September 18, 2010

Extreme Cuteness

This girl is nine months old and walking! She took NINE steps, unassisted today. 

I predict we have a mover and a shaker on our hands.

Dressing Up

Therese likes to play dress-up. Here are her latest fashions.

Daddy, dressed up for work.
(We all cracked up, because "Daddy" is wearing no pants.)
Reggie White, the late great Packer player.
Why the wings? "Because Reggie is in Heaven, of course!"
Why the braids? No answer.

Let the School Year Begin

We started the school year on August 30th for Anna Marie and Kathleen. We added William, Andrew, and Therese into the mix the following week, beginning the day after Labor Day. I've never started on a staggered basis, but I felt like I needed to get the girls off to a solid start and working independently before we added everyone. It seems to have worked well, and I think I'll do the same next year.

We've hit a few bumps and tweaked a few things already, as we do each year. But all in all, things are going well.

Anna Marie is in ninth grade this year and taking online classes with Regina Coeli from home which helps take the burden off me. Her teachers are excellent; some of them are college professors. We are very impressed with the caliber of her education through Regina Coeli.

Here is our school roster:

  • Anna Marie - 9th grade
  • Kathleen - 7th grade
  • William - 3rd grade 
  • Andrew - 1st grade
  • Therese - preschool
  • Marguerite - Queen of pulling all the books off the shelf and making us laugh when we shouldn't

There is never a dull moment in our little homeschool, and it's always a race to get everything accomplished before we have to head out for extracurriculars each afternoon.

Following are some scenes from our first week of school.

Kathleen's science experiment involving density and viscosity.
William listens to his history lesson on Sargon of Mesopotamia while coloring his picture of Sargon.
Andrew does a history word-search.
William shows off his Mesopotamian map-work.
Kathleen prepares to leave for her volleyball game.
William and Andrew alphabetize flashcards.
Anna Marie gets an unexpected bit of zoology education when her snake gives birth to twenty-some babies!
(Never did I think I'd have over twenty snakes in my home!)

Scenes from the Front Yard

On this fine day, we decided to bring out the blanket and read stories at the top of our path (which is the top of our sledding hill in the winter). 

Therese can't wait for the stories to begin.
Therese, Andrew, and Marguerite pose.
Andrew and Marguerite
On our post-stories walk, Therese fed Marguerite green beans.
On our walk, we met up with William who had just finished helping Dad put up our sign
supporting Big Kurt for State Senate.

Meal Planning

This is what it looks like when I actually plan meals (with the emphasis on "actually plan"). I either fly by the seat of my pants which results in the same-ol'-same-ol', or I actually go all-out and plan like a mad-woman.

On this, the last weekend before we started school, I went a little crazy mapping out some meals for this family. The number of pictured cookbooks is huge because of Kathleen's restricted diet. I had at least ten dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free cookbooks checked out from the library in an effort to put a little more variety into our limited diet.

Now, if our schedule and my energy could only keep up with my grand plans!

This is how our kitchen looked all day.
Think this will be enough cookbooks?

Tub Time

Marguerite usually does not mind baths. But on this fine day she was just not up for it.

I decided to post these pictures to show how different her hair looks when it's wet. I put tons of leave-in conditioner on it while she's soaking wet in the tub and I brush through it. On this day, I parted her hair, just for fun. Within minutes of getting out the tub, her hair will shrink back into the little coils she usually sports. But she does look different when it's wet, combed out, and weighted down with conditioner.

Awww, poor, unhappy girl!
When is my mom going to get me out of here?
Much better! Safe on dry land!
Whew! I hope we don't have to do that anytime again soon.

Acrobatic Andrew

Is it any wonder that this boy's favorite sport is gymnastics?

When Mrs. Daniel Comes to Visit

When Mrs. Daniel comes to visit, she takes some really cute photos of our kids, and she poses in some cute photos too. We always have such a fine time with Claudia whose arrival always produces excited cries of, "Mrs. Daniel! Mrs. Daniel!" from our kids.

Claudia took this great shot of Kathleen in her favorite reading perch.
(The rope ladder was actually a birthday gift back in May.)
Claudia took this great picture of Anna Marie, wearing Jen's old sweater.
Thanks, Jen! Cute, cute, cute!
Anna Marie, Therese, Marguerite, & Claudia around the campfire.
Claudia's visits bring out the festive in us; a campfire was definitely in order.

An Update on Kathleen's Health

Kathleen has struggled with unexplained, persistent, and disabling diarrhea for over two years. After she lost fourteen pounds (during a time of life when she should be growing, not shrinking), her pediatrician and gastroenterologist ordered barium swallows, stool samples, blood tests, food elimination trials, and ultimately an endoscopy and a colonoscopy. Nothing provided the answers we needed to stop the weight loss and prevent the cramps and bathroom episodes.

Finally, we consulted with a naturopath who ordered some blood tests that had never been administered previously. The results of those tests indicated that Kathleen's body provides a strong inflammatory response to the ingestion of eggs. It also provides a lesser, but significant, inflammatory response to gluten and dairy.

The prescription, beginning late last July: Cut out all eggs, dairy, and gluten (wheat and many other grains) completely until December. Talk about challenging!

The result: As of yesterday, Kathleen had gained two much-needed pounds and is actually growing out of her shoes! Woo-hoo! (For the last two years she's not grown at all, because she's not been able to retain the food that should be nourishing her.) This is a really big deal, and we are overjoyed.

The great hope is that her gut will soon be healed sufficiently, maybe as soon as December, to handle the gradual reintroduction of some or all of the currently-forbidden foods.

Meanwhile, we are serving lots of meat, seafood, fruit, veggies, and nuts. Can anyone say Atkins Diet? We've also been experimenting with baked goods the are gluten-free, egg-free, and dairy-free—no easy feat. Nevertheless, we've had a few successes and Kathleen does have a few favorites.

We are just so pleased the awful bathroom visits have ceased and Kathleen is starting to grow once again! Good job, Beanie!

Here is Kathleen with her favorite dairy-free ice cream alternative.

Hair Products

Joe likes to tease me about Marguerite's hair "products." Never have we had so many different "products" in the house than since the time Marguerite came into our lives. We have a whole "Marguerite Shelf" in the bathroom closet now.

I've learned that African hair is fragile and brittle and dries out easily. For that reason, we shampoo Marguerite's hair very infrequently, but we condition it often, every day if possible. A wash with conditioner-only is known as a co-wash and should be done much more frequently than a shampoo.

I've also learned that different products work for different hair textures--and among Africans there is quite a wide range of hair textures, as there is among Caucasians. I've also made mistakes along the way, trying to find the right products for Marguerite.

One thing I've certainly found is that the natural products are not only better for Marguerite's hair and scalp, but they really do work better (maintaining her curls and style) too.

Using YouTube as my guide, especially the excellent hair how-to videos by Natural85, I've come up with a recipe that works well for us. I buy the natural products in bulk, rather than buying the natural products already in ready-to-use mixtures. I've been experimenting with a combination of raw unrefined shea butter (from Africa), jojoba oil, olive oil, unrefined coconut oil, castor oil, and vitamin E. I make the mixture nice and thin (less shea butter) for an everyday leave-in conditioner. I make it much thicker for a pomade which I will use to tame the frizzies and provide some control as I braid her hair. (I'm still working on braiding. We may do another braiding experiment this weekend.)

Photographed below are the products I am currently using to make our homemade mixes for Marguerite's hair. It is a pricey bunch of ingredients, but it does save us money over buying the all-natural conditioners and pomades already-mixed.

Oh, and with hair length increasing and curls becoming more defined, I've finally figured out (I think) that Marguerite has 4a hair. (Didn't know there were defined hair categories? Right. Neither did I until Marguerite entered the picture. :)

Kathleen helps amass the ingredients for our first run at homemade hair products.
This is what the shea butter looks like at room temperature.
It's not hard as rock, but it's not soft like butter either. It takes some effort to mix it.
The thin every-day leave-in conditioner is on the left.
The pomade (for styling) is on the right.
All done!
The leave-in conditioner (in the tall water bottle) and the pomade (in the little container on the right) will be stored in our bathroom and used for many a hair-styling adventure for Miss Marguerite.

Fourteen-Year-Old Anna Marie

Holy cow. We have a fourteen year old.

Anna Marie had a great time on her birthday, celebrating with Heather the week before, and enjoying our family celebration on her actual birthday.

This year, Anna Marie broke from tradition and opted to eat at home, rather than at her favorite Mexican restaurant. She selected Dad's famous Brazilian Chicken on the Grill for the entree. Yum!

For the last three years, Anna Marie has insisted on making her own cake. Not this year. She decided she wanted our local bakery's "Death by Chocolate" delicacy.

The kids made Anna Marie a fun birthday poster.
Our fourteen-year-old!
Books... Lots of books!
Anna Marie received "Writing Fiction for Dummies."
She also received the authoring software, Storyist, to assist her in writing her ongoing novel.
Star Wars Trivial Pursuit.
(She's only been begging for it for a year.)
Happy birthday,  Sweet Anna Marie!
Showing off the Star Wars dessert plates.

When Daddy Does Hair

It doesn't get much cuter than Daddy doing Miss Marguerite's hair.

It's a process, believe me. And Joe is getting in on the act.

Super-Dad does Marguerite's hair.
It's best to work through her hair while it's soaking wet -- thus, the wet face.
She actually enjoys this, though you'd never know from this photo.
Yes, Joe's body hair rivals Marguerite's head of hair, doesn't it? It's an Italian thing.
All done! Thank you, Daddy!

Cross Country Racers

Still processing the excitement of the kids' triathlon, we moved right into our Frassati Runners and Holy Family Homeschoolers annual cross country race. The racers were divided by age bracket and by gender.

Kathleen decided to sit out this race. And Anna Marie, now a high schooler, was too old for the race. (It seems just the other day she was looking up to all those big kids. Now she was one of them, helping to mentor the younger runners and monitor the finish line.)

The Leone racers this year were William, Andrew, and Therese. William and Andrew ran the big cross-country course, while Therese ran in the pee-wee race on the track.

All our competitors did well. But a very special mention goes to William who WON HIS RACE! William is so proud of his first place trophy. For those who know of William's story, this is a very big deal. I am so proud of him and so happy for him.

This is when I first caught site of William, coming down the course in the lead. At this point, they've already been running for about eight minutes.  William holds the lead (although it was a tough battle) between here and the finish line. 
William and his friend Kurtis battle it out for first and second place.
I was monitoring this top part of the course, so I didn't get to see the finish, but apparently it was very close.
That's Andrew in the tie-dyed shirt. He was racing with kids twice his size, bless his heart. He is such a trooper!

Here is Therese (in purple, on the right) preparing for her pee-wee race.

The pee-wee race participants gather.
Quick photo of Therese with her foot on the starting line.
She came in 4th place. Go Therese!