Thursday, December 30, 2010

Raining Rosaries Link and Other things

For those who don't do facebook...

I'd fallen out of the habit of posting over at --something I hope to rectify in 2011.  

As a challenge to myself and my family, I suggested each of those capable form three resolutions for the new year designed to help improve in the Aristotelian sense, body, mind and spirit.  Meaning, I expected them to set three goals; physical, mental and spiritual.  

For me, I added professional and personal as well.  Here they are:

1) Physical: Get back into shape after Anna Maria Hope is born, meaning decent cholesterol numbers and weight.  

2) Mental: Continue policy of reading a book a month, try to boost to two, and practice piano three times a week.

3) Spiritual: Pray the rosary on a daily basis (natch!), and continue ongoing study of Catechism and learning about patron saint for the coming year; Saint Valentine. (I'll write about that later).  

4) Professional: Finish Helen.  I know, I've written her since 2007, and she's 2/3rds done; with the current delay being that my laptop is getting an extended stay at the Geek Squad owing to a defective hard drive.  Yes I have saved copies but the older computer cannot open modern windows....grrrrr.   Also, did not make goal of getting published once a month, made it 9 out of 12 though.    Will improve stat hopefully and maybe find an agent.

5) Personal: Get birthday cards out on time.  Call brothers and sister and cousin regularly.  Be on time for things.  

Those are my goals for 2011.  

Ten Predictions for 2011

Looking into my magic crystal snowball (after I pick all the grass out of it),  the following visions have been revealed to me.  Any accuracy of any of these predictions is pure chance, any incorrect predictions are probably the result of debris I failed to clean out of the snow.   Enjoy.

10) Hollywood will begin production of a movie "2013," working title, the Day after the End, revealing that while the Mayans were incorrect, the world ended anyway out of spite to prevent further sequels to 2012 and additional prequels and revisions to the Star Wars series. 

9) Trans fats, fried whatevers, candy, chips, icecream and soda will all be banned from schools but marijuana will be made legal.  As a consequence of this strange congruence of events, we will have marauding teens with the munchies crawling through the locker rooms of the school searching for Funions.

8) As we move to having games that allow us to be the controller, people will remember that once upon a time, they actually played actual games.   Some enterprising marketer will present a series of equipment called "AR" or Actual Reality.  It will be very trendy to own a real bat, skates and red playground rubber balls.  The instructions will include an extensive manual about having to go out in actual weather. 

The business will flourish and take off until litigators successfully put forth the charge that having said actual equipment involves risks that cannot be mitigated by helmets or pads, like strained wrist from lifting, falling to the ground and bee stings. 

7) Congress will consider repealing the law of gravity and replacing it with a graduated tax allowing for more pull from the earth the greater your income. Deductibles will apply.

6) One school somewhere will go completely paperless thanks to a government grant with kindle books and laptops.  It will be completely ruined within a week when some kid who forgets their homework pulls the fire alarm rendering all equipment inoperable.

5) The Government will run out of money, but not to worry, they'll just use credit cards instead.

4) Katie Couric in the midst of her "real people" tour will discover that the great unwashed population 1) does bathe regularly and 2) aren't interested in watching her on TV even if she's talking to them personally.

3) The New York Times will change it's long held motto, "All the News that's fit to print" to "Fitting the All News to Our Views."  They will charge for Internet use.  Only other news outlets will subscribe; they will then send out the same info using emails but with minor tweaking so as to make it their own. 

2) As people become addicted to their bluetooth, Ipods, Kindle and blackberry, fashion and technology will adapt.  The big winner will be the charging belt, a Batman worthy apparatus that lets all your electronic equipment charge when not in use by hanging around your waist. Conversation as communication will become increasingly viewed as impolite and "too public" when texting and typing allow for much more discreet relays of information.  Parents of teenagers will not notice a thing.

 1)  The TSA in an effort to eliminate long lines and unnecessary groping will institute a Fly Naked line.    Virgin Airlines will jump all over this with a new promotion.  As an added incentive, those who opt out of wearing clothing will get to have their bags fly free.   In a related story, flash mobs will be replaced with mob flashes. 

Leave your own predictions in the combox.   Happy 2011!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Memo to Residents of This Home

The following is a public service announcement, designed to make your stay here at our home more comfortable.   Please familiarize yourself with the stated policies and as always, Manager Mom and Dad are on call to clarify any confusion you may have about any given regulation.

10) If you get up after 10 a.m. the kitchen is closed for breakfast; fix your own...use paper plates and clean up afterwards.   

9) Working business hours are from 7 am to 10 pm.  Emergencies happen, but watching TV, playing DS or the Wii or fighting with your brother do not qualify.  

8) Daily hygiene is required for and by all even on school break when there is nothing on the schedule.

7) This includes getting dressed for the day....and bedtime.
6) It is not a requirement of Christmas that we open every game, project, do-hickey, thingamabob and gizmo within the first 24 hours. 

5) It is a requirement of this house that if you do open every game, project, do-hickey, thingamabob and gizmo, that you put them away when finished, bored or summoned to eat.

4) Ordinary life still requires that Mom run occasional boring errands like dry cleaning and cook food that includes non favorites like vegetables.  Deal.

3) Nutrition still matters even in this celebratory season.  Christmas cookies do not qualify as a meal except on Christmas morning.  Ditto on ice cream, pie, birthday cake and soda. Those who recognize themselves; ugh. Boo.  Stop.

2) If you can't find an item that is beloved, necessary or as of yet, unopened, try looking before calling out a draft search party consisting solely of a parent.

1) Vacation from school is not vacation from reality.  The trash still has to be taken out, beds made, clothes put away and towels hung up.  Cope.

Thank you, love Mom and Dad.           

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Flunking Christmas

I'm not proud of it but there it sits like a lump of coal. 

And even worse, this isn't the first time it has happened.  Despite the 24-7 Christmas carols, the Advent wreath, the daily mail that includes well wishes and beautiful scenes both divine and worldly of this time of year, somehow I get to December 24th and say...."Aren't there a few more days before I have to get everything organized?" 

The answer is always "No." and a breathless run through the big box store of your choice doesn't cut it.   Because such actions, while capable of filling the house with stuff, reveal little except impulsive thought and even more impulsive purchases.  It's not that I don't make lists.  It's the execution of the thing that always ends up falling short.  I see things and'll's not quite...and then I never seen another closer to the mark thing and the thing I return to get that turned out to be the very object I wanted to get, has long since gone.   My husband is the usual victim of these good intention phantom purchases; he is remarkably tolerant of my perpetual poor shopping skills but there have been others on the receiving end of Charlie Brown Christmases; where "I got a rock." might be close to the truth.        

This year, I tried to get him a few things.  I wanted to buy three chairs for our table, (could not find) a hedge trimmer, (sold out) a majong set (forgot) and a new winter coat for him (didn't have his size).  I'd also hoped to get the snow blower fixed but that didn't happen, have some gravel put in the pit where I created a monster divot from our 12 passenger van (never made it back to the store), and an extra bookshelf for our bedroom to help declutter (got distracted, bought other things for other people).   Ultimately, I managed to get him season three of the Big Bang Show and a peanut butter chocolate tree and these were on the fly as I had to sneak them by my husband who was with me at the time of purchase.  The gifts were stored in the car as we planned to sneak in gifts after they'd gone to bed.  Alas, that was a fatal delay.

For December 25th, my beloved only got the DVD's because of a mouse.  At some point, a rodent snuck into our car, found the candy and ate a quarter of it.  In the bag was a very pleased and stuffed creature stirring.  After we trapped said Suburban mousewife, I took out the bar revealing a quarter of it having been eaten.  He quietly deadpanned, "It's okay.  I don't want my Christmas present." But I felt thwarted.                                                    

So this year, 2011, I vow will be different.  I keep trying to be more attentive to detail, but get bogged down as the details mount; even the convenience of the Internet and fed ex hasn't been able to compensate for my disorganization thus I've enlisted my children's assistance.  Each of them have been given a month to nag me.  I must acquire something thoughtful each calendar month which will be stored until December so that their father won't be reduced to a book originally ordered for someone else (another failed Christmas), or mouse eaten treats. 

While the youngers won't be much help in this matter, others have volunteered to take up the slack and help this slacker shopper make good.  With God as my witness, he will never be presentless again. 

If it works, I may have them take over nagging me about birthdays too. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Updates and Other Things Because it's Thursday

1.  Good News!  My daughter that has double vision has finally been diagnosed to determine her eye problems can be corrected with a type of magnifying glasses.  She responded to her double vision the way an adult does, so it threw everyone off.  Additionally, the onset was sudden and that made everyone frightened that it could be a very very very bad thing.  We are getting the sturdiest sparkliest Faith inspired glasses we can find.  

2.  More Good News!  Zoe, who I wrote about yesterday, is today off of oxygen and machines.  Huzzah!  We hope she continues to recover so her Mom and Dad and sister can relax a bit, and everyone can enjoy Christmas.

3.  Still More Good News!  My dad who made an emergency trip to the Hospital last night, is back home and is doing much better.

4. Joy to the World; my husband finished up his trial (his team won), after 45 days of what felt like perpetual all nighters in New York.   So my family is back together again, my family is healthy, my friends are on the mend, and it feels like Christmas has come early even if I haven't wrapped or mailed a thing.  Everything feels rosy and hopeful and above all, possible.  

5.  Tomorrow is my third child's 13th birthday.  I'm taking her to get pierced ears at her request.  A moment few people get to experience, is to be holding a newborn on Christmas Eve.  I had that lovely privilege as a group of carollers from a local church toured the hospital just after 9 p.m.  They sang "Silent Night" through the maternity ward.  To this day, I cannot hear the song and not feel that moment of holding her, smelling that newborn smell and wanting to tear up for joy.  

Merry Christmas soon to all of you and thanks for all your prayers; they matter, they help, they help prepare us for the season and all of life by asking God to be still more intimate in our lives.  Thank you!

These also count as this week's successes in my book and have been linked over at  Family and Faith Live!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Request for Prayer

This blog is many things; sometimes political, sometimes silly, sometimes serious.  Today, it is urgent. 

A friend of mine has a daughter.  She is my daughter's first and to this date, still best friend despite having moved to Texas.  Zoe has a rare condition that is called Ondine's Curse; her autonomic functions stop if she loses consciousness.  Thus, to make it to the age of 10 alive, she's had to be put on a respirator every night, has pacers and has had more tests and hospital stays than can possibly be counted. 
Right now, she's having a bad spell of days and nights, where she is on and off oxygen and the machines are a companion that is not leaving.  People with this condition sometimes have spells where it is better or worse as they age and develop and the demands on their bodies change. This is a type of growing pain that none of us ever hope to experience. There simply isn't enough known about this condition because so few have it and survival is so precarious.  

Whenever I feel the least bit overwhelmed by my situation of too much, I think of my friend and her family and how I have the odd luxury of not having to be hyper-vigilant. Maybe I should be, but I have the taken for granted by most of us, gift of not being on red alert all the time.

My friend (Zoe's mother), bears this burden with tremendous luminous grace and humor and her faith is Christian steel. She surrenders her daughter to the trust of God at the foot of the cross every night, and every car ride and every time she lets her go out into the world. Even more impressive, she does let her daughter go out and seize life. Zoe has done cheer leading and gymnastics and gone to school and has a vivid imagination and wicked sense of humor; she reminds me of her mother. (Zoe would carpe diem regardless as she is a zealous creature; part of why my daughter loves her so). 

Her family does not hide this daughter under a bushel basket, nor do they allow it to color her faith or her temperament with the martyrdom of suffering; the condition simply is.   As her mother said once, "How could I do less?"  Well, I don't know of any who could do more and still keep themselves so grounded, so present, so lively and so laugh and light filled.  

When I was at the hospital with Paul for his open heart surgery, Zoe's mom made a trek to DC to see me within the first week, bringing Starbucks hot chocolate.  She had not yet seen my son.  Looking at him in the isolette as she handed me my drink, she studied him for a few moments and said, "Wow, he's Down Syndrome Hot."  I spewed cocoa everywhere --it was the first time I'd laughed hard since I'd been at the hospital staring down the prospects of Paul's procedure.  It was a healing moment for me.  

So I'm asking everyone to pray for Zoe and her family; to pray that they can go back to simply preparing for Christmas, that this bout of having difficulty maintaining blood oxygen levels and continuing to simply breathe and exist passes.   Pray for Zoe to spend Christmas at home with her family and for the extraordinary gift for their family of ordinary days and peaceful silent breath filled nights.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I Got the One Week to Christmas Blues....

This elf has been thrice thwarted.   I've made a list.  I put it on my computer on a spread sheet.  My computer died Friday.  It is under warranty but will be away at Santa's workshop for the next two weeks.   I made a second list, I wrote it on paper using an old fashioned writing utensil called a pen.  I left the list in the car.  The car decided Saturday to pay its respects to the car equivalent of Santa's workshop and won't be back until Tuesday at the earliest.   When I did go to the store, I discovered one of my children had helpfully brought in my purse into the house and somehow taken out my wallet, ergo I had no means to purchase anything the one time I actually made it out to look.   0 for 3, I may be busted back down to AA for this Christmas season. 

Now, it is up to my brain to remember all those good thoughts I had on one of the two lists, and to eventually figure out how to take care of those lists. 

It is times like these I am glad to be Catholic, because I can do that whole 12 days of Christmas thing legitimately.   It's not that I procrastinated or was overwhelmed or anything.  I was celebrating the season "properly."  Yeah that's what I'm doing.  Right.  My kids won't buy it either.  

My big issue is what.  I look in the stores and catalogues waiting for lightning to strike; but so far, nothing has caught me up with its whimsy where I'm imagining the kiddos opening it and feeling that rush of delight at having an unspoken wish granted. 

It may be that the problem is unique to having 9 children.   Within the confines of these walls, having had kids in the home since 93, we have amassed a rather extensive collection of toys for both girls and boys.   I'd wager we have almost every conceivable toy already somewhere in the house.  They may be scattered, they may be broken, they may be the wrong color, size or model but we own them somehow. 

Take art supplies: if you collected all the markers in this house, you'ld have six boxes full though many of them would consist solely of black, a muddy yellow, green and orange, because blue, purple and red are the favorites for use and get dried out most often.  Likewise if you collected all the crayons, at least three of those big boxes that came with the sharpener would be filled; again with a heavy show of force by gray, white, black, green and orange.  I could make the same case for hot wheels, knights, barbies (at least 75 strong, all undressed). 

Supplemental purchases we've done.  I've bought clothing for Barbies. One year I even spent two nights of my life welding those too tight shirts and skirts to the ladies.   Within five minutes of the discovery, the girls had returned all Barbies and their friends to the au naturale state.  Legos don't add to the existing pile, they become new piles.  Sometimes, more is just too much.  I've been threading as much as possible, but it feels self defeating to then go shopping to create moreness.  

I want them to have whimsy, I want to feel it too.   But all this defense in depth of toys means Christmas consists of figuring out what each child wants that we can manage that we don't already in some capacity have such that giving it would be redundant and anti-climactic.   Some of my offspring have discerned this dilemia and come up with helpful suggestions via their wish lists.  The proposed items are creative, thoughtful, meaningful, clever, unique and guaranteed to not be in any way, replications of what has been received before. 

But I have informed them and Santa that we are not in the market for either a pony or a dog.

So this elf is flunking elf school; and worse than that, on Wednesday, they all get to go to the dentist.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Deeper Why of Our Hearts

Sometimes I read things and my heart aches that the Internet does not allow for a greater connection with strangers who unknowingly or otherwise speak out their hearts.  Today, I read two articles, one of which discussed the loss that phantom parents discover when at 44, they are told that they cannot bear children and the biological window no longer exists; and that the pill which kept them "safe" now has left them with a stack of accomplishments that do not include the title "Mom." Then I read a piece by Rachel Campos Duffy on Parent Dish about what she wished she had said when Barbara Walters interviewed her on THE VIEW and asked "Did you ever think, 'I wish I had a career and I didn't have six kids?"  It was a loaded question.

Now the Texan in me flared a bit and I recalled a friend who said back when I was a teacher, "My parents had too many kids." about her family.  Admittedly, I was a zealous and undiplomatic 24 year old and went for the jugular, "Which sibling do you think shouldn't have been born?  Because that's what you are saying SHOULD have happened."  She was shocked and then stammered, "I mean, it was hard."  I agreed, it sounded difficult and this was back before I had any, but the answer stuck for her and for me. She suddenly held the thought of her whole family in a different light.   20 years later, her face and that moment remain sketched in my head and came back right with that question.   I didn't know the deeper WHY I was articulating about my own life; indeed I would have been terrified if I had known, I only knew what I knew, she loved her brothers and sisters more than anything, she just wanted more because she wasn't feeling very special that day.

So now I have my own reversion of what I wish I'd said then but lacked in tact or wisdom or experience; because it was rough.  I wince at it today.   What you think you KNOW at 20, is not what you MIGHT think at 30 or 40 or whatever age, and none of it may be what your heart actually knows.  What you feel about your past, about your present, about your parents, about your future, is not stone. We do not always understand the deeper WHYs of our lives.

To exist is to think that you have an understanding of how you will always be, but we also know from simply the process of life, that our lives can change, can turn, can be transformed in an instant, via tragedy, love, an epiphany, inspiration, a teacher, a friend, a need that we see that must be met. For the shepherds; there was this star in the sky.  For the Kings, they had been following the heavens and so saw it, but the journey there was more than they expected; and the vision not to return to Herod and willingness to trust that vision after seeing the Christ Child, must have been an act of real courage; to rely not on charts and maps and books and knowledge, but the deeper whys of their hearts. 

It's a hard lesson to accept, whether 20 or 44 or 60 or 80, we cannot know what we do not know; and we cannot know what we have not glimpsed or experienced. Personally, I find I must relearn it on a daily basis, but my children are good educators on that point!   They are always asking Why and they are always teaching me Why.

We only know what we have learned, what we want and what we feel; and that learning is ongoing. Our wants change more often than we suspect or are willing to admit, and our feelings are more transitory than we imagine; what makes us steady is our understanding of those feelings, of those wants and the WHY behind them; and the ethics/morals/scruples that reign them in and allow our selves to be fixed like stars in the heaven, that reveal to others who we really are.  Our deeper hearts GET the WHY of ourselves, even if the surface areas of our brains and hearts do not. Most of us are in that town of Bethlehem living our lives with our doors shut, not knowing that in a manger if we just looked outside, is the Christ child waiting to be adored.

Like the woman asked by Barbara about the road she didn't take, do I ever wish I got the degree?  Do I wish it were done?  Not at the expense of even one less seat at the table.  The Deeper Whys of these people require greater focus and attention than any Ph.D.  I have some degrees and you know what I do with them?  I dust them.   The insides of those snug homes that didn't host the Holy family needed dusting too; but the stable like Mary's heart, remained open. 

The lesson of true permanence in life, is love.   Everything else gathers dust; the accomplishment is made, the case is closed, the book ends, the race is finished; but relationships like memories and stories resonate over generations. Thus I repeat stories and phrases and vignettes told to me that my grand parents lived or told. I remember truths that have been shared and retaught and retaught and retaught for each generation, so that the faith life becomes deeper than the marrow of one's bones; across centuries and generations and the blindness of any one individual within the process of coping with being. The shepherds told their wives, the kings told their court and family; and the story of that first Christmas is remembered and celebrated and relived every year.  The memories generated each year will be to someone as clear as the moment they were created; just like the conversation.  No dusting necessary. 
Love changes life, people change our lives, relationship cannot help but alter our perceptions and understandings and worldview. The trick I hope the women who mourn what they do not have or that discover what they have is less than they wanted even though they KNEW at the time, is to start today being willing to be altered by others; to allow the deeper WHYS of themselves to be explored. Whether we get to the manger by coming in from tending sheep or years of scanning and tracking the stars is largely irrelevant; the important thing is to look out, see the star, hear the angels singing and go out of our snug homes, our safe places, our controlled worlds, and allow the Holy Family to transform everything.  
Happy Third week of Advent!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Me Too!

If you've never seen the silent monks, it's a fun experience; sort of a Catholic's Blue Man Group except I don't think the latter folks take vows.

My Wonderful Life: I just love this!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What the Middle Daughter Knows

My middle daughter has a birthday two days from Christmas so she's had to suffer sometimes having her birthday observed, and by that I mean some time in the following calendar year before the next solstice but not by much.   Thankfully, she is a tolerant soul and has learned counter techniques to short circuit her mother's tendency not to plan ahead.  

Like this past weekend when she came to me with the computer, a calendar and a notepad.  "My birthday is coming up." 


"So I want to have a party on Friday."  She then opened my calendar to reveal that it was in fact, blank on December 17th other than "Last day of school for 2010."  She then explained, "I want to take four friends to see a movie." and googled Fandango to look up the time for "Tangled" at the theatre she thought would be best.  "Then we're going to Lilly McGilly's for cupcakes so you don't have to cook."  It was hard to argue anything with such a well thought out plan so I agreed.  She typed up the invitations instantly and marked it on the dry erase board, on my calendar and showed me the extra invitation she had printed just for me so I'd have all the details.   I couldn't help feeling unnecessary except as the chauffeur and financier, a sugar mommy so to speak for her social life.  

But I appreciated her attention to detail.  I didn't realize how far her lack of faith in my ability to get things done in a timely manner extended until I found her changing the clocks to allow an additional ten minutes in the morning for error.  When I protested, she pointed out, "We're never late anymore are we?"  

Today, she had a free dress day and could bring a treat to share with her class.  Naturally, this had not been done prior to breakfast and so I was preparing to propose my standard go to treat, Krispe Kreme.  I drive through, I order, I drop off.  It is very convenient and nearly every child gets this; but she was once again ready for me, she had promised brownies she explained.  I gave her a "Don't have an might not happen." look and set about loading the car with the other kids for the morning commute.   Normally, she helps buckle the littles in place.   Today, I was marshaling the folks and persuading the two boys to bring down the trash for pick up when I realized she still wasn't in the car.  I went back inside to discover her putting dishes in the sink.  On the counter was a 9x11 tray of brownie batter just waiting to be popped in the oven which she was also preheating.    She'd written a note 30 minutes, 1 hour cooling; powdered sugar, no frosting, bring by 12:15.   I'd have no excuse. 

Her older sister watched all of this with an arched eyebrow.  "How is it that you always get what you want?" she asked.   She'd been lobbying for four months to get a Facebook account.  I'd deferred that we would "discuss" it when her father and I had time.  She'd countered that whenever she brought it up, Dad or I would get terribly busy and not have time.   My younger daughter whispered something to her sister.   She texted her father, "Can we talk about me getting a Facebook account when you get home?"   He responded "Yes." and she followed up, "Swear by the River Styx."  as her sister smiled and nodded approvingly.  

We are in such trouble.  They're colluding.

Monday, December 13, 2010

So What Does Algonquin Canoeing Have that I don't?

One of the things that gives a blogger a bit of a lift is to click on the counter to view recent traffic as a result of the breathtakingly deathless prose that one posits for all of history in a regular post.  Today, I happened to do a bit of investigating and curiosity got the better of me, I was ranked 1,704, down 66 from my highest point of this month.   I wondered what was number 1 and so I scanned through the ratings.   A four way tie went to the top four, including damncoolpics, pengunman, zahipedia and algonquincanoeing. 

Now while I did not have any interest in perusing what someone else might deem cool in photography, and felt a bit gun shy about investigating what the heck pengunman or zahipedia might mean or be, I admit I had to wonder, how paddling in the very cold waters of a province of Canada might be so popular as to beat out blogs on knitting, Nascar, safe car seats, Justin Beiber blogs and many others on the 36 pages of names whose titles were just plain scary.  

I clicked on the blog, it was named Proppe's Paddles and it was a normal looking place with time lapse film of the sky and the weather (worth seeing though the cityscape and car building/deconstruction strikes a false note with the rest of the grandeur pictured), notes about children and animals and camping and a moving piece about a boating contest that was to raise money in honor of a child who died from a congenital heart condition. The guy posts once a month if that and he gets 300-600 hits a day.  I can't argue with the numbers but I still can't explain it.  That being said, one tag I'm putting in today's post, just to test the theory?  Algonquin.  I just want to beat out the safe car seats and Justin Beiber blogs.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Grace of Christmas

In preparation for Advent, and as a means of strengthening my reserves for the ongoing saga of raising 9 and being in the eighth month of pregnancy, this past week I went to confession.  It was in part because I felt deflated, as if Christmas somehow would not happen.  We hadn't shopped. There were three gifts in the closet and one of them was very small and another, a group present.  We hadn't taken a group photo.  We'd barely set up the tree and no cookies had been baked and no cards sent and I didn't know where I'd find the time or the energy or the right spirit to make these things happen while simultaneously keeping the children on track for their various evening activities, school work and exams.  I know these are things, but they were also still looming as things that should somehow get done.  

The word "Can't" was creeping into my thoughts; a word I consider a spirit killer because it usually doesn't mean something is impossible, merely that I am unwilling. Can't often means "Won't" and is the rationalization if not for sloth, for indifference to detail that would if done, reveal love.  Can't for me is a withdraw from the world and not in a healthy way, can't is not wanting to do, not wanting to care, not wanting to prepare.  The ten foolish virgins could have bought oil prior to the wedding feast; they didn't because they either didn't care to, or didn't think they might need it.  They didn't want to exert themselves for others even on the special occasion of a wedding feast. 

As an added bonus, I am currently reading Peter Kreeft's Catholic Christianity, in which there was a line that resonated with me with this same battle over the word "Can't," where he discussed the radical notion in Catholicism that each of us has within us the capacity to accept grace in perpetuity such that we could through obedience, live a life without sin. The saints have shown that it can be done albeit with great suffering and difficulty and sublimation.   And it struck me that most of my own sins were sins of "won't," that I claimed were situations of "can't"  because I was tired or it had been a long day or the kids were quarreling and I got mad or the mess was too much and I didn't WANT to serve.  "Can't" and "Won't" were excuses designed to exonerate me from examining what I had done and what I had failed to do; to keep me continuing in the same patterns, the same behaviors without questioning whether they revealed love or something else.

So today, we decorated the tree and Christmas felt a little warmer and a little closer.   Today is the beginning of the third week of Advent, we light the pink candle to remind us of the coming joy.   The shopping still looms and the lists and the programs and the schedule and the daily chores but Christmas is coming and now, the panic that came with that list before when it was further away, both temporarily and as a result of sin, has been lifted.  These things will happen and it will work and what strikes me funny is now, the present seems sufficient, and the future that is Christmas?  I almost can't wait. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Anyone who tells you that kid productions lack drama isn't paying attention.

Yesterday, I got to see my first grader participate in a Nativity Play.  He was a shepherd. 

Now all week long, he has chatted happily about the prospects of being a shepherd, about wearing a blue bathrobe in church, about how glad he was that we would all see him on Friday.  

Friday came.

Suddenly, when the music was playing and the church was packed with parents and the other classes from the school, that aisle walk seemed pretty long.   The narrating angel gave her lines about the shepherds coming from the fields to the manger.   Two shepherds walked forward.  One held back.   He looked around.  He took a few steps and then turned around and walked back out of view.  We waited. The other shepherds were halfway to the scene of Joseph and Mary and I felt for my little son who felt overwhelmed by all the eyes.  My two daughters were sitting on my lap and one of them having seen this asked, "Why isn't Johnny walking up with the others?  Is he scared?" 

"No," I whispered to stop the line of questioning.  "He's acting. He's a shepherd and this was a miracle that had never happened before and so he is in awe.  Fear and trembling at the wonder of the angels and the baby Jesus." I whispered back and mentally willed him to reappear.  There was no way to gracefully exit the church to check on him.  Anxious waiting as versus blessed, but I waited with everyone else for that third shepherd.

Fortunately, my oldest daughter was in the back of the church along with the teacher who was lining kinds up.  Apparently, his sister helped John reset himself by telling him NOT to look at anyone in the eyes.  John returned to the aisle, his head bent low. The shepherd's helm covered him so that no one could see his face.  He began walking.  By the time he got to our pew, we could see his face, one of utter concentration with no small amount of fear.  I worried he'd suddenly bolt.  When he got to the front, his fellow shepherds gave him a bit of a squeeze and I exhaled, grateful in my heart that he hadn't received the role of Joseph.

The rest of the show went on without a hitch and John even sang at the end, as he was part of an ensemble and not a soloist.  Blessed Advent.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Why I Need A New Baby Jesus

Every year in anticipation of Christmas, we set out the nativity set. I have several, including my favorite, a very large plastic Fontanini version given to us as a wedding gift. The Bishop who married us sagely made sure it could weather the pounding kids give a large set of colorful figurines and barn yard animals. They have endured in part because of their oversized nature.

The smaller sets alas, have not fared as well. When we lost a sheep, I did feel the scriptural pull to search the whole house over but that lost lamb did not have as good a shepherd. I could endure the camel going AWOL and even stomached the angel flying away. After all, we could always substitute a star. Then Joseph went missing. The shepherd made a poor understudy. After a protracted search through the various toy bins, we discovered him amidst a sea of knights, action figures and assorted Thomas the Tank Engine friends.

Eventually, one set got whittled down to the bare essentials, Jesus, Mary and Joseph while another had two magi and a donkey as the extended entourage. I could live with these redacted versions for the most part. After all, these were reminders of the real event, and if my children knew the story, even these half measures were sufficient.

However, my daughter whose birthday falls dangerously close to December 25th also has a nativity set that has been added to every Christmas. It has long since expanded past the stable and its core members to include the neighboring town folk and fields. This year, within minutes of having set up her scene however, the baby Jesus went missing.

I was certain one of her toddler sisters had walked off with it so I made some inquiries. The two year old smiled, nodded and toddled off saying something that sounded like "Trash." I paused to consider whether I would take the word of a not yet potty trained child as to the whereabouts of the most important figure in the nativity story. Toddlers do not make good witnesses I told myself after spying the garbage can brimming over.

Theoretically, the figurine should be at the top. But I knew if I looked, I'd wind up digging through the entire smelly contents. I also knew if I didn't take a peek and didn't find it, I'd rue the fact that I hadn't at least opened the bag. It took a walk around the house looking to steel up my nerve to open the trash. I was "checking other obvious places first," I told myself.

Opening the trash bag yielded nothing. Nor did the subsequent smelly sticky digging. The debate in my mind as to when I would have sifted through enough to constitute a thorough search and satisfy my conscience and maternal guilt was as fierce as the smell.

Then the owner of the nativity set came into the kitchen. She looked at her crèche with a fierce pleased pride. "Good idea hiding the Baby Jesus Mom. He shouldn't be there until Christmas."

Mentally thanking her for the out and mildly amused that she didn't find the idea of her mother knee deep in debris the least bit odd, I vowed to get a replacement and wrap it in a box to be the first present opened Christmas day. Bagging up and abandoning the search, I washed my hands and decided to tackle the replacement another day; still hoping that the Baby Jesus might turn up when I least expected it.

So now, when I think of what I need for Christmas, the answer is what Christmas is supposed to be; I need the baby Jesus. And although I’ve ordered a new one, I still know it’s possible that He may show up when I’m not looking reminding me that the time before Christmas is about being watchful and waiting.

(Ran last year 12/10/09 This year, not one figurine has gone AWOL, but it's still early in the season).

Saturday, December 4, 2010

You Better Watch Out!

Today, I was trying to get my little ones to get dressed for bed and brush their teeth.  They were not terribly interested and my oldest daughter trotted out, "Santa is watching." 

My five year old considered this new player.  "Mom?" she asked, "Santa may be watching when I'm sleeping and when I'm up and playing...but he doesn't watch when I'm in the bathroom." 
I agreed.  "Santa understands you need your privacy."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Way to Go You!

It's Thursday so I'm updating this week's successes for Family and Faith Live! and also keeping you folks posted on ongoing events....

1) Clutterectomy continues.  I highly recommend as a means to jump starting organizational thinking about the whole house. It certainly is helping me.   Basement is 1/3 clean.  I can see most of the floor.

2) Figured out how to post clips --see prior post, from YouTube and had fun with it.  

3) Daughter still has double vision but we are coping with it, she wears a patch to school and admittedly, I watched 3/4th of her basketball practice and she seemed undeterred by her condition.   We are still working to figure out why and help stop it. 

4) Convinced one child who had long refused assistance in a subject that was difficult, to seek assistance.  Now I have to convince same child one time is insufficient to do the trick.

5) Youngest son can scoot down stairs unaided.  He does so with regularity.  When he gets to the bottom, he looks up at me if I've watched him go down and says, "Ha!"

6) After searching at several stores for several days, I wised up and ordered Advent candles over the Internet.  Next year, Thanksgiving, I'm ordering the candles!

7) Got a great tip for organizing the linen closet --putting all the sheets for a bed in the pillow case. It is so simple all I could think is "Duh!" and smack my head for not thinking of this myself.  Thanks Maria!

Things that are Wrong in So Many Ways...

5.  There's only one thing to say, "Oy Veh!"


4. Scientists may have understimated the number of stars in the universe by a factor of three, meaning there might be over 300 sextillion twinkling lights out there.   That's 10 to the 21st power.  Please, no one tell Congress such a number exists...they might consider it to be a goal.

3. Bacon Ice Cream. 
 By all foodie accounts I've read, it is good.  But I'm not eating it, not even if they add tomatoes and lettuce, mayo and bread.  **My son quipped, "Whatever it tastes like, it's not Kosher."

2.  Leesburg last year banned all Christmas displays and references to Christmas, a mistake because that town is gorgeous and filled with one of a kind cool stores for shopping which benefited from the festive lights and trim and extra bits of decor of the season.  This year, in a fit of over correction, the same geniuses have okayed having a display for anyone who applies, and that includes a creshe scene with Luke and Leia.  No, I'm not kidding.

Now I am a Star Wars Fan but perhaps the original nonsense of the Star Wars Christmas special would be less annoying.  

Okay.  Perhaps not.  Sorry about that.   Really.  Hey, I just noticed an added bonus, they're wearing Snuggies!  Maybe in that galaxy far away amongst the 300 sextillion of stars, they celebrate with bacon ice cream too. 

1.  The internet provides permanent proof that nothing that is nostalgic or fun can't be ruined.   Yesterday, I was subjected to "A Miser Brother's Christmas," an unnecessary sequel that delves into the psychology behind the animosity between Snow Miser and Heat Miser.   I loved the banjo and trombone piano ragtime songs of those dueling brothers.  I didn't need motivation or underlying issues.  They were brothers. Of course they fought.  It made perfect sense to anyone with sense or for that matter, a sibling.  Memo to baby boomers in the entertainment industry...STOP DECONSTRUCTING MY CHILDHOOD.  You are leaving scars!!!!!  

**In the spirit of charity, I have not subjected you to a clip from this abomination of animation.  Instead, as a touch of the cap to yesterday's post, I submit this YouTube clip of Josh Groban singing "Oh Holy Night" as a palate cleanser.  (Gets rid of the bacon aftertaste).     My favorite rendition was recorded some time in '90-91, as the kids at the school where I taught learned to sign it for a Christmas program. (Yes, that is what it was called back then and yes it was a public school and they let this song be played at lunch over and over and over again so the kids could get the signing correct).  I've never heard that particular version of it since on the radio or anywhere else.  

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Staying Awake at Advent

My latest from

It was Saturday, it was five fifteen and I had all my children and my parents in my 12 passenger van as we drove to our home parish for the Children’s liturgy on the vigil of the first Sunday of Advent. To keep the chatter to a minimum, I put on the all Christmas songs station and my favorite carol was in its final verse, “O Holy Night.”

Now normally, no matter what, that song stops me short of joyful tears with its beauty, both in execution and meaning. But the singer and orchestration in this case was showy and hearing the superfluous flutterings and bells and such put me off. I was about to change the station when my father who is in the middle to advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, joined in the singing, hitting every note and every word perfectly and I had to stop and listen. Dad’s ability to hold a conversation comes and goes and visiting with him requires that one be hyper vigilant about when he is fully present. In the song, he was fully aware and fully singing. How I longed for the song to play on another three verses if only to hear him sing more. I had been mildly irritated and simply focusing on “getting to mass,” getting the job done. My father’s voice snapped me awake.

Advent is about being blessedly awake, blessedly present. This wakefulness involves blessedly acutely preparing for the birth of Christ. The trimmings of Christmas, the cards, the presents, the expenses, the menus, the schedules, the preparations can rob us in that moment of being able to see or in my case, hear the beauty that remains undimmed by all the tinsel. That version of “O Holy Night” now will always permanently echo his singing in my heart; it will snap me awake.

But there are so many things that can lull one to sleep spiritually in this season that we need the candles of the Advent wreath, we need the songs about Mary and the stars on the tree. We need all the symbols this season holds to keep redirecting our very distracted souls towards Christ. How in this 24-7 nonstop chattery twittery blackberry cyberspace world of permanent distraction, do we quiet ourselves enough to look up and see the star and feel that awe of God or fall on bended knee before the infant in the stable?

Invite Mary the Mother of God into our homes as a permanent guest, as if she were to be sitting at our table as we eat breakfast or by our sides as we trim the tree or clean the kitchen. She who was pregnant with Christ, remains permeated by Him and knows how we can come to know her son better. She was and is the wakeful virgin, the model of blessed waiting in all things. Letting her quiet instruction guide how we respond to the minutia and the bigger things in life, we will find a lot of unnecessary things fall away.

Asking Mary to be present is asking to have her eyes, to see the sacred in the everyday in everyone. Letting her be in your heart involves practicing due charity, joyful patience and benevolent graciousness even when sales clerks, the people in the line in front of you, the kids in the car or the news of the day seemingly justifies a rant, snarl, rage or a snarky ungenerous or unkind thought, let alone comment.

Advent is about making room in the Inn, allowing the Holy Family to stay in your life and heart. So let us begin today to practice wakefulness by letting Mary sit at the hearth of our homes. She will direct us via her words, “Do whatever He tells you.” And her actions, “Let it be done to me according to His will.” Have a blessed Advent.

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!