Friday, March 27, 2009

7 Quick Takes - end of RSV edition!

This week is the last full week of RSV season where I live, which means that next week our family will be getting back to our normal schedule of outings! (We've been semi-quarantined, because RSV - which looks like the common cold in most people - can be very dangerous for the underdeveloped lungs of premature babies, like our twins. Their lung development lags behind normal babies' till about age two.) Except that it will be a new normal, because I've never had a springtime as the mother of two preschoolers and toddler twins. I suspect it might be a bit different. But oh-so-much fun.

So, for quick takes this Friday, here's a list of seven places I'm looking forward to going to, now that RSV season is almost over:

1) Sunday mass. We've been making due with the 8 a.m. Saturday mass, because it's so small we more than double the attendance just by attending. While it's been neat to sit in the choir loft right up next to the altar, and get to know the regulars there a bit better, I am looking forward to a SUNG mass with all of the hymns, and especially to getting to see all our fellow parishioners after the service again.

2) The park. We've taken the kids to the park this winter, but just to run around on the grass or to fly kites. I can't wait to see these little monkeys on the monkey bars again! I'm sure they'll still climb the rope we've hung up at home, but how cool for these climbing-happy kids to have a whole playground at their disposal again!

3) Our playgroup. I've missed you guys.

4) Sam's Club. Yep. I'm gonna put those double carts to GOOD USE. (Huge thanks to my folks, who've picked up the stuff on our Sam's Club list for us all winter long.)

5) The grocery store. Just like the park, we have been to the grocery store with the kids this winter, but only with them safely in the quad stroller. So this only happens on weekends, when Adam can push the quad stroller, and I can pull our sturdy wooden Red Flyer (for the groceries). It's a good walk there and back, pushing or pulling all that weight! But I'm looking forward to going all by myself with the four kids. Again - it might get interesting!

6) The Huntington. If you're ever in the Los Angeles area, you must go to the Huntington. Acres of gardens, room after room of gorgeous artwork, and books like you would not believe. They have the Ellesmere Canterbury Tales. A Gutenberg Bible. Original Donnes and Shakespeares and a huge Audubon Birds of America. An amazing rose garden, a Japanese garden, a jungle garden, a children's garden with interactive fountains and hedge tunnels and a mist grotto . . . just beautiful stuff.

7)Restaurants. Not that we went that often before, but some cashew chicken sounds really good right now!

So, there's the short list. :) For more quick takes, visit Conversion Diary.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

patio garden in spring

I'm enjoying our patio garden so much right now. We've been working on gradually adding to it, with an eye to making the view out of our front window a peaceful one. If you can ignore the bright plastic sand toys, I think you can say we've achieved our goal:

The big palm made a huge difference in making the patio feel cool and green. And with the recent rain, our lantana and lavender and geraniums are blooming beautifully:

That lavender is supposedly a plant that should be scantly watered, but it really starts to droop after just a day or two, and looks much happier when its regularly soaked. Look at the dark purple on the side of the blossoms, and those lovely light purple petals on top:

And this lantana is what I used to call "fruit loop flowers":

Other things we have growing - but not yet blooming - on the patio are nasturtiums, irises, a couple more geraniums, another lantana and several varieties of miniature roses. I'm hoping summer will find our patio full of blooms.

And I'm trying to be better about bringing the outdoors in. Here is some of that lavender in a vase above my kitchen sink:

And some lantana in a cloisonné vase in the bathroom:

How are your gardens - patio or yard - doing these days? Is spring coming where you are too?

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

on homeschooling, part II

First of all, thank you all for your good and thoughtful comments. There were comments on both sides of the question, but they were all so gracious. Which is amazing. I mean, homeschooling is one of those internet-conflagration topics - almost as bad as disputing the greenhouse effect, advocating epidurals and telling people what you really think about extended breastfeeding. I mean, it's even almost as incendiary as insisting that Star Trek is better than Star Wars (DS9 forever!) So thank you so much for all your kind and helpful words.

The problem is, I would read one comment talking about how wonderful homeschool was for the commentator's family and find myself thinking, "yes, yes - days at home, learning beautiful things!" But then I'd read another comment talking about the virtues of public schooling and thinking, "yes, yes - I would never have grown in my faith as I did unless it had been tested!"

So . . . I'm still just a bit on this here fence.

What I am slowly coming to realize two things:
1) This might be one of those things where I have permission from the Lord to make the choice myself. My mother-in-law told me once that after seeking the will of God earnestly, when she was obeying Him whole-heartedly, that sometimes He would answer her question of, "what do you want me to do?" with the answer, "Well, what do you want to do?"
In other words, when we are obeying our good Father, He sometimes, like a good father, lets us make our own decisions, knowing that we are capable of choosing well in that particular instance. I'm not sure yet, but this seems like it might be one of those instances for me.

2) The decision of whether or not to keep Bess home for kindergarten is just that: the decision of whether to keep Bess home for kindergarten. I'm not making the decision of whether we will be a homeschooling family or a public school family forever and ever amen. Rather, for this child, and for this year, what would be best?
I don't need to think about whether Gamgee will go to kindergarten in two years, or how Lucy and Anna would do in public high school. I just need to think about whether, in September, it would be better for Bess to be at home or not. That narrows things down considerably, and seems, to me, to be a much more manageable decision.

So, do I think it would be good for Bess to stay home this fall? I don't know. But I am leaning towards saying "yes", for a couple of reasons.

First, this past year has been one of upheaval for our family. Half of us were hospitalized, we dealt with infant twins (I really think there's no way to express, in print, what an all-encompassing exhaustion comes with twinfancy), we moved, we were in RSV quarantine. It was, in all, a good year, but I do feel that, in some ways, Bess missed out on a year at home. We just weren't able to do a lot of the things we wanted to do. I feel like she could really benefit from one more year - a full, good year - at home, getting a solid foundation in the love of her family. The idea of having a whole year as the six of us sounds so good, so right, so wholesome.

The second reason - and it almost isn't a second reason, just more of the first - is emotional and spiritual readiness. My mom reminded me that I started kindergarten late; she and my dad sent me the year after I qualified to attend. And it was a really good decision. She opined that I just wasn't emotionally ready the year I turned five, and I think she's right - especially judging from how much I liked kindergarten when I did go. And I surely didn't regret turning 18 my senior year - it was fun to be able to sign myself out of school that last semester! All the research echoes my own experience: it's not a bad thing to be one of the older kids in your grade.

Also, if we wanted, we could keep Bess home this next year, and send her to first grade the year after, as kindergarten isn't compulsory in California. I'm kind of leaning towards this. I'm not worried about her academically (she's already got the first half of the kindergarten curriculum under her belt, according to CA education standards, and I don't think the second half would be hard to cover this year), and that would let her start school when she was emotionally and socially ready.

If I do send her to public school, and I still think we will at some point, I want her to go in thoroughly grounded in her faith and in the love of her family. Public school works for Christian kids when their home life is their home base, when that is where they feel they really belong and are really from. With this past year being what it is, I kind of think Bess could use an extra year developing that internal solidity.

On a slightly different note, I've been asked what my husband thinks about this. The answer is, being the rational man he is, Adam has basically said that it's up to me - ha! No, really, in his words, "I'm not the one who'd have to homeschool her." I love my husband.

Really, though, he had a less positive public school experience than I did, but we agree that both public school and homeschool can be done well and that both can be done poorly. He thinks our kids could do well in either environment, and is willing to start the experiment either way. For my fellow Vorkosigan fans, you can sum up his attitude in Emperor Gregor's tolerant phrase: "Let's see what happens."

Indeed. Let's see what happens.

For now, I'm still getting the paperwork and medical exams done, so we can register Bess if we want to, and we'll be going to the kindergarten open house in a couple of weeks, to get a better feel for our options. And I'm going to keep researching homeschool. And praying. And listening.

And I'll keep you updated. Thank you, again, for all the helpful comments. Though we're still not sure what we're going to do, it's so encouraging to know how many other parents are out there, raising their kids (and teaching other people's kids) with so much wisdom and grace.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, March 20, 2009

Finished Object Friday: Crocheted Dishcloth

I haven't been doing a ton of crafting lately, as I've been spending most of my free time getting my entry ready for the Genesis. But here and there (like when I'm watching the kids play outside), I've been making crochet dishcloths. This one is my first try doing a ripple stitch (yes, I've been crocheting this long and never done a ripple stitch), and I like how cheery it looks on my sink. Thanks to my brother, who gave me a pack of crochet pattern cards for Christmas - it's been fun experimenting with them!

Discloths are the perfect medium for trying new stitches, btw, because they're so small. My only advice is to use cotton, and to make sure the stitch you're trying is close-woven enough to wash dishes well. Also, a single-crochet border will cover a multitude of sins.

Check out Ranee's blog for other finished objects!

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I'm thinking about homeschooling: shoot me now

Okay, I always figured I'd send my kids to public school. Still more or less planning on that. I had a good experience there, and I think there was a lot of value for me in learning to be a Christian in a non-Christian world, and a lot of character growth in having classes that weren't tailored to my particular needs, where I needed to work on ways to fill the empty minutes. In fact, I spent a large part of my high school class-time writing stories instead of taking notes (and still getting A's on the tests, thanks), and I don't know that I would have fallen in love with writing the way I did without all that boring class-time that I had to fill somehow. In my life, public school was a blessing.

But . . . I'm thinking about homeschooling. It just kills me that I'm thinking about it. I'm not the teacher-type and I want my kids to learn to exercise their faith in the real world.

In fact, the reason I'm thinking about homeschooling feels like a horrible reason. A negative reason. But here it is: in California, if you take your child out of school for any reason other than illness, she's considered truant and you are breaking the law.

Seriously. If my kids' grandpa visited from Nebraska and wanted to take them to see the tidepools, and I took my five year old out of kindergarten for the day, I would be committing an illegal act.

That's ridiculous.

These are not the state's children; these are my children.

Like I said: I enjoyed and profited from public school. I know, I'm a nerd. But I'm beginning to get the impression that my experience of public school is not the experience my children will have if I enroll them. From kindergarten through third grade, I routinely missed the last month or so of the school year. Why? Because my parents spent that time out of the country, and so, of course, did I. School was great, but if family stuff was going on elsewhere (family stuff being missionary furlough, in this case), well, I would be with my family and not at school. It was never as dramatic as that after elementary, but I still always felt like my parents had the freedom to direct our lives, and that we weren't at the mercy of the school's schedule.

And when I went to school there was a bit of teaching to the tests, but not much. It was mostly learning the material. I understand this has changed too. I took Bess to get a peek at the kindergarten rooms she'd be going to here, and the teacher proudly pointed out their art corner. "We have the most wonderful gentleman come in and teach them art every other week."

Every other week? They're five years old and they only do art every other week?

Also, we were already figuring that we'd have to supplement our children's education. The schools here aren't going to teach them Spanish or music or Bible. And if we're going to have to do that, does it make sense to do the rest of it ourselves too?

Still . . . isn't it important to learn how to get along with people who aren't like you, without compromising your own principles? That's a great benefit of public schools. Go out and face it, then come home and hash it out with your parents and figure out how to handle it better. Go out and do better. Come back and debrief. Over and over and over. It makes you strong.

And, selfishly, how can I write and homeschool at the same time?

And how do I homeschool in a small place, without a yard?

And how do I homeschool without scads of money to pay for the extra-curriculars?

So, I have no idea what we're going to do. Besides pray. I'm certainly going to do that, and going to listen hard, because I really don't know what the answer is here. (As opposed to all the times I pray, sure that I do know the answer - ha! See Jen's excellent post on that here.)

But seriously, I can't take my kid camping without being in danger of being referred to the authorities? That's just wrong.

So, all you beautiful homeschooling moms, any advice? Also, any public school moms who've figured a way to live with the stupid truancy laws? I'm all afloat here, and would love some input.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, March 16, 2009

some (mostly) non-Lenten links

Have you heard of the stages of grief? Here is an art project that depicts them as hats. I know that sounds odd, but the pictures are amazing.

Does keeping an orderly (not perfect, but orderly) house help your children learn to read?

Savage Chickens asks "why?". If you have a kid at that stage, this is a must-see.

Check out Ann's rickrack napkins? Wouldn't those make great gifts?

Also from Ann, check out her idea for a special, low-tech Holy Week fast.

I love Jeanne's comments on this passage in Deuteronomy, about "else the wild animals would become too numerous for you."

Did you know that rosary beads were originally made from, well, roses? I found this how-to fascinating.

I have to say, nursing twins does sometimes feel like this.

Hope your work-a-day week is starting well!

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A few extra Lenten Links

Kerry at A Ten'o'Clock Scholar talks about doing Stations of the Cross for Children, which I think is a pretty amazing idea. Check it out!

Two Square Meals offers this list of ideas; I especially appreciate her thoughts on being an example for her children.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

sleepy, sleepy us

Yesterday, by the time my husband came home, one of our four children had napped for one hour . . . and that was the sum total of napping for the day. One hour. For one child. The rest had been up the entire day.

Cranky kids, cranky me. It was not one of our finest hours. (Or eight of our finest hours, either.)

But it turned out to be a mercy, because their sleepless day prompted our kids to fall asleep right at their eight’o’clock bedtime, which hadn’t happened since the (awful, terrible, no good, very bad) Daylight Savings time switch. I have hopes that we’ve now gotten mostly back into our normal sleep routine. So our awful day operated as a corrective to our recently-screwed-up schedule.

It just seemed like a strange, small, severe mercy. I don’t know what else to say about it, except that on this side of it, I’m glad it happened. One crappy day probably saved us numerous crappy nights. But I couldn’t have known that. God works in the small things, sometimes, but He doesn't always tell us what He's doing, I think.

On the other hand, I didn't ask. Next time something seems screwed up, I want to remember to 1) accept it from his hand and 2) ask why. Not that he has to tell me. But it strikes me that I should have asked.

Anyone else recently have something that seemed to be bad that turned out to be good?

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Lenten Blog Carnival

Welcome to the Lenten Blog Carnival! Thank you to all of you who sent me entries; this is such an beautiful selection of readings and prayers, disciplines and encouragements. I hope that everyone who reads through these links will find something that helps her deepen her devotion to our Lord during this season.

Small disclaimer: I don't agree with everything in every one of this entries. Given that they come from a wide spectrum of Christian practices, I doubt anyone reading will agree with everything! However, I hope you will be encouraged by all of them. And where you find differences, I encourage you to let them remind you to pray, with Jesus, for the eventual unity of the church.

Also, if you sent me an entry, and it isn't here, please let me know and I'll try to correct the omission as soon as I can!

With that, I'll go right to the entries:

Check out this idea for a Lent Tree at Smithical. Now, tell me that's not a cool idea!

Jeanne of At A Hen's Pace talks about disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement. Fasting is just one side of the coin.

Karen Elizabeth of These Little Pieces reflects on the words of the Book of Common Prayer as it invites us to observe a Holy Lent.

Hearing "remember, oh man, that you are dust" leads Sarah Marie to reflect on Bonhoeffer's words on grace.

Elizabeth Esther talks about getting an answer she didn't want when she prayed about what to give up for Lent.

Amy at On a Blessed Journey writes about the history of Lent and offers some thoughts from John Chrysostom.

I Am an Alpine Flower posts about giving up the internet for Lent . . . with a little Henri Nouwen thrown in.

Tienne at Take the Poor with You has some suggestions on how a mom can fit three hours of prayer into her day during Lent.

And, in the resources category, here is a post on Lenten Activities with Children from Kelly, and it's full of good ideas for celebrating the various Sundays of Lent according to the Eastern Calendar.

Lindsey at Reading Red Letters posts both about the preparation for Lent and about Ash Wednesday.

Elena, a The Wuggy Chronicles, offers this poetic reflection.

Read about how one family fasts together at Two Square Meals.

Amy at Splendor in the Ordinary talks about her family's Lenten practices this year - including a reminder about a traditional Lenten snack: pretzels.

At Story-Formed, read about Lenten Soup (but it's not the recipe you'd expect).

And, finally, at Learning as We Go, read about meeting a time of challenge with a Lenten discipline of gratitude.

Thank you again to everyone who participated, by reading or by posting. May God bless you as you continue down this Lenten path. May these forty days draw you closer to Jesus, and may the feast at the end remind you of the feast that awaits us with Him in heaven.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, March 6, 2009

7 Quick Takes

For 7 quick takes, I am going to just go with the 7 things that are swirling 'round my head these days. I wish I could concentrate on each one as much as it deserves, but instead these thoughts just troop through one at a time, get me all worked up, and then march out so the next one can take their place.

1 - Our church, which is Episcopal, thinks it's Anglican and wishes it were Catholic, is getting all shook up in our absence, and I'm wondering what in the world will be there when our RSV quarantine season is over. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to being there on Easter Sunday. (Oh, okay, it is Anglican too.)

2 - I'm entering a real, live writing contest within the next week and I am having a blast getting the first fifteen pages of my novel ready for entry. But man, it's a lot of work! Writing is fun, rewriting is work.

3 - I'm back at the size I was when I got pregnant with my first baby - yay! Not that my figure looks quite the same somehow . . . actually, I like it better. But now that I'm normal-sized again, I'm working on getting fit again. Somehow I never feel like exercising till I've actually lost the weight. Then I get all happy about how I feel and I work on building muscle (I love weight-lifting). This actually isn't a problem, but it's something that occupies my mind regularly, as things you're actually working on tend to do.

4 - Did you know that there is a "worldwide economic downturn"? Though, I really think the news media needs to come up with a better name for it. Something like "In Which We Discover Cheaters Never Prosper and Neither Do the Little People Who Live in the Same Country as Them".

5 - Children. We have children, and they're a pack of little sinners. Help, Father, help. Help them, redeem them, give us the grace and wisdom to be good parents . . .

6 - Devotions. #5 actually ended in a prayer, and so do numbers 1-4, actually. As all these things swirl through my mind, I try to pin them down by praying about them. "Here, Lord, you are Lord of this too. Have mercy on us. And this, Lord, you know about this too. Help me to trust you. And this, Lord . . ." Along with that, I am still reading through the Bible (in Numbers, which always has more story and less cenus than I think it does) and starting to read St. Francis de Sales. Again, #6 is what makes #'s 1-5 not overwhelming.

7 - Sleep. I miss it. Missing it does cross my mind now and then, in between the rest. "Hmm, wonder if we have a church to go back to? Oh, if only I could take a nap . . ."

Okay, folks, please tell me I'm not the only one who skips from concern to concern in her thoughts all day long.

And, as I work on praying rather than worrying, does anyone have any good, succinct prayers that they use when they find themselves worrying?

Happy Friday! Make sure you go over to Conversion Diary for more quick takes - and to congratulate Jen on her beautiful new baby!

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica snell

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lenten flowers

I could not keep Lent with my eyes today. There was no visual fasting as I took my walk with the children today.

We've had rain recently, and you would have thought it was Easter, what with the calla lilies and the white irises springing up in the flowerbeds of what seemed like every house we passed.

And the large purple bearded irises. Also, there were morning glories and bougainvillea, roadside daises and geraniums.

And the roses! Deep red and light orange and sunny yellow, and my favorite: pure white. It seemed like all of the thorny stems were in bloom.

Everywhere I turned there were bloms. Piles of soft branches of blossoming lantana and rosemary and lavender. And, incongruously, the tall poinsettia trees (yes, they're trees here) topped with bright red flowers.

And then there were the blossoms whose names I don't know, but that I love: the hot orange ones on the bushes and the cool, architectural pink ones on the slim silver-barked trees.

How, I ask you, is this appropriate for the first full week of Lent? This explosion of color, this celebration of flowers?

I don't know. But it made me wonder, as I pushed the heavy quad stroller, if practicing to mourn when you feel joyful might help you to be joyful when you feel like mourning.

Honestly, I don't know that either. But I like the flowers.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, March 2, 2009

send in your posts! - Lenten Blog Carnival

I've received a lot of great posts for the blog carnival, but more are welcome. This is a reminder that I'm taking entries through Wednesday (email in profile on the sidebar) and the blog will go live on Sunday.

I'm looking forward to sharing all these good thoughts and meditations and resources with you all!

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, March 1, 2009

new and glorious mistakes

You'd think that after awhile sewing would get boring.

No, no. This gentle art keeps things fresh by always, always giving you new and glorious mistakes to make.

Today I was working on a shirt. I'd found a quilting cotton that was much too beautifully colored to not become an article of clothing: a lovely, rich dark blue scattered with small roses. It's not often a winter like me finds florals that work for her, so I snatched up a yard of it and I've been working on and off on this shirt for a couple of weeks. You know, as I had a minute here and there.

Today I'd gotten as far as making the facing for the neck opening. After sewing it together (French seams! so finished! so fancy!) and then hemming the edge (carefully around the curves!), I got ready to pin it to the shirt itself.

Must make sure it's straight. I turn it over. Turn it over again. And again. And it's not coming straight.

I finally stop turning it and hold it out at arm's length.

Ah. That would be the problem.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I managed to sew the facing into a Mobius Loop.

See? How can anything that includes Mobius Loops ever get boring? I love sewing!

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell