Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloweens Past

Halloween reminds most people of jack-o-lanterns, caramel coated apples, cider doughnuts, costumes of all kinds, and harvest time fun shared with family and friends. Certainly, it means all these things for me, too, but in addition to that, Halloween reminds me of something more. When the leaves turn and the darkness sets in early, when the winds pick up and there is chimney smoke in the air, as the days near the end of October, my mind turns in a special way to my younger sister, Christine, and to a certain tree that once grew in my parents' woods. Strange? Let me explain...

Every year, for many, many years in a row my sister, Christine, and I would climb that tree on Halloween Day. In the late afternoon, we would climb the tree and sit in its' branches overlooking the autumn woods in the autumn light and we would talk about the excitement of the season, the fun we had had at our school parties and what we hoped for in the evening to come.

It was an important part of the day for me, and perhaps the most important part of the fun. It was the hope and joy and anticipation. It was childhood excitement shared with a friend I knew I would have my whole life long. And the memory of our secret meetings is, for me, the memory of childhood joy. I read recently, on someone's blog, (please someone come forward and claim this so that I may link to you) a Marion Garrety quote, "A sister is a little piece of childhood that can never be lost." How true. How beautiful.

I seem to remember climbing that tree one year though we were getting a little old for it. I think we knew the holiday excitement of childhood was fading and we wanted to climb that tree one last time while we could; one last time before it would be our turn to put on the show for our own little ones, before we had the responsibility, the baking, the planning, the shopping, and the costume making.

I believe that tree is no longer standing in my parents' woods, and this seems appropriate, too. The excitement of my own childhood is past, though it is preserved in my sister. (In all of my sisters and my brothers!) Now is the time to give, what I have been given, to my own children.

The memory of this tree, and the time Christine and I spent in its branches, makes it that much easier for me to see through all the work of the holidays and into the wonder and joy I am creating in these little hearts. May they always remember sharing these times together!

I love you, Christine! Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Brrr... I'm Putting On a Sweater



As the weather has turned cooler here, I started getting chilly just looking at my profile photo taken in late August. I suppose that was fine for then, but I'm cold now, and I'm putting on a sweater.

Simeon took these for me in the backyard today. Zachary was on my lap in the top photo, but he looked terrible, if you can believe that, so I chopped him out. I like this bottom picture, but I fear it would be a rotten thumbnail. Faces too small.

Just so you know, this hasn't been an exercise in vanity. I really do have to post the picture here before I can use it in my profile. I know you bloggers know that, but others may not.

Am I self conscious or WHAT??

Sunday, October 29, 2006

All Saints

Last year, at this time, I hosted an art class as part of a co-op. I had the idea to make stained glass images of the saints. I thought I could find templates already made and I did find an excellent St. Paul in a Dover publication, but that was all. So, I sketched my own St. Christopher and St. Therese for variety's sake, thickened the lines, and cut them out with embroidery scissors. Here is the St. Christopher...

Then I took the templates and traced them onto black cardstock with a white pencil. I cut on the white lines using an exacto knife and the results were these frames...


I made about ten of each and some simple crosses for the younger children. The project proved a bit on the difficult side, with no child coming anywhere near finishing in the two hour time frame for class. I sent them all home with extra paper to finish later. I think they had fun anyway and this year we just pulled out the leftover frames and set to work...

It took about three afternoons while Nicholas napped...



But the results were terrific!!


St. Paul by Alexander
I traced the face right out of the Dover Book

St. Christopher
Jeremy drew the faces on these for us. I love the way the little Christ child looks like he could be one of our little ones perched on Jeremy's back.


St Therese "The Little Flower" by Simeon
I drew this face, I'm embarrassed to admit. Simeon did a great job, though.


The display!!



Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cobwebs


The kind woman who is bidding on our house told our realtor, "You tell that nice young couple that I am so impressed by how well they keep their home with all those little boys." What she doesn't see, though, are the kinds of cobwebs I have to sweep up when I do my cleaning blitz before a showing.

Giving


Nicholas had a stomach bug...and gave it to me.

So Alex made this butterfly...and gave it to me.

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Shrine for Mothers


The parish church we have been attending for three years now and where Simeon is an acolyte recently decided to begin the process whereby it might become a basilica. There are many benefits, both spiritual and earthly, that would accompany such an honor and so I understand why our good pastor decided to do this.

The process, however, naturally requires that our parish be in line with all the norms established by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for the celebration of the Liturgy and reception of Holy Eucharist. I say "however" because, while our parish has been in conformity with these norms in almost every respect, there was one thing we had retained from the days of old: the communion rail. I know of one other parish in Michigan that still distributes communion to the kneeling faithful at a communion rail, but in general, this practice is unheard of nowadays. For some unknown reason, it remained at our parish and it was loved by our parishioners.

The change was announced one recent Sunday. We would now be expected to receive communion in the hand and standing up. I wasn't sure what to think at first. I have no objections to the practice. How could I? It is the norm, but I loved the communion rail and couldn't imagine Mass at our parish without it. I was stunned. The next week the same announcement was made and the following week, the new plan was implemented.

If you had asked me, before all this, if the only reason I attended this church was because we received communion kneeling, I doubt I would have said yes, but somehow now that the privilege was gone, it was that much harder to accept the bad music and other aesthetic annoyances, however minor. Suddenly, I found myself at Mass thinking far too much of the choir, myself and the people around me, and far too little of Christ and the Sacrament I had come to receive.

So, when a good friend mentioned... that a local shrine is undergoing restoration, has dedicated itself to its patron, St Anne, and to all mothers everywhere, (don't miss that link, it's worth reading) brought in an amazing choir and chamber orchestra, acquired (in an almost miraculous way) the most beautiful statue of St Anne instructing Mary, is looking to draw in new families, and is soon to receive the biggest and most impressive organ from Boston to New York City itself... we went.

I don'’t know about you, but I do not levitate at the drop of a hat. I am weighted down by cares innumerable. Whenever I have a few moments of silence, my mind automatically begins making lists; lists of grocery items; lists of chores to be done; lists of vices to be overcome...lists, lists, lists. I cannot escape them easily.

Again, I do not know about you, but I have a hard time seeing things clearly. I see what is immediately before me and cannot seem to lift...my... head... to see what might be beyond. I am forever mired in my own muddy cares, focusing upon what is lacking and what... must... be... done!

So, to stand in St Anne'’s Shrine as the trumpet blared announcing the Gospel, to listen to the angelic choir singing Vivali's, "Gloria"” as we processed for communion (to receive standing by the way), to hear the words of the Gospel pronounced so clearly by a priest so obviously devoted to Christ, to see the beautiful artwork... restoration underway... and the stations of the cross in French, to gaze into the beautiful and life-like faces of St. Anne and Mary...all of it; it transported me.

I truly and honestly (even easily) could "“lay aside all earthly cares"” as it is sung in the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. And what a lightness I felt! It was the same liturgy, the same sacrifice and sacrament offered at the other parish, but the beauty of this Mass softened my heart and prepared me to wait, with eager anticipation, for the next wonderful thing that might come. The beauty disposed me to hang on every moment, every word, every motion, and glean all I could of the truth and love offered there. The beauty made it easy for this "“Martha"” to lift her head and see life in the light of eternity.

It was not an unfamiliar feeling. I had experienced similar tastes of heaven at Mass before, but it seemed it had been so long since I had experienced it for the duration of the Mass and on account of its beauty.

Upon returning home, I still had one foot in heaven. I had laundry piles to see to and dinner to prepare, but there was a spring in my step and a hope in my heart because, having laid it all aside that morning, I had seen it in the proper perspective. I had seen that it is all for a purpose, that the hardships and struggles will all end one glorious day when Christ comes again, and that there is happiness beyond our imagining!

And I had resolved that morning, that even if I could never again, in this life, experience the joy I had felt, at least I would always remember having felt it. And remember, too, that I would feel it again in the life of the world to come, and at that time, I would want to look back and be proud of how I had pushed on in the blindness between now...and then.

* * * * * * * * * * *

For those of you who may be scandalized by our seemingly shameless parish-hopping, I apologize. The truth is, neither of these churches is the parish of our zip code. The parish of our zip code is a very tightly knit community that always seems to do its best to make us feel unwelcome. As a sheep in the Church and not a shepherd, I do not feel it is my responsibility to remain in this parish and try to change its ways. I would most certainly remain in this parish and attend Mass there every Sunday if the lawful authorities in the Church required it of me in obedience, but they do not.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Paycheck For Motherhood

Yesterday must have been pay day because...

The day before yesterday was the crazy juggling of a trip to the library, a doctor's appointment for me, and frantic cleaning followed by an extended showing of the house. In the chaos, Alex's schoolwork slipped through the cracks, or so I had thought.

Yesterday morning...

when I got out Alex's schoolwork, I found the lessons all completed. Perfectly. I discovered, to my amazement, that Simeon had helped Alex through his work after he had finished his own while I was at my doctor's appointment and Jeremy worked in the next room.

Yesterday afternoon...

I witnessed, unseen, Nicholas (1) tripping and hurting himself. He picked himself up and went to Simeon(8) for comfort. Simeon hugged his little brother and told him he'd be Ok. Nicholas drank it all in and then, comforted, went off to play again.

And yesterday evening...

when I returned home from a short run, Zachary(2) followed me up the stairs. He rubbed my leg as he followed behind saying, "I love you Mama." I turned and bent down to look him in the eye. "I love you, Mama," he said again and then, "You are sooo cute." My heart melted on the spot.

Let me assure you, whole days like this are few and far between. So I'm collecting my pay and saving more than half for a rainy day that is sure to come.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ten Random Facts Meme

I've been tagged by the Love2learnmom to do the Ten Random Facts about myself meme. I can't hold a candle to the Minnesota Mom's meme. I never swam with dolphins, lived in a castle, took pictures of famous people, or attended presidential inaugurations, (Notice, folks, she doesn't even include in her meme that she once made dinner for Martha Stuart!) but I'll do my best...

1. Growing up, my family called me "Susie."

2. Once, when I was little, a friend's mother meant to say to her daughter, "Go play in the pool with Susie." but what she really said was, "Go play in the sooz with Poolie." After that, my family called me Susie Poolie, as a nickname. I often use this as my username on the web.

3. I love music, but I can't sing. One of the many things that motivates me to want to get to heaven is the thought that, there, I might be able to sing... really and truly sing the praises of God.

4. I am good at a great many things, but I am excellent at NOTHING. Sometimes, I wish I could trade in my abilities in less important areas so that I could receive greater ability in a few select areas.

5. In high school, I listened to bands like U2, Ten Thousand Maniacs, and The Indigo Girls. I wrote bad poetry and hung out with the artsy-types.

6. I married the first man I met at college. After a few casual dates he asked me if I would ever consider seriously dating a protestant (He was one at the time). I said, "No, because I could never marry one. It wouldn't be good for my own faith or for my children." He said, "I would never want to compromise your faith and so I guess this is the end of the road for us." He really did back off at that point, which made me really respect him. He joined the Catholic Church in October of our senior year and we married 14 months later.

7. I won the "Young Author's Award" for a story I wrote and illustrated in the first grade. It was about a girl who was too small to do all the things she wanted to do. She was very frustrated with herself until her family was accidentally locked out of their house. She was the only one small enough to crawl through a cracked window and rescue her family. They were all so pleased with her and she was pleased with herself. THE END. The prize for this award (besides the beautiful flowers I received when they announced the winner) was an all-day writers conference with other Young Authors from all over the state. I went with my father. The guest speaker was William H. Armstrong. We received autographed copies of his award winning book, "Sounder," and they served us peanut butter and mint jelly sandwiches for lunch. I liked the conference, but those sandwiches really grossed me out.

8. When my husband decided to go to law school after four years of teaching, I called my dearest friend and college roommate to tell her about it (She lived on the opposite coast at the time). She then told her husband about it and he decided to go, too. So, I got to have another three years living close this very special friend. Now, sadly, she lives on the opposite coast again. I am always scheming to find a way to see her.

9. I was a staff writer for TiberRiver.com for the three years my husband was in law school. I loved this job and the people I worked with. Since they went out of business however, none of the book reviews I wrote in that time have ever been put to any real use.

10. I would like to write again in some capacity, though I do not know exactly what and where just yet. I would like to write things that inspire in my readers a greater love for God, His Church on Earth, and for all things good and beautiful.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Age of Reason


This was a good read tonight. I remember this from my own childhood. These five brothers live with their mother in a little house not far from the sea. Each of the brothers has a superhuman ability. One can swallow the sea; another has an iron neck; the third can stretch his legs forever; the fourth cannot be burned; and the fifth can hold his breath indefinitely.

When I read the closing line, "And the Five Chinese Brothers and their mother all lived together happily for many years" Simeon asked, "What was their mother's super-power?"

"She was able to have five sons." I said matter-of-factly.

"But you have five sons." Simeon objected.

"Didn't you know I'm a superhero?" I asked. Simeon (8) looked skeptical, but

"Wow!" Alex(5) and Jacob(4) were genuinely impressed.

Sometimes I think I'd like them all to stay, forever, below the age of reason.

But that's only when we're minutes away from bedtime.

Monday, October 23, 2006

It's A Boy: Episodes Four and Five



Since I'm busy trying to keep the house clean for showings, and since the theme everywhere today is the lovliness of babies, I thought I'd just post our last two birth announcement photos. On the top, Zachary John born March 24, 2004. On the bottom, Nicholas Justin born April 22, 2005. Phew, that was a busy 13 months.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

What You See is What You Get



One month ago, I began an incentive program to help motivate the boys to make better choices and improve some of their careless behaviors. I am proud to say that Jacob (voted least likely to succeed) was the first to fill his jar with pom-poms and so the first to earn his reward: the toy of his choice. Well done good and faithful servant!

On the way to our favorite high-end toy store, Jacob announced from the back seat of the van that he was going to choose a whistle. "He'll forget about that in the first three seconds we are there," I thought to myself.


Soon, we were in a child's Eden (Hey, now there’s a good name for a new toy store) surrounded by every good and wholesome thing. We looked first at a pirate ship complete with eye-patched pirates, parrots, and a treasure chest. We looked next at a castle defended by beweaponed knights and a fire-breathing dragon. Then we considered a dress-up cowboy costume with a loaded two-holster belt and a five gallon hat. Jacob enjoyed all of these things but, when all was said and done, he insisted on a whistle.

By the cash registers, there were bins of small-item toys and there we found a ninety-nine cent whistle on a string. Jacob was thrilled. Yes, yes, he was certain, this was what he wanted. He had said so, and he hadn't changed his mind. So, we bought the whistle.

I love it. I love everything about it not just that it was easy on my pocketbook though, certainly, that was appreciated. I think what I love most about this story is that it reminds me of what I love most about boys: their simplicity. The classic boy, the boy before commercialism, is the boy with a stick, the boy with a frog, the boy with a sling shot, the boy with a whistle. The desires of a boy's heart are simple and easily satisfied; his sorrows are simple, too, and easily comforted.

A few years back, we were playing at a park and Simeon befriended another little boy about his age. They were tossing a basketball back and forth to one another as they played on the gym equipment. They would roll the ball down the slide or toss it through an opening in a bridge, passing it back and forth in this creative way. At one point, Simeon was high up on the monkey bars and the other boy was below. Simeon tossed the ball without warning, taking the other boy unawares. It hit him square on the head and jolted him. He came crying to his mother who stood beside me. Simeon came down from the monkey bars and followed.

“Simeon,” I said gently but firmly, “You shouldn’t throw a ball to someone unless that person expects it. You hurt this boy and now you need to apologize.” Simeon immediately offered a sincere apology.

“Well, Ok” said the other boy wiping a last tear from his cheek.

And then, “Let’s go play on the slide!” And the two boys ran off faster than they had come.

Another mother, who had been watching, piped up. “Excuse me,” she said, “I just have to say that that was amazing. If that had been my daughter there would have been no end to it. We would have had to go home.”

Now, I did not know this woman's daughter or how she might respond in this situation. What I did know was that what had happened there was typical of boys. One boy offers a sincere apology when he sees he’s done wrong. Another boy takes him at his word and does not hold a grudge. Both boys would rather run and play than dwell on such things. A boy is a boy is boy. When it comes to boys, there is no subtlety or nuance of emotion, nothing complicated or impenetrable. Generally, with boys, what you see is what you get.

And generally, with these here boys, I like what I see.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

An Examination of Conscience

Five Things I Did Not Do Today That Were On the To-Do List:

  1. Start a grocery list.
  2. Put away the remaining summer clothes.
  3. Sand and prime bathroom wall where old hardware hung.
  4. Afternoon reading with Alex.
  5. Go for a run.
Five Things I Did Do Today That Were Not On the To-Do List:

  1. Considered, were I a deadly serpent, would I rather have fangs and venom or be a constrictor, like the Boa.
  2. Washed green stamp pad ink off Zachary's hands and tongue.
  3. Discussed the violent, bloody and blubbery rivaling of male elephant seals.
  4. Vacuumed two of the boys after they emptied the contents of the electric pencil sharpener onto their fleece pajamas.
  5. Discovered that the skeleton of the pit viper looks very much like a centipede and that a sloth, at least in our book and according to Alex, looks just like Chubaka...or would it be the other way around?

Perhaps I Shouldn't Admit This...

...but I ate lunch in my pajamas today. They are brand new pajamas of the pants and shirt variety, Polartec fleece so cozy I just didn't want to get out them. I've never done this before, but we aren't going anywhere today and the weather is that kind of overcast grey that just invites you to take morning and make a day of it! And I guess that's what I've done.

Now that I think about it, we haven't been out much at all this whole week. We have mostly stayed at home, getting our schoolwork done, playing in the backyard, doing laundry, paying bills, making dinner. I love this. It is great to get out, to see people, to go on fieldtrips and do things, but it's also great to just be at home sometimes. After all, this is where the most important stuff happens and the most enduring lessons of life are learned.

Besides, there will be plenty of time for running around later when the boys are older. It won't be long before they'll need more than what I can offer them here, and very soon after that they won't really need me anymore at all. So, for long as it lasts, I am happy and thankful for these days at home. It is truly an astonishing and freeing thing to realize that, for now, everything they need, everything I need, it's all right here- in our minds, in our hearts, in our books, in our pantry, in our backyard.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Poetry of Proper Table Etiquette

Remind. Remind. Remind. That's what it's all about. So long as I can do that while keeping my expectations low and my sense of humor high, I think we'll be Ok.

The boys helped me on the humor end of it at the dinner table tonight. When I reminded Alex, "Sit straight. Eat over your plate." I opened a floodgate of creativity that led to the boisterous composition of this poem...

One, two, don't talk and chew;

Three, four, keep your chair on the floor;

Five, six, no crazy tricks;

Seven, eight, eat over your plate;

Nine, ten, we don't live in a pen.

Thank you boys, I think I'm going to use this quite often. Could reciting poetry ever be considered nagging?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Growing Pains


Nothing makes me realize how much the boys have grown like dressing them for the fall. I am amazed at the sizes they are wearing for pants, shirts, and shoes. I am stunned by the size of Simeon's feet in particular. Catching a glimpse of that huge foot under the pantleg of his new pajamas this morning shocked me. Where did his little round foot go? The little toes I remember so well? I used to pretend to chew on them to make him laugh. I wouldn't chew his toes, now.

Yes, they have all grown so much since last spring, and part of growing up means that things once out of reach are no longer, and childproofing that had once worked may no longer be enough. Zachary wanted to drive this point home this morning.

We had noticed that the two littlest boys were pushing the bathroom stool under the medicine cabinet in the upstairs bathroom and rummaging through the bottom shelf. Mostly, this meant they were getting into my make-up. We had a few such instances before I finally just cleared the whole shelf.

The empty shelf must have been convenient for Jeremy last night when he went to put away the cold medication we have been giving to all the little stuffed noses around here. And Zachary must not have given up hope that something interesting would show up on that bottom shelf again, though it had been bare for days.

Today, there must have been a find and the childproof cap must not have been much of a problem because Zachary brought me the cream colored bath mat stained with cherry-flavored liquid. He was concerned about the spill and wanted me to wash it. This wasn't the first time Zachary's obsessively clean habits have given him away. He is the only child of his ilk in this family and so we always know who wrote on the wall with permanent marker, for example, when the cap has been replaced and the marker rightly put away.

I immediately retrieved the bottle. It had a trace amount of medication left at the bottom. I picked up the phone and called Jeremy. He informed me that there couldn't have been too much more than a tablespoon in the bottle last night. I was glad to hear that. Then, I checked the active ingredients. It was cough and cold medication with Tylenol, a decongestant, a cough suppressant, and an antihistamine. The Tylenol concerned me most.

Jeremy suggested I call poison control, but I know how they lean toward getting people seen; it seemed Zachary couldn't have consumed that much and I really, really didn't want to head to ER with five little boys. But neither did I want that lame excuse to haunt me forever should something happen, and so I called.

The nurse on the other end of the line was very kind and patient with me while I told her the situation, weighed Zachary, measured the remaining medication and read her the active ingredients. God bless nurses!

She worked out the math and explained that, at most, he had taken three times his normal dosage and that was safely within the safety limits for that particular medication. She suggested I give him a glass of milk and something to eat and she warned me that the antihistamine could make him either hyperactive or very drowsy.

We lucked out.

Zachary didn't make it through his lunch before he fell asleep on the table, but now it is 9:30 and all the boys are asleep, but one. I can hear him in his crib, "I want milk...I want milk." Maybe we didn't luck out after all.

No Greater Love

An Australian man died after saving his wife and four children from their burning home.

This family could use your prayers today.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Smarter Than A Hairy Primate

The boys were eager to do some Halloween crafting today, but we were all out of Elmer's Glue. In a moment of desperate delirium, I brought out the only adhesive we had on hand: Gorilla Glue.

Luckily, the crafting came off without incident, but we did have this interesting exchange:

"Why do they call it Gorilla Glue?" asked Alex.

"Well," I said, "because it is stronger than a gorilla. Be careful, it could glue your hand to the table."

"What is smarter than a gorilla?" Jacob asked in a sinus-stuffed daze.

"Nothing!" said Alex, correcting his brother's mistake.

"That's not true," Simeon said, coming to my defense. "Mama is."

Oh, the flattery I get with this job can sometimes give me a big head.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Home

Our deck is finally completed, the shower curtain rod has been replaced, our basement is organized, the banister repaired, and even the half bath remodeling job is well underway. I've never seen my husband so animated to fix things up around here and I've never felt more at home in this crazy, lovable, project-producing house. Yes, we have very nearly completed all the important projects and, in many ways, have finally made this place our own.

What is the secret to our sudden success? It should be obvious: We have put the house on the market.

We are moving. Again. In the (almost) ten years we have been married, we have moved seven times. Seven. In addition, should our house sell before the winter, the circumstances will require that we move into yet another temporary housing situation before we move again and finally settle into a more (dare I say it?) permanent, larger home.

The three years we have lived in this house have been the longest time period we have lived in any one place, and we aren't military! I won't drag you through all the reasons we moved when we did, let's just say that they were many. This time it is because we have outgrown the house. It was a perfect fit when we bought it, but we have brought home two baby boys in the last three years and the three older boys have grown, as children are known to do.

Moving is a very stressful and emotional experience. There are some benefits, however, and since I find myself in this position once again, I should focus on these. Moving frequently certainly encourages one to keep fewer possessions and live a simpler life. But more important than this, the constant uprooting and relocation of our family has helped me to focus my spiritual priorities.

Three of the happiest months of my life were spent living in a third floor apartment downtown. We lived there, while looking for a house, with Simeon, Alexander, Jacob, and I was expecting Zachary. It was winter, the people below us were constantly complaining that the boys were moving around too much (though the boys were really being very good about trying to keep things quiet), I did not have a car, and being pregnant, I had an especially hard time with the all the smells commonly found in apartment buildings. How could this unpleasant situation be among my happiest memories? Simply because, for the three months prior, the children and I had been separated from Jeremy on account of our move to Connecticut from out of state. It was such a joy to have our family, whole and entire, back together again under one roof that we did not care what kind of roof it was.

I think, too, of the man in today's gospel who asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life. He was a good man, having kept the commandments since his youth, but when Jesus tells him that something more is required; that he must give away all that he has and follow the cross, he is grieved. He is unwilling to give up his wealth and the joys of this life in order to inherit the kingdom of God.

I think I would be just like that man. If, in this life, I had the wealth and joy and goodness he had, if I had the perfect home and the perfect homeschool, if my life was always beauty and leisure and innocent pleasure shared with those I love, I wouldn't want to give it up and take up a cross of suffering in pursuit of something eye has not seen nor ear ever heard. "No thank you," I would say, "Go on ahead without me."

God knows how much I like the good things of this life. He knows how hard it would be for me to give those things up for the sake of something greater. So, I sometimes think it is a special grace that God has, thus far, spared me that choice. I do not have wealth to cling to or great virtue and leisure to rest in. I am constantly in need of God's providence and mercy, and in this way, I am ever carrying a cross I did not choose to take up and following, with my petitions, after Him who is my only hope and my final home.

Reality Check

Quite simple, really.

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away. -Philip K. Dick

Verbing Nouns

Squishing his hamburger down to take a bite and as ketchup and mustard drip down his forearms,

Simeon: Oh no! I overcondimented.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Happy Birthday to the Pater Familias!



It is a good thing we aren't superstitious.




Because on this Friday, the thirteenth of October, a day Daniel Handler's Lemony Snicket deemed particularly appropriate to release his last book in "A Series of Unfortunate Events," Jeremy will begin the most expensive year of his life.




No, we aren't superstitious, but it couldn't hurt to list thirteen things I love about you, dear, just to lend the number thirteen a more positive image:


  1. You're Bona Fide.
  2. Our boys adore you.
  3. You're intelligent,
  4. and thoughtful,
  5. and modest.
  6. Your hair. If we ever have a girl, I want her to have your hair.
  7. You are always looking for ways to better yourself
  8. and doing them!
  9. You work hard.
  10. You're tall and well built,
  11. but the gentlest of gentlemen.
  12. This sort of thing embarrasses you,
  13. but you won't be angry with me for doing it, anyway!
Happy Birthday, sweetheart! The boys wanted to get you a chainsaw, but I opted for dress shoes; hope it doesn't disappoint!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

October


Selected verses from Robert Frost's
"October"

Oh hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow's wind, if it be wild
Should waste them all...

Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf,
One from our trees, one far away;
Retard the sun with gentle mist,
Enchant the land with amethyst.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Peanuts and Pies


Now that things are beginning to take shape with our homeschool year and I have a good sense of what can and can't be accomplished in a day, I'm starting to fill in the gaps where we could be doing more. I slowly add a reading of something here, a project or a game there, all in an effort to maximize every possible educational moment.

So, today I reintroduced "Think of Others Day." I worked out this plan last year where one day a week our family would "think of others."On this day, the boys are encouraged to be more generous with one another and all our prayer intentions are for others outside our immediate family. In the morning, we think together of who we know that might be in need. Is it a neighbor that has undergone surgery? A friend that has recently had a baby? We choose one such person and think of what we could do for them. This usually involves making a meal or baking a dessert and delivering it in person. The boys just love dropping goodies off to "those in need." Somehow, it speaks to their innate heroism.

Today was the first "Think of Others Day" of the year. We shared our toast with one another at breakfast, helped each other out with our schoolwork, and we argued with one another (like true disciples, Mark 9: 34) to be "last" in everything since this, of course, would make us "first" in thinking of others.

Most importantly, we baked an extra apple pie for a friend who recently had a baby. Well, as it really turned out, Jacob and I baked those pies while Nicholas napped and the older boys and Zachary watched "This is America, Charlie Brown".

Thanks, wise oldest sister, for recommending this to us. Two of my favorite things, history and "The Peanuts," rolled into one delightfully entertaining and very informative film. It is a gem! The boys loved it and, listening from the kitchen, I enjoyed it, too. Netflix has it, folks.

Needless to say, after baking all afternoon, dinner was a little less stellar than the night before. Simeon was pleased.

A Question of Taste

Last night I made the perfect autumn meal, hopefully the first of many. I roasted turkey with sage and shallots, baked apples with cinnamon, steamed some green beans, and served them with a roasted chestnut and chicken-apple sausage dressing. With the chestnuts and turkey roasting and the apples baking, my house smelled like some place in a Beatrix Potter story all afternoon. Everyone cleaned his plate. Everyone thanked me for the meal. Everyone, that is, except for Simeon. He ate the apples, but that was all.

"Simeon," I said, "You are going to be hungry later."

"Why couldn't we have pasta?" he asked poking at his turkey with his fork.

"You need to learn to eat all the healthy foods Mama makes for you so you can grow healthy and strong," I said.

"I wish I didn't have taste," he replied; meaning that he could manage the meal if only he didn't have to experience its flavors.

"And I wish you did," I said; meaning his likes and dislikes could use a little, shall we say, refinement?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Scenes From Our Wildlife Kingdom




You Know You've Been Married Nearly Ten Years And Have Had A Few Children ...

If...

... late at night, in the middle of a serious discussion about an important matter that you have very strong feelings about; and just after you have eloquently (you think) and accurately described your position and explained the complexity of your emotions in a powerfully clear (you think) single sentence...

Then...

...your husband's eyes focus on an object across the room as a wave of understanding passes through them. He motions with his pointed finger as though he is about to make an important statement,

"There's the wipes!" he says, "I was looking for those all day."

And the response is...

...brief silence.

Followed by both of you melting into peels of laughter.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Weight of Words

A friend of mine with at least as many children as I have, but of mixed gender, recently paid me this backhanded compliment, "Suzanne, I admire you soooo much. I could never have all boys and keep my sanity. You must be amazing."

The truth is, I know she's wrong. My boys may be "all boy" as they say, but they are also thoughtful, loving, obedient, well behaved and helpful. Life with these boys is an adventure I wouldn't want to miss, not the torment that would drive an otherwise strong woman to the looney bin that my friend implied. I consider my family and its unique make-up and structure a great blessing to us.

On most days, that is.

On bad days; days when the boys break something of mine with all that extra energy God gave them to save the world later; days when someone stabs the back of his mouth with a pencil, splits open his head, or yanks the teeth out of his jaw with a rope; on bad days I think my friend is probably right. I think a family of five boys is too much for one woman. And since I know that I am no more "amazing" than she, I think I have taken on more responsibility than I can handle.

While I know that this isn't true, it is a very discouraging thought.

I am not writing this to gripe about the comment or to complain about my friend, who, by the way, is a lovely person and only meant well, I am sure. I am writing this because this instance was an occasion for me to reflect on how our words affect one another. I think sometimes, within our small Catholic groups and communities, we take liberties with our words. We think that since others know and understand where we are coming from, we can speak freely and say whatever comes to mind.

When we discovered that we were expecting Jacob so soon after Alex was born an acquaintance said to me, "I would never say this if you didn't know that I am pro-life, but I suppose this pregnancy was a mistake, hu?" "No," I thought to myself, "precisely because you are pro-life, you should never have said this to me." The rude comments I receive from strangers about my family's size and make-up are annoying, but discouraging words from like-minded friends are a weight around my neck.

I don't think I'm alone in this. I think many others have suffered discouragement from those who should be offering support. I am sensitive to comments about larger families, homeschooling, and particularly about having all boys. Others I know are sensitive to comments about their smaller families, about having their children in school, about adopted children, about hadicapped children, and so on...and so on. We are all sensitive to the words of others, especially when those words seem to pass judgment on those we love or the decisions we have prayerfully made for our children and for our lives.

When we see the unique circumstances and trials of our neighbor we shouldn't criticize or pry, and neither should we declare her a "saint." We are none of us eternally beatified. We can't look back and laugh at it all just yet. We are all still in the thick of it, working out our salvation in fear and trembling, and we need all the encouragement we can get.

Neither is it my intention to declare my own innocence in these matters because, I assure you, I have not always governed my tongue the way I ought and I am sure I have hurt others. My point is that this incident has made me consider the weight of my words.

I found that my friend's remark discouraged me. It's bound to happen and I need to thicken my skin as much as possible, but even better than that I can learn to be more sensitive to other mothers. Rather than focusing on my own wounds, I can take this opportunity to reflect on the unique challenges of my friends and acquaintances and learn how to encourage them with my words or, in some cases, with silence.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Two



This is Zachary with his favorite storybook character, Richard Scarry's Lowly. Zachary is two and a half and in the throes of what Jeremy calls his "demonhood." Essentially, this means that he is reluctant to nap, unlikely to comply, certain to disagree, and usually the problem. The up-side to all this is that nature wisely endows all children of this age with the physical appearance of adorability. While he may be pesting, he sure is cute doing it. We love our Zachary. Posted by Picasa

On the Go

While driving around town, we've been playing our favorite geography game again. We didn't find this one in a book or hear about it from anyone else and so, as far as we know, we made it up. It is a great deal of fun and it goes something like this...

Me: Hey Simeon, do you remember our vacation in Arizona?

Simeon: Yeah, that's when I sat on a cactus. Ouch.

Alex: And I found a Gila Monster.

Simeon: Remember our vacation in Australia? Nicholas went for a ride in a kangaroo's pouch.

Alex: And I saw a Koala Bear.

Me: In what kind of tree?

Alex: Eucalyptus. Remember Florida?

Simeon: Yikes! That's when Zachary got eaten by a Caiman.

Zachary: That's not funny.

Simeon: Caiman have teeth that point backwards so their prey can't get away.

Zachary: That's NOT funny.

Me: Ok. Ok. What about California?

Simeon: That's where I climbed to the top of a Redwood Tree.

Alex: And I chopped it down.

Me: How far did you fall?

Simeon: Over 250 feet!

Me: Why didn't you die?

Simeon: Because I landed in a bucket of lemons.

...and so on all around the world.

One of the things I love most about this game is that, since the boys learn almost all of their natural science and geography on their own, it gives me an insight into what they have been reading and learning.

Even before he could read, Simeon would spend hours pouring over maps and looking through animal encyclopedias. His favorite movies were, and continue to be, documentaries about ocean life, dinosaurs, animals, insects, geology and science. I remember when he was three and we watched National Geographic: The Sharks. At the close of the film was rare footage of a shark egg sack latched to a plant on the ocean floor. Transparent as it was, you could see the tiny shark embryo moving within. When it wriggled itself slowly out of the sack and swam free in ocean waters for the first time, Simeon turned to me and said with feeling, "Mama, I love him." And so he has continued to love all things natural, especially living things.

Now that he can read, Simeon gains even more from his time spent with maps and encyclopedias. And although Alex's strongest interests lie elsewhere, he also enjoys looking at these things and learning about them from his older brother.

As the boys read and learn more on their own, our geography game becomes a little more sophisticated and a little more fun. I can see already that their abilities have improved since last year and I'm looking forward to the years ahead when all five boys can play.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Catholic Homeschooling Carnival


























It's the first ever Catholic homeschooling blog carnival! Lots of good stuff.

My post, "The Solution" to managing homeshooling with lots of little ones appears there.

Check it out!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Not A Baby


Nicholas is Smart
He knows...
  • where the food is kept.
  • to make a beeline there when the phone rings.
  • he's cute.
  • to make sweetsie faces to the ladies at church.
  • how to make his brothers laugh and keep them laughing.
Nicholas is Strong
He can...
  • push his highchair across the kitchen and climb up into it to get on the counters.
  • shake his pack-n- play until it rocks across the room.
  • cling fast to a grocery cart when I try to get him out.
  • hold his own with Zachary.
  • lift the dining room table from underneath while making manly grunting noises.
Nicholas Talks
He says...
  • "Yourwelkuk," when I say "thank you."
  • "Brixfix," in the morning when I get him up.
  • "Crack-koor," when he wants a snack.
  • "Whazzat?" all day long.
  • "Bruddas!" when he is looking for playmates.
No, Nicholas is no longer a baby...sigh...

Three Questions I had a Hard Time Answering Today

Alexander: If you swallow chemicals, but they don't kill you, what happens to your insides?
Me: Uh...Hmmm

Jacob: I know God made the whole world out of nothing, but exactly how did He do that?
Me: I uhhh..hm

Simeon: Who ate all the chocolate?
Me: Uh..hmmmm

Hope

This couple lost their three children when the earthquake and tsunami hit Asia last December. To cope with their grief, they adopted eighteen children who had lost their parents in the same disaster. Now, they have been given something more...

God is Good.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Now it's official. By the way, these are NOT my boys. They are the boys who showed up when I googled, "crazy boys." I won't tell you who else showed up.

Thanks for the link, Love2LearnMom!

Sunny With Scattered Acorns


We've been experiencing Indian Summer here in New England; the weather has been beautiful.

In keeping with my own suggestions, we've been doing most of our schoolwork outside. But since it is October and since we live beneath a canopy of four White Oaks, we are pelted relentlessly with acorns.

On the bright side, the boys say acorns make for a great backyard stew. Posted by Picasa

The Heart of the Cure of Ars

The incorrupt heart of St. Jean-Baptiste Vianney is coming to New York and Boston. It is hoped that veneration of this relic and meditation on the holy life of the Patron Saint of Parish Priests will precipitate an increase in local vocations.

Two things I've read in his writings that have stayed with me...

"Prayer is the inner bath of love into which the soul plunges itself."

and

"I tell you that you have less to suffer in following the Cross than in serving the world and its pleasures."

Read more about relics here.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Limits

Today was rather bloody. We had several of the usual scrapes and scratches and we upped them a split head and a tooth-through-the-lip.

I have something of a dilemma when it comes to setting limits around here. I would like to say no rowdy, rough, loud, disorderly, or dangerous behaviors are aloud at any time anywhere, but then what would the boys do? It appears that it is in their nature and so it seems that I must allow some of it, right? But how much, and what kinds of things should be off limits? What kinds of things allowed?

Obviously, the really dangerous things should be out of the question. No playing with chemicals, razor blades, or power tools. But what about hammers and rocks? Should these be off limits because they occasionally smash a finger?

And as for the swing set, I ruled out all climbing across the top of it, but what about standing on the glider? I was letting it go when I saw it, but now we have a split head.

We have a general rule around here: Use things for what they are meant to be used for. Simple, right? Not so to the mind of a little boy. They see many uses where we might see only one. They are very creative that way.

Rope is meant for tying, they reason, and so I can tie my brother up in this rope. Glue is meant for sticking things together, and so I will glue all the pages of this book together. Fans are meant for spinning things, so I will fix my rabbit to this ceiling fan and watch him spin. See? You and I would never think a fan was meant to spin things, but they see these things.

All that is to say my general rules are not enough to guide them; I need to be specific. Just where do I draw those specific lines?

Also, many of things I want to tell them to stop, I realize, are not really dangerous or bad, they just don't agree with my own tastes or what I would prefer. I have often instinctively told the boys to stop something only to rethink it and see what they were doing was fine, just not something I would ever want to do.

So when it comes to setting limits, I find myself caught between what seems to be their propensity for dangerous and destructive behaviors on the one hand, and my own risk intolerance and dislike for all things disorderly on the other.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

A new study proves that, although they often pretend not to, our children really do hear our voices after all.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Angel of God

"He hath given His angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways; in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone." (Psalm 90:11)

Today is the memorial feast of our Guardian Angels and in honor of this day, I will tell the story of an encounter we had, about one year ago, with a seemingly miraculous and saving messenger of God.

At that time, we were meeting a group of friends at a local park every Tuesday afternoon. It was a wonderful opportunity for the children to play and for the mothers to talk. It was a new park, completed just a year before, and so it was modern, appealing, and clean.

The one problem with the newness of this park was that the local traffic had not yet become accustomed to the influx in pedestrians. The park was located on a wide main street and cars passed by at alarming speeds.

The parking situation did not help matters either. With cars crowded closely together, it was almost impossible to see persons on foot and yet the speeding traffic whizzed thoughtlessly by. I kept the boys' bikes and scooters in the trunk of the van and when I unloaded them, I could feel the wind from the passing traffic warning me not to take a single step backward.

After an enjoyable afternoon at the park on a beautiful fall day much like this one, I called to the boys that it was time to go. This was one year ago now and so Nicholas was no more than five months old and Zachary was a year and a half. I had Nicholas in a front carrier and Zachary on my hip. The older boys were walking beside me with their bikes and scooters in tow. Other mothers and children were leaving at the same time and we all walked together toward our parked cars and the busy street.

Suddenly, Jacob sped past me, riding his scooter. He was heading straight toward the back of the van and the speeding traffic just beyond. He was three years old at the time and apparently had not remembered the rule that we walk bikes and scooters to the van.

He might have been planning to stop when he reached the rear of the van, but even if he were planning such a thing, I had known him to overshoot his goal on more than one occasion.

My chest grew tight, there was a warm numbing sensation that passed through my head, neck, and down my spine. My legs felt weak and I thought they might give out from under the weight of both Zachary and Nicholas, but Jacob was moving fast. He showed no sign of stopping and I stood back helpless, weighted as I was, and unable to run. I could not hand the others off. There was no time.

But neither could I stand back and do nothing at all and so I did the one thing I could do. I turned my heart to God and I shouted. I shouted loudly enough to turn nearly every head at that park. I did not shout to Jacob, though, and to this day I do not know exactly why, but I shouted in frantic desperation,

"Somebody!...Somebody please stop him!" I shouted this though there was no one in sight. There was no one who could stop him. No one close enough to help. Not in time.

But then there was. Out of nowhere there came a jogger, a muscular man in black spandex. And standing hardly in front of the traffic, he caught the handle bar of Jacob's scooter with one hand and stopped it short. Just then an SUV streaked by, blowing Jacob's hair in its wake. I had time to think, "That car might have killed my son," when the man in black spandex waved a hand in my direction and was gone.

After receiving kind words and gestures from our friends and getting everything and everybody settled into the van, I crawled up to the driver's seat. I looked out at the many faces at the park that were still looking my way, I laid my head on the steering wheel, and I cried. I cried because my body was still shaken from the fear and I needed to release it and I cried because I was so happy that Jacob was not hurt.

Later, I had the chance to speak with one of my friends that had been present that day and I asked her a question I had been wanting to ask," Did you see that jogger coming?"

"No," she said, "I did not. That was a very faith affirming experience for me."

I cannot claim that it was, in fact, Jacob's Guardian Angel because I do not know this with any certainty. The skeptic could say that these events could just as easily be explained by chance. It would not surprise me in the least, however, if all my boys had muscular athletes for Guardian Angels. For this job, I think they would need to be in good shape. This man certainly looked the part.

What I do know with moral certitude is this: Whether it was the apparition of an immaterial being or just a jogger out on his usual path, I know that God placed him there in answer to my desperate plea. I know that he was the answer to my prayer.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Picking Their Battles

Yesterday we hosted an alumni BBQ for Jeremy's law school and we invited some local attorneys as well. Among our distinguished guests was a lawyer who works for the Family Institute of Connecticut, an organization that fights for pro-life and pro-family causes here in Connecticut.

"I am so impressed with the work you do," I told him, "It must take a great deal of courage to fight for family issues in a state as liberal as Connecticut. I can only imagine the kind of will power and determination that you must have to keep going and not become discouraged."

"Thank you." he replied humbly, "But, you know, there is a reason God gave all that energy to the male half of our species." As he said this, he motioned to where my sons were sitting. Ok, not exactly sitting, but kneeling...on chairs...backwards, and bouncing up and down....with the chairs. Oh, and pulling the hoods of their sweatshirts over their faces...and laughing...loudly. Very loudly.

Temple Academy: Training today's energy to be a force in the right direction tomorrow.

Nicholas's New Shoes...


...after one day's use.
Posted by Picasa