Wednesday, February 25, 2009

School report - and retort

So the kids' report cards came home the other day. An excerpt from B's:
B has been focusing much of this semester on math. He has been working toward abstraction in all of the functions. B enjoys challenging himself by making up large math problems and then working through them. B has also been working on his writing skills. . . paragraph writing, spelling, contractions, and homophones. B has also been intrigued by research this semester. He has worked on a study of a country and researching the animal kingdom. B has become a wonderful role model for the younger students. Keep up the good work, B.

And M:

M is very quiet in the classroom but when she is one-on-one we realize there is much depth to her. She sometimes gets overlooked in the busy hubbub of a classroom, but then we discover she's written an amazing story with incredible vocabulary. When she decides to say something, it is well thought out and insightful. M clearly loves humor and laughter. On a daily basis, she will avoid math if she can. She tends much more to the languageworks, especially reading and writing. She is very methodical in her work. We are very thankful for M's quiet presence and good example, but love her sense of humor when it sneaks out! Continue to practice reading clocks, identifying coins, practicing addition math facts, and reading aloud for fluency and expression.
I appreciate the extra work the teachers put into creating these narrative descriptions of the kids' progress. (There is a "graded" portion as well.)

HOWEVER . . . not all is calm on the school front. Maria has been complaining about different aspects of her school experience, so I encouraged her to write them down. She did. She titled a blank page, "Questions & Compliments by Maria." I think she meant "Questions and Complaints," given the gist of the list she made up. A sampling (she numbered them):

2. Why didn't I get a riminder for pajama day?!

3. Why do you have to do spelling if it is in our Thursday notes? [ = Why does she have to practice her spelling words, since she brings home a list to practice every week.]

4. (Number 4 is for my parents.) Sandwiches everyday get kinda boring!

5. (Miss Anna) I know what to do! [Miss Anna is a parent volunteer who has been working with M to keep her on track.]

7. We have teachers why do we have voulanters?

After talking with her teacher, I discovered that M is not really doing much work at school, other than the stuff she likes to do (reading and writing), so they're creating a daily work plan for her. So we are going to meet with her teacher this afternoon to talk over her "compliments" -- and hopefully give her a pep talk about the importance of working hard at school. Full report to follow.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

J learning her letters and sounds

J has been learning her letter sounds in the past few days. She's shown a big interest in the Leapfrog refrigerator magnets that usually drive me crazy (they accumulate on the floor). She picked up the letter "J" and said, "Hey! This is in my name!" I told her that was right, and she went on to say, "And it says 'Juh!'" So then we worked on finding the rest of the letters to her name. I wrote her name out on the dry-erase board and she went hunting for them, and we put it all together to make her name, which thrilled her to death. As you can see.

By the way, if you haven't seen my sister Mary's new blog, check it out:

She's a professional photographer specializing in kids' photography. Can you tell???

Kids playing quietly about watching for about watching for when your kids are actually playing nicely together, like this:

The kids continue to play with the dollhouse together pretty nicely, making up all sorts of interesting stories.

Now, granted, five minutes after this picture was taken, B spilled a huge bowl of water all over his bed and the floor. But after I was finished taking pictures, I made sure to comment on how well they were playing together. Some mornings, as we pray on the way to their school, we pray for the grace to be able to take the gift of the day we've been given and make it into something good and wonderful and unique to give back to God at the end of the day. We talk about what we can do to make gifts for God throughout the day. I helpfully pointed this out to them ("This is a good gift for God!") to which they said, "Uh huh. Hey, now let's make them take a trip in the car . . . "

Monday, February 16, 2009

Moon Pies

Lent is almost upon us, and it is time once again for MOON PIES, sent to us from S's mother in Alabama. Apparently, moon pies are a big southern Mardi Gras thing. Moon Pies. Mardi Gras. Who woulda guessed?

Anyway, here is a recipe she sent along for a moon pie dessert, just in time for Fat Tuesday:

Moon Pie Bienville Dessert

1 large box Instant vanilla or French vanilla pudding made with ½ cup less milk than called for in recipe on box

 1 can sweetened condensed milk

 ¼ cup sour cream (can do without, but it does add a bit of tang)

 1 12 oz. container whipped topping - thawed

 1 tsp vanilla

 6-7 bananas, sliced

 12 Moon pies, broken or sliced into bite size pieces


Mix prepared pudding, condensed milk, and sour cream.

Fold in whipped topping.

Place moon pie pieces in bottom of 9 by 13 dish.

Top with banana slices.

Top with pudding mixture.

 Chill three hours or overnight.

(Optional: top with more pieces or quarters or halves of moon pies or chocolate chips or any decorations)

Sunday afternoon

We had a busy few days around here, with Valentine's Day and all. Friday night S and I took advantage of the free childcare offered by a local church and went out to eat while the kids attended a "party" at the church. Then Saturday night we went over to a friend's house for a potluck and singing. There were about a dozen families crowded in there, and we had a pleasant evening sitting on the living room floor singing what S calls "hippie songs" (didn't know "You Are My Sunshine" and "Baby Beluga" qualified, but ok) while a long line of little kids kept passing through on their way upstairs or down into the basement. Always on some urgent mission -- first they were detectives, then they were fairy-hunters.

Then Sunday morning we were at church all morning, between Mass and family famith formation. So the afternoon was a little bit lazy.

This picture is of S reading a long book called "Big Susan" to the kids. The book is about a little girl named Susan and the dolls in her dollhouse. It is told from the dolls' perspective, hence the title: Susan seems very big to the dolls, so big, in fact, that they can never see all of her at once. The dolls rely on Susan for everything, except from midnight to dawn on Christmas morning, when they can talk and move on their own. The story is obviously a light allegory; part of the "Wonderful Night" involves an encounter with "someone even bigger than Big Susan, someone even gentler than Big Susan, who smelled faintly of flowers rather than toothpaste."

In any case, the story inspired renewed attention to the dollhouse the kids received from their grandparents at Christmas, and B and M played with it for the rest of the afternoon, and M and J have been playing with it for much of today as well. M even made plates for them from pennies, and put shavings of carrots on the plates to be "orange celery."

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Sleeping Beauty

J, asleep:

And while she was sleeping, her sister was busy reading in the next bed:

M cleans the bathroom! Without being asked!

So, M heard that "parents do nine chores for every one chore kids do" (she read this in American Girl magazine, which she regularly checks out of the library), so she secretly cleaned the bathroom for us. Have I mentioned that we might want to buy her a subscription to American Girl magazine???

Family Catechesis: Learning the Nicene Creed with the Kids

We have "family catechesis" on Sundays around our house. So far, the older kids have memorized the Ten Commandments and the responses for the first part of the Mass. When we got to the part where we recite the Nicene Creed, we took a break from the Mass to memorize and learn about the Creed. This means that almost every week we sit down and learn a new line from the Creed, and then we talk about what that line means, using the corresponding part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (We take a break from this for certain holy seasons and special events.) Up until today we have gotten this far:

We believe in one God, 
the Father, the Almighty
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God. . . .

Sometimes we stay on one line, since there's a lot to unpack. The Catechism uses "seen and unseen" to unpack the creation story, man made in the image of God, the fall, original sin, and the angels. We spent quite a few weeks on that.

Now, most people think that this stuff is way beyond what a six- and eight-year old would be able to comprehend, but you know what? We paraphrase and explain on their level and act it out where necessary, and they pick up a surprising amount. It's pretty amazing.

Most of the time, I have to admit, we approach family catechesis with a certain amount of dread, because B is always squirmy, M is usually silly, and J is usually climbing all over one of us or interrupting with her own totally irrelevent speeches. (Actually, lately her speeches tend to be more on-topic -- based on what she has been picking up.) Today should have been a doozy, since we needed to cover everything from "eternally begotten of the Father" through "by the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man." That's the long part with "God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made" in it. We had to cover that whole part because we're learning the Nicene Creed (because we recite it during Mass), but the Catechism follows the Apostles' Creed, so there's a bit of a gap.

Surprisingly, it went very well. In fact, we were trying to wrap things up and they kept asking questions and making comments for another 15 minutes -- and relevant ones, too! We really covered the gamut, from "What does begotten mean?" to the nature of the Trinity to the history of the Council of Nicea to the difference between Lutherans, Catholcs, Buddhists, and Jews.

First we started out by explaining that all that strange language was talking about Jesus Christ. We talked about what "eternally begotten" means (Jesus has no beginning, but "eternally" comes from the Father -- which we also explained by saying that he's "always being born"). That led M to ask why Jesus was born at Christmas if he was "always" born. So we explained that Jesus has two natures: he's fully human and fully divine, and so he was "born" as a human, even though he has always existed. Then we talked about how "God from God, light from light" meant, and that led M to offer that she thinks of Jesus "as the moon," because he shines in the darkness. And B built on that by saying the light of the moon comes from the sun, just like Jesus comes from the Father -- two persons (sun and moon) but one nature (the light). And M added that she thought of humans as the stars, because "we have sin AND grace inside us."

So then we did a very short, informal, impromptu skit about the Council of Nicea as a way of explaining where all this strange language comes from. We explained that Nicea is a town, and that in the early Church, lots of people were saying lots of different things about who Jesus was. We kept it pretty broad. I said, "Well, I believe that Jesus is not totally God, because only God can be God. Jesus was just human!" And S said, "No, Jesus was totally God, but not really human -- God just made himself LOOK human." And then I pointed a finger at her and said, "Heretic!" and she did the same to me, and we kept doing that for a while. Then I explained to the kids that people started fighting about who Jesus was, and so the bishops all got together in Nicea to sort it all out. So the kids got to be the bishops, and they imitated a debate -- B made a really good bishop, actually, weighing the pros and cons of each argument, while M and J nodded. Then I explained that the bishops met for a year and decided to write down what the Church believes, and that became the Nicene Creed. The kid-bishops recited some of the parts of the Creed we'd been discussing to illustrate the conclusion of the council.

We'd have been done at that point, but that got M and B talking about how different people believe different things, and they offered some examples they know about. That's where we got into talking about what Jews and Lutherans believe that is different from Catholics. (M has some Lutheran friends, and as we were explaining about the different beliefs at the Council of Nicea, M put in, "And then there were the Lutherans, too!" which made us laugh as we explained that the Lutherans came much later.) And then M said, "I think each group has a different idea of who Jesus is, and each thinks they are right." So THAT launched a discussion about religious pluralism and how we can discern the truth (through prayer, community, and following the teaching of Jesus to see if it delivers what it promises).

I have to admit that we have been bribing the kids with pieces of candy as a reward for memorizing parts of the Creed and for paying attention -- but this particular session went way beyond what we normally get out of our bribes (and occasional threats). As S said afterward, it's nice to have it go really well once every 40 times or so!

Friday, February 06, 2009

The World Through the Eyes of a Three-Year-Old

Well, today we were trying to find J's "Kidzoom" camera so she could take pictures on our walk. (Yes, it's finally warm enough to walk outside - 30 degrees ABOVE ZERO. Woo-hoo!) Couldn't find it anywhere. So I suggested that we pray to Jesus to find it, 'cause, funny thing, when the kids pray for something like that, 90 percent of the time they find what they're looking for in seconds. Must have something to do with being a child.

EXCEPT...this time J's response to that suggestion was, "No, I'm a superhero. I can find it myself!"

Well, at least she's vocalizing the attitude the majority of us hold anyway. :) Needless to say, we did NOT find the camera until I called her mother, who told me where to find it.

Anyway, here are some of the pictures that the kids have taken with their camera -- most of these are by J, including the nice one of the violet flower in the sunny window.

Monday, February 02, 2009

How to survive a nine-day silent retreat

Or, rather, how to survive a nine-day silent retreat if you're the one left at home with three small kids. Three tips:Get extra sleep. Favor naps over housework, if you can.
  • Keep the meals simple. I made hot dogs, rice with vegetables, leftovers (black bean soup), ravioli...and I cheated by eating over at the Catholic Worker a few nights, and going out to eat one night.
  • Minimize your expectations: Aim low in the housecleaning department and you can't miss.
  • Call on friends. We had a great support network of folks offering to babysit and help out.
  • Have a plan to structure kids' down time.
  • Keep it all in perspective. Millions of single, working moms do this every day -- not to mention the millions of families around the world in even worse situations. (Of course, no one wants to be them, but still....)
As I write this, the kids are preparing a giant surprise party for S for when she comes home tomorrow afternoon. So far it has involved stringing streamers all over the place and setting up a race course, although M has a very detailed list that she's written up that includes "Queen cha
ir (for mom), tiara (mom), music (Mozart), practice dance show" and some other things I can't remember. She also wrote on there: "Practice makes perfect!"

Our best day was definitely Saturday, when I took the kids (and a neighbor girl!) down to the local children's museum, followed by McDonald's trip. On Sunday we did church followed by family faith formation, and then ice skating after lunch. A couple of our friends, Eileen and Mary, came ice skating with us. Each of them took turns helping M and B learn to ice skate while I pulled J around the ice on a sled. Afterward, we went home to ave hot baths (the kids, not me), and then we went out to a local chinese buffet with our friends, who treated us. I'll paste some pics from the weekend below.

Quotable Kids

Recent quotes from the kids:

B was verbally retaliating against J, who had just whacked him for no apparent reason. "Is that what the Gospel calls us to do?" I asked. "I haven't got to that part," he says. "You haven't got to the part about loving your neighbor?" "No, I haven't got to the part that explains how to love your neighbor."

J, out of nowhere: "This is how death looks." She gets on the floor and lies still, spread-eagle. End of discussion.