This week we addressed being distracted by girls, learned about St. Jacob of Alaska, expanded our map project about our city, and finished our black walnut dyeing project.  We also had an intense discussion with the boys that was a huge step towards healing for all of us.

Life Skills: Time Management

In those moments where I pray for patience and God provides me ample opportunities to learn it, my children mold and shape me just as much as I mold and shape them.  I can choose to be rigid and stern or flexible and calm.  I can be quick to anger and demand obedience or slow down and think about the best way to deal with the issue.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my sons walked by the toddler room (where I live during co-op day) 20 minutes after his second class had already started. The parent side of me wants to follow my son and in a firm, stern voice demand, “Where have you been?!  Do you need to come sit with me in the toddler room since you can’t get yourself to class on time?!”

But…I didn’t.  Even though I really wanted to.  Instead, I waited to talk to him until after co-op.  If I had gone after him right then, when I was upset, I would not have handled it very well.  The last thing I want to do is get him on the defensive and encourage him to lie to me because he doesn’t want to be in trouble.  The last thing I want to do is have him start sneaking around so he won’t get caught.  I needed to calm down and talk to him in the van.

As soon as the little guys and the other two big boys were buckled in the van, I asked this child as we stood outside the van, “Why were you 20 minutes late for  _______ class?”

He calmly and matter of factly told me, “I was talking to *little blonde girl*.  Sorry.”

I believe him.  “You need to talk to her as you two are walking to class next time so neither of you are late again.”

“Ok.  Sorry.”

I decided to give him another chance and leave it at that.

Last week, I saw that he walked passed my room 5 minutes after his class started.  Sigh.

I talked to him again.  “You need to walk and talk to her so you aren’t late for class.”

“I wasn’t late!  Class hadn’t started yet!”

“First, you were late.  I looked at the clock as you walked by.  Second, how do you know that your teacher wasn’t just being nice and waiting for you since she knows you’re here?  Regardless, it’s not fair to your teacher who took the time to prepare a lesson.  It’s not fair to your classmates when the teacher decides to re-cap what she just said for your benefit because you show up late.  It’s not fair to *little blonde girl* since she’s missing some of her class.  Your actions have an affect on others.  You need to be considerate of them.”

“Ok, sorry.”

So, I’m thinking about the fetal alcohol book.  Flipping through the info in my mind. Okay…I know all the ways I’ve tried in the past to change behaviors and they didn’t work – the book reinforced all the things I’ve known for so long about the boys but now realize it’s not something that’s going to change.  I’ve got to teach them ways to compensate.  I’ve got to teach them to be up front with me instead of defensive and sneaky.  Right now, he’s being up front with me about his little crush.  How I handle this situation is going to determine how he reacts to me in all future situations with girls.  This is my child that will sneak if he thinks he’ll get in trouble or if he thinks I’ll say no to him.  We’re entering the realm of relationships with girls.  I need to think and act carefully.

I decided to get him a watch.  But…realistically, I’m afraid he’s not going to use it because it requires him to 1) Remember to look at his watch in the first place  2) Remember what time he needs to be in class  3) Tell himself “no” to something he wants to do (talk to *little blonde girl*)  4) Form an association between the watch, *little blonde girl*, and needing to stop talking and get to class…you get the point.

I decided to take the boys to Hobby Lobby and buy each of them a watch face and let them make their own bands making knots and braids with paracord.  My hope is that it’s an “art piece” that he created and he’ll want to show it off to his friends.  (They show each other their drawings each week.)  Maybe…just maybe, this will be enough to get him to at least look at the watch and I can hope for the rest.

I’m not sure how this will play out long term – but, I keep trying…never giving up.  That’s the name of the game.

North American Saints: St. Jacob Netsvetov

We moved on to our next North American saint, St. Jacob of Alaska.

As I’m reading these stories to the boys and the extended research we’ve done on Alaska and the Russian fur trade, you realize just how much there’s an underlying common story of conquest when a foreign country comes in and forces the native people to give up their culture and do things the foreigner’s way.

There’s another common story you see as you read the stories of missionary saints.  The critical difference really is the love they have for their fellow mankind and their lack of desire to control and conquer these people.

We’re reading story after story about how the Russian fur traders, as a whole, came over to Alaska and many of them mistreated the native Alaskans.  That’s not to say there weren’t exceptions to this.  (The United States did the same thing when we bought Alaska.)  Then we read story after story about how the native Alaskans adored these Russian monks and priests (many who were later canonized saints).  Why?  What’s the difference?  The Russian fur traders were Orthodox – that’s one of the reasons why these monks and priests came over to Alaska in the first place – to serve the men and families living in Alaska during the fur trading seasons.  (They also came over as missionaries.)  These monks and priests came over to Alaska without the desire to conquer the people.  They came over to serve them…and they took it to heart.

St. Jacob spent a great deal of time traveling to the communities on the Aleutian Islands and all along the coast.  He brought a tent with him everywhere he went in order to hold services regardless of the weather.  He helped St. Innocent translate the Bible and other religious works into the language of the people.  (Whereas the Russians told the native Alaskans they needed to speak Russian and the United States told them they needed to speak English.)

It made me think back to a TedTalk I watched over the summer.  Ernesto Sirolli explains in a humorous and captivating way his efforts to help in Africa in his younger days…and how it completely bombed.  (His hippo story is my favorite!!!)  His point really is that we go into a country, community, neighborhood with the best of intentions – to help them – but in reality we just want to give them advice on how to do it OUR WAY without ever really truly wanting to know how we can actually help them.  We all do it every time we offer unsolicited advice to someone.   It just made me think about how these Alaskan saints lived among the natives and through love for their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ were able to share their love of God.


Maps: Our City

We’ve been working on a family project for about 6 months now.  We put up a large map of our city on the dining room wall and have been finding and marking all the local places we’ve visited along with important places to us.  We really only have one rule for our project – we don’t mark any place that is a chain and can be found in other states.  We are exploring what’s local and unique to our city.

We updated our map this week and added 6 new places we’ve visited.

We have plenty of other maps we’ll be studying this semester as well.  It made sense to go with this area of study because 1) I was already doing it with them on the side  2) We travel often  3) A common belief among my three oldest sons can be summed up in one quote from one of them, “I know how to read maps, they just don’t take me where I want to go.”

Liturgy & Co-op: Time Management (This week’s conclusion)

I waited anxiously, out of sight, by my classroom door as the time clicked closer and closer to when my son’s class was about to begin.  Would he look at his watch?  Would he remember what time he needed to be in class?  So many unknowns, but…at exactly the time he was supposed to be walking towards his room, he casually walked by my room and went into his class.

Nobody else seemed to stop and listen to the choirs of angels singing at that moment, but rest assured, I stopped and marveled at their glorious singing.  Glory to God for all things!

One week at a time.  One day at a time.  Sometimes one hour at a time.  Parenting is about the marathon, not the sprint.

Living in God’s Creation: Natural Dyes (Our Homeschool Chemistry Lab)

Let me just start by saying that, yet again, I have a whole new appreciation for collecting our own food.  It takes far more work than you’d imagine to harvest a black walnut.  What you and I know as walnuts are actually English walnuts which are significantly easier to open but the American Black Walnut…puts up a fight.

First, you have to get the outer hull off before you get to the shell of the nut.  It’s not a simple peel and be done with it either and it also stains your hands something fierce as you’re doing it.  The first bucket full, my boys enjoyed throwing them as hard as they could to the ground to split the hulls open in order to peel them off.  The second bucket of walnuts, they decided to use hammers, large rocks, or other unhulled walnuts to break open the hulls.  That took a couple of hours and in the process we discovered that Zach is allergic to the latex gloves we were unsuccessfully using to protect our hands from being stained.

Second, you need to wash the shell before curing because they are covered with remnants of the hull which will dye everything that touches it.  That took another good hour, at least.  (Although, I watched a YouTube video, after the fact, where they used a power washer to de-hull and wash the shells in minutes.  I see that in our future, if we do this again.)  Black walnuts also have a very distinctive smell once you open them up.  I can’t think of any smell to compare it to – not necessarily a bad smell but definitely potent and distinct.

Third, we have the hulls sitting in a bucket filled with water as they ferment and get ready to be used as a dye.  (Technically a stain because I can’t find any recipe that uses a mordant)  The shells are currently drying on a shelf in my pantry.  They should be ready in 2 weeks.  But…that will be another project unto itself.  Apparently, a normal nut cracker won’t open these shells and the walnuts don’t come out willingly.  A hammer and wire cutters are required for that project.  I think we’ll wait to open them when dad can be around to help me with it.

I decided to experiment a little.  I’ve never dyed with black walnuts before so I stained (no mordant) one set of shirts, unintentionally, overnight.  Then the next day, I dyed the second set of shirts using alum as a mordant.  I only soaked them for 3 hours and while the color was fine – a light brown – I really wanted it darker.  So I stuck them back in after we had rinsed them off.  I’ll re-rinse them again tomorrow and be done with the project.

The shirts definitely had a handcrafted look to them after being stained/dyed.  Splotchy.  I’ll have to see what I can do about that in the future.  A fun, labor intensive project though.  It was good to have the boys start and complete a big project like this through to the end.

The Elephant in the Room

Les and I decided to talk to the 3 older boys together last night about their birth mom drinking alcohol while she was pregnant with them.  I literally made the sign of the cross before we started.  This was a conversation we didn’t want to have with them but we felt it was necessary because our family needs to understand what’s going on with them and I don’t want to be whispering about them, I need to be able to talk to the doctor about it in front of them, and we want to help them with their struggles – they need to know what they’re facing.

Les and I were very careful on how we presented it – we talked about how alcohol affects the brain, what happens if a mom drinks too much alcohol while she’s pregnant, and led into telling them that we believe their birth mom drank alcohol while she was pregnant with them and the reasons why we believed that.

Two were visibly upset by the news.  One completely didn’t understand and we left it be…for now anyway.

We’ve talked a lot lately about how our actions affect other people – intentionally or not.  It was brought up last night how their birth mom’s actions had a direct impact on them before they were ever even born.  It’s not fair.  But we also talked about how we genuinely believe she loved them even though she made poor choices and we gave specific examples.  We talked about how it was completely normal to be upset with her and love her at the same time.  You can love someone but not love their actions.

We sat with each of them individually afterwards and talked some more – let them share how they felt about the news, if they had questions, discussed ways we could help them with their individual struggles, rejoiced that all of us saw hope because now we knew what we had to tackle.

Overall, it went extremely well…even though tears were shed.  I have a lot of renewed hope for them.  We can tackle this head on – together.  One of our son’s asked, “What are the symptoms?  What problems do we have?”  We talked about them and also talked about ways that we’re going to teach them to compensate.  We also gave specific examples of people with disabilities who find ways to overcome them and be inspirational for many of us who don’t have disabilities.  We talked about how EVERY PERSON struggles with SOMETHING.  Some are greater or harder than others but they are not alone in having to struggle with something.

It was a good talk with them.  We were able to talk about the frustration we all felt, put a name to it, and talk about how we’re going to deal with it.  It’s hard…but it’s healing.  Dealing with it, facing it, having someone say they’re going to stand by you regardless and help…is healing.

Les and I got more hugs from our boys last night than we have in the past five years combined.  It was a good night, even though we were emotionally spent afterwards.  Stuff like that is intense!  For me, it was a similar feeling to when we were watching their birth mom wave goodbye to them for the very last time.  Intense.

And now to begin traveling down a new path in our journey.