My Beamish Brood

My Beamish Brood

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Ready the Way

Every year it seems that Advent comes along and I have a list a mile long. Not a list of things I need to get done for Christmas, no, those seem to take care of themselves in due time. My list is of the things I want my children to do and learn during Advent to get the most out of this beautiful liturgical season. Inevitably, though, my list becomes more of a hindrance than a help as I attempt to cram in as much preparation as possible. When I don't get to everything, I feel like I let my kids down. I don't know why it is, but I treat it as if this is our only chance to get to know Jesus! In part it is because the church has so many beautiful traditions during this season, but mostly I think I see what other families are doing to prepare and I want to do it all.

But this year, I finally realized I am totally missing the point. The reason we wait to decorate for Christmas, the reason we avoid bringing our kids to crazy shopping malls, is to instill a sense of hopeful, peaceful wonder as we approach the coming of Jesus. My frenetic attempts to make them experience these things is exactly the way to ensure that they will not experience them. "Come on kids! Hurry up and ponder the mystery of the coming of Jesus! Now!"

So I revamped my plan for Advent this year. Actually, I didn't change too much, but I drastically changed my approach and attitude. And I added one very important thing.


Our family is a story family. If everything is falling apart around us, if every child is screaming, I can sit down on the couch and open a book and soon peace reigns again. I realized this year that the missing piece of our Advent preparation was stories. This is where we find our peace and our inspiration! Not in workbook pages or coloring sheets, but in stories. That is why the Jesse Tree is a tradition that works so well for us; the kids decorate and cut out ornaments while I read from the Bible about salvation history.

This year, I decided to go a step further with our stories and choose one book for each day of Advent. We read the book in the morning, then the kids look through a box to find an envelope labeled with the title of the book we just finished. In the envelope is an activity that is somehow (sometimes distantly) related to the story. Some activities are super simple (paper snowflakes, video clips) and some are a little more involved. This way, I can choose which activity I want to do on a given day, depending on how much time we have and how the littles are doing, and then choose the book to read accordingly. Then they still have the joy and surprise of opening the envelope to discover the day's activity.

This being my first year, I used the random assortment of Christmas books we already had on hand, added some from the library, and picked a couple of gems to add permanently to our collection. In future years as we continue this tradition, I hope to replace some of this year's stories with others from the seemingly endless trove of beautiful Christmas books. (I am open to suggestions!) While it may look like a lot of work, in fact planning these daily stories and activities has simplified my days. If we get nothing else done, my goal is to read one book, do one simple activity, and put up a Jesse Tree ornament. That's not so overwhelming, and the kids really enjoy it!

Mainly for my sake, so I can access this list next year, here is our list of books and activities:

Who is Coming to Our House, by Joseph Slate: Make a sacrifice manger (our is simple construction paper and yarn, but the link gives you an idea of what it is)
The Friendly Beasts, by Tomie dePaola: Telephone Christmas Caroling
The Nutcracker, by Vladimir Vagin: Watch the Nutcracker Ballet
The Miracle of St. Nicholas, by Gloria Whelan: Make a list of blessings
The Legend of the Poinsettia, by Tomie dePaola: Make a paper poinsettia
Mortimer's Christmas Manger, by Karma Wilson: Set up children's Nativity set
Christmas in the Manger, by Nola Buck: Make tinfoil stars
Reindeer Wish, by Lori Evert: Make ice candle holders
The Clown of God, by Tomie dePaola: Make "juggling ball" cookies
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost, illustrated by Susan Jeffers: Make paper snowflakes
Three Wise Women, by Mary Hoffman: Bake bread (probably banana or zucchini... something easy)
Charlie Brown Christmas, by Charles Schulz: Make pom pom pinecones
God Gave us Christmas, by Lisa Tawn Bergren: Make a popcorn cranberry garland
An Orange for Frankie, by Patricia Polacco: Make orange pomanders
Cobweb Christmas, by Shirley Climo: Make pipe cleaner spiders
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski: Soap carving
Lucia, Saint of Light, by Katherine Bolger Hyde: Bake Lucia Buns
The Twelve Days of Christmas, by Jan Brett: Color 12 Days coloring pages
The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden: Listen to the Christmas carol The Holly and the Ivy
The Lady of Guadalupe, by Tomie dePaola: Make paper bag tilmas
The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg: Drink hot chocolate stirred with a candy cane
Christmas Day in the Morning, by Pearl S. Buck: Make a card for someone and send it to them
The Little Drummer Boy, by Ezra Jack Keats: Watch the Claymation Christmas Little Drummer Boy video clip

Feel free to use all of these ideas if you feel they will help your family prepare for Christmas, or none of them if it seems like just one more thing to worry about. If you have any Christmas favorites, or simple activities, I'd love to hear about them!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tiny Dancer

From the moment she was born, she was built like a ballerina. We kept waiting, but her long, skinny fingers and long, skinny legs never filled out into that chubbiness we expect in babies. As she grows, it seems as if every pound she gains goes directly to her height; her arms and legs just keep getting longer! And she carries herself with a gracefulness that I don't see in her siblings... and I don't remember having as a child.

I didn't set out with a mission to make her fall in love with ballet. I want my children to discover their own interests and pursue them at their own pace. When she wanted a Thomas the Train birthday party when she turned three, I was all about that. When she was all about princesses at age 4, so be it. But then she discovered ballet and my heart leaped! Ballet was one of the joys of my childhood. I only took a few years of intensive training, and I was never the top of the class, but it has stayed in my bones all these years. 

In our family, we read basically every (good) book we can get our hands on, exposing our children to lots of big ideas and lots of interesting activities. We just finished a novel by Linda Sue Park called A Single Shard, and the kids have been making pottery out of clay for days on end. This is what happens; they read about something, become deeply interested, and then move on when the next thing comes along. But Audrey...

I don't even remember the first ballet book we read to her. I think it might have been one of those boring informational books with a sentence per page and outdated photographs. Whatever it was, it lit a fire in her! She suddenly wanted to know everything about ballet. We started watching clips of famous dances, she began requesting library books about ballerinas. She discovered Misty Copeland. She asked me every day to put on the music to the Nutcracker so she could practice her dance routines.

I adore watching her twirl around the room. Her natural grace and uninhibited movement brings me so much joy. I look forward to the day I can watch her from the audience as she lights up the stage!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Yantes Inn is Open for Business

For the weekend of Blaise's baptism, we had a house chock full of family! Paul, Maureen and Liam made the trip from Rapid, Monica and Glenn's family came from Wisconsin, and even Patrick and Anne came down from North Dakota! I was reminded what a blessing our new home is as we found places for everyone to sleep and still felt that we had room to spare! (Next time we'll have to squeeze in Megan and the Wards too... hint, hint)

Glenn and Monica arrived first on Friday, bringing with them a huge container of Glenn's delicious smoked meat to serve at the Baptism reception. The cousins settled in and began to play together while we relaxed and caught up. Everyone else arrived later that night after the kids were asleep. The boys were thrilled to wake up to Patrick sleeping in their room and Liam on the couch downstairs! It took every ounce of self-control they had not to jump on them and wake them up the moment they saw them.

Saturday was a beautiful day, so we decided to hike Dodge Nature Center, the beautiful nature area near our house. The kids had a great time exploring the woods, the farm, and a boardwalk through the swamp. They even got a closeup look at some turkeys! Speaking of edible birds... Paul batter fried chicken and french fries for dinner, which was deee-licious.

Most of us went to Mass Sunday morning, but those who had gone the night before stayed home with the smallest of the children. When we got home, the house was spotless! My amazing mother-in-law and brother-in-law had whipped the house into shape while watching three little children! How come I can't do that? Then Monica, with her cake decorating mad skillz, turned a plain white sheet cake into this beauty:

We spent the day watching football and making last minute preparations, and then in the evening got ourselves over to the church for the big moment! The baptism was beautiful, the reception was a blast, and everyone stayed up around the bonfire late into the night... except me. I was totally beat. Blaise chose this weekend to become quite needy, and after a day of rocking and bouncing him, I was ready to crash when he was.

Monday morning most everyone headed home, but we got one more day with Monica and Glenn. It was another gorgeous day, so we spent it outside in the backyard watching the kids play... and doing some playing ourselves. I made it two whole steps on the slackline! Lucian was very proud of me. (Monica maybe might have made it even farther than I did but who's counting anyways...) Then we enjoyed Chin Chins Chinese for dinner, because apparently where Monica and Glenn live is a black hole for good Chinese food. And Chin Chin's is probably the best in the nation, so there's that.

Tuesday morning was a snap back into reality as I hustled the kids out the door for Catechesis as the last of our visitors hit the road. It feels like we haven't stopped going since then, but it sure was great to have a long weekend break to enjoy time with family!

They caught a woolly bear caterpillar on our hike


No babies were harmed in the making of this photo

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Up From the Waters

You know one thing I love about being Catholic? We have so many opportunities to celebrate! On October 9 at 5:00 pm, Blaise Lawrence was welcomed into the church through baptism, surrounded by friends and family. We don't ever want to wait long after our babies are born to have them baptized, so we picked a date that worked for us, the priest, and the Godparents and then hoped that others could make it too. We were so excited when we found out that Paul, Maureen and Liam, Monica and Glenn and their family, and Patrick and Anne could all make the trip and stay for the weekend! My Grandma and Grandpa (after whom Blaise Lawrence was named) drove up from Marshall, and close to fifty other family members, friends, and their children came to witness Blaise's important day!

Fr. Kyle performed a beautiful ceremony while making sure to explain what was happening in a way that all of the kids in attendance (upwards of 20!) could understand. Blaise's wonderful Godparents Angela and Luke stood by us and promised to pray for him. And as the water was poured over Blaise's head, every child in the room leaned forward in anticipation and excitment. It was an incredible moment.

The photos make it look idealistic, but actually Blaise was crying inconsolably throughout much of the ceremony. Everyone tells me that it wasn't that bad, but even Fr. Kyle took a moment to remind everyone, "Don't worry, this is his death day" in reference to his earlier homily referring to Baptism as a death to sin. I guess dying to sin can be painful!

After the ceremony, everyone came back to our house for a celebration. Paul and I both love to host gatherings, but we are not good planners. So it's great that every couple of years we are forced to get our act together and throw a party in honor of our children's sacraments! By the time we run out of baptisms and first communions, the older kids will be moving on to confirmation, and then... marriage? Holy Orders? Only time will tell! Like I said, it's good to be Catholic.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Baby Blaise Makes His Appearance

Hello world!
Welcome to the world, Blaise Lawrence! Oh my are we excited to have you here, little man! 

It's funny, this pregnancy seemed to go faster than any of my previous ones... until the final four weeks. My goodness, I felt like a blimp, I could barely move, and my body just decided it didn't know how to fall asleep anymore. It was excruciating. Mentally, I had geared myself up for another early baby, since my doctor and I spent a full ten weeks monitoring whether I would need progesterone shots during this pregnancy. After weeks of bedrest with Max, and biweekly shots to prevent preterm labor with the next three babies, I assumed that skipping the shots this time around would increase my chances of having another early baby. 

Boy was I wrong! Starting at 38 weeks, I started to prep myself for the inevitable... and then we had to wait... and wait... and wait... until my due date (and tenth anniversary!) September 2, the last possible day I ever imagined that I would be pregnant. We went for a walk with the whole family at Minnehaha Falls, hoping to move things along, but nothing. 

September 3rd, nothing. (Basketball, anyone? Bowling ball's more like it.)

September 4th, nothing. (But I got to watch Paul's team win their hockey tournament, so there's that!)

September 5th, nothing (Do I look a little crazy?)

Finally, on the morning of September 6, four days overdue, Baby Blaise decided to make his appearance!

We called my parents and began to prepare while we waited for them to arrive. My contractions got very strong while we waited, and each time one would hit, I would close my eyes and breathe until it passed... while the kids crowded around trying to ask me questions and talk about Pokemon! Paul finally had to intervene, firmly stating, "When Mom looks like that, DON'T talk to her." (Thanks honey!)

We got to the hospital about the same time as our doctor, and I am so thankful that he made it this time! This was by far my most difficult delivery yet, and boy am I thankful I didn't know what I was up against when I started... a 10lb 7oz giant baby! The poor thing even broke his collarbone on the way out because, as my doctor put it, "something had to give." Oh my, Blaise and I were both exhausted and sore, and I was a little shocked that my fifth baby could be my hardest. I thought they were supposed to just get easier! But we both have been healing up great, and now two weeks later it already seems like a distant memory.

Blaise was born at 11:14 in the morning, and his siblings and grandparents were able to come visit him around dinner time. Everyone was very excited to meet the little guy. I could stare at their faces in this photo forever... look at that joy!

First glance... Pure love

We stayed in the hospital for a full 48 hours, and we were visited by my brother Ben (who brought us dinner and a card game) and my good friends Sara, Sarah and Angela. It was nice to sit around and enjoy the quiet for awhile, but by the time we left I was very ready to be with the whole family together. We have had so many wonderful people bringing us food in the past two weeks, I have not had to make dinner yet! My amazing mom stocked our freezer with meals and has randomly called me a handful of times asking if we need lunch brought to us. I am only now starting to think I should get to the grocery store in case I feel like cooking some day.

Blaise has blended right into our life as we jumped back into homeschooling this week. Days are a bit unpredictable as we figure out his schedule, but we are working together and getting things done, and I already can't imagine life without him!

I'm looking forward to sharing our new addition with the rest of his family when they come to visit soon!



Tuesday, August 23, 2016

School's In!

We started our school year a little early this year, in preparation for the fact that Baby #5 could be joining us at any time! I really wanted to have a couple of weeks of structure under my belt before we welcomed our newest little addition, but all of August seemed so incredibly busy that we didn't have more than three days in any week to actually do school. In spite of this, I decided to kick things off in mid-August with our annual pizza party, figuring that starting school sporadically would be better than waiting until after baby... because, knowing me, it would then be late October before we cracked open a book!

I can honestly say that this has been the most successful start of a school year that we have ever had. I know there are tough days to come, but usually my first "I can't do this anymore!" moment of the year comes within the first week of school. We have well surpassed that milestone, and we are all enjoying the flow of our days! Wow, I am so grateful.

I don't want to sound too Pollyanna; there have been plenty of snags and bumps in each day (more on that in a moment), but I think the difference this year is that I worked really hard to plan a school day that could account for all of the unexpected-yet-predictable craziness. I am so thankful for the wisdom of Sarah Mackenzie over at Amongst Lovely Things for some amazing tips on adding beauty and joy to each day without adding more work for myself. Compared to last year (and the year before, and the year before that), each day of school amazingly begins with a smile and flows easily from one activity to the next. My biggest struggle was always transitioning from breakfast to morning prayer to school, because I felt stuck in how morning prayer needed to look. The kids dragged themselves to the couch each morning and I felt like I was fighting every moment of prayer time. By the time we started school, I was already exhausted and annoyed.

Want to hear what changed? I know you do! Read on for our first day of school, and my wonder schedule for this year.

The morning of our first day, I clued the kids in on the fact that school would start shortly after breakfast, so they should get themselves dressed when they were done eating. They were free to play in their room or do whatever they wanted, but I would play one of their favorite songs (Beautiful Day, by Jamie Grace) to let them know when to gather at the school table. They would have until the end of the song to be dressed and seated at the table with their water bottles.

It is unbelievable to me what a change this small adjustment made in our entire day! The music began and, within seconds, I heard footsteps pounding down the stairs. I didn't have to say a word. Amazing! And besides, even if I had been crabby already that morning, who can listen to Jamie Grace without cracking at least a little bit of a smile?

Once we were gathered at the table, we did a quick four-step focusing exercise to get everyone ready to learn, followed by our revised morning prayer. Instead of attempting to gather and recreate a shortened version of our family's night prayer (which has been in place for years and has always been more or less successful), I finally realized that morning prayer didn't have to be complicated. Now we simply sing the Doxology together at the school table and then dive right into our work for the day. What better way to start our learning than to praise and thank God together for everything He has given us? I feel a difference in myself when we begin our days this way, and I think the kids do, too.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost

Talk about adding a bit of beauty to our day!

On our first day of school, we began with our tradition of opening our school supplies, followed by the donning of crowns and a trip outside for first day pictures. Here's where things got a bit dicey, but I believe that our new way of beginning gave me the strength and grace to not fall apart when I may have done so in the past. 

I'll clue you in, all of the craziness revolved around my very strong-willed two year old. I have since put into place some helps to make school more possible with her around, but Day One was trial-by-fire, to be sure. First, while we were still working on gathering, Edith discovered the wrapped school supplies and decided that they were all hers. To her defense, she did just recently have a birthday, so in her mind all things wrapped basically have her name on them. After a deafening meltdown, she got to take a break in her room while the rest of us got ourselves off on the right foot. During gift opening, she was allowed to rejoin us... and she just barely held it together as she learned she could only open one quarter of the available gifts! Oh, the injustice.

Then as we went outside for first day pictures, she let me know in no uncertain terms that she would NOT put down her watermelon snack or put on ANY clothing for her photo. Thus the adorable watermelon-drenched, crown-wearing two year old in our school pictures this year... such is life!

After photos, we gathered back at the table to begin talking about St. Francis of Assisi, our patron saint of the year. We read a biography and colored a picture, read a few of his prayers and discussed the virtue of gratitude. It went beautifully! And then I realized that Edith had been quiet for entirely too long. Nervously, I went upstairs to find her in the hallway, diaperless, playing with the contents of her dirty diaper on the carpet. 

Now we have a rule that Edith must have her diaper duct taped on during school hours. Does this make me sound like a bad mom? I am not a bit ashamed. I have since cleaned up four such messes, one for each time I have forgotten to duct tape her diaper. The little stinker. 

Amazingly, I was able to take care of the disaster without turning into a blubbering mess, and rejoin the other kids who were quietly working on their coloring pages. We then began our first attempt at individual time with Mom. Each of the boys gets fifteen minutes to work with me on reading, writing or math, while the other works with Audrey on an activity of their choosing. Often it's a worksheet or reading a book to her, and mostly they decide on their own what they want to do. I usually have a list of ideas if they don't have a plan. And it has been working! The boys love the feeling of being an authority figure, and Audrey loves the attention from her brothers. 

After awhile, the girls wandered away to play, followed shortly by Lucian. Then Max and I continued to work until he felt done. This year has been a 180 degree shift from last year in his ability to focus for long stretches of time! They say that third grade is a game changer, and that has proven to be very true in our case. He seems like such a mature big kid now!

Audrey insisted on carrying the first day of school gifts into the restaurant

The first day festivities continued in the evening, with pizza at our favorite joint, Tommy Chicago's, with some of our favorite people, Grandma and Grandpa R. and Uncle Ben. The kids received their first day of school books from us, as well as gifts from Grandma and Grandpa. We scarfed down our pizza and topped it off with ice cream from Coldstone. It was a delicious end to a wonderful first day.

And now, for our yearly updates:
Max, Grade 3 
Favorites: Art, reading, discovering new things, asking questions, Pokemon, legos, swimming
Goals: To act in a play, to learn the Olympic theme song on piano
Things to remember: Max has turned into a voracious reader, so much so that I can't keep up on what he has read! He has begun telling me all kinds of interesting facts that he has learned from books I didn't know he had picked up.
First Day of School book: The New Way Things Work, by David Macaulay

Lucian, Grade 1
Favorites: Soccer, cooking, the Olympics, legos, playing outside
Goals: To become the best soccer player, to become a fluent reader, to cross the slack line
Things to remember: Lucian has become a great helper this year! He likes to help me get Edith dressed and chase her down for diaper changes, he loves helping with dinner, and he even likes to help me with chores... sometimes. 
First Day of School book: Frog and Toad are Friends, by Arnold Lobel

Audrey, Pre-K
Favorites: Ballet, Michael Phelps, Newsies, playing "house", "neighbor girl" and "school"
Goals: To learn to print all of her letters, to learn to ride a bike without training wheels
Things to remember: Audrey has become a bit shy this year around strangers, but after she warms up, her smile lights up the room. She has also taken to putting on dance concerts for anyone who will watch her, and I must admit she's got some pretty good moves!
First Day of School book: Tallulah's Tutu, by Marilyn Singer

Edith, age 2
Favorites: Pete the Cat, strawberries, chicken, going diaperless
Goals: to learn to use the potty, to drive her sister crazy
Thing to remember: Edith has become quite a handful since turning two, but with the craziness has come a huge vocabulary and an ability to entertain her family to no end. We could just sit and listen to her talk forever!
First Day of School book: The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown

 And that just about wraps it up for my crazy crew this year! I can't wait to see what the coming months have in store...