A Lesson on Charity from my Kids

For quite some time now, I have been thinking about taking my kids to visit some elderly folks in a nursing home. I thought this would be a wonderful way to practice the works of mercy together and to nourish a spirit of charity and service.

However, each time I have considered doing this, I have fairly quickly talked myself out of it, because of thoughts about how my girls will think the home smells funny, or they won’t feel comfortable talking to the residents, or they’ll mumble and no one will be able to hear them. This has always quickly led to imaginings of myself, in such a situation, being forced to try to make small talk while shushing complaining kids, and the idea would just shrivel and die, right there. My little introverted self does not like small talk.

So, I have resisted doing this good deed. Repeatedly.

About two weeks ago, I got an email from coordinator of pastor ministry at our parish, asking for volunteers to take flowers and Easter gifts to elderly and home bound individuals in a local nursing home. I decided that this was my chance to just get over myself and do something with my kids to serve others, and I quickly replied to the email, before I could talk myself out of it.

I’m so, so glad I did.

When I told them that we were going to visit a nursing home to take gifts to some of the residents, they immediately began to cheer happily. I thought they might be nervous and/or reluctant. Instead they were excited and eager.

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Before we went to the nursing home, I talked to the girls about what to expect and coached them on how to behave. I warned them that the home might smell funny and told them not to complain, or pinch their noses, or otherwise draw attention to it. I reminded them to speak clearly and not too fast (one of my girls is a super speed talker!), and that some of the people might not hear very well so they might have to speak a bit loudly. They said, “Like we do with Grandpa?” Yes. They know the drill. We talked about things they might bring up in conversation. I was pretty sure that they would be tongue-tied, and all the conversation would be left to me.

When we go to the home, they were poised, polite, and articulate, and so kind and loving towards the people we met.

I was humbled by their unselfconsciousness and their easy manner with the residents we spoke to. They weren’t uncomfortable at all. They weren’t tongue-tied, or mumbling, or complaining in the slightest.

In fact, they wanted to keep meeting and giving to more people. On the first day we visited, we were only able to deliver the gifts we had brought to two of the four residents we were assigned. The other two did not answer our knocking. I was fully prepared to take the two gifts we had left back to the coordinator of the project, tell her we weren’t able to make contact, and be done with it.

The girls wanted to go back the next day and try again.

So we did. And we got a few extra names in case we still weren’t able to deliver the gifts to those on our list. We managed to deliver both of our remaining gifts and when the coordinator asked us if we wanted to make one more visit, my girls excitedly exclaimed that they did.

Five encounters. Six elderly people (we delivered one gift to a married couple). The smiles on the faces of the residents and the care that my girls showed toward them just warmed my heart.

The girls felt a special affinity for one elderly lady we met, and asked if we could go back and visit her again. I told them that we didn’t want to just keep going to someone’s home without being invited, but that we could write a letter to the lady, and maybe visit her again if she invites us. They have been talking about her daily since we met her last week, and they are so excited about the idea of potentially going back to see her again.

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^^ This was their excitement after we finished delivering the gifts ^^

I learned a lot about my kids (and myself) during this experience. A few of the high points:

Small talk isn’t quite as horrible as I make it out to be in my mind in anticipation of it. I’m not good at it, but I can manage, and when it’s in service to someone else who is lonely, I need to just get over myself.

Also, my kids are so much more capable, caring, and giving than I sometimes give them credit for. I know that they are these things, but sometimes I forget how mature they’re getting. And maybe I underestimate them. I certainly did in this situation.

The biggest take away from this experience was for me to remember not to put my own insecurities onto my kids. I’m self-conscious in situations where I need to make small talk with strangers. They are not. I’m nervous about cold calling at someone’s door, even if it is to deliver a gift to him or her. They are not.

They are confident. They are well-spoken. They are kind. They seem to have become even more of all of these qualities as a result of this experience.

I need to just get out of their way.

Surrender

Sometimes, I am awful. There are days when I yell at my kids. Days when I snap at them for small mistakes. Days when I even make them cry.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how horrifying I find this. How much I hate this about myself. How hard it is to even type these words.

I was never an angry person before having kids. I almost never yelled. Which makes it all the more puzzling and frustrating to me that I do it now.

I understand some of the triggers for this anger and ugly behavior. Sleep deprivation. Hunger. Being hurried. I have made some progress and improvement by trying to manage these triggers. Getting more sleep (sometimes, though this is really, really hard for me), eating well, making sure that we have plenty of time to get ready to go somewhere, etc.

But still, I fail.

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So. At the beginning of this year, I decided to really focus on this as an area of improvement for myself. I wanted to do the “word of the year” thing, with this as my focus. I was trying my best to come up with a word that I could try to think about each day, especially in tense times, that would remind me to chill out, slow down, and not be a jerk. I thought of a few words that seemed promising, but noting that really seemed to be just right.

One morning during prayer time in early January I was wondering about why in the world I get so angry with my sweet kiddos, when I was never a person to get super fired up about stuff before having kids. I was praying that God would help me to have some insight on this. Then, literally the next day, I got an email that gave me what I asked for.

Haley Stewart is one of my favorite Catholic bloggers. She writes Carrots for Michaelmas and she is just a lovely person. I signed up for her blog newsletter some time ago (you can sign up for it here, or on the right sidebar of her blog, and I highly recommend that you do). In January, I received her newsletter email with the title “What My Priest Taught Me at Confession This Week.” I got the chills as I read Haley’s words about discussing the very same question with her priest that I had just discussed with God the previous morning in prayer. Why do I lose it with my kids??

Her priest gave her the most amazing answer (it’s moments like these that you just know these men are filled with the Holy Spirit). He told her that she gets angry because she is afraid, and that her fear comes from a lack of control (which can be terrifying for us moms). The idea of anger being the external manifestation of fear immediately rang a bell in the part of my brain that stores all the info I used to use when I was working as a professional psychologist (it’s a bit rusty these days).

“Of course!” I thought, mentally smacking my forehead. I realized in a rush that I definitely try way too hard to control all the things. That I stress out about my kids behavior because of fears of what might happen if I don’t make sure they learn everything perfectly now.

My subconscious thoughts most likely go something like this, “If my kids don’t have good manners now, they will turn out to be slovenly, ill-mannered adults!!” or “If my kids are disrespectful or break a rule today, they might end up being rebellious or even criminal someday!!” or “If they forget or don’t do a good job on chores as kids, they might grow up to be lazy and unable to take care of themselves!!!”

I don’t necessarily think these things consciously, and when I type them out here, of course they sound ridiculous, but at the same time, they resonate with fears that I hold deep down. They strike a chord in my mama heart where I just want everything to go right now, so they will be okay later.

Anyway, that was my first big realization after reading what Haley’s priest told her. Then I read on to what he told her to DO about this.

Pray for surrender.

He told her to stop struggling in all the situations where she cannot control everything and just surrender that control to God.

I’m pretty sure my jaw must have hit the floor at this point. Because all that control-freakishness up there? That is a lack of faith. And it was like God was speaking directly to me, giving me an answer to a question I had just asked Him, through Haley’s priest, through Haley, straight to my inbox. Whoa.

I had my word for the year. Surrender.

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Then, I began doing what the priest told Haley to do, asking God to help me surrender control. At first I was just praying that I would let go of the need to be so in control of all the things in my life, the stuff my kids do, the possible outcomes twenty years down the road of all the little things my kids do today, etcetera, etcetera.

But that wasn’t all. God gave me another insight into just how far my surrender needs to go. I had to surrender control of my own anger too.

I realized that I have tried many, many times to make myself stop being angry and stop losing my temper with my kids. I’ve prayed for God to help me do things differently. This time, through the act of sitting silently in prayer and asking God what I should do about this (instead of pleading with Him to do what I thought I needed to do), He let me know that I needed to give up my anger completely to Him. He helped me to see that controlling my anger, or changing any sinful behavior, is not fully within my power to do by myself. I need Him.

So, instead of praying, “God, help me to stop getting mad,” I now pray something more like, “God, please take this anger from my heart, and fill it with Your love and mercy. I surrender all of my anger to You, for without Your grace, I can do nothing.” It may seem like a subtle change, but it was huge for me, and the benefits of this have been many.

All of this occurred before Lent began, and I decided that my main resolution for Lent this year would be to give up all yelling at my kids. I was amazed at how the change in my prayer and thinking was helping me with this. I have certainly not been perfect (just a few days ago, I snapped at Sis about something), but I feel much more peaceful in general and have experienced great improvement.

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Amazingly, my insights with this issue did not stop there.

About two weeks ago, I listened to a podcast of a conversation between Elizabeth Foss and Sarah Mackenzie that is part of the Repent and Restore program for Lent that Elizabeth offers. It was the first podcast from the program that I listened to, and I chose it because I really like Sarah Mackenzie. The podcast turned out to be the perfect complement to what I had already been learning and practicing through the idea of surrender.

First of all, in the podcast, Sarah and Elizabeth talked about the idea of surrendering to God’s will (it’s probably not a coincidence that I chose this particular podcast to listen to!). As part of this conversation, Sarah revealed that she needed to learn about letting go of her carefully laid plans and schedules for everything and realizing that, if these perfect plans get interrupted by something during her day, that she needs to understand that the interruption is where God wants her to be. And as such, she needs to remember to just be in the moment, surrender to what He is asking of her right then, and make the best of it, instead of getting all upset that things didn’t go the way she planned them to.

I absolutely love (and very much need) this perspective. The day after I listened to the podcast, I took all the kids to Mass by myself. As I struggled to keep Bubba in the pew as he squiggled in my arms or tried to crawl under the pew and up the steps to the altar (we were sitting in the front row), I was feeling distracted and frazzled and struggling to feel connected to the beauty of the Mass. Then out of the blue, the words from the podcast came back to me, and I realized that I could be so perfectly connected to God if I just realized that the beauty of that moment, of having my four beautiful kids in Mass to worship Him, of managing my 10-month-old who has been such a precious gift in my life, THAT was what I was supposed to be doing. That was what God wanted me to embrace, to accept, and to offer up to Him. So I did, and I had one of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced in a Mass.

All because I let myself be where He wanted me instead of lamenting the fact that I was not having a calm, reverent, peaceful worship experience (which I’m not likely to have very often for the next few years!).

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All of this, everything I have written about today, has come about, I believe, as the fruits of spending time a bit differently in prayer most mornings. I have been trying to spend at least a little bit of time just being silent and trying to listen to what God wants for and from me. Though I don’t always get an answer immediately, I do always get an answer. And the benefits of asking and listening have been incredible.

I am excited for Holy Week. This is the most intense and beautiful week of the year. Every year I learn and grow so much during this final week of Lent. I’m leaning into it with eager anticipation tonight and prayers for even greater union with my God. And I’m looking forward to continuing these practices and reaping the benefits long after the Easter celebrations.

A Peek Inside Our Homeschool Day – 2017 Version

Last year, I wrote a post about a day in our homeschooling life. I just went back and reread it, and it was fun to look back on where we were a year ago. Things are a little different this year. Different curriculum, different daily system, a new baby, etc. So here’s the 2017 version of our homeschool day-in-the-life, containing what we did on a pretty typical Tuesday earlier this week.

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5:30 – My alarm goes off. I press snooze twice. One of my Lenten commitments is to begin getting up early again. I used to be a faithful 5:30-am-riser, until I got pregnant with Bubba, and I haven’t done well with this since. But Lent is a good time to begin or renew fruitful practices, so I’m back to getting up early.

6-ish – I’m downstairs getting coffee and I hear Bubba starting to stir. He’s just chattering a bit, so I let him stay in his crib, and I start my prayers.

6:15 – Bubba is getting loud and fussy, so I go up to get him. I finish my prayers while nursing him and then put him in his playpen so I can pray the rosary and do my Lenten journal.

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7:00 – By this time, Lass and Sis are up. I chat with them and play with Bubba for a bit.

7:45 – My husband has left for work and Miss is up now. I put Bubba in his high chair with some Cheerios and have the girls start to get themselves some cereal while I make strawberry smoothies for them and myself (from the Trim Healthy Mama cookbook). We all sit down to eat (drink) and I read Jan Brett’s “The Turnip” over breakfast. We are going on a field trip on Friday to a Jan Brett exhibit at a local museum, so I’m reading lots of her stuff this week.

8:20 – Breakfast is done. I start to clean up and get a phone call from a friend. We chat for a bit while the girls go upstairs to get ready for the day. Their morning routine is still the same as last year – get dressed, brush teeth, brush hair (or have me help them do hair), make bed, clean room.

8:45 – I’m off the phone and putting a French braid in Sis’s hair at her request.

9:00 – This is our goal start time for school. I put on our “get-thyself-to-the-schoolroom-pronto” song for the morning, which today is “I Wanna Dance in the Dark” (by Rhianna, I think??). We all dance around for the duration of the song, and land in the schoolroom by its end. Bubba goes into his jumper and we start with the beginning of our morning time routine which consists of singing the Doxology, selecting an old Christmas card from a big box of them we have received over the past several years, saying prayers, including an intention for the family or person the Christmas card is from, finishing with the Anima Christi (I love this prayer!), and then doing the Pledge of Allegiance. We do a super quick calendar time in which one of the girls comes to our calendar, says the date in full, leads her sisters in saying the date all together, and then another girl observes the weather for the day. Then we move to our memory work, which right now is John 3:16-18. This is a pretty standard start to our morning time every day.

9:10-ish – We move into the next part of our morning time, which can vary. Right now we’re using the Lenten Morning Time Plans from Pam Barnhill, with a few added items that we like to use as well. A brand new addition to morning time is Bedtime Math. I read an entry in the book and each of the girls answers a question (there are three levels of question which are pretty well matched to the levels of the girls’ learning). We quickly review the latin we are learning this week. I put on our Song School Latin CD (another new addition to the routine) and we sing and dance to help us memorize how to say “What is your name?” and “My name is…” in latin. We do our map work relating to the history chapter we listened to in the car on Monday.

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9:20 – Bubba is getting fussy and tired, so I have the girls go to their desks to begin their individual work while I take him upstairs to put him down for a nap. Interrupting morning time to put him down for a nap is pretty common, so they’re used to this.

9:30 – We are back at the table to continue with morning time. We read Proverbs 31 and talk about the virtue of orderliness, we listen to and try to sing along with the current hymn we’re working on “Lord, Who Through These Forty Days,” we read a fairy tale (The Princess and the Pea), and we do music appreciation. On Monday we read the poem “The Donkey” by G.K. Chesterton, and we’re studying Entry Into Jerusalem by Fra Angelico for picture study, so we also read some picture books with a donkey theme (“The Donkey of Gallipoli” and “Humphrey’s First Palm Sunday,” which is actually about a camel, but kind of fits with the theme anyway) and then read a chapter from our current read-aloud “Girl in a Cage.” The girls do narration for the chapter and then morning time is over for the day.

10:25 – The girls are back to their desks doing their individual work. Instead of the workbox system we used last year, I’m now using notebooks to indicate to them what they need to complete each day. Their work is still in the rolling carts with drawers labeled by subject, but they can do their assignments in whichever order they choose, and they just check them off as they go.

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In her notebook that day, Miss had a spelling test, a math test, and the conclusion of a report on Madagascar. She has been working through the beatitudes for her copywork, but Tuesday she was excited because I let her also choose a page out of a Draw Write Now book for drawing and additional copywork. She had to read through and talk with me about the sections in two of her religion books about the last supper and the institution of the Eucharist and the part of Mass when the consecration occurs (She knows all these things, but we are spending some time talking about it more in depth in preparation for her First Holy Communion in April). She also had piano practice, a lesson from First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind (FLL), and a chapter to read in her current assigned book (which she usually reads  at bedtime).

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Lass had a few pages of math in her Star Wars workbook, some work on her spelling list and a couple of handwriting exercises. She had piano practice, a lesson from FLL, and a reading lesson, which consisted of reading and discussing a story with me.

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Sis had two pages of math from a new Miquon math book, a page of handwriting and some practice on her handwriting slate, a few phonics pages, and some ABC practice in a new sticker book I got for her.

11:35 – Bubba wakes up while I’m doing Miss’s math test with her (Shiller math tests are administered by the teacher). I try to keep going to get through the test before getting him.

11:45 – We’re still working on the test, but the baby is getting mad, so I go get him and bring him down to nurse while I finish the math test with Miss.

11:55 – We’re finished with the math test. All the girls’ schoolwork is done except for Miss’s religion. We go and begin to make turnip pancakes for lunch (to go with our book from breakfast), and Miss and I read and discuss her religion pages while we grate turnips together.

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1:00 – We finally sit down to eat lunch.

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The turnip pancakes turned out great, except that they are far too salty. The girls and Bubba still eat some, so I’m feeling good about them having turnips for lunch. After they eat, I suggest to the girls that we should check the recipe again and see if we made a mistake of adding 2 Tbsp of salt instead of 2 tsp. I explain why this would be an easy mistake to make, but when we check, we find that we did read the recipe correctly, and it just called for too much salt. I discuss with them how it is possible to change a recipe if we make it and decide we don’t like something about it. Miss says next time we make these we should only add 1 Tbsp of salt.

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1:25 – The girls go outside to play. It is crazy windy here, and I’m fairly certain they are freezing, because they insisted on wearing their light jackets when I suggested their winter coats, but they seem to be having fun anyway. I start cleaning up the kitchen.

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2:05 – The kitchen is nearly clean, I have chicken in the oven for dinner, and I put Bubba down for his afternoon nap.

2:15 – The girls come inside. I send them to the basement to clean up their toys.

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I spend the next half hour or so kind of wandering about from task to task, getting distracted and having a hard time actually finishing anything. I’m cleaning the kitchen a bit more, getting distracted by our seeds on the counter and deciding to spray some water on them, cleaning a bit more, remembering that my vacuum isn’t working right and looking for the manual so I can figure out how to clean the filter, etc.

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I got a box with a few new books in it and I really, really want to sit down and start reading one of them, but I don’t.

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2:45 – This kitchen is finally clean. Bubba wakes up after taking a really crummy (short) nap. I bring him down and nurse him, which gives me a few minutes to read one of my books.

3:15- I go downstairs to exercise. My husband and I are working our way through the P90X3 workouts. I was never interested in going P90X because I do not care to spend an hour plus working out every day, but these workouts are only 30 minutes, and they’re mostly pretty fun so we’re enjoying them. The workout for Tuesday was my least favorite though (Agility X), so I have to really talk myself into doing it.

4:00 – My workout is done, the girls have had a snack, and I realize that I forgot to put tinfoil over the chicken that is slowly cooking in my oven. I figure it’s probably too late, but put some on it anyway. I take the girls downstairs for some gym time. We practice basketball skills (which is kind of comical if you know how much basketball “skill” I possess), and then we play dodgeball/pickle and line tag.

5:00 – We go back upstairs so I can finish making dinner.

5:30 – Dinner (the chicken turned out okay, in spite of my failure to cover it)

7:00-ish – Everyone has had a shower or bath, I’m getting Bubba ready for bed, we say family prayers.

7:45 – I’ve gotten the baby to bed and come down to have the girls head upstairs and get in bed. They have made lots of paper dolls and are melting down because Lass “lost” Jessie, who apparently is Miss’s favorite paper doll. There are many tears. I tell them I will find Jessie while they go upstair and finish getting ready for bed. I find the paper doll (of course) and take it upstairs to relieved/happy girls.

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8:10 – The girls are all tucked in and I come down to make myself a cup of coffee.

8:15 – I sit down with my coffee and one of the girls comes out and asks me to come up and snuggle with her.

8:25 – I again sit down with my coffee and my husband on the couch. We spend some time discussing and making a few purchases we have been putting off.

9:45 – Ben and I are done. He goes to bed. I get myself a snack and then go to bed too. I didn’t get my school prep done for the next day, but decide to finish it in the morning, and I’m pretty happy that I’ve managed to get myself into bed by a little after 10, which will make it a lot easier to get up at 5:30 the next day.

The End

Jamie of Simple Homeschool is doing a link up again this year, so if you’d like to see more “Day in the Life” posts from homeschoolers, go check it our here.

 

On Reading to My Baby

A couple of days ago, I had a moment of mom-panic. I realized in a rush, while looking at my son playing with the books I had placed in his playpen with him, that I had hardly read any books to him in his short life. He has books in his little area that he likes to chew on, but I had not sat down with him and actually cracked the cover to read said books to him.

I promptly pulled him onto my lap and read Where is Baby’s Bellybutton?Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and The Ear Book to him. Then I took him up to his room to grab some more books.

My son is almost nine months old. Yesterday I read Goodnight Moon to him for the first time.

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Yes. You read that right. I was kind of horrified to realize my neglect of such an important thing.

We read aloud a lot here. Really. A. Lot.

Every day, I am reading aloud books to the girls for school. I sometimes read books over breakfast and/or lunch. We listen to audiobooks in the car. We have a family read aloud we do a chapter from almost every night before bed (currently working our way through the Chronicles of Narnia).

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My dear little boy has heard many, many books read aloud. But until yesterday, I didn’t even realize that I wasn’t sitting down and reading just to him, the sweet board books that I read over, and over, and over to his sisters. They are all neatly lined up on his shelf in his bedroom. I hadn’t read any of them with him. My girls have read him a few, but not me.

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I was recently feeling a little guilty because of thinking that my youngest daughter might be getting cheated a bit on picture books, since most of our read alouds these days are chapter books. We do still read picture books, just maybe not quite as much as we did when they were all littler, and none were quite ready for books like Redwall or Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

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So I’ve been trying to bring in some more picture books for her benefit.

But her baby brother, bless his little heart, has really been neglected as far as reading goes.

And of course, he wasn’t the only one missing out. When I picked up Goodnight Moon yesterday and sat down to rock him while reading it before his nap, I felt like I had come home to the sweetest, most comfortable place… That old book, as annoying as it sometimes got after the tenth time in one night, brings back so many precious memories. Of course, I can still recite it by heart. Of course I still have the same tempo and inflection to my voice that I used every time before. Of course he grabbed the pages and tried to eat them, and I still powered through to the end.

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“Goodnight noises everywhere.”

How many times have I read that? I had forgotten about the rip on the binding that makes the pages open funny on the “Goodnight Room” page. But I still knew every word and every illustration like the back of my hand. I think I could be eighty and still recite those favorite words.

And there are so many more favorite books that I haven’t read in years: I Love You Stinkyface. The Napping House. Dr. Seuss’s ABC.

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Reading to my babies was always one of my very favorite things to do. It still is.

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I have a lot of catching up to do.

Our Homeschool Plan – Halfway Through the Year

We are a little more than halfway through our homeschool year. In August, I wrote this post about my plans and excitement for the year. Here’s an update of how it’s going, what we’re still doing and what has changed:

Our day starts with morning time, usually. I have had to learn to be flexible about this, since Bubba doesn’t always go down for a nap at the same time every morning. If he’s awake and happy when we start school, he’ll play in his playpen area or in his jumper while we get started. But sometimes I have to tell the girls to go straight to their desk work while I put him down for a nap. And sometimes we start morning time, and then I send them to their desks halfway through so I can put him down… it all depends on him, and the girls do a great job of just rolling with it.

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Other than that, morning time does look pretty similar to what I planned it to be at the start of the year. We begin by singing a song together. We started the year working on the Gloria and some of the other songs we sing in Mass each week, just to make sure my girls have those down. Now we sing the Doxology. After our song we pray. A new thing we have started is to choose a Christmas card from a big box of them that I have saved for the past three or four years, and whomever the card belongs to, we pray for them during our morning prayer. The girls love this and it’s a great way to pray for lots of our family and friends by name, whom we might not think to pray for on a regular basis. Then we do the Pledge of Allegiance and a quick calendar time and our memory work, which has been highly varied this year but right now is a fairly lengthy Shakespeare passage and a Psalm. Then we move into our read alouds.

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^ The girls asked to be allowed to illustrate their Shakespeare passage (“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows…”) while we listened to A Midsummer Night’s Dream ^

As I mentioned in the other post, I switched from Sonlight to Build Your Library for our main science/history/literature curriculum this year. I like BYL much better. I do all of the scheduled reading in the BYL plans with the girls during morning time each day. This usually consists of history (Story of the World or Usborne Encyclopedia of World History, or a fun book that focuses on something we’re reading about, like Knight: A Noble Guide for Young Squires or The Adventures of Marco Polo), science, which right now consists of the First Earth Encyclopedia and The Geography Book, and our literature read aloud, which is Girl in a Cage at the moment. At least once a week we read some poetry, and usually there is one day of the week when we include a fairy tale or a medieval legend. I also read aloud our chapter from Jesus Our Life and any other religious studies we are doing for the week during morning time.

One thing that I wasn’t sticking to very consistently is including nature study, Bedtime Math, art projects, and music appreciation each week. I have kept up poetry tea time every couple of weeks, but the other things have generally been forgotten or just bypassed for lack of time. For this reason, I added in the Winter Morning Time Plans from Pam Barnhill to help me stick to these things a bit more. This has been great, because now I have a lesson plan page in my binder prompting me to do a hymn/music appreciation and a picture study each week. We have art projects each week (though I’ve skipped one or two of them and one was a total flop) and nature study, too. Some of the nature study projects have been a bit tough because, even though they are winter nature study activities, they seem a little more like early winter activities than late winter, at least for our super cold climate. But we have gotten outside, in the snow, to do nature study, so that’s pretty awesome.

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^ When we were outside, we found these perfect snow flakes in a rotten hollow in a piece of wood ^

Even though some things haven’t worked out the way I wanted them to, the girls seem to be enjoying these fun additions to our morning time (and I am too).

After we finish with the winter plans, I’m going to do a few weeks of nursery rhymes and fairy/folk tales. I have a huge stack of picture books and lots of fun activities ready to go to add this to our morning time next. After a few weeks of these, when spring has actually arrived, we’ll be using the new Spring Morning Time plans that I just purchased (which are on sale until Friday, if you’re interested).

As for our desk work, this has stayed pretty much the same as what I thought it would too. For Math, we do Shiller or IXL or work in the Star Wars math workbooks, or Life of Fred for Miss. I like Shiller, but find it to be lacking in some skills practice, so we supplement with the other things. I have recently added some math games from Math Geek Mama, which are a nice change of pace and fun for the girls. We have also started playing board games like Sum Swamp and Money Bags during school time as well.

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^ A little break to learn about tessellation with magnet blocks ^

For phonics/reading we still use All About Reading. I just love this reading curriculum. Miss is cruising through Level 3 and Lass is moving right along in Level 2. I recently started Sis on Level 1, and she is so excited and proud of herself that she is starting to read real words and whole stories. Miss has additional books assigned to her for daily reading. I assigned “Understood Betsy” as her first book, and she hated it (how is this true of my child??), so I let her pick her books now from a stack I have approved for “school reading” (she has tons more books she can, and does, read on her own in addition to these). Lass is starting to read chapter books, too.

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^ Sis’s first whole book she read ^

Language Arts is exactly what I thought it would be – First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind for Miss and Lass, and an occasional page from Language of God for Little Folks for Miss. First Language Lessons has short lessons that I go through with them, and the Language of God book is a workbook that Miss can do to reinforce some of the FLL concepts we talk about.

The girls are doing their CHC spelling workbooks, but I haven’t added in any All About Spelling as I had intended to. I think All About Spelling is probably actually a better method, so I’m considering switching to it soon.

I changed up handwriting a bit. Miss is now using the Writing Our Catholic Faith Grade 2 cursive book, while still working on her printing with copy work. She is so excited to be doing cursive writing. Lass is still using the same Catholic Heritage Curriculum book, and Sis is mostly using the preschool version of Writing Our Catholic Faith.

We are still using the Faith and Life books for religion, and Miss has started working through the Little Catechism on the Eucharist and The New St. Joseph First Communion Catechism to prepare for her First Holy Communion in April.

We made a few changes with extracurriculars this semester too. The girls are still doing piano and ice skating, but we have added gymnastics in again and dropped their homeschool gym class at the YMCA. This class was starting to feel like such a time suck, since the girls had it twice a week at an awkward time of the day for us. Now we are trying to do various gym time activities at home more, and I don’t think we’ll miss it.

Happily, since I chose curricula that I’m enjoying this year and have added in a few things to liven it up, I’m not feeling the February homeschool mom burnout right now that I hear lots of people talking about. I’m still enjoying (most of) our school days and love learning so much stuff with the girls every day (the more I homeschool, the more I realize how limited my own education was!).

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^ A recent field trip ^

A big change that I’m already starting to plan for for next year is that we will be joining our local Classical Conversations group. I have been intrigued by this for years, and have looked into it briefly a few times, but never too seriously. Recently, I spoke with a friend whose daughter is in the group, and she shared with me how much they enjoy it and benefit from it, and then I got an invitation to attend an open house. We went on Tuesday and it was so wonderful. The girls loved it and begged to go back. After looking into it a bit more and discussing it with my husband, I decided to go for it, and we will be adding this to our curriculum for next year, most Tuesday mornings. We are all pretty excited about this one.

You know there will be a full, overly-detailed post some time in the future about all the plans for next year, when I get to that point.

For now, we’re enjoying this year. For me, each day presents challenges that I’m trying to use as a way to grow in virtue as I push myself to do better for my kids, and I try to help them to think of it this way too. We are working on growing in faith and love in the small moments of each day, and we’re doing it together. That’s pretty cool.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the year and the fun things we have coming up.

 

From the Mouths of Babes

Yesterday, in honor of the March for Life, I started working with my girls on Pro Life Prints. We continued today. We talked about the sanctity of life, particularly the wonder and fragility of preborn babies and how we need to pray for their protection, all while doing artwork. Kids listen better when there’s paint involved, I think.

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I didn’t plan to talk to my girls about abortion. We have been praying for the March for Life and for an end to abortion during family prayers, but I don’t ever use the word “abortion,” and they are not familiar with the term or the concept. We simply pray for all unborn babies and their moms.

Yesterday, however, when we were talking about protecting unborn babies, Miss said that one of her friends had told her that “the lady who also wanted to be president” thinks that it’s okay to kill unborn babies. Then she asked, “Mom, how could that even happen?”

This was not a discussion I wanted to have. But that’s really the question isn’t it? How could that even happen?

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My stance on discussing grown-up issues with my kids is that I will answer all questions truthfully, but in an age-appropriate way and only as much as they ask for. So I started by explaining that some people do not understand that preborn babies are precious and should be protected. Then I said that there are doctors who sometimes cause babies to be born too early. So early that they aren’t able to live outside their moms’ tummies.

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The girls didn’t ask much more about it, but a little bit later I did talk to them about how important it is for us to keep doing the things we do, like praying for babies and moms and giving to the local crisis pregnancy center, because we have to help moms and dads as part of helping babies. They seemed to like that idea. They asked me if I had needed help from a crisis pregnancy center when I was pregnant with them, and I told them I hadn’t, because I have their dad, who is so wonderful, and their grandparents, and aunts and uncles and lots of friends. So many people supporting me. I told them that some moms don’t have that and so they get scared. (We have talked about this to some degree before because they have many friends who are adopted and so we’ve addressed why their birth parents might not have been able to care for them, and what a brave and loving choice it was for them to allow someone more able to be the parents of their babies.)

I think it’s important to include the support for parents, particularly moms, in the discussion of why and how we are pro-life.

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Through doing this project and hearing a lot about the marches of the past week, I found myself thinking about the way that unplanned pregnancy is typically talked about in this culture. It got me thinking about how I want to teach my little part of the next generation about life and parenthood and unplanned pregnancy.

I don’t want them to ever see a new life as a tragedy or an inescapable problem. I don’t ever want them (or anyone) to think that if they do experience an unplanned pregnancy, that they have no choice but abortion. I have found that this small art project we’ve worked on for the past two days is one small way of opening up some age-appropriate discussion and starting to shape their thoughts on the topic.

Naturally, my husband and I will have discussions with our kids about making good choices, being responsible, and why it is better to wait until they are married to have children (that’s a whole ‘nother ball game that I won’t go into here!), but it will never include,”Your life will be ruined if you get pregnant (or get someone pregnant) before you’re married.” We have family members who have faced unplanned pregnancies and have chosen life, with beautiful results. They will know those stories.

For now, we will keep working on our Pro-Life Prints. We will keep talking about the miracle of new life and how to help protect it. We will keep talking about the beauty of God’s creation.

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I will continue to pray that we will all keep asking the question, “How can this even happen?” and working to make it stop.

Top Ten of 2016

Two posts in three days? It’s the end of the year and I’m on a roll! In other words, I don’t have to think of something to write about, because I do these same posts every year.

Today? The top ten posts of 2016. Yes, I did write more than ten posts, and while none of them were actually in the top ten most viewed posts this year (all those were older posts), I’ll still share with you the round up of the most popular posts that I wrote in the past year.

#10 A Little Update – 7QT

Nothing really exciting about this post. It was just something in a sea of nothing, so it got some love. And it had this picture:

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I love our family foot washing tradition on Holy Thursday.

It also had this one:

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That girl melts me.

#9 Baby Boy’s Birth

Because birth story!

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#8 Preparing

This was my first experience of pregnancy and L&D as a believer. It made the preparations for labor a little different and the mind-set different too. It made me smile (and get a tiny bit misty, if I’m honest), to look back at this one and read about my thoughts in the last days of what was most likely my last pregnancy.

#7 My Favorite Catholic Books – From Conversion and Beyond

In case you’re looking for some good spiritual reads for the new year.

#6 Down the Homeschool Rabbit Hole – 7QT

It was fun to look back at this one to see what my homeschool dreaming was in the summer. Halfway through the year, I have implemented some of the things I was hoping to, like SQUILT, but haven’t used other things yet, like the Shakespeare book (though that’s coming very soon!) and the KONOS units (also probably to be added soon since this post reminded me of it!).

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I’m still listening to Your Morning Basket as new episodes come out, and I think our morning time has definitely improved from last year so far, but I just grabbed Pam’s new Winter Morning Time Plans to kick it up a notch. I put 29 books on hold from our library yesterday!

#5 A Homeschool Day in the Life

This was another fun post to read from last spring. It reminded me that part of the reason I blog (and need to get back to doing it more regularly) is that it’s a way to keep a record of our lives.

I felt a tiny twinge of dread when I saw the picture of the read-alouds we used to do in our morning time (I have a name for it now!).

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I just really didn’t enjoy the majority of these books. It’s amazing how much better our days start out now that our reading is more enjoyable (and we start with music and singing).

#4 Three Girls and a Boy

People still comment on the gender make up of our offspring. All the time. It’s gotten so that I just expect it, and now feel almost surprised when someone doesn’t mention it.

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As the weeks roll by, my girls get more and more helpful, and Bubba gets more and more adorable. I’m still trying to savor all the things. Especially the milk-breath smell. Moms, you know what I’m talking about. Now that he’s eating some solids, I’m dreading when it’s gone!

#3 The Fruits of Lent

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It’s always good to read about Lent during other times in the liturgical year. It’s like a good little spiritual kick in the behind. I have been terrible about carving out time for prayer since Bubba arrived. I haven’t been getting up early anymore, which makes it really hard to have a specific time set aside every day. I’ve taken to doing a lot more on-the-go, in-the-moment prayer (including frequent offer-it-up prayers), which has its own benefits. But this post is also a good reminder that I really need to get back into the practice of early rising, now that the little man is (usually) sleeping through the night now.

#2 Thoughts on Pre-ultrasound Worry, and a Gender Reveal

Of course the gender-reveal post gets lots of traffic. I love the memory of the moment when we first saw that Bubba was a bubba.

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And of course:

#1 Our Rainbow Baby

This post still gives me chills and makes me almost cry. It’s one of my all-time favorites.

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2016 has been quite a year. There have been several painful losses and scary illnesses for family and friends. May was an especially difficult month, with grief over the loss of two loved ones piled on top of some intense, kind of shocking and very frightening health issues for two of our parents, crammed into approximately two weeks time, and compounded by the fact that, since I was nine months pregnant, my husband and I could not travel to be with either of our ill parents.

But then June came, and with it came this little Rainbow Baby miracle:

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A lot of people are cursing 2016. In many ways, it was a tough year. But man, that little bundle outshines every bit of sadness and fear.

It seems perfectly fitting that the Gospel reading for today is John 1:1-18, which includes the lines:

What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The darkness has not overcome it.

This reminds us that Jesus is The Light. No matter what hard things happened this year, the darkness cannot overcome The Light. It never will.

God’s promise endures.

Wishing you a beautiful and blessed 2017. Happy New Year!

2016 in 12 Photos

I have tried to do a few posts in the past month, and have obviously failed miserably, due to various technical difficulties.

However, I am bound and determined to get one more post in before 2016 ends. A photo post to link with Bobbi and share one photo for each month of this past year.

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JANUARY

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We found out our baby was a boy!

FEBRUARY

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Mama had a vacation. Florida. It was amazing.

MARCH

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I captured my hugeness. I still had over two months to go when I took this photo.

APRIL

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I just love this photo.

MAY

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With my girls on Mother’s Day

JUNE

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June 1. My sweet boy.

JULY

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Our boy’s big day.

AUGUST

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A sister sleepover for Lass’s birthday.

SEPTEMBER

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A field trip day. We drove 45 minutes to a farm for a field trip, only to find that they weren’t open. So then we drove another 30 minutes to this place (making a full circle around the lake near us). It turned out to be a fun day, and I’m glad we made the best of it. One of my favorite photos of the year.

OCTOBER

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We eventually made it to that farm. Officially the most chill baby ever.

NOVEMBER

15073317_10209049165358731_8721964428732703897_nMy big girl had her First Reconciliation. She said it was the best day ever.

She has already asked to go back again, and she enjoyed it the second time too.

DECEMBER

15747752_10209438267166033_5131299987971233937_nAfter Mass on Christmas morning. I was nervous about doing Mass Christmas morning instead of Christmas Eve, but it turned out the church was not packed at all and we made it with plenty of time.

It has been a beautiful Christmas so far.

Here’s to trying to be a better blogger in 2017!

A Return to the Farm

You might remember that I used to blog at least a few times a year about a place called The Farm. I even have a topic category devoted to it. The Farm is my in-laws’ property where our family often spends vacation time. My husband hunts and fishes there. We used to have the big Labor Day party there. My husband and I spent much of our first year of dating there (it happened to be halfway between the place where I did my internship and where he did his transitional residency). We got married there.

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We love The Farm.

For the past year and a half or so, The Farm has been under serious construction, so the kids and I have not been able to visit. It’s been strange to be away for so long.

But finally, it’s done enough that we were able to go with my husband for his annual deer hunting trip. We loved being there again and did our best to make the most of it.

Two weeks, we were there. My kids played with cousins, met some new friends, went on treasure hunts, fished, and had fun with grandparents. Here are a few photos to document our return to the place we love:

The girls got to experience trick-or-treating with their cousins in Iowa the way my husband has always said is the “right” way. The kids there have to tell a joke in order to get their candy. It’s quite odd, but the kids loved it. Even my shy girls (Miss and Sis) had no trouble telling their jokes, and it was so fun to watch them ham it up a bit even.

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^With all of the cousins except one on my husband’s side of the family^

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Two weeks is a long time, and we couldn’t skip school altogether, so I brought some of our work, which we did in the mornings. Then the girls spent the afternoons playing outside, fishing with their dad, and going on nature treasure hunts.

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^That is a bucket of dead leaves in water, which she said she was “bringing back to life”^

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We took a field trip to the big city to meet some other homeschooling friends (it’s nice to be practically the only kids in the park on a Friday afternoon).

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I have been friends with this lovely lady since I was pregnant with Miss and she was pregnant with her oldest, but we’ve never met in person before. It was so delightful to see her face and give her a hug. We had so much to talk about and the afternoon just flew by.

Our second weekend we had more cousin time (they came down to The Farm this time) including some big treasure hunts.

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^Bubba got pretty tired out after his first time in the woods^

My husband got two deer, one with a bow and one with a rifle.

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 ^The deer he shot with his bow^

And there was so much more. It was a wonderful two-week getaway to a special place.

I forgot a little how much more involved it is to travel with an infant, and we’re still trying to get back to normal now that we’re home, but it was all worth it to see the joy on my girls’ faces when they spent time with their cousins or fished with their dad all day.

We’re already looking forward to our next trip at Christmas time.

Four (AKA Wow, It’s a Blog Post!)

I know I haven’t blogged in a really long time. I’m just popping in to give a quick update on life with four.

I am in such baby heaven these days.

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Baby number four is awesome.

My girls are much older now than the last time I had a little baby, and it is so much easier to have four kids seven and under than it was to have three girls under four. My girls can do so many things for themselves that they couldn’t do when last I cared for an infant. They get themselves dressed. They can get their own breakfasts and brush their own teeth. Miss does her own hair.

I heard once that once your oldest child gets to be about six or seven years old, life suddenly becomes much easier. My oldest two are six and seven, and this is so true.

All the girls do so much to help out and love taking care of their brother.

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Miss and Lass clean bathrooms and vacuum stairs. Sis wipes baseboards and scrubs toilets. They feed the dogs and clean their rooms and put their laundry away.

And even when they aren’t doing something to actively help me, they’re usually downstairs playing with each other and not needing me at all. Which is awesome and sad at the same time, I suppose, but more awesome most of the time.

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As for Baby Boy, he just does his thing. He’s a happy baby and doesn’t fuss about being along for the ride when we’re out and about taking his sisters to various activities in the afternoons. School can be a bit tricky, but he usually naps for a at least a little while when we do school in the mornings.

He’s very easygoing.

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And a major thing that I’ve noticed this time around is that I’m a lot more easygoing about him too.

I don’t get uptight if he’s going to miss his afternoon nap. He really doesn’t have a set afternoon nap, because we are typically away from home 2-3 afternoons per week at least. It’s just the way things are so we roll with it.

I don’t worry about how often he’s eating, or how long it’s been between his feedings, or if he’s on a good eating/sleeping schedule (he’s not).

I also don’t stress that he isn’t sleeping through the night. All of my girls were much better sleepers than he is. They all slept through the night pretty consistently by this point in their babyhoods. Baby Boy has slept through the night a grand total of one time.

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And you know what? I kind of don’t really even care. Of course I’m tired, after waking up 1-3 times per night for the past 4.5 months, but I’m not terribly bothered by it. Recently I said to my husband, “Meh. He’ll sleep through the night one of these days.” And he will. And I’m about as concerned about it as that sounds.

I’m so thankful to have another little baby to snuggle and love on, I’m just trying to soak it up and not wish it away. One day last week he fell asleep while I was nursing him on the couch. Twice in one day. He did it again today. And each time I just stayed right where I was and let him sleep. And I watched him and marveled at him. I do that a lot.

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Life with four is so good.