Monday, August 31

Pumping Gas

The other late afternoon I went to the grocery store alone.  My head was swirling with a mental list of things we needed: vinegar and honey, garlic powder and foil.  I was tired after a long weekend and decided that I'd probably be too lazy to fill up my tank after I shopped, so I made the quick decision to fill up first.

I only needed about half a tank.  I like to top it off when I'm out at the grocery store alone so I don't have to fill up with a car full of anxious, hot kids.  I got out, paid, put in the pump, and leaned against my car, facing West.  My car had told me it was 92 degrees outside, but the black asphalt made it seem warmer the longer I stood there.  In a split-second decision, I stopped myself from pulling out my phone to find something to entertain me for two minutes, and I just leaned my weight into the car and soaked in the heat.  As I noticed myself starting to complain of how hot I was getting, I made the conscious decision to enjoy it.

Summer, the season I always crave.  Long days, tank tops, humidity, and splashing in the pool.

Winter.  More layers, more laundry, short days, and dry air.  Yuck.

Enjoy the heat while you can, sister, because in a few months you'll be missing it. 

While my eyes were closed, I started to see funny colors, eventually turning to red- then even brighter red!- and I thought my eye lids would catch fire.  It was hot, y'all. But then my gas pump clicked off and as I placed it back, I thought about how happy I was that I chose to enjoy those two minutes alone instead of looking for fast entertainment.  I felt oddly refreshed and ready to tackle the store.

I hope I cherish this moment in a few months when I'm chilled to the bone and complaining about it being dark when it's 5:30.  But maybe by then, I'll be wise enough to soak in those cold moments and enjoy them for what they are, and then be able to recall them to memory fondly when I'm pumping gas on another hot summer day.

Thursday, August 27


Sunday was my 33rd birthday.  And on my birthday, I always get very sentimental and resolute.  I think part of it is the time of year when a new school year is approaching (or, in our case, has already begun) and shiny new notebooks and fresh pencils always make me feel like I'm about to start something over again.

Having my birthday at this time of year has always been a way to make a "fresh start" for me.  I was always (always!) super excited about going to school on the first day and meeting the new kids- hoping to finally find a best girl friend or find the "right" boy who could be my highschool sweetheart (thankfully God had other plans for me!).  I loved shopping for new clothes, the hot pavement during summer band, and getting back into a routine again.

As an adult, I've had to make my own "fresh start" days throughout the year, and up until now the only times that really made sense were new years and lent.  But now that we have school-aged children, August has jumped out at me as, once again, a time for me to sort of start over.  Check on former resolutions and make new ones that are applicable to my life now.  God has ordered my life so that our "busy season" starts October, so August is a good time to form new habits before life gets crazy.

As my birthday passes and school days resume, the pools close down and extracurricular activities begin again, it's time to get back into the months of "normal" life.  As a creature that loves rhythm and predictability, this makes me SO happy.  My days are a little ordered right now: wake-eat-school-lunch-rest-free time-chores-dinner.  But as a gift to myself this year, I hope to add some self-care in this year.  Early morning workouts, leisurely rest with my sister-friends, and hobbies that unite me to the creative nature of our Lord.  These things will, hopefully and ideally, bring me peace and therefore help me to be a more attentive wife, mother, and teacher.

I just finished plowing through Teaching From Rest, and it was probably the best thing I've done for myself lately.  I enjoy reading Mackenzie's colloquial writing; it's easy to push through it when there's lots of noise and distractions around me. ;-)  It was so encouraging to me, in so many ways, and yesterday might have been our best morning of homeschooling yet because I was able to re-focus on my true goal of our schoolwork: virtue.  I remembered, what good am I doing if I yell at them for dawdling when I could probably just as easily make it memorable teaching moment if I went up to them and gently whispered in their ear?  How is me YELLING at them setting the example of VIRTUE when it's the exact opposite of how I want them to treat each other?  And ironically, Beth read about being a hypocrite in bible history... 

For so long, I feel like I've shunned being good to myself.  I've been a martyr of sorts, thinking that being scrupulous is a "better" sin.  It's not.  It's still a sin. 

So I hope to take better care of myself now.  To honor my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit by taking care of it, including gently telling my kids no when they want to eat my food (because I need nourishment too). To not feel bad about myself when I feel left out of friendships or conversations, but instead to leave my comfort zone and jump in.  To forgive myself when I fail to live up to my high standards.  To leave room in our schedule for peace and quiet instead of being rushed and frantic, and to not feel guilty for taking some personal time off.

I know, it seems like I'm always making resolutions.  At least, it always feels that way to me!  But I love the challenge, and I love that it gives me a new chance to reconnect with the Lord using knowledge that is new to me.  I do see personal growth in myself- at least I see the opportunity for growth!  I just hope that when it's all said and done, and God asks me what I did with my life, I can at least tell him I tried my absolute best.

Tuesday, August 25

A Birthday Week Recap

This year, birthday week started with a goodbye as I left to take the kids to San Marcos for a weekend to visit my sister.  Ryan had a business trip planned for a few nights and I just needed to get away for a few days, so we said our goodbyes on Sunday afternoon and I braced for the car trip alone with four kids.

Of course, they did great.  Well, Jack started the familiar chorus of, "How much longer?" about 30 minutes into the trip!  He wasn't interested in any books, coloring pages, audiobooks, or any other activities I had planned for him, so the poor kid just stared out the window and half-cried the second half of the trip!

We arrived in the early evening and took a stroll around her apartment complex.  They dipped their feet in the pool (more on that later!) and played in the workout room for a few minutes.  We had a snack and Jenny read them books for at least half an hour before they reluctantly went to bed.

Jenny had to work the next morning for a few hours, so I took the kids to HEB to gather some groceries for our stay.  I guess it's unusual to have a big family in a college town because we got a lot of stares. ;-)  After dropping off the groceries, we went to a nearby park- one of my favorite parks of all time.  It's so awesome for big kids and little kids!  They had a blast while it was still cool in the early morning.


We walked along the river banks afterward and the kids dipped their toes in the water.  Then they got in, laughing and shivering and not quite believing how clear the water really was!

After lunch and a quick rest time, we drove out to the outlet mall for some shopping.  Beth almost got her ears pierced but decided that she wanted to do it without her brothers around.  I think she's a little nervous!  Instead, the boys got some shoes and the girls got some clothes!

We promised that they could play in the pool that afternoon so when we got home, everyone suited up. I planned to stay back with Caeli, make dinner, and then meet them there, but the unthinkable happened: the pool was closed.  The kids were devastated!!!  It was so upsetting!  We promised to find a place to swim the next day, they watched some tv, and went to bed. 

On Tuesday, everyone was up around 7 am (that's late for them!) and we got ready to go exploring at a local touristy spot.  We took a train through a petting zoo of sorts, descended into an underground cave, took an elevator up to 150 feet above the ground so we could observe the (extinct) fault line, and went into a "zero gravity house" that gave me a headache!

Descending into the cave

Looking into Edward's aquifer, at the purest water you've seen in your entire life.


We brought a picnic and went home.  Everyone was exhausted and Luke and Caeli had naps.

That afternoon we all got into our swimsuits and went down to the river for some swimming.  The kids didn't realize how cold it would be, but they gathered their courage and jumped in!  Luke led the way- I was so impressed! 

They watched a movie after dinner, and went to bed.  The next day we left right after breakfast to come home and meet Ryan for his birthday!

Ryan had told me that he'd made plans for us that night, so his parents came in to watch the kids so we could go out.  First we went to a new Mexican restaurant, then he surprised me with tickets to an Incubus concert that he'd won from work.  We were early though (well, we didn't like the opening act!) so we went to grab a drink first, then stayed for part of the concert before heading home.  It was fun, but we hadn't heard any of their new album, and honestly it was too loud.  Oh, our aging, aching ears!  Ha ha.


Thursday was a normal day, and Friday we all packed up to go to Ryan's parent's house.  They're moving, so we had one last gathering there with Ryan's brother and nephew.  We had a great time, celebrating lasts and remembering firsts.



We came home Saturday night so we could go to mass at our parish on Sunday, for my birthday.  I really wanted to go to our parish on my birthday, so I was happy that everyone agreed to that!  We had brunch with friends afterward, and when we came home I baked my birthday cake- a tres leches.  Yum!

I had a quick nap and went out for a quick shopping trip because, well, I like to shop on my birthday.  It's dumb but I just kind of like to start my new year with something new.  It was largely unsuccessful- I just bought a black t-shirt!

I came home to a pitcher of margaritas and a bunch of happy adults, ready to party and grill some burgers!

I saved all the cards I had gotten in the mail that week (from my grandmothers, parents, and our realtor, haha) and opened them after cake.  It's the way we did it growing up and it's comforting to me to continue those traditions!  We said goodbye after 9 and put the kids to bed.  And Ryan and I crashed at 10:00!

At this point, you'd think our crazy birthday week was over, but Ryan had one last surprise for me!  He told me that I had plans on Monday night, picked out an outfit for me, and told me to be ready at 6:30 pm.  I had a hunch I was being picked up and I was right!  Three girlfriends rang the bell and jokingly told me to grab my suitcase cause we were going to the airport! They brought me a giant balloon, birthday tiara, and clip-on earrings and whisked me away!

I had no idea where we were going, so when we showed up at a restaurant to a table set with 14 or so seats, I was pretty flabbergasted!  And nervous- I was pretty sure I didn't even know 14 people who would come to celebrate my birthday!

One by one, ladies walked in.  I was amazed because I hadn't prepared myself for any of this, so each person was a surprise to me!  Especially my dear friend who drove over an hour with her baby to come!

I was truly touched and honored.  I received several sweet, thoughtful gifts and as each one of them told me happy birthday, I was near tears.  It was so moving and special to me.

While I was surprised, I'm also not surprised at all.  I know that Ryan is amazing, and for him to call and email and text all of these people (or their husbands!), make a reservation, and kick me out of the house for a night of fun is sooo him.  He spoils me so much, and I know!  And to round everything out, he stayed home an extra 45 minutes this morning to let me sleep in a bit and brought me my morning latte before heading to work.  He's so thoughtful, and pretty perfect. 

And he definitely won birthday week this year. :)

Friday, August 7

7 Quick Takes: Our 2015-2016 School Year

It's Friday!  We start our 2015-2016 school year in three days!  Aside from not quite having all of my books here yet (at least they're ordered!), I feel pretty ready thanks to our new schedule!

New schedule?  Well, after hearing Sarah MacKenzie and Pam Barnhill's webinar about block scheduling, I made up my own schedules on Word and decided to go for it in my own way.  What does this mean for us?

It means instead of doing a little bit of every subject each day, we are doing a lot of only several non-core subjects for about six weeks at a time.  Math, handwriting, and English will have daily lessons all year!  This is very different from my previous years of planning, in which I planned only three large terms, and worked on the same books for most of the year.  I found that Beth would lose steam when we did it the proper Charlotte Mason way of consuming only tiny chunks of information at a time.  And I'm a total believer in doing what works best, so we are moving away from that idea and we will see how this one goes!

We have also developed some good morning habits, and I hope we can maintain those for awhile.  After breakfast- we clean up, say morning prayers at our family altar, read a story from the children's bible, have quiet individual prayer for a couple of minutes, and then listen to and sing a hymn (I use The Cathedral Singers "Catholic Latin Classics," a free album on Amazon Prime, it's much less awkward  to me than singing alone unaccompanied).  Then they will get a small break while I pull myself together (read that as I will talk myself into tackling another day with a cheerful heart), and then we will start school.  This is my plan.  Will it happen like this every day?  Absolutely not, I know that.  But we will strive for the ideal.

I'm also pulling back a little more from Mater Amabilis, the free online Catholic Charlotte Mason-inspired curriculum we have mostly used in the past.  I just needed to streamline a few things, like combining grammar/phonics/copywork into one neat little book from Catholic Heritage Curricula (CHC for short).  All three kids will be using CHC phonics programs, including Little Stories for Little Folks (to learn how to read since 100 Easy Lessons isn't working well for Luke).  I'm looking forward to seeing how it works in our family, and I'm praying it makes our day a little smoother.  Beth will also be using CHC geography since she loved it so much at co-op last year, and we do our own history lessons with A Child's History of the World- which will alternate terms with Apologia's science.  I think everything else is taken from Mater Amabilis for Beth, and while the boys are in younger grades, I'm sure they will listen on and participate with some of Beth's lessons to a certain extent.

We share several subjects as a family: history, science, poetry, music and artist study, and some religion.  The boys are sharing family geography and literature (though I'm sure they'll listen on to Beth's literature as well).  Each child is using Faith and Life for catechism at their own level (well, Beth is doing 4th grade in that), and Luke will be preparing for his First Holy Communion next spring!  Both boys will hopefully learn to read at their own pace, and we will all share saint stories and advent/lent preparations.  Since we pretty naturally live a rich liturgical year at home, and since our parish hosts many amazing liturgical feasts throughout the years, I don't feel the need to hyper-focus on that for "school" time.  It will continue to be part of our daily life!

We will be participating in our beloved co-op again this year!  The kids are already super-excited about seeing their friends soon.  This year, Beth will have Bible History (which I'm terribly excited about because she's very passionate about reading the bible!), Art/Music, Ballet, and Junior Master Gardening.  Luke's class will be using Classically Catholic Memory (Beta Year), and Jack will be reading Tomie dePaola books, learning geography and math from me, religion studies, and play time/nature walks.  I'm so very nervous about Caeli being in the nursery for an hour- especially now that she's usually napping at 10 am every day.  I will probably try to have her nap on my back in the Ergo, but I suppose we will have to wait and see what actually happens in six weeks!

Caeli.  What am I going to do?  What are your best tips for teaching three children WHILE keeping a toddler alive and entertained?  I thought to pull out our old high chair.  She loves sitting in it and it might actually contain her for 30 minutes while I do reading lessons?  We are also utilizing more audiobooks this year, for history and some of Beth's geography, because I don't see how else I can do this!

We haven't decided what extracurricular activities we will do yet.  Ryan and I are very tempted to take a semester off from soccer (shhh, don't tell Luke- we're undecided!) because we will be traveling most weekends in September, and Ryan would actually like to go to an Aggie tailgate this year!  I think we're burned out from spending our Saturdays at the soccer field, and the fall semester is always SO hot...

Beth and Luke have been taking piano lessons all summer, and we will continue those.  I'd love to get Beth back into an art class of some sort, and Jack is begging to take gymnastics.  Maybe we can find an (air-conditioned) homeschool gymnastics class?  Air-conditioned soccer?! All three will also participate in their girls and boys clubs again this year, and we will most likely join 4H so we can start earning some college scholarship money!

Am I exhausted yet?  Not really.  Planning their schedules this way (instead of mapping out a day-to-day lesson plan) has been a cinch.  I still have to plan my co-op class and still have to figure out exactly how to use the LSFLF CHC readers, but I'm cautiously optimistic about everything.  I also know enough now that the fall semester is easier to tackle than the long, dark, rainy spring semester.  But I've planned my days of rest throughout the school year, and intend to use each of them in a truly meaningful way.  In fact, I plan to convince Ryan that I will need at least one night alone at the beach in February or March. ;-)

(Please don't feel behind in your own planning because I've posted this and have this part figured out.  I've learned that my planning doesn't have to be perfect- only that I have to participate in God's plan for our family, show up for the job, but then leave room for the Holy Spirit to guide us and inspire us.  It's very possible all of this will be thrown out the window sooner than later!  We are starting school early this year because we plan to take a two-week road trip in the fall, and I wanted to complete some school work before we left.  So I beg you, don't feel behind or bad, but I hope my resources and planning ideas might inspire you in your home school!)

Tuesday, August 4

Our 10th Anniversay Trip to Antigua!

On June 26, Ryan and I left for a five day, four night trip to St. James Club in Antigua.  For our 10th wedding anniversary, we had originally wanted to go to Rome for a couple of weeks, but not only was that way expensive, it would have been too difficult to leave our kids for that long.  So we settled on Antigua! We left the house at 3:30 am on a Friday morning, our first leg was to Miami and then on to Antigua.

We had a not-so-great brunch in the Miami airport and boarded our next plane.  Ryan loves an airplane Bloody Mary, so when the flight attendant told us proudly that she normally worked in first class and couldn't figure out how to swipe the credit card, naturally I ordered a mimosa.

 We opted to find ground transportation once we arrived (instead of planning ahead), and easily found a taxi to our resort, which was about a 30 minute drive across the island.  It was definitely not as lush as I expected- in fact it was quite dry and barren, but still very hilly (mountainous?) and the water was breathtaking.

Arriving at our hotel- on the peninsula
We arrived pretty early in the afternoon, so we didn't feel rushed to seize the day.  We leisurely checked in, unpacked in our room, and walked around to get to know the place.  It's a very big resort, with two main beaches and several pools, though we only went to two of them.  Our room was on the Pacific side of the peninsula; we chose to stay in a room that allowed us to walk straight onto the beach, and we were not disappointed!

We grabbed burgers and drinks at the beach-side grill on the bay side of the peninsula.  It was all-inclusive but some of the bars were definitely limited in terms of what liquors they had stocked.  The beach-side grill didn't have many options for me- I usually chose a rum and coke while Ryan got a beer.

We weren't sure where to eat that night- at the buffet or at a beach restaurant.  We needed reservations to eat at one place, but they only take reservations the day before!  We chose the beach restaurant because it was near our room and we just happened to stumble upon it, and we had steaks with salad and potatoes.

I didn't even think about our gluten-free diet when we booked our trip.  I'm not sure if Ryan and I had committed to going 100% GF at that time anyways!  It turned out to be a pretty easy task for us to avoid gluten.  Neither of us are tempted anymore by bagels, waffles, cake, or French bread (mmm, maybe tempted a little by French bread....), so we just avoided ordering anything breaded or obviously gluten-filled.  This wasn't an issue for us since we are pretty familiar with food ingredients!

The only bummer was that since the hotel wasn't anywhere near maximum capacity, it seemed like they had some of the more fancy restaurants not open as frequently while we were there.  Which meant we had to eat at the buffet or the beach side grill restaurant every night- and both of those places had very limited GF options.  Finally on our third day, we asked someone about it and they told us that we could request GF options at any of the restaurants at least one day in advance, and they'd do their best to accommodate us.  I wish we would have know about that up front!  We were able to eat at one of the nicer restaurants that night, and they prepared our Thai dishes with gluten-free noodles- and even supplied gluten-free bread as an appetizer!  I was pleasantly surprised!  (For those reading this who may have celiac disease- a note to you: My husband and I eat gluten-free due to our sensitivities, so we weren't concerned about cross-contamination.)  I did voice my disappointment that the other restaurants weren't open any of the other nights we were there, and the hotel offered us two complimentary meals at their "fine dining" restaurant on our last night, which otherwise would have been a $40 per person charge.  We were very happy with that result, and had a very lovely GF dinner on our last night there!

My made-to-order omelet and potatoes.


Back to the trip... Our second day we chose to go on a circumnavigation catamaran tour around the entire island of Antigua.  We stopped at a little beach where we went snorkeling and had lunch.  It was beautiful (these photos aren't altered at all!) and I actually really enjoyed the super-choppy parts, where it felt like we were on a roller coaster! 


I don't even remember what we did that afternoon.  Late lunch, drinks, pool, walking around... Pretty much whatever we wanted! 

All over the hotel I kept noticing these sweet little birds.  They were very tiny and very tame, most of them had a bright yellow breast, but this little fellow didn't.  He kept us company while we were on the beach one afternoon, on the back of my chair- and Ryan even shared some beer with him. 

 As we walked in the shallow water back to the bar, I caught a little minnow.  Then a little sand crab.

Clear water up to my thighs
  Back to the pool and back to the bar... There were some dark clouds but I don't remember it raining at all.


The second day there was more lounging.  We didn't go anywhere that day, but there were many drinks, snacks, and much pool swimming.  Unfortunately the water on the Atlantic side was very full of seaweed.  I'm not complaining, I've been to the beach enough times to know that seaweed happens!  But I don't like things touching me underwater, so I stuck to swimming in the pool!

Before dinner on the third night

On the fourth day, we chose to go on a short fishing excursion that left from our hotel.  We went out on a tiny boat with one other couple and our guide, and we reef fished. Sounds exotic, but it really was rather dull!  We each caught a few fish (they were called Jacks!) and we all got pretty wet.  I was terrified of burning so I wore pants and a t-shirt instead of a swimsuit!

The short outing made Ryan realize he wanted to do more fishing, so he arranged for us to fish "off the record" later that night!

That afternoon we snuck into the pool reserved for premiere guests.  Haha.  It wasn't much of a pool, but no one else was there and it was sort of on a cliff, so it was kind of neat!

After that we went kayaking around the bay.  Then Ryan was determined he could paddle board from one side to the other... Oh my.  I have to tell you that what should have been a peaceful trip for him turned out to be a pretty hilarious event for me to watch!  He fell off twice and sort of struggled against the wind coming back!  He was in good spirits when he got back- thankfully- because I nearly died of laughter on the shore.

He's right in the middle!
 That night was our last night!  We went to Piccolo Mondo and enjoyed a fancy schmancy dinner during the sunset.  It was very nice.

 And then we went dock fishing.  At 9:00 pm.  In my fancy dress, because why not?

We didn't need to leave until noon on our last day, so we had breakfast, spent the morning on the beach and enjoying mimosas from our room. 


Little did we know that our flight out of Antigua to Miami would be three hours delayed!  We spent three hours at the (very small) Antiguan airport, praying that our arrival time would be early enough for us to get through customs, security, and onto our flight back to Houston.  We were supposed to have an hour, but we knew what we had to do!

As soon as the plane landed, we literally ran to customs.  We had to stop, wait in line, then we ran to the next line.  There we waited for 20 minutes... Then we ran to the next line, which seemed completely unnecessary.  This is when I lost it, because we had less than 15 minutes to get on our flight and I realized we had one more security line to go through.  I really wanted to get home! The man in front of us was kind enough to let us ahead of him, and that one tiny act of charity might have been what allowed us to make it to eventually make it to our flight!  We ran to the next line, which was where our baggage was screened again, and Ryan's bag was held for inspection.  SERIOUSLY.  One of the TSA agents saw that our plane was about to finish boarding and she told me to, "Leave him!  Run and tell them to hold the plane!" So she showed me where my gate was and it felt like a slow-motion movie scene as I was running, pulling my carry-on behind me, trying not to flash anybody (because I was wearing a dress), tear-stained cheeks, and literally made it to the gate as the last passenger walked on board.  Then he said something about there "not being room" and I nearly lost it again- was the flight overbooked?!  They were getting impatient about Ryan not coming, telling me they needed to close the gate, and it seemed like an eternity until he arrived a few minutes later.  But he made it!  We boarded, both sweating and out of breath, and just sat down and looked at each other.  But we were going home!

In the second of four lines.  We were still pretty optimistic at this point.
 We got home around midnight, just when we expected to.  We were starving and exhausted (we never got lunch or dinner!) but we were home!  Four nights and five days was the perfect amount of time for me to be gone.  I felt like we were both able to really truly relax and decompress, and it didn't seem too short.  At that point I was really starting to miss the kids, which was a good sign to me that I was ready to go home!  I'm just so glad we made it home on that night!

Everyone was so happy to see us in the morning, but they had so much fun with Ryan's parents, my mom and sister, and two of my brothers- I'm not even sure they missed us!  We are so very blessed to have family members who were willing and able to take care of our children! 
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