Gettin Schooled

We are well loved by the people in our life. So much so that's i fear the kids might take it for granted, that it's a given to be so generously cared for.

On Monday I realized that Wednesday was Pi day and mentioned it aloud absent mindedly. A few hours later the mail arrived and the kids clamored around when Jac handed me a package.

"Who's it for?! Who's it for?!"

"It's for mom."

"Well, who is it from?!"

"It's for mom so that doesn't matter."

I announced it was from Chrisa.

"YES!" Philip yelled. "I KNEW she'd send something!"

Chrisa's fun-filled Pi day packages have repeatedly been a mid-March blessing and it made me smile to realize that they have become something that the kid's look forward to.

This year's box was heavy and I could hear coins. As I started to peel back a flap all of the kids yelled.

"No! We have to wait until tomorrow!"

They were particularly cooperative and quick Tuesday morning and they all gathered about me expectantly when prayer was finished. Upon opening the box we found a wrapped bundle that Gemma opened. Inside was an envelop for every individual in the family. Anxiously they tore their envelopes open. Out poured coins and a card.

They were lightening fast in figuring out that the coins added to $3.14.

A short debate followed with factions arguing for and against individuals keeping their money or pooling it for pie.  I knew Chrisa's heart would rejoice over how they multiplied 3.14 by 9 and then asked what a trip to Perkins would cost for 2 pies (as there are chocolate fans and fruit fans and only a few who swing either direction, thank you very much). After a quick call, they added up the two pies and subtracted that from the total. We pacified Gemma and Lu by allowing them to keep a few Penny's and made big plans for a treat after FNE.

Alas, everyone else in Rapid City also made plans involving pie and when I made it to Perkins Tuesday evening nary a pie was left.

We made amends on Wednesday and all really enjoyed the deliciousness of being loved and remembered.

It was possibly even sweeter for breakfast. At least Penny thought so!

(Gemma chose to paint the walls with the remainder of her Thursday breakfast. She then learned how to wash chocolate silk off the wall. That kid.)



Our school kick-off was moved off the feast of St. Augustine due to a scheduling conflict.  Then it was postponed because of sickness.  The kids got mighty nervous that we would skip over it all together, the way we did with our anniversary.

It's fine.  I'm over it.

They were so relieved and excited when they saw me making crowns.  They double and triple checked that it really was okay that they wear whatever they wanted and didn't need to match.  They planned and strategized their meals, drinks, and desserts. They were beside themselves.

We were, too, really.  This begins our eighth year.  There is some weight and seriousness to that number.  It feels like we should know what we're doing.

It's fine. I'm dealing with it.

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Max is an 8th grader this year.  He's taller than I am, is ridiculously organized and fastidious and is currently only interested in WWII. He is serious about his work out regimen and his studies.


Philip is in 6th grade and sat us down to tell us all the things he wanted to learn this year.  The list includes things like work on programming skills, Physics and Newton's Laws, improve sewing skills, memorize all of the prayers and mysteries of the rosary, and work on Parkor skills.  He is equal parts serious and silly and while he still can be utterly distracted by his own ideas, he is more and more attentive making enjoying the current moment really great.

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Tess is in 4th grade.  She dresses and accessorizes every day as if it were a special occasion.  She also thrives on switching things up and keeping things new and novel. She is learning that sh can do hard things and how delicious victory tastes when it is hard fought.

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Ellie is in second grade this year and that means she is preparing for first reconciliation and first communion.  She's decided that green is her new favorite color and ravels back in forth between the big kids and the littles in all things.  She is thoughtful and imaginative.

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Oh, Gemma.  She has a few months left before she turns 5 but she acts "like a teenage!" according to her siblings.  She's just starting in this school business, wanting to be at the table with her siblings and focusing on what she's doing.  She also is "all about fashion which means the best stuff and looking the best,, which I'm really good at." Hence her Tom's on the wrong feet with her red dress.



Lu was so very excited about her crown this year and, along with Gem, thought she was BIG STUFF.  Her main job during school is to serve as a distraction. Or to wake up Penny. She takes seriously her role as Max's weight during his workouts and ensures she gets read to every day.

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Penny doesn't even look like this baby anymore!  That evening she smiled for her rapt audience/entertainers that are her siblings and then had her first 'real' food, eating baked potato and filet mignon.

Before we know it, she'll be the one wearing the 8th grade crown.

It's fine.  I'll get over it.

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In the words of Papa Bill, Sally Ho and Tally Forth!


We're experiencing a renaissance of sorts.

Math is all the rage around here.

Last night, Susan publicly chastised me for the lack of math instruction in our home.  "We were just saying how sad it is that you don't love math."

Mmmm.  Saaaaad faaaaace.

But the truth is, there's been plenty of math as of late.  Algebra, geometry, a little physics. . .

This summer, we asked Max to tell us what he'd like to focus on this year.  Math was at the top of his list. "Will do!" I said and I meant it.  Here's the thing - somewhere around sixth or seventh grade, math and I had a falling out and we never fully recovered.  I feel insecure about my math skills at best and an incompetent fool at worst.  I don't want that for these children of mine but I'm also not going to let them flounder and convince themselves that they're bad at math.  It doesn't end well.

Max requested more Life of Fred.  We obliged and while Philip groaned and whined, we learned the art of long division. Things started slow and haltingly but we kept at it.

All week long, Philip has sought out his breakfast and then immediately turned to work out problems of his own devising.  Today, Max busted out his skills on his own to figure out how to divide up his timeline into equal parts.  That part in Star Wars Episode 1 where Anakin finally gets his pod racer running and he's yelling, "It's working!  IT'S WORKING!!" over the engine?  We've been feeling it this week.

Tonight Philip chuckled to himself.  "Life of Fred is right.  Doing long division is funner than using a calculator!"

It's working indeed.  Next up, grammar.

Another school year is up and running.

Or, limping around the track whilst wheezing and clutching at it's cramping side as it were . . .

Yes, a new year has begun. Today that looked like times tables and long division and formulating letters and making birthday cards while I ironed all the parts and pieces for the many FNE neckers that needed to be done by tonight.

"Tell me again what 2 times 5 is, Ellie?  Yes, h-o-n-o-r-e-d is honored. Phil, bring down the 7 before next."


But we were DOING IT!

This was the same motto we had the night of our kick off.  You see, Chelsey got engaged this summer (woot!) and then sent this text: "Could you come to California to go dress shopping?" And really, who could say no?  But the date - the last weekend in August- I knew right away would be a problem.  Because that Friday, the 28th, was the feast of St. Augustine.

Jac and I kept it a secret as long as we could but when the kids started to make plans for the kick off, we had to tell them things would have to change.

"WHAT?" was Philip's incredulous and indignant reply.  They were all skeptical that we could do it earlier or later.

"But that's Philip's feast." they kept repeating.

We planned for the 27th - St. Monica, Augustine's mother's feast- instead.  Oh, the frenzy.  Oh, the excitement!

The wait at the Alpine was just long enough for us to get pictures in.

Max, the seventh grader (I know!  I know.) was fine with the customary crown but not with the sitting normally for a photo.


Phil was beside himself at the prospect of a slice of grasshopper pie. Fifth grade was a bonus.


Tess had been a huge help getting everyone ready and has earned the right to be a big third grader.


Ellie wore a brave face about being in first grade and had her menu planned out, but was fretting on the inside about me being gone for 4 days.


Gemma had a pose DOWN for her pic and was so very excited to be a preschooler.


And Lucy thought the whole thing was dumb.


Everyone held it together (aside from Lucy.  That girl has a will of iron and can get hangry like nobody's business) until dessert when the reality of me leaving left a few in tears. The rest, however, tanked up on icecream and puff pastry.


It was certainly a memorable evening.

Our theme for this year is from Joshua 24:15 - "Choose today whom you will serve."  The rest of that verse, of course, is "But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord."  So we begin, with hearts full of the truth that following the Lord is a daily, conscious decision.  Even in math and while wielding an iron, we must choose.  Let us be bold!


"Children of mine!" I said.

This is our call to arms, our Revelee, our 'Circle the Wagons'.  They know it and, usually, respond.

Today they lagged.  I was trying to get out the door to a meeting and I rolled my eyes to Max.  I could hear the crazies, but, evidently, they couldn't hear me.  "What are those girls doing?"  I wondered aloud.

"I know what we should do!"  Ellie lit up.  "I think we should do what Miss Gleeson does and you should clap softly twice and then WE can clap back in answer three times."

I stared confused for a moment.  "Who is Miss Gleeson?"

"She's Jigsaw Jones' teacher," she and Max said together.  We take our reading seriously and literally, obviously.

"Riiiight.  You know what I like to do? I like to say, 'If you can hear my voice, clap once.  Iiiif you can hear my voice, clap twice -"

Laughing, Max interupted, "If you can hear my voice, clap thrice!"

Laughter all around!

"What about, 'If you can hear my voice, clap uno!'?" I suggested, getting into the spirit of things.


"How do you count in Latin?" I asked Max.  This caught him off guard and he answered mid-laugh with a

"Duh . . . " And THAT made us laugh even harder.

"I know . . . " Ellie was quiet, earnest, and thinking hard.

"I . . . II . . . III. . . IV. . . "

Max and I rolled with mirth.  Luckily Ellie joined in and we all had a good laugh.  I left without giving my instructions but not without feeling like there was a little victory in that mix up.  And I love me a win.

It really does take a village, this raising a kid business.

Did I just reference a Hillary Clinton quote?  

Multiply that by the number of kids we've got and, well, we end up needing a healthy metropolis.  Good thing we seem to have one!

Elizabeth has faithfully come on the Sundays of Lent to bring gum to the girls who are fasting from it and to visit with them.  Luke and Randy and Michael and Kyle hold kids, wrestle kids and toss kids.  The Scout Master picks Max up and drops him off as if it's his job and Gail glides into the house like the sun beam that she is and takes the helm effortlessly.  Allie teaches new slang and (some might say annoying) phrases.  Bridget reads, Shawna screens, Susan quizes, Fr. Mark cheers, and on and on and on . . .

In short, we are abundantly blessed by our friends.

Even over miles and miles, we are blessed.

The first week of March, the mailman brought a small manila envelope addressed to the Daniel Kids.  Oh, the frothing!  Oh, the guessing!  The return address told me it was from Chrisa but the bulk and heft of the package added to the mystery. What could it be?!

An Epic Pi Day Family Fun Pack!


It was as if they had won the lottery.  We quickly glanced at the contents but decided together that to put it away would make actual Pi Day that much more epic.

"I like how she always remembers us on Pi Day." Philip mused.  My homeschooling heart agreed.


Now Chrisa is to her very fiber a teacher.  And how she can light up at a teachable moment is distilled joy. So I rejoiced with and for her forethought in utilizing the Epic Pi Day as one for us.  Lord knows (and Chrisa, too, evidently) that I would've mentioned it and moved on because math is not my strong suit.  I need that village!

We watched the clock and rang in March 14, 2015 at 9:26 and 53 seconds. 
Then it was on to the other fun activities!  Jac read the pi trivia sheet while the kids colored the symbol for pi (she sent new crayons=BEST. DAY. EVER.) Next came the beaded bracelets coordinating colors to numbers thereby creating a wearable symbol of the number.  This was great fun and Max and Ellie proved particularly adept at translating the given code.

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There was a challenge to measure circles and find pi.  Jac and Max worked hard to get exact measurements in an attempt to arrive at the tricky number.  Another challenge was given to see how many digits you could memorize.  Max took this seriously and is currently up to 15 (and continues to work on it).    Over lunch, we worked through the Pi quiz and followed that up with the procuring of actual pies because those were the instructions sent with a generous envelope.

Jac and I had a talk to give that evening so the pie and kids and remaining activities were left with 3 joyful villagers who came to watch the kids.  Josiah found the suggested video (and others!) on youtube and they all worked together to make a pi story. And by the ruins present when we got home, they enjoyed the delicious pies thoroughly.


I could write to the many decimal points of pi thanking all of those who we love and love us well.  But for today, this meager offering must suffice.  And to Chrisa, math teacher and friend extraordinaire, our infinite thanks and appreciation are given.  You made our once in a lifetime Pi Day truly epic.  In the words of Tess, "If I live to see the next Epic Pi Day, I will still remember this one!"  Lots of love from our village to yours!


After prayer at lunch Max tacked on at the end, "And thank you that we got all ITs done before lunch!"  Yes, thank ya Jesus that we got them done before lunch - served at 1 today to accomodate, but who cares?- we survived!  The house on the other hand . . .

Last night I was perusing Pinterest how I do and saw a pin Lacey had found.  It was an idea to let little ones paint water color on ice. One of those, Who thinks of this stuff/Why didn't I think of that? projects.  It was a good idea.  A REALLY good idea.  I prepped for sleep and had even tucked myself in but couldn't get the idea out of my mind.  Gemma would love it.  It'd be a good diversion from the Cheerio/Fruit Loop/Apple Jack necklace stringing that is her usual request.  I got up, found a plastic container and prepared for an IT after midnight.

I did feel as accomplished and on top of it as I had imagined I would when I woke up this morning.

The kids all queued up for their times this morning with Gemma clarifying over and over and OVER that she would indeed get an IT.  I finally told her that I had a special project for her which upped the anticipation by 50%.  When I finally put the ice and the paint on the tray, she was hopping with excitement.


She wasn't the only one.

"Wait, what?" Tess attempted to understand.  Soon everyone gathered around to check it out.  She took to it quickly and with a lot of concentration.

We flipped the ice over a few times.

We even made prints.

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After 15 minutes or so, she decided she was done but she didn't want anyone else to touch it.  She returned after a while, making it a mixed media project.


We will see if this will be the expected activity from here on out.  The original idea is here. Thanks, Lace, for the heads up!


Last August when I was a stew of pregnancy induced hormones and anxiety the midwife suggested one on one time with each of the kids for an hour each day, every day.  She wrote it down like a prescription.

"And whispering only, too.  Make them do it, Annie.  I mean it."

We whispered for a week and my mind was reset.  The noise level climbed again and today you'd be lucky to hear yourself shouting above the din the majority of the time.

The individual time, though . . . that has stuck with a few minor tweaks.  It never worked for hour stretches because 60 minutes during which 4 children were unsupervised in this house was begging for a disaster.  We began with 20 and have worked up to 30 minutes.  Also, every day made it less special and anticipated and we weren't getting the school in that we liked to.

This year we moved the times to Wednesdays and dubbed them ITs (said Eye-Tees). The kids love their "Individual Times" and we all look forward to the change of pace in the middle of the week.  They're starting to learn to wait to ask me for special projects or privileges during those precious half hours.  We have played Minecraft, arm-knitted, painted, made cookies, played cards, drawn, read, crafted, built Legos, given manicures - the choices are all theirs.

Ground rules are simple: follow the Golden Rule.  Would you like your IT to be interupted?  No?  Then don't interrupt your sibling's!  Keep an eye on Gemma and find something to do that will not destroy anything or bother anyone else until it is your turn.  The person who finishes their chores fastest usually gets to go first but sometimes there can be bickering.  Today they drew cards out of a regular deck to see which order the middle three would go.  No tears or arguing followed - praised be Jesus!

We are all about learning and practicing virtue all the time but ITs provide opportunities to practice patience and generosity and charity and experience an immediate benefit from it.  They are also learning to think ahead and prepare.  If they have all the parts and pieces ready for a project, we will get so much more done in the time we have than if we are trying to track down a full deck of cards or the supplies for a craft. Some Wednesdays I set a timer and some I just stay right with them until they are done.  It's funny how the girls want to do things WITH me but the boys want me to watch them do things or read aloud while they do as they like.   The best part of it all is that the concentrated time with just me seems to fill them up and I try very hard to look and listen for ways to encourage them specifically during their time.  It's like a mini stay-at-home speed date.  With my kids.  It works for us!


I wish I could adequately describe the level of chaos that is usual during "school."

Okay, it's really not that bad but Gemma is just on the cusp of hanging with the big kids (an aside: she is trying so very, very hard to figure out what it means to be her at this moment.  "Mama?  Am I big or little?"  Mama Syd said it perfect when she told her she is smaller than Max and bigger than Lucy, but Gemma's still ironing it all out.) and that means that there is a lot of chair hopping and interruptions and loud whispers and some complaining from her siblings. It also means that there are days that give a sliver of a peek into what I think will be the very near future and that's pretty sweet.

She takes very seriously the job of beginning morning prayer by leading us in the sign of the cross.  She wants the hymnal opened to the right page and wants it to be a song she knows so that she can sing, too.  And sometimes she will join in on our studies at the table in an earnest way.  Today was one of those days.

We are learning about Christianity's arrival in England and life in the Dark Ages.  It was a great moment of pride and encouragement when I wrote "Illuminare" up on the wall and the kids guessed it meant light.  "Manus" meant hands ("Like manos," Max explained) and "scriber" meant write.  But my heart really leapt when I asked what they thought a scriptorium was and without a pause Max said "A room for writing."  He figured it out. Boom.

Anyway, they colored illuminated manuscript letters while I read aloud from our history book. Gemma laid on the table from the waist up, her toes barely reaching the chair behind her.  She scribbled line after line on her page, demanding new colors from her brothers and rolling her artwork to give to me only to take it back to "work some more."  We follow up our reading with questions about the content and, to keep bickering down to a minimum, I usually ask a specific kid a question.

Today I just happened to make eye contact with Gemma while I asked a question.

"Do you remember what they wrote on?"

Several kiddos started to answer but Gemma cut them off.

"Hey!  Stop it, guys!  Mom asked me!" she yelled.

They snickered and I raised my eyebrows.  She glared her frustration at her siblings for a second then turned back to her paper and back towards me.  "I'm ready." she said quietly, purposefully coloring away.

I held back my laughter and smiled while the other kids held their breaths.

"Gemma, do you remember what the monks wrote on?"

She stopped drawing, squinting her eyes in thought and tapping her lips with her pencil.  After a moment of thinking she said, "Yes.  Their bikes."

She went back to writing. The rest of us nearly died from suppressed joy.

The remainder of the morning, the kids kept repeating it to the same response while I pondered if she should have her hearing checked.  "Their bikes . . . " I can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring.