9.07.2018

Optimizing & Simplfying

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The great thing about homeschooling is the freedom, right? It's totally up to me how I want to order our life. I often think about great it would be to be the kind of mom that makes amazing from-scratch dinners every night or the kind of mom that sews homemade Halloween costumes ever year. But, when it comes down to it, how do I really want my kids to see me? I want them to remember their mother as...calm. Which is really the exact opposite of how I felt this spring. 

I feel like being calm is fifty percent cultivating a peaceful, patient attitude through prayer and fifty percent setting yourself up for success by being organized and not overcommitting. So, my first step in optimizing and simplifying my life was to quit a bunch of volunteer stuff. Of course, deciding to homeschool means I won't have to fulfill hours at school, but I also had a few volunteer commitments at the parish (ironing the altar linens, helping coordinate small groups) that I knew it was time to step down from. Man, I really had a hard time learning this lesson! This summer I immediately created two more volunteer commitments for myself, hosting a Blessed Conversations study group at home one evening a week and a park date for the parish playgroup one morning a week. Having standing events to see friends was great, but hosting both was just too much. Going into this school year I am promising myself that Adam and I are absolutely only going to help with one thing each (American Heritage Girls for me, children's choir for him) and that we really have to resist any other opportunities or ideas.

When I started researching all the wonderful homeschool curriculum choices available, I knew the simplest choice for this year would be to stick to a boxed curriculum. I looked into the various Catholic options and was sold on Mother of Divine Grace because it's only 32 weeks, whereas the other options were 36 weeks. Adam and I asked each other what we valued the most in our daughters' education at this point in time - his answer was poetry and mine was time to read beautiful books. Mother of Divine Grace will fulfill both of those requirements easily and, for first grade, clock in at only an hour a day, four days a week.

Since Claire and Maggie were expecting to attend school and preschool this year, I wanted to participate in a coop to capture some of that school experience. Friends had told me about coops at two different parishes, but they are both a half hour away. Researching a little more, I discovered a coop at a Protestant church five minutes from home. Perfect! It's apparently the largest homeschool coop in the area, so there are plenty of classes to choose from. I originally thought I'd have us stay for three classes - some combination of PE, art, science and foreign language. But when we toured, I realized that even though they have a play area for little ones, it would be too difficult for me to watch George and Betsy there for three hours. Two hours, with lunch in the middle, seemed much more manageable and should fit into George's nap schedule nicely. Both girls are taking an art class, while Claire is also taking tumbling and Maggie is taking "joy of books" (basically preschool circle time). For my job requirement, I'm just helping out in the nursery with Betsy and George for the first hour we're there.

I'm so thankful Claire got into the tumbling class at the coop because she really wanted to do gymnastics, which Maggie had absolutely no interest in. They agreed on trying ballet and I was able to find a class nearby that they could both attend - it's for ages five and six but you only have to be five by the end of the calendar year. There are three classical ballet studios near us. This one is the best (it's run by the city's ballet company) and seemed the easiest in terms of them being in class together, but it's also in an area where there's a ton of construction and, therefore, really not a lot of parking. I should have thought through that aspect before enrolling them, but we can always change things up after the first quarter if it's too much. I keep reminding myself how much more stressful it would be if we had to come straight from school pick up!

As soon as we stopped paying school tuition, we hired a house cleaner and a yard service to come twice a month. We got the cleaning recommendation from a friend and hired two teenagers from church to help with the yard. Together, this is less than half the cost of sending one child to our parish school and has made our life significantly easier. The house cleaner is going to come while we're at coop, which with homeschooling is really the only time we're scheduled to be out of the house long enough.

After I used up the last of my Scrip grocery gift cards from the school, I started ordering my groceries online and doing curbside pick-up. I'm thinking delivery might make more sense long term though. I also wanted to simplify making the grocery order and, of course, the actual meal so I decided to try creating a two-week meal plan for summer (April-September) and winter (October-March). I don't have the winter plan finalized yet, but for the summer we've been eating:

Every Week: pizza, hamburgers, grilled chicken, boxed macaroni for the kids and pot stickers for the grown-ups.
Every Other Week: grilled flank steak, grilled pork chops, tacos, tortellini, sausage & polenta, barbecue chicken sandwiches.

Adam's been grilling the hamburgers, chicken and either steak or pork chops over the weekend, which makes dinner even easier during the week. Once a week, we feed the kids Annie's mac & cheese and then have pot stickers while watching a movie. We do change it up a few times a month if we are entertaining or celebrating a special occasion, like this weekend paella is on the menu for St. Beatrice's feast day.

One thing we're still trying to figure out is what we'd like babysitting help to look like. We'd definitely like to allocate more funds to babysitting than we've be able to in the past. George is in a pretty difficult stage to get to bed at night (he really only takes bottles for Adam...maybe) so evenings are out for the time being. Our main babysitter for the last several years, a dear friend, had her own baby in June! And my sister lives in Seattle now and doesn't have a car. We have another friend who just finished grad school and is looking for work, so she's been babysitting for us pretty frequently but that will (hopefully!) be a very temporary thing. Over the summer, we've had two sisters from church babysit a few afternoons. They are homeschooled, so they have some weekday availability, but I'm not sure if that will line up with when we're free.

Basically, do I want to try to go out one afternoon a week? Would I have time for that with prepping dinner and extracurriculars? Do we want to have a standing weekend date night/afternoon instead? Do we want to do a little bit of both? I know for sure it'd be really nice to have a longer list of babysitters to call.

Our weekly schedule will look like this:
Sunday - Children's Choir after Mass
Monday - Coop (house cleaning every other week)
Tuesday - Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
Wednesday - American Heritage Girls (after dinner every other week)
Thursday - Ballet Lessons
Friday - CYO Cross Country (Sept-Oct), Ice Skating (Nov-Dec), Swim Lessons in the spring?

My general plan for each day is to try to get as much schoolwork as possible completed during George's morning nap. I put him down around 9:00 and he sleeps until at least 10:00, but often until 11:00. Since our coop doesn't start until 11:00 on Mondays, I'm planning to do a little bit of schoolwork beforehand, just for Claire. A math lesson for sure and hopefully some of the once-a-week subjects like geography, science, and art appreciation. The other four days of the week, we'll start by combining Claire and Maggie's religion lessons - scripture and catechism. I'll have Claire do some handwriting practice and look over her assigned easy reader while I work with Maggie on her simple preschool lessons. Maggie will then be free to go play with Betsy while I continue working with Claire. Adam's going to teach their music lesson (a new hymn every two weeks) at some point - either during breakfast or dinner or right before he leaves for work.

I'm not sure what we'll do if we haven't finished school by the time George is up from his nap. Probably sometimes power through and finish, sometimes pick it back up again during afternoon nap, and sometimes just call it quits for the day. I'm fully expecting school to take longer than 32 weeks (my goal is just to be done by the end of June) so if we don't get to everything everyday, that's perfectly okay. I read somewhere that a key to homeschooling with babies around is to never let them know that they can stop take morning naps. When George stops sleeping in the morning, I'm planning to just give him some books and toys in his crib and keep him confined for at least forty-five minutes until he can play as independently as Betsy can. And if Betsy doesn't want to play independently or sit at the table with us and color, she will be having a little morning quiet time in the girls' room.

Right now I'm thinking we'll probably leave the house most days around lunch time because twelve hundred square feet just isn't very big! I definitely want to make it to the library once a week and I just ordered all the kids rain pants so they'll still be able to have fun at the park when the play equipment is all wet. I'm sure we'll have lunch with Adam at work once in a while and there just so happens to be a Chick-fil-A next to the grocery store with curbside pick-up. I also have a dear friend homeschooling four children the same ages as mine who I'm hoping to have frequent play dates with. We shall see! At the very least we will go for walks around the neighborhood and play in the backyard. In light of homeschooling and kicking the kids outside for "recess," we added a climbing dome and a baby swing this summer.

I'm prepared to tweak much of this during the school year and I'm expecting that next school year could be entirely different. We might try a different curriculum, a different coop, different sports. Maybe we won't be homeschooling at all. Who knows?! 

8.30.2018

Overwhelmed

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Now that I've caught up on all the really great things that happened since George's arrival, I want to talk about how overwhelming I've found daily life with four little kids. I was incredibly fortunate to have so much help - Adam was off on paternity leave for all of November and December, then my sister was home with me most of January and February before she started her new job.

Before George was born, our weekdays went very smoothly. Adam and I woke up before the kids to pray and get ready for the day. We all left the house at 8:00 am - Adam riding his bike to work and me taking all the kids to drop Claire off at school. A few days a week we stayed for daily Mass and then headed to the gym or to run errands. Maggie and Betsy did music class and art class - on those mornings Mass didn't fit in easily but I had time to get all of the house cleaning done while they played happily. We picked Claire up from half-day kindergarten after lunch and then Betsy would take a nap while I helped with homework. I got to have one-on-one time with Betsy one afternoon a week while Claire and Maggie went to Catechesis. The two little girls entertained themselves with other younger siblings at the playground during soccer practice, while I got to chat with a friend. 

All of this was very difficult or impossible to maintain with a little baby. I was too tired from feeding George in the middle of the night to drive Claire to school most of the time. Since we only have one car, that meant Adam would drive her and then come home to get his bike and ride to work. Of course, that also meant no more daily Mass. Being the only parent juggling three kids at music class and art class was really stressful. Especially art class, when all the other families just had one child and I actually had to assist the girls with projects while keeping a baby happy. I definitely wasn't leaving George in the gym childcare after he was hospitalized for RSV. Wearing a baby and pushing two kids in a shopping cart isn't a super relaxing way to grocery shop, but I couldn't try pick-up or delivery because we were obligated to buy Scrip gift cards for our groceries to support the school and you can't use gift cards to order groceries online. Since soccer was over, we wanted to put the two oldest girls in swim lessons, but I couldn't handle taking all four to the pool by myself, so we scheduled those for Saturday mornings. The best swim lessons we could afford were at a YMCA almost thirty minutes away. I also could never manage to get any house cleaning done during the week, so I would often spend most of the weekend tackling chores. The only way we managed to complete our required volunteer hours for the school was due to scheduling shifts while Adam and Allison were home in the winter months. 

Early into this stressful spring semester, it was time to figure out the plan for next school year. Claire would be going to the parish school full-time for first grade - staying until 3:15 instead of 1:30. The only preschool we could afford for Maggie was the same coop preschool we did with Claire. To complete our weekly volunteer commitment, we figured Adam wouldn't get to work until noon that day and stay until 8:00 pm. Of course, there would be evening and weekend volunteer commitments for the preschool as well, and we'd also have to meet our volunteer hours at the parish school. We wouldn't want Claire staying for two hours of Catechesis on top of a full school day, so we planned to move that to Sunday afternoons. We wouldn't be able to afford much in the way of extracurriculars anyway, but we knew we'd want to limit them to Fridays after school or Saturday mornings, that way Claire would have time to play after a long school day. Oh, and once a week school would get out an hour earlier, which would mean cutting naps very short for pick up unless I could beg a friend to drive Claire home. 

A typical day would mean waking George up at 6:00 so I could put him down for a nap at 8:00, have Adam do some work from home, take Betsy along to drop Claire at 8:30 and Maggie at 9:00, rush home so Adam could get to work, wake George up by 10:00, pick Maggie up at 11:30, head home for lunch, get the two youngest down for naps by 1:00, prep dinner and do chores with Maggie's "help", wake Betsy and George right before 3:00 and throw them into the car to get to the school at 3:15, always be one of the last cars in line so Claire is one of the last kids picked up, finally get home at 4:00, help with homework and finish dinner with a baby wreaking havoc all along the way. 

It would be tough but workable if we knew George was going to be our last baby. But, as Catholics, Adam and I don't believe in birth control and do not trust ourselves to use natural family planning correctly for over a decade (we are still in our twenties) unless we had a very serious reason to do so. We are fully on board with spacing our children out a bit more than we have so far, but we are, God-willing, not done having babies. So....if we can't change the having babies every few years, we'd need to change other aspects of how we've set up our life in order to, well, survive it. 

Obviously, the coop preschool just wasn't going to work. After a lot of prayer, we came to the conclusion that the driving, volunteering, and expense of parish school wasn't right for us either. The bus stop for the public school is right across the street from our house - that makes so much more sense, right? No more carline with babies and toddlers, no volunteer requirements, minimal expense. Although I'd still have to drive to preschool if we wanted to go down that road, at least we'd be able to afford one that didn't require such a huge time commitment. 

We do have some worries about sending our kids to public school in this area (Seattle in 2018 is very different from Houston in 1998) but our biggest reservation was just that the school day is sooooooooo long for little kids. We want our children to have time to play! With their siblings and their toys at home, not just at recess. We want to have them in a few extracurriculars, but that seems like too much to tack onto an already too long school day, so scheduling them on the weekend felt like our only option, which isn't ideal. I also felt like with Claire in school all day, I'd only get to see her at the most stressful times of the day to juggle many small children - the morning rush out the door and the homework/dinner/bedtime grind in the evening. I don't want almost all of her interactions with me to be when I'm at my worst. 

All of this to say, we are going to give homeschooling a try! For right now, we think it will be the best way to give our kids the childhood we'd like for them - more time to play, more time for extracurriculars, and, most importantly, calmer parents. 

8.29.2018

Catching Up: 2018 So Far

It's been a while, huh? Somehow, George is already nine months old.

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As you can probably gather from the fact that I haven't posted here in more than eight months, life with four little kids has been pretty overwhelming. I definitely hope to write more about that, but this update is going to focus on the positive, just in an effort to catch you guys up! 

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George was baptized on his one-month birthday!

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Adam's parents and his younger sister, Katie, came to visit for the occasion.

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My sister, Allison, finished up her two years of service as a missionary nurse at an orphanage in Honduras and moved in with us right before Christmas. It starting snowing on Christmas Eve!

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Adam went back to work in January, after nearly two months of paternity leave, but we got to go sledding over Martin Luther King Day weekend. Claire and Maggie also started Saturday morning swim lessons at the Y.

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At the beginning of February, George got RSV and had to spend four days at the children's hospital. Thankfully, he recovered quickly and we were released in time to celebrate Betsy's second birthday. We had a few friends over for dinner and took her on a special date to get her first haircut.

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We went to the aquarium over mid-winter break and then our hopes of going sledding again were dashed when our kids came down with a stomach bug. Sooooooooo many stomach bugs this year, guys.

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At the end of the month, we took Allie to see Hamilton right before she started her new job as a nurse at a pro-life non-profit women's clinic. It more than exceeded our very high expectations!

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In March, we celebrated Claire's sixth birthday by inviting her kindergarten friends over for a Rainbow Dash themed party and a special ladies' outing to afternoon tea.

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We welcomed spring back to Seattle with a visit to the cherry blossoms at UW.

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We rejoiced in Christ's resurrection on a very, very rainy Easter. We actually had to postpone our egg hunt by a couple days! Just our luck, we had another stomach bug over Easter break.

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At the end of April, Adam and I actually won a hotel stay in Dublin through a Catholic travel company. We found a really great price on airfare (less than $600 per person) and Adam's sister, Katie, generously agreed to watch the girls. George tagged along and was overall such a great travel companion. I'm hoping to share more about our trip soon!

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Oh, May, my favorite month because Adam and I are the same age! I am almost exactly eleven months older. Mother's Day is right in the middle of our birthdays, so we never do much, but I was happy to force my kids to take a semi-ridiculous picture with their mama. It probably won't surprise you at all that we had another stomach bug over Memorial Day.

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Kindergarten and our little preschool activities ended in mid-June. We kicked off summer with strawberry picking and breaking out the kiddie pool. Aunt Allie celebrated a birthday of her own and moved into her own place in the big city.

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We ended the month with a week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with Adam's whole family in honor of his parents' fortieth anniversary! We stayed in a gorgeous staffed villa with delicious meals provided on-site and spent the days hopping between the beach and the pool. We were a bit worried about taking four small children on a beach trip but it went much better than we anticipated.

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Adam used the rest of his paternity leave and took the month of July off. We tried to mostly catch up on life and squeeze in as much summer fun as possible. Tennis camp, raspberry and blueberry picking, camping with our small group from church, weekly visits to the beach and the pool, a day trip to Bainbridge Island. Everything that would be too difficult for me to attempt with four little kids on my own!

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August has understandably been much slower. Claire and Maggie went to bike camp, Betsy potty trained remarkably easily, and all three girls took a few weeks of swim lessons. Weekends have mostly been occupied by showing Daddy their new skills....and foraging for blackberries. The most notable event of the month was saying goodbye to Uncle Scott, as he was in Seattle for a summer internship. He's back at Pitt now for his senior year, but he received a full-time offer so most likely he'll be back for good after he graduates next spring! We're ending the summer with a Labor Day weekend trip to my parents' in Eastern Washington.