Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!

We took the boys to New York yesterday to see the Statue of Liberty, that beautiful symbol of American freedom. While they enjoyed all the transportation--the train ride into the city, the subway rides about the city, their first ever taxi ride and ferry trip-- we could not have picked a busier day to be in the city. The New Year celebration and unusually warm weather had attracted huge numbers of people. The crowds were so packed in the subways and on the streets that I feared we might lose a child. My heart was in my throat all day long and my nerves suffered some serious fraying. In addition to stress, the crowds created long lines. We waited for our security check before boarding the ferry for no less than two hours.


By the time we witnessed this spectacular view, I felt the words of the American poet, Emma Lazarus, engraved at the foot of the statue in a way I never have before. I felt very much among the "tired" and "tempest-tossed" of that "teeming shore."


And there she is, Lady Liberty.

(Jacob: Holding the torch)

After we landed on Liberty Island, took the tour of the museum and climbed all those steps to the top of the statue's pedestal with all the children, I was beginning to feel a little like "wretched refuse" as well. And when we were looking up into the inside of the statue and Simeon decided to go out on the balcony without telling us and we couldn't find him for a bit through the crowds and on account of the narrow passage of the balcony--so very high up off the ground-- I certainly felt among "huddled masses yearning to breathe free."


Ahhhhh....but, alas, it was a beautiful thing to see her "lift her lamp beside the golden door."


Happy New Year, 2007!
* * *

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Beauty Secrets Revealed

How do you get a creamy complexion like this one, and such light, soft, shiny hair?

Apply lotion to whole self as demonstrated below. Follow up with thirty or so shampooings with the useless detergents pictured in the background here.

Where those detergents fail, Permatex hand soap for mechanics delivers. Your hair will be lighter, shinier, and fuller than ever. Attractive strangers will turn their heads as you pass. "Who was that handsome toddler with downy soft hair?" they will ask one another, "Have you ever seen such bounce? Such shine?" Available at most auto parts stores.

WARNING: Do not get into a jar of Permatex without parental supervision--preferably two parents. One to wrap you in a towel and the other to get the job done as quickly and cleanly as possible.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Thank You

To everyone who commented on my "Birthiversary" post below. Your kind words and wishes for a happy day really made this anniversary special. How happy I was to hear from friends as far back as high school, college friends, friends from graduate school days, and all my new online friends as well.

We had a lovely evening out, laughed about Nicholas' antics with lotion, and talked about how blessed we have been with an abundance of good family and an abundance of good friends. Thank you!

Avoiding Dry Skin in Winter

Cold temperatures outside and dry heat inside can be rough on your skin...eyes, hair, and your onesie, too. To avoid uncomfortable dryness, generously douse yourself in lotion. For best results, be sure to use a thick, petroleum-based creme containing mineral oil. Say goodbye to chapped thighs and itchy, rough, winter forehead...oh, and to your soft, downy-like hair as well.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

It's My Birthiversary Day!

Ten years ago, today, I turned twenty-three and married the love of my life.


A less scanned-looking version of this photograph is on display in our home and there have been many times in the last ten years, when things were hard, that I have paused in front of this photograph, gazed at the unsuspecting smile of the young woman pictured there and thought to myself, "Naive, naive, naive."

And certainly I was naive. My whole married life was ahead of me. Hearth, home, children--it was all to come. My hopes and dreams were as vibrant as my youthful imagination and stood, as yet, unchecked by any reality. There were no hardships, no disappointments, no sacrifices on that day when I made those vows to love for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad.

It was later that the hardships came and they were certainly not of the worst variety-- just the usual struggles of a young couple trying to live a life of faith...trying to live in the world but not be of it... and perhaps a few additional hardships peculiar to us that God has asked us to endure.

If this is the worst of it, if this is my path to heaven--suffering with those I love, surrounded by them, and most often for the sake of them-- then I'll be the first to say that His yoke is easy and His burden, light.

Still, there have been times when I have envied the young woman in this photograph. As life has chipped away at my plans here, there at my hopes, and again at my self-vision...I have found it hard to let go of my ideals. There have been many times when I have wished I could stand as radiant and as hopeful as the young woman in this photograph stands.

But I have also learned that, for all her radiance, she is naive in more ways than one. There are indeed many things that she does not know...

She does not know the humiliations of gestating, the pains of labor, or the constraints of nursing, it is true...
...but nor does she know the joy of carrying a secret life inside her, the triumph of childbirth, or the pride of providing sole nourishment for another human person.

She does not know how much one can die to self without actually dying, I know...
...but nor does she know the life of love that is born of that sacrifice.

She does not know that humility is draining and bottomless...
...but nor does she know the peace of letting go and the dignity of being filled up by God.

She does not know how overwhelmed she will be or how inadequate she will feel...
...but nor does she know the courage she will have or the occasions to which she will rise.

She does not know that she probably won't accomplish everything she hopes to...
...but nor does she know the value of what she will accomplish.

She does not know how much the man beside her will change...
..She has no idea what a loving, kind, and appreciative husband he will prove to be. She does not know that she could not have chosen a more devoted father for her children or more perfect partner for life. Though she loves him with all the depths of her heart, she does not know that the trials of life will make her heart grow deeper and thus, ten years later, she will love him even more profoundly.

So it is that the older I get, the less envious I am of the young woman in this photograph and the more she becomes a sweet symbol of youthful idealism and unblemished hope. God bless her, dear thing. For her, I wish a life as rich as mine.

(Photograph: taken by my sister, Helene.)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Highlights of a Very Merry Christmas

On Christmas Eve, staying up late singing carols with the boys...

Alex (belting out): On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, some garbage in a pear tree.

On Christmas morning, Zachary waking up in our bed...

Me: Good morning Zachary, do you know what day this is?

Zachary: Cwistmas.

Me: That's right Zachary, and do you know what that means there will be downstairs?

Zachary: Yes. A big mess.

(He turned out to be right about that one.)

When we met the other boys downstairs...

Simeon (referring to the tune "I Saw Three Ships"): Mama, it's Christmas day in the mooooorn-ning.

After every single gift he opened...

Jacob (very sincerely): Oh, wow, just what I have always wanted.

Opening a beautiful statue of St. Michael from his godparents...

Simeon: Oh look, it's a devil squisher.

(Handy things, those.)

Throughout the day whenever we would ask Nicholas "Where's your baby?" he would drop whatever he was doing in a panic and run about the house calling out, "baby...baby." When he'd find his baby, he'd give him a few hugs and then leave him lying about somewhere else.

At the end of a full day and just before we fell asleep we agreed that the children had been especially adorable all day. We also agreed that they are still all so easy to please, that it won't always be this way, and that we will appreciate it so long as it lasts.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Santa Brought Us Our First Doll

Sometimes when Nicholas is quiet for a time and I realize that I haven't seen him for a while he isn't getting into trouble, believe it or not. Sometimes he's just found a quiet spot to read his favorite book, "See How I Grow: A photographic record of a baby's first eighteen months." He loves this book because he loves babies. Real babies, plastic babies, pictures of babies--he loves them all. He kisses them and coos over them, hugs them and carries them around under his little arm. Perhaps he is drawn to babies because he is the littlest boy in our family-- for now-- and has no one smaller than himself to love and care for.


(I said he wasn't getting into trouble, but now that I'm looking at this picture I'm wondering what that wetness is on his sweatshirt....hmmm.)

Nicholas loves babies so much that after some consideration as to the appropriateness, I decided to give him a boy doll for Christmas. After all, encouraging our little ones to love babies teaches them gentleness and compassion and lays the foundation for a full appreciation of chastity later in life. Little boys need this at least as much as little girls do. I won't be buying his doll multiple outfits and this doll has no hair to comb or style. It's just a baby to love. Besides, scenes like this one are just too adorable to resist.


Nicholas is a very good father, but he wants you to know, too... in case you are questioning his boyishness... that he loves his new mud-bespattered ATV just as much.


OOoooo, baby.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

Amnesty

In recent weeks, Nicholas has gone from bad to worse to downright dangerous. He is a living and moving hazard to all persons and property. Just this week he ate half a jar of peanut butter he had pilfered from the lazy susan and when his stomach couldn't take it, he turned it out on the carpet. He pulled a similar stunt with a jar of Nutella later, but at least the Nutella agreed with him.

He pushes chairs to counter tops so he can climb up into the kitchen sink or rummage foods stored out of reach. He powders himself with pancake mix, candies himself in sugar, and... dumps... dumps... dumps... whatever he can open. I have found myself on the floor far too often this week picking up infinite numbers of discrete food items... pasta pieces, pistachios, cheerios, one-by-one-by maddening one...When I'm on that floor picking up those tiny pieces of food, I sometimes imagine that I can feel my vocabulary diminishing on account of the mind-numbing futility of my labor.

His adventures aren't limited to the kitchen, either, he disorganizes everything from bedroom to bathroom. The phrase "out of reach" doesn't have much meaning around here anymore. He doused himself with half a bottle of hand soap on Monday and Wednesday he came to me in the kitchen looking as though he had soaped himself again. A little sleuthing, and I learned that sticky glop in his hair was not soap but hair gel. He had schlicked the upstairs bathroom with it as well. Yes, the whole bathroom.

When I try to prevent him from getting into trouble, or try to take him out of trouble, or clean him up from having been in trouble, he acts as though I am the offending party. He fights me with all his strength and becomes incensed. If he is awake and not cuddling with me in my arms, we are at war. That is, until I declared amnesty...

Regular readers will remember that someone in this house had accidentally packed some overdue library books a few weeks back. They were considerably overdue to start with, so by the time I unpacked them I had received a fair number of notices from the fine public facility we had borrowed them from. In my shame and unwillingness to face the music, I had simply been collecting these notices--unopened--on my desk. I told myself I would call the library and explain my situation, maybe bargain to have my fines cut in half, but I never called. So the fines and the stack of notices grew with each passing day.

Yesterday, Nicholas discovered these notices. I suppose he thought someone needed to open them and he was the man for the job. He opened every one and spread the papers and envelopes all over the floor. Of all the things!

As I was picking up the mess, I tried not to look at the notices. I didn't want to see the return address and the name of that fine library that had been so good to us, but where we had lost favor. I didn't want to see the fines...(Ooup, there they are...wow.) I did not want to look at what I had been avoiding, thank you, Nicholas.

I couldn't help but see, though, that there was a highlighted sentence on each notice. Was it a threat of some sort? I couldn't help but read...what's this?

DECEMBER IS FINE FREE MONTH FOR ALL ITEMS RETURNED BETWEEN DEC 1, AND DEC 31.
Rejoice! I never would have read that if it weren't for Nicholas. I would have persisted in my state of denial well into the new year! And so I've decided to forgive Nicholas, as I will be forgiven, for repeated acts of irresponsible and unreasonable behavior.

When I told my dear husband about what had happened he asked, "So, are you going to return those books today?"

"What?" I replied, "Why? I have until the 31st."

* * *

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Cup of Kindness

Yesterday, sometime between the third and fourth loads of laundry, the doorbell rang. The Fed Ex worker on the other side of the door handed me a box with my name on it and I could see that it was from a tea company. The first thing I thought of was a comment that had been left on my "Unpacked" post below and I thought to myself disbelievingly, 'Could this possibly be from a certain online friend?' Sure enough, when I opened the package there was a box with the words written on it, "Tea for two and two for tea. Tea for you, a gift from me." The note, inviting me to enjoy a cup of "calm," was signed by this certain online friend.

I put the baby for a nap, set the older boys up for some computer time and brewed this amazing blend of tea. I grabbed my copy of Divine Intimacy, and since I'm a little behind, I read the meditation for Gaudete Sunday. I drank in St Paul's words about "The peace of God which surpasseth all understanding..." as I drank this delicious tea in my newly unpacked living room.

This was, by far, the most delicious cup of tea I have ever had. Was it because this was my first experience with this kind of gourmet tea? (I think I'm hooked--Goodbye Gevalia, Hello Adagio) Was it because this was the first moment of real peace I have enjoyed in a very long time? Or was it because this was an unexpected gift from someone I admire? I think the answer is yes to all of the above. The only thing that could have made this experience better, would have been if, somehow, Elizabeth could have been in that seat beside me and the rest of you all around.

(Photograph: Courtesy of our resident eight-year-old photographer)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

December


Oh, the Holly she bears a berry
as blood it is red
and Mary she bore Jesus
to die in our stead.

Now, the Holly she bears a prickle
as sharp as any thorn
and Mary she bore Jesus
on Chistmas in the morn.

Now, the Holly she bears a bark
as bitter as any gall
and Mary she bore Jesus
For to redeem sinners all.

Oh, the Holly she bears a blossom
as white as can be
and Mary she bore Jesus
Our savior for to be.

(Photograph: One of my Holly bushes. Song Lyrics: traditional)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Variations on a Theme

Once, when I was trying shoes on Simeon in a department store, Jacob gave me the slip and I didn't even notice he was missing until there was an announcement over the loudspeakers, "We have a little boy here who is looking for his mother... Please meet him at the customer service desk." (I know-- horrible-- and this is one of the main reasons I don't take all the children shopping anymore) But when I approached the service desk, the woman holding Jacob breathed a sigh of relief, "Thank goodness," she said, "I was worried after having made that announcement...I mean, how would I know if the person who came to get him was his mother? Well, obviously you are...you have four others just like him!"

In a way, she was right. The boys are all very similar. They all have the same square-shaped feet and the same solid build, the same laugh, and the same good natured disposition. Many people that know us can't tell the middle ones apart and even I confuse them when I see them from a distance, or from a new angle, or in new clothes. As they grow and change this one looks just like that one and then, just like another. In a strange sort of way, it is almost as though I've had the same child five times.

Yet, in another sense, the boys are all very different. Each one has his own learning style, his own unique talents, his own challenges. What motivates one to behave well doesn't work on the next, and the things that anger one... roll off the back of another. However much they all look alike or how similar they are in other ways, they are still very unique individuals.

Discovering their different personalities and watching them develop and interact with one another has been one the most joyful parts of parenting. I love to see the expressions of their little selves. The things they do and say that I know they did not learn from anyone else. Those things that come from deep within themselves, from their very souls, from who they are and who they were created to be.

Even the little gestures and motions they make from early on indicate their individuality. I captured a few of these classic gestures in the Christmas photo session this year and while none of these will appear in our Christmas card, these are some of my favorite shots...

Here is Nicholas doing the "eye thing." He gently touches his face near his eye and tilts his head ever so slightly when he's had enough of something. "I'm tired of having my picture taken," this picture tells me. This is how it starts. It ends with him on the floor rolling about uncooperatively. When he does the "eye thing" in church, we know we're in trouble.


Here's Zachary with his hands in his pockets like the little old man he is.

And here is Jacob doing the funky hand thing he does when he is beside himself. In this case, with disbelief at Nicholas who is supposed to be getting his picture taken, but has rapidly progressed from the "eye thing" to the "floor thing."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Unpacked


As of this very moment, we are officially, completely, and totally unpacked. This was my mission for the day and I accomplished it. I'm not going to talk about how the house needs serious cleaning or about the fact that I am WAY behind on laundry...because right now I'm just going to pat myself on the back.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Update

Renee Moore has an update with details of her upcoming surgery posted.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Foreshadowing...

...is a literary device in which an author drops hints early in the plot as to what will develop later. Is there foreshadowing in real life events? You be the judge...

Just eight days ago I posted a picture of Zachary after a haircut. I titled this post, "Christmas Cut and a Lollipop Treat." Of course I meant haircut, but many commenters remarked that they thought Zachary had cut himself, some even imagined a trip to the emergency room, and many thought the lollipop was to comfort him after his injury. Well...

Begin creepy music

Poor little Zachary had a trip to the emergency room tonight after he fell in the breezeway and hit his head on concrete. He split his forehead open and it was clear, right away, that he would need stitches. He received three stitches and--please note-- a lollipop treat to comfort him afterward.

"You were very brave." I told him later.

"Thank you Mama," he replied, "You were very brave, too."

Well, I tried to be.

A Lesson Learned



The monkey clings to the shower curtain in a most unforgiving way.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Nativity


A few years ago, my father made this stable for our nativity set. He modeled it after the one that was in our home when I was a child (and I think it is still the one my parents use today).

He captured all the important details-- the slanted cross bar of the horse stall, the waved front of the platform, and the light that shines softly on the silent figures below.

Adding even more to the sentiment, he made the roof of this stable from the bark of trees that grow in the woods behind my parents' house where I used to play.



The animals: a donkey, a cow, a chicken, a horse, and a few sheep, are manufactured by Schleich. They are the perfect size for our set as are the Fontanini figures: Mary, Joseph, an angel, a shepherd, a manger and, of course, the Christ child.

This simple stable, so lovingly crafted by my father, captures all the magic of Christmas for me. When I look at it, I remember so well the days of Advent I spent as a child staring with wonder through this little window into the mystery of the incarnation. Now my children can do the same and I will stare right beside them. Thank you, Dad!


Gloria in Excelsis Deo!
* * *

Thursday, December 14, 2006

By Request...


Gingerbread Cake with Egg Nog Icing

For the cake, I use a Suzanne Martinson recipe I originally found here and changed only slightly for my purposes.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup molasses
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a nine inch cake pan. In a large bowl, mix cooled butter, sugar and egg and set aside. Sift dry ingredients together. Combine light or dark molasses with the hot water. Alternating, add dry ingredients and the molasses-water to the butter, sugar and egg. Blend just to combine. Pour batter into pan and bake 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Let cool for ten minutes and turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before icing.

The icing is my own holiday rendition of a classic buttercream.

approx. 1/2 lb. confectioners sugar
1/2 a stick of butter at room temperature
egg nog to taste

Cream the butter and sugar together at medium speeds. Add egg nog one tablespoon at a time until the icing is a spreadable consistency.

Optional: Top cake with a dollar store pick-up. What is it about nutcrackers that my children love so much??


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Happy Birthday , Alexander!


When you turn six
When your older brother is your best friend in all the world
When you've learned to ride a bike
and to read
and to write cursive letters
When your teeth are falling out
naturally and otherwise
(no more running with rope in your teeth-I don't care if you're pretending to be a reindeer)
When you have gingerbread cake with egg nog icing
and decorate a Christmas tree till very late at night
When your brothers sing happy birthday among the carols and give you hugs
When you have a very special place in your mother's heart and in your father's heart
and they tell you so
When you are handsome and kind
When you're good at puzzles
and mazes
and games of all sorts
When you are looked out for by an older brother
and looked up to by three younger ones
there is reason to smile
that ear to ear smile that we all so love to see.

We love you, Alexander, happy birthday!

Inviting Heaven for a Play Date

Last night, Jeremy was praying with the three oldest boys in their bedroom while I was with Zachary and Nicholas in the next room. Zachary was listening to the prayers and joining in from time to time. At the close of the prayers there was a short litany and Zachary joined in like this...

Jeremy: Our Lady of Guadalupe

Three boys: Pray for us

Zachary: Play with us

He continued to repeat this response after every saint named.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Outtakes

The award for the most difficult child during this year's Christmas photo session goes to...the boy on the floor.

Patroness of the Americas

The Words of Our Lady of Guadalupe to her Servant Juan Diego, December 12, 1531

"Listen, and let it penetrate your heart...do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and my protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms?"

* * *

Monday, December 11, 2006

Looking on the Bright Side

It is always good to remember that things could be worse. The city of New York, for example, could be under attack by a Giant Orthocone hatched from an egg found frozen in the Arctic regions and brought to the city by helicopter. Thank you, Simeon, for this helpful reminder.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Roller Coaster


You know that sinking feeling that comes when you are expecting things to go one way and then they go another? I'm living with that feeling now that the buyer of our house has backed out of the contract. In one way, I am really at peace with this; maybe even relieved. I am happy to stay some time longer in this house that I love with the neighbors we know.

We will have to do this again eventually, but for now we've had enough. We will take the house off the market and give my nervous system a rest. While I slowly unpack I am readjusting all my thoughts and plans. What we considered the benefits to our moving are now losses and the things we thought we were losing --we have regained. We will have to contend with the dead tree in our neighbor's yard again, but we will have a great new bathroom. We will have to live without a spacious floor plan for now, but we will most likely see Joseph coming around to offer us his assistance in any way he can.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Stability in Chaos

Yesterday morning I was in a bad mood. Perhaps I had brought it upon myself by whining to my husband. I was tired, I whined, of living in boxes. The children were tired of boxes and videos (Christmas special - after Christmas special - after Christmas special quickly ceases to feel like a treat) So, while I make slow progress packing in one room, the boys-- in their boredom-- make messes in the next. How could I be expected, I complained, to pack everything by myself, continue schooling, manage the children, and prepare for Christmas? It was not fair, and while I was complaining and pitying myself, I might as well generalize and say that it has always been this way. We always do things the hard way and I am always expected to hold it all together.

My husband was kind. He held me in his arms and told me he understood. He agreed that we've had it rough at times, but that I have always done well. He assured me that I would again, told me he wanted to help in any way he could, and encouraged me to ask for help from others. I saw my pity party for what it was. I knew I had to let go of my bitter and fruitless feelings. I needed to stop trying to control everything and just accept things as they were: difficult, but manageable. I prayed for the grace to accept my circumstances.

It was a good thing, too, that that grace came through because that evening--after a difficult day of packing-- our tile man showed up. This man was hired by our realtor to finish the half begun half bath project I had started some time ago. It is wonderful to have someone to do this for us, but he didn't come alone. He brought with him his seven year old son, Johnny (not his real name). Now Johnny's dad is a single parent and had no other place for Johnny to go when he came for this job. I understood, but I had not expected this.

While Johnny was sweet-- he showed concern for my smaller children while he played and even hugged me at one point when I tied his shoe--Johnny also caused some trouble. He was hyper active and got my own boys going. He was prone to jump on furniture, dig out toys that had already been packed and repetitively ask permission for things I didn't want any of the children to do. So, when he added speaking disrespectfully to me to this list, I drew the line. I spoke with authority and asked him to sit on the step and remain there until he could be more respectful. Thankfully, he obeyed. When I let him off the step later he looked up at me with sheepish eyes, apologized, and asked, "Are you a teacher?" I told him I was... in a manner of speaking. He ran off to play and continued to switch back and forth from very sweet to very trying.

Two and a half hours later, I realized that I had not gotten the packing done I needed to and the house was a mess. I had planned to go out and finish my Christmas shopping that evening, but didn't feel I could leave all the children plus Johnny with my husband. Graciously, he rose to the task. "Why don't you go, " he told me, "I can handle it." I snuck out of the house and saw that my van was blocked in and so I needed to take Jeremy's car. As I drove away, the last thing I saw through the window was my husband sitting on the couch with an open book and six boys on his lap!

I shopped until late, getting some great bargains and terrific finds, but when I returned to the car... I saw that I had left the lights on. It was Jeremy's car and the lights don't work the same way as my van. AUUgghh... I called road side service to assist me and didn't return home until after midnight. Jeremy and I spoke briefly before I fell asleep. He said Johnny didn't want to leave when it was time to go and that he had been very affectionate. We both agreed that Johnny was a sweet boy in a difficult position. It has to be hard on him living without a mother and following his father around on these jobs at night. I went to sleep feeling grateful that my children have a mother and a father who love one another and a stable home... if not a stable house. I saw clearly that, more than all the great finds I had just brought home, this was the greatest gift we could give them this Christmas and always.

...I awoke this morning with a twinge of a headache and Zachary standing by my bed, "Mama...Mama.." he was saying, "I made a mess with the Raisin Bran." Hu? Who? What year is this? ......Where are we?

I crawled downstairs and found that yes, indeed, he had made a mess with the Raisin Bran. As I swept the kitchen... the dining room...oh, and the living room, in and around the boxes, that headache went from twinge to throb. I went to get the aspirin and realized that it was in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom where the tile had been laid the night before. I couldn't reach it. I tried coffee instead. As I sipped my coffee and held my head, Zachary brought me more tidings of great joy, "Mama," he said, "There are trucks here and men coming to our house. The workers are here again Mama!" He was right. But this time they were alone. Johnny was in school this morning.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Please Pray...

...for Renee Moore and her family. Renee found a lump in her breast in late November and the results of the biopsy were not what she wanted to hear. She is asking for our prayers and support, especially for her family.

Gingerbread Men

Here's an easy project.
Foam gingerbread men may not taste as good as the real ones, but they are just as cute.


And white acrylic icing will do just fine. Jacob told me he was painting "oven boots" on his gingerbread man below.


This project was so simple, we let Nicholas in on the fun. Happy Feast Day, little Nicholas, and to all Nicholases everywhere!!




Here's the finished product. One dozen no-bake cookies. I think I will hang these on our doors even though I'll need to take them down in a few days.


Through the Eyes of a Child

According to Alex, "Magnificat" is "MagnifiKid!" for grown ups. I suppose that's better than saying it's "MaginifiKid!" for cats.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

School Days in the City of Cardboard

Love is...

...a husband who stays up late painting and then gets up early to fetch me more boxes for another day of packing.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Hey...

...who packed the already overdue library books?

Just Where Could He Have Learned This Kind of Christmas Spirit?

When we were in a store today Alex became interested in a three foot fake tree covered in glitter. He wanted all of us to appreciate it, too.

"Oh, Alex," Simeon said, "All that would do is get a great big glittery mess all over our house."

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Sign of Salvation


On this, the first Sunday of Advent, it is well to ask ourselves: For what are we preparing?

Are we preparing for the secular god of consumerism and focusing our attentions on material goods?

Are we preparing for the joys of Christmas only-- its celebrations and its feasts-- and what I have sometimes heard called the "true meaning of Christmas" with its sentimental notions of the child born in Bethlehem?

Or are we preparing for the Sign of our Salvation? For on that blessed night when Christ the Lord was born, the Angels told the shepherds of this Sign: A baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. A baby born in a cave in the bitterness of cold and in the darkness of night to a most pure virgin.

Of what is this a sign, if not the death of Our Lord when the virgin holds His cold and fragile body again-- now pierced and crucified-- and she wraps Him, once again, in strips of torn cloths and lies Him to rest in a darkened cave?

The Savior is soon to be born and this is the joy for which we prepare! But we, who desire His salvation, must also be prepared to receive this Sign and, like the virgin, plant it in our hearts.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

How Long Does it Take to Get a Forwarding Notice to the North Pole?

We just signed a lease agreement for a very nice home that should suit us well.
Thank you all for your prayers!

In contrast to our previous experience, Our new landlord preferred us to other possible renters after seeing our home listed on the MLS with pictures of the inside. "I can see you take good care of your things," he told me today. That felt good.

Also, we are moving our closing date up so that we will be in this new place by Christmas.

When I told the children, they were very concerned. If we are in the new house on Christmas morning, they worried, would their stockings be hanging here by the chimney of the old house?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Catholic Homeschooling Carnival

The December Catholic Homeschooling Carnival, put together by Mary Ellen Barrett, is a work of art.

Hosted by the same, at the beautiful O Night Divine blog.

Enjoy!

Christmas Novena

Please note, I have added the St. Andrew Christmas Novena to my sidebar for those of you praying it. My good friend, Alice, at Cottage Blessings thought this might be a helpful reminder for those of us trying to get it in fifteen times every day until Christmas.

Phrasersize

As I was coming up the stairs from the playroom, I could hear Zachary in the kitchen, "Oh no," he was saying,"It's all my fault." Again, "It is my fault. Oh, no. No. Oh, no... It's all my fault." He sounded so distraught, I was really worried about what sight would greet me when I reached the top of the stairs.

When I did see him, wringing his little hands, there wasn't any sign of disaster. "What is all your fault, Zachary?" I asked and he became immediately shy. And then I saw that he was just practicing a new phrase and testing, at two years of age, how it might feel to experience the realization of complete failure.

Have I told you lately, how much I love my Zachary?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Scolding Hole


Before we thought of selling this house, we had thought to just build an addition onto it. I didn't think it made much sense to add on, however, without somehow creating more open space in the current floor plan. You see, one of the things about older houses is that they tend to be boxy. The rooms are little openings at the ends of halls, much like a Hamster Habitrail with its tunnels and plastic burrows. I didn't want to just buy the add-on kit to this claustrophobia-inducing hamster house. I wanted open space.

I hatched a brilliant plan. My plan was to create open space by knocking out two sections of two walls in the main house. Essentially, it would have opened the main floor into a complete circular lay out around the stairwell. Brilliant! It would have been wonderful, really. I found a contractor willing to do it. (Perhaps that should have been my first warning.) In any case, he showed up one morning with a crew of workers and I went to my sister's to get out of the way. When I returned home at the agreed upon time, my contractor was standing in the driveway with a worried look on his face. "We got problems." He said as I climbed out from the van. "Big problems."

As it turned out, he discovered that he could not create these lovely open spaces in my house because inside the sections of those walls that I wanted removed, were poorly placed heating ducts. Not one, not two, but three large heating ducts of the old fashioned variety... and they would have cost a small fortune to re-route. He had no idea those ducts were there. It didn't make much sense that they would be there. And he only discovered that they were there after he and his men, working from both sides, had taken down my plaster walls.

Needless to say, it was a disaster for all of us. Though I paid him, the contractor made no money on the job and I had to put up with his workers in my house for two weeks afterward as they rebuilt and refinished my walls. As they were rebuilding, one of the workers told me that a small window could be put between the living room and kitchen. We liked the idea and told him to do it.

This little window gives me a peek at what the boys are doing in the other part of the house while I make dinner in the kitchen. We affectionately named it, "The Scolding Hole" as we once joked that I would use it most often to shout orders to the children as they played out of my reach and direct control. I haven't really used it in that way, though. It is most often a peek-a-boo hole where the boys love to pop up and surprise me.

Tonight, when I captured this photo of Jacob and Zachary bejammied and smiling through the Scolding Hole, I remembered all that I had gone through at that time and how that disaster nailed the lid on the coffin of our addition plans and started the ball rolling toward selling... and now here we are, so many months later, in another stressful situation not really sure how it will all end.

But I am starting to see things falling into place. I don't want to say that this new place we are looking at is a done deal, because it isn't. Not yet, anyway. All I am saying is that I think I'm seeing a window where once there was only a wall.

* * *

Definition


Suzanne --

[noun]:

A master of storytelling



'How will you be defined in the dictionary?' at QuizGalaxy.com

Boy, did I luck out on this random "quiz."
All you do is put your name in and hit enter. This is what came up.
How are you defined?

Thanks, martha, martha!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Advent Wreath

I love my Advent Wreath!


I make a new Advent Wreath every year. I have a candle-holding ring base that I usually wrap Eucalyptus leaves around and tie with gold ribbon. Today, we did something a bit different.
I love, love, love my Advent Wreath!

This year the boys wanted a nature theme. So, we bought some colored Eucalyptus as usual, but also pine cone and berry sticks, fake ice-coated branches, silver ribbon, and a bird.
Oh, how I love my Advent Wreath!


We are supposing that bird is a Dove. We placed him next to the rose-colored candle which, most of you know, symbolizes hope and is lit on Gaudete Sunday. We thought it was fitting that peace be perched by hope--the two go hand in hand.
Have I mentioned yet, that I love this Advent Wreath? I look at it and it makes me happy. It is a little piece of heaven in my domestic church--a pretty little reminder that the Savior is coming and despite all the distractions, I will not be left out of the preparations.

Let every heart prepare Him room!

* * *

Positive Reinforcement

Last night when I gave Zachary the late night glass of milk he had asked me for:

Zachary: That's a good job, Mama. You are such a big boy.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Just Right Home, Just Not Right Yet

I feel like a sick person sitting on the sidelines of life watching in amazement as others prepare for Advent and Christmas.

We are under contract. The inspection is completed. We have a closing date. The process of selling our home is moving forward as each piece of the puzzle is worked into place. There is one important detail that still has to be resolved however: We are homeless. We have not yet found a suitable rental home for the interim before we are ready to buy again. It's not for lack of searching either. Here are just a few examples of the many frustrations we have encountered...

The Too Good Home:

A friendly realtor greets me at the door asks me to take off my shoes as the owner has just re-carpeted the whole place. I enter in socks and walk carefully along protective papered trails that lead me from room to room. Surrounding me is newly fallen white...yes, white...carpet. Wall to wall to wall of new new, white white carpet. Even the dining area has been carpeted! The security deposit is large. How much does it cost to re-carpet 3,100 sq. ft? I don't intend to find out. Besides, we don't really need 3,100 sq ft.

The Not Good Enough "Home":

This place is currently being rented to 6-8 unrelated people of mixed gender. If they had just told us that over the phone, I never would have gone to look at it. But I did, and I was too polite to leave the realtor without taking the tour. And what a tour it was!

The whole place smelled like alcohol and something else...something I have not smelled before and it was not the smell of any legal substance with which I am familiar. There were other things, too, but I don't want to remember. The realtor wasn't seeing me wince, either, or responding to any of my clues. I started to feel sick and still I tried to make polite conversation through it all.

Why? Why am I so stupidly polite? When I returned home, the boys were surprised to see me back so soon. "How was it?" Jeremy asked. "It was the third ring of hell." I answered.

The (Almost) Just Right Home:

This place was sizable, clean and sufficiently updated. It was in a good location and though old, it had been well cared for. With its bee-hive ovens, built in bookcases, and foyer window seat, this house was steeped to its gutters in charm. Most of the floors were wide plank American Chestnut (A tree that no longer grows). Where there was carpet, it was comfortably worn. Any use we might add wouldn't change the appearance much, I thought. I fell in love with the house and imagined happy school days taking place under its roof and in its large fenced-in yard.

But the landlord wanted a short term lease. We asked for longer one. The realtor didn't think it would fly, but the owner went for it; he just wanted a higher rent. Too high. When I suggested what we would like to pay the realtor scoffed, but then she called me back to say that the landlord was interested. It all seemed so perfect. They wanted to meet us. We agreed.

I assumed (wrongly) that if the landlord and his realtor were asking us to come to the property with all the children, that this meant they agreed to all our terms and that they just wanted to be sure we were decent people. If the children behaved reasonably well, I thought, we could expect to sign an agreement.

I dressed the children that morning in their best play clothes and combed their hair. I spoke to each one individually about the importance of being extra polite and extra obedient. "Yes, Mama." "We will, Mama." "We want to be good." They all said and I felt they would, but still worried they might mess up. They often mean well and fail. That could not happen. Not today. Too much was at stake.

Upon arriving, it quickly became clear that the landlord, landlady, and their realtor had very different intentions than those I had imagined. It appeared they wanted to negotiate with the children at our feet and use the children as props for their negotiations.

First, it was that they thought the children might get hurt on the property and that Jeremy, being a lawyer, would sue them. They wanted security from all liability. Then they said the children would damage the property, especially since they are at home all day, and on this account, we would need to pay a higher rent and give a larger security deposit. All this was explained by the realtor in a demanding tone. "This is the kind of thing we are concerned about," she said pointing to Nicholas as he tried to climb a built in book shelf.

The shelf was fine, but I was crushed. Perhaps it was because I had misunderstood the purpose of the meeting. Perhaps it was because I felt my husband's character was being questioned, my way of life scrutinized, and my children used against me. Perhaps I was too sensitive, but a hot sensation passed through my head and down my neck. A great surge of defensiveness took over my thoughts and, unfortunately, my mouth.

I may have said, in a defensive tone, something about how Jeremy may be a lawyer, but he is also a good man and not prone to sue. I might have told them, with pointed finger, that we are selling our home in a better condition than when we bought it. I might have said that while our boys may break things, we are self-respecting people with a sense of justice and would fix anything that broke or expect to pay for it. I might have said we wouldn't pay a higher rent; that we were offering our best and that it was difficult to do even that on our single income. And when the realtor responded, "I don't know how you do it." I might have looked her in the eye and said "I like what I do." At this point, I made an excuse to get the children outside and remove myself from the conversation.

As they played about me in the yard, I thought about how good the children had been. They had been extra polite and extra obedient. They had even been extra cute, charming the landlady with their antics. This time it wasn't the children--it was me that meant well, but failed.

Though Jeremy said later that I didn't sound so bad as I might have imagined, I was surprised when the realtor called to say the owners would be willing to rent to us on our terms. We turned them down, though, partly because we thought the heating bill would be high and partly because our meeting had left us with a bad feeling. And so it was not.

The Just Right Home:

Ok, we haven't seen this one yet, but I know it is out there just waiting for us to see its ad in the paper or listing on the MLS. I need to be patient. I know and I trust, that after all the struggles and disappointments, we will find the right place for our family. I know God hears our prayers. He sees our need and He will supply for it. He is looking out for us and, with Him, all things are possible.
* * *

Congratulations are in Order

for Rachel, over at testosterhome!

Theology in the Van

Jacob: Did God make thieves?

Me: God made men and some men made themselves thieves.

Jacob: Why would a good guy make his-self into a bad guy?

Me: It doesn't make much sense does it, Jacob? But they think it will make them happy.

Simeon: (laughing at the foolishness) Ohh...but it never does.


I think they're on the right track.

Porcupines


Simeon and Alex made these with a half recipe of play dough, two sets of googly eyes, and 150 bread ties.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

What Do You Do With Your Children's Art?

Question from a reader...

I wanted to tell you that I loved your artistic endeavor with turkey textures. If you were not an art major in college you should have been! Can I ask, though, what do you do with all of your kids' artwork when you are finished with it? That has been a big problem for me. My kids (especially the girls) want to keep everything they create and have a hard time letting things go. Sometimes it is the "clutter potential" that keeps me from doing more creative things with them. I was just wondering if you had any helpful hints or solutions. I have thought about getting them each a small plastic storage box and telling them that they can keep only what the bin will hold; I just dread the wailing and gnashing of teeth that will come when the lid won't close and a clean out is needed...

My
answer...

I can relate to your concerns, but even if I did not craft with my children, I would still have this problem because they spontaneously craft by themselves ALL THE TIME. So, I didn't have a choice and thought I might as well join in on the fun. Besides, though I was not an art major, I have always loved art.

The crafts we do together usually end up on display somewhere in the house. The turkeys are on the boys' bedroom doors right now. When we do a Christmas craft to replace them I will put their turkeys in their bins. Each boy has a bin and only the best of the best goes in the bin. (approx 12" by 12" by 3") I do quite a bit of after-bedtime throwing away of pictures and crafts I find lying around. I have also been known to thin what the boys thought belonged in their bins. (Sshhh...don't tell them.)

At the end of the school year, the bins are sealed and labeled (e.g. Alexander/Kindergarten) and put into storage. I hope my boys will enjoy them some day when they are grown. My own mother kept all of our best artwork from childhood and I have enjoyed looking at the stick people I drew at 3 years old! One of my brothers has a first communion card that one of my sisters made for him many, many years ago on his fridge. It reads: "Happy First Comunction." So sweet. Another sister of mine framed some of her own childhood artwork and used it in decorating her children's rooms. It looks great!

I would encourage you not to let concerns of storage and clean up get in the way of building lasting memories of family art time for you and your children. Children benefit in so many ways from working with various artistic media. Also, they experience satisfaction and joy from the creative process and from self expression. I think children benefit from this emotionally almost as much as they do from reading children's literature. Go for it! You won't regret it.

We're Back...

... from a much needed get away to my parents' house for Thanksgiving. Though I haven't posted, you may have noticed I've been tinkering with my blog lay out. My brothers helped me switch over to Beta and even added one of my brother John's computer cartoons, "Moon Swings." You can see more of his work at inkpipe.com. Go there and be sure to email him compliments.

I missed thankful Thursday, but I am still full of gratitude. I am thankful for my parents whose love and generosity has blessed me with all my siblings. I am thankful to see my parents as grandparents to my children. I am thankful for my brothers who are such good uncles to my sons...

In short, I am thankful for the fabric of family and all these relationships that weave us together.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Stop and Smell the...

When we were out and about running errands today, the inside of the van suddenly smelled minty fresh.

"Hhmmm...yum...something smells minty. Does somebody have candy back there?"

"No," Simeon explained, "it's just some dried toothpaste that I'm trying to rub out of my hair."

"What did you say?" I asked, "Did you say toothpaste in your hair? That's disgusting!"

"That doesn't make sense," Simeon countered,"You just said you liked the smell."

"Well, that's when I thought it was candy. Now that I'm thinking it's toothpaste in your hair I don't like the smell at all."

"Hmmm." Simeon pondered, "Maybe you're thinking too much."

Reassuring?

Alex swallowed a penny and was fine, but a bit frightened. Simeon wanted to make him feel better,

"Don't worry, Alex," he said. "I swallowed a Miraculous Medal once and I'm Ok!"

Leftovers

Zachary noticed that I did not post a single picture of the masterpiece he created while we worked on our turkeys yesterday. We call this...
"Turkey Casserole"

Monday, November 20, 2006

Textured Turkeys

Happy Thanksgiving !

I had this great idea to make watercolor turkeys for a Thanksgiving craft, but then I remembered that turkeys are...well...brown. Brown, brown, brown. Pretty much brown all over, and so I decided to stick to my idea, but focus on watercolor texture techniques to add interest. I started by drawing this turkey (on heavy-duty watercolor paper with a permanent marker) from a photograph and reproducing it.

We painted feathers from the local craft store and used them like stamps to create life-like feather prints for the turkey's tail fan.


The idea here was to let some feathers dry in the wet paint and remove them later to make a fossil-like texture of feather imprints across the far back. It worked great in my dry run before the project, but for some reason the feathers didn't take well enough when I did the project with the boys. No problem, we just left the feathers on (added some glue at the end).

Here is Alex painting that neat stripped pattern on the turkey's wing-tips. We were inspired by the original photograph.

There's that turkey now.

Here, Simeon demonstrates how we used a napkin to dab texture across the turkey's front. Jacob learned that this technique is also useful for removing excessive amounts of paint should you accidentally paint over your whole turkey head. You can see that turkey smiling below.











The turkey head and neck images here show the texture that can be created by sprinkling coarse salt on the wet paint(L) and removing it later when the paint is dry(R).
Beautiful turkey complexion!

Simeon's completed turkey.

Alex's turkey. I post two pictures of his because I love his turkey. I especially liked his use of color in the head and neck. He refused the salt technique and was completely unorthodox in his color choices at the end. And that made all the difference!


Happy Thanksgiving!