Thursday, December 31, 2009

Maybe I should change my name for the New Year...

When I started my blog, a little over a year ago, I wanted a really unique, creative name for it. I was unable to come up with anything I thought would really fit it, so I turned to Tim for a suggestion. He came up with "Overflow" and though I never did figure out where he got the idea, I took his suggestion. Of course, like many of my great ideas, it came to me much later that I should have called my blog "Happy Chaos", because that is how I often refer to the busy, tiring, lively atmosphere of our home. Happy Chaos is the most accurate description of my home and my life that I have come up with. Most of my blog posts are an attempt to capture a little of this. With 5 children, a husband who works two jobs, the responsibility of educating, as well as caring for the children, and, of course, all the housework, errands, and unexpected mishaps of life, I am surrounded by chaos constantly but I love my big family and want even our chaos to be happy and joy-filled.
Lately though, there seems to be much more of the chaos part of things than the happy. Lately, "overwhelmed" might be a better title for my blog than "Overflow" because that is how I have felt in recent days. Maybe it is the added stress of the holidays, maybe it is the sleep deprivation that has been building for the last four months as I've been getting up with the baby most nights since her birth in August, maybe it is just my own lack of discipline and organization but life in the last few weeks has ceased to be much fun and is instead a whole lot of work that never seems to be done.
With the New Year looming I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to decrease a little of our chaos and increase a bit of our happiness so that my home might be restored to its former state of joyful bedlam. What I'd like is to hire a housekeeper but since there is no way I'm going to fit that into the's what I have come up with:
1. more discipline. I need a schedule and I need to be disciplined enough to really stick to it.
2. less stuff. We took four big garbage bags of toys to Salvation Army the other day. It was not enough, we need to clean out even more. There is still way too much stuff around my house cluttering up the rooms and overwhelming my mind.
3. more exercise. I have slacked off with my workouts lately and it is showing in my mood and my waistline. Time to get back on track.
4. less time spent playing on the computer. If I took the few minutes here and the few minutes there that I currently spend checking my e-mail or peeking at my Facebook page I would probably have at least a half hour more to devote to doing the dishes or folding the laundry.
5. more prayer. Okay, so this one should have come first, prayer should always come first. In fact, if I can be more consistent about putting prayer first, I will probably be better at accomplishing all the other things on my list.
God knows I need a lot of help if I am really going to make the changes I need to make, in order to be more productive, more peaceful, and more happy in the New Year. In fact, I will willingly accept any prayers you, my devoted (or at least curious) readers, may offer on my behalf as well. With love and gratitude, I thank you and I hopefully anticipate many more happy yet chaotic days to come in 2010!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A life of ease

I spend an awful lot of my time trying to make myself happy. I try to do all the things I want to do and avoid the things I don't want to do. Everything in the world and popular culture tells me this should be the very best way to achieve real lasting happiness. I have noticed, though, that even when I am successful in doing only the things I like to do and getting out of doing all the things I dislike, I am never really as happy as I should be...
For example, I cannot stand to do dishes. I just loath standing at the sink working my way through piles of sticky, soggy, dirty dishes encrusted with such appetizing fare as half-chewed meat, mushy cereal and other equally disgusting yet totally unidentifiable leftovers. Thankfully, I have figured out how to avoid this dreaded job entirely. I have delegated dishes to the kids. It sounds perfect, doesn't it? If the kids do the dishes then first of all I don't have to, second of all, they will learn responsibility and third of all they will be doing their part to help out around the house. Unfortunately, it never seems to work out so perfectly. My four year old is suppose to unload the dishwasher but before he actually does the job he usually spends about ten minutes laying on the floor crying and whining about having to do it. My 8 year old and 11 year old take turns loading the dirty dishes into the dishwasher but they must be nagged repeatedly before they get around to the work. And then they feel the need to argue about whose turn it is every single time they are reminded that the sink is overflowing. Which brings me to yet another problem, the sink is always overflowing. It seems the children can never stay on top of the job because they are so much better at creating dirty dishes than cleaning them. So, though I should be thrilled about never having to face the filthy plates myself, the current "solution" hardly makes me happy. It really would be easier to just do the dishes myself.
In contrast, one thing I love to do is to sleep in. Getting a few extra hours of rest in the morning sounds like the greatest luxury to me. This week, because the kids and I are on our Christmas break and Tim is on vacation from work, I have had the chance to indulge in this oh-so-rare treat. The baby, who just a few weeks ago was sleeping through the night, has completely regressed and is now getting up every few hours again so that makes sleeping in all that much more appealing. This morning I had the opportunity to sleep until 10 am. How wonderful! Except, when I did get up, the kitchen was a total disaster. The overflowing sink was now completely buried under a mass of dishes that overflowed off the edge of the counter. The table had even more dirty dishes scattered all over, sticky spills covered much of the wood finish, and the gallon jug of milk sat spoiling in the midst of it all. The floor too was covered in sticky spots and crushed cereal. It was practically lunch time before I could get myself a little breakfast because it took that long to locate a spoon and clear a spot in the sink to wash it. I guess getting up an hour earlier probably would have made for a happier morning.
My life is full of so many examples like this. Everyday there are opportunities to be disciplined enough to make my life and my house more efficient and organized and so often I miss the opportunities because I am too busy trying to take the easy way out. Yet, always the easy way turns out so much harder and makes me so much less happy. Why, I wonder, does doing what I want make me so miserable and make my life so much more difficult? I guess the real question should be: why can I not see more clearly that doing what God wants me to do is what truly makes me happy even when it requires so much more sacrifice?
I suppose I am just weak, slow to learn, and maybe even a little selfish but, thankfully, God is patient and He will guide me and strengthen me if only I ask. So, I pray, "God help me to rise above my desire for laziness and ease so that I may serve You better and know the joy and peace of doing what is right and good."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My letter to Santa Claus

It has been a lot of years since I last wrote a letter to Santa Claus but this year I think I may do just that. My letter this year will not be like the letters of my childhood, which included long lists of toys and presents I hoped to receive and, of course, my assurance that I had been good enough to deserve them! No, this letter will be a little different.
I suppose I should explain a little. You see, my family is blessed enough to have found the real Santa Claus and to have been photographed with him for the past 12 Christmases. Now I know the real Santa is very busy this time of year but somehow he has found a little time to sneak away from the North Pole to visit sunny Florida. He comes to an upscale shopping district in Tampa, FL known as Hyde Park Village. It is about 45 minutes from our house and we discovered he was there when our oldest child was only three months old. He is real in every way possible. He has real round cheeks, a real round belly, real white curly hair, and a real long white beard. His clothes are not the traditional red suit with a big black belt and big black boots. Instead, he wears a Victorian style long flowing robe , in a deep shade of crimson and lined with fur. He looks exactly like I picture St. Nicholas would look. Everything about him is authentic and beautiful. He smiles cheerily when greeting the children and spends time with each of them. He is genuinely interested in making them feel special. Every year it is one of our most special traditions to make the 45 minute drive to spend just a few minutes with this wonderful man. And every year he is there. Every year we have seen him. Every year we have sat our children on his lap and had them photographed. Every year they have shared with him their hopes and wishes (except, of course, that year or two when each of them were toddlers and terrified to even get near him!) Every year, for the past twelve years, it has been the same man with the same real white beard and infectious smile.
Last year, because he has been so special to us and such a part of our Christmas traditions, I brought along a scrapbook album I have been keeping of just our Santa Claus pictures. Imagine his surprise as he flipped through the book and saw our children, and our family, grow and seeing that he has been such a special part of it all. He was so impressed with the album and had us show it to Mrs. Claus, who was, thankfully, along that afternoon. We talked for a few extra minutes last year just to let him know how much he means to us.
This year, as all seven of us filed into the tiny store front where his big red chair was set up, his eyes lit up in recognition. We all squeezed in for our photograph and the children proceeded to give him their lists. Then he looked at Tim and I, with real tears glistening in the corners of his eyes and told us how special it is to him that we come back every year to see him. He told us we are the only family that he has seen every year and that it means so much to him to see us and watch the children grow. He, then, turned to our oldest daughter, the now tall and lanky eleven year old who first sat on his lap as a tiny bald baby, he took her hands in his and thanked her for coming. His eyes, still moist, looked into hers and he encouraged her to keep believing.
Now, I know that the tradition of Santa Claus is not the holiest way to celebrate the birth of our Lord but I can assure you the spirit of Christmas was never more alive than in that tiny little store front as we shared a few minutes with that beautiful man. He truly made us feel special and I believe we did the same for him. We shared the love of Christ and the joy of the season just by sharing our true gratitude and love for each other.
As it turns out, Santa has a business card. We picked it up and were happy to see he has a local address, only about 45 minutes from the shopping district (in the opposite direction of us). So, I think I may write him a quick letter to really thank him for all that he means to us, to tell him he is in our prayers, and to wish him the very merriest of Christmases. I pray, also, that all of you reading this may be as blessed as we are to truly know the love of Christ, the generosity of others and the joy of the season this year.

Monday, December 7, 2009

My Never-Ending To Do List

Every morning I wake up with a long list of things to do. Every night I go to sleep with an even longer list for the next day. My to do list includes all the necessary things to keep my house running smoothly, such as laundry, mopping the floor, cleaning the bathrooms, grading papers, etc.... I just never seem to get to most of the things on the to do list (though obviously, and amazingly, I did sneak in some time to write this blog. It was written in 3 minute increments over the course of several hours and at least, partially one-handed while nursing the baby, but it did get written!).
The reasons for my lack of productivity are almost as long as my ever-growing list. The main one I suppose is that I am never as disciplined or organized as I should be. Lately, though it is not all my fault. Lately, I seem to spend at least half my time walking around the house singing to the baby, who has been quite fussy the past few days. The baby who is the youngest of five children, is so cute, so sweet, and these days, so demanding! She wants to be held and she does not nap. Now, I cannot complain about sleep because she is pretty much sleeping through the night, which for a child of mine is unheard of at 3 1/2 months old but it would be nice if she would at least snooze for a few minutes during the day.
So, my days lately have consisted of walking a lot of laps around my way-too-messy house with a sometimes cranky, always very snuggly baby, and feeling stressed about all the housework that isn't getting done. As I traipse through the kitchen, singing "Kookaburra" I notice sticky spots on the floor, fifteen cups, all of them half full, on the table, and ungraded spelling tests and math worksheets on the counter... As I move onto the family room, and sing the theme song for "Elmo's World", I take note of the throw pillows all on the floor, legos scattered literally everywhere, and four pairs of shoes and socks kicked off in front of the couch. I can feel my blood pressure rise as I start to sing the alphabet and the baby can obviously tell that it is not meant to be sung through gritted teeth because she starts to fuss all the more. Ahh, the blessing of motherhood.
Today, it finally pushed me right to the edge, which is obviously right where God wanted me to be, because I just decided to surrender. I finally realized that though I had a list a mile long of things I thought should get done, God's list consisted of just one thing, that one thing was just what I was already doing. I looked at the baby and declared out loud, "Okay you win! I guess God doesn't care if I fold the laundry or write out my Christmas cards. I guess His plan for my day is to walk around the house and snuggle with you!"
I am not kidding when I tell you she stopped fussing almost immediately. Maybe this is proof that, as I have suspected all along, she is spoiled rotten and just wanted to know she was going to get her way, or maybe it was because God could see that I had finally learned my lesson, at least for today. My agenda should always be to serve God and do the work He has placed in front of me. It is not easy for me to lay aside my plans but when I do my home is more pleasant and peaceful for everyone in it. And the laundry will still be there to fold tomorrow....

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

All are welcome, the tall and the small

I love the whole Christmas season. I love the time of Advent as we prepare for the birth of Jesus and the many opportunities it provides to spend time together with family and friends.

Several years ago a Protestant friend of mine invited my children and me to join her at her church for a Christmas concert the choir was putting on. Though, my friend had never before attended the annual Christmas concert at her church she had heard that it was a very family friendly event. It sounded like a wonderful evening and I gladly accepted. At the time, she and I had two children each and they were all toddlers. So with the four kids in tow we entered the church to find that we were the only ones with children at the event. Still, being a cradle Catholic and used to having children, sometimes lots of children, around during any and all church functions I did not think much of it. The Pastor's wife apparently did. It seems at their church children were not a part of their worship time. Children went to Sunday school during their church services and this concert was, in fact, not really a family event after all. The adults who had gathered to listen to the beautiful Christmas music were not expecting to have four giggling, screeching children as the background singers. We were encouraged, within minutes of our arrival, to please put our children in the nursery. We dutifully gathered them up and set off only to find the nursery room dark and locked up with no nursery attendant anywhere to be found. After letting the children run around on the church walkways for a little while we put them back into their car seats and set off for home. Though I could certainly understand that the concert was much more enjoyable without the children there, I remember thinking how sad it was that the kids were not welcome in the church.

This past Sunday our own church announced that they would be having an Advent prayer service followed by a pot luck dinner on Dec. 1st. It sounded so wonderful, as I had been really hoping to have a spirit filled, prayerful time of preparation for Christmas this year. Of course, Tim and I now have five children of our own and though they are not all toddlers, they are very energetic and full of youthful exuberance. In contrast, our parish, being in Florida after all, is primarily retirees and elderly people. We realized and fully expected that if we attended, Tim and I were likely to be younger than all the other worshipers. Still we really wanted to go and share in the prayer time and furthermore, we wanted to participate as a family. And so, despite our reservations, we packed the children up and set off, optimistically toting our steaming hot pot luck dish along with us. Before going into the church, we dropped off our pot luck offering in the parish hall which had several elderly people milling around. Our boys, who are 4 and 8 years old, immediately started to run, weaving between the tables which were beautifully decorated in purple tablecloths with candles glowing in the centers. So far, it wasn't looking like it was going to be the peaceful, prayerful evening I was hoping for. Nevertheless we went into the church which was dark, quiet and filled with the scent of burning incense. We took a seat not far from the cry room, anticipating that we would end up there in short order. As I looked around the church I noted that we were one of only a few families there, and the only one with five small children along. Almost immediately a women got up and approached me from the end of our pew. "My name is Sister Deborah," she said, " I just want to let you know that if your baby fusses do not worry about leaving, it is music to God's ears."

Now, I probably don't have to even tell you how the rest of the evening went. My heart was filled with such joy to be so blessed to be a part of the Catholic church, a church that encourages big families and supports and welcomes us all. The children, though not perfect, were fairly well behaved and the baby made only happy little cooing sounds but I suspect I would have enjoyed the evening just as much had they been less than pleasant. I appreciated the fact that we were all there together and that each and every one of us was welcome there. I could feel that our beautiful Church was overflowing with the love of Christ, alive in the tabernacle and in hearts of all those around us. What better way to celebrate this joyous time of year.


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