Jun 29, 2016

An Electronics Free Summer

It started with an afternoon video game spree in the middle of a very untidy family room. I started to get angry.  Well, that’s not exactly true… my blood was boiling.  I had been upstairs trying to work my way through Mount Washmore, while the kids were supposed to be picking up the first floor.  I had carefully assigned specific, age-appropriate tasks in the hopes that when all the work was done, we could head out for the park and enjoy a beautiful summer day.  Unfortunately, the kids had other ideas.

The blue glow of the screen, whether it is some mind-numbingly sophomoric show on Nickelodeon, or Minecraft, or even an educational movie, had reduced my children to pudgy zombies seeking non-stop entertainment. This had to stop. I want them to know there is more to life than what you can find on a screen.

So I unplugged it all.  I piled it up in my office. I told them they were not getting any of it back until the end of the summer. They sat in stunned silence. Now what? I didn’t even know. I shut myself in the office to formulate a plan and to avoid being taken prisoner by my mutinous minions.

I decided that I would let them know that I understood that no electronics was a tall order. BUT, if they were willing to stick it out, they would see it would reap big rewards.  I told them to go make a list of all the non-electronic things they wanted to do this summer.

I got back lists which included the local amusement park and water park, the Museum of Science and Industry, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Yellowstone, the local park, several campgrounds, Glacier National Park, and on and on.

YES! First step accomplished.  They did know there was life outside the tube.  The next step was to sit down and have a meeting.  We decided a trip was in order.  In addition to heading out to Six Flags at least once a week, and going to Chicago to the museums, several local camps, and our diocesan VBS, we now have plans for a two week excursion to Glacier National Park, Teddy Roosevelt Park, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, and parts in between. We’re bringing Grandma, and a Great Aunt.  And we’re camping.

Since the games and TV have been unplugged, they’ve learned to play games with each other, they are reading more, and lots of games are being played in the back yard.  I have noticed more compassion with one another and more creativity in their dialogue. The lack of electronics has had a humanizing effect on our family.

They still ask for the video games.  And I remind them of the trip we’re planning, the work we have to do on the house before we leave, and all the fun there is to be had outside. There are some groans still, but it’s getting better.

This may be our best summer yet.

Jun 27, 2016

Monday Meme: Isn't this the truth?

Mondays are historically just rough days. I think this is complicated when our weekends are just as crazy as the week days and for our family that's been the case for several weeks in a row. Somewhere, in the future, I'm uncertain when, maybe Monday will feel nice and ordinary...or maybe not. Either way, on we go, one foot in front of the other!

Jun 24, 2016

Friday Feasting; Breakfast Egg Sandwiches for the Freezer

Breakfast Egg Sandwiches for the Freezer

"And easy, make ahead meal for those days on the run. I like to make a couple dozen at a time, assemble then freeze for busy days for the children to pull out of the freezer and heat before heading out the door."

One dozen eggs
grated cheese of choice
breakfast sausage, cooked
One dozen English muffins

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Grease muffin tin with cooking spray.
3.  Crack an egg in each muffin cup. Season with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of parsley. Bake for 12 minutes then remove from oven and sprinkle cheese on top of each egg. Bake another 2 minutes or until done. Let cool in tin for 10 minutes.
4.  Remove each egg to a buttered english muffin with sausage.
5.  Enjoy now or wrap in wax paper, put in ziploc bag and freeze. Eat within one month.

Jun 22, 2016

What Does it Mean to be an All Star?


     Tis the season for baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and well you know the rest of the jingle!  For our family, Little League baseball is wrapping us this week.  I write that with mixed emotions. The boys have such a good time playing, they make new friends, and I really enjoy watching baseball. I also love to watch my hubby coach. He's fantastic with the kids, helping them to learn new skills, build confidence, and have fun playing the sport of baseball. On the other hand, I am looking forward to less crazy evenings and far less peanut butter and jelly sandwiches eaten on the run!

     End of season also means All Star selection time. If you don't like baseball, hang in there with me!  This time of year is tough on coaches, parents, and players almost unnecessarily.  What I've lost in time making Pb and j sandwiches, I've gained in wisdom about what is really important for raising All Stars and if everyone could just see it my way, the world of Little League, or youth sports in general, might be a more pleasant experience! It's entirely possible that's not true, but read on.

     Even the most laid back, go with the flow parents can get wrapped up in the adrenaline of winning games.  It's fun to win and I'm sure we all want our kids to succeed especially doing the things they love most.  However, I hate when I find myself losing sight of the true end game.  I forget that I'm cheering on a whole person, not just a baseball player. Maybe like you, I'm so focused on what's right in front of me that I've forgotten the true goal. All Star selection time rolls around and of course both my ball players are waiting, fingers crossed you might say, for the email to come.  For days they ask my husband and I if we've received the email and for days we put them off. In the meantime, we have many conversations about what being an All Star means.  As a coach my husband has to choose All Stars from his team and it's really difficult. He believes that an All Star doesn't just have the right skills but also the right attitude. He wants players to give their best effort at all times and to be good winners and good losers.

     All Stars are supposed to stand out. It's considered an honor to be selected. So many times in the last week or so, I've been reminded of the correlation between being an All Star and being a Catholic Christian. What is our end game? How are we going to get to Heaven?  We can look at the Communion of Saints as the best examples of what it means to be an All Star. Each Saint is known for something unique that they did, whether ordinary or extraordinary, to the best of their ability. Maybe they spent time with the poorest of the poor, or taught in a school, or died for the name of Jesus. No matter what, they kept plugging along. Just like my boys have to practice to get better at baseball, we all have to practice to be better Christians.

     We can't become better Christians without practicing...every day. We have to put time and effort in...every day. Our practice might include daily prayer (the rosary, meditation), the sacraments, adoration, Scripture study, fasting, tithing, etc. There will always be tough games or tough days. Just like my boys shouldn't throw their bats down when they strike out, we can't chuck our crosses out the door. We have to pick them up and keep moving. There are days when I would just love to stomp off the field and sit on the bench and pout! I mean who doesn't have days like those, it's reality because God never said it would be easy. But just like my boys have coaches who help them to be better, we have a Heavenly Father to love us and guide us along the way. When we feel like less than All Star material, we just need to ask for help. None of us were called to live out our vocation all alone.

     So in our house we ended up with one player making All Stars and one not, and no one is worse the wear because they know their end game. Yes, of course, my son who didn't make it is disappointed, but he cheered for his friends that made it and he knows he needs to work harder for next year. I'm thrilled that he can see the big picture and it reminds me to do the same.

Jun 20, 2016

Monday Meme: I Said No


        Back in April I received a text from our Religious Ed director.

“We really need to start looking over VBS programs and making a decision.”

I texted her back.

“I think you have the wrong number.”

It’s always so surprising to me that because I’ll bring in proportionally the most children to a program that means automatically I’ll be available and willing to run it.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a planner and I love kids and I love talking about Jesus and the Church.  I can be relatively creative and I will dance to any VBS jingle they throw my way!!  HOWEVER, this year I’m 5 months pregnant with my 8th child, and there was no WAY I was going to take that on.

      Our parish is really small, though, so there aren’t too many people willing to take on such a venture.  After initially telling our DRE that I couldn’t possibly take on something else, my good friend stepped up and said she would do it.  I know it’s going to be better than any bought program because she is TOTALLY awesome and immediately wanted to do something on The Year of Mercy vs. Submerged or the Cave Explorers or whatever else the VBS creator gods have churned out this year.

      We start today, and as excited as I am to begin it (mainly because I’m not running it in any sort of fashion), I know that by the end of the week, we are ALL going to be exhausted, pregnant or NOT.  The kids have such a great time, though, and it’s great to see my older kids stepping up and being helpers as they age out.

      And I’m also pretty proud of myself for saying “no”.  I’m a total “yes” girl, and it was a little difficult to say “no” at first when I was approached.  I knew there weren’t many people who would take on the challenge, and I hated to think of the burden that it would put on someone else.  We are all busy up to our eyeballs, right??  I could feel very deep in my bones and soul that God was not calling me to be in charge of this, though.  And I listened.  Glory be to God!

Jun 15, 2016

Navigating Health Care with a Big Family

I don’t really have any good answers to this.  Sorry.  As a matter of fact, I feel very helpless when it comes to finding the balance between appropriate care and being scared of the bills that are going to come on the other end.  Apparently, we have “really good” insurance, too.  Tell that to my wallet.

I’ve been on the phone all day today with medical facilities and our insurance company over my son’s broken wrist back in February, another son’s asthma attack last month, and my upcoming birth this October.  It’s all so convoluted, and my head is spinning!!  It would be different if the “rules” weren’t changing all the time.  What cost me X last year (or last baby) costs me 2X or even 3X now!  Example: for my last son’s circumcision two years ago, the hospital billed my insurance company 35-HUNDRED DOLLARS.  That did not include the OB’s charge of $650.

“I’m sorry Mrs. Anderson.  That’s the contracted amount between our company and the providers.  There’s nothing you can do about it.”

There’s nothing I can do about it.

Humph.  I love a good game of Triple Dog Dare.

I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.

Come October, when my baby’s due, I’m having a home birth.  My first in eight pregnancies.  Not only will I get to have the lights dimmed and no IV stuck in my hand (a real bummer when you’re on your hands and knees laboring), but I’ll get to stay in the tub until the baby is born.  That’s an awesome thing when you have back labor every time.  I won’t have to be strapped to the table and monitored every hour, and I won’t be made to feel I’m some weirdo with three heads when I say I do this naturally and this is my eighth, thank you very much.

And there will be one…1… ONE bill at the end of it all.  (God willing everything goes well and healthy, of course.)

And just in case it’s a boy, my homebirth midwife knows a good rabbi who will circumcise (even if we are Christian!) for a fraction of the price we paid last time.

We have 30 days after the baby is due to make another change, too.  This “major life event” gives us an out to our “great” insurance.  We have been in touch with MediShare, a Christian health sharing group.  My brother and his family have been using it for over a year now, and have nothing but good things to say about it.  So we are going to give it a whirl.  If you are members of something similar, I would love to hear your feedback, especially if you have a large family.

The hospital is going to lose our money.

The insurance company is going to lose our money.

We all need to take charge of our health immediately.  We have been blessed as a family to be in generally great health, but sustaining that is going to be essential as we move forward through these “labor pains” that is our health care system in America today.  Not that we are the poster family for healthy eating, but comparatively I think we eat very well.  Our kids get lots of exercise outside, and we keep t.v. and video games to a minimum.  We are all going to need make sacrifices, especially in how we eat, to keep ourselves and our family out of the doctor’s office.

Jun 14, 2016


Confession time.

I am a KonMari failure.

I tried to apply her principles from "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" to my bookshelf. I carefully evaluated the books, then I tried to chose ones which would not be useful, or spark joy, and get rid of them. I failed.

As a homeschool mom, with a two year old, there are very few books he has outgrown. Of course, any of the out of print books are off limits. Who knows if I can find them again? Many of the literature books are read again and again, and the beauty of our home library is that there are no late fees. As an avid reader with very little time, my list of books to read grows ever longer as does my "to read" pile.

My latest attempt to cull the shelves was an abject failure. I threw in the towel and bought another bookshelf. Maybe I'll try again when they're out of the house. Of course, by then, there will be grandchildren...

Jun 10, 2016

Friday Feasting: Big Salad

Big Salad

Summer is here and, we look to "cool" foods and lighter fare.  
If it is quick to put on the table, it gets an extra bonus!

A Big, HUGE family favorite at Casa de Patton is what we affectionately call "Big Salad."  

Several years ago we discovered the "chopped" salad kits in our grocery store.  
Since these kits frequently went on sale and were super yummy, 
they became the base of one of our all time favorite summer-time meals.   

Honestly, this is not really a recipe...just what I do.

The salad kits come in several "flavors," 
like Chipotle Ranch, Asian, Caesar, and tonight's choice, BBQ Ranch.  
For our downsized family (just five of us at home now), 
I start with two salad kits and add in one or two hearts of romaine lettuce, chopped.
(I do wash and spin all my salad greens.  
It's is an extra step, but I learned the hard way that that is a step that I cannot skip.)

Depending on what veggies I have in my crisper, 
I also chop and throw in green peppers (red and yellow, too), celery, onion, and carrots.

For protein sources, we use popcorn chicken, fried (gasp) in the deep fryer, 
grilled chicken or beef fajita steak, or ham.  
Bacon bits and cheese (cheddar or Parmesan, depending on the flavors) round out the protein yum.
(If it is a hot meat (like my popcorn chicken here), I let it cool before adding it to the salad bowl.)

For some crunch, I'll add sunflower seeds, croutons, or tortilla strips.
And last, but certainly not least, we add the dressing and toss everything together.
Janie is my chef today.  (Thank you, Janie!)

Blink, blink, blink...

Jun 8, 2016

Advice for Catalog and Conference Season

I love to give advice to anxious moms, especially young ones. I do a great job reassuring them, calming them, maybe even inspiring them. But I also have a tendency to completely panic about my own life. All those things I share with others, I forget when looking at my own life. 

One of the most stressful times of the year for homeschoolers is what I call "catalog and conference season". Just when we should be taking a break and just being mom, we are inundated with choices for next year. Instead of refreshing ourselves, taking a deep breath, we try to evaluate the year gone by and figure out where to change and what to do. Even for the unschooling types like me, the pressure to analyze and makes plans can be intense. 

Over the years, I have worked various tables at homeschool conferences and always find myself chatting with lots of moms, new homeschoolers as well as the somewhat worn out seasoned ones, both looking for the perfect fit for their families. They have been wandering the vendor hall and going to talks. They have lists. And they have a desperate look in their eyes. 

Here are some of the things I always try to share, which serve as reminders to myself as well:

Don't make decisions while you are there. Take the catalogs and your lists, take your notes from talks and go home and pray. Do the research at home, talk to friends, then make your plan and buy your books. I'm always grateful for two day conferences so I can browse one day, go home and pray, and then carefully buy a few must haves the next day. 

If you are just starting, relax. Your little kindergartener does not need an expensive curriculum. He doesn't need any curriculum. Collect a bunch of lovely picture books, maybe a simple phonics program and some math manipulatives. Spend your year reading and playing and cuddling and following his lead. Spends lots of time outside! Learning is a natural process and your child will not be behind. Just this year a bunch of articles went around the Internet about how children in Finland don't even start "school" until they are around eight or nine. I admit most of mine didn't do much in the way of formal learning until around eight. 

If you are just starting with older kids, relax. Many kids need to "deschool" when they start homeschooling. Fill your home with books and games. Read together, play together, even with big kids. Have tea and read poetry. Get outside! The most important thing is for your child(ren) to stop seeing learning as a school thing and see it as life. You cannot force a child to learn. You may be able to force schoolwork but not real learning, and not without creating resentment. Which leads me to my next point...

Trust the child. Not every kid will be a voracious reader, but I believe every child will be a voracious learner if you give them inspiration, a little freedom, and a lack of easy distractions. People ask how I get my kids to read all the time. Well, there isn't much else for them to do! They are free to play outside or play with toys or games, but for the bulk of the day they do not have access to video games or DVDs or other time sappers. Instill a family culture of learning. Moms, you should be learning something new all the time, too. I think most of us are already doing this, but make sure your kids know. Talk about what you are learning. They will, in turn, start searching out information, doing research. And you will most likely also find a willingness to tackle some learning you want them to do. A child with academic freedom is more willing to do the math you feel they should do or maybe tackle something outside her comfort zone like a foreign language. When it is all about enriching yourself, it is more appealing than when it seems like someone else's agenda. 

High schoolers at home? Turn their education over to them. Talk about their goals and help them see what needs to be done. Do they want to go a four year college or university? How will they make that happen? Be a helper, a coach, a facilitator, but not a taskmaster. Encourage them to own their lives. You will be amazed! 

One great peace of advice I heard about a year ago, I think it was from a podcast with Cindy Rollins, is to get your own philosophy first before making decisions. Invest time reading about different educational philosophies. Pray about it. Be honest with yourself about yourself. I wasted a lot of time and money chasing methods that didn't work for me, from "school at home" to lapbooks to complicated unit studies. Know your strengths and what gives you energy and start there. 

Some great books to get you started or to refresh your spirit:

One last thing to remember, it is never too late. It is never to late to refresh, reevaluate, make little changes or big ones. A bad week or a bad month, even a bad year, doesn't define you or your homeschool! Believe it or not, there is time and there is no one right way to do it. Your kids first and foremost need and want your love! They want a mom who can just be with them, enjoy them, and journey with them! Commit your children to God and have faith. This is a huge undertaking, but so worth it. 

Jun 6, 2016

Monday Meme: Our Children: Problems or Problem Solvers

How much time do we waste striving for perfection?  Will we ever learn that perfection will always elude us? However, we should still aim to improve.  What a balance!!  We need to challenge ourselves, but we also need to know when to stop.

When it comes to our children, we often push for the better time in a race, a better grade on a test, or better performance on that instrument.  While all those goals are worthy, we need to consider the sacrifice.  Is something else being neglected?  Is our push towards greatness increasing character in a positive way, or is it crushing our children's spirit?

I have three children with autism.  For years, they have had therapies focusing on their weaknesses. My kids need to do this or say that.  Painful hours.  At some point, I had to think outside the box.  My kids may never be able to do things that neuro-typical kids can do, so why are we, the therapists, doctors, teachers, and family all focused on pushing for those "normal" goals?  We should be looking at different solutions that my boys can use to accomplish those goals.  What I mean is my boys may achieve the "normal" goal in an unusual or unorthodox way.

 I looked at my sons' strengths and found many.  I changed how their therapies were done.  We focused on what they could do to help what they couldn't do.  Their worlds changed overnight.  Suddenly, they were happy.  They could accomplish tasks.  They were smart.  They could do things!

Simply by changing focus of what they can't do to what they can do made a huge difference.  No longer were my boys "incapable" or disabled.  They just solved problems differently than others.  They were now seen as problem solvers vs problems.  Big difference.

Our children can surprise us.  Capitalize on what they can do, and see just what else opens up!  Our children will see themselves as doers.  Our children can become self-reliant, a skill necessary for adulthood.

Whether our children have disabilities or not, our children all have the same goals of being loved, accepted, and successful.  How we see them and what we tell them matters.  If we constantly criticize, our children will learn to criticize.  We need balance.  Of course, we need to correct wrong doing, but we need to celebrate right doing.

Just how often do we parents celebrate that?  We need to celebrate the positive more than correcting the negative.

Also posted in...


blog about life with autistic teen boys

Jun 3, 2016

Muffin Mania!

I like muffins.  They’re easily made, easily transportable, 
easy to slide to a toddler or preschooler mid-morning when breakfast has worn off.  
I like to think I’ve made enough to put in the freezer for another morning, 
but they never seem to last that long. 
(I haven’t figured out if this is a compliment to my culinary abilities 
or a testament to my lack of planning ahead.)  
With summer coming up, I have two great muffin recipes 
that I like to use with our prolific summer fare: zucchini and blueberries.

A muffin tip in case you don’t know:  
mix your wet stuff in one bowl, your dry stuff in another.  
When you combine them, just do so until they’re combined – then STOP!  
It will make for a much fluffier muffin that doesn’t have that tough outer edge.

Adjust these recipes as you see fit.

Super Duper Zucchini Muffins

Makes 12 muffins.
(but doubling is easy, because you KNOW you have enough zucchini!!)


2 ¼ c. all-purpose flour
1 c. white sugar
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
½ tsp. salt
½ c. shortening
¼ c. sour milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ c. shredded zucchini
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ c. brown sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl combine flour and sugar.  Stir in baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Make a well in the center, and pour in milk, eggs, zucchini & vanilla.  Fill muffin cups.  Sprinkle tops with brown sugar.  Cook 15-20 minutes.

Health Nut Blueberry Muffins

Makes 24 servings.

1 ½ c. all purpose flour
1 ½ c. whole wheat flour
1 ½ c. sugar
½ c. oat bran (just grind up some oatmeal in your blender if you don’t have this)
½ c. oats
½ c. wheat germ
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 c. blueberries
1 c. chopped nuts (optional)
2 bananas, mashed
2 c. buttermilk
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. oil
2 tsp. vanilla


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In large bowl, stir together flours, sugar, oat bran, oats, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Gently stir in the blueberries and nuts.  In a separate bowl, mix together the mashed bananas, buttermilk, egg, oil and vanilla.  Pour wet ingredients into the dry and mix just until blended.  Spoon into muffin cups.  Bake for 15-18 minutes or until tops of muffins spring back when gently touched.

Jun 1, 2016

Favorite Things: Most Exciting New Curricula for Next Year

I have been getting my curriculum together for next year, 
and I have some new finds that I am VERY excited about.

#1: Times Tales

Oh, my goodness.  This may be the biggest game changer for my third grader 
who is chomping at the bit to learn his times tables 
and (maybe more so) for his big sister who struggles to remember hers.

#2: Beast Academy Math

Who wouldn't want to learn math from a comic book.  
The folks from Art of Problem Solving bring us this creative and exciting series.  
Again...my third grader is going to LOVE this.  
Who are we kidding?...I am going to LOVE this!!!

#3:  Picture Study Portfolios from Simply Charlotte Mason 

I *may* have gone a little crazy, but there was no way I could choose just one or two.  
Simply Charlotte Mason has produced a beautiful collection of portfolios to facilitate picture study.  
The large glossy photos of the masterpieces are gorgeous!  
And, the booklet has the artist's story and a little bit of back story for each print.  
This will be a "go to" resource to bring beauty into our homeschool this year 
as we study the late middle ages.

#4:  Michael Clay Thompson Grammar and Writing (Level 2)

My family has fallen in love with Michael Clay Thompson's Language Arts. 
Mud and the Grammar Island (Level 1) totally captured our hearts
and taught us all a thing or two about grammar and writing.  
We are tickled to see what new adventures await us in Grammar Town.

#5:  Caesar's English 1 (MCT Vocabulary)

Caesar's English 1 is the Vocabulary book that rounds out the 
Michael Clay Thompson's Language Arts program.  
I bought the teacher's manual in book-book format, but the kids will have an 
interactive experience with Caesar's English on their iPad in iBooks. 
I took a little peak today and was very impressed.

OK...what are your top picks for fall?  Share in the comments!!!