Got Moon? Eclipse Reflections

Our country stood still yesterday and looked up into the sky.  Millions of people, all together.  You’d be hard pressed to create such a unifying event as that.

Sometimes, God does something extra spectacular, as if to say “Hey guys! Remember me?” This time, he literally stopped one of the greatest nations on earth, so we could all look skyward and see His celestial show.

He put the moon in front of the sun and the earth went dark. The stars shown at mid day, the land was encircled in a 360* sunset, the temperature dropped.

When we loaded five of our kids into our van to travel five hours (which turned into eight hours. Eclipse traffic is real!) to witness totality, I wondered if we were just a little crazy. We generally are, but this time, we certainly weren’t alone.

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Our beautiful campsite at Land Between the Lakes

In fact, the first place we stopped, didn’t even have camping available. We are talking rough, dispersed camping with zero amenities. You have to hike your gear in. It was all full. And this was Saturday – a full two days before the eclipse!

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Gorgeous Sunset over the lake Saturday night. The sun was practicing!

We loaded back up and traveled a bit more south to the Land Between the Lakes. It was still pretty crowded, but we soon found a gorgeous campsite in a cove, on the lake. Sand and shells, trees for a hammock, it was perfect. The sky was clear and we knew we’d have great viewing.

We weren’t too far off the road, so we had ample chance to observe the people coming and going. Traffic was pretty heavy and campsites were filling fast. By the time the eclipse started, stopped cars were lining the road.

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Hammock ready to watch the eclipse!

One of my favorite parts of camping is seeing so many people eager to escape the rat race for a bit and reconnect with nature. This world is far to beautiful to miss in favor of a screen or in a corner office. This time, people came from far and wide to witness this eclipse.

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Shadows are changing.

As the sky dimmed and people gathered along the road, gazing upward to witness this wonder, there was a certain buzz of humanity. A connection that we are all traveling together toward the one same goal. Some are more aware of it than others. But truly, we all gaze heavenward.

When the moon slipped into place, completely centered over the sun – the earth went dark and cold – and the crowds cheered at the wonder of it all.

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Totality

It was heartwarming to witness this marvel of the sky, God’s wonder at work, uniting people from all walks of life. People who made sacrifices, planned long and hard, traveled miles and miles, all to witness God showing off with His nature playground.

Knee Deep in Curriculum

The school year is approaching and, as typical, I am scrambling on just about every front.  We have part of our clan in Catholic school and the others are homeschooled, which mean we have just about every brand of crazy with which to contend.

We take schooling on a case by case basis around here.  Thankfully, this year is starting out pretty tame.  The oldest two will be in school – IN THE SAME BUILDING.  In the past, I’ve had up to three different buildings, in addition to at least one or two kids at home, so this will be a (relative) breeze.

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On the homeschool front, we will be sticking mainly with our Mater Amabilis curriculum.  This Charlotte Mason inspired approach fits well with our life-learning, fairly laid back, nature centered learning approach.  It affords us flexibility and structure, which works well for me.

We are looking at Fifth Grade, Fourth Grade, Second Grade, and crazy four year old this year. Said crazy four year old doesn’t need any school work, but she’ll loudly insist upon some.

To appease her, I got her a couple of these super cute Crinkleroot books, be Jim Arnosky.  They fit perfectly into the Nature Study plan and are fun little reads for all of us.

For religion, I got her Little Acts of Grace, which turned out to be a great book for Avila, as well.  It’s really sweet and teaches those little things that sometime get forgotten with child number six.

I’ll also probably pick up a workbook and some crayons of her very own, so she doesn’t feel left out. If she could only understand how lucky she is to have the chance to just play while the others work!

Avila will be in second grade this year.  We will continue to use Reading Lessons through Literature that we worked through last year. She memorizes easily, so I think the ortho phonogram program is a good fit for her.  Bella will be refreshing this, as well. We also love the McGuffy Readers, so both girls will continue on with those.

Avila will work through the Faith and Life 2, as well as the St Joseph Baltimore Catechism.  She’s prepping for First Confession and First Communion, so this is a big year for her! We will also continue to work though The Life of Our Lord for Children, by Marigold Hunt.  This is a gem of a book.  We used it last year, with all of the kids, so it will be bit of a repeat, but that’s ok.

We are trying new things across the board for Math this year. I struggle to find a math program that doesn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out, but I’m really hoping that this year’s changes will be better for all involved.  For Avila, we are trying Math for a Living Education. It looks cute, but I also think it will set her up for success with Teaching Textbooks next year.

Bella is going into the fourth grade, which is easy for me, since PeterXavier did fourth grade last year!  We are switching to Teaching Textbooks, which I think will work well for her.  She does well with math, but hate the actual doing of the work. I’m hoping the computer based program will seem “fun” to her. Or at least not be a total bore.

For reading with Bella, we will be working though Reading Lessons through Literature a second time, as well as lots of practice.  She loves books like Mercy Watson, so we will be indulging in gobs of those.

For religion, she will be working though Faith and Life 3. She will also work through Marigold Hunt’s The First Christians: The Acts of the Apostles for Children. This book details the early days and establishment of this Church. It continues the story that we started last year in Hunt’s Life of Our Lord for Children. I’m a huge fan of Hunt’s books and am excited to work through all of them with the kids.  PeterXavier and Bella will be reading this one together.

Bella finished Primary Language Lessons last year and will be starting the Intermediate level this year.  These are reprints of old books and are a sweet and gentle way to teach grammar, copywork, and writing.

PeterXavier will be in fifth grade this year. He’s charting new territory for us, since my other kids were in school for fifth grade!  He will also be switching to Teaching Textbooks.  Like Bella, he does well in math, but gets really bored with the drill and kill technique, so I’m hoping the computer will entice him.

I have a hard time getting him to read good books, because he balks at anything that smells of “school work”.  He’s voluntarily reading the Lord of the Rings right now, so I plan to not say anything and let that be a chunk of his literature for this year! *Shhh!!*

History, Geography, and Science will be done as a group, which is hugely helpful for me.  I’ll make a separate post for all of that.

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Lean into Our Lady, Mamas

Parenthood is a funny thing. Those sweet little babies don’t come with an instruction manual and a lot of the time, you’re really just winging it.

My oldest is turning 15 today. Fifteen years ago, I walked into the hospital in southern Florida, they scooped out a screaming baby boy, and sent me home. I remember wondering what made them think I was qualified to take this little bundle home.

I was only twenty one, and we were twenty five days away from our first wedding anniversary.  We were kids. And parents.

I still look around sometimes and wonder how this all is supposed to work. Who, exactly, thought I was qualified to do all this?! Adulthood seems like a farce sometimes.  Surely I’m not the only one who feels like she has no idea what she’s doing and just makes it up as it comes along.

On a wing and a prayer, it all seems to work out. We make the best choices we can, given the cards we are handed and then we pray that it all works out. God saw us to be qualified, so we pick up and carry on. We lean on Him and we lean on His Mother.

God was wise when He gave us Mary, a young mother who I am sure also felt unqualified for her job. But He called her and she said yes.  We can lean into her when the tasks seem too much. I was clueless as I walked out of that hospital, a young mom to a little boy. She must have felt clueless, too, as she sat in that stable, a young mom to the Son of God. That seems a bit more overwhelming than any of our situations, huh?

Her fiat is our fiat.  We say yes to His call and even when we feel overwhelmed, under qualified, and a bit of a mess, we can turn to Mary, because she understands.

As Gianna Molla, also a mama who I am sure questioned her qualifications, says:

Love your children.  In them, you can see baby Jesus. Pray for them a lot and everyday, place them under holy Mary’s protection.

Motherhood – parenthood – in no small and easy job.  It’s hard and exhausting and we often look around and wonder who thought we were cut out for such an enormous and daunting task.  The answer is God.  He found you capable. And he equips us for the task.  He also sends us saints to emulate and His very own Mother to guide us and carry us.

So, carry on, good mamas.  Fight the good fight and lean into Our Lady, everyday.

 

When NFP Doesn’t Work

Oh, NFP week.  Wherein everyone wanted to tell you of the “beauty and marriage building” of NFP.  I’m glad more people are coming out to speak about the tough aspects.  It doesn’t always work seamlessly for all of us, but that’s ok.

When we were first married, I only heard the “beauty” rhetoric and even have a few NFP teachers go so far as to tell me it was my fault NFP didn’t seem to work for us.  The people who tout this do all seem to have one thing in common – they don’t seem to have what I’ve come to refer to as “hyper fertility”.

Sure, it all “works well” and you can have only a handful of children delightfully spaced to allow for recover and sanity retrieval when you have a normal level of fertility, but not all of us do.

We hear about the cross of infertility (definitely a hard one!) and pregnancy loss (I’m with you here. So, so tough!), but can we talk for a minute about the craaaazy of hyper fertility?  The one where the words “ecological breastfeeding” make you laugh?  Seriously.  I’m a walking, talking pacifier and I still get pregnant.

I spend the first ten years of marriage either pregnant or breastfeeding and usually both.  It’s a beautiful, messy, difficult life, this one to which the Church calls us. And when you take your vows before you can legally consume your champagne toast, you know full well that a twelve passenger van is probably in your future.  And today, that van is a badge of big family mama-hood I wouldn’t turn in for anything, but it wasn’t necessarily easy to get here.

Pregnancy is hard. Breastfeeding is hard. Trying to avoid pregnancy and seeing that pink line…again (and again and again) is hard.  But hard is not the same as bad.  Admitting that it’s hard is not failing.   Six kids in ten years is the single largest source of joy and pride for every member of this crazy family.

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Admitting it is hard is not the same as wishing it were different.  The difference is that when we admit to the weight of the cross of hyper fertility, we aren’t met with sympathy.  When the world sees your choice as wrong or preventable, and then you dare to whisper that it’s tough, all it gets you is a big fat eye roll, huff, and sigh. There isn’t a lot of support out there for the seemingly crazy who supposedly bring their problems onto themselves.

There are so many things in life that are hard, but we do them anyway, because the end result is so much better than the hard road to get there.

I used to wish that NFP was more effective, easier to use, more black and white.  But now I know that the gift is in the trusting of God with your future.  How many times in life I think I know best, only to learn that His way is so much better.  The beauty of NFP is that it’s a hard, rocky road, but in the end, God’s gifts are so much better than the future we would have created on our own,

 

Zoom In

Social Media. We all have a love-hate relationship with it. It can provide so much good: inspiration, pray, uplifting ideas, laughs, and friendship.

But the bad. It can suck us into a black hole of endless, fruitless comparison. It tends to show us only the happy, the beautiful, and the perfect side of some stranger’s life. You never pick up the phone with the perfect person and hear her pour out her woes. You only see her perfect mantle or her spotless kitchen sink. We turn to these squares for inspiration, but sometimes we walk away with only frustration.

She has troubles, same as you. She also has messes just outside the picture frame. She probably has the same frustration with that world of little squares that you have. But you never see that, so we all assume that her life really is that perfect little world of perfectly curated pictures.

The “problem” with social media is that we all, literally, zoom in on life, so that no one sees the peripheral. I may post a gorgeous picture of my wildflower bouquet, but I carefully crop out the margins. What you don’t see is the toddler underwear, haphazardly discarded just outside the frame. You can’t smell the boots that the teenager wore to feed the pigs and, for some reason only logical to the perpetually illogical teenage brain, dropped them inside the front door. You can’t hear thesix-year-old crying in the kitchen, because we are out of chocolate milk.

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Social media zooms in on life and we use it as our tool to show the world only our most beautiful. We rarely post the laundry mountain, the spilled cereal, or the weedy garden. We don’t want to show that side of life, because we don’t want to focus on it. And that’s a good thing. We should focus on our good and beautiful. We should find joy in this amazing life we live. But when we get bogged down in believing that the perfect squares of the people we follow are an accurate depiction of real life, we tend to lose focus.

But. What if *we* zoom in on life. Literally. Never post it, never tweet it. Just mentally zoom in, past the mess, past the whining, past the smelly boots and see only the sweet toddler who wants a hug or the charming teen who wants to tell you a funny story.

We need to zoom in and see the beauty, when we feel like we are drowning. If we can take the time to do this when it results in a post that gains “likes” and comments, why can we not also do it simply to focus on the joy in our own lives.

The gospel of Luke tell us that “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” She certainly didn’t post them for the world to know. Or shout it all from the rooftops.  Sometimes, we need to zoom in on the beauty, take it all in, and simply hold it in our hearts.  God knows. He sees. There’s the joy.

God: The Ultimate Artist

“….He created us – in His image. He could have created us and plunked us down on barren land. But He didn’t. He chose to give us the most beautiful land His perfect imagination could create. In its wonder, it is vast and varying…”

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I am over at Catholic Sistas today, chatting about God, art, and this beautiful world.  Head over to read the rest!

Seven Quick Takes – Big Family Travel on a Small Budget

If there’s one thing big families have in common, it’s budget.  We all have one.  We generally go over it.  And we basically wrestle with it all the time.

How’s a big, on a budget family going to keep up with all of our globe-trotting friends?  We all see the pictures on Facebook of our friends at the beach, sipping fancy drinks at a resort lodge, or posing with a Disney princess.  Vacations are, without a doubt, a luxury.  But they are also an amazing learning experience for everyone in the family.  Sometimes, what you learn is problem solving and remaining calm when things go wrong!  But other times you learn culture, geography, history, and an appreciation for the world beyond your own doors.

And there are ways to get away, see the world, and come home refreshed all without busting your bank account to smithereens.  We spent two weeks traveling the country earlier this month and learned a ton!  Here are the Seven Tips for Traveling with a Big Family on a Small Budget.

I.

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Skip the resort, skip the big mouse, and get outside. Our most memorable trips have always involved nature, hiking, and the great outdoors.  We love hiking and, no matter where we go, tend to seek out the local trails.  It’s usually relatively inexpensive to gain entrance to state parks and a pass is definitely worth the money in your own state.

II.

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All of the kids earned Junior Ranger badges, although some took it more seriously than others.

Free National Park pass.  Did you know that every fourth grader can get a free pass to all of the National Parks for his entire family?  (And I also just learned that, until the end of the month, seniors can get a lifetime pass for only $10!)  This was huge for our trip this summer.  We were able to hit five different National Parks – beauty, education, and adventure!  We learned a ton on our own, but we also were really impressed with the National Park systems Junior Ranger program.  The kids got badges from each other the parks we visited and the program makes it easier for you to delve deeper and learn more at each park.  We attended talks we may have otherwise skipped as part of the program.  And we were never sorry.  The talks we excellent and the rangers were always so informative.  Junior Ranger programs are free!

III.

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Hit the open road.  There’s no money for airfare!  What’s better than a road trip??  Not much!  Pile the family in the van, grab a coffee, and hit the open road.  You don’t have to go all the way across the country to find adventure.  We love our state parks for hiking, nature, and wild life siting.  Roadtrips give you access to so much you’d miss if you fly.  Even with all of the repairs we’ve had to do to our van (ahem), we are still money ahead of airfare and car rental.

IV.

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When you pack your own meal, you can have vino!

Pack food or cook your own  Eating out with a crew is prohibitively expensive.  When we were traveling this summer, we darkened the doors of a sit down restaurant only a few times – when we were desperate and exhausted and once on Avila’s birthday.  Other than that, we hit up grocery stores for sandwich fixings or ingredients to make amazing meals over the fire.

V.

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This was our campsite in western New Mexico.  The kids hikes this feature, before we headed out that morning.  We paid zero dollars to sleep here!

CAMP!  Hotels can make a major dent in any vacation budget.  And when you’re families over a certain number, you may need to have two rooms.  That can add up quickly!  The other issue with hotel rooms is that, obviously, they’re full of other people.  Who want to sleep.  And you waltz in with your crazy zoo of kids who have just spent hours in a car or who are exhausted and cranky from hiking.  It’s not a combo for a relaxing evening.  We found camping to be the perfect solution – kids could blow off steam without worrying about bothering other hotel patrons.  But, camping can get a little pricey.  Some campsites actually charge per person and with eight people that adds up quickly.

VI.

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This was our very first night camping and set the stage for Federal Land camping for the next two weeks.  It was breathtakingly beautiful, quiet, and FREE!

Federal Land camping  And so, we discovered camping on Federal Lands.  We found that we really enjoyed camping for FREE on federal lands more than campsites or hotels.  These areas were beautiful and far more sparsely populated, so the kids could be kids.  (There’s a post coming, detailing Federal Land camping!)  With the exception of the times we weren’t able to get to a federal land site, due to car issues, we only paid for camping – $18 – one time.

VII.

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The Grand Canyon.  We used our fourth grader pass to get into the park and the kids all earned Junior Ranger badges while we were there.

Pack what you need and don’t forget stuff!  Ok, this one is important.  And we kind of failed at it.  It really stinks when you have to swing into a local Wal-Mart for all that stuff you have at home, but somehow forgot to pack.  Like pillows.  Or shoes for the toddler.  It’s a major budget buster!

Travel takes money, any way you shake it, but there are definitely ways to save and have fun without breaking the bank.  I would argue that you’ll end up enjoying yourself even more.  Hit the road, pitch a tent, relax and have fun with you family!

 

(Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum- Seven Quick Takes)

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