touching and changing hearts.

My self-imposed silence helped me to recognize that I'd strayed away from my original mission - witnessing to family and marriage - and had led me to a not-so-great mission:  witnessing to Heidi.   My Mothers Day breakdown (not going to link to it here.....it wasn't pretty) only solidified that realization for me.   While I firmly believe that my thoughts and feelings were appropriate that weekend (emotions are not a bad thing!)....my intention in sharing them here and other places was not.   I wanted - I craved - my own hurting pride to be comforted, and I refused to give Him the room to heal me.  I didn't trust Him.

I'd strayed too far from my vocation and made it all about reuniting me to myself....and not about reuniting myself to Him.

The past few months have allowed me to find my way again.   They've allowed me the time to listen, instead of always looking for something to say.   They've allowed me a chance to breathe and let Him guide me, instead of barging on ahead without giving Him the chance to lead.   I've rediscovered my mission as wife and mother, and started to return to fulfilling my responsibility as a daughter of God.   I've started to focus again on sharing the love that He is so generously pouring onto me, through my words and actions and witness.

There is a path that He has chosen for me.  One that will lead me to Him someday in Heaven, if I keep up my end of the deal and remain faithful to Him.   My mission is directly tied to that path - He is calling me (and has been calling me, faithfully) to witness to His love, His plan, and His Church.

I can't do any of that if all I'm witnessing to is myself.

Over the next few weeks, this blog will change a bit.   Things will get cleaned up, the focus will be changing.  It's not about me, He reminded me tonight.

It's about Him.

He's there in my daily life - in my role as wife and mother.  

He's there in the good and the bad, the laughter and the tears, the beautiful and the ugly.

This will still be a witness to what it means to be a Catholic wife and mother in today's world.  After all.....to live as a Catholic is to live a life in response to His love.  

But I'm stepping back into the shadows and letting Him take center stage.

After all...it's not about me.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Late Quick Takes AND WIWS

Can I do it?  Can I really link to BOTH Jen and FLAP?!?!  I'm gonna try!

Alright, let's get started!


What I wore Sunday....

Nothing too exciting - it was a yucky day today and I didn't want to spend a ton of time on my hair or an outfit and then get caught in a downpour.    Here are the details:

From the ground up:

Shoes:  something from Younkers.   The insoles are worn out because I wear them ALL.OF.THE.TIME and I can't read the brand anymore.   I know they came from the clearance rack though and were less than $10.   I'm a cheapskate.
Skirt:  Target, in the maternity section.   (don't go making any wild assumptions.   It was just cute, and it made me feel good to pick out a size that was a size SMALLER than I normally wear.  Oh, and it was $20)
Cami:  J.Jill.   A standby for me.  I wear one pretty much every day, thanks to the nothing-on-front issue I inherited
Shirt:   Target.   My favourite.  I have one in just about every colour of the rainbow.

No special jewelry or hair today.   Again.....rain.  'Nuf said.

Rascal #2 joined me in the WIWS post.....because..........


This is what he actually wore to Mass today!  :)  My baby's growing up........altar serving for the first time today.   I'm a proud Mama.  


It was a super busy week.   We had a great Pentecost, with both Rascal #1 and Rascal #2 receiving their First Communion and Confirmation.    We had both sides of the family in attendance - two sets of grandparents and one cousin who came along for the ride.   

It was a beautiful day.


One set of grandparents (the one who had the stowaway cousin) stayed through this past week.    Grandma and Cousin spent most of their time playing with me and the rascals, while Papa helped Mike in our backyard.   I forgot to take a before picture, but here are a few after shots:

Obviously we still have some work to do - filling in the grass and actually planting the plants IN the raised bed, but, well..........rain.   Tomorrow is supposed to be nice, so our plan is to plant, plant, plant!


The reason we had kids:

slave labour



No, really.....I'm kidding.

(not really)


Things to celebrate = lots of cake in the Circus

I love making cakes.   Two boys celebrating meant I had to make TWO cakes, of course!   I actually just made small ones for each boy - they got their own 4x4inch cake, and then the rest of us got cupcakes.   Here are the finished products:

Rascal #1's

Rascal #2's


A funny to end the post - we went out for yummy Thai food the other night, and I looked over at Rascal #3 to see this:

He was making faces and checking out his reflection on his spoon.   It was hilarious.  Of course, as soon as I took the picture, he figured out that we were all watching him, and the funny business came to an end, but I'm so glad that I managed to sneak at least ONE picture!


And with that, my QT/WIWS post is over!   We're winding down from all of the company, so I'll hopefully be able to do a couple blog posts over the next little bit.   Got some homeschooling on the mind......some more musings about "doing God's Will"...... and lots of thoughts about family size and our society.   Stay tuned!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Quick Takes - retreat version

Linking up with Jen again today!


First off, thank you all for your kind words in all the forms you sent them in - texts, emails, messages, comments.    You really helped to make this week much better than last weekend.  I'm still sad about some things, but I'm starting to realize that God is using these to purify me.  Without them, I'm not sure I would have recognized some areas within myself that I need to work on.   I was definitely drifting into a lifestyle of complacency, and this really helped shock me back into where I should have been to begin with.    It's not easy, but I'm learning to embrace it and trying to love it.    Your messages and prayers were instrumental in that for me - thank you.


Could I ask for prayers one more time?  I have to be cryptic, but please pray for this weekend for us.   There's a lot going on that was unplanned, and it has the potential to be life-changing for many.   I'll be able to fill you all in later - but please pray for now that His will is done and that I'm able to accept it willingly, whatever it may be!


Remember last week, when I mentioned that Mike was taking the big rascals away for a daddy/son retreat weekend as the culmination of their First Communion/Confirmation prep?   They had an amazingly successful weekend, and I wanted to share some pictures of all of that with you.    Thank you so much for surrounding them in prayer - Mike told me it was even better than he had anticipated!!


First things first.....setting the stage....
Mike took the boys back to this resort .  Amazing place.  It might become my new favourite place in Maine.

They spent some time journaling.....


They talked about joining the Church Militant, and becoming a soldier for Christ (they'll also be making their Confirmation this weekend), and drew themselves in that role:


They reviewed the seven Sacraments, and what each one was.......and how each one is a step on the ladder that helps us get to Heaven.   Mike also talked about how Mary reaches down from Heaven to help us up the ladder, and how we can always call on her to help us.

In the process......they built a ladder.


They also took some time to talk about the sacrifice of the Mass, and the Eucharist.    Mike used their silhouettes to help them create this beautiful poster - helping them to remember that their faces, hearts, and minds should be focused on the Eucharist at all times (and not talking to those around them or generally being distracted by the environment).


They did a lot of other activities - scavenger hunts, hikes while talking about the gifts of the Holy Spirit,  things like that - - but Mike was too busy to take more pictures!    

Please hold these rascals in your prayers this Sunday as they receive the Sacraments.  I'm sure I'll share pictures next week!!

Have a great weekend, all!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Well, that was an interesting weekend...

For all of you who don't believe in spiritual attacks....well.......my weekend might convince you.

While Mike was off having a beautiful, Holy Spirit-filled weekend with the two oldest rascals, I was at home, wrestling with demons that I thought I'd successfully battled and won months ago.

And then the outside attacks started coming....

...attacks on our adoption, calling into question whether or not we *should* even be adopting - that our "motivations" weren't good enough and we were being selfish by wanting to grow our family in this manner.

...attacks directed toward Peter's birth parents, calling them monsters for giving up their child for adoption and not "making it work."   Monsters who were giving me a chance to be a mother and giving their child the chance to receive life-saving medical treatment and care. 

...attacks on my emotional state - having it pointed out time and time again that this Mother's Day should have been when we were welcoming little Jonathan home.  Maybe I've never noticed them in Mother's Days past, but it seemed to be that everywhere I turned, there was another message or meme about "Praying for those struggling with miscarriage on this Mother's Day" in my face.  I know they were intended to be compassionate and not ever intended to hurt, but, well, they hurt.  BADLY.   Of course, no one else probably remembers when my due date was.  No one else probably realized that this Mother's Day was supposed to be one of little onesies and new baby smells.   But the emotions it stirred up were raw and painful.   

....coming to the realization that the friend who I'd described as my best friend (in the very recent past) was not at all the person that I thought she was, and the pain and heartache that comes with that.  The utter sadness of the realization that I was not being supported - at all - in the way that I thought I had been

....the exhaustion of caring for one child who was also struggling with being the only one

....the fear of knowing that I needed to finally step out of my internet bubble and do the one thing that introverts hate the most:  socializing.   Internet friends are wonderful and so necessary for introverts like me...but real-life friends and experiences are needed, too.   (Yes, I recognize the irony of this post and that statement.  I'm working on it).

It was a long, hard, lonely weekend.    Issues that I thought I'd put to rest months, even years ago, reared their ugly heads.   All that work I did to try and change my habits and fight the temptations eventually got thrown out of the window, and Saturday night, I found myself devouring Thai food like there was no tomorrow and crying while reading one Mother's Day blog after another and realizing that this Mother's Day was being completely overshadowed by all of the negativity and pain swirling in my heart.    So, of course, being the good mother that I am, this led to MORE emotional eating as I worried about ruining Mother's Day for the rascals by being too sad and too upset and not happy enough or not appreciative enough.     It was fun, I tell you.

It also meant hardly any sleep for me this weekend, so I'm starting the week on very low energy levels (and horrible food choices thanks to emotionally eating my way through the weekend, which means I feel gross, anyway).    I took a nap as soon as Mike got home with the big boys, but I'm still dragging.  Trying to detox today with healthy food and tea and prayer, but I could use a few extra hands with today's rebound.

So, if you don't mind my shameless plea, would you please pray for me today?   My heart is aching with disappointment and pain, emptiness and sorrow.   Today's one of my favourite feast days - Fatima - so please, say a rosary for me or one of the Fatima prayers.   I'd appreciate it more than you would ever know.

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Quick Takes

Hanging out with Jen again today!


Good morning, all.   I've had all these great ideas for quick takes all week, and now when I'm sitting here to type them all out......I can't remember a single doggone one.   Whoops.   This should be interesting.


Let's see.  How about a prayer request to start off the weekend?   Could you all say a prayer for Rascals 1 and 2, and Mike?  They just left for a Father/Son weekend.  We're calling it a retreat, but really Mike is taking them away for the weekend as an end to their First Holy Communion and Confirmation prep.  This is the fun of homeschooling. :)  We've been working on them getting ready to receive the sacraments all year, and now that we're getting close to the actual date (the 19th), Mike is taking the two boys on a weekend away.  He's got all kinds of activities planned - hikes, crafts, lessons about the gifts of the Holy Spirit - and it should be an amazing weekend for them.  Please join me in surrounding them in prayer!


Throw a couple extra prayers my way, if you would be so kind.   I'm slightly nervous about being on my own with Rascal #3.  I have a lot to get done this weekend, all while being the sole entertainment for a four year old who is used to having two big brothers around.   I'm worried I'm going to be tired and cranky.....and not very patient.   Pray for us!


Speaking of the four year old, he made me giggle yesterday.  It was a holy day of obligation, so we headed to mass around noon (I was supposed to go at 9 am, but it was raining when we woke up - that soft, calming, soothing rain - and the boys were sleeping SOOOOO soundly that I just couldn't bring myself to wake them.   Noon is not normally a good time for mass with Rascal #3 - he gets antsy - but I thought I would try if it meant that they could get some good sleep).    Anywho, at one point, I was holding him on my hip and he was craning his neck wwaaaaaaayyyyyy back to look at the ceiling (he's fascinated by the basilica's architecture).   He whipped his head back up quickly (I thought he was going to hurt himself!!) and whispered excitedly:  "MOM!!   It looks like we're under a boat in here!"   Needless to say, I got a kick out of that, and here's why.   For all you naysayers that claim art and architecture cannot convey theological concepts.....well....even my 4 year old picked up on some things.   So there.  


My favourite shirts are on sale at Target for $7.  Consider this your public service announcement.  I went and stocked up yesterday, mainly because my first round of them had lived a long and glorious life but all of my shirts were slowly dying a painful death of holes (Am I the only one that struggles with getting clothes caught on things and ripping holes in them?!?!) and armpit stains (is there a remedy for this?!?!).    These shirts are awesome.  Just enough spandex to make them look fitted and fancier than a regular old tshirt, but soft and comfortable like your favourite tshirt.  You can dress them up with accessories and skirts.....or wear them with jeans for an everyday kind of look.   Love love love them.  So excited to have nice shirts again - maybe now I'll stop wearing my "hole-y" shirt to mass!   

*cough cough if Target wants to give me free shirts for this glowing review, I would not fight it**

Let's see, let's see.  What else did I want to tell you about this week?   Oh right!    My dear friend Kara is working hard to adopt a little boy from eastern Europe, and she was given the opportunity to do a fantabulous giveaway as a fundraiser.  The top prize is a pack of FOUR park hopper tickets to Disneyland OR Disney World....and that's just the big prize.  There are some awesome items that you could win!    All you have to do is go read about it and either donate or share the link on social media somehow.   Go do it right now - these are awesome prizes!     Go ahead - I'll wait!


Do you have big plans for Mother's Day?    We're taking it easy here (my favourite kind of Mother's Day, honestly - I'm not a big fan of fighting the brunch crowds and whatnot) with a relaxing dinner at home - one of my favourites.  Mike will be on his way back from the weekend retreat, and Rascal #3 and I will head to Mass and then just veg at home waiting for the big boys.    My perfect Mother's Day, honestly!    I still have to finish my gift for my own mom (sorry, Mom - it won't be arriving this Sunday, I'll give it to you when you're here next week!), so I'll be working hard on that this weekend.   What do you have planned?  How do you celebrate Mother's Day?


Alright, my littlest rascal awaits!  Have a great weekend, all!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Decision time again!

It's that time of year again.    

A recent field trip with a friend

I love and hate this time of year.

Rascal #2 working hard on his math problems

What time is it, Heidi?  you ask.

Rascal #1 researching Benjamin Franklin and Rascal #3 practicing subtraction

Time to evaluate each child and decide if we will continue homeschooling next year or register them in a local school, that is.

This is the time of year where I doubt everything that I've done all year long - all the different programs or choices I made in lesson planning - and worry that the kids haven't "progressed" enough for the state.   These are the days where I wonder whether or not they'd be better off in a traditional school, and if I'm somehow failing them by keeping them at home.

Most days I don't struggle with this.  I see the excitement on Rascal #2's face as he masters multiplication.  I watch the creativity blossom as Rascal #1 works hour after hour writing and illustrating a children's biography of Benjamin Franklin.   I see the satisfaction and pride beaming in Rascal #3's smile as he writes his numbers - on his own.   I know they're progressing.  I know they're learning.   I know that their natural curiosity is being fed and nurtured on a daily basis.  

But I still worry.   I think all of us homeschooling moms do that - it's hard not to, when so much is "riding" on your choices and hard work.   I'm sure school teachers feel the same at the end of the school year, looking at their classroom full of pupils.

It helps me to sit down and look at the pros and cons of homeschooling, in general, during this time of year.    Deciding to homeschool is very often not decided purely on the academics (although I'm sure some families do homeschool just for that reason - it seems that the majority of us do not).  It's usually much more complex than that.   So humour me for a bit, y'all, and walk through the pros and cons of homeschooling for our little circus.

The Pros

- Our faith can become the basis for everything we do in a way that most traditional schools cannot.    Science becomes a way to praise God for the beauty and intricacy of His creation.   We can study the architecture and building techniques of cathedrals.   We can insert saints into our study of world history.  We can build our daily schedule around prayer and - on holy days of obligation, like today - we can build our day around Mass (some people go every day as part of their daily schedule - we don't, yet).   Celebrating feast days can be an all-day event - including projects and lesson plans celebrating that saint - instead of just a special dessert that night after school.

- It's flexible.  Very flexible.   If it's an unexpected day of beautiful weather, we can move things around and start the day with a hike or early recess outside.    I can take the first appointments of the day at the doctor or dentist office - without worrying that the kids will have too many absences at school (often, we can bring school along with us to do in the waiting room!).    If Daddy has a day off in the middle of the week, but is working all weekend, we can take that weekday to spend time with him and make up the lessons on Saturday morning.   We can take our family vacations on weeks other than the local spring break, making travel and work plans MUCH easier (not to mention it's MUCH easier to find a house/dog/chicken sitter!)

- The boys learn daily life skills WITHOUT having to sacrifice time with friends or other activities.   We can take care of the chickens as part of our school day....or learn the skill of mopping the floor....or learn how to build a clothesline......all without having to say "no" to playdates.   There's just more time in the day to do things like this when you're not sitting at a desk from 8 am to 3 pm!

-  We have time to focus on what they really love.   Take gymnastics, for example.  We're at the gym on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.   For hours at a time.   If we were not homeschooling, a typical gym day would look like this:

school from 7:30-3 (including travel time to get to and from school)
rush to gym practice to get there by 3:30
practice from 3:30-5:30
rush home to eat dinner
in bed by 8 pm

There'd be no time to play.   No time to relax.  Very little time to spend with the family.  Homeschooling opens up that entire 7:30 - 3:30 time period, leaving plenty of time to relax and play.

-  It takes much less time than you'd think.    We typically start school between 9:30 and 10 am, after sleeping in until 7:30 or 8, having a nice, cooked breakfast, and then our morning chores (bed making, kitchen cleaning, chicken care, etc).   Rascals #2 and #3 are usually done by the time we stop for lunch around noon, and Rascal #1 is not far behind after a lunch break.   That leaves a few more hours during the day for playtime, time to read or work on art projects, time to explore or go on field trips (or appointments!)......time for life.   It's amazing how much less time we can spend on a concept, solely because there is the opportunity for one-on-one teaching.

-  There's less of a chance for our children to learn behaviours or beliefs that are not consistent with our family's values.   I'll never forget the day I picked up Rascal #1 from a day at kindergarten to hear him start singing Lady Gaga in the car on the way home.   My heart stopped beating for a moment to hear my 6 year old singing about things that I'd hoped to keep away from him a little bit longer.   Now, I know I can't "shelter" them from everything forever......but for right now, I want him to be a child.   Our family wants this time to help our children grow in their identity as Catholic males and, well, the current culture isn't going to help them do that.   

-  There's no "us vs them" mentality, or at least, very little of it (I had to reword this, mainly because the boys are in a "spy" phase where they work together to spy on Mike and I throughout the day....so I guess, technically, there is a bit of "us vs them", haha).    One of the things I remember very clearly from my days as a youth minister was watching the difference between a couple of the teens (who were homeschooled) and those who weren't when it came to their view of authority figures.   Our traditional school system is set up to naturally create an "us (students) vs them (teachers or authority figures)" mindset - the oppressed vs the oppressor.    In my time as a youth minister, I watched this mindset slowly transfer over to include parents and all adults in the "them" category.  It was much less pronounced in teens who were homeschooled.    In my opinion, I think it is much easier for a child to grow up seeing their parent as a fellow teammate in a homeschooled environment.

-  I get to spend my days with three little men that I truly love to be around.   I don't miss out on cuddles or hugs or giggles.   I'm there to see the first time they master the monkey bars.  I get to see the excitement as they learn to read a story on their own.   I'm the one they call out for, excitedly, after creating a piece of artwork.    I don't hear about it after the fact, in a progress report, or in an end-of-the-year portfolio.  I'm there, walking with them, as they reach each milestone.

- We get to sleep in.   I know, I know, this sounds totally crazy, but it's a big deal for me.  Making sure that our kids get enough sleep is a huge priority of mine.   They're able to learn more, run faster, and enjoy life to the fullest when they've had enough sleep.   There's no staying up late to finish homework, or getting up early in order to catch the bus.   We can let them sleep in their own natural rhythms and wake to their own natural alarm clocks.  I do think this is one of the major factors in our lack of sicknesses in the past two years.   Their bodies are able to rest enough and fight off whatever germs we may come into contact with.

- My patience is growing.  I've become a better mother to my boys, and I'm completely convinced that homeschooling has had a huge hand in this.   Instead of rushing from one activity or school pick up/drop off or hurried dinner to another, I'm able to relax a bit.   My to-do list is much more flexible, and the amount of relief that has given me is huge.   Without that stress or anxiety hanging over my head, I'm able to laugh more.  I can listen more to the kids.   My patience with their behaviour or needs has grown immensely - and I think it's mostly due to the lack of stress I feel.   Now, whenever I hear another mom say something like "I don't think I'm patient enough to homeschool," there's a part of me that cringes inside.  I thought the same thing - in fact, it was the main reason why we didn't homeschool for the first two years of Rascal #1's school "career."   I was positive I would lose my temper too often and be yelling all of the time and it would ruin my relationship with the kids, when, in fact........homeschooling has done just the opposite.   

- We can focus on the subjects that the kids love, and let them learn about things that they are interested in.   Rascal #1 loves architecture......so we can study famous buildings and he can recreate them.   Rascal #2 loves math, all kinds of math.....so we can move more quickly in that subject than the others.

- On the flip side, we can spend more time in subjects where they struggle, without them getting "behind."   Each subject takes much less time at home than it does at school - which leaves us plenty of time each day to spend extra time on something that they're struggling with.   Rascal #1 struggles with math......so I can spend more time every day playing math games with him, or reviewing concepts.   Rascal #2 struggled with learning to read........so I could spend more time cuddled with him on the couch, reading our way through more stories and easy readers.    All of this can happen without sending them to a special class or tutor (and therefore, there is also no stigma of having to go to the "stupid" kid class), or without getting behind in our daily lesson plans.

I'm sure there are more pros to homeschooling, and I am leaving out something that pertains to your family, but for us, these are the major ones.   Feel free to add your own in the comment box below!


-  It takes dedication.  My laziness is a problem - I'd much rather spend the day playing instead of cracking open the lesson planner and working on tomorrow's plans.  I'm pretty good about keeping on top of the lessons for the boys (after all, I don't want to put them behind), but it's VERY hard for me to be dedicated enough to prep lessons or plan out our week or even get the next day's lessons ready the night before.    Laziness is a constant struggle for me.

-  I'm always with my kids.   I know, I know, this is in the list above, too.   Most of the time, this is a pro for homeschooling for me....but sometimes it is a con.   When I had a filling break and needed to go to the dentist, last-minute........it was a con.    When it's time for that yearly appointment at the doctor's office (you ladies know what I'm referring to)....it was a con.   It is significantly harder to find child care during the day than it is on a weekend or even in the evening.    It's also usually more expensive to hire a sitter during the school day than on the weekend, because the people who ARE available at 10 am on a Wednesday morning are college students or other moms, who either charge more or ask for babysitting services in return.   It can be done, but it takes much more work and planning.   Traditional school is "easier" in this regard - if the boys were in school, I'd have 8 hours a day to do things like this without worrying about what I'd do with them.   

-  It can be just as expensive as a private education.   We were blessed enough to find a lot of our school books either used or for free (given to us by friends), which opens up a lot of room in our education budget for "fun" things, like memberships to the zoo or tickets to go see the symphony.    All of those things add up, though, and the cost of schoolbooks and art supplies can grow pretty darn high. For us, it's still cheaper than three children in Catholic school, but it is definitely more expensive than I had anticipated originally.   We're blessed with a great job for Mike, though, and as of yet, it has not been a stumbling block.   Homeschooling can be done for very little cost, but it takes work and dedication (see the first con) to do so.

-  There is a constant undercurrent of doubt, at least for me.  I worry that I'm not providing my kids with enough chances to make friends or that I'm not fulfilling all of their academic needs.  I  worry that our friends and family members doubt my ability to teach the boys.   I worry that we'll be seen as that "weird" family by those in our extended community, and that the boys will have to fight this image for their entire lives.  I worry that I'm impeding their ability to grow and learn by keeping them at home.   If I sit back and really evaluate the boys objectively, most of these fears disappear........but on a regular, day-to-day basis, they are there, in the background, constantly nagging at me.

This time of year, all of these things start swirling to the surface, and I have to sit back and really evaluate each boy and their needs.   Is homeschooling the right fit for them, as an individual?   Can I - should I - be giving them something else in their educational journey?   Am I being objective enough?

It's a scary evaluation, and one that I dread.    It's so difficult to know whether or not you're doing the best job possible raising your child - and that changes from child to child.   Maybe Rascal #1 would do better in a traditional school.  Maybe Rascal #2 needs to be home right now.   But then again, I once was told that homeschooling was for the FAMILY, not just the child.    If I look at it through that lens, what is the best decision for our family?

I think, for the time being, we'll continue to homeschool......the pros outnumber the cons for us right now.    Maybe someday that will change, who knows?   Homeschooling is the right "fit" for our family at this point in time.

I just wish it wasn't so easy to second-guess everything........


How about your family?   Did I miss any pros/cons for you?   Share your experience in the comments below!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Musings: Eat organic or not?

Honestly, I don't really care.   I just thought it'd catch your attention, dear reader.  ;)

There seems to be A LOT of talk about this topic out there right now.  At least, it seems to be everywhere I normally look to for information - online news sites, Facebook posts by friends, other blogs I read......for some reason, everyone seems to be discussing whether or not organic food is a good choice.   I thought I'd add one more blog to the mix and put into words our thought process and decision making.   Maybe it'll resonate with you, who knows.  Feel free to ignore it....

We currently purchase mostly organic food.   It didn't used to be that way - it's been a gradual shift for us, as our diet and lifestyle changed in other ways.    Here's how it happened.

If you took a snapshot of my kitchen six years ago, it would have looked VERY different from now.   Back then, my fridge, freezer, and pantry was overflowing with items that you could purchase only at Sam's.  You know the ones - the bulk, plastic-wrapped packages of bananas.  The ginormous boxes of goldfish in the pantry.   The stockpile-sized bag of spaghetti noodles.  We went through milk (also purchased at Sam's) at the rate of about 3 gallons a week.

Then life changed.   We moved to Maine.   Mike started a wonderful residency that had the one downside of coming with a salary that worked out to be about $3/hour, after factoring how many hours he was actually WORKING.   Cost of living didn't really factor into the equation when we were looking at potential residency locations way back in the golden years of medical school.    It should have.  It was our one major mistake when ranking residency programs - we didn't really think about the salary and cost of living.    Honestly, I don't know if we would have changed a thing if we HAD looked at the financial piece (because Mike felt that strongly about the residency program after his interview), but it may have.  If nothing else, it probably would have changed where we chose to live in relation to the residency program.  

Anywho, we moved to the amazingly beautiful state of Maine and became immediately overwhelmed with sticker shock.   Everything was SO.MUCH.MORE.EXPENSIVE here - that three gallon of milk a week habit translated into about $45/month - and our budget was not prepared.

Meal times became quickly based around cheap starches - potatoes, pasta, rice - and cheap proteins, like beans.   Produce became a luxury, really, and was purchased solely based on sales and how long it lasted (oranges in winter - yes.   Strawberries in winter?  Not by a long shot).    Conventional produce was really our only option.

Then....we moved to the glorious state of Arizona.  Folks, Arizona was CHEAP.   We could translate our $600/month grocery budget (that previously meant beans and rice at *least* twice a week) to completely organic produce and MEAT EVERY SINGLE DAY.   And cheese.  Ahhh, cheese.  I could eat cheese with EVERY meal if I wanted to.   

***embarrassing Heidi story alert***

I actually called Mike from the grocery store the first time I went shopping in Arizona.   Crying.   Folks, I was CRYING WITH JOY at the grocery store the first time I went shopping.   It was that much of a change for us.

***okay, back to the regularly scheduled programming***

For the first time ever, we had to seriously sit down and think: "Is buying organic worth the money?"

The research began.   And, honestly, the research made it a much harder decision.   Why?   Well....because the research really isn't definitive.  By the time you wade through who paid for each study and who is the parent company of the company that paid for the study (since the majority of the common organic food companies are actually owned by traditional agriculture/food companies)....you'd get to the conclusions section and find that, guess what?   The study didn't really find anything, other than the urine of the participants in the study contained higher levels of pesticides (umm..duh, really).    There was no conclusive evidence saying that pesticides were harmful, medically-speaking....but there was no conclusive evidence saying that they were safe, medically-speaking.   The best most of the studies could come up with were that the data didn't show that there were additional risks of eating the pesticides (Basic Study Reading 101:   "no known risks" does NOT equal "proven safe."  Kinda like how "innocent" and "not guilty" don't really mean the same thing, either).

Anywho, we were sitting there with a budget that *could* finally afford to purchase organic food....and no real clear, definitive answer to whether or not we *should* be buying organic food for health reasons.

So we started trying to figure out what was important to us, as a family.    Our list really boiled down to a few things:

- that our kids ate well-balanced meals that provided a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and protein sources, with the emphasis being on plant-based nutrition

- that our kids were not ingesting a ton of processed food.  A box of mac and cheese here and there would be a treat, not a regular thing.   We wanted their diets (and ours) to be focused on fresh ingredients turned into made-from-scratch meals.

- that our kids (and ourselves) knew how food was grown and where it came from.   We didn't fall into the "locavore" movement, really (I wasn't setting requirements as to how close to our house our food was grown or produced, so we weren't hardcore), but we wanted the kids to recognize the natural rhythms built into our area's agriculture, and as much as possible, we wanted them to have the experience of going to the farm and being active participants in the production of food.    

This last one - that our kids knew how food was grown and where it came from - was of primary importance for us.  We wanted our kids to respect and support the people who worked their tails off so that we could eat every day.    As much as possible, we wanted the kids to participate in that - which usually meant we did as much "pick-your-own" options as possible.   Homeschooling tends to lend itself well to this idea, and a lot of our lesson plans involved a trip to a local farm or orchard.  This last goal also dictated whether or not we ate organic food when we lived in Arizona.    You see, we lived about 15 minutes from a beautiful, organic farm that had an amazing selection of "pick-your-own" fruits and veggies.    It oftentimes took me just as long to get to the "big box" grocery store to go shopping as it did to drive to the farm......so the majority of our food came from this farm.   Using this farm as our main source of food also allowed us to eat almost completely organic produce, while keeping within our budget....but that was more of a secondary effect. 

Did we feel healthier?   Yep.   But we also greatly adjusted our diet to live seasonally (forcing us to increase the variety of our nutrient intake) and primarily plant based.   Was it the organic food, or was it the overall change in our diet?   Honestly, my gut tells me (pun intended) that it was probably a little of all of that, and more.   I can't definitively say what our increased health was due to.   (We'd also have to take into account other lifestyle changes:   going from traditional schooling to homeschooling or moving from Maine to Arizona, for example).   All I know is that we no longer had sick visits at the doctor (we haven't had one in 3 years) and no more asthma attacks for Rascal #1.   Maybe it was the food, maybe it was the environment, maybe it was the lifestyle.  I have no clue - I just know that I'm grateful for the change in our family's health!

Then....we moved back to Maine.   Suddenly, our $600/month grocery budget for a family of five was no longer going to provide for things like organic produce and meat more than once or twice a week.   Again, we had to sit down and figure out what was most important to us when it came to feeding our family.....and look through the body of research that had appeared in the year and a half we'd been living in the desert.

Guess what?  The research still doesn't have a definitive answer.   All they can tell us is the same thing: there's no clear evidence (yet) for one side or the other of the argument.    

So we had to sit down and analyze - again - what was most important to us.   The list really hadn't changed in the year and a half of "luxury" grocery shopping (although, honestly, nothing FELT luxurious about picking peaches in the 100ยบ heat with the sun beating down on you).    Our most important goals were still:  eat a mostly plant-based diet, focusing on variety, and try to keep as close to the source of the food as possible so that the boys would continue to recognize the importance of the farmer to our ability to eat healthily.  We didn't really feel comfortable pumping our kids full of pesticides (after all, we'd removed pretty much all chemicals from our house in the previous year...it felt slightly "wrong" to add more back in).

How could we go about doing that in Maine?   Well, it really came down to prioritizing.

We gardened - and are expanding our plot this summer - trying to focus on the items that we base a lot of our meals around (things like kale, tomatoes, and squashes, for example).    We try to buy as local as possible - stopping at the local dairy for our milk and cheese  - or heading to a nearby farm to pick up our meats, lettuces and eggs (well, soon these will also come from our backyard).   Some organic items, like Maine potatoes,  have a cost that is within pennies of the conventional items.    In that case, I'll pay the extra $0.50 to buy the organic Maine potatoes over the conventional Idaho ones.

Our local community, in our tiny little village, is pretty reliant on the economical support of these local farms, many (if not most) of which are organic - Maine is a pretty "crunchy" state.   I play with our weekly menus to reflect what is "in season" in our little village.   In our eyes, this accomplishes our goals:   we're eating a larger variety of food (when looking at the "big" picture, or over the course of a year's time), our diets are mainly plant-based (because that's what our local economy is focused on), and our kids know where our food comes from.   A lot of the local choices are organic - but not all of them are.   We're still buying mostly (if not all) organic every week.....but again, it's more of a secondary result of our eating habits.

Is buying organic stretch sometimes for our budget?  Not really.   I know, it seems to go against everything you read out there, but really.....it isn't.  

Here's why:   we changed our diet and lifestyle.   Instead of buying the $5/pint organic strawberries when it's not strawberry season....I wait until the local strawberry farm (which happens to be pesticide-free) is opened up for picking.   We'll go every day of the week to pick berries - and I'll freeze and can everything I can get my hands on.     Instead of buying something because it "sounds good"....I'll go to the local farm stand and buy what they have - and work our menu around that.    Instead of buying organic lettuce - we grow our own and don't add any fertilizers or pesticides to it (it means we get less than the farms that do - but we get enough for our family).   

Not everyone can do this, I recognize that.   I feel very grateful that we are able to do so, and I say a prayer of thanksgiving every day when I am able to pull out a can of home-grown tomatoes to make dinner.    

So, yes, we eat organic (mostly)........but more primarily....we choose to grow our own, pick our own, and support our own.   It works for us.