Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Easter Season to Pentecost

We were able to get our first family picture on Easter Sunday morning. Vanesa took this picture of us in front of the stork sign that Bill had sent to me. I loved that silly sign so much I asked him to pay to leave it up for a few more days. It made me smile every time I pulled into the driveway.

In case you think everyone played nice and stood still for the camera, I assure you they did not. Henry and Will were fighting until moments before the click which is why there's that great "I don't want to stand so close to my brother" gap right in the middle of the picture. My nose had been bleeding that morning so I threw the bloody tissue down into the lawn right before she snapped the picture. The baby was crying but luckily you can't really tell from the angle of the photo. 
But we're all there. 

In this next photo, Olivia and Will are both 10. Here are my Irish twins, taken the day before Olivia turned 11.
And then there's this cutie, wrapped up like a Diva and hanging out in her bouncy chair. About a month old already.
I just don't get the big bows and flowers on itty bitty baby girls heads trend. I blame Anne Geddes.
This is my favorite picture of Izzy-Belle (so far). I threw the pink blanket that was a gift from her Tios down on my bed and took this picture with my iphone, just using the natural light coming through my bedroom window. No weird props required. She's just beautiful. And look at all that hair!
My Mother's Day gift this year was a new 12 passenger van, a Nissan NV3500. Is it weird that I love my big van? We all fit in it comfortably and there has been a HUGE reduction in fighting and bloodshed during car rides since I got it. I was very proud this day that I was able to parallel park it in front of the hospital. Thanks to my Dad for teaching me how to parallel park 30 years ago. Everything was AOK at my post-partum check up and I was cleared for swimming. Yeah!
Here two brothers are enjoying popsicles and just lounging pool side as summer weather starts to set in.
And, finally, we are going to have a lawn. After months of having a big dirt pile to play in, and weeks of "dirt" bowling, our lawn is being put in this week. We won't be able to walk on it until the 4th of July, but for now I'm loving just looking out at it. So peaceful. It looks so lush and green, and seems ridiculous and indulgent to have during a drought, but oh how I've missed having a lawn where children can play.

Now I'm waiting for my patio rugs and outdoor dining table to arrive so I can start setting up the outdoor rooms. It is finally all coming together after almost 2 years. 


Hope you're enjoying your summer too, and have plenty of time to relax and hang out with your family.

We plan to do a whole lot of nothing this summer...and frankly, I'm thrilled to get a rest before we start the next phase of construction and start homeschooling again in mid August. It's the calm before the storm around here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Springtime Catch Up & Vanesa is here

Here's my big guy! He is doing so well at his swim lessons. Actually all four are doing well and are excited to soon be able to swim in their own pool. It's been a long slog getting this backyard into shape and it's still not done. But at least the pool is finally done.

This picture makes me so happy, like Pharell Williams happy.

Toddlers are the best!!!

OH RIGHT! I forgot to tell you...I had a baby girl...
 Elizabeth Ann Jennings arrived on April 10, 2014. She was almost 9 lbs and perfectly healthy!
Here's the big guy feeding his baby sister a bottle at the hospital. She is the one who made him a big brother. He is very excited about having her around and is surprisingly gentle with her.
On April 19 we inaugurated the new pool since it was Toto's birthday. It was still cold outside so we cranked up the pool heater. That's Vanesa in the pool with the kids, not me. I was pool side for 8 weeks.

Here's Vanesa and the kids decorating Easter eggs. Vanesa came all the way from Chile to take care of the kids for us while I was in the hospital and is staying for a few weeks afterwards. I wouldn't have made it without her.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

New Year, Here I am

Wow, it's been so long since I posted on the blog that I have forgotten what font I typically use...

I remain in awe of all the homeschooling bloggers who were able to keep up with Jen's blog-a-day-for-a-whole-week challenge. Not around here, that's for sure. I think the chronically ill, pregnant at 45, homeschooling mother version should be blog once-a-month for 7 months straight! Now, that would be a challenge I might meet.

Since I posted last time at the beginning on December, I had to abandon the Three Kings Link-Up since I was too sick to set them up each night, and the kids were too sick to care. I had to cancel our typical Christmas Eve Fondue Dinner, and instead some kind friends invited us over for dinner, and after 2 hours we had gotten our fill of Christmas cheer and were ready to come on home. My parents and brother and his family came over for dinner on Christmas Day, and despite having planned an elaborate and traditional dinner we had to settle for Honey Baked Ham and deli-ordered Caneloni. Which was delicious, but it wasn't what I had aspired to certainly.

I felt a little better on New Year's Eve, so I made the Fondue that night and also created a Scavenger Hunt for the kids which they enjoyed.  By mid-January I was officially over my several week long Sinus Infection and I was jumping for joy and full of energy. I took advantage of the energy and did things that I don't normally do with the kids, like take them to the movies by myself, or check out a new park. I was starting to feel like a normal Mom for a bit. I was on fire and started volunteering to do a few things here and there, and was finally even keeping up with paperwork and taxes around here.

On February 11th I had my most recent Remicade infusion, just hours later my mother in law died in the early morning hours of February 12th while my husband was on a plane on his way back from India, we slept through Valentine's Day and my husband's birthday on the 19th, so it came as no surprise that within a week the entire family was sick again (some worse than others) and lo and behold! I have another sinus infection. Everyone else is better already, just that nagging cough left in a few of them, but here I am, still sick and tired.

I have been very depressed about it for the last 10 days. I had so many big plans for Lent and Easter, inaugurating our finally finished pool this spring, and, of course, helping my husband with funeral arrangements for his Mom. 

But nada

I can barely get out of bed. I am up all night with insomnia because I cough or have an asthma attack every time I lay down and then sleep or drag during the next day. I am drinking fluids 24/7, I am on my 2nd round of antibiotics, and I am still not getting any better. I hate it. Most days I get up only to go to the doctor or drive the kids to a co-op class or an activity. We've been eating off paper plates for days now and the mail and the tax paperwork have been piling up dangerously high. (Not to mention all my mother in laws mail and estate paper work is coming to the house too.)

I don't feel like a Mom or a wife when I am so sick and can do nothing. I know I shouldn't judge myself by what I can do for my family, but the reality is, most of my children's memories involve Mommy "doing" something: baking, crafting, traveling, etc. Spending 8 hrs a day on Minecraft while Mommy is asleep or tossing and turning in bed is no fun for anyone. 

I am eternally grateful to Ms. Jody and the team at - without their structure and guidance and class assignments I would have felt really guilty about letting them be on the computer so much. So far they've studied famous world monuments and the history of ship-making. It's their first experience on a multi-player server and they're learning a lot about game etiquette and learning to work with lots of other kids from all around the world. There are 120 kids just in their beginners class alone, aged 5 to 11. Though if your child is not a strong independent reader, I don't recommend it unless you have the time and energy to sit with them and read all the class materials and then sit and read the instructions and chats that come through on the screen. My two older ones have been great about helping the emerging reader get through the game, so I've just had to do the background reading aloud for him. There is quite a bit of reading to get through before each week starts.

Through this all, I am grateful that the pregnancy continues to go well. I've made my myriad appointments to specialists and ultrasounds and managing the gestational diabetes and everything they can see (without being invasive) is looking very good. There will be a new baby in the house in less than 7 weeks and I'm thinking I should probably order at least a crib and a car seat by then. 

A week ago, I started collecting materials for my daughter and me to assemble a Lenten centerpiece which we made several years ago and everyone missed in the years since. I thought it was the *one* thing I could get done to prepare for this Lenten season. A week later, we just got to start it today and we still need to buy a few more things to complete it. Slow is so hard for me....

St. David's Day cakes and celebration. Nope. Kings Cake for Mardi Gras. Nope. Though I'm thinking Pancakes for Dinner will be perfect for Shrove Tuesday.

Over the last two weeks I did manage to get two fun, volunteer projects done or at least mostly done. The daughter of a friend is taking an unpaid internship this summer at a local pro-life health center and almost didn't take it because of money reasons. (Which makes perfect sense, she needs to work during summers for the following fall's tuition.) I convinced her to set up a fundraising campaign on indiegogo and she has been busy, busy, busy setting it all up. It has turned out so well, and I am hoping that many pro-life folks will read it, spread the word about it, and contribute to her fundraising campaign. She is a wonderful young woman with a great big heart for women and children and I am glad I got to be a little part of her big, developing story. Her site will go "live" on Monday afternoon, so look for a big announcement from me that afternoon. 

It gives me great solace to think that like St. Therese who became patron saint of missionaries (though her illness and vocation kept her confined to her convent for life) that I might be able to help this young lady do wonderful, life saving work while confined by my illnesses and my vocation to bed and home. I hope you will join me in giving generously to her campaign, "Laura 4 Life".

The second little project I'm working on this week is getting ready to give a short presentation to a team of Mock Trial students on courtroom etiquette and a basic overview of opening and closing statements, direct and cross-exams, and hearsay and evidence, etc. The little bit of preparation I have done to feel prepared for my 30 minute talk has solidified that I was right to stop practicing law 12 years ago. Just that little bit of getting back into the minutia has confirmed that law was not the career for me. I wish I had figured that out before going to law school and taking on student loans, but I can't change that now.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Wise Men ADVENTures, Days 4 - 6

The Wise Men are still on the move around the house looking for Baby Jesus in all sorts of unusual places...

Day 4: Inside a church, nope, not there yet....

Day 5: Hey, maybe this guy knows where the King is. Just boots and pajamas here, move along.

Day 6: What on earth is this thing? 

(FYI It's an Argentinian mate and bombilla for drinking mate tea)

Catch up with all the other Wise Men ADVENTures over at Catholic Inspired.

Catholic Inspired

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wise Men ADVENTures

What the boys from the East have been up to around here.

Day 1: Start at the Advent Wreath, a logical place to begin.

Day 2: Scaling the fridge through the ice dispenser. Was the camel thirsty? Are they searching for the Living Water? 

Day 3: Researching the Star of Bethlehem and rappelling up the side of the desk. By the way, that's not a real apple, Mr. Camel.

Check out all the Wise Men Adventures over at Catholic Inspired's Blog.

Catholic Inspired

Saturday, October 19, 2013

An Announcement of Biblical Proportions

Well, now you know why the blog has been so quiet lately. I couldn't think of a single thing to write about that didn't include a reference to the fact that I am pregnant with Baby No. 5 at age 45

Holy. Cow.

Adorable "big brother announcement" shirt made my friend Alison over at Monkey Ruffles.

Now that you all know, I can resume blogging about homeschooling and remodeling and not worry about the occasional morning sickness or gestational diabetes complaint popping up on this page.

Just call me Sara.

I would appreciate any prayers you could spare, as I am always high risk, even before adding in the age factor.

Deo Gratias!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Homeschooling with a Chronic Illness - A "Guest" Post - Me! - Tricia J.

Somebody asked me the other day why I didn't introduce myself in a post and explain how I came to be a homeschooling mother with a chronic illness, so here I am.
My name is Tricia J., and this is my day-in-the-life, not-looking-for-a-book-deal, diary-of-a chronically-ill-home-schooling mother, blog. My husband and I have been married almost eleven years and we have four bright and remarkable children who I love more with each passing year. I'm not someone who ever really pined away for children, so the fact that I love them so much is a surprise even to me on most days. I have a ten year old daughter, and then three sons, aged nine, seven, and two. We also have a Mastiff named Riley, a rabbit named Stuart, and three soon-to-be-laying chickens.

What chronic illness do you deal with? I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis right before we got married, which was also about six months before I realized I was pregnant with our first. (I also have PCOS so each pregnancy is a bit of a surprise.) Shortly after giving birth, I got pregnant again, and had my second child, and second c-section, just eleven months later. Between my second and third child, a colonoscopy revealed that my IBD {inflammatory bowel disease} was actually worse than they had originally thought and I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease which is supposed to be the worse of the two. {Though they both pretty much suck, so it's a very small matter of degree.}

After those two pretty horrible pregnancies during which I had really bad flare-ups, my third pregnancy was relatively uneventful with no flare-up, though it ended with a third c-section. About seven months later though, I started having really bad flares that I could no longer get under control with my regular medications and I was tired of all the side effects of the prednisone {moon face, insomnia, raving lunacy}. At that time I started on Remicade infusions and it has made my quality of life much better. I have more energy and much longer gaps between flares, and when I do have flares, they are less intense.

Two years ago I had my fourth baby via c-section. I remained on Remicade throughout that pregnancy. I was pretty sick during the last pregnancy as well. It didn't help that I was also 43 at the time I got pregnant. During two of my pregnancies I was part of OTIS studies that studied the effect of drugs for asthma and Crohn's used during pregnancy on pregnancy outcomes and newborn health because I was on that many drugs. So yes, you can have Crohn's Disease and have babies. It's not easy, but it can be done. 

How did you decide to begin homeschooling? We started homeschooling when our oldest turned five and she was having some medical issues that would have had her missing two mornings a week of the private and expensive kindergarden we had just signed up and paid for. A week before school was to start, we decided to pull her out and I was going to homeschool just her, for just one year. {I had the younger two in preschool two mornings a week}. We enjoyed it so much that we decided to go for another year, and the next in line kept whining wanting to know when he would get to stay home and do kindergarden with Mommy. So he stayed home and the third one went to preschool three mornings a week. 

By the time the third in line was five, we decided to just admit that we were going to be homeschooling for a while and kept all three at home.  After the fourth one was born, I was getting very tired and feeling very close to permanent burn out, so I decided to put the older two in public school for the spring semester of school. They did amazingly well with the transition and really thrived for those four months. They came home for the summer, and then started again in the fall. After two months in public school that fall, we moved to a new city and that's when we came back to homeschooling. So we will soon be starting our 6th year of homeschooling. No one is more surprised than me.

How do I manage homeschooling with a chronic illness? I have to be honest, I have always had household help since three months after my first baby was born. Even before we were married I told my soon-to-be-husband that I would always have to have at least part-time help with any future children because otherwise I was going to end up on the news and not in the good way. 

We have no family nearby to offer any help and I had moved three hours away from all my friends to marry my husband and move to his town, and he traveled often on business for weeks at a time, and was rarely home before the children went to sleep, so I had to have help. Two of our children also had myriad health problems during the first four to six years of their lives that required lots of specialists, surgeries, weird procedures, and many emergency room visits. (Usually when my husband would be in India for three weeks and unavailable by phone.) And we also moved three times in less than four years and managed a huge house renovation over the course of a year that finally resulted in us getting the house on the Historical Registry. [I HATE that I feel I have to make excuses and justify this to you or anyone else. And I don't have to, you're right, we have the money and I need the help, so there it is.] My husband does not like to spend the money, he often complains about it {though less often now}, but I have always budgeted household help under mental health insurance. Even when our budget was leaner, I always had some sort of help that I could rely on. Since being diagnosed with Crohn's Disease and then having back-to-back, difficult pregnancies and four c-sections, there has never been a time I felt physically stable enough to not have help in the home. I also had un-diagnosed post-partum depression after my first baby who was colicky to boot, and I did not realize it until I had my second baby and in comparison felt so much betterI remember looking at him one day when he was just a few weeks old and thinking, oh, so this is why women like to have babies. I had "during- pregnancy" depression with my fourth pregnancy, but luckily, it went away shortly after he was born and my hormones balanced back out, just like my gestational diabetes went away on its own very quickly.

How has our homeschooling evolved over the years? I started off wanting to do a pure, unadulterated Charlotte Mason approach but it was difficult for me to keep up with all the reading aloud due to my illness. I also felt like that with so many subjects we were just skimming and I found it impossible to do with more than two children at a time. I read some more homeschooling books and loosened up a bit and sprinkled in a little Waldorfy-ness. Then I wanted to be a Classical homeschooler and read a slew of those books. I never bought a boxed curriculum and was always trying to keep up with all the cool homeschooling blogs I saw on-line. And boy did I read too many!

Then it started to dawn on me that the women I was trying to emulate had started having kids ten to twelve years before I had, did not have chronic illnesses, and usually had teenagers who could help them by the time they got to be as old and tired as I am. I could not keep up with that. I still often read those blogs, but now I read them like I used to read Martha Stewart Living magazine, like visiting a parallel universe where everyone has their crap sorted in pastel color-coded, labeled bins; just as an anthropological observer.  Once in a great while, I will adapt their ideas to make them chronically-ill homeschooling-Mom-friendly.

I also started to be more discerning about which blogs and homeschooling books I read, period. I started to notice that a lot of homeschooling blogs written by Moms who look like "experts" are actually written by Moms who have been homeschooling for less years than I have, with less children than I have, usually did not have age and a chronic illness working against them, and if they had published books they were self-published by their husbands or friends or as e-books. {I understand this is the new wave in publishing, but it does make a difference to me to know that someone's book has been vetted by a publisher and/or agent rather than self-published.} Screening those out has cut down on my blog and homeschool book reading considerably. 

I finally admitted we were Catholic unschoolers this year and it's been a very relaxed school year. I joined a Catholic unschooling yahoo group and have been able to hear from Moms who have been doing this for a long time, and bit-by-bit they are stripping me of my need for written results and verifiable progress. Math is the only subject my kids still do traditional work in, and it's once a week during the school year with a tutor. I had to take myself out of the equation because math was becoming a sore point between my children and me. Thanks to our tutor, they all love math again and are progressing at grade appropriate levels with 1/5 the time commitment and a lot less screaming and crying.

It has been challenging to "let go" since I come from such a school and book and education-oriented background. Unschooling is the style of homeschooling that allows me to be most at ease about my children's learning, our family life routines, and my health's up and downs. Unschooling could easily make a different Mom very anxious and so obviously wouldn't be a good fit for her and her family.

What has been the biggest blessing of homeschooling with a chronic illness? For me, it has been learning to say "No" much sooner than the average Mom and not over-extending myself and volunteering or agreeing to serve on every committee I am asked to help with. It has taken many of my healthy friends years to figure this out (some still haven't figured it out.) Yes, it's flattering, and yes, it's nice to feel needed by someone outside your family. But there's only so much of "Mom" to go around, and I have to safeguard her. Being ill has forced me to make choices about where I will spend my energy and made me plan for when I will have rest days. I cannot physically do what other Moms can do, so I have had a lot more practice at saying No than the average Mom. Going even a step further, homeschooling while being chronically ill has also taught me to train my children to learn how to say No. Sometimes I have to do it for them, and maybe even disappoint them. Other times they get to choose which activity they want to participate in, and which one they will have to decline. Because if I can't do it all, then obviously neither can they, since realistically I am the one who is doing the driving, buying the uniform, making sure the dance shoes fit, remembering the team snack, etc. etc. It doesn't do any good to cut back on Mom busyness just to fill the void with kid busyness. 

This is one area where I don't think children will learn just from my example, that is, if I had started to cut back on my commitments away from the family without pointing out to them the choices I was making. I think they learned the lesson of balancing work and play with rest by having to cut back on their own extra-curriculars and making choices about what they will do each season and sometimes on a given day when somehow three activities/recitals/birthday parties all land on the same day. My children know by now that we are not going to drag the family through so many events in one day - they have to pick the most important thing. {And believe me, it is ego-boosting when your eight year old son decides to choose to go to his god sister's First Communion over his own Little League play-off game.} My hope is that by training them to say "No" and choosing their activities wisely as children, they will not over-extend themselves when they are adults and/or new parents. It shouldn't take years to learn to say No.

Tips for homeschooling with a chronic illness

1. Have a plan in place for flare-ups
Child care - who can step in on a moment's notice when you can't get off the couch? Your husband? Mother? Nanny? 
Homeschooling - decide on a homeschooling method that allows for weeks of little to no "school" with no warning at all, because worrying about slips in the schedule will only cause stress which won't get you better any faster
Food - have a high energy and low energy menu plan - for me that means knowing what protein I am cooking each night of the week. If I have energy, and it's a Tuesday, I make chicken. If I am low-energy on a Tuesday, my husband brings home a rotisserie chicken.
Laundry - Make sure you have enough underwear and socks for two weeks. You can wear pajamas all day, but you'll need the essentials.

2. Read spiritual/religious materials at every opportunity to strengthen yourself
I never read as much as I do when I'm not feeling well and then I read every spiritual book I can get my hands on. 
I read the Catholic Catechism and the daily Mass Bible readings on my phone just about daily
I am also reading more fun books and more intellectually challenging books and less child-rearing books.

3. Keep your marriage strong by communicating what you are going through to your husband
It took me many years to figure out that my husband could be much more compassionate and helpful if he knew what was going on with my body. I had to get over my embarrassment and I now communicate what is going on matter-of-factly and tell him what would be most helpful to me. Men like to help but I think they worry so much about doing the wrong thing that sometimes they don't do anything at all. 

Well, God Bless you for reading all the way through. I hope to bring you a guest post from another chronically ill homeschooling mother very soon.