Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Other Side of the Story

Adolescence isn't easy, especially when you are trying to carve out your own identity and feel so utterly stamped by your family.  I know the instant we show up somewhere, with the big van and the sheer numbers, (not to mention the loudness of some of our children who have not learned to curb their natural enthusiasm in order to draw less attention to our grand exiting of said vehicle), we've already driven our teens crazy. 
The older ones cope by appearing to be "responsible adults," grabbing the nearest cutest toddler and becoming their sole custodians for any outing we might take.   It's the middle ones who struggle.  They do not want the task of caring for a younger sibling, or the association with all the other younger siblings.  Being part of a mob of children and unable to escape, my teens struggle to maintain their cool, and to look cool. 
The other day, I read Matt's piece "I'd Kill Myself if I Had That Many Kids."  It bothered me because while I've been on the receiving end of this sort of thinking many a time, I also know some of my own children have leveled a parallel charge at me when they feel underserved. "There's too many!" they shout.  "I don't want to be in such a big family. It's too big!"  It is a weapon in the teen arsenal, sometimes effective, sometimes not, but indicative of the corrosive thinking that permeates our secular culture.  
Yesterday, I heard the canard one too many times.  So I called the two leveling such charges to come outside and told them to knock it off.  Lectures as a rule, don't work, which is a shame because I'm good at it.  So I did the next best thing.  I told them a story.  
Before I had my own children, I worked as a special needs teacher and took my students to a McDonald's.  The manager and I had become friends over the year, with her coming to sit down and visit with me and the students each time we came for lunch.   She let on that she was one of ten children. 
I started to wax poetical about how much I loved my Dad's extended family and having tons of Aunts and Uncles and cousins but she shook her head.  "I had too many siblings." 
I asked without thinking, "How many of your brothers and sisters do you think should never have been born?"  It floored her and silenced the up until then easy flow of conversation.  "What do you mean?" she said, her hand over her heart, as if I'd stabbed it.  I was 26 at the time, so I can't blame youth, but tact has never been my strong suit.
I explained, "You said there were too many, so which ones do you think shouldn't have been there?"  And she walked back from it, "Well, it was hard."  I agreed, it probably was.  We stayed friends. 
I told my children, taking care of, raising, feeding, clothing, managing all ten of you, no question, it is hard.  There are days, minutes, moments, nights, weeks when it feels mind blowingly hard.  But I'd never stop.  I'd never quit.  They are the only reason I do this, but because they are, I could never not do this.  
So the answer to the woman who thought she'd prefer death to more people to love, is the same as the answer to my manager friend, is the same as the one to my teens.  I can't imagine living any other way, and that the absence of any of them, is a body blow to the heart.  And my teens, like my manager friend, and (one day, I hope the woman in that conversation understands), knew or rediscovered, all these noisy silly bouncing off the wall can we go to the pool when do we eat next people, all of them, were and are infinite parts of all of our hearts.  

The answer is, we cannot live without any of them, for each of them, make us more alive. 

Small Success Thursday Home Edition

Normally, I post Small Success Thursday over at, but my good friends Sarah Reinhard and Lisa Hendey are taking a much deserved hiatus during the first two weeks of August.  So today, we'll hang out at my place.  

Small Success Thursday started for me as an exercise in willful cheerfulness when the amount of laundry I faced threatened to drown out the idea of ever having any fun.   It is a meme started originally by Danielle Bean  of Catholic Digest, which she handed over to me when she became that magazine's full time  editor.  

The purpose is to count one's blessings, to cultivate gratitude, and to remember that we are making progress, even if we cannot see it for all the socks that cover the floor.   Parenting is a sticky messy and 24-7 business. It involves the systemic training of little souls which in turn trains our own, to be more submissive, more servile, more selfless.  We love these little people, but we love haltingly, grudgingly at times, and imperfectly. 

If the goal is to imitate Christ, we should become transparent, we should become people who don't spend much time saying, "But what about my time? or what about me?" but who pour everything out because love demands it.   I'll be the first to say, come five o'clock and I need to stop what I'm doing to make dinner, I'm not feeling it.  Come 7 o'clock when I need to power back up to do bedtime routine, again I'm not feeling it.  And dishes not done that I get to do in the morning first thing?  So not feeling it.   But the trick is not to let feelings dictate actions, love is an active constant choice we have to make and remake and remake every day.  (Sort of like the beds).  

So with all that in mind, here's this week's Small Successes.

1) Was asked to write an article for a newspaper for December. (Yay! Very excited about this one too). 

2) Registered 2 for high school and 4 for Elementary this week.  

3) Hosted a party for my 15 year old.  He's introverted by nature and so his natural response to such things is to push back, but we invited his whole class and afterwards, he gave me a hug, one of those sly shy full smiles and said, "Thanks for giving me the party I said I didn't want. It was really fun."  

4) That same child made me exercise yesterday.  He's made it his personal goal to get me moving. He runs for pleasure so I've now a personal trainer I can't evade. 

Now it's your turn.  Have a great week!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Ratio of Humble Pie is...

Oh who cares?  I'm eating the whole pie.

Which is good because while I know Pi =3.14159265359...I've never once understood why, not even when I learned it.  Back in the day, I just memorized and regurgitated, without ever understanding.  Perhaps because few math facts ever were digested, it continues to disagree with me.  At the very least, we lack tolerance for one another. However this discipline and I have worked out an uneasy truce, born of years of systemic consenting neglect, reinforcing our mutual disdain.

But today, I forced myself to reenter the math world, and discovered a whole new reason to hate it.

I'm studying for the Praxis, and that means passing the math.   That means studying.   It also means my teenagers get to mock me mercilessly for my errors.   I'd love to tell them to knock it off, but it's hard to do that when you need them to explain the problems.   It is the cost of doing business with adolescent tutors.

I took the English practice Praxis.  I scored a 99 of 100 and finished in 1/3 of the time.

I took the Math practice and got a 63.   If they don't let me use scratch paper, it will be far worse.

During the exam, I could hear my gray cells squeaking and creaking, as the neurons fired up and found that a whole section of my grey matter needs dusting.   I did remember the slope formula y=mx+b.  Alas, I found it a slippery slope formula as I couldn't remember what to do with it.   On a multiple choice quiz, you don't get any points for recalling partially what is needed, and eenie-meenie-miney-moe proved itself to be an unreliable method of determining the answer.  So much so, I'm fairly certain when I take the actual test, there will be a word problem as follows:

If Sherry guesses at the Praxis on the math section for 1/5 of the 40 problems and gets only 1/5 of those guesses correct, what total number did she miss by guessing?  (I'm not going to go easy on you and give you the answer not because I'm mean but because I actually don't know, don't want to know, and don't want to know even if you know, how to know it).  

So after listening to my children question how I could not know what I obviously did not, how I could forget so much, how I've managed to walk upright and drive given my limited command of arithmetic, I went back to the world of words and took another test.  But my brain felt tired.  I scored only a 92.

Looking at the score with disgust and fatigue, all I could say was, "Et tu Brutus?" and wonder if I failed badly enough, would they send me to 7th grade as a student?   My only comfort, one day, these teenagers will grow up, they'll become adults in the adult world, and hopefully, they'll have children.  Hopefully, one day they'll discover they've been lapped by their kids, and I'll be right there, handing them the recipe for humble pie or Pi.   You take 3.14159265359...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Toasting Today's Sunday Funnies

My children seldom concern themselves with what day of the week it is unless there is a birthday, vacation or field trip pending. As such, Sunday mornings feel like every other morning.  My five year old son comes down the stairs, observes that no one is up yet, feels peckish but knows he's not supposed to help himself.  Being helpful, he brings the loaf of bread or at least a few slices to our closed door and slips them under the door.   "MOMMMMMMmmmmmmm." he gently calls until I respond.

And it does have to be me. 

The other day, after three pieces of not yet toast failed to wake me, he began chanting, "Mom, mom, mom mom mom mom Mommmmmmm."  I shuffled to brush my teeth.  "Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom."  he kept calling.  His father answered his call.  "What do you want Paul?"

The answer was everything. What did he want?

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Hallmark of Evil

I remember back in the summer of 2001, when Taliban militants destroyed the tallest Buddah statue in the world.  I read the article about it in Time magazine, and said when I saw the photos of its destruction, "This is evil."   I remember thinking in my bones, this is evil. Destroying beauty, destroying what others consider sacred, destroying art, destroying anything which brings others hope and peace, is violent, is cruel, and is evil.

Today, I looked at the news feed and saw once gain, militants within ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) group first stopped people from praying at the shrine, then filled it with dynamite and destroyed it.  They blew up "Jonah's tomb"/the Muslim Shrine of Yunus so that according to witnesses, there is nothing left but dust. They even released a video but I won't post it.
But digging below the newsfeed which is oddly making the rounds, there lurks a thread about the video being six months old, manipulated and a piece of propaganda. Indeed, a quick search indicates there were reports back as old as 2013 --ancient in internet terms, about the destruction of this site.  Yet I found the films of the destruction touted on CNN, editorialized at the Washington Post, and on other sites today. 
So we are left with what happened and why is it important?   If ISIS destroyed a shrine for the purposes of destroying a shrine, (asserting rule), it is evil.  If they claim to have destroyed a shrine for the purposes of establishing themselves as powerful and promoting fear in those who might pray or practice a different faith, it is evil. The hallmark of evil is destruction, is violence, is the willful elimination of the sacred. Lies are also a hallmark of evil.   
The world is focused on the sensational of this story, the reporters tell you not to blink or you'll miss the destruction.   They mention the oddity of the story of Jonah because that's splashy.  But they are not asking the question "Why?" Perhaps it seems simply par for the course with the chaos that marks this week's news cycle.  But truth is found by asking questions rather than repeating whatever catches the ear and the eye. Why?  It is dangerous to ask why, because it then demands an action if we get an answer that indicates, here is an evil. We must act if we would not be complacent or complicit with evil.
Then I came across this story over at the Anchoress, I'd not read it, but I'd seen the headline, that the US government knew ahead of time of the plan by ISIS to overrun and chose to not respond to it.  There were reasons, but perhaps they should answer and rethink, why? Those caught in the crosshairs who have the misfortune of not subscribing to the radical form of Islam promoted by Isis, face the choice of conversion, paying a tax for being non-Muslim, or death..  Those who dare to speak up against this religious/ethnic purge in Iraq, might wind up like Professor Ali ‘Asali. 
So again, the destruction of the innocent, the creation of a state of permanent fear, and prospect of violence for speaking out against violence, looms.  And if we continue to watch with a detached spirit, one day, it will be asked of us.  Why?  If we recognize in these acts, the destruction of beauty, the assassination of dissent, the threatening of those who think differently, the displacement of residents who flee out of fear, why are we not doing something?  If we just watch, we will see a wild fire of evil consume more innocent, more beauty, more of what we value, hearth and home, peace, freedom and family.   And one day, we'll have to answer what we aren't asking now, why?
What we can do? 
1) Stay informed.  Amnesty International, BBC, and whatever other sites you deem credible.  But cross reference.  I liked this article over at Get Religion. 
2) Pray.  We perpetually underestimate in the way a child misunderstands space and time, the efficaciousness of prayer.  Best bet?  The Rosary.  Pray to the Queen of Peace, asking her to ask her son to grant his peace, to pour it out over the whole world, the way one might pour out water or rather what we're asking for, wine.   We are out of peace the way the people at the wedding feast of Cana were out of wine.  If you've never prayed the rosary, here are two favorite sites.  here if you want to do it quietly with meditations on the mysteries, and here if you want to pray with others.
3) Fast.  Jesus tells his apostles, there are some demons which can only be driven out with prayer and fasting.  We often think of Fasting as only a seasonal thing.  Rather, we should think of it as a necessary thing, something which helps dislodge the evil of this world, even if we know it not, just as exercising gives benefits we do not see, even if the number on the scale hasn't moved much.  (Sigh, now I have to fast and exercise).  It doesn't have to be an over the top thing, just offer something up, anything, but do it knowingly.
4) Give alms.  Give to a charity that either provides needed necessities to refugees from the violence or one which helps give sanctuary or which helps them leave.   While it is a dated list, the American Institute of Philanthropy rates the top charities capable of distributing aid to those in need. 
5) Speak out.  Name it.  Evil works best when people either turn away their gaze, or say nothing. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Self Esteem

My three year old this morning picked up her stuffed dog, petted it, and then in a statement designed to comfort, said "Don't worry Mom.  The Perfect Anna is here." 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Thou Shalt Not Kill

The sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill."

Everyone knows it.

The problem with this God, is it's much too vague, too general, too global. Surely you don't mean that there aren't exceptions, that there aren't reasonable rational legal and politically expedient reasons to eliminate some of the people.  I didn't mean when they're in caves across the ocean or not yet born or are part of a rival gang or very old and disabled and can't earn any money anymore or are in jail because they committed nasty crimes or they're whatever it is that we use to declare them worthy of killing. 

I'm reminded of the movie True Lies, where Arnold Schwartzenegger's character has been given sodium pentothal and his wife played by Jamie Lee Curtis just discovered he's a spy.  She asks him, "Have you ever killed anyone?" and he replies, "Yes, but they all were bad."  This satisfies her of the moral ground behind her husband's dual life up to now, killing is fine if they're all bad. 

Almost immediately after this scene, she picks up a semi-automatic in defense of her husband as they escape, but drops it.  The falling gun happens to lay out a sufficient deadly spray to let them get away.  Her husband nods in approval and off the two of them go.   She has swallowed the true lie, killing is fine if they're all bad.  But Hollywood, knowing we'd push back from her gleefully mowing them down Rambo style, exonerates her from the moral taint of actual killing via a lucky firing of the weapon itself as it falls down the stairs.  It is the equivalent of a drone surgical strike.  Bad guys neutralized, no nasty moral aftertaste for our heroine.  

I'm not saying I wouldn't cowboy up if someone came after my children or my hearth and heart (all of them outside of my own) didn't need defending. But Thou Shalt Not Kill is there for a reason, because we would be tempted to weed out those we deem evil and call that weeding good.

God knows we can easily fail to see our enemies as children of God and justify seeing them as less than beloved of God because of whatever makes them our enemies.   It is a natural if fallen response, to justify an evil as not evil if we want to commit or rationalize an evil so we won't have to think about one's enemies as possibly being human. 

Today's gospel tells us otherwise.  Jesus tells us, not someone else, Jesus, about letting the wheat grow up with the weeds, not pulling up one for fear of killing the other.  Weeding out the enemies with drone strikes, with abortion, with euthanasia, with deportation or refusal of basic needs is a form of killing. It is pulling up the wheat with the weeds.   Not our job.  

What is our job?   Ah. The much harder part of the message.   To pray for them.  To love them. 

How the hell do we do that?  They're evil.  They're alien.  They're out to get us in whatever way it is that they are out to get us.  They don't like us.  They hate us.  They don't think like us for whatever reason.  All of that may be true. 

If so, praying for them won't injure us, (in fact it will help us) and it will help them, even if they don't know it.  Maybe one of the reasons we have so much ire is we're too busy pointing out our enemies and declaring them all weeds, and not spending very much if any at all, time praying for them.

Oh, and that's just dealing with the literal absolute ultimate meaning of this particular commandment.  We didn't even get into the nuance of all the ways in which we kill each other by little things like words, lies, slanders, failure to care for the poor, failure to care for our own (neglect), insults, sarcasm, snark --I know, the internet would cease to exist without it, gossip, indifference and allowing ourselves to only consider our own hermetically sealed ways of viewing all things, which allows us to consider all those not hermetically sealed in our approved cocoon, the enemy.   

We don't get to be the weed whackers of God's garden.  It's a good thing too, because all of us, are probably somebody else's weeds.

Friday, July 18, 2014

What does it Mean to be a Catholic Blogger?

Having lived in the blogosphere since 2007, I've come to know and frequent many a Catholic blog.  Different writers focus on different elements of the Catholic Church, but I have to admit, I love them all and seek them out.  I like Catholic and Enjoying it, Bad Catholic, the National Catholic Register, The Anchoress, Barefoot and Pregnant, Lisa Hendey, Danielle Bean, Just Another Catholic Pondering, I Have to Sit Down, The Curt Jester, The Ironic Catholic, Creative Minority Report, Acts of the Apostasy, Such a Pretty Catholic Bubble, mothering spirit, Happy Catholic, The Catholic Vote, in the Light of the Law, the Crescat, Aggie Catholics, And Sometimes Tea,...there are more but I can't think of them right now.  Honestly, I don't want to leave anyone out but I am, because there are so many more.

Within the Catholic Blogosphere, as in all other places, there are disparate points of view, those who miss Pope Benedict and those who love the current Pope Francis, and those who like both.  There are those who love the mass said in the vernacular, and those who prefer the Latin version.  There are those who delve into deep political issues, and those who focus on the spiritual challenges and benefits of parenting, and others who keep on top of today's issues politically and socially that pose more than a theoretical question to those who wish to be faithful to the Catholic Church.   What unites all of these disparate voices, is a love of the Church, of the Eucharist, of Christ living in their lives. 

What divides us is everything else. 

Recently, my own words were used as a means to insult a blogger I highly respect.  I felt horrified. Then I saw the Crescat being declared something less than Catholic by a few followers on Twitter, and my friend Patrick being mocked as more Catholic than the Pope for daring to voice he struggles with those who see nothing troubling in the multiple mixed messages coming from the Vatican.  In short, we are being reminded constantly of what divides us.  We should remember who delights in dividing us, and what his objective is throughout all of history.  

I received an email question, "What does it mean to be a Catholic blogger?" and the answer has weighed on my mind.

It remains for me, an interesting question. I didn't plan to be a Catholic blogger. I happen to write. I started a blog. I am Catholic, so I filter the world through my Catholic faith, and thus I became a Catholic blogger.  But if we were to say come together as a Catholic blogger symposium to discuss what does it mean, what would our answer be?

I cannot speak for anyone else, but I'd love to read others' responses to the question.  

For me, it means to write Catholic, I must be Catholic.  How is the tricky part.  I came up with my own parameters for being a Catholic blogger. 

1) try to always speak truthfully about what I think and to be as knowledgeable as possible when I discuss things that are outside of my general realm of expertise.

2)  use charity and seek to examine issues --and present a Catholic perspective on say politics, touch stone issues of the day, or things that may be of singular interest to those who are also Catholic --how to pray in a busy plugged in world, what the Gospel says to me as a mom, wife, person today, prayer life, how to grow it, what my children teach me about being pro-life, what they teach me about being less selfish.

3) have the grace of generosity to share what I love, and to promote whenever I find something beautiful, wise, joyous or fun. I don't know that I have a Niche in the Catholic Blogosphere, I'm a just a sometimes off key voice in the choir.

4) Write about what is important to me. Catholic faith is in the minute --the grain of wheat, the single cell embryo, the consecrated host, and in the cosmic, the ocean, the stars, the great yes of Mary, the depth of God's mercy, it is in the air we breathe if we but notice, and all of creation begs us to pay attention.

Interested in doing this? There isn't a club or secret decoder pin unless you join Jimmy Akin's email list (which I recommend by the way).

Simply begin. You might start by introducing us to yourself, writing your faith journey ---to the extent you feel comfortable, if you have a journey you think others should hear, or with questions if that is your strength, or with scripture and pondering it, and inviting others to join, or with current events and how one might view it.

More professionally, I recommend joining the Catholic Writer's Guild and regularly browsing and submitting to Kevin Knight's New Advent and The Big Pulpit.  The former is a good networking group of writers/editors/bloggers/authors/speakers, and the later are the Catholic Drudge Reports of Catholic bloggers. I've had the grace to be linked by both sites on occasion.
Catholic blogging is all about being a cyber evangelist and cyber witness to the internet world, and must be done with all the intellect, creativity, joy and craft you can give, plus a dose of humor helps.
Find your voice by talking about what interests you.   Let me know what your blog link is, and I'll send it around to other Catholic bloggers I know.  As it turns out, I know a lot of them.

Good luck and God Speed.  P.S. If you answer the question on your blog, leave a link in the comment section.  I'll post a live link at the end of the body of this post as a result.

Blogs who commented here or on Facebook or answered the question.

Franciscan Mom
The Catholic Book Blogger
Such a Pretty Bubble
Equipping Catholic Families
And Sometimes Tea
Catholic and Enjoying it!
The Catholic Review
Marilyn Rodrigues
Fruitful Momma Blog
Deny the Cat

I hope more participate, and now I have more Catholic blogs to visit.  Clapping hands in joy like the Catholic blog junkie I am. 

What Fathers Do

When our house flooded back in 1979, my sister was newly home from the hospital. She'd been a premmie like me and spent her first two and a half months at the NICU.   We'd been watching the rain all afternoon.  The sky was black and the ground was saturated.  Then I walked into my room and my carpet squished. 

For some reason, I'd thought the water would come through the front door. I'd been watching the water outside and seen it creeping towards us, but it was still a good five feet from our entrance.  But that was it. The water was coming in.  As kids, we were both delighted and annoyingly loud.  "We're flooding! We're FLOODING!" Our eyes were wide as we'd get way too close into each other's faces and state the obvious with an odd mixture of joy and panic, "We're flooding!" 

Thus began the odd exodus as we were instructed to put everything on top of our beds or on top of tables.  Shoes, stuffed animals, clothes, anything we wanted to keep.  It was fun and felt important to be stacking things.  We soon learned that we had an awful lot of things on the floor.  Books.  Socks.  Games. Dolls.  Things. Things. Things. Things.  Every table groaned.  Every bed was covered.   The block was flooded.  We wouldn't be able to get away via car.

My father loaded all of us, including our dog (we kids thought this was heroic), onto the john boat.  A john boat for the uninitiated, is a metal boat used in duck hunting. It lacks style or coolness but it's light, sturdy, strong and was very effective.  My mom held an umbrella over herself and my new little sister.  Scrambling inot the boat, one of my brothers lost his shoe.  We huddled under another umbrella and were told to be on the look out for debris and snakes. 

My dad had put on his waders and pulled the john boat with all of us in it through the black water in the pouring rain down the street to our neighbor's house.  They had a two story home, which made them ecentric by our standards.  Most homes were long ramblers and built out, not up or down.  Upon arrival, we (the kids) were completely delighted to experience the novelty of another person's home.
We would have 18 inches of water inside our own house by the time the flood crested, but to show you how little kids get it, we kept asking, "So, do you think we'll have school tomorrow?" My dad smiled and said, "We'll see."  I suspect he kept the answer vague to keep us from rioting with joy, for we were now four adults and six kids and a dog crammed into an upstairs watching the water in the streets.

Dad just did what needed to be done.  In retrospect, it was scary and even heroic, but he didn't let us know he was scared and it never occurred to us to be so as a result. 

The next day when the rains had stopped, we begged to go intertubing on the street. (We were told no).  Mom and Dad ferried us out to friend's homes where we wouldn't see the level of devastation done to our home.  We never quite saw it.  Instead of having memories of everything we ever loved being washed away, we had the story of our neighbor's cat that refused to go upstairs and sat on the island in the kitchen watching the water which was only two inches up in their home.  It was decidedly perplexed by the tadpoles or fish that were swimming across the kitchen floor.  This was the memory. 

Mom and Dad deliberately worked hard to keep the harder sharper edges of that experience, the snakes, the thrown away toys and books and like from being taken in and to a large extent, it worked.  They couldn't blunt everything but they did enough such that when we flooded again the next year, none of us felt tramatized, instead we thought, eh, we've done this before. Let's go pile up everything on top of the beds. 

Recovery from the floods was slow. We spent six months I think, eating casaroles and complaining about the hard cold floor.  The day our house was completely repaired, we sat down to dinner in the dining room for the first time and the faithful table that had held so many things for so many months while repairs were going on, collapsed under the weight of a normal table setting for six.  It was both comic and iconic, because I remember everyone's surprised faces as the thing fell. 

We still felt like everything was home because the things which made it home had been preserved. Somehow Dad's 1000 plus books and the record collection that seemed to never get bigger but always had things we loved listening to, his guitar, my little wooden chair from when I was  toddler, the copper wash basin that was my mom's mom's and possibly her mom's, a pale china blue statue of the Blessed Mother and child, the crystal candle sticks that I always tried to take apart to pretend that the crystals were diamond earrings, and the lazy susan on the table survived.  All of these little things that made up the feel as much as the sights and sounds and smells of our home.

We never worried what might happen.  This was part of the core of what I think Dads do.

Mom and Dad made it such that no matter what happened, it was okay.  It was still home.  It was still safe even if everything had been destroyed.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Things I Don't Understand

Being a mother of many, there is a presumption that I am by circumstance, an expert on parenting. I would argue, I'm an expert amateur.  I've been at this twenty years and still am thwarted by toddlers with potty training.

As my oldest will attest, they are the crash test dummies of my parenting techniques.  The subsequent children get the benefits (or lack thereof) of emotional airbags, psychological seat belts and mental child locks.  Thus I labor as a mother under the presumption by those around, that I know what I'm doing, constantly corrected by my children who know better. 

For example: What makes a particular rule stick? 

Now I make rules and try to sustain them.  Some laws receive the kid tested mother approved seal of approval and get enforced even when I'm not around. No toys at the table being the one that comes to mind most readily. Everyone quotes this rule.  No one questions it.  I don't know why, but even the three year old who normally views all restriction as a direct challenge to her right to exercise free will in all things, meekly submits when one of her siblings quotes this family statue. 

While I am glad I do not have to pry my little ponies and barbies from my toddler's hands before she begins to consume Lucky Charms, I do wonder why this rule, of all rules, like don't talk with your mouth full, shut the door when you go outside, don't drink juice from the carton, is the one they've decided is the prime directive of our people.   More importantly, I wonder how I could maybe create a new rule that holds fast for all people, like children must do the dishes or all lights out at 10 o'clock or 2 hours of books for 1 hour screen. 

Then I sat down at our table and started writing.  I grabbed a diet coke and a cookie.  My daughter walked by, "No toys at the table Mom." and gave me the insight I'd been seeking.   This rule stands for one reason only I discerned as I put away my laptop. 


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Having a Dog Day Summer? Here's a Linkfest to keep you kids busy!

Found some wonderful things on the internet.  Sometimes we get bored with life, and that's when we need to dig deeper, to recognize the boredom comes from shallow roots, from wanting emotional satisfaction based on stimuli, rather than the richer consequences of work, serving, playing, living.  Sometimes writing can be all about look at me.  Well today, I'm telling you, look over here. These are neat cool amazing things.  Go...enjoy.

So here they are:

For the theologian in your life, if they haven't discovered Fr. John Riccardo's podcasts, go here.  If they want something to read, and I promise you, this will take a lifetime, go here. 

Don't have time for that much?  Fine, here's Fr. Barron's Word on Fire site. If nothing else, watch his youtube videos, I love his critiques of popular culture. 

Writers need mood music, and one of the biggest tools for writing, for creating the emotional layers of a scene, is weather.   My daughter put me wise to this site where you can orchestrate your own storm.   The site is and they have ways for you to listen to horror or nature, to manipulate wind and water, fire and thunder.  Have Fun!

Not content to rule the clouds like Zeus?  Not to worry, there's a Universe creator here.  I honestly could stay all day at this site, just drawing. 

But if I'm not feeling creative, I go watch these guys here.

or if I need to laugh and my funny bone seems tired, I try one of these three sources:

1) Brian Regan.  He's funny, he gets what family life is really like and most of his stuff you can show your kids and they'll be laughing along with you. 

2) HISHE (How it Should Have Ended) is a fun site that does great spoofs of much that amounts to popular culture these days, the Superhero cafĂ© is a personal favorite of ours.   If you haven't seen the one for The Lord of the Ring, stop what you are doing.   Go here.

3) Back before the web was all Grumpy Cat Memes and Youtube videos, pioneer websites fought epic battles with words.  One of the best places to experience a mental brawl about the things that really mater --like Red Shirted Ensigns vs. Stormtroopers, was The Grudge Match.  Personal favorites include the drinking contest between Boris Yeltsin and Ted Kennedy and the aforementioned Startrek/Starwars battle of the glorified extras. 

So...if you aren't yet having fun, I have only one thing left to offer. Go to the store, get some Diet Coke and Mentos and show your children, adults can be absurd as well. 

I'll be back to serious blogging on Tuesday.  See you then.  Leave a favorite link in the com box for everyone else to discover. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Unplanned Fruits of the Season

I know I've said it before but I love summer.  I love it. I love it. I love it.  


Because summer allows for moments like today, when two of my daughters asked me to walk with them and we found fresh raspberries.  One of them stopped to pull two dandelions and handed one to her sister and the other to me.  "Make a wish." she said, and we blew.  She then talked about how she doesn't believe in wishes. 

My heart lurched, for a seven year old should not be so pragmatic.  She should have magic in her world.  "Why not?" I asked, thinking I now rewrote my own wish to be that she holds to wishes.  
"Because I've wished lots of times for Rainbow Dash to come to life." she answered.  She shrugged her shoulders.  "And she hasn't."

I held her hand and gave her a squeeze, "That's because you're Rainbow Dash." I answered.  The sparkle in her eyes returned in that moment, and she spent the next three blocks of our walk asking to be lifted up so that she could pretend to fly. 

Her sister and I lifted her every three steps or so, and she was Rainbow Dash. 

Afterwards, we ate the raspberries.

When we returned home, a summer shower blew up and my older daughters laughed at my being willing to go outside and drag down the trash cans and recycling in the rain.  But I like storms and there is something delicious about walking out and feeling the wind before the rain, and seeing the clouds sweep by with speed and darkness, I love the smell of it.   They think I'm nuts. 

For dinner, we ate burgers and fries, cucumber and carrots.   With the storm breaking over our house, I opted to try for an early evening.  Bathing the youngest two, I noticed my own feet were very grubby and so I put my feet in the tub.  My two youngest took the opportunity to wash my feet. 

They poured cool water over my toes and wiped my heels with a sponge.  It's hard to explain except to say, it felt like a gift. I marveled at the amount of joy they took in cleaning my feet. 

The day kept surprising me with the amount of sun and joy a stormy evening could hold, like a discovered bush of ripe berries.  We read three small books and then the first chapter from three chapter books checked out of the library to seed in the older children's minds, the hunger for the rest of the story.  They went up clutching the books, eager to find out what happened next.   I tried to read for myself but I fell asleep on the couch. 

One of my daughters during dinner, after shaking her head because we didn't go to the pool or the library or the park or the berry farm or mall this week, asked "What I wanted to do tomorrow?" I didn't have an answer.  But I did know, this is part of the joy of summer, to not know ahead of time what we will do, but have the luxury of being able to ask it and the willingness to let the day unfold naturally, and let the discoveries along the way, provide the color, flavor, wishes and magic, the foot baths, raspberries, storms and Rainbow dash.  

I know other seasons have these hidden glories, but I find the salt of life easiest to spot, easiest to savor, when the jewels of life present themselves just along the walk while you weren't doing anything in particular.   Happy Summer!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Awards We All Win That Nobody Gives

As a bench warming member of an actual b-team from the days when b-teams were peppered with those not blessed with athletic genes, my kids have it easy.  They get awards in team sports for showing up, for eating snack, for coming to practice and kicking the ball, even if it goes into the goal of the other team. 

If such praise had been piled upon me in my youth, I might have drowned from the sheer volume of pseudo marble and brass trophies, medals and ribbons garnered for futile attempts to be proficient at any sport.   Indeed, as a teen, I lobbied the powers that be to grant some acknowledgement to the perpetually physically hopeless athletically wrong headed who still pursued sports, so as to obtain a school letter from my elementary alma mater; something I never ever wore once earned.  

It taught me that getting the acknowledgment from the world, isn't all that I dreamed it would be.

But reaching adulthood, I find, we could all do with a few more bells and whistles for our accomplishments, awards we don't receive but which surely merit praise more than anything we ever did as youths riding the bench.

Thus I present the AWAWTNG AWARDS.  (Pronounced in, we're still waiting to get them). Please read the requirements for being considered a candidate for these honorific acknowledgements and submit your candidacy for consideration.  The committee will get back to you soon. 

Not actual trophy to be awarded but close enough!

Award of Dubious to be Recognized but Unmistakable Merit #1:  The Dr. What, When, Where, How and Why Award.

We've all been there.  It's after dinner and dishes, the day is winding down and you make the grave error of walking through the house.  As such, you spy the shoes, the purse, the cell phone, the book, the kindle, the socks, the crucial thing that if you don't pick up right now, you will immediately forget what it was and where it was.  But because you're you and you're the responsible one, you force yourself to 1) pick said item up and 2) transport it to a central location where it will be immediately claimed but with no questioning as to how said object got to be so convenient.  The only one who knows the disaster that has been averted, is you.  You're like a time lord who stopped a great calamity by moving the Earth a fraction of an inch.  Time goes one for everyone else, but you know, you saved the world.  

Certificate of Absolute Distinction Never Quite Noticed #2  :That is Not a Great Song Award

On the opposite end of the time spectrum is the morning.  No one gets up to alarms. No one hears them.  They all go off.  You, selfless human being that you are, get up and turn those clamoring bells off and yes, you even wake those slumbering beings who need to rise without resorting to physical violence when they are the ones who opted to set up said alarm clocks to get up before sunrise for a new running regimen they don't follow.   As an added feature, the paper received can be wadded up and stuffed into one's ears to possibly avoid winning the certificate several days in a row.   There is a bonus for not using a hammer, potted plant, the complete works of Shakespeare or a mini-Louisville Slugger baseball bat that may be close at hand to turn off said alarm.

Babe...I've Got You Babe...

Highly Coveted Ribbon for Bravery No One Notices: Haircare Awareness

Every parent has a dreaded chore they wind up doing for a child who despises them for doing it.  For me, it is my 3 year old daughter, who does not believe her hair can be cut without causing her to lose physical, emotional and psychological strength.  It takes three days of preparation plus a well executed ambush to get the job done.  At which point I need to recover my physical, emotional and psychological strength.

Her shunning of the cutting of her locks has led to "creative" methods for regular grooming including trimming bangs while she sleeps, bribing her with her weight in lollipops, and holding her in a towel while she watches Team Umi Zoomie, the hair cut episode while trying to get a few inches off the top.   Her sister hit upon the brilliant idea of putting her remaining hair in a pony tail once we finished.  The end result, we could see her face and she is pleased but I got no props for getting rid of the cousin it look.   When we go to cast a ballot in the primaries, we get a sticker saying "I Voted."  Cutting a resistant child's bangs ought to at least merit a sash of some sort for the rest of the day.  

Note to recipients, you may wear this if you have to comb a child's hair or remove gum, in recognition of having put yourself in harms way.

AWAWTNG awards may also be given for Extreme Ambition: Taking all children out to a restaurant where they use plates that require washing, Exceptional Courage: letting your child drive the car and discovering those trees that can't move on the side of the road look a bit nervous; and Extraordinary Patience: Ignoring the complaints by offspring about how much work they have to do (I asked them to unload the dish washer) during the summer and how tired they are after getting up at 11:25 am.   Please notify the committee if you have an AWAWTNG award you feel you've justly earned.    


National Chocolate Day!!!

In honor of the occasion of that grandest of foods being introduced in Europe 464 years ago, I redecorated! 

You know what we called the period before 7/7/1550?  The Dark Ages.  

Makes sense to me. 

In honor of the occasion, I'm going to have some of my gourmet birthday chocolate.  

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Eat Sleep Write Guest Poster

Today, I have a piece over at Eat Sleep Write's writer blog.  The inspiration for this post came from listening to my two brothers talk about starting to write, and mulling over what I suspect delayed and derailed me from finishing Helen in less than seven years.  I'm hoping others can learn not to listen as long to those demons that prevent really committing to finishing a writing project, and now that I've properly led in the purpose of my posted piece, I have no excuse not to go and crank out some words on Penelope today.   :)   

So go enjoy the wisdom I work to follow but don't always, about writing a book over at Eat Sleep Write. 

I'll try to do a post on the 7 slugs of procrastination next week.  They include the shiny internet, the laundry monster, the ohhh look, I have a kindle, I should really read this first jump in liner interrupting bug, I'm hungry munching monster, who delays work and helps me gain weight, the blank page ghost who shoes you away with its awful nothingness, and the I have 16 errands I put off from yesterday plus 12 today bugger, who often is right, but smug about it.  

Friday, July 4, 2014

7 Quick Takes

1.  Happy 4th of July!   Having just spent this past Tuesday visiting the Baltimore Basilica for an upcoming article, I thought it important to remind people of these less famous words.

"The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records.  They are written, as with a sun beam in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power." --Alexander Hamilton 1775

The Declaration of Independence was the promise; the Constitution was the fulfillment.  I have a pamphlet given to me by a woman back in 1994.  She served on the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution, and created pocket Constitutions.  I've kept it ever since.  Every 4th of July, I ferret it out and read as much as time and situation allow.  If you don't have a copy, here's an excellent place to get one.  This is a document every American should read at least once in their lifetime, if not once a year, to remember how special and unique in history, this place aspires to be. 

2.  Small Success Thursday...again on Friday
I know I should always link on Thursday, but yesterday we were celebrating my birthday!  I plead Chocolate Cake coma. 
Seven children yesterday really discovered this experience.  As such, today, there is one slice left, claimed by my theoretically super health conscious daughter, the one who made the cake!  Two don't like chocolate and one doesn't eat frosting so we will just ignore those standard deviations. 
My sister hooked me on The Pioneer Woman, here's her take.  My mom made this kind of cake for my birthday for years. It's my favorite and it takes a year to recover from the sugar intake but so so so worth it.  Failing to experience this may be considered an act of extreme willful deprivation.  I admire your steely willpower.   More for me. 
4.  This past week, in addition to traveling to Baltimore, feasting on chocolaty goodness and turning 48, we continued my mad quest to declutter our lives doing the 40 bags in 40 days which turns more into 40 bags in 120 days, (as I get to 40 about every two to three days), after which, I need a break.   But I see progress, and that's worth celebrating.   If you'd like to consider doing this sort of purge, and I recommend it, both emotionally and spiritually, they have a Facebook page here.
5.  Yesterday, to celebrate turning 48 and get to one of the things on our list, we went to Butler's Orchard and picked what can be also known as Anna and Marta's version of natural crack, blueberries.  We picked more than a bucket full and today, shall make pies.  
6.  Every mother of children who play musical instruments dreams of this: 
and this: 
and if we're honest with ourselves, we'll settle for this...
But what we mostly that final scene from the Music man, which I searched for a clip but could not find. The internet has failed me. 
7.  All of which means, all of us including me, should go out and stop using the think system to enjoy life.   I'm going to make all of them break out their instruments and play something patriotic while we fire up the grill to make ribs, corn on the cob, and finish it with watermelon and pie. 
Have a great 4th!  



Thursday, July 3, 2014

Happy Birthday To Me!

It's my birthday and I'll blog if I want to...I know, writing lists is a lazy way to blog but I've been lazier so this is progress. 

So today, I turn 48.  A new year looms with bright and shiny promises. 48 years. 48 candles.  48 wishes.  Why not? 

48. This year I'll finish writing my second book, and become a published author again.
47.  I start working on my third.
46.  I'll get certified for teaching.
45. I'll lose 15 pounds. 
44.  It won't be the same 15 pounds because I gained 16.
43.  I will learn to cook a new dish that I can make regularly. *one that won't make me gain weight because I eat too much of it.
42. I'll read two books a month for myself.
41. And read to at least 4 of my children daily.
40. I'll schedule a dentist appointment.
39.  And a physical.
38.  I'll eat more fruit and vegetables.
37.  I'll go to a concert
36.  and a play
35.  And a vineyard for a tasting.
34.  I'll swim in the ocean.
33. I'll zipline because it's stupid and silly and fun and will scare me to pieces.
32.  I'll rollerblade with my daughters because it's cool.
31.  I'll plan six of the minimum 12 dates we have each year for my husband.  (already have the first set up for July 27th).
30.  I'll write more letters. 
29.  pray the daily rosary
28.  practice piano
27.  Go to museums with my children
26. and zoos
25.  and parks
24.  and pools
23.  and libraries
22. and let them see, I love all of this.
21.  I'll repaint a room
20.  and paint a real picture
19. and hang it on my wall.
18.  I'll put fresh flowers on the table
17.  and sometimes candles other than birthdays
16. and turn off the screens
15  and the radios
14 and all the machines
13 to cultivate a peace in the home.
12. I'll let my children see me praying
11. and reading
10. and thinking
9.  and playing.
8.  So they know adulthood doesn't mean mere grim duty or dull responsibility. It isn't all vegetables, housework, homework and bills.
7. I hug them more
6. so they know hugs are a given, love is a given, and hopefully, joy is a given.
5.  I'd like to make it to an extra mass a week.  So I'll put it on the schedule.
4.  I'll phone my brothers and sister more often,
3. and make deliberate plans with friends, rather than wondering why I never get to do things or why it always seems to be some day but that some day doesn't come.
2.  I'll volunteer more and be a participant rather than an attention hog. 
1.  and wear more red because I love the color. 

Happy Birthday.  I've lots to do.  Can't wait to get started!

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!