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We had never taken a family vacation with all three kids before this summer.

A vacation with just our family of five. Not to visit family or friends. Not for a wedding. Not for a baptism. Just away. Just us.

And clearly now I know what we were missing. We spent almost five days at our place in Wisconsin and could have stayed a million years. My mom has outfitted it with all the books and games of our childhood, and even though we go almost weekly for a day trip, this was our first time simply immersing ourselves in its over 100 acres of beauty with all three kids.

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No agenda. No schedules. No obligations. Just us.

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We picked apples from an ancient apple tree and made a crisp.

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We hiked on the trails and waded in the creek.

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We scouted on the location of a future tree house//fort. RIGHT UP THERE. What a tree!

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The beach in front of the tree doesn’t look too shabby, either. Lots of rocks to splunk.

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We read so many books. So so so many and many more. Everyday had a cadence of reading, playing cards, playing outside, snacks, meals, naps, AA going for his marathon training run, and me sewing. Everyday had its fair share of screaming and fighting but with no agenda and a relaxed day, that was much less than I had anticipated.

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When you two oldest can play UNO together: sudden and constant entertainment.

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One morning it was chilly enough for hot cocoa on the porch.

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They discovered coloring books my oldest sister had half-colored 35 years ago.

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He ate like a king and learned to feed himself with a spoon. THANK YOU, spoon-gods!

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She hustled and worked outdoors whenever the guys were out there. Tough lady.

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And my mom joined us for the end of it, doing her amazing NuNu voodoo that meant the kids were happy and we could actually go and do the trails ourselves.

I hope you got a little sliver of respite this summer. I hope you’re approaching the fall with a fresh heart. Ready for apple cider, fires in the fireplace, and cold wind rattling at the windows. No matter how simple or how grandiose, just a break, just a refresher, I hope that for you.

I’ll post what we ate next week. It was so easy to cook when someone is there to play with the kids!! sneak preview . . . 

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Before I had kids, I thought bribing your child to do something was akin to derelict parenting. In fact, I thought it was derelict parenting. I thought children should be treated like mini-adults, such that once they hit about 4 years old, they would understand the causal relationship between action & consequence and sorry, pal, you blew it, try again, would work.

Bribing them with baseball cards, ice cream, trips to the train store, opportunities to get out of bed earlier and go to bed later, I mean, who would do such things?

ME! ME!

I used to say, Don’t do this or that or you won’t get this or that. And then I’d have to make good on my threats. And it always felt like a threat. I do bribes with glee, but threats–I end up feeling like a curmudgeon. And then have to constantly dole out a unique or (worse) oft-repeated punishment when they inevitably do not listen and obey.

But beyond just saying it aloud (which goes in one adorable ear and out the awful one), I’ve finally landed on a tried & true method of pure incentivizing that actually works and has durability. It has lasted over a month.

The subjective and indiscriminate point system.

Here’s how it works: They start out at zero. The five year old has to hit 15 before the promised action//gift//treat. The three year old has to hit 10. And anything and everything can give and taketh away points.

You hit your sister. You just lost three points.

WAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!

If you want to not lose another point, please stop crying about it and instead go give her her dolly back.

Okay, Mama.

I am not joking. This has actually worked. For over a month.

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The baby isn’t into it yet.

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As you can see, my very squirrelly post-church dressed older kids not only need it but want it and will probably die without some kind of behavioral measuring system that does not involve the mama screaming at the top of her lungs and everyone sobbing.

So now you’re wondering if you too can implement this system. I promise you can. Pick one item that is most desired by your child. In my son’s case: baseball cards. In my daughter’s stickers. Maybe you already have a chart set up! Do it again! Five is probably the magical age that gets it in our household. Not sure I could’ve done this even last year.

In the case of inflicting mortal wounds on their sibling? Their points tank to zero. In the case of doing above-and-beyond chores like emptying all the trash cans (and trailing along behind him while he does it to tell him how to do it)? Points can increase. Being affectionate to your siblings does not garner you points, but does enhance your good-will standing with mama which may or may not make her more inclined to give you a point.

It’s all verbal, but maybe for some families, the kids might be more incentivized by a sticker chart or the like. I would probably start that and then forget to do it and then get behind and then give up!

A highlight from this endeavor has been hearing my son tell my daughter You don’t want to lose your points so let’s do this together so we can get all the points and to hear her response Yes! Yes! I want all the points. I want mine and yours.

Good luck and happy pointing? Tell me what bribes have worked for you.

8 ways we do Catholic at home with the kids

While talking to a dear girlfriend from childhood the other day, the topic of how we teach our kids about the faith came up. Beyond meal prayer, night prayer, and weekly mass. How do we discuss and teach our faith while wiping bottoms, thawing food for dinner, picking up toys, maybe working on alphabets & reading, and calming fervored tantrums? I went to a state university and when I landed at the Catholic law school where I met my former-seminarian husband, I hadn’t been at Catholic school since the sixth grade.

The task of being Catholic in the home had initially seemed like a specific subject to teach. Like table manners. Or reading.

But as my kids grow, and their love and understanding of our faith grows, it is actually way simpler than I thought. If the environment is rich with culturally Catholic items, the kids kinda do it via osmosis. We do it like this.

1) Sacramentals.

We are crawling with saints medals, holy cards, candles, rosaries, crucifixes, icons, incense, you name it. Holy water fonts in bedrooms, holy water to sprizzzle all around the house, and a few precious relics of saints. All those little physical reminders of our faith–many of them blessed. Just seeing them around the house and playing with (some) of them ignites the kids’ cultural Catholicism.

Crucifixes like this one the baby got from his amazing Godparents are a beautiful reminder when I’m telling SuperBoy about how Jesus really suffered so put your sister touching your legos into perspective.

The baby has been dragging this triptych around.

Icons on the walls like this one (our tastes runs way more Eastern than Western) are alllllllll over the house! We even have an icon wall in the kids’ rooms. It’s a great place to take a breather when our cerebral cortex is getting ahead of us and just calm down and talk about the saints’ lives.

2) Toys.

Kids encounter God through their senses. Something as simple as the joy of touching and hugging a felt doll that’s got your patron saint on it. Saintly Silver is the best. I love working with Erin. She’s made a number of dolls for me, including a remotely named saint that I gave her a brief description of and she used that to figure out the right symbolism and we drafted the prayer together! I cannot recommend her highly enough. Go get your kid a saint doll today.

And this lamb that says your prayers with you? My kids are obsessed. They love squeezing her to get the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be out of her. They will even fight to the bite-death for their turn. Real pious.

And what about the ole wooden rosary? My friend Shannon at Organic Mama’s Shop makes a stunning collection of rosaries that are wearable that I have and my kids gnaw and play with. She has a new line of a chewable one for babies. Even better than the wooden beaded ones! She’s kindly offering readers a discount code WHOLECATHOLIC for 20% through September 5 so run on over. She’s also giving away a rosary bracelet down below ||!

3) Coloring & Activity Books.

We’re big fans of Holy Heroes activity books. I asked and they answered: this month you can receive a free Passion of Jesus coloring book with any purchase using the code “wholeparenting”–simply input code at checkout and a coloring book will be put into your package! They often pair activity books with CDs. Best thing ever. I like the looks of this one. They sent over this matching saints game. We are playing it. Minutely. Hourly. (it’s new and on sale right now.)

If you want to go old school, the Treasure Box Tales are so beautifully done, too. I reserve ours for the five year old as the three year old colors like a tornado.

This sticker book for saints for boys has been a wild hit. I need to get this one for SweetPea. They match up stickers to silhouettes and then I read them the blurb about the saint. Easy & educational. My kinda thing.

4) Music and CDs.

This song CD of Catholic Latin Classics songs? Means my three year old belts out TANTUM ERGO whilst earnestly peddling her trike up and down the driveway. In her husky strained voice. It’s adorable and horrifying.

And we start all our weekends and most week days with these Monks of Norcia chanting: BENEDICTA: Marian Chant from Norcia. Not only did we get to meet and host a fundraiser for them, but their voices! It’s been topping the classical music charts. Prepare yourself to feel totally at peace while the kids throw their blueberries on the dog’s back as she toddles around looking blindly for food on the floor.

Stories of the lives of the saints and children praying the rosary? Holy Heroes was kind enough to send these over last year. The kids really have learned a ton about the lives of the saints from listening to this during alleged quiet time. They’ll tell me about it later in the day about how Blessed Imelda died from joy!!!!!!!! 

5) Books.

Books just being around and intermingled in with non-religious books naturally mean we talk about God stuff throughout the day without me having to consciously work God in.

A few we look at all the time: Angel in the Waters; The Saving Name of God the Son; The Weight of the Mass; Picture Book of Saints; and allllll those volumes of paperback saints books. We go for the Saint Joseph’s Baltimore Catechism and this beauty that AA reads to them.

Ignatius Press has a beautiful selection of children’s books via Magnificat Children’s Books and we love the looks of the Missal for Little Ones (web price special), and really like reading My First Catechism which gets gnawed on by the baby and pawed over by the toddler. They were kind enough to send over Tell Me About the Catholic Faith which we are LOVING! {giveaway to one lucky person at the end of all this}.

6) Going to mass and talking about what’s happening before, during, and after.

Yes, we whisper during mass and sit relatively close to the front so the kids can know what’s going on. We try not to disturb people around us but frankly, I’d rather my kids be in the loop even if they’re crying and screaming periodically.

Mass this weekend was really a treat. Everyone cried. The baby had a rare mid-morning blowout.  Everyone had to leave the pew multiple times. There were trips to the bathroom to allegedly “go potty immediately.” But we were there. And we tried.

In the car ride on the way over, we all discuss who we’re going to offer our mass for, and inevitably after mass I always remark, We are so lucky to be able to go to mass freely and receive all those graces. 

7) Playing mass & nun convent at home.

Vocations to the priesthood, nunnery, and religious life are standard fare talk when discussing what they could do when they grow up. My friend Cynthia hand makes these gorgeous vestments. We’re partnering to do a full review & giveaway soon, but in the meanwhile, grab one for your son before the fabric you love is gone.

Stack a few boxes up and you’ve got an altar. Throw a piece of fabric around her face and you’ve got a nun. Basic but so fun for their imaginations.

The kids’ closet is also a convent, apparently. And a monastery. They do this nonnnnnnn stop.

8) Explaining God in terms of love, mercy, and choice.

It’s really sad to me when people tell me they’re recovering from their upbringing replete with “Catholic guilt.” I don’t get it. I mean, it’s certainly valid for them and where they’re coming from, I just haven’t had that feeling. Guilt because I’m not living according to my conscience? Um, yes, absolutely. But something imposed on me from the outside that feels like a conspiracy from Rome to make me feel bad? No, not my experience and hopefully not the experience of raising our children with a particular religious faith either.

We talk about God loving us, wanting us to be close to Him, and finding Him in whatever is true and beautiful. When God is Love, then we must choose to be loving to be near Him. When we choose to be cruel or mean, that’s choosing to be far away from Him. It’s both empowering and edifying for conscience building. Choose God? Choose Love. Choose Love? Choose God.

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Resources? Fav ways to naturally just be Catholic in your home? Fill me in! Did you see Kendra’s post on a similar topic? Or Lacy’s on her curriculum for religious ed that talks about the book we’re giving away?

GIVEAWAY of one of my new banners & Tell Me About the Faith & a Rosary Bracelet from Shannon. Hop on over.

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*I contacted these companies and was glad to receive special concessions for my readers on patronizing their shops* And as always, if you buy through Amazon via me, I get a sliver at no additional cost to you*

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