My Beamish Brood

My Beamish Brood

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...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Hills are Alive

 It's been over a month since we returned from our marathon trip to South Dakota, and I'm finally getting around to writing about it! We did so much in the week of our visit, I hope I can do justice to the trip with just a few short words... and a boatload of pictures. We really turned this visit into a vacation, at least as much as my very pregnant, sore, tired and overheated body would let us. The kids had an absolute blast, and I had a great time in spite of the fact that I wasn't physically at the top of my game.

I regret to say that I have already forgotten the order in which we had our adventures, and since my pictures came from various sources I can't rely on them to remind me! So I'll just go with what I've got and tell you what we did, in no particular order.

By far the highlight of the trip for me was our visit to Keystone and Mount Rushmore. I was feeling really good that day and was able to hike part of the trail with the kids, and it actually worked out perfectly, as my energy and Audrey's ran out at about the same time. We haven't been to Mount Rushmore in years; I'm pretty confident we haven't made it since any of our children have been alive. The kids loved it! The pomp and circumstance, the history, the majesty, and since we were visiting over the Fourth of July, it was extremely timely.

Then we took the car a little farther and stopped in at a picnic area with beautiful views and trails, had a snack lunch provided by Grandma and then went on a hike to an overlook. It was worth the huffing and puffing... but by the time I got there, everyone was just about ready to head back! "Slow and steady" would have been an understatement for my speed that day.

I am Edie, hear me roar!

Back in Keystone, we had to stop in and watch the taffy being made at the best taffy shop in the world! Oh, and we bought just a little bit to bring home, too... plus two blocks of fudge. On the way home, we stopped at an overpass and the boys climbed the hill with Paul to look for garnets. When we were engaged, Paul and I went garnet hunting at this same spot, and I just recently found the garnets we collected in a box in the basement! 


We also made the mandatory trip to Storybook Island on a super hot day in the blazing sun... oh wait, is that 8 months of pregnancy talking? It probably wasn't actually that bad, but I was exhausted. I'm so thankful there were two other adults to pick up the slack. We took a break from exploring to check out the magic show, and the boys even got to be a part of the action! They felt super special. And Audrey was thrilled to get her picture taken with "real" princesses!

We had a small celebration for Audrey's belated birthday, and she received a Raggedy Ann tea set and storybook from Grandma and Grandpa! She set up a tea party for her brothers and me, and it was adorable watching how careful and proper everyone was around the fancy table. Grandma even made delicious tea cakes to add to the festivities.

I am so thankful we had time to catch up with may of our very good friends while we were in Rapid. Jacques and Annie met us for a drink one night, even though they were in the midst of battling a family illness and might have rather been home in bed... Thanks, guys, we've missed you! And I got to catch up with Bridget while our kids got re-acquainted for an afternoon. Every time, it's as if no time has passed. Some day, friend, we will take a road trip around the country, just the two of us!

We visited the Outdoor Campus, a nature center on the edge of town, near where Paul and I lived when we were first married. After exploring the campus, we followed a path to the apartment complex and go to show Max his very first home!

We went to visit the Paul's grandparents one of the days of our visit, but sadly I did not take a single picture while we were there! We had a delicious dinner and the kids had a great time exploring the house and yard while the adults all caught up. It's been a long time since we've been up to visit them, I'm so glad we were able to make it happen!


Uncle Liam wasn't able to spend as much time with us as we would have liked, since he's all grown up with a job and everything... hard to believe, I know. But he did take time out of his busy schedule to sleep out in the backyard with the kids one night. They were thrilled to camp out, and even Audrey made it through the night in the tent! Amazing! 

Maureen had to leave to head to Arizona the evening of the Fourth of July, but we managed to celebrate a little before she left, visiting the downtown fountains and dressing in our red, white, and blue, of course.

Poor Audrey came down with a strange flu sickness later in the day, but she was completely herself by morning! She later passed it on to Edith and then Lucian, but we were safe at home by that point. She missed out on sparklers and fireworks, but we all know loud noises aren't her forte... so she wasn't too distraught.

Everyone else loved the sparklers and fireworks that Liam and Paul picked up, and they were lighting them off long after dark. It was a great way to end our lovely visit! We set off in the morning and made it home without much of a hitch, thanks to some great audiobooks and a fairly easygoing Edith. She really can make or break a trip with her high-pitched shrieks. But we love her anyways.

Thanks for hosting us, Grandma and Grandpa! We had a great time!!