Toys We Keep


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Among people who call themselves minimalists there is a broad spectrum of how much stuff people keep. Some minimalist parents keep only a few toys for their kids and it works out well.

While we did get rid of a lot of toys and will continue to purge as needed, there are a fair amount of toys that we kept. Children like toys. I liked toys when I was young. We have long winters where we live, and going outside can be impossible for long stretches of time. Toys are a good thing for us – especially those toys that encourage creativity.

Here are some of the toys that we keep:

  • Legos & Duplos
  • K’Nex
  • Hotwheels cars & tracks
  • Wooden & foam blocks
  • Trains & tracks (we have Thomas Take ‘n Play & wooden sets from Ikea)
  • Mega Bloks
  • Games & puzzles (that have their pieces)
  • Balls
  • Nerf guns
  • Trio blocks
  • Play kitchen set
  • Transformers
  • Stuffed animals (only the well-loved ones)
  • Toy musical instruments (like these)

Some people would probably disqualify us from the minimalism category after looking at this list, but in reality it is a good amount for us. We live in a very small space, but unless multiple items are out at once, this amount is easily manageable. These are the toys that get played with over and over.

How We Celebrated 2 Baptism Anniversaries!

We did it! We finally commemorated baptism anniversaries with more than a passing nod. To see my plan for actually living out the liturgical year, go here.

August 31 is a very special day for our family because it is the day on which we came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, two of us were baptized (husband Caleb and Anna). We’ve given this anniversary brief notice over the last three years, but this year was different.

We kept it SIMPLE. I did not have to make or buy anything special for this commemoration, and it took only minutes.

First, I planned a meal that Caleb and Anna would like, since it was their baptism anniversary…spaghetti and homemade meatballs.

Second, after we ate I got out the candles used in the rite of baptism and we had a mini service which I found on Loyola Press’s website. We omitted the Scripture reading this time because one of our children was antsy and one was a tired 8 month-old who had to be placed in a pack ‘n play for the duration.

To start I read this (from the website):

Today is the day that you, [name], were baptized. On this day you were welcomed as a Christian by your family, and by the Church. Today we will again sign you with the cross, to remember that you were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…

Then I lit the candles. Husband Caleb held one and little Caleb held the other (since Anna is 3 and not yet a good candidate for candle-holding). I continued:

In Baptism we have been filled with the light of Christ. May we walk always as children of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts. May we live each day knowing our true identity as beloved children of God. And when the Lord comes, may we go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom to live with him forever and ever.

After that little Caleb and I each made the sign of the cross on Caleb and Anna with the holy water from their baptisms.

Very meaningful. Very special. Emotions welled up in me as I read.

Then I proceeded to spill half the bottle of (very special) holy water on the carpet as I tried to balance hot-wax candles, my Bible, my phone (since I was reading from the internet), and the bottle of holy water. Keepin’ it real.

Oh, and little Caleb had to make the sign of the cross on Anna’s foot, since she was averse to the forehead-touching thing (Ash Wednesday really did her in this year).

The last thing we did was look at pictures from that day three years ago. Caleb’s baptism, Anna’s baptism, being received into the Church, Caleb and my confirmation and first communion and our marriage being blessed. What a good day that was.

The next special days for our family are coming up on September 30 (the feast of St. Jerome, whose name Caleb took at confirmation) and then the very next day, October 1, which is the feast of St. Thérèse (Anna’s saint). I haven’t figured out how to commemorate our saints’ days yet, so we’ll see what happens!

Parenting Breakthrough: Not Discipline, but Gluten?


I never thought I’d be writing this post!

I used to say things like, “People have been eating bread for millenia. How can it be suddenly bad for us?”

But last night I gathered together all the remaining gluten-containing food items in my kitchen and will give them away today.

My family and my kitchen will be gluten-free now for one simple reason: Anna is happy.

After two solid years of reading parenting books and wracking my brain to find a way to parent our strong-willed, spirited daughter, we finally have had a breakthrough.

On August 1, in desperation, I began a novena to St. Thérèse (of Lisieux), Anna’s saint, asking for her intercession for our precious and very difficult daughter who seemed so unhappy so much of the time.

On August 8 I consulted with a naturopathic doctor regarding Anna. She told me to make Anna’s diet gluten-free because of suspected internal inflammation, probably in her small intestine. We started that night.

It was not until six days later that I noticed a difference. At first I thought she was responding to the stricter discipline I had been using. Then I realized that her whole demeanor, especially noticeable in social situations, had changed. As the days went on, it became increasingly obvious that something BIG had happened.

Anna was happier: warmer, open to other (even new) people, more interested in playing with her older brother, more cooperative in transitions or when she needed to change behavior that was affecting another person, and simply more engaged in life instead of fighting against it.

I do not know if I would have believed a story like this if I had not seen it happen before my eyes.

But it’s true! My parents, who babysit our children often, have confirmed the unmistakable change.

Caleb (husband) went gluten-free the same night as Anna, and he has noticed a big difference himself. He says that his head is clearer, he feels better internally, and it’s as if he always had a slight fever before (without realizing it) that now is gone.

So we embark on our gluten-free journey. It has been easier than I would have thought so far. I have a lot of learning and experimenting to do, and more questions.

But mostly I am thankful and happy. Thankful to God for providing this breakthrough. Thankful to St. Thérèse for her prayers on Anna’s behalf. And so SO happy to see our beautiful daughter embrace life with joy.


Update 12/1/17

There have been a lot of ups and downs since I wrote this in August.  I’ve learned a lot and I think we’re on a good road, but I don’t have everything figured out.  Go here to see a more recent post about how I suspect leaky gut syndrome is the root problem and the ways I hope to help heal it.

How to Observe the Church Year (by ignoring most of it)


Photo by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash

Almost exactly three years ago we became Catholic. One of the interesting aspects of Catholicism was the liturgical year with its feast days, fast days and memorials, etc. Growing up in the evangelical Christian world, as Caleb and I did, all of these special days and observances were new to us, but welcome. I looked forward to living out the liturgical year as a family along with the rest of the Church across the globe.

But then we never really did.

Yes, we went to Mass on days of obligation (holy days on which Catholics are required to attend Mass), and were vaguely aware of different feasts as they passed us by. Yes, we observed Lent beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending in the Triduum and the great Easter Vigil.

And of course there is also the weekly rhythm of going to Mass on Sundays and observing the different weeks of Ordinary Time, Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, as well as the special feasts that always fall on Sundays (Corpus Christi, for example).

But month after I month I look at my calendar (which I get from my parish each Christmas) and see the names…so MANY names of saints who are remembered on the days throughout the year. And there are simply too many to observe them in any meaningful way. Passing notice…maybe. But I can’t make THAT many cakes.

The shear volume of feast days (Or memorials? I’m not quite sure of the difference yet.) is overwhelming. What in the world do we do to observe a particular day, anyway?

I have looked for answers to these questions in books like The Little Oratory, The Year & Our Children and Catholic Catalogue, as well as websites and blogs. As much as these resources have to offer (and they do), I never feel like I come away with enough practical know-how to start observing anything with my family.

SO…I’ve come up with my own plan.

In order to observe the days of the liturgical year most important to us, I need to flat-out IGNORE almost the entire church calendar.

Yep! So that’s what I’m going to do.

There are just a few simple steps to my plan. They are:

  1. Observe our baptism days – We will celebrate the date on which each of us was baptized. For our family, two of us were baptized on the day we came into full communion with the Church, so that’s an especially special day.
  2. Observe our saints’ days – Caleb and I have saints whose names we took at Confirmation, and we have chosen saints for our children. We will observe each of their feast days.
  3. Observe holy days of obligation – We’re already doing this, but we’ll make more of an effort to make them special.

That’s 9 days plus 6 days of obligation = 15 days to observe as a family for the whole year.

That’s more like it.

Admittedly, I don’t have a super-duper ready-to-go way of practically observing all these days, but I hope you will stick with me as I go on this liturgical journey through the church year with my family and discover how to mark and remember some of the most important days and people in our lives.

Our anniversary of entering the Church (and two baptisms) is only nine days away, so I better come up with something!

Preschool (Age 3) Curriculum Plan (2017-2018)

I’m keeping it SIMPLE for preschool (which to me, by the way, is a completely optional season of “school”…three year-olds learn whether or not there is a “curriculum”).

For our three year-old daughter, Anna, I’ve planned a very loosely organized curriculum that follows Sonlight’s Preschool Package and added in activities that I know she will enjoy (and will keep her busy while I work with her older brother).

I ordered Sonlight’s Preschool Parent’s Companion from their website. It is titled “Fiction, Fairy Tales & Fun” and is a (much) more relaxed version of their Instructor’s Guides. Instead of a daily schedule there are simply checklists of books or stories and ideas/activities to go with them, plus inspiring quotes.

The book list is wonderful! It includes some that are already favorites, such as the Virginia Lee Burton books, two Richard Scarry books and stories illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. They also include a couple of fairy tale collections, which will be new for us. The more I look at the list, the more I want to buy all the books!

Aside from reading together, I bought the game “Mighty Mind” that was on Sonlight’s list for preschool, as well as a few scratch art books, paint with water activities (including one of Melissa & Doug’s “Water Wow” books), and a Melissa & Doug washable stamp set. Anna is our resident artist, so these are all right up her alley. I also have paper, markers, colored pencils, paints and preschool scissors ready for her.

I will see how interested she is in learning about letters/sounds and numbers this year. If she seems ready I will gradually introduce these through worksheets or activity books I find here and there.

And that’s it! More than anything I am looking forward to reading with Anna and discovering new favorite stories together.

1st Grade Curriculum Plan (2017-2018)

The beginning of the school year is right around the corner! I’m excited for more structured days and lots of reading together.

Our first two “school years” have been extremely relaxed.  Caleb began reading last year and made a good start in handwriting and math, but I’m pretty convinced that playing is more important for 4 and 5 year-olds than sitting down to “do school.”  Now our little guy is 6 and it’s time to become a bit more structured, although even this year I intend for him to have lots of play time.

My goals for this year:

1. Reading Proficiency

Some children are not ready to start reading until later, but Caleb was absolutely ready at 5. I would have been holding him back if I had not begun to teach him to read. We have a good runway from which to take off, so we will continue on with Sing, Spell, Read & Write. I’m using the 1st edition because my mom saved the teacher’s guide and the readers from when she taught me to read in the early 1990s!  This program covers reading, handwriting and spelling.

2. Basic Math Skills

We will continue on in MCP Mathematics Level A. It is quite dry and repetitive, and I will probably switch over to Saxon Math or something else down the road, but for now it seems to be laying a solid foundation of beginning math concepts.

3. The Adventure of Good Books

I have, quite suddenly, decided to use Sonlight for History and Literature. I only discovered it a few weeks ago, but I think it’s what I’ve been looking for. The whole goal is to invite the student into the delight and adventure of learning. If there is one overarching goal I have in homeschooling it is to help my children LOVE to learn. If that happens they will never stop learning.

We are using a pieced-together version of Sonlight’s Core A program. I bought the Instructor’s Guide (used) through Amazon, and am getting many of the read-aloud books through our local library system. The books I can’t get through the library I will buy. This is saving us a LOT of money, and I think it will work well for this year. If we like the program and continue on with it next year, I will buy the Instructor’s Guide directly from Sonlight and probably buy many more of the books, either from them or Amazon, depending on price.

And a few more items I intend to include in our curriculum:

Geography – Evan-Moor Beginning Geography Book. Caleb loves maps, so in addition to the geography included in Sonlight, I plan to use this book.

Art – Artventure is a possibility. I will see what the time frame of our school days ends up being, and if time and attention permit I may begin this.  I am not an artist, so I’ll definitely need help in this area.

So that is the basic plan for this year! In less than two weeks we will begin 1st grade!  I will update as the year progresses and let you know what is working and what is not.

Our Favorite Children’s Books

Books! There are so many we have grown to love since having children. Some of them are from our own childhoods and some are not. To make it easy I’ll put our favorite books in list form with notes.

  • Goodnight Moon – This became a nightly read when our oldest was a toddler.  Read it slowly and quietly and you’ll almost put yourself to sleep.
  • Sandra Boynton books – My introduction to these silly, fun books came via my oldest niece. Some of our favorites are The Going to Bed Book, Pajama Time!, Blue Hat, Green Hat, Snuggle Puppy and Night Night, Little Pookie.
  • Bread and Jam for Frances and other Frances books by Russell Hoban. Frances is just delightful.
  • Katy and the Big Snow, Mike Mulligan and His Steamshovel, The Little House, Choo Choo and Maybelle by Virginia Lee Burton. She was a mastermind at illustrations for children as well as the stories behind them. Our six year-old still loves tracing Katy’s path through the snow of Geopolis.
  • Just A Bath, Just Lost and other Critter books by Mercer Mayer.
  • The Please and Thank You Book and Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry.
  • Big Dog, Little Dog and The Alphabet Book by P.D. Eastman.
  • The Boy With A Drum, My Good Morning Book, My Goodnight Book, Poems to Read to the Very Young, Baby Dear and others illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. Wonderful!
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Eric Carle. We give each animal in Polar Bear its own voice, and the last page becomes a song.

I look forward to adding many many more books to this list in the future!