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Another New Year

New year — new blog format it seems! I guess it’s been a while since my last post!  As much as I tried my hardest to write regularly, life got in the way. Doesn’t it always?

I will admit, man that last quarter of 2018 drove me to the ground. Everything had to happen at neck-breaking speed (literally). In the end, they were all good things and much got accomplished, but the juggling and time management of it all did send me towards…. wine (what else?).

We’re currently on a trip out of the country at the moment (and a lot of future posts I have mapped out will go into further detail), but let’s just say I’ve found some downtime now at our hotel now that Jamie is down with a cough. We opted to stay in and take it easy, so she is napping now while the husband tours Sam around on our last day.

Being away for three weeks has truly made me miss home; the predictability, the regularity of it all, and of course a little bit of the busyness that comes with it. I am hoping I will be “smarter” this new year about time management and commitments, but I suppose that remains to be seen. The irony of it is I keep harping about the same to Sam, and yet it is possibly a lesson I too have to learn in a different way.

I think I have to admit that there’s always going to be a lot to do. We are involved in so many things, it will always be an adventure, and it will always be tiring.

I suppose it’s just a matter of perspective. As a wise person recently told me — it’s because you’re capable of more.  I suppose that is a good perspective to have, to be able to do more because we can.

My little family ended the year with quite the adventure. And we greeted the new year with another adventure. As they say, the first day of the year sets the pace and tone for how the rest of the year will look like.

If it is truly any indication, then I suppose I know what kind of year I’m in for. At the end of the day, it is all good — the girls learn, they have fun. And I have to remember, it is because I can.

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Read Across the Summer

With the kids home these days more than the usual, it takes a little bit more to keep them preoccupied.  I have to take them places with me and I honestly hate it when they say, “mom I’m bored,” and default to “can I play on your phone?” 

What?!  Child.

HOW can you be bored.  I don’t understand.

I feel like I have zero tolerance when those two phrases came out.  Back in my time, I had to find something to keep myself occupied while the grown-ups did their thing, or… I had to sit quietly and read.

Ahhh, reading.  Yes!  Problem solved.

Besides, we’ve all heard about the  “summer slump” right?  (Okay fine. I actually didn’t hear of it until recently).  So hopefully reading across the summer will help neutralize that.

So, it’s become our default.  If you are going to sit and wait, then you need to bring a book to read.

When there’s a bench, there’s a place to read.

Find something — anything on our shelves, and read it.

Yes, even the book’s older than you.

Thankfully it hasn’t been much of a problem.  Sometimes, it is their default activity of choice.  You know how kids are often too quiet and you begin to get nervous about the havoc they’re wreaking upstairs?

I found them like this…. and then I fixed the books to look better for the photo.

I love that they love books.  We’re often in Barnes and Noble looking at new books, and participating in their Summer Reading Program.  It’s quite a shame though that they only offer one book per child. 🙁

The standard, “please buy this for me?” I don’t know about you, but when it comes to books, I don’t know how to say no.

And all these stories have made for some good imaginative play here and there, if I do say so myself.

Over the course of the last school year, Sam’s teacher had what they call a “25-book challenge”, where different genres were given and the kids had to pick different books to read that fell within those genres.  Five books were a free choice, and the rest of the 20 books were divided across different genres, from historical non-fiction, to tall tales, to fantasy and science fiction, just to name a few.

It was fun and challenging to choose age appropriate books that fit the genre, and find something that would sustain Sam’s interest enough for her to read it.

A friend had gifted Sam with this book and thanks to that challenge, she took interest in historical non-fiction!

I liked the idea of a 25 book challenge that I am trying to use it on the girls this summer.  It forces them to broaden their palette, go outside their comfort zone and find something different.  It gives us more to talk about because they formulate an opinion about it.

Jamie is going to teach me about the American Revolution in 1776.

Sam’s teacher had index cards too with questions that needed to be answered — and I like that it taught her about to pay attention to different parts of the story — the plot, the theme, the character development, and even the glossary of terms or other parts of the book.  And while I don’t have a deck of cards for them to respond to, I make sure this new “book of choice” is a topic of conversation in the car.

Jamie is still at that stage where she’ll read one part of a series after another (but then after one or two books you get the gist of how it’s all going to go down), but it is still good she likes them, and finds something to fill her “challenge”.  Recently, I’ve tried to expand her book choices with some informational ones too.

“Learn about the artist before we paint.”

And so with 6 weeks left until school, I’ve told the girls once again that those two phrases are not allowed at home, and only allowed once in a while out-of-the house.  Because as it stands, there’s no excuse not to bring a book (or two) wherever we go.

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We spend so much time in the car, the girls have learned to listen to podcasts.

Podcasts for kids were first mentioned by our dearest friends from Chapel Hill when they came to visit.  It became a fun thing for them to enjoy together while we were in the car.

The concept of listening and comprehending was further reinforced in school.  Apparently our school tests auditory comprehension and retention by having the kids listen to podcasts in class, and then have them write down what they remember, what struck them, and the like.

See I don’t think I ever remember having this as a tool when I was growing up.  Everything was visual.  Or, it was the spelling words that I had to get right.  It is great to see how these schools have kept up with the times.

Since then I’ve come to learn and appreciate the value of podcasts, especially during long car rides.  The girls are quiet and they listen.  They don’t fight over what station to listen to.  And that’s a good 30 minutes of peace (at least!).

Here are a few of our favorites:

SMASH BOOM BEST. This is our most recent favorite and we’ve been listening to it constantly.  So far they only have one season in.  Smash Boom Best came from the makers of Brains On (another favorite as you’ll see), that focuses on debates.  Bats vs Owls, Superspeed vs Superstrength, Lava vs Quicksand, Books vs Movies!  The girls go through four rounds of debates and learn fun facts in the process.  I personally love that they can see how both arguments are good, and how both arguments could be improved.  We’ve actually gone into their website and the girls have given their ideas for what debates they think the producers should make.


BRAINS ON!  The sister program of Smash Boom Best, Brains On is one of the science podcasts for kids.  Brains on takes a topic and dives into the many different facts surrounding it.  It’s how things work, where things come from, and what makes things go.  All pretty cool topics from booger to dinosaurs and the girls are amused.  We haven’t listened to all of it, but picked through the ones that we like.

WOW IN THE WORLD.  This is another favorite science podcast but formatted differently.  There are two characters, Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz that get entangled in specific situations that lead them to talk about certain facts.  Sometimes they have this time machine (of sorts) that takes them inside people’s brains, takes them back in time, or even out of this world!  I think the girls enjoy the silly parts more than the facts, but really, it’s whatever I can get them to to learn in a fun way, right?

ELEANOR AMPLIFIED.  This is an adventure series featuring Eleanor, a reporter and the sticky situations she gets herself in and out of.  It reminds me of the Nancy Drew mystery books I used to read, but this one is the kid-friendly podcast version.  It is funny and witty, and there are villains and heroes in the story too.  I love how the girls can imagine the actual scene that’s being described by the characters.

THE ALIEN ADVENTURES OF FINN CASPIAN.  This was one of the earlier podcasts the girls have listened to (about a boy that goes into space and beyond — A little bit like Star Trek!).  I don’t think we went past some episodes in the first season, because we had downloaded everything almost all at once.

I just discovered it now has 4 seasons!  Maybe this is something we need to revert back to this summer!

I’ve to admit, even I enjoy some of these podcasts.  The debates for instance, sometimes even the girls and I get into it.  I am learning some fun facts too.  When Eleanor Amplified leaves us hanging, even I can’t wait to get to the next episode to find out what’s happened.  It’s all a lot of fun.

If you have any podcasts you’d like to let us know about, we’d love to hear it!

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A Religious Ed Volunteer

We go to a public elementary school, which means  religious education is a family choice, and it is done outside of school.  Our church offers it, but apart from the staff at the church, the classes are conducted by parent volunteers.

My kids love it when I volunteer in their classrooms, and I do it as often as I can.  It doesn’t involve much — I show up and do as I’m told, and then I’m done for the week and I do it again the next week.  The one thing I never thought I’d do would be a Religious Ed volunteer.  No particular reason — I just, never thought about it.  Plus this year, with both Jamie and Sam in class at the same time slot, I was going to have an hour in the middle of the week all to myself.  It sounded so — divine!

Maybe “divine intervention” had other plans for me because we attended mass one Sunday when they called for more parishioners to volunteer due to the volume of students that were coming in.  Sam heard and asked me if I would do it for her class.

Earlier in the year she had just taken her first communion, and I was told that a lot of parents stop sending their kids after that.  They come back when it’s time to get the sacrament of Confirmation.  I felt very strongly about a continuing religious education for my kids, no matter how sparse it felt as compared to mine in a Catholic school, and so I took the plunge and gave my name as a volunteer.

I was nervous and apprehensive at first — because I have no background in education whatsoever.  But according to Carrotte, the Religious Ed representative of our church, the only requirement they had was for the desire to share our faith with the children in the class.

And so week after week, I show up to a group of 10 third graders, all at different places in their faith formation, and all of different personalities.  It is unnerving to think about what to expect from them, but at the same time I remember, they are looking at me too to learn and hopefully grow.  I don’t pretend to know everything, and an inner voice just always tells me — just be present.  It’ll work out. 

A teacher’s prayer — I never thought it would apply to me. But it does!

There is a book that we follow as a guide, but they are not strict about following it to the letter.  “It will depend on what the kids need, and sometimes that’s not in the book,” they said at the Cathecist’s briefing.  So we learn to go with the flow.

The guide-book.  My bible.

I’d have to admit that it is this part of my week that stresses me out the most.  The group I’ve gotten is very smart, and also very active.  It’s hard to contain them in their chairs every afternoon in the middle of the week right after a long day of school.  Most of them would rather be outdoors running around.  I am challenged each week to think of a creative way to teach the lesson.

Calling in Father to teach the children about the mass.

It’s more work than I bargained for, and it’s also not something I need on my already full plate.  And while it’s quite the roller coaster ride each time, surprisingly it’s also one of the more fulfilling moments of my week.  So far, after each class there is a sense of inner peace, with the hope and prayer that something good came out of this particular session with me.

I email the parents after every class as to what we have done and covered, and I have heard back from a few of them who appreciate the effort and tell me that their kids are having a lot of fun, and I do appreciate the feedback.

I am learning too.  I’ve learned a lot about these kids and their families and knowing their stories, I feel has made me a more compassionate person in such a short span of time.  I’ve learned a lot from them just by being around them.  And it’s because I’ve opened myself to this opportunity that I feel I’ve found — dare I say — a vocation, and a sense of purpose in the larger community.

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Happy New Year, Blog

Why hello there, blogging world. 🙂  I don’t know if you remember me.  It’s been four months after all.

So much has happened since then, and a lot of it is still going, just one thing after another.  Time escapes me.  Sometimes I think — yes let’s sit and write, but then — something else needs my “urgent” attention.  Or, I fall asleep (okay, that’s not time that’s old age). 

As my friend Michelle says, we haven’t been able to get off the train.  Everything is fun, educational, exhausting and time-consuming all at once.  We are making memories and learning as we go.  And so much changes so quickly.

I realized it takes a lot of energy to inflate all 5 life bubbles.  It is a whole other ball game keeping them all equally inflated.  Even that is a lesson in itself.But six days into the new year, I finally find myself with some spare time (well really… there is a pile of unattended laundry staring me in the face) to write, even just a little bit.  And I have to admit, it’s a nice feeling to come back to this again.Sam had an exercise in school last year that I thought would be great to repeat this year, even for myself.

This is our second year to do this exercise.

I focus on the “1” — As you may have read in previous posts, I am not big on new year’s resolutions.  But hey, we all change even just a little bit right?  So maybe a regular post or update is the one thing to start — or re-start.  For whatever other purpose it serves, coming back to this space is something that makes me feel a little bit more like me, and that’s a good place to start the year.  Let’s see how far we can take this, this time around. :)Happy New Year to us all.  Onwards, 2017!