Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year's Resolutions...NOT!

Because making resolutions for other people is so much easier and more satisfying than doing it for one’s self, this year I’m proposing the following for our existing Congress, Executive Branch and General Public.

It’s the very least I can do.

10) Because the economy is still down and spending public money carelessly or extravagantly would be unseemly and project an image that our President and First Lady are out of touch, State Dinners now to be the small buffet (one trip only) at Sizzlers…before five.

9) Likewise, all Campaign Fund Raisers will be 50/50, with half going towards the treasury. After all, none of the politicians want to be unduly influenced by dirty money from lobbyists, fat cats, corporations or rich famous people who want access.

8) Any person who says, “Raise My Taxes” will immediately be hit up for a donation of 10% of their bank account, not income, current existing money. Any person who says, “Raise Their Taxes” will be immediately hit up with a 5% increase tax on all expenditures to remind them that nothing happens in a vacuum.

7) Vacations to beautiful places that are not paid for by the people going to the beautiful places, should not be happening....unless the government is interested in sponsoring a similar trip to each of the 331 million Americans who foot the bill. 

6) A fee on all politicians, 5$ for each untruth/slander/distortion uttered. Pro: if they continue as normal, the debt will be erased within the political year. Bonus Pro: if they wise up, we won’t have to hear their bloviating.

5) Hypocrisy Oath: A new demand of all elected officials…to act as they preach, or be forced to wear a scarlet “H” and hold a sign, “I”m annoying and sanctimonious and you pay me” whenever they appear in public.

4) Hollywood Documentation: They can tell us how important their thoughts are only after they release all their transcripts, SAT scores and can beat Sarah Palin in a debate to be shown on Pay Per View. Losers take a vow of a year of silence.

3) All recipients of stimulus money must document jobs created and/or saved. Doormen for the revolving access to the White house for political donations do not count.

2) Press will cease pretending they are anything but cheerleaders and carry pom poms to all future political events and do jack knives when the politicians speak so that no one is unclear who they’re rooting for. All guests appearing on shows or in photos with said media will be supplied with the requisite white hat or Snidley Whiplash mustache for the occasion. 

1) If you ask for 1.3 Trillion more, you have to show all your work to get credit for the math. No more imaginary numbers, only absolute and real ones.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Eat Healthy Today

Today, being the day after Christmas, I was slumming on some Yuletide fudge and a diet coke.  My son who is seven, came into the kitchen and began assembling food for lunch.  He took out the turkey and the apples and grapes and carrots.  He asked if we could have healthy foods for our meal. 

Assuming it was a commentary on my selected repast, I agreed and quickly downed the last bit of my chocolate Christmas goodness.  "We have to eat healthy Mom." he explained as he counted out the apples and got out the apple slicer. 

"Why is that?" I asked.

"Because when we grow up, it will be important."  He answered.
Sensing he had given this a great deal of thought, I asked, "Why?"
"If all ten Antonetti's grow up and get married and have ten kids," he paused and smiled, "there will be 144 birthdays in a year.  That's a lot of cake and ice cream!"

Starting my new year's resolution of fitness early, I'll be noshing on Lean Cuisine for the near future, to get ready for the far one.   

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Kid Christmas Rules, tips and observations

10) Any time after 4:00 a.m. is late for getting up for Christmas but Mom and Dad refuse to move until 5:30 so it's best to just wait.  

9) Parents should understand that any present that requires assembly/craft time or quality time must be opened and played with today.  Otherwise, it doesn't count. Ditto for books unless you read them to us.

8) You may consider clothing a great thing to find under the tree Mom, and we may need it.  Just don't expect us to get really psyched about such things.

7) Fudge, pie and Busche Noel make for a great Christmas breakfast.

6) Expect a toy coma to hit around 2 pm. It is then we will count up our Christmas loot, admire our gift cards and ask, "When can we go shopping?"

5) Food Network worthy feasts for Christmas day dinner are ill advised.  Remember, we raved over instant mashed potatoes and Pillsbury crescent rolls. 

4) No matter how much food you bought, there will be a need to run to the store. After all, we can't make ice cream with the new ice cream maker if we don't have heavy cream...(see rule 9).

3) Some assembly required should be done outside our eyesight.  It ruins the mystique of the My Little Pony Tent Club House if an adult and 12 year old are having a vigorous discussion about how the thing assembles and one is saying...."But I READ the directions" while the other is explaining the top has to have three assembly points and this one has four.  

2)  Ignore what we said back in #8. Can I wear my new tutu with the new t-shirt and sparkly socks? Today? Tonight for bed? Tomorrow? Forever?

1)  Thanks for not shoeing the Lego Sponge Bob Square Pants Crabby Patty Restaurant off the table even if it did mean we didn't use a table cloth for dinner.  The fullness of Christmas is in our eyes and hearts long before we ever get it in our heads, thanks for playing along and being patient about the whole business.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Small Success Thursday

I know, it's 9:30 and this wasn't up yet. 

I could blame it on Christmas, but my preparations thus far are far behind where they need to be.  It's just, somehow, when the kids are home, it's harder to launch the morning.  Paul still has school through tomorrow, and it's really cramping my day.  Top that with my daughter's birthday tomorrow and it's swamp city. 

But folks, today is Thursday and thus we celebrate the week even as we wait for Christmas. 

This week, I'm blessed by answered prayers, and by the grace of getting to be in a small way, an answer to a heart's desire.  When we get the impulse during this time, to do something more, we should listen.  It could be a wish in the child like heart of an adult that has gone unvoiced to the world, but which the Holy Spirit directs to a listening soul to enact.  Ask and ye shall receive, that is part of Christmas and the grace of this season.  Even ask for the absurd, for the little (bourbon balls) and the great (health).  I believe this with all my heart.  

Towards that end, I am behind on my daily rosary (by the whole of the Glorious yesterday and two decades from Tuesday and all of today's).   So I've got some quality time I've got to address.  Today I have a stress test where I'll be stuck on a tread mill or sitting in a Dr.'s office so it will happen.  But you will be in those prayers, and all that you ask for, all that your hearts ache for, all that seems impossible but is so needed.   God knows, but ask anyway.  

Ask! Mirror your children in their fierceness of asking,  mirror their great hope and recognize that your love for them and generosity with them, imitates God's with us in all things.   Ask because it is a way of preparing your heart, ask for the grace of seeing the star, of recognizing Christ in the stable, and if necessary, for the unexpected generosity of the three kings and let the peace of that night settle on your heart despite the very very very very very very long list of what needs to be done.  

It will happen.  Christ comes to us.  This is the all of Christmas.  Our hearts will be full.  
To all of you, Merry Christmas!

Oh...and this week, I made bourbon balls for my parents and mailed them, had a big prayer answered and realized I need to get ready for Christmas and I'm not.

I also recognized that this past semester has been brutal on my brain, body and psyche with the multiple schools and constant driving and I didn't know or allow myself to notice it until I stopped at which point, exhaustion set in.

Worked on decluttering. Exercised but it's still only once a week. Bleah.

Also recognized I'm a bit burned out from everything,so I'm going to let this blog take a week off, to let my brain rest and return fresh and ready to go, January 1st. Love to you all.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Reflections on What Must have Been

Imagine having to pack up for a business trip as demanded by your government a week before your wife is due.  The only mode of transportation is either one's feet or a mule.  The travel is over harsh terrain, bitter cold in the night, searing heat in the day, it is dusty, it is long, it is fatiguing and the reason is beyond one's control.  Arriving, there is no place to stay, no kind faces, no room at any of the inns.  Necessity creates a place for the birth. 

What made that first Christmas perfect was not the preparations or the setting, but the internal preparations and personal responses of those entrusted with first greeting Christ. Joseph taking them, searching, not allowing the slammed doors to prevent him from seeking for a place. One must wonder if he simply finally asked God, to give them a place, and that prayer allowed the last inn keeper to crack open his heart enough to bring them to the stable.

Having a child in a stable, surrounded by straw, by beasts, even if pain free, was not easy.  Mary had to trust completely that even this was part of God's plan.  She was obedient, she was sin free, but this was the result of her free will submission to enduring the harsh of this fallen world without allowing that harshness to savage her spirit or dominate her mind.  It must have been remarkable, to know someone so willingly generous of spirit and kind of heart. 

The three kings had been anticipating the birth of the King for months.  Like those who shop all year round for the perfect gifts and thus have the very things to give all they've loved, the three magi were planners, rewarded with finding the Christ Child because they still in the end, trusted enough to leave behind their kingdoms and follow the star.  

My family is probably (alright, definitely), more shepherd like.  Christmas came upon them as a surprise and no matter how long Advent is, the last week comes to me and mine as a shock.  They weren't ready in the classic sense, they hadn't prepared or even dared to hope for such a sight that evening, they were just going about the business, the hard business of living day to day.  But when Christmas beckoned, they too abandoned even their sheep, even the little they had and came as is, with open hearts to the stable.   They got to sing with the angels, they got to see the Christ child and the holy family and the kings.  Like the last workers to show up at the vineyard, they got paid in full, the same as the Kings.   No matter how disorganized we are leading up to Christmas, we still get to mass, we still get there in the end and it still somehow makes all that was, all that is, and all that will be, better, whole, holy.

Leading up to December 25th, it is easy to sometimes forget this as we paint pastoral versions of this first day, that first night, the whole Incarnation is a real flesh and blood Jesus, with all the messiness of this fallen world. It was probably stressful.  It was probably rushed. It was hardly ideal.  It was messy.  It involved hassle and frustration and not knowing and wonder, awe, joy and bliss when God's plan was fully rendered, fully known in that first Silent night.  

So Merry Christmas to all of you in this week before Christmas, may you give things that tickle others hearts, prepare your own hearth and home to receive Him, and find the joy that comes from knowing that God gave all for each of us in becoming man, that we may one day rest in His presence and sing full throated with the angels with our whole hearts. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Theology at Snack Time

Part of the genetic code of siblings is uncivil warfare.  Most of these fights stem from trying to carve out or maintain turf.  But the inspiration for brother/sisterly scuffles can be anything (Mommmm, it's my turn to use the Wii/computer/tv), to nothing (Mom...she's giving me the evil smile) to all things visible and invisible, desired and denied. 

Today, sugar and chocolate chip cookies caused a great deal of emotional pain. 

One child loves sugar cookies and another is a devotee to only chocolate chip.  In the interest of inter family peace, I'd purchased two bags, one of each of the slice and bake variety.  Alas, even this bit of forethought was insufficient to prevent what followed. 

After school, one daughter baked said cookies.  Envisioning my children screaming as they tried to suppress the desire to spit out the hot chocolaty goodness because it was leaving chocolate chip sized divots on their tongues from the heat, I made them wait for the little suckers to cool. 

Then I served 8 plates (the baby didn't get one and the oldest was at school for an exam), 6 with one of each kind, 1 with 2 sugar and 1 with just chocolate chip.  The children came to the table in shifts to get their snacks.  I was pouring milk and thus did not monitor seating arrangements and here the mischief began.  The double chocolate chip got consumed by an unknown player, but evidently not the person designated for the two-fer.   Having witnessed the outburst, none of the others volunteered to admit if they'd done the deed.  Besides, they got extra cookies by staying silent. 

My son went back to the kitchen for a refill but alas, he would only be able to have one chocolate chip and a sugar, he'd lost out on the opportunity for a double dip of his favorite cookie. This grievance had to be avenged and addressed.   He turned on his sister (his first/foremost and most often) target.  She claimed innocence.   I pointed out there was no proof and that I had a solution if he'd allow.  He kept attacking. In frustration, he kicked her in the ankle.  I separated them, no longer interested in the investigation.  I sent her to play and him outside to cool off.

  Now I'm fairly certain that she might have had a part in this, (I'm envisioning two sisters or a sister and a brother came in and impulsively ate each one cookie extra) but kicking ruled out any further discussion. When he rang the doorbell, I sought to reestablish peace.
"I can solve your problem." I offered.
He wasn't interested.  I re-shut the door.

He rang the doorbell multiple times. It is obnoxious.
"Look. I have the ingredients to make home made chocolate chip cookies." I explained.  "I'll make you some." 

He muttered about blaming his sister.  I shut the door again.

After trying each of the entrances and discovering I'd also locked the car door so he couldn't sulk in the van, he knocked once more in a hard angry manner.  I opened the door just a hair and explained things. "You can have Revenge or you can have cookies. Home made Chocolate chip cookies warm from the oven.  I'll even let you make them."

It is ever thus, the human soul when offered paradise and hell, often thwarts itself. It was cold outside but I shut the door once more thinking back at my own brother and how we specialized in tourmenting each other, but only if our blood was truely up, would we not have gone for the cookies. It was hard not to let my own psyche start to be pulled in; I wanted to say "Bah!" and wash my hands of the whole mess but then it occurred to me (and I consider this grace because my first instinct was to say, fine, no one gets anymore cookies, we're done, kitchen closed....) kind of rant.   My son's blood was truely up, he felt his grievance keenly even if it was trivial and like all the souls at Christmas, he needs the grace of this, of lavish giving anyway and started baking.

He peeeks in the window near the kicthen and then there is a meek knock at the door.

For the record, he apologized to his sister for kicking. We never found out who ate them originally but my son even shared the chocolate chip goodness afterwards. I deliberately decided not to do an investigation. Cookies on a plate, the raw dough goodness, all of it once he allowed himself, erased the need.  For a kid, he'd been given the option of fire and water, and after some deliberation, finally chosen life over death.  Cookies. Revenge. Christmas. Sin. Why do we chose otherwise?  Thank goodness Love ignores our stubborness and offers Himself anyway.

Silent Night with Blinking Lights*

Before I was married, I was unaware of the theological differences between my husband and me on the acceptability of blinking versus steady Christmas lights.  I'd grown up with referring to such things as nervous lights, lights that couldn't commit, and liked color but wanted steadiness, taseful color that would show a touch of professionalism that my life otherwise lacked.

He loved lots of lights and blinking displays. He wanted it fun for the kids.    Renting a place in our early marriage delayed my discovery of this seasonal difference of opinion. So when we bought our first home a few years later and icicle lights were all the rage, I happily imagined our home in the soft glow of white dripping lights for the holidays.

"Let's decorate! You do the inside, we'll do the out." he proposed.  And we were off to the races. Half an hour later, he came in for the keys.  "We need more." he explained. 

I suggested that I’d make cookies and hot chocolate for everyone. They were a happy and willing army to “deck the halls.” Equally blissful, I put on my red Christmas apron and cut some slice in bake sugar cookies and made cocoa. I sighed in happiness at the prospect of this Christmas memory in the making.

Then, I looked outside.

There was a string of blue connected to a fluttering string of red and gold that meandered through the lower part of a tree and then wrapped a trunk and draped in artful bows, green, yellow and orange. A second tree was wrapped in white with a red, white and blue trailer that rippled on and off. Lit candy canes were propped in the ground, some at a 30 or 75 degree angles, some two feet apart, others, two inches.

“Isn’t this great?” My oldest son beamed. “I got to use the ladder.”
Sublimation is good for the soul. Seeing the real light of Christmas in the flashing lights in my children’s eyes, I surrendered my vanity to the blinking chaos that engulfed my yard. I figured, “They’re only young once.” I can get my pretty picture some other time.

The next year, I still wanted my vision of a white light Christmas. So I started putting out the lights myself, making a sacrifice and enduring icy cold but not snow inducing weather. Having covered all of the leafless bushes with nets of white, I left them on to surprise my husband. “Good honey, you started the lights.” He said when he came home.

“Is it time to decorate the house Dad?” my oldest daughter asked while the other ones went scrambling for mittens and coats. Within the hour, the house was festooned with hanging globes and stars, a rope of lights that bridged two trees and a separate tree with lights draped around the outer branches that blinked in three separate patterns. I served the Christmas cookies and thought, “Maybe next year.”

The third year, our neighbor across the street upped the ante by placing large lit trees and moving deer on his yard the day after Thanksgiving. He wrapped his trees and lined his driveway in a dazzlingly colorful if inelegant display. Now thoroughly indoctrinated with the idea that this was how to celebrate Christmas, my kids tripped the entire yard with lights. The candy canes were back. A blinking rope snaked around the mail box. The 30 foot pine was no obstacle. The kids tied the end of a strand of lights to a stick and their 6’2’’ hero dad climbed up the 18 foot ladder and heaved the stick over the top repeatedly. For the next four weeks, the two houses engaged in a silent happy Christmas war, adding additional blinking somethings to top whatever the other family had done until December 24th. Having lost once again, I handed out the cookies and fretted. This was becoming a tradition.

Then we moved.

Our new home had an HOA policy, where all the “holiday” displays must be tasteful. Every house had the soft glow of unobtrusive lights I’d wanted. The kids dutifully put out the sweet white lights. Their dad took the colored ones and artfully draped three trees in the back. We handed out cookies and looked at all the quiet but lovely decorations. It was pretty. But the lights in their eyes weren’t quite right.

I put out the uneven blinking candy canes around the white Christmas lighted tree, and whoops of joy shattered the silent night. I’d been converted. Now it was Christmas.

*Originally run in Island Park News in December of 2008

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Small Succcess Thursday

Another week has flown by and now, we start to count our blessings as part of preparation for Advent.  Nothing of the blur of the season matters but this, that we grow in grace, in gratitude for the gift that gives us Christmas.  It's so easy to get caught up in the moment, with needing to get cards and cookies and gifts and outfits, haircuts, shoes, trimming the tree, setting lights, and all the demands that come from everywhere and everything.  

But we're supposed to use this time of blessed waiting to learn how to wait blessedly, to wait on the blessed, to be blessed by the waiting itself. 

I admit, I catch sniffs and snatches of that, but they are the momentary, erased by the next moment when reality interrupts in the form of a car needing a repair, the toilet plunged, holes in socks, dishwashers that don't wash for some reason today, but do fine tomorrow, extra pounds, grey hairs, homework slips, cold weather, bad news on the news, colds and bills.  There is a noisiness to this world that can shout to the point of being seemingly legion and unstoppable. 

But that's the great gift of Christmas, the quiet blessedness of that scene of Joseph, Mary and Jesus and the star.  There's beauty. There's light. There's Awe and there's the great silence of that time, when all the ills of our hearts were stilled with the mere hope represented by the Incarnation. 

We need not live angry, we need not live only for this life, or stay steeped in sin, mired in pain, stuck in the dullness of scratching out a day to day existence.  To reach the stable, we need only look to the Heavens for the Star.  To seek out wonder and awe is to practice imitating the Silent Night of that Holy Night in our souls and let that blessed stillness permeate our being.  I remember how, it is the same way a mother can get still by holding a newborn to her chest.  

I understand what is necessary; it's just I'm very stubborn and take a while to learn to "Be still and know."  That grace takes time to build in me. And then every once in a while, I surrender to it. Then my soul wonders why it took so long and why I leave that moment so quickly.

So what did I do this week?

1) I went to a party with my husband.  It was lovely and fun. 
2) Got haircuts for six of the kiddos.
3) 14 loads of laundry including socks sit awaiting final transport to their proper rooms.
4) Organized Christmas outfits for all children.
5) Walked 2 miles on Sunday.  Okay, so that's a lame start to an exercise program, but it is a start. 

Why I Need a Time Machine

Some day I'm going to go into retail.  I will make millions.  The store I open will be hailed as a landmark creation that addresses the crucial needs of shoppers everywhere.  I will sell clothing in the season for which it is intended.

Yesterday I went shopping for Christmas dresses. 
As my mother observed, "This should have been done in October."
 That's when I was hunting for costumes and candy.
 "July."  she answered. 
"I was looking for swimsuits." "You should have started in April."
"But who wants to look in April, you've just come off of Winter and have all that cold season fat.  If you wait until June, you might have shed a few pounds..."

Mom recognized lunacy in it's organic form and remained silent on this point.  She's considerate of my delusions that way.

But it got me to thinking...there must be other procrastinators out there, last minute people who don't want to hunt and peck through the Internet and then pay 50 plus dollars extra for the privilege of having it shipped to their own home.  People who make the plane just before the door closes, who hit the snooze button more than once, who time things to the wire and often are so in this season, they aren't thinking of the next.  People who want to get today's stuff 

What would it's slogan be....The Procrastinator's Paradise....If you Forgot it...We got it!

The store would be open late for hassled parents who upon tucking their munchkins in bed were told, "Oh yeah, tomorrow I need a luminary kit, candy canes for the whole class and a Christmas sweater." 
It would be open early for those speed round shoppers who ran out of anything remotely edible that they could present as a reasonable facsimile of a lunch.   (The cupboard looked like an episode of Chopped without the stuff one would actually want to eat).   Yes.  It would make other people's lives easier. 

However, that dream is going to have to least until I find four Christmas dresses, a luminary kit, and whatever else I forgot to get that is necessary for right now.   It might take until next Halloween though. 

Prayer Update.

Prayer Update: From Facebook update: Zoe is sitting pretty at 98% with no oxygen. She is just on her machines thank you God and thank you for all who lifted her up in prayer today.   Thank you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Prayer Request

Imagine every night surrendering your child at the foot of the cross.  I have a good friend that does that and so I've told her she's a closet Catholic. For nine years, she has attached her daughter to respirators every evening as part of kissing good night.

Having Ondine's Curse, the autonomic functions like breathing and heart beating can and do stop when she falls asleep. The pacers and respirator keep her alive.  The readings of the past few weeks about "Staying Awake!" take on a whole new meaning when one considers the level of vigilance required by my friend and her family and that of the 200 or so families alive at this point in the US that must deal with this difficult condition.  They must be forever alert.

My friend handles this with a diamond type faith, scathing sense of humor and absolute force of will.  She can't have an off night or a tired night or a I'd like to slum it night.  There are days when I put them to bed late, when I don't read stories, I don't do the double check for teeth brushing, when I phone it in.  There are nights when I fall asleep on the job.  She jabs me at times, "I used to be impressed with you, but now that there are the Duggars, well, you're just not up to the job.  Maybe if you had twins." 

Many of you know the story of her coming to see Paul at the hospital. I was in a deep funk keeping vigil over him at Children's.  We didn't know when the operation would be, but heart surgery was coming and I was scared.   She'd brought me hot chocolate from Starbucks.  Up to this point, she'd not seen my son.   Looking at him attached to the wires and monitors, she said, "Wow! He's Down Syndrome Hot!" and I spewed hot cocoa.  It was the first hard laugh since his birth and it lifted the worry in a way all the assurances of Children's doctors and nurses hadn't. 

Now, her daughter is struggling and has needed oxygen since Thursday.  Her mother cannot get her off the machines.  Shelley is normally pretty relaxed about managing this condition.  She handles the visits to the ICU the way the rest of us deal with colds, she just manages.  For her to even say that she's worried means the rest of us should pray. 

So I'm asking all of you to ask for a healing for Zoe for Christmas.  They are a beautiful family though I've only given you a snap shot of the mother.  Thank you.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Not Ready

It was the third Sunday of Advent, and I woke up not ready.

We got the grocery shopping done and had breakfast, we'd been out the night before so people slept in, so we were not ready.  We decided to go to the five as a result and the day drifted by.  I went for a weak jog (my first in ages), my body said, "Not ready."

At 2, dinner was put in the oven. It would take 4 hours and be finished just in time for us returning from mass.  By 4:30, I began collecting children.  We'd need two cars.  Three children needed shoes. The baby needed changing.  "We're not ready!" was churning through my head as I scrambled for socks and coats.  Getting in the car, I noted that three children had left their jackets behind, and that my 4 year old was wearing pants that had in the last five minutes, found an excuse to tear.  We were running late. We were not ready.

We drove as fast as speed cameras would allow. 

Parking in the handicapped spot thanks to Paul, I noted that the van was poorly positioned.  Everyone emptied out and started for the doors.  I got back in the car and re parked.  Scrambling into a pew, all I could feel was fatigue at trying to get to mass and not making it on time or even before the first reading. 

Within seconds, a child asked to go to the bathroom and there it was again, that not readiness.  My nostrils detected the unmistakable Pepe le Peu odor of a diaper needing changing.  Off during the homily I go with toddler in tow.  It is bad.  I use up all the wipes.  My daughter shows up with another daughter who has decided it is bathroom break time.  She helps me scramble for supplies to get my toddler clean.  It takes forever.  Washing my hands, I feel so utterly useless at this mass.  I've heard three scraps of the readings and about four minutes of the homily.  Going back to the pew, I'm wondering if I can even make a good case for allowing myself to receive communion.  We've been late and half present for half the mass.  Baby number 2 starts demanding attention and I open the diaper bag, (breaking the zipper) to get a bottle. 

The Priest is talking about how John the Baptist wanted to prepare people, to make them ready for Christ and how we are preparing ourselves or supposed to, with following the sacraments, prayer, seeking to act lovingly, think lovingly and scrub our souls free of sin before Christmas as the proper preparation for December 25th, as versus Christmas cards (haven't done it), cleaning the house (that's perpetual), buying presents (hahahahahahaha), buying festive gear (need to), etcetera etcetera etcetera.  On all fronts, I'm just a mess, barely managing today.  I'm not ready. 

And then the offertory song begins.  Hearing my husband and four of my six daughters singing with full voice, the Servant Song by Donna Marie McGargill, OSM.

It feels like the words were written for me in that moment of feeling just so lost and not present.

1. What do you want of me, Lord? Where do you want me to serve you? Where can I sing your praises. I am your song.

It is also a gentle rebuke of me for refusing to sing the other day because I didn't feel comfortable.

REFRAIN: 1. Jesus, Jesus, you are the Lord. Jesus, Jesus, you are the way.
2. Jesus, Jesus, you are my Lord. Jesus, Jesus, you are the way.
3. Jesus, Jesus, be warmth of my heart. Jesus, Jesus, you are the way.
4. Jesus, Jesus, you are my light. Jesus, Jesus, you are the way.

2. I hear you call my name, Lord, and I am moved within me. Your Spirit stirs my deepest self. Sing your songs in me. (REFRAIN 2)

And I think about how Advent is about waiting and listening, and that perhaps I am too impatient and too noisy to listen well. 

3. Above, below, and around me. Before, behind and all through me, your Spirit burns deep within me. Fire my life with your love. (REFRAIN 3)

Being fired hurts, but it makes the clay or the steel or whatever the good stuff is that has been molded and allowed itself to be shaped, stronger.  I'd just spent a few days puzzling over the eternal question of what now? for my life, and being irritated that God hasn't bothered to send a silver platter engraved explanation of His plans for me. 

4. You are the light in my darkness. You are my strength when I'm weary. You give me sight when I'm blinded. Come see for me. (REFRAIN 4)
And the choir of those I love combined with all those around me that I don't know overwhelms.  In that moment, everything that hasn't happened or needs to happen, falls away.  I want to just drink in the notes as my children sing, to hear every voice and sear their sounds in my head for the future.  It's not even something I can mention to them, or those who are self conscious, won't sing next time.  It was a one time concert, a Holy Spirit gift of Gaudete Sunday to help me get ready. 

Return to the House at Pooh Corner

Written by my sister, Jennifer Sanders

If I close my eyes now, I can go there. The bonfire is massive, tediously constructed from driftwood the family has collected all afternoon. The air is salty and warm, while the evening breeze provides a respite from the mosquitoes. There is an assembly line for s'mores, and the family gathers to hear stories and songs. I pop a freshly made s'more into my mouth, rewarded with a goey, chocolatey mess on my face and fingers. Dad has a guitar, and he begins to play.

"Christopher Robin and I walked along under branches lit up by the moon..."

A Loggins and Messina classic, I smile and sing along.

"Posing our questions to Owl and Eeyore as the days disappear all to soon..."

A song about slowing down enjoying the innocence of childhood...Dad is belting it out, and the rest of us can't help but sing along.

That memory is a beautiful one. I treasure it. It came to me this afternoon as I was nursing my 6 month-old daughter, Lucy. I have been reflecting on the meaning of Advent on this eve of Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete, meaning rejoice, reminds us to wait in joyful hope.

Since my dad has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, this type of waiting has become difficult. More often than not, I shake my fists at God. But other times, when I am touched by grace, I grasp beauty in the midst of my families' suffering.

Jesus reminds us that, "...unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Mt. 18:3). Dad is surely becoming like a child again. Stripped of all things, he is humbled and vulnerable, an image of the incarnation.

I think again of my dad playing guitar down at the beach, and the words of that song.

"But I've wandered much further today than I should, and I can't seem to find my way back to the wood..."

All of us wander far from the path God would have us take. God asks us to be like children: docile, humble, innocent, dependent on Him.

Surely, my father is back on the right path. Looking at my dad and this disease with human eyes, he is lost, wandering, aimless. Yet, at the same time that we here on earth are losing him, he draws ever closer into God's mysterious and loving embrace.

I gaze at my sleeping baby as I rock back and forth, and I know that my dad has found his way back home. I pray that God will lead all of us back home into his loving embrace. I will see my dad again. One day he will be whole again.

And we will sing together.

"At the end of the day, I was watching my son, sleeping there with my bear by his side. So I tucked him in, I kissed him, and as I was goin', I swear that old Bear whispered, 'Boy, welcome home.' Believe me if you can, I've finally got back to the house at Pooh corner by one. What do you know there's so much to be done? Count all the bees in the hive. Chase all the clouds from the sky. Back to the days of Christopher Robin and Pooh.

See you at the beach, Dad. I love you.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Small Success Thursday

Sometimes, posting is a small success. (Sigh). 

This week has been rushed.  It hasn't been an epic fail, but it's sure felt cluttered, fractured and disorganized.   But today, we try to find the successes of the past week, like finding a matched pair of socks in the obnoxiously sized pile of unmated unloved ones. 


This week, I volunteered for my daughter's Daisy troop. (Cookie mom).  I've done it before so I know what it entails.

I wrote on Helen two days of the week.

There are only three loads of laundry on the couch waiting to be folded.

I mailed my Mom's birthday present and a small gift for my sister.

Now it's your turn.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Extentuating Extra Curricular Circumstances

For a time, I was steadfast about creating individual activities for individual children. It was a point of pride in my brain that one played soccer, another basketball, and still a third did Cubscouts.  After a season of ping pong driving from one soccer field to a different school for round ball to yet another gym for what was supposed to be a parent/child activity within a 90 minute time span, that vanity was burned away neatly.  I could live with lower expectations, at the very least, of me.

I also used to force extra-curricular activities. Demanding that the kids participate became the recreational equivalent of "Eat your veggies." But somewhere in between the fifth and eighth child, when no week day went without an extra oh, so and so has....fill in the blank, the emotional will to attempt to create uber offspring who were doing everything became much less interesting.  Any guilt at not signing up for something was quickly and quietly stomped into the ground with the mantra, "I don't have to drive."

Still, this is Montgomery County.  Every activity is Google + recommended and has a pedigree/litany spread sheet that reveals how this swimming/gymnastics/piano/soccer/art/underwater construction/Japanese immersion/fusion cuisine/hair coloring master mechanics class is better and has produced more gold medalists and Rhodes Scholars than any other schlub who hangs up a sign and offers to teach your child a skill for money.   So I couldn't go cold turkey on the after school bonus stuff even if I did need to rethink the details of all of it.

At this point, we decided after school activities work best if multiple children are doing the same thing at the same time at the same place.   I further decreed to allow/require that any and all activities after school meet two important criteria: 1) they did not require me and 2) did not require a car ride.

Band happened at school.  It happened during school.  It also happened after school, but right after, therefore it did  not require an extra trip. Ergo, everyone got band.  Further, as long as this state continues, everyone will get band even if they hate the instrument assigned and can't play a note.  For those who enjoy it, "We are so happy to support you and your interests."  For those who think otherwise, "We're building character. Now start practicing." 

As a benevolent dictator, I have their best interests at heart. When they get ready to apply to high school, they can put down if nothing else, band and they can put down that they did it for four years.  For the record, I'm totally fine if they want to rebel and become individuals with their own pursuits once they become licenced drivers. 

Still, even with the one stop extra-curricular shopping, kids activities threaten to kudzu my life and schedule.  It starts innocently enough with one little bright eyed child being offered the opportunity to do scouts.  There is even a carpool available.  The reason for saying no is pure selfishness and so guilt and reason demand naturally I say yes.  Then another asks to play sports and lo, their practice is on the same evening.  Guilt and reason shrug their shoulders. "Hey, it's not anything beyond what you are doing now."  Driving and bringing  a slew with me, one in the mandatory slew spots friends doing a third activity that is the same night. 

Logically, he thinks "Why not?" and asks for the opportunity to participate. I don't have an out and  can see the potential cascade of events that will follow.  Practice will move to a different night, forcing two outings a week.  The second night will also allow a fourth child to take on doing something that is parallel in schedule and at the same place.  The desire to accommodate what seems harmless will be fierce.  External pressure from guilt, reason and the kid in question will lead to surrender. 

Once signed up, the schedule of the new activity will be revealed to be a third night (that one was a once in a lifetime rescheduling for a different night), and I will be doomed to spend two hours of my life trapped in a car four nights a week while hot meals, (even microwaved) hot showers and bedtime before 12 a.m.will become a thing of the past, rumored to at one time exist in our household. I know I should hold firm.

But then my four year old daughter comes to me with those moppet eyes shining, talking about taking dance lessons.  They're on Saturday and won't interfere with the existing schedule.

 (Sigh). If you need me, I'll be in the car. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas Regulations

It began with a question meant to while away the time driving from home to mass. “Hey kids! The grandparents in Texas want to give a family gift. Any suggestions?”

“A Dog!”
“A Fish!”
“A kitten!”

Sensing a trend I did not favor, I explained. “Rule number one: We shall add no living things to our family this Christmas.”

“What about a tree?”

“Nice try. But trees need to be planted at a different season, so while it’s a good idea, no. Let’s try again.”

“A Car!”
“A Boat!”
"A Tree House like they have on Phineas and Ferb."

“Okay, rule number two: This is out of range. Think less expensive.”

Me: That's a bit on the low side for a family gift.
“Donut maker!”
“Deep Fryer!”

Hearing loud protests from those who do not like donuts and those who do not like fried anything and wanting to quell the appliance litany that was starting to cream kids watch too much Food Network... “Okay, rule number three…we probably don’t need a food related gift.”

“Again, remember I said no living things.”

“So the rule is the range is somewhere between Candy and a Boat, and nothing that breathes and nothing you eat.” My oldest son summarized it for the younger ones. I still thought the bell curve was a bit large.

“Skateboard Park!”

Yep. Too large. “Mmmmm. We need to add one more rule. You know how I said no living things? Well, we also want nothing that turns living things dead. Plus I think they were outside the stated range which I will modify, it must be smaller than a go-cart.”

“You keep adding rules.” My daughter pouted.

“Well it's a gift. And I think intent and results matter. I don't think your grandparents want to give things that can cause death.”

“We didn’t say guns.”
“Or knives.”
“Or Bear traps.”

Me: “That’s good because you’re not getting guns or knives or bear traps. Did you want guns or knives or bear traps?”

“Not particularly.”
“The bear trap might have been cool.”

Me: “How do you even know about bear traps?”

“Civil War Series and the History Chanel”
“Little House in the Big Woods.”
“Wyle E. Coyote.”

“Okay. Nothing living. Nothing dead. Nothing that makes the living dead.”

“So no zombies.”

“Well, they’re not exactly keeping with the spirit of the season and we said a family gift.”

“We could get a family of zombies.”
“Cool. And if they got out of hand, the bear trap would come in handy.”
“Or the boat for a quick get away.”

Me: Okay, last rule because we’re almost to the parking lot. It must be in some way possible, fun, affordable, safe, not living and for the whole family. How about a basketball hoop?

I see grins in the rear view mirror as I park. "I think Mom planned that."
That's giving me way way way too much credit...but I'll take it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Favorite Christmas Carols to Get Me in Christmas Mood

I've written about those Christmas carols that I loathe in prior years.  No need to rehash.  But since the radio that plays 24-7 Yuletide jams seems intent to only play the same 12 songs over and over again, I've decided to be my own D.J. and post here for your listening pleasure, my favorite of all time Christmas songs. 

1. We Need A Little Christmas. Perry Faith and Orchestra version.

Yes.  I love this chestnut from the K-mart special record of only chestnuts.  Yes I know Glee did a new version but I don't care.

From sixth grade on, I remember longing to be picked as one of Santa's dancers for the annual Christmas show.  They wore red leotards with red skirts trimed in white and santa hats and a touch of glitter on their eyes.  They all had long hair.  I thought they were amazing. 

This was the best version I could find. This is a listening post, not a visual one. Sorry.

Needless to say, this dream went unfulfilled but I still see the dance that I practiced in my bedroom with the eternal Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer --Sherry the short short haired tinsel teethed clumsy dancer hopes whenever it gets airtime.

2. All I Want for Christmas

This one gets me bopping without the embarrasment of emotional adolescent baggage.  It may be the 2007 equivalent of We Need A Little Christmas, (after all, she's got the same outfit) with Mariah Carey taking the place of Perry Faith and the Orchestra/Chorus but I like the song.  The video almost (almost kills it for me).

3. Mary's Boy Child

This is just a gorgeous reinvention of old songs.  I wish I knew how to play the steel drums or could sing so I could join in.  I do anyway, just when only those children who can't tell anyone are around. 

The song minus the german intro had them clad in white fake fur.
So while the floating candles are a bit funky and the fog at their feet, in all honesty, I'm basing these on the songs themselves, not the videos. Attention family who might be reading this... please do NOT see this list as a request for a white fur trimmed anything! 

4. Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by BNL with Sarah MacLachlan

Okay, I'm not taking any chances.  Here's a straight shot. No video to speak of, and we won't speak of those others.  A CD cover and the music and that's it.  I don't want all my favorites scarred by strangeness. 

It's my oldest two's favorite song too so we all join in for that one.

And my all time favorite that no one thankfully has royally messed up yet...

Martina McBride sang this in 1992 and it was the first time I'd really heard it.  For me, it stopped time.  I love every version I've ever heard since.  The school where I worked was doing a Christmas show and the deaf students from the 5th and 6th grade signed it and I got to hear and see it practiced every morning while I was feeding my students breakfast in the cafeteria.  It was a great way to prepare for Advent.   However, the only version I could find of her singing it was within a 10 minute interview, so you'll have to content yourself with Josh Groban.  Not too shabby. 

Hope it helped create a bit of Christmas cheer. I feel better having listened to it, though I may have to scrub the vision of Mariah Carey frolicking in the snow with Santa from my brain. I'm off to don my red santa hat trimmed with fur and encourage the kids to set up the tree.

And a new one sent to me by a friend via email. Thanks Theresa!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Small Success Thursday

It's been a crazy week. 
Today is Thursday.
So today we stop to consider how last week, we did little things with great love.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

This week is the first week of Advent.  There is lots to consider, and sometimes it feels like there is never any time.   Today, I'm feeling pressed.

But we celebrated Thanksgiving. 
We played football as a family.
We had a grocery date.
I submitted an article.
This week I finished my book on Dorthy Day. The review is three posts back.
A friend invited me to go to a night of reflection and I did.
And I made a pitch for a magazine job.  We'll see.

Now.  What were you up to in the past week?

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!