Friday, April 29, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday

1.  William and Kate's Wedding

I didn't get up to watch it, but turned it on when I started my day.  After ten minutes of watching BBC reporters indicate a toddler took her first step, seven people had camped out all night and all were from various parts of London, and interviewing a man who if not drunk with happiness for the young couple, was at least drunk, I decided that short of golf on TV, never have more words been said about nothing happening in the history of television.  (They were waiting for the bride and groom to emerge and give their first public kiss as husband and wife).

2.  Don't Know Much about History

For the life of me, I do not understand the uproar over how poor the political discourse is in our nation.  Those who insist that we need a new tone seem to have conveniently forgotten the history of this country.  We began by picking a fight with the oldest democracy in the world, at the time the vanguard of governments, over of all things, taxes.  We began with greed, wanting to keep more of our own.  Our Secretary of the Treasury had a duel to the death with the Vice President!  Senator Charles Sumner was beaten with a cane on the Senate Floor for denouncing the compromises that had allowed slavery to perpetuate itself.  We had a civil war that was extremely uncivil and included the burning of towns.  We have not always settled our disagreements with mere words, nor have our words always been more urbane or respectful.  President Lincoln's was called amongst other things...a "Filthy story teller, despot, liar, thief, braggart, buffoon, usurper, monster, ignoramus Abe, old scoundrel, perjurer, swindler, tyrant, field-butcher, land-pirate" all by Harper's magazine.  (I got the quotes from 

Moving to the 19th century, we had yellow rags that ran daily savaging the leaders of our nation and the low tone of politics while creating more inventive ways to insult the very people they demanded be civil and yet solve all our nations' woes.  We've had riots over good and bad issues, sublime, important, trivial and banal.  We've endured sit ins and unjust jailings and civil boycotts.  We've unleashed fire hoses and tear gas and dogs.  People have been lynched and buildings have been firebombed and still this nation endured and eventually did the right thing. We've had satires and books written out of whole cloth and fabricated conspiracies and actual conspiracies and lying and perjury and money laundering and cover ups. And there is so much more than this that we have done over the years; yet we are always complaining that today's sins are worse than yesterday's.

So now that no one is killing one another, and there is the DNC, the GOP and the Tea Party, and people make signs and post their opinions and speak their minds and there are venues for every sort of political thought, the incivility is worse than ever?  As a country, as a people, we have a twitter's worth of memory for our past.

3.  Speaking of Memory

I guess I can't blame us for forgetting so much.  We live in a world of distraction and the brightest shiniest object will catch our mind's eye. Having just uploaded our digital computer, I was treated to a time capsule of three year's time.  Three years ago, we were only a family with eight kids and I thought that quite a lot. 

4.  More Signs of Success

We'd been introducing Faith to a favorite family game, Magic.  She'd used very simple decks before and almost always wound up playing a supporting role in team games but not making much of an impact.  Now, she's got three decks she uses to great effect and has beaten her dad three times. (She reports this herself with no small amount of pride in  her voice).  She also had fewer fights with her brother because she's not overwhelmed by his gift (which he abuses) of words.  I did correct her about the pill making her smarter.  I pointed out the pill could NOT have given her the correct answers for the multiplication test.  It simply allowed her to focus and not get distracted by the other thoughts in her head or things in the world around her; just as her glasses allow her not to have double vision but do not give her the gift of sight. 

5. Despicable Me

I just watched this movie with my kids and loved it.  It was a fun way to wait out the tornado warnings for our area yesterday.  If nothing else, I prefer my children walking around saying "Not cool." to the prior favorite movie quote from Tangled  where my five year old daughter would pretend to be drunk and say "Whoa...somebody get me a glass because I just found me a tall drink of water."  and then she'd say "Oh stop it you big lug." with a laugh and a tilt of her head. Her perfect mimicry of the scene creeped me out.  This is the same daughter who can sing the chorus from "Pycho Killer" from rock band "Pscho Killer, Qu'est que C'est...Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa more better" and knows the words to every song she EVER hears on the radio. 

6.  Gardening 101

Today we are planting beans. Now I am not a gardener.  I'm also not a mathematician.  In both areas of discipline, while I don't mind, I certainly don't seek it.  Yet today, they must go in and so we will test out how badly this can be done, as I have a reputation and history for killing plants.  Even grass dies under my care. However, I will not continue the metaphorical parallel between gardening and math as I manage our family's check book and pay all the bills. 

7.   Spring Break

Having a week of everyone off has given me a taste of summer and let's just say June can't get here fast enough.  Yesterday my son created a city scape of his legos and various toys and filmed a monster movie. The other day he and his brother built a rope swing that lasted three hours. We've played Pirates and magic, read books, colored the driveway, ridden bikes and gone to the library. We planned a birthday party. We saw forgotten movies and ate ice cream and planted carrots, chased deer, had a water balloon fight and spent a morning watching thunderstorms scream across the county.  I have enjoyed sleeping in until seven or eight and not having to march the kids through the day with schedules and homework.    Today's ambition is hair cuts and a date night. This morning the kids made a club house out of blankets.  It has been a  very lovely week.  Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Three Minutes of Joy

Since third grade started, the fast fifty have been the bane of my existence.  The kids get four minutes to do fifty problems. My daughter dreamed of seeing her work taped outside the classroom with the loopy big neat cursive of her teacher's praise, "Well done Faith" or some such.  She studied.  We did flash cards. We did videos to try and memorize the times tables.  We did practice tests. Most of the time, she had "U"s (unsatisfactory) or I for Incomplete.  The closest we got was a high "S" for satisfactory.  But to be on the wall in the four minute club, you had to miss five or fewer.
For a time, we thought the glasses would allow greater focus and improve performance, but we'd reached February and the times tables were now considered to be known facts.  So the test was now only three minutes.  The S's slipped back into U's and I's again as she perpetually left the sheet with 14 or more not completed plus about five actual errors. 

Because it is Spring Break, I have given her practice drills to prevent backsliding with the week off.  Yesterday, she did a four minute test and I peeked at 180 seconds.  She still had 8 left to complete and five she'd skipped and five I knew were wrong period. These practice tests were as trying for her as for me.  At the end of four minutes, she had five wrong and three she still had not tackled.  I'd feel like an ogre as I checked off the incorrect problems.

Today we began the big experiment.  I've still got my reservations about Ritalin.  I don't want her to think a pill will solve her problems, but a pill may have temporarily solved her problems.  At three minutes, she had five she had not answered but every answer she had put down, was correct. What's more, she knew she'd aced it.

"I feel smarter and stronger." she said.   Me too.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pondering What Tomorrow Will Bring

When I was in graduate school, we studied the conditions known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and attention deficit disorder; ADHD and ADD.  We learned that learning disabilities were first and foremost, a disconnect between intellect and academic output; namely that the former was not illustrated or indicated accurately by the later.  The teacher also warned as we went through the litany of disabilities that we would go through hypochondriac type symptoms of attempted self diagnosis for every academic failure we'd experienced up to the present. 

Sure enough, for a time I considered whether I'd just had undiagnosed ADD, ADHD, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and a few others just for good measure but ultimately decided it didn't matter if all of them were there or not at this point in the game.  I'd coped and felt I was better for the struggle whatever the reason.  Still it had been fun to exonerate me from having read scads of assignments over the years without having the actual facts stop to stay in my brain for a while; for a time all my ignorance was beyond my control or at least, not my fault.  

When I became a teacher, those seemingly easy to parse labels became much more difficult to pin down, much less use. The learning disabilities worked often in conjunction with each other creating a symphony of barriers to learning, and rookie teacher me couldn't tell where the learning disabilities ended and the lack of opportunity or exposure to good books, consistent homework and demands for routine and academic rigor at home or in prior grades began.  What had seemed reasonable in theory turned out to be difficult in practice; same as everything else in life. The theoretical order of an IEP and its stated objectives and goals left large cavernous holes in the curriculum where I was supposed to help these kids swim, and one year seemed far too short a time to get anything done.

Then, there were the parents.   Some were eager to have their children labeled with a name that forgave all their less than "A" grades and then there were folks desirous of teachers engaging in educational origami to avoid the slightest hint of any problem.  The two best examples of this being the "Gifted and talented" child whose parents tried to enroll him before he was born on the grounds he knew his ABC's in utero, and the mother of a child born with no eyes who insisted her daughter could read print.  

I remember trying to address the academics with a mother who broke down on me when she finally wrestled to the ground the hard fact that her daughter had moderate mental handicapping issues. She could see shutting doors that were supposedly ten years down the line because of the disability problems of today.  I was too young then as a person or a teacher to see what she was seeing.  Likewise, I was too young and thought myself very clever and clear headed when I told another mother of a student she needed to let her son grow up a bit.  He was sixteen and it was my job to get him ready for adult services and a possible job site.  He refused to feed himself if his mother was around; so she would come to the school and spoon him lunch.   I told her she couldn't.  I wasn't the most sympathetic of teachers to the parents; my job was the students and I admit I felt fiercely my expertise.  He fed himself but if she showed up, he stopped.    

Now I'm the one holding on to the child I love fiercely and not wanting to want a label.  I'm the parent trying to figure out if we could just do things this way while juggling that and trying this if the problems we've been tackling for two years would suddenly vanish like magic.  So where did that flinty educator go I used to be?  She's awol.  She'd tell me to get over it, let my daughter test the medication and see what happens.  But this is MY sunflower.  This is MY firecracker. My Child we're talking about.  And yes she struggles more than any of my others thus far in academics.  Reading is hard. Math is cruel.  Writing is messy.  And organization?  It's a mess of a mess. So why am I fighting when modern education/medicine  has offered a potential cure; a pill. 

I don't want to lose the firecracker, the sunflower that is my daughter to have a compliant concentrating person; so this is not so easy I explain to the Flinty Ms. Green that once was.  After all I explained to myself, the teacher had come to be without medication, it just took the whole education process to get me to be able to think and produce quality work.  Here we were demanding a third grader do what I didn't until sophomore year of high school; sit still, get organized and pay attention.  I even reminded her that even now I still bounce in my seat, talk more than most (I almost can't help myself even though I know it's too much), and draw in the margins of my books during lectures. Even in the Ph.D. program, I always seemed to get things about a week after everyone else, as if somehow everyone else came to the class and was briefed for 15 minutes before I showed up and so we're on different pages.  I still have to read most books twice to get whatever it is. 

But I can't be certain because my daughter is not me, that she won't get discouraged.  I don't know if she's as much of a bullhead as her mother.  I do know she has a sweet sweet heart and her nature is kind, and her faith, innocent, shining and full of promise and hope.  And I don't want to be the cause of any of that to be squashed. I also see the dark shadows of frustration as she sees a younger brother who seems likely to lap her at current course and speed, and the equally distressing over sized yardsticks she applies to herself when looking at all of her older siblings. So action and inaction are both fraught with possible peril in my mind.  I want her to succeed but I want her to succeed. 

It takes much more courage than I knew then, to grope through the forest of a child's mind and discern what one ought to or not to do when seeking to steer them academically.  I know this is hard for me for so many reasons, some of them less good than others; pride, fear.  Is it ADD?  Should I hope it is?  Should I hope the meds work?  Should I ride this out?  Am I coping out?  Am I chickening out and not facing reality if I'm nervous about the meds? What am I teaching her if a pill makes her different?  What if the pill doesn't work?  What if we're back to the unknown square one and it doesn't change a thing?  Am I rushing into this? Am I over thinking it?  Do I trust her to succeed or fail on her own?  Should I? Am I the new version of the mom feeding her child lunch or the new version of the mom who declares her child can see when she has no actual eyes? 

Just before bed, my daughter told me she's hopeful about tomorrow and she catches me up with her enthusiastic wishful bubbling over with affection self.   Swallowing my fears, I put on a brave face for my brave girl.  We are on the verge of this unknown journey together.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Jelly Bean Opera

I have one son who specializes in pestering.  If he catches even a whiff of an idea that something he does irritates one of his brothers or sisters, he cranks up the volume to achieve maximum teasing effect.  With nine siblings, the hunting ground for prey is always plentiful.   He specializes however, in coming up with phrases or songs and activities that get under the goat of a singular person.  

The victim for Easter's project was his older sister. Given her size and height advantage, he'd have to craft something innocent enough to get past Mom censors, create a chorus of minions in the youngers and bypass his other older sister and one older brother in the process; a bank shot to the right corner pocket.  Tricky but doable. 

Mom had requested he locate two more baskets for egg hunts.  He improvised and brought  back two large straw sombreros, the kind given out at Chevy's for birthdays.   Tickled with his own inventiveness, he began singing about it.  "SOMBRER-E-O~!  SOME-BRER-EEEE-OOOOH! SOME-BRER-OH!" 

I initially thought his song rather charming and amusing.  His older sister however, found it a nusiance.  Big Mistake.  Smelling her teen frustration, he upped the ante and the volume.  "SUM BRER EEEE OH! SUM BRER-O SUM BRERE O SUM BRER O!"  Somehow West Side Story's "Maria" had morphed into spanish yodeling. When I gave him the eye brow "Stop bothering your sister." he broke out his trumpet and played the same notes over and over again.   She was furious.   "Make HIM STOP!" she ordered me.  I asked him to put his instrument away but it was too late.  An earworm had been created and enthusiastically embraced by the toddler set who now began their Von Trapp imitation of their brother's new Easter anthem.   A literal chorus of toddlers jacked up on Easter candy were marching about singing  "SOMEBRERO SOMEBRERO SOME BRERRRRRR OHHHHHH!"  Her agony was as equisite as his grin of victory.

Mission accomplished, he now morphed into seemingly innocent boy by doing the breakfast dishes.  But she was not fooled.  "MOM!" she glared at him for creating this cacophony.   "He's doing the dishes. Put on Dora, that should stop the rest of them." I suggested.  "What?" he asked with mock ignorance.  "I was only singing Sombrero...SomeBrerO, SOME BRER O!" I took away the inspirational hats and substituted real Easter baskets.  Personally, I hadn't minded the noise, it was happy and silly and he was doing the dishes.  (I value free chores done without nagging almost as much as true family peace). 

But it's Easter, and the only heads I want bitten off are chocolate ones.

Happy Easter

Happy Easter.

If we really understood the miracle that took place that morning, we would be racing to that tomb with the apostles and we'd wind ourselves getting there. 

So it is today, if we really understood what Easter means, we would be spilling over drunk with joy and awe and gratitude. 

Like watching our children at Christmas and their delight in everything is ours; so also God watches us as we go about thinking we understand everything, delighting in little things, getting upset over little things and He loves us just the same despite our clumsy oafish ways of being, our forgetfulness, our carelessness and our need for constant reminders of how to act. 

Happy Easter.  

We need all the miracles big and small that Christ offers, then and now; we need the miracle of the Mass, of the blessed sacrament, of how no matter what mood you may be in, something in the Liturgy will whisper to you if you listen, something will resonate in the heart.  We need the daily reminders of beauty, of song, of spring and of community, we need 1000 blessings every day to remember the Author of all those blessings; and if we are sufficiently steeped in grace, we might be able to see how many thousands more God offers. 

A friend of mine starts her day by counting fifty gifts of the coming day before she sets foot on the floor.  She is I think the kind of person who would run to the tomb; who keeps Easter in her heart all year long. 

May we all learn to do so.  Happy Happy Happy Easter.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Week's Small Successes

1) I took some of my kids to confession yesterday in preparation for Easter.

My daughter wanted to go to adoration.  I felt admittedly hesitant as she is only 9 but she was adamant.  "I want to go see Jesus."  So I explained that she could go in the room and sit in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament but that there was no talking, no wiggling and no getting silly. (All things she does often).  I also told her I would be right back but I had to return to the main church to claim my son who wouldn't know where we were.  She would have to leave when I came to collect her.  And with that explantion and a bit of trepidation, I left her in the room filled with many more people than I felt comfortable about for letting her sit for the first time.  

I mentally hoped she would not be bored or fidget or cause someone else to feel distracted as I hastened to collect her older brother.  Coming back into the room, she was at the front, praying fiercely, happily, enthusiastically and with great joyful reverence, the kind that only a pure of heart third grader can muster.  It was moving to see her so rapturously before Christ.  I felt very foolish by comparison even fresh with the grace of confession; my daughter understood perfectly well how to sit in adoration, you adore.  

2) The same daughter made me exercise two days this week.

3) Earlier this week, I finished reading a book.

4) wrote on Helen four days.

5) Got to sit at Holy Thursday mass (okay for half of it), and just hold Paul.  It was delightful to give him that cuddle time and I loved when the kids would sing.  When they'd finish, Paul would clap in appreciation. 

6) Made a promise to myself, not to impulse spend.  Immediately, I could think of fifteen great gifts/great ideas if only I would just spend a little.  The kids wanted just a little treat to start Spring Break.  But I held fast and offered homemade substitutes and lo, things worked out.  We are now on day two.

7) Had a free piece run in Family and Faith Live!

8) Did spring cleaning on my blog. It looks better than my house :) What do you think of the new look?  Leave a comment!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I am the Country Bunny

My favorite children's book growing up was The Country Bunny and the Little Golden Shoes. It's still in print and if you don't own it and have little ones, it's worth a trip to the bookstore before Easter.  I remember always going to the shoe store looking for gold tennis shoes, convinced that they were always just "sold out."  The bronze baby shoes that often were showcased at the counter reinforced this notion in my head.  Kid logic does not require perfect proof, only sufficient collaborative evidence.

So when I was finally made aware of the reality of where all the eggs and candy came from, I cried hard.  Harder than one would think over Easter than one would expect for Christmas.  Not wanting to be unsympathetic to her oldest daughter who just learned that some of the pixie dust of the world was purely manufactured by Disney Corporation, she patted me on the shoulder and asked what was the worst about having this new knowledge.

"It means Scratchy (my rabbit) is out of a job."  I sobbed.

Mom had the prudence to decide not to address this muddled confusion of mine.  "She'll do just fine. She still has us."  Mind you, my pet bunny was the most foul tempered long eared rodent to ever grace the planet.  Her only expercise was to run away from my younger brother who would try to pet her inside a fenced area our saintly neighbor had created for this very purpose.  Mom figured I would get over it when the foil wrapped bunnies appeared in my basket.  Chocolate soothes a great many things including a heart that needs to grow up a little.  It did. 

But over the months that followed, my brain kept working on those hard truths, drawing the lines slowly.  That meant the story of the mother cottontail with the 21 baby bunnies who grew up to be the fifth Easter bunny wasn't anything but fiction either. 

But I didn't want it to be, because that story still felt real.  I went back to my room where a stiff baby shoe in my toybox was a keepsake that I would pretend was golden and belonged to the Easter bunny.  I loved the idea of the little girl rabbit putting her hands on her hips and declaring, "Wait and see." when the other older rabbits mocked her dreams.  I loved that she became what she wished not on her own time, but in the fullness of time by being joyously dutiful despite the apparent unglamorous demanding requirements of raising her 21 children.   The Grandfather bunny gives her golden shoes that allow her to bring Easter joy to the most difficult of places because of her courage, persistence and great love for children.

Having read the story recently to my own toddlers, they saw the parallel immediately and began to discuss which of the jobs they had in the house. (The Country Bunny assigns two children to each chore, leaving the politest one as the keeper of her chair and in my fantasy world back then, the next generation Easter Bunny who would take his mother's place when she grew too old to carry Easter baskets).  As a kid I'd worked these things out in my brain trying to figure out which job I would get assigned; like I said before, Kid logic works on its own world view rules.  I wanted to be one of the kids assigned to paint pictures. 

I tried to use this new generation's love of the old story to my advantage by assigning chores to two at a time.  They agreed.  I even have one willing to pull out my chair for me at dinner.  I thought about calling my mom at that point, explaining that I was the fifth Easter Bunny and said, "I take a size six and a half please."

I am the Country Bunny.

Friday, April 15, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday

1. My Most Patient Son

Yesterday, I was stressed out.  We had taxes pending.  We had a party to plan for Friday night.  There were eight loads of laundry sitting on my couch and a host of chores that would eventually demand more attention than I wanted to give.  My seven year old son asked me to listen to him read.  I didn't want to.  I wanted to go down and just sit and stop.  I gave a feeble excuse. "I need to clean up and get ready for your party tomorrow." He gave a soft smile.  "That's okay Mom.  Can I read to you Saturday night?"  and I thought about how it came to be that he is so used to my "having things to do," that he is scheduling a date for showing me and sharing with me his love of a book.  It was hard not to cry, part gratitude for his seemingly endless eagerness and part sadness that I so often put off the greater portion of what is offered in favor of those that keep me anxious.  You can guess what I intend to do this Saturday Evening.

2.  Prom

My son is going to prom.  I'm happy and excited for him. Tomorrow we pick up the tux and flowers.   On the National Catholic Register, there was an article asking about the virtue/vice in letting one's kid go to this American high school ritual.  Concerns ran the gamut from risque dress and illegal/immoral behavior to inappropriate music and peer pressure.  Admittedly, I hadn't felt any of these concerns and wondered if it was a case of me being asleep at the switch about the moral development of my teenager(s). I remember prom and the music and have to think, somehow they, like their parents before them, will survive youth; souls intact even if they have to face the lyrics of Lady Gaga. 

3.  Parties

We have just finished our last cake for the string of birthdays that required a home and friend party.  What a relief.  I'm especially proud of the homemade quality of the past two parties.  Pizza, cake and games.  It struck me that kids these days rarely get to have a pick up game of hide and seek or freeze tag or dodgeball, even at birthdays as most are now "event" parties.  I admit, I've done the bowling, Shadowlands, soccer camp, mini-golf and swimming parties, but being able to let six boys hopped up on cake explode outside into games of duck duck goose and a scavenger hunt was fun to watch.  

4.  The Anchoress and New Advent

Both linked to the piece I wrote here and submitted to, the Very Necessariness of Everyone.  I'm honored and psyched to have been noticed. 

5.  Helen Sighted Daily

In an attempt to get back into writing more seriously, I've taken to opening Helen daily to look at it, even if it is just to tweak a paragraph.  It is helping me to see better how I need to keep her at the front and center, she is always there.  Part of writing Helen has been to better understand how beauty is a virtue; because it is necessary on some level and feeds part of us that hungers beyond mere basics.   It speaks to the heart, body and mind to be in the presence of beauty, a sunset, the ocean, a baby's whole smile, a perfect rose, the familiar weight and feel of a spouse's hand in yours; beauty always draws us in, hopefully always draws us deeper. 

6.  The Hobbit

Saw a video posted by Peter Jackson from the set.  The original cast includes returns from LOTR.  I am beyond geeked out and psyched.  I want the movie done now. Now. Now. Now.  I need my fix and even watching back to back to back with commentary what I've already seen won't do the job.  Just saying I'm really ready for this movie, so I can go feast on his film making in a story I have loved since I first heard it/read it.  (Dad introduced it to me). 

7.  Huggies

My daughter upon giving up Huggies and being potty trained has decided that every ten minutes or so, she needs hugs.  The other day, we were at Target getting party supplies and a woman rode by on one of those motorized carts.  She stopped by our aisle as there was another person pushing carts the opposite direction.  My four year old decided that meant she needed a hug.  The woman's face lit up at getting this unsolicited tenderness.   It was a sweet moment.  

World's Smallest Cross

Every so often it happens. Someone makes a comment about the size of our family and sometimes, it can be met with grace and charity, other times with a flip comment or two and the conversation either dies or moves on.   At one point, a friend who knows me well and was present when another person who was new to the school was going on and on about my family's size, gave me a look like, "You going to put up with this?"  Yes, because his wife was listening to my answer, which meant there was  a possibility of being a better witness through less snark. 

"Do you see all these people?" I asked the couple as I gestured to everyone who was at the event, people milling about bustling through everywhere.   "I know them.  Some of them for years.  I know that there are some here who are enduring their husbands being stationed overseas in Iraq.  I know that some of them lost their jobs or had to get new ones that were less secure.  I know a woman here who is a widow and another who has just finished a year recovering from a painful divorce.  Some of the people here have lost children or care for their parents who can't care for themselves.  This is a real place with real people and as far as I can tell, I have the easiest cross of them all.  I just have to love these ten people in my life well."  Now that doesn't mean loving them or loving them well is always easy; only that from what I can know, it is the easiest cross around and I know I wouldn't want to trade my cross for anyone else's.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Small Success Thursday

This week is full of little things that mean a lot to me.

1) We held a birthday party for Regina and she is potty trained. So yeah! I was asked what I would do if one of my older children ever reveals the truth that you can turn 4 and not have accomplished this feat, I said I wasn't terribly worried as I don't think Paul is going to be wise to that little myth, and that just means I have to walk it past Anna Maria.

2) My oldest daughter made a choice to stop track --and the stress level in her life has decreased exponentially.  She says she's going to keep running so to me, this is all good.

3) My oldest son is going to prom.

4) We had a birthday party last Friday for Faith and it was a great success.  For more details, see The Secret Ingredient post.

5) A friend stopped in the parking lot just to give me a hug. The hug has resonated since.

6) The house is not a total mess.

7) Started reading "The Great Gatsby." and am working a little every day on writing Helen.

Feel like nothing happened this week?  Bet you did more than you thought.  Make a list of what happened and go share it at Family and Faith Live!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Various Offerings, Sweet, Cool and of Substance

First, Sweet:

One of my favorite traditions is the Washington Post Peep's contest. I've always wanted to enter.  I have this vision of doing the scene from the Ten Commandments with Moses saying, "Let my Peeple go." 

No one has done that but this year's selection is worthy of your attention.  My favorite is the Peeping Tom Peep.

Go Vote for the Peeples!

It's a calorie free indugence.

Coolness:  I just got on skype.  I feel like I finally entered the world of the Jetsons.  Now, where's my flying car, push button kitchen and robot maid?

Upside: I can call and talk to Mom and Dad and see them.
Downside: I will need to put on make up to use the computer.

Finally, for something more of substance, my friend Maria sends along a link to the Jone's Design Company.  It makes sense to me that someone who loves beauty and makes a living helping others discover how to make it happen in their home, would be drawn to deeper things.

P.S. Happy Birthday Regina!  You got potty trained so it's legal for you to be four now.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Keep Running

Psst.  Hey!  How's Lent working out for you? 

So far, I've managed to determine that my capacity to deny myself is woefully lacking.  I've gained four pounds.  Fridays have been particularlly hungry days when I haven't exactly put on the joyful mask for fasting or even abstaining. The rosary I planned to say daily, well I'm about a week or two behind, let's say three days to four out of the week it gets said on the fly while I'm driving or taking out the garbage or making the beds and adoration only made it onto the schedule because it was prescribed as penance.   Three pages of the spiritual book I'd chosen as a guide for the 40 days have been skimmed but I cannot recall a word. (I fell asleep).  Flailing like crazy does not sound like the way one should be when seeking to go out in the desert of one's spiritual life, but it aptly describes my Lenten journey thus far. 

The other day, getting everyone dressed was a major ordeal.  Someone couldn't find their shoes, another couldn't find socks, a third needed a different shirt and the fourth was running low on skirts she liked wearing. 

The next day fixing breakfast was hard. We'd ordered groceries to be delivered for that evening, but had to limp through breakfast.  Some had leftover flan. Some had oatmeal.  With such limited options, I still had one daughter who will not eat oatmeal or flan. I offered to make eggs.  Four eggs were frozen and two were cracked and frozen to the carton, but we limped through.  Naturally, two others at home wanted eggs too.  While I was fixing eggs, my five year old daughter tried to be helpful. She took the last of the cereal and poured it in a paper bowl for her brother who was sitting in his high chair awaiting his meal.  Within seconds of her good deed, the bowl and it's contents were scattered across the kitchen.  He dumped his sippy cup of soy milk for good measure. 

As I frantically tried to clean up, he rubbed the remainders of his drink and food in his hair.  Now the night before, a tomato pot fell into my bathtub killing the seedling and making my bathroom a dirty mess.  I forgotten about that until this morning when I went to give my son a quick bath to get him ready for a 10 o'clock speech appointment.  Instant mud.  Scrambling to get them all dressed and wiped down, the floor clean and table at least not sticky before she arrived, I can't say I offered it up.  I can't say I prayed through it.   I can say, it got done.

 Loading the car today was hard. We needed gas, we were running late and for the third time, I'd stowed all the winter coats only to get socked again with a 40-60 degree pouring down nasty rainy day. Today God, everything stunk even though I could see that everything did not in fact stink, that it was me having a hard time because I just wasn't feeling particularly dutiful.  Today everything I didn't want to do needed immediate one on one careful attention or it would implode.  And eventually, that everything included me.We know that suffering can bring us to Christ; and I know I suffer the least, mine is an easy burden to care for a lot of people that love me; but for all that, all this mess and minutia can bring me to my knees. 

As a kid, I ran long distance.  The final lap was always the point at which I wanted to quit, my body ached, I wondered why I was doing this, I wondered if anyone would notice if I just walked off the track.  Most of the time, the rule when those sorts of thoughts entered my head was run faster; but thankfully, on the times when I didn't have the extra go, others cheered and said keep going.  It seemed to me I needed that "Keep going." crowd now.  And before I could even ask, the keep going crowd made its presence known.  These past two weeks, people have been preparing meals for my family.  I do not know who they are but I am grateful.

This weekend is Palm Sunday and I know, I am not ready.  Next weekend is Easter and I know I know I know I am not ready for that but man the one thing I do know is how do I need it.   How I need Easter.  And that moment of knowing, of thinking how I needed Easter, brought the peace that doing everything properly could not have (for I would have been proud of making a good Lenten sacrifice), and the joy of knowing that screwing up was why we needed Easter in the first place.   

 Have to go finish making the beds, take away the laundry baskets from my daughters that are using them as bumper cars, feed the baby and read Paul a book.  Thank you to my unknown support team and happy final lap of Lent everyone.  Keep running.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Secret Ingredient to a Girl's Party

Yesterday we threw a party.  The plan was for a pink party:  A glittery sugar spun sparkly frosted girly girl party for a nine year old with jewelry and lots of giggling and song and dance.  

The oldest went into the dollar store for balloons.  He came out with orange and black.  It's all they had but orange and black.  Really?  It's not like we're having a party for the Bengals or the Browns. 

At home, the cupcakes needed their final glittery details.  My middle son asked if he could help.  He's artistic so I ceeded the job.

Each of the cupcakes had :(  or   :P or XX faces in pink glittery frosting. 

The girls were slated to paint their nails with Lee Press ons.  The manicures were interrupted by the seven year old that decided this party lacked the festivities brought on by a Gorilla.  He donned a mask and gloves and chased them around the house. 

So it was a great party and all the girls loved it.  It had everything that a 9 year old daughter needs at a party, plus the one extra special and necessary ingredient: Boys....specifically, brothers.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Are You Happy?

"Are you happy?" was the catch title on the magazine.  I didn't pick it up but the question lingered.

I thought it an odd question, one which theoretically requires only a "Yes." or a "No." and yet it begs with either answer, "Why?" 

At two in the morning, the answer woke me up from sleep and came spinning out of my brain.   Was I happy?  Yes. 


It wasn't because my life was easy.  That week we'd dealt with a broken dryer, throw up from two children, one really awful grade, the bills, collecting of paperwork for taxes and an unwanted three extra pounds.  Top that with college looming for the oldest, the youngest being only two months old and a three year old that kept having set backs on pottying and certainly by the world's standards, I should be miserable if not insane to boot.  

Yes I should be prematurely gray and worn thin. Ten children lead to exponential messes if even half drop their shoes, coats and backpacks at the door when they explode out of the car.  Ten beds to make or at least check, thirty three meals in a day and sixty-five items of clothing plus possible sheets and towels loom every evening by the washing machine.  There is always a list.  This week two need hair cuts, we need to get an oil change, three dressers should be threaded for clothes out of season or that don't fit and I have to schedule four dental appointments, order a birthday present, get track shoes and we have music lessons on Tuesday.

With pasta, hot dogs and waffles as regulars on the weekly menu, vacations that are mostly camping or to see family and a 12 passenger van that often is filled with stuffed animals, stickers and coats that have been orphaned, it seems I should at the very least feel discontent and dissatisfied. Like a modern day Rapunzel trapped in a tower of old french fries, diapers and broken crayons, (all of my own making), waiting to make a mark on the world in some way other than mothering, I should be screaming "Calgon Take me away." But the inescapable fact of the stillness of 2:32 a.m. as I listened to the faint sound of my son's radio, my two year old singing in his sleep and the gentle sigh of milky contentment from the baby, was.... I am happy.

Even with three year old sneakers and maternity jeans because the others don't fit quite yet, it didn't matter and I couldn't stop the happiness.   It was pouring out like an endless bubbling fountain and yet I felt full; the fullness of my happiness echoed my youngest daughter's happiness at being full. 

Back to the question. Why?

Because the world does not quite get happiness. 

It can't because happiness is not of this world.  Happiness is not the absence of work or total ease of life.  (Celebrities would be example 1 of how having all your appetites sated and all your worldly needs addressed in abundance and being even surrounded by success and beauty have nothing to do with actual happiness). Happiness is and was and will always be a state of grace, brought on by having meaningful things to do, people to love and a relationship with the Divine that acknolwedges that all of this, good, bad, messy and ugly, difficult and seemingly impossible is practice.  We are testing how much we will love in this life; how close we dare skate to God in our fallen state.

With a beloved husband and ten alarmingly interesting people to serve and nurture thorugh this life, my life could only be understood as lavishily happy, shamelessly joyful, luxiouriously luminously laborious but peaceful.   Was I happy?  Yes. Yes.  A thousand times yes times a thousand more yes.

3:07 a.m.   Now.  If the question had been, "Are you rested?"  Different story.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sunday Imponderables

1) Does anyone else go fishing for toys atop their crown molding? I would like to know.

2) Why are there two paper cups duck taped to a paper towel tube in the bathroom?

3) Can anyone explain the presence of a half gallon jug of water in the middle of my son's bedroom?

4) Why does the most organized child with the neatest hand writing have the worst spelling and messiest room?

5) How come it takes me two minutes to dress myself and even if I lay out their clothes, it takes me an hour to get all the littles dressed? 

6) Why can't I lose weight at the same accidentally startling speed that I can gain it?

7) When in my life will I ever be early for an appointment?

8)  How can a child lose one shoe one week after we bought new ones so completely and yet I know it is in the house somewhere, such that my resistance is weakening and I'm considering buying replacements as we trudge through week three of creative footware? Answer: I don't know but think it has something to do with the same reason I keep skinny jeans. 

9) Why hasn't some entrepeneur made clothes to sell for Barbies that actually fit and don't make the doll look like she should be walking the street? 

10) When will scientists come up with a break thru study that advocates one of the habits I already have?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Swimming in Unfamiliar Waters

The danger of the internet and blogs and favorites is that you only circulate in the forums where you are comfortable and familiar.  It is this tendency, to follow the well worn paths, to chose to find places where what you think or feel is validated, that make the internet both exciting and a desperately lonely place.  Because community is dependent upon shared values and those values are only articulated through words, not faces or kind acts or meals or visits or even conversations, the communities often fall away when dissent is openly presented.  Those who agree are the polite and acceptable people in the society.  Those who fight or disagree openly are often considered trolls.  It doesn't help that the only means of communication is words and at times all of our words are not always written or read with a charitable sprit.
How do we know we're not allowing ourselves to only swallow what we want to hear? 

By reading in places that are not our home. 

The first thing I learned in venturing into the realm of Salon, Slate, Huffington Post and Das Kos is they really do think Republicans are stupid.  Some of the examples they give validate this opinion and the red meat is devoured just as surely as it is on Conservative sites when Democrats are bashed.   So we are not so different in that, both sides reflexively sustain and take pleasure in having validation of their preconceived notions of what the opposition is like.  Yet in the actual world, we have friends of every political possible stripe and I've never considered them trolls and I presume they don't think I'm an idiot.  I've never felt treated as if I were.   We forget this when we emerse ourselves in the strictly political world; that R and D are not like the mason dixon line during the civil war.

Secondly, like conservative and politically right leaning websites, left leaning places presumed the audience would be in agreement regardless of the situation.  There was little serious consideration given to the political, moral, ethical, or rational reasons why anyone might oppose anything the site itself deemed true and correct.
There was little indication of any belief that the moral, ethical or rational reasons for opposing something, anything one's own political prism deemed correct, might be genuine or legitimate.   The deficit of trust based on political ideology logjammed any genuine examination of an issue as more than a right or wrong, up or down, sort of thing.  Republicans were only obstructionists and those who came to the site or article to protest, ignorant Fox News watching masses brainwashed by Glen Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh or their religion.  

But I couldn't shake the idea that if we are ever going to get past the bitter divide that threatens to balkanize not only our political structures but our very nation, we're going to have to begin swimming in unfamiliar waters and be willing to allow others to play in our backyard on more than the rare occasion.  The result of this type of virtual browsing for cliques into which we fit can leave one with the profound sense of isolation akin to high school. Walking the hallways, there is the cool politicos over here and the moms with many over there and the Catholic blogs and the Republican blogs and the news blogs and the prolife blogs and the humor blogs and all of them seem to have a focus. But the browser must fit the focus to fit in.

After reading a few pieces on Das Kos I also began to wonder, how will we ever get beyond anything if everything is spin regardless of party.  How will we address the serious issues of healthcare if any criticism is immediately deemed only a political ploy?  How will we address the serious issue of the deficit if all spending is justified because others spent first or more?   How can we be a representative republic if our watchdogs no longer check and verify everything and love truth more than even a story they prefer?  How do we break through the noise if all we want to hear is our own voice? How will we be anything but a tower of bable full of sound and fury signifying nothing if the only thing we will ever accept on any side of the political aisle, is absolute agreement with our own preconceived or preformed notions?  Rush: I'm always right, Don't Doubt me and Olberman: All Republicans are idiots and Tea Partiers too and they're the worst people in the whole world both reflect the internet agree or go away type thinking that permeates the internet. 

I don't have an answer and I'm not trying to sound superior.  I'm asking how in a culture that supposedly values multiple perspectives, we've instead become a world wide web of sharp edges ready to shred anyone who gets too close.

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!