Sunday, December 26, 2010

Life in a family

Today is the feast of the Holy Family.  The day we celebrate and honor Jesus’ family.  I have been thinking a lot about family lately.  About my own family, and our extended family and how while some relationships within our family are wonderful, loving, and close, others are strained, awkward, and full of tension.  The homily at Mass this morning was all about family and was so good I wished I could tape record it to listen to over and over.  The priest spoke about how we all come from a family and even our Lord Jesus came from a family.  How our families are so important and how they should be a source of faith, love, and peace.  He also admitted that families are not always what they should be, and sometimes are not so faith-filled, loving, and peaceful.  It seemed every word out of his mouth this morning mirrored the thoughts that have been swirling around in my mind for the last week or so. 
    Christmas is such a beautiful time for families and my own childhood Christmas memories are filled with scenes of family all around.  We would always make the trip to visit our extended family though they were far away.  We would celebrate Jesus’ birth with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.  My grandparents' house would be filled with laughter, talking, and gifts spilling out from under the tree, stacked high waiting to be given in love.  We would gather around the table and share a Christmas feast with all those to whom we were bound in love surrounding us.  My big, extended family growing up was not perfect, of course.  The adults often had differences of opinions.  The children, cousins and siblings alike, had disagreements and feelings were hurt.  But, we were family and though things were not perfect there was always love enough for everyone and, always, that connection to each other.  We may have argued but we also forgave.  We may have disagreed but we cared enough to get past it.  Maybe because I grew up with a strong connection to my extended family, family has always been very important to me.  I knew, growing up, that I was a part of something bigger than my own immediate family.  I knew that, though they lived far away and we did not see them as much as we would have liked, I had a whole, big family who loved and cared for me. 
    It is so important for children to grow up in a family.  Important enough that even our Lord was born into a family.  Even Jesus grew up with the love of his grandparents (Sts. Joachim and Anne), cousins, and (obviously) aunts and uncles.  He grew up with the love and support of extended family because, as our perfect example, He knew that we all need a connection to our family to know who we are, who we belong to, and where we have come from.     
    My own children do not have as many opportunities to be surrounded by extended family as I wish they did.  In some instances, it is only because of physical distance.  In others, it is because of emotional distance and tension between the adults involved.  I wish that it could be different.  I wish my children could see the cousins they love and adore more often.  I wish they could see their loving aunts and uncles more.  I wish they knew the love of all their extended family and could see, with everyone all together, that they, too, are part of a whole, big family. 
    But, as the wise and holy priest at church this morning said, families are not always just as they should be.  Ours is not always what it should be or what I would like it to be but even with our imperfections, my children know they are loved.  Though our extended family is not perfect, I am grateful, for what my children do have.  They know the love of their grandparents.   The aunts and uncles they do get to see are always kind, caring, and generous to them.  They love their cousins and keep in touch with most of them through the internet (the kids love Skype) and occasional phone calls and, when we can work it out, wonderful, fun filled, memory-making visits.  They have even had the chance to meet many of their great aunts and uncles and to build a close, loving relationship with their great grandmother.  And, of course, they always have me and Tim, and each other, to shower them and surround them with love and affection.  We do not get to choose our family.  Ours is certainly not perfect in every way but I pray the strained relationships will one day be close and loving.  And in the meantime, I am grateful that my children are growing up connected to so many of the people who love them completely and unconditionally.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Final Countdown

    The last few days of Advent are upon us!  I am not sure where all the time has gone but in just days it will be Christmas at last.  At our house, the shopping is *almost* done.  The Christmas cookies are made.  The cards (yes, I did reconsider and send out a few) are “signed”, sealed, and delivered.  The Advent candles are almost down to nothing.  Visions of sugarplums are already forming the minds of my little ones.  Tonight night we will attend the Reconciliation service at Church and then, the only thing left to do will be to wait.  As a child, the waiting was always the best and worst part of Christmas for me.  I loved the feeling of anticipation during Advent and all the special things we would do to get ready for Christmas but it always seemed to last so very long.
    My mom would do everything she could to stretch out the waiting even once Christmas morning arrived.   I am not sure if it was the mounting excitement that she knew came with the anticipation or if she was just taking the opportunity to teach us a little patience.  She claims she really and truly wanted to make it last as long as she could because she knew it was all so magical and special for us.  Whatever the reason, she would make us all wait for her and my dad to get up before we could even go downstairs to see our presents.  The four of us kids would all line up at the top of the stairs after waking our parents and wait….. for what seemed like f-o-r-e-v-e-r.... for them to get out of bed and join us for the walk down the steps to the living room to see what Santa had brought.  As we waited, my sisters and I would sit and wonder what might be awaiting us but my brother would inevitably get too excited to sit still and would dart down the steps for a quick peek before mom and dad emerged from their room to catch him.    Finally, after descending the stairs as a family, we would be allowed to open our stockings and see what gifts were there but we could not open anything under the tree until after our parents got their coffee and settled themselves on the couch to watch the unwrapping.   The coffee always seemed to take longer to brew on Christmas morning as we eyed our gifts so eager to see what they contained.  Even then, after all that stalling, we were not allowed to just dive in and start tearing off paper haphazardly.  We would take turns.  One child opening one gift at a time, around the circle, so we could all watch and see what treasures our siblings received, and they could see what ours were as well.  It would take hours but how wonderful my memories are of those Christmas mornings spent all together around the tree sharing our presents and our joy with each other.
    I appreciate all the waiting now that I am grown.  I can see that that is what Advent is all about.  It is about waiting, as Mary and Joseph waited.  They waited to welcome their baby, they waited to see what God had planned for them next, they waited to see how His plan would unfold in their lives.  They waited for their journey to Bethlehem to come to an end. They waited for a place to stay, patiently enduring the doors of inn after inn being shut in their faces.  Much of the Christmas story is about waiting.  And, about anticipation.  And, about trusting along the way, growing closer to God as we prepare, like Mary and Joseph prepared, for the coming of our Lord.
    Like my mother, I will try to encourage my children to wait, to anticipate, to look forward, not only to the wonder of presents on Christmas morning but, ultimately, to the joy of welcoming Christ.  I wish you happy waiting, joyful anticipation, and…. finally a merry, merry Christmas.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"So, who do you think is after St. Joseph?"

As part of our Advent prayers every night we pray the Divine Praises. 
Divine Praises
Blessed be God
Blessed be His Holy Name
Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true man
Blessed be the name of Jesus
Blessed be His Most Sacred Heart
Blessed be Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar
Blessed be the Holy Spirit , the Paraclete
Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most holy
Blessed be her holy and Immaculate Conception
Blessed be her glorious Assumption
Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother
Blessed be St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse
Blessed be God in His angels and in His saints
May the heart of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored and loved with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the tabernacles of the world, even to the end of time. Amen
What a beautiful prayer rejoicing in the goodness and holiness of the Lord.  It does include a few “big” words that I thought might give my children a little trouble though.  I was afraid someone might say, “Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the parachute“, instead of the Paraclete, but that never happened.  Surprisingly, they’ve all pronounced each word correctly and prayed very nicely along with Tim and I.  The other day, though, Tim overheard our 5 year old and 7 year old talking about the Holy Family and wondering why St. Joseph was “chased” so much.  Blessed be little children in their simplicity and innocence.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas cards- a thing of the past

    We haven’t gotten many Christmas cards this year.  We, actually are not sending them either- I think Facebook, and the “connections” we make there have convinced people that once a year communication through Christmas cards is no longer so meaningful, or maybe it is the cost of sending all those cards all over the country.  For us, it was a combination of the two things….  Despite the fact that we aren’t sending them, I still really enjoy receiving Christmas cards.  I was looking at the few cards we did receive and smiling at the smiling faces pictured on them.  I loved the picture from our friends who welcomed their third child this year, a baby girl to join their two boys.  And, the picture from our friends who had their second child two days before we had our fifth.  Their son, who last year was a tiny baby, is now a toddler sitting big and proud on his mommy’s lap in the picture.  It is amazing how quickly time flies, a fact that always seems to hit me hard on my children’s birthdays.  It hit me pretty hard again this morning, looking at my Christmas cards and realizing that, like my friends’ children, my children are growing and changing so quickly.
    It was just last year that our Christmas card picture included a tiny, little infant sleeping in festive red p.j.’s.  This year, getting her to sit still long enough for a picture is a monumental feat.  It was two short years ago that, just days before Christmas, we found out she was coming and announced to her sisters and brothers on Christmas Eve that the best gift would be coming in nine months.  Now, of course, she is here and enjoying the wonder of the holidays like only a toddler can.  She is fascinated by it all.  The candles on the Advent wreath that she loves to “foof” at reminding us that the real purpose of candles is to blow them out (or so say her siblings who get an incredible thrill in the blowing out of candles).  The tree glittering brightly in the family room, full of amazing new “toys” that she desperately wants to get her hands on.  The Christmas cookies we have been making for the last week, and especially licking the spatula after mommy is done mixing with it.  She has had a perpetual chocolate moustache for a week now.  Next weekend, we will visit Santa for pictures and then, of course, there are all the gifts that are coming on Christmas morning.
    What joy our little one has brought to our Advent preparations.  My older children have stopped believing in all the magic of the season but through their baby sister are able to experience and enjoy a new sort of magic- the pure delight of her youth and the awe in her little eyes.  All of the sudden the traditions they have known all their lives are a new and special experience as they share them with the little sister they all adore.  We took them out to see some of the more spectacular Christmas lights displays in the area the other evening and the older kids had such a great time pointing out all the beautiful decorations to the baby.  “Look at the light up duckies,” they screeched.  “Do you see cute little seals in the front yard?”  they asked excitedly as she took it all in completely expressionless.  Even our five year old, who still firmly believes in all the magic is enjoying sharing it with his little sister.  He has explained how Santa works to her.  How she must behave if she wants toys on Christmas morning and how Santa will deliver them only if she is sleeping.
    Though we were sure not sending Christmas cards this year was the right decision, I am starting to reconsider now.  What a beautiful moment in time they capture.  A moment that will be just a memory before we know it…

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Learn at your own risk

    I heard about a blog hop sharing “Helpful Homeschool Hints” at .  I was so excited to participate after seeing that the theme was “project days“.  We have had a lot of really fun, educational project days at our house and always enjoy the break from our schedule to try out a little extra hands on learning.  Many of our project days have been inspired by my oldest daughter’s interest in pioneers.  After reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, she decided she wanted to be a pioneer.  She loved the clothes they wore and the do-it-yourself life they lived.   She wanted to make things from scratch like they did back in Laura’s time.  I loved the idea of do-it-yourself too, but after living my life in modern times with all sorts of conveniences at my disposal, I wasn’t quite as adventurous or pioneering as the pioneers were.  We improvised a little. 
    We made candles, but not exactly like they did in pioneer days.  Instead of dipping them from hot burning tallow that we obtained from the fat of slaughtered animals, I bought a pack of “emergency” candles from the dollar store, melted them down on the stove with a few old crayon bits to add color and poured it all into cleaned out cardboard containers with the wicks from the original candles in the middle.    They turned out pretty cute and my daughter was pleased with the experience of helping peel crayons, carefully putting them into the pot, and then tearing the cardboard apart when the candles were hardened and cooled.
    Then I found a “recipe” for soap crayons using bars of soap grated into pieces, moistened slightly, tinted with a few drops of food coloring, and then re-formed into crayon shapes.  We all enjoyed this project though it turned out to be much messier than one would have thought considering we were working with soap.  The soap crayons ended up crumbling into pieces before we ever got the chance to try them out, but the project was still fun.  We also made our own recycled paper from old, used pieces of coloring book pages and printer paper, and our blender.  Tim teased me about making soap out of soap, candles out of candles and paper out of paper.  I guess I do not get many points for originality.  And clearly, I was not cut out to be a pioneer. 
    Then, we had the opportunity to attend a class to learn to make your own soap.  My mom invited us to it and we eagerly awaited the experience of real do-it-yourself soap making, like the pioneers did it.  The class was offered by a friend of a friend of my mother’s, a woman who regularly made her own soap from scratch.  We would start with lye and ash and end up with real soap.  The class was just what my daughter and I always wanted, a chance to try out an old fashioned pioneer “art” for her, and an experienced expert to guide us along the way for me.  Making a girls’ day of it, with my mom made it sound all the more fun.  We walked into the room and saw tables set up with recipes, scales and  assorted little bottles.  The little bottles held essential oils used for adding fragrance to the soaps and the recipes had everything from hand soap to laundry soap to shampoo and even some bath fizzies.  The teacher began by warning us about the dangers of using lye and then proceeded to arm herself with oven mitts on her hands, scarves around her mouth and nose, and an apron to protect her clothes.  She assured us it was all just a safety precaution, that she had never had any sort of incident but always protected herself just in case.  She went outside with her pot of lye and a big spoon and we watch from the window as she measured things out and mixed them together.  A huge cloud of black smoke rose up as the solution bubbled over the pot and our instructor came running back into the room to avoid noxious fumes.  She had measured wrong and ended up adding way too much dangerous lye, burning through a metal pot, dissolving her spoon entirely and scorching the sidewalk, probably permanently.  The rest of the day, thankfully was uneventful and we did end up with two successful batches of soap, the laundry and hand soap.  The shampoo, which was the batch that went so dangerously wrong, would not have been safe for use on our hair unless we wanted to look like human matches, flaming at the top. 
    Despite the surprises it was one of our most fun and educational project days.  Here are just a few of the many lessons we learned…  First, making soap is dangerous and despite Tim’s teasing I think I made the right decision in taking the safe way out at my own house.  Second, even in the hands of experienced experts chemistry can have some pretty explosive results.  And third, we should all be grateful that though we may have the option to do-it-ourselves, we can also choose to just buy a nice, safe bar of Ivory soap from our neighborhood Wal-Mart.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Missing Mother

    Nothing frustrates me more than losing things.  Lots and lots of things frustrate me.  Whining toddlers, getting stuck behind slow people in traffic, that game that my children play where they repeat everything they hear. “Stop copying me!”,  “Stop copying me!”, “I mean it, stop now!”, “I mean it, stop now!”   It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it.  But losing things makes my blood boil like nothing else in life.  I remember one time when I was about 17, I lost my wallet.  It had in it my driver’s license and whatever little amount of money I had to my name and I could not find it anywhere.  I remember looking everywhere, turning the whole house upside down, completely baffled as to where it could be.  After searching high and low, I was so irritated and upset I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t even see straight.  The wallet finally turned up in the basement, though I never could remember taking it down there. 
    I lost my keys for several months a few years ago.  I had spent the day with my grandmother, who had just bought a furnished double-wide mobile home about an hour north of us.  When I came home with the (then) four kids and all the stuff they had brought along to play with, and all the various things Nana had sent home with us, I spent a few moments putting everything away to avoid leaving the mess of junk at the front door.  Somehow in the midst of all the stuff my keys disappeared.  I could not find them anywhere and, of course, the expensive electronic locking/unlocking thing that comes with all keys these days was missing along with the rest of the key ring.  We could not afford to replace that.  Talk about frustration.  I ended up using Tim’s set of keys to the minivan and finding a spare house key to make do with, giving up entirely on ever finding my keys.  Then one day, literally months later, I pulled out of the closet a set of sheets that Nana had given us because they were twin bed size and she had no twin beds in her house, and low and behold there were the lost keys all folded up inside. 
    This morning, I woke up and sat down on the couch to snuggle with the baby for a few minutes to enjoy the beauty of the Christmas tree.  I was sitting for about 30 seconds when I realized one of the ornaments was missing.  The baby has been stealing ornaments, rearranging ornaments, and tasting ornaments since we put the tree up over the weekend so the fact that one was out of place should not have been even noticeable much less surprising.  This was a special ornament though, purposely placed in the center of the tree, up much too high for little hands to reach.  It was one of a set of three, hand-painted by my mother, ornaments from my childhood that depict the Holy Family.  There on the tree was baby Jesus all wrapped in His swaddling clothes and next to Him, St. Joseph all dressed in brown with his hands folded in prayer and on the other side… just an empty branch.  The Blessed Virgin Mary was missing!  And on the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  I searched under the tree, sure the ornament had just fallen off somehow.  No Blessed Mother.  I searched in the tree, peeking through the branches.  No Blessed Mother.  I searched around the tree and looked at every branch in case she had been relocated, though I could not, for the life of me, figure out who would have done that.   No Blessed Mother.   With the kids help, I searched through all our library books, through all our Christmas books, through the overflowing “Pack n’ Play” that has become our toy box, through the hall closet, and under all the couches and chairs.  Still no Blessed Mother.  At this point, I was bordering on frantic.  How could we lose Mary?  And especially this Mary, that had been a part of Christmas since as long as I could remember.   I prayed, and asked the kids to pray, to St. Anthony, who is the patron saint of lost things.  I was at a loss and kept picturing Mary accidentally tumbling off the tree and being picked up by the baby when no one was looking, only to be deposited in the trash can or some strange place we’d never think to look.  Then, finally, my oldest daughter put her hand into the branches of the tree and pulled out Mary, unscathed and holy and peaceful as always.  I don’t know how I missed her in my crazy searching but thankfully she was back and hung again lovingly on the branch next to her baby and husband.  All was well again. 
    Since then we have lost a math book and a sippy cup full of milk, but I am trying not to let that frustrate me.  As long as we know where to find Our Lady and Our Lord, we are doing just fine.   Nothing else really matters in life, and the milk, at least, is sure to turn up eventually…

Friday, December 3, 2010

The most wonderful time of the year

    It is a great time to be Catholic.  Here we are, having just celebrated the feast of Christ the King and the beginning of the new liturgical year with the first Sunday of Advent.  Now we can look forward with anticipation to next week when we will remember the generosity of St. Nicholas with gifts in our shoes, honor Mary on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception by attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and continue our preparations for Christmas, which is only weeks away. 
    In our house we are enjoying our nightly Advent prayer service.  After dinner we dim the lights and light the first purple candle on our Advent wreath.  This year, for the first time, we bought some incense sticks from Wal-Mart and are including that with our prayer time also.  The quiet room, with the children’s faces glowing and their eyes sparkling in the flickering candlelight, is bathed in peacefulness as we watch the smoke of the incense curling up towards heaven and smell the scent of Church at our own kitchen table.  We listen to a beautiful rendition of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” and pray our Advent prayers followed by the Divine Praises.  The children take turns leading the prayers.  This time truly feels reverent and sacred as we pray together as a family.   Of course, as soon as prayers are over the children all argue over who is going to blow out the candle but at least we have a few moments of peace and prayer each evening. 
    Our school projects reflect the season and this joyful time of waiting too.  We started our Jesse tree this week.  It sits in the middle of our school table and creates quite a focal point, reminding us what we need to focus on as we spend time studying the “family” tree of Jesus and the history of salvation leading up to His birth.  Each day this week we have started our school days with the Jesse Tree scripture passage of the day and the corresponding ornament for the tree.  The kids love coloring the ornaments and hanging them on the tree and it gives us a little something special to look forward to as we continue to school through these first few weeks of December. 
    This weekend we will put up our Christmas tree and all our decorations, including our beloved nativities.  We have been collecting nativities for years now, giving the kids a new one to open every Christmas Eve.  We are up to about 20 beautiful crèches and my goal is to have them everywhere you look in my house at Christmas time.  Considering my house is not that big we are almost there.  Even without our decorations adorning the house, I find myself with little glimmers of that magical Christmas feeling in my heart. Still, I am very eagerly anticipating being surrounded by our scenes of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds and wise men all waiting in the stable for baby Jesus to arrive. 
    What joy this season provides.  It is truly a time of preparation and anticipation in our Church and in our home.  And the miracle of God’s love is all around us.  This would be the perfect time of year if only I could feel some love and peace while standing in endless lines at the store…

Monday, November 29, 2010

I AM doing enough!

    Did you ever read one of those home school articles that make it seem like all home school students are geniuses?  You know the ones that present all home schooled children as multi-lingual, classical music loving, spelling bee winning, perfectly well-behaved angels?  And all home school mothers as organized, patient, supermoms who bake home made bread, sew their own clothes, and grow gardens with fresh vegetables to serve their families for dinner every night.  I hate those kind of articles.  Instead of inspiring me to do better they always leave me feeling incredibly insecure and inadequate.  The reality of my home school experience is nothing like that.  The only foreign language I have attempted to teach is Latin and my kids and I have started our Latin program four years in a row and have yet to get all the way through one year of it.  We listen to classical music once in a while but usually prefer the Christian station or country music.  My sons spell okay but my girls’ spelling is atrocious.  And, if you’ve read my blog before you know, their behavior is not quite perfect... yet.  As for me, I am completely unorganized most days, I struggle to be patient but find myself taking a lot of deep breaths and even needing time outs at times (for me, not necessarily the kids).  I actually do like baking bread from scratch but have never sewn my own clothes, and cannot keep a plant alive to save my life.  I just don’t measure up to those perfect home school articles.  I never have. 
    After receiving an unexpected free copy of a home school magazine over the weekend, I excitedly flipped through hoping for some practical advice or inspiration.  It had a few of those articles in it though.  Instead of being inspired, I was left feeling like I’ll never do enough because I could be, should be, doing so much more.  I was discouraged about the whole thing and went to my computer looking for a pick-me-up.  I searched for “home schooling- not feeling like I do enough” thinking there must be others out there like me, imperfect, unorganized but still trying to do the best I can with my kids.  As it turns out, there are.  I found this blog post over at “Guilt-free Homeschooling” with a quiz that addresses my very concerns.  Am I doing enough?  Are my kids learning enough?  Are they well adjusted, properly educated, socialized?  I loved the quiz.  It made sense.  It wasn’t about whether or not we have finished our Latin program, or whether or not the kids know all about the circulatory system.  It was about whether or not they are learning to learn.  And, as it turns out, I am doing fine.  They are doing fine.  If you, like me, home school your children and find yourself questioning yourself.  Check it out.  Take the quiz.  Even if the results are not exactly what you hoped for at least it should give you a reference point to start from.  And rest assured, you are not alone in your worries, many, many days I am right there with you.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

An unhealthy obsession

    It all started innocently enough, when I got the mail one day.  I rifled through the usual stack of junk mail and the baby, being the curious toddler she is, wanted to see too.   I came across a political ad with adorable little ducklings on it, and absent-mindedly handed it to the baby to keep her happy.  “It has little baby duckies on it,” I told her, “quack, quack, quack- little baby duckies.”  Then I went back to sorting and reading the mail.   While I was innocently reading my mail a love affair was conspiring next to me.  Staring at those cute little ducklings, baby fell in love and she carried that bit of junk mail around with her the rest of the day.  Every once in a while she would proudly hold it up to me showing me the picture again and I would repeat, “quack, quack, quack- little baby duckies,”  and my sweet little baby would grin from ear to ear and look again at her precious junk mail.  After a few times of her showing off her “treasure” and me quacking for her, she caught on and started quacking herself.   She showed her sisters her mail and quacked for them.  She showed her brothers her mail and quacked for them.  When Tim came home she showed her daddy her mail and quacked for him.
    The duckling junk mail stayed around our kitchen for weeks- long past the election because those cute little baby duckies made our cute little baby so happy.  The ducky obsession has gotten a little out of control in recent weeks however….  With the help of her siblings she started noticing duckies everywhere, and everywhere she saw them, she quacked.  She quacked at ducky bath toys, and she quacked at ducky board books.  She quacked at ducky billboards, and little ducky t-shirts.  The rest of the family has aided and abetted this little addiction of baby’s and  we have provided unending opportunities for quacking.  We borrowed The Million Dollar Duck movie after it caught her eye on the library shelf causing her to disturb the peaceful, tranquil atmosphere of the library with her loud, excited quacking.  The movie, of course, offered her an hour and a half of uninterrupted quacking joy when we watched it at home that evening.   The older children have scoured the picture book section of the library looking for any and all duck books to check out for baby’s quacking pleasure, as well.  We have searched the internet for ducky songs, ducky videos, and ducky websites just to see that priceless smile and hear the inevitable quacking that always accompanies it.  It has definitely gotten out of hand.  Baby now quacks at other birds too.  She quacks at sea gulls.  She quacks at penguins.  She quacks at pelicans.  In fact, anything with feathers makes her quack.  At church she quacks at the picture of Noah’s ark in her children’s Bible, at dinner she quacks at the picture of birds on her sippy cup, at stores she quacks at birds I don’t even see.   I am afraid she has crossed a line and a ducky intervention may be needed.  Her fascination with ducklings no longer seems reasonable or healthy.  So for her own good we will be going “cold turkey” on the quacking-- unfortunately I fear it won’t be easy for any of us. Those baby duckies are just so darn cute and quacking can be a hard habit to break…

Saturday, November 20, 2010

While the cat is away...

    A few months before I started home schooling Tim got a job that allowed him to work from home.  He turned a small space in our bedroom into his home office and I turned our guest bedroom into a classroom.  It worked out really well.  I actually loved it.  I loved home schooling and having the kids with me all day and I loved having Tim just down the hall doing his work without leaving home.  I loved that at lunchtime Tim would come out and join us while we ate. I loved that when things went well with his work, (he was just starting out as a financial advisor, studying for his licenses and then trying to build a client base) he would come out and we would celebrate his successes together.   I loved that our week started out together and ended together.  I loved that we were together all the time in between.  On Tuesday afternoon at 3 pm we were all home together.  On Wednesday at 11 am we were all home together. It was cozy and comforting and after years of Tim rushing off to work and me dropping our oldest off to school, life was really family-centered.
    Over the years things have changed, of course.  Tim no longer works from the bedroom and I have had to move our classroom out of the spare bedroom to make room for our fifth child but I still prefer to have all my family home with me, if I can.  This weekend, Tim is taking his youth group kids on a homeless retreat.  It sounds like a very cool opportunity to learn about what life is really like for the homeless by eating next to nothing and sleeping in a field with little to no comforts.  It will, I’m sure, be an eye opening weekend for them all.  But, with Tim being gone over night, I am left home to worry.  I don’t know how other women do it when their husband travel regularly.  I really don’t like it when Tim is gone, even for just one night.  It doesn’t seem right to say our bedtime prayers without him.  It doesn’t feel right to climb into bed or to wake up the next morning without him here. 
    As much as I dread Tim’s business trips, which thankfully have been few and far between in our married life, I try to make the best of it.  The kids and I are having a party without him this weekend.  I bought us frozen pizzas, and slice and bake cookies, and borrowed a few movies from the library.  So, while Tim is not sleeping on the hard, cold ground with an empty belly and nothing but the stars overhead, the kids and I will put on our p.j.’s, eat our pizza, and snuggle in front of the t.v. to watch our movies.  I guess it seems silly that I was the one dreading this weekend.  I am pretty sure I got the better deal this time around…but it still would have been way more fun with him here!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Making holidays a true celebration

    With the holidays right around the corner I find myself thinking about celebrations and how in my experience it is so easy to make it through the entire holiday season without ever really celebrating anything.  I have many memories of Thanksgivings where the day was more about going through the motions than about truly celebrating anything.  I think about the traditions and values of our culture and they all seem to be centered around food and material objects and seem to overlook the beauty of true celebration.  The dictionary definition of celebrate is “to observe a day or event with ceremonies of respect, festivity, or rejoicing.”  A second definition says, “To extol or to praise.”  So, according to the dictionary the meaning of the word celebrate is to rejoice.  To honor the day with festivity.  To praise, which, of course, means worshiping and adoring God and admiring His goodness that is all around us each and every day.  Celebrate does not mean spending the morning in the kitchen cooking up a storm, and then the evening in front of a sink full of dishes with little more than football games and a lovely meal in between.  Yet, many of my more recent Thanksgiving holidays have been just that.  This year I find myself yearning to celebrate.  To delight in the blessings the Lord has given me over the last year.  To fill the day with festivity and rejoicing and not just enjoying a nice meal and then packing up the leftovers with little thought as to what it is all about.  In America, it is so easy to take things for granted.  A nice, hot meal is not a luxury or a treat but an everyday occurrence.  A day of relaxation with time to watch television all afternoon is commonplace, really.  Maybe that is why, even on holidays, things don’t always feel very festive.  Things don’t seem very different.  The day isn’t necessarily joyful.  This year I want to really celebrate my gratitude.  I want to rejoice and delight in God’s love in my life and the blessing of my family and friends.
    The very first Thanksgiving was a true celebration.  A day, a few days actually, of games, dancing, feasts, and visiting.  A time of prayer and praise and joy.  Celebration itself makes us thankful.  Rejoicing fills our hearts with gratitude and helps us to really see God’s goodness around us.  Celebration opens our hearts to share with others all that we have and makes us happy and peaceful and grace-filled.  The first Pilgrims and their Indian friends knew that.  They understood real celebration and their day of Thanksgiving flowed from hearts that were bursting with gratitude, joy, and praise.  Rather than be complacent and just “go through the motions” this Thanksgiving, I want my heart to burst with gratitude, joy, and praise as well.  I want to dance with my children, kiss my husband, savor each bite of our feast, and shout with joy in my heart to God that I do see all that He has done and it is good.    I pray that you, too, will be celebrating with your loved ones and that your heart will be filled to overflowing with love and gratitude like mine.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A very sad day

    Our turtle died today.  I thought about writing a cute little obituary for him but decided that it would be insensitive of me to make light of it since my son is heart broken over the loss.  Instead I will write about the life of our beloved pet, Greenleaf Cinco De Julio Turtleton. 
    My son, who is now nine years old, received $20 from his great-grandmother on his fifth birthday.  He told me he wanted to buy a racecar track with the money.  I took him to Toys R Us and watched as he compared all the race tracks and agonized over the decision.  He finally picked one out and we headed to the check out but as we waited in line he wanted to know if he would get any cash back from his purchase.  I told him he would not and he promptly changed his mind about the race track.  About a week later, he informed me that he wanted a pet turtle and so, this time as a family, we went out shopping with the birthday money once again.  At the pet store, he beamed as he was handed the little plastic bag with the quarter sized turtle inside and he did not balk at all at spending his whole $20, once the plastic home and food were added in.  He took one look at his adorable, little turtle and declared that his name would be Greenleaf.  We had discussed many, many names but Greenleaf hadn’t been one of them.  Nevertheless, Greenleaf was his name (all the middle names were added to appease other members of the family).  We brought him home and settled him into a ten gallon fish tank, saving the little plastic home for a temporary holding place during tank cleanings, in our backyard sun porch.  We all enjoyed watching him swim and showing him off to our friends.  The kids drew pictures of him and for him, taping artwork to his tank so he could see it from inside.  He loved to swim, balance bubbles on his nose, and rest on his “island” of little rocks.  He ordinarily ate turtle food from a can but preferred fresh fish which we found out after my son caught a couple minnows in a creek and shared them with his pet.  We were shocked to find out that our normally calm, quiet Greenleaf had a bit of a wild streak in him.  He tore the fishes’ heads off and gobbled them up in pieces.  That might have been his coolest accomplishment in life.  Unless you count the time he won the race between the Tortoise and the Hare.  We set up a race track and pitted him against my son’s stuffed bunny and, of course, Greenleaf, who though he was a turtle was remarkably fast, scrambled quickly to the finish line leaving the poor bunny still stuck at the starting line looking baffled.  Greenleaf weathered four winters, the first few I worried about him freezing to death and so brought him inside but we later found out that though he was much less active in the cold months he was a hearty little turtle and could take the cooler temperatures just fine.  He, of course, liked the sunny Florida summers best when we could soak up the heat from his island or paddle happily in circles around his tank.
     I know it sounds silly but he really will be missed and my son was not the only one to shed a few tears as we buried him in the backyard this afternoon.  We don’t believe there is a turtle heaven for him to swim happily in for eternity but we are thankful and comforted that he had a happy turtle life and he was loved.     

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In the middle

        Growing up I was the middle child in my family.  I mean, technically because their were four of us, I was not exactly the middle child.  I was third and mathematically speaking there was no actual middle but I always felt like the middle child.  I was not one of the oldest so I felt left out by my two sisters.  I was not the youngest.  My younger brother, the only boy in our family, had that honor.  So, at least emotionally speaking, I was the real middle child.  And my behavior and self esteem reflected that in every way.  I was sensitive, cried easily and was teased by my siblings all the time.
    Now I am all grown up.  I do not cry very often (at least not because of things my siblings do or say to me).  I have not been teased much lately unless you count Tim’s silly flirtatious joking, which though it is teasing, is flattering and enjoyable.  Now instead of being one of the kids, I am the mother.
    Of all my children only one looks just like me, my seven and a half year old daughter.  My middle child.  She has inherited not only my dark curly hair and brown eyes but also my middle child status and my sensitivity.  I am very strict about not allowing any teasing in my house, but somehow it happens anyway.  And being the middle child, and the most sensitive, my little look-a-like tends to be the victim.  She may be sensitive but she is also feisty and has held her own around here pretty well up to now.  Lately, though, she seems to be struggling a little more.  She seems to be more easily frustrated, more easily provoked.   It just isn’t easy to be the middle child.  I know.  I still remember.
    I have been a lot more aware of her struggles lately.  I have been watching her while she interacts with her siblings and friends and I see so much of me in her.  I see her trying so hard.  Trying to fit in, trying to get attention, trying to feel special.  I see her trying to mother her baby sister, who clearly prefers big sister #1 if mommy is not around.  I see her getting frustrated with school when she watches her older brother do his work effortlessly as she struggles to master her spelling words and tries to read chapter books that she is just not quite ready for.   I see her enviously watching her little brother as we cheer for his reading successes, which consist of about 7 page Hooked on Phonics books.  I can see that she feels like she is in the shadow of her talented older siblings who get all the privileges and her super cute younger siblings who are praised just because they are little.    
     So, how does a sympathetic mother make the middle child see what a beautiful and special little girl she is?  Amazingly, it is not so hard.  I have noticed, as I watch her with the other kids, that she, herself, shines with even the smallest amount of praise and attention.  A note from daddy telling her she is a great kid.  A hug from mommy when she finally aces a spelling test.  An invitation  to be my little helper when I bake home made bread.  A chance to help keep an eye on the baby while I grade math workbooks.  It doesn’t take much to make her feel special, just a little acknowledgement, just a little encouragement.  But, though it doesn’t seem like much to me, it means the world to her to know she is loved and valued.  I know.  I still remember.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The best laid plans...

    The beauty of home schooling is that so many of the lessons we learn each day come from the life we are living and not only from contrived lesson plans.  The real life learning we experience is often much more valuable and more meaningful than anything I could plan ahead of time with carefully constructed lessons in my lesson plan book.  This morning, I awoke with a plan in mind for our school day.  It included math, spelling, history, religion, and lots of fun literature activities.  But, first I had planned a trip to the library.  So I piled all the kids in the car along with two big bags bursting with library books to be returned and we set off as I mentally reviewed the list of books I wanted to check out…  books on Italy, Sri Lanka, France, England, Jamaica, and Vermont, a story about ducks for the baby, a few mystery stories for the older children, and some easy readers for my kindergartner.  We pulled into the empty parking lot of the library right at the time they should have been unlocking the doors, thanks to my perfectly timed plans.  But, like all perfect plans of mine, something very imperfect was in store- the library was closed.  “Oh yeah, today is Veteran’s Day,” I told the children as we pulled right back out of the parking lot after seeing the “closed for holiday” sign on the front door.  On the way, home we had an impromptu discussion on veterans and why we honor them.  We talked about the freedoms we have as Americans and how lucky we are to live here.  I guess that counts as history, right? 
    Once home we all sat down at our school table and got to work on our previously planned lessons.  We got through religion with no incidents.  Worked on math quietly and did some sight word flashcards.  Then I let the boys have a little break to play.  They got it into their heads to build a tower of blankets and pillows on the love seat, then dive into it all.  What fun!  In fact, it was so much fun that my super sweet nine year old son decided to let his 15 month old sister in on the joy of it all.  He threw her on top and then pulled her by her arms off the pile to do it again.  She immediately burst into tears.  Ten minutes later even with lots of snuggles and comforting she was still crying.  I noticed she was also favoring her left arm.  Uh-oh, maybe her tears were not just from utter terror at being tossed around.  I called Tim hoping he could come home for a few minutes to access her injuries with a clearer mind than me- I tend to overreact about these things.  No such luck, he was in his car on the way to a meeting.  I called the doctor and, though they had no openings, told me to bring her in right away, they’d fit her in somehow.  So off to the doctor we went. 
    Instead of doing fun literature activities we spent our afternoon in waiting rooms and examining rooms talking about how we should be careful with small children no matter how tough they may seem.  We learned about nursemaid’s elbow and how if pulled little arms can pop out of their sockets, and how if you are really, really lucky they pop back in on their own but that that is still quite painful and can make for very fussy toddlers.  We learned about x-rays done just in case, and the dangers of big brothers and sisters in the x-ray room and the blessings of kind-hearted medical center front office workers who are willing to play I-spy with said big brothers and sisters to calm the nerves of a mother not to sure about leaving them alone in the waiting room unattended.  We talked about how our joints work and about tendons and ligaments on the way home while our bellies rumbled from missing lunch and the tired, traumatized baby slept in her car seat. 
    All in all it was a very productive day of learning even if it wasn’t exactly what I had planned and thankfully when we got home and baby napped we were even able to fit in one fun literature activity.  My children may not remember every lesson they learn, they may forget how to measure the area of triangles, or the proper spelling of the word “announcer” but I am pretty sure they will always be careful not to pull a baby by the arm again.  A valuable lesson for sure.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A tough question- part 2, my final answer

      As promised, I have continued thinking about the tough question posed to me (and a room full of other Catholic parents) at a meeting about a week ago. “How would someone, who did not know you or your family, know that your children come from a faith-filled home?”   I have decided that while my initial reflections are true, they alone do not answer the question adequately.  A fleeting glimpse of my children at play might or might not reveal the depth and beauty of our Catholic faith and the love of Christ at work.  If you were to observe my children at a playground for ten minutes or so, or you happened to spy them tagging along with me at a store running errands you might not be able to tell that, in our family, we strive to be good loving Christians, because strive as we do, we do not always achieve that goal.   However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if you were to really spend time with them, talking to them and getting to know them- you would absolutely realize my children are being raised in faith.  Because, despite our imperfections, my children are wonderful examples of at least a few virtues….
    First of all, my children are wise.  I was talking with my five year old son the other day and I asked him a few simple questions.  First, I asked, “What do you believe in?”  He answered, “God.”  Then, I asked, “What do you believe about God?”  He answered back, “God loves everybody, even the bad guys.”  Not bad for a five year old.  I happen to know there are many adults who lack even that basic understanding.  His brother possesses wisdom beyond his years as well.  Over this past weekend I mopped the kitchen floor.  I worked hard and long making it shine yet within an hour my work was un-done.  The baby had climbed up to the kitchen table and spilled an entire glass of sticky lemonade all over my newly mopped floor.  As I cleaned up the mess, mopping for the second time that afternoon, I jokingly said something like, “Baby you are lucky you are cute because I am not paid well enough for all this work you create for me.”  My nine year old son called out from the next room, “Don’t worry mommy, you will be rewarded for it all in heaven.”  No, my boys may not be perfectly kind and loving every moment but they are wise.
    Second of all, my children are forgiving.  I occasionally have bad days.  I even lose my patience once in a while.  A few days ago, after a rough morning of school, I looked at my sweet, helpful oldest daughter and was filled with remorse.  “I am sorry I was so hard on you this morning,”  I said.  She smiled at me.  “You were not so hard.  You are a great mother,”  she said, obviously forgiving and forgetting more quickly than I usually do.  In fact, every time I find myself apologizing to her for one mistake or another, she readily offers not only forgiveness but reassurance that I am a good mother and should not be so hard on myself.  A beautiful example of forgiveness and, maybe even a little bit more of that wisdom I mentioned!  My middle daughter had been sent to her room in the midst of that same difficult day and when she came out she gave me a note that said, “Dear mommy, I am sory.  I will try hard to be beter.  I love you vary much.”  Now, her spelling may need a little work but her forgiveness was sincere.
    Lastly, my children are loving and affectionate.  They kiss and hug us every night before bed without fail, not going to sleep until they tell us that they love us.  They practically knock Tim over flinging themselves into his arms when he arrives home from work.  They climb up on the laps of their aunts and uncles when they see them, even if it has been months since our last visit.  Whenever we go to my parents house for the day the children always have a picture or treasure of some sort to give them.  It may not always show in their interactions with each other but they are truly loving, generous children. 
    So, after all my reflection and pondering, I have come to the conclusion that, with enough time, even a stranger could see that my children are being raised to know God, to love God and to serve God.  And though they are far from perfect, they certainly do show some signs of being little saints-in-training.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A tough question

   “How would someone, who did not know you or your family, know that your children come from a faith-filled home?”   I heard this question at a meeting last week and as soon as I heard it I knew I wanted to blog about it.  It is a question all Christian parents should think long and hard about as they raise their children.  For a week, I have had this question bouncing around in my head and as I have tried to decide what to say about it, and more importantly, how to answer it concerning my own children, I find myself feeling a little uncertain.  An old song I heard as a child keeps popping into my head and all I can come up with is (sing it with me…), 
    “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. 
    They will know we are Christians by our love.” 
As I picture my children, with that song running melodically through my mind, I am having a little trouble reconciling the image with the lyrics.  I keep thinking about how my children play together and wondering what it would look like to a stranger.  Would they look loving and kind?  Or selfish and uncaring? As I type this, the four older children are all playing Lego’s together (the baby is napping, thank goodness) and the voices coming from the room are a mixture of cooperative play and bickering, laughter and conflict.  My oldest daughter is being a little bossy, as is her way.  My oldest son seems to be hoarding the best Lego’s, as is his way.  The other two sound like they are getting along with each other but I hear them snapping at their older siblings, par for the course for the two of them.  So, is the room exuding love?  Not exactly.  Is the spirit of Christianity thriving in their interactions with each other?  Again, not exactly. 
    So, would an outsider be able to tell my children are being raised with faith?  And if so, how?  I honestly am not sure how to answer the question, even after pondering it all week.  My children are very normal kids.  They are amazingly kind and loving one moment, helping out their baby sister, drawing pictures for Tim and I, my five year old even washed the dishes yesterday because, as he said, “I want to do something nice for you.”  Then, the next minute they are not quite so kind and loving, fighting with each other, making messes and leaving them for someone else to clean up, getting annoyed when asked to do their chores, making excuses for irresponsible actions.  In fact, if a stranger showed up unexpectedly at  my door for a short visit, I’m not sure what he or she might witness.   If a stranger showed up at the right time they might be blown away by the Christian service in my home, but at the wrong time they might not be convinced that my children have ever heard a Bible story or been taken to Mass- ever (let alone every week of their lives!)  This is not the answer I was hoping to give but… like any other Christian, the people in my house, grown ups and kids alike, are sinners.  Our home is faith-filled but we are imperfect.  So, while an outsider might be a little confused as to our values, God thankfully can see into our hearts and He knows we are trying.  He knows that even with our imperfections we are filled with love, both for Him and for each other- it just is sometimes a little harder to see than others.
    For the record, though, I am planning to continue reflecting on this question in the hopes that I may come up with something a little more definitive, a little more positive.  Because the truth is my kids are really good kids, they are faith-filled and certainly there is undeniable evidence of that in their everyday actions and interactions.  So, stay tuned…..

Friday, November 5, 2010

Piling up and uP and UP!

My mother keeps her house immaculately clean.  There is not a speck of dust on her shelves, not a sticky spot on her counters, not a smidge of dirt on her floors.  She does, however, have a few piles sitting around.  She has always had piles of papers on her counter, neat and tidy little piles, but piles just the same.  I did not inherit my mother’s neatness.  I am no where near the house keeper she is.  I take after her in only one way when it comes to our homes.  I, too, have piles around.  Mine are not as neat or tidy but, they are piles just the same.  This little poem is inspired by both my mother and myself, but ....mostly myself….

    I look around me and all I see are piles, piles, piles,
    Piles on the counters, piles on the floor,
    Piles on the table and piles by the door.

    Piles in the bedrooms, piles by the phone,   
    Piles of stuff to donate and piles of stuff to loan.
    Piles of junk mail, piles of books,
    Piles from lunch, of the stuff that we cooks.

    Piles of papers, piles of clothes,
    Piles of schoolwork, piles of woes.

    I can’t keep them neat, not even by force.
    I just can’t escape the obvious source.
    A home full of living, a house full of kids,
    Stuff just piles up, we’re flipping our lids…

    ‘Cause the piles keep growing, they never get less
    But life is still good though the house is a mess.

    The stuff is inevitable, and it just seems to pile,
    But our family is happy so I just have to smile!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My civic duty

    After the fun of Halloween and the beauty of All Saints Day we now have to face election day.  I hate politics.  I am so old fashioned I would be perfectly happy if women had never been given the right to vote and we just left the politics to men.  I tend to get very discouraged around election day, at least in the last few years.  I find myself worrying about the future and what lies ahead for my children.  Yet, every year on election day, as much as I want to avoid all politics, I dutifully cast my vote.  Because women DO have that right and we need every vote we can get to try to keep our country true to the Christian values it was founded on.  This election day is no different for me.  I've been feeling discouraged, I've been worried, and yet I went and voted, 5 kids in tow, as is my civic duty.  Then, I went and did something even more valuable. 
    My polling place happens to be located at my church.  It is literally just a few short steps from the voting booth to the beautiful, holy Oratory where our Lord is waiting.  So after casting my votes, I took my little brood and we knelt before the tabernacle in prayer for our country.  I told the children on the way in, that this was truly the best thing we could do for our country and they all cooperated as I spent time in prayer before our Lord.  The baby sat quietly in her stroller.  The older children knelt in prayer around me.  And though we only stayed a few minutes, I felt much less discouraged as we left.  We drove home and, full of the peace that comes only from trusting in God, I knew that whatever the outcome of the election, whatever the future may hold, He is always in control and He will bless His faithful followers.   My children, my future, and my country are all in God’s hands, as am I.  He is bigger than our government, more powerful than any earthly leader and that is enough to ease my worries and fears.  On this election day (and everyday), my hope is in the Lord.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I love Halloween!

    So…Halloween is coming and I know there are those who say it is an evil pagan holiday that good Christians do not celebrate but I have to admit, I love it!   In my defense, I have talked to my children about Halloween being All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saint’s Day, and we do, as a family, celebrate that obviously holy day each year as well .  But, let’s be honest, I love Halloween not because it precedes All Saint’s as much as because I love to see all the children dressed in their cute little costumes.  Halloween, in our culture, may have some shady beginnings and a somewhat questionable history but in my life, and in my family, it is all about the dressing up…well, and the candy, of course.   For children, it is the best of all things.  Playing dress up, getting to stay up late and roam the neighborhood, knocking on doors to show off their costumes and receive candy to boot- what could be more fun? 
    I remember, as a kid, coming home after trick or treating and smelling the sweet scent of my candy bag then dumping it out to sort it into piles- chocolate in one pile, lollipops in another, hard candy, chewy candy, and then always the pile of “other” stuff- raisins, or small coins that a few unusual neighbors gave out.  My sister always wanted to be the last one in the house with candy so she would save hers, not eating any for weeks, so she could lord her candy over the rest of us after ours was long gone.  One year, she was so disciplined in not eating her candy she forgot all about it and it was found, still in her trick or treat bag, a year later-uneaten.  That year us greedy siblings knew we had been the “smart” ones- we had enjoyed our treats while she had missed out!  I remember the first year I was allowed to trick or treat without my parents.  My friend and I went around the neighborhood singing Christmas carols, because we knew no Halloween songs, and collecting mountains of candy until we were too tired to go any farther. 
    As a parent, I might love Halloween even more.  Most years I get to make at least one of their costumes, so it seems we are preparing for weeks ahead of time.  Then, the night of Halloween, dressing my children in their well planned costumes and seeing their eager little faces all ready to set out is so priceless.   I can tell my children are growing up by their choice of Halloween costumes.  In the past they choose costumes like Laura from Little House on the Prairie, Buzz Lightyear, Dora the Explorer, and Minnie Mouse.  They have dressed as a chef, a fire fighter, Shamu, and a pumpkin.  This year 3 of my children will be a witch and a burglar and a mummy.  Not the most adorable options but thankfully, I still have a beautiful blue fairy, and a cuddly little penguin to delight me with their cuteness.  However they are dressed, the evening promises to be a great time for all.  I hope each of you will also be enjoying the blessings and fun of Halloween, a true celebration of the wonderful joys of childhood, with your families.  Stay safe and happy trick or treating!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shining my children

    Did you know that, at least according to the footnotes in my Bible, the Hebrew verb for “instructed” means both to shine and to teach?  I learned this little bit of trivia the other night as I was praying and reading the Bible, specifically Psalm 19.  The Psalm was not really about teaching or instructing but about how we are blessed by understanding and obeying the Lord’s laws and, yet, it was that tiny bit of information in the footnotes that spoke the loudest to me.  I have found myself reflecting on it ever since I read it. 
    My life is all about instructing.  I am a home schooling mother.  I teach my children everyday.  I teach them, or at least attempt to teach them, all that they need to know.  I try to instruct them about living a life of virtue, about thinking things through and making wise decisions, about being the person God wants each of them to be, as much as I try to teach them about math, science, and grammar rules.  I know that I am very blessed to be a mother and a teacher, but day to day I do not take the time to think about what I am really accomplishing in life.  I don't know if I have ever considered that what I am truly doing as I raise and instruct my children is helping them to shine.  I don't know if I have ever considered that God is making me shine through the experience of teaching and instructing as well.
     Psalm 19 tells us that we are instructed by God’s laws, and will be rewarded for following them.  I have been called by God to instruct my children.  Because I have answered God’s call, He is able to work on me, to make me shine.  As much as I teach my children, I learn even more through the experience.  And what I am learning most is how to be the person God has made me to be- how to be more patient, more understanding, more tolerant, and more flexible.  I am learning to trust Him more deeply, to keep things in perspective, to let go of my expectations of how things should be and accept things as they are.  I am being shined by the whole experience.  Home schooling, for me, will never be an easy thing, I will never be perfect at it, but maybe that is precisely why God has called me to it.   So I can learn as I teach.  So as I instruct, helping my children to shine, I can be instructed and made to shine too.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wedded bliss

    In just a few days Tim and I will celebrate our 14th anniversary.  On our wedding day, 14 years ago we were young and in love and very idealistic.  We had no idea what our life would be but we knew we would face it all together.  If you would have asked me then I probably would have told you that by this point in our marriage we would have worked out all the kinks and just be coasting along in wedded bliss.  And, of course, after all this time we surely have worked out all those newlywed issues.  The toilet paper goes on with the paper rolling over the top and we both remember to put the cap back on the toothpaste.  We certainly know each other’s little habits well enough that there should be nothing to fight about anymore.  And yet….if I have learned nothing else in the last 14 years I have at least learned that relationships can never be put on autopilot.  Marriage is never something to just coast along in. 
    As a married couple, everyday Tim and I must wake up and decide to be committed to each other and our life together.  And being committed means so much more than just wearing our rings and living in the same house.  We have to be committed to thinking of each other’s needs, caring about each other’s feelings, supporting each other in everything we do.  It truly is a daily choice.  We have had days in our marriage where it has been so easy, when we feel close to one another and are enjoying life together and things are fun.  But, of course, there have been days when it isn’t so easy too.  When we have gotten on each other’s nerves, annoyed each other and even angered each other to the point that it is hard to be in the same room.  Yet, we keep choosing, even on the hard days, to love each other.  And just like our family, over the years our love has grown. 
    It was 14 years ago that I married Tim- my husband, my soul mate, my best friend.  And though it has not been all easy, all fun, and all wedded bliss, we have faced it all together.
    This year, as a tribute to where the last 14 years have taken us, we will celebrate our anniversary at our son’s cub scout pack meeting.  I suppose that is appropriate, it is the perfect reminder that marriage is not always a pretty picture of romance and excitement.  Marriage is a whole lot of ordinary things, paying bills, taking out the trash, cleaning up after the kids, trying to find a few minutes for adult conversation then finding we have nothing to talk about except for the bills and the kids.  But it is beautiful and sacramental just the same and I feel so very blessed to share it all with the love of my life.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Missing out, or am I?

    Tim and I had a meeting to go to on Tuesday evening.  It was mandatory meeting, we really had to go.  I have to admit though, after a long day of home schooling, running the kids to extracurricular activities, and doing laundry it was really a treat to leave the children in the capable hands of our trusted babysitter and drive away-- just Tim and I.  The ride offered a wonderful opportunity to talk without interruptions or little ears listening nearby.  It was nice to arrive at our meeting and walk into a room full of other adults, no children in sight, and discuss grown up subjects among mature, intellectual people.   When we got home we first saw the face of our oldest son pressed against the window awaiting our arrival and then spied the huge grin spreading across the baby’s face as she saw us walk through the door.  The welcoming hugs, after only being gone for a few hours, made the evening out that much more enjoyable and, feeling renewed by my little break, it was comforting to be home again with my beloved children.
    Wednesday night my home school group was having its monthly support meeting.  I was one of the group members who had most encouraged the meetings citing the incredible need for regular support in home schooling.  I missed September’s meeting because it was held on my daughter’s birthday.  This month, I really wanted to attend.  Unfortunately, Wednesday evenings Tim has his high school youth group meetings.  If I really wanted to go to the meeting I would have to find a sitter to keep the kids for me.  Friday night, Tim is taking his youth group on a Halloween hay ride and he asked me to go along as a chaperone.  I went a few years ago and it was an opportunity to meet Tim’s “kids” and participate in the fun of the hay ride.  I really want to go again this year.  Again, it would mean leaving the kids with a sitter though.  I looked at the calendar feeling torn.  What should I do?  Should I start calling around and find someone to watch my children so I could attend all the events I wanted to, after all I am with the kids all day long, don’t I deserve a break?  Or, should I sacrifice a little fun out of the house for a few more hours of supervising the monotony of life at home?   Though I knew what was right, it was not an easy decision.  It can be tempting, at times, to continually delegate my parenting duties to others, but deep down I know that is not the best way to parent.  I am needed at home.  Last night I stayed with my children while my home schooling friends gathered together in support to discuss the month’s topic of prayer and to visit with each other for a few hours.   Tomorrow as Tim sets off for a night of scary Halloween fun with his youth group I will again be at home, spending time with my children and probably folding laundry.    
    Sometimes caring for my children means I miss out on things out in the world.  But, in the end, this really is right where I most want to be.  If I have to make a sacrifice, and of course life is full of sacrifice, I would rather miss out on a few meetings or events than miss out on the joys and challenges of being with my children.   I would rather be here with them, saying bedtime prayers around the coffee table and tucking them safely into their beds at night than anywhere else in the world.  Being a stay at home mother is not always exciting, it is not always fun, it does not always feel rewarding but I really and truly would never want to do anything else.  Babysitters are wonderful and I am grateful to have a few I really trust, but as I tell my children all the time, no one will ever love them like their mommy, and I have found, it is a lot easier to show them that when I am right here with them.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Food fights, mealtime messes, and amazing art

    I’ve been raising children for a while now.  A little over twelve years, in fact.  I think I am a pretty good mother, and yet, sometimes I just don’t understand my children at all.  My youngest child is 14 months old.  She used to be the chubbiest little thing- she had rolls on her arms,  rolls on her thighs, even rolls on her ankles.  She had a round belly, full round cheeks, and, like the scruff on a puppy dog, a little roll of chub on the back of her neck.  She would eat anything and everything we served her.  One time we gave her avocado and though she grimaced with every bite as though it caused her great pain, she kept right on eating it.  Then she started getting picky, very picky.  She lately has a diet of about 5 or 6 foods that she will eat.  Anything else she is served at mealtimes gets pushed to one side of her high chair tray or thrown over the side.  Ironically, she puts everything else she gets her hands on in her mouth.  It is not unusual to find her eating bits of paper bitten out of books.  She samples leaves and mulch from the front yard.  She sucks on toys, pencils, and glue sticks yet we literally cannot get her to taste a grain of rice during dinner.   I really don’t get it at all.  How can she be so willing to nibble such an array of strange inedible treasures, yet be completely opposed to eating a bean or a bit of chicken?
    Lately, the battle of what goes in baby’s mouth and what does not has gotten a little more interesting.  In typical toddler fashion, she is into everything these days.  Everything!  Over the weekend, she got her hands on a can of Nesquik chocolate milk mix.  Before we realized what she was up to, she had pulled out handfuls of the powder and, with it all over the floor and herself, was decorating the kitchen in sugary brown dust.  The next day she climbed up to a chair next to the kitchen table and dipped her hands in a cup of chocolate milk and proceeded to “finger paint” with it all over the table.  Then, she saw some mashed potatoes on her high chair tray, some of the “reject” food she had decided against eating, and added those to her “masterpiece”.  This morning, she once again scaled the kitchen chair and discovered the fun of shaking salt all over the place.  She stood happily tossing it around in every direction and feeling the wonderful grit in her hands and hair as she created yet another beautifully artistic mess.  The older children and I could only laugh as we swept the floor and wiped the table off.  Food may not always be valued as a source of nutrition around my house but it certainly seems to be a fabulous source of amusement!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Did you hear that?

    My life moves along to a soundtrack of unrelenting noise.  Giggles, whines, constant chatter, baby babble, singing toys, ringing phones, beeping video games, blaring music with booming bass (from the neighbor's house, not my own), the vroom of cars rushing by on the street behind our house, the hum of the washing machine, the whoosh of water running in the bathroom, the splash of drinks spilling in the kitchen, screams- both joyful and distressed, questions, answers, disagreements.  It seems the only thing that never touches my ears is the sound of silence and I never seem to have a chance to even hear myself think.  So, as I read over and over in spiritual books and articles, of the importance of quiet time to pray and listen for God’s still, small voice, I can only laugh.  If God spoke to me in whispers His voice would be drown out in an instant.  I am sure that is why the “experts”, the theologians writing all the spiritual books, stress the importance of finding quiet time, seeking out the silence and making it a priority.  I have found in my weakness and humanity that on the rare occasion I do get a bit of quiet, I, unfortunately, tend to doze off before I have a chance to listen for God’s soft whisper.  I am sure the experts would be greatly disappointed in me.  God, however, in His great love and mercy realizes the obstacles in my life.  He sees my challenges, my weakness, and, thankfully, my great desire to be close to Him in the midst of it all.  Despite the fact that I am often overwhelmed with all the noise and sound surrounding me, I still desperately want to hear God’s voice.  He is so, so good.  For me, God shouts.  No still, small voice would survive around here and in God’s infinite wisdom and power, He can see that quite clearly.  So, when He has a message for me, a word of hope or guidance, He screams out, loud and clear, and there is no doubt the Lord has spoken.
    Just this week, my Little Flowers girls and I were reading about Saint Monica.  As we read the story of her life, a life lived in prayer for her family especially her wayward son, Augustine, we were all struck by her persistence in prayer and her faith that God would answer, eventually.  In case you are not familiar with the story, after 17 years God did answer, in abundance, and St. Monica’s son is now known as St. Augustine.  My children and I also read a story entitled The Glorious Flight by Alice and Martin Provensen, about Louis Bleriot, a French man who wanted to build a flying machine.  He tried over and over before he got it right and became the first man to fly across the English Channel.  Again, the theme of persistence came up as we discussed the story together.  Then, as we always do on Thursday mornings during school, we read the upcoming Sunday gospel.  The story?  The parable of the persistent widow (from Luke 18:1-8).  Even my seven year old could see that God was up to something.  “I guess God wants to tell us to be persistent!”  she said to me after hearing the gospel story.  Yes, God has a way of making himself heard even if we can’t find a moment of quiet.  His voice, which may sometimes be nothing but a whisper, is also capable of shouting over the din of life.  And to hear, we need only to faithfully seek Him and listen-- as best we can.

Monday, October 11, 2010

No wonder I'm so tired by Friday

Monday, the start of the new week…

9:00 am-  Two kids sound asleep in bed.  Two alternately eating breakfast and goofing off, as usual.  One in the high chair not so patiently waiting for me to serve something she is willing to eat- not an easy task these days, as she has gotten VERY picky!  In a half an hour we are expected at our very first co-op class at a friend’s house, a co-op that was in the planning stage for months and is finally about to start.  All of the sudden, without warning, the answering machine comes on and my friend is leaving a message, the phone is no where to be seen, but thankfully we are not the only ones getting a slow start to the day- co-op will be starting at 10 am instead of 9:30.

10 am- By the grace of God, we have made it on time to co-op.  There are only three of our four co-op families in attendance today but that still means 11 children and only 3 adults.  Have I mentioned it is a Catholic home school co-op?  Lots of children but all really great kids.  We start off with a little play time for the kids and visiting for the moms but manage before the day is over to get in some learning through games, crafts, discussion and drawings.  A wonderful start to our co-op year!

1 pm- Home from co-op.  Baby slept on the 10 minute ride home but refused to sleep once I put her in her crib so nap time is over.  We have a quick lunch and hurry to clean up the mess and set up an activity for our Little Flowers girls club meeting, which I lead in my home twice a month.

2:30pm- My Little Flowers girls arrive.  Only 4 this week, one is on vacation, two have recently moved away.  As I conduct the meeting,  my oldest son is working on his co-op “homework” and asking for help every few minutes.  My younger son is just hanging around and distracting the girls from our story of St. Monica.  The baby is climbing on chairs the entire time we are working on our craft.   We are learning the virtue of hope this month and my greatest hope today is that the girls are able to get something from the meeting even though life in my house is always crazy.  Despite the chaos, the meeting is a lot of fun.  The girls finish up their crafts and snacks and we end our meeting with prayer.   Then they run off to play puppy dogs while waiting for their moms to pick them up.

4 pm-  The last of the little girls are picked up and within two minutes Tim is home from work.   Time to think about dinner.  My oldest daughter is my dinner helper but is currently reading a book and is too engrossed to even notice there is work to be done.  I make most of the casserole myself but do delegate the job of dish washing while the food cooks.  I use the time to read our "Five in a Row" book to my 5 and 7 year old.  Then we sit down to eat together, and end our meal, as usual with our family rosary.

6pm- Dinner is done and sort-of cleaned up.  My middle daughter has her religious ed class this evening so I get her ready and drop her off.   I rush home, change my clothes and fit in a two mile walk- the only chance I’ll get to exercise today.  The baby sleeps in the stroller while I walk, I guess she is just too tired to fight the sleep at this point. 

8 pm- Tim goes to get our daughter as the boys shower and get ready for bed.  I start to think about tomorrow.  We are going to a nursing home with our home school group in the morning.  The girls will recite poetry.  The boys are performing a few magic tricks for the residents.  I have to find capes for the boys, make a magic wand, and after their showers have them practice their “show”.   The girls recite their poems in about 30 seconds time, that counts as their practice.

It is now 9 pm-  No one has been put to bed, I am insanely stealing a few minutes to write and reflect on the day, Tim is relaxing with a book, and the kids are all playing, grateful for a chance to stay up a little late tonight since neither mommy nor daddy have the energy to take on the bedtime routine just yet. 

Just another normal day around here….

Friday, October 8, 2010

Not as young as I used to be...

A few months ago, right after I celebrated my 35th birthday, I started noticing some unmistakable signs of my age starting to show on my formerly youthful face.  At the risk of sounding like an “Oil of Olay” commercial, I saw some fine lines developing near the corners of my eyes and my skin tone was showing evidence of over-exposure to the Florida sunshine.  I started paying more attention to my nightly beauty routine and slathered on moisturizer throughout the day.  Still, every time I found myself peering into a mirror I would get right up close to scrutinize the development of the aging process.  I have found myself getting more and more depressed about it over the last few months.  The other day, I was in the bathroom washing my hands and lamenting in my mind the flaws I just couldn’t avoid noticing all over my face- the deepening lines (were they becoming actual wrinkles?), the sun spots on my forehead and cheeks (wasn’t there anything I could do to make them fade?), the dark circles under my eyes (did the skin there look more saggy than yesterday?).  I talked myself into quite a crabby mood over the whole thing only to emerge from the bathroom and enter the kitchen to the smiling face of my wonderful husband.  Maybe he was only be kind, maybe he was just trying to tell me what he thought I wanted to hear but he looked at me and said, “You look really good today.”  Now, there was no way he could have known what I had been thinking just seconds before but in my depressed state of mind I answered in rather a grumpy way, “I don’t know what you are seeing when you look at me but it certainly isn’t the same things I am seeing!”
    Ah, how wise I was in my cranky, negative observation.  Of course, Tim and I were not seeing the same things.  I had gotten so used to getting up close to my reflection and focusing all my attention on the flaws.  He had the perspective to see the big picture, so to speak.  I saw only signs of age, yet somehow, Tim was able to look at me and see something totally different  Where I saw only a face full of wrinkles, bags, and splotches he noticed my good hair day and the jeans I pulled out of the back of the closet that still fit even after having 5 kids.  I felt old and frumpy, yet, he still saw me as the lovable woman he married. 
    It is an easy trap to fall into, looking only at the bad and failing to see the good.  And I have found, it can happen to us as we look at our lives as well as when we look at our faces.  It is so easy for us, as humans, to get so wrapped up in our problems we can sometimes see only the struggles in life.  It can be so easy to get discouraged by our weaknesses and failures that we lose sight of the strengths and talents God has given us.   I sometimes even find myself wondering if God is disappointed in me all the time, as I continue to commit the same sins over and over.   But, God has a different perspective.  He always sees the big picture, and though He can surely look straight into our hearts, He never inspects us looking for faults.  He sees us as the beloved creations we are, formed by His hand, in His own image and likeness, out of love. 
    My revelation has caused me to take a little step back in life.  I stood back farther from the mirror as I fixed my hair this morning and things weren’t quite as bad as I had thought.  I do look a little older than I used to, but I suppose that is unavoidable.  I will not be looking into plastic surgery, botox treatments, or laser therapies.  First of all, because I do not want to admit to being that vain, and, second of all, because our budget will never be able to accommodate such things.  So, instead I will try to focus on the positives and keep my aging skin in perspective.  And, of course, thank God for my wonderful husband who fortunately for me, has really bad eyesight and a really big heart.


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