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!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sister Smile

Two weeks ago I was in the grocery store when the most captivating little tune came over the loud speakers..."Dominique, nique, nique, S'en allait tout simplement...Il ne parle que du Bon Dieu." Now, some of you may be familiar with this tune, but I was not and I was taken by it. The melody was unique, the voice was clear, and together they made the prettiest song I had heard in some time. I asked the old woman beside me( who was singing the song to herself as she shopped) "Do you know who sings this song?"

"Ah, yes, They were popular in the sixties. I think they were called The Singing Nuns." She told me.

When I got home I found "The Singing Nun" on the internet and listened to samples of her other music. I ordered a cassette. It arrived three days later and I was eager to hear it. I had been hoping it would all be as enchanting as the song I remembered from the grocery store had been and it was...and then some.

I was amazed by the infectious melodies and the beauty of the lyrics. First of all, the song "Dominque" was about St. Dominic, the founder of the order where this Belgian nun, Sr. Luc-Gabrielle, was serving her novitiate. The insert informed me that she called herself "Soeur Sourire" or "Sister Smile" but was re-christened "The Singing Nun" when, in 1963, the single Dominique and the album that contained it shot to number one on the charts in the United States. Apparently, she even made an appearance shortly after on the Ed Sullivan Show.

The insert also informed me that she affectionately called her guitar, "Sister Adele," which made sense of the lyrics in the second song on the album...
In all the tones of her whole soul Adele dedicated herself to the Lord. And her songs proclaimed everywhere that serving God was her happiness. Behind the harps and zithers forming the orchestra of heaven, one day, Adele, the humble guitar, will be heard in the abode of God. [translated]
Lyrics like these and the music that expressed them seemed to indicate that "Soeur Sourire" was a pure and gentle soul with a lovely voice and a rare gift for melody.

I was eager to learn her every song by heart. I listened while driving, while cleaning, whenever and wherever I could. The boys enjoyed the songs, too, and since French is the foreign language of choice for study here at Temple Academy, I considered it educational as well. Soon, I heard Jeremy whistling the happy tunes. Our whole family was hooked. I began to think of "Soeur Sourire" as an older sister, looking down and smiling upon us as we sang her songs of love and praise.

Then it happened. I decided to learn more about my "older sister" and I didn't like what I discovered. In short, I found that "Soeur Sourire" was very much a child of the sixties. She publicly supported things she should not have and in direct defiance to authorities to whom she was lawfully subject, she left her order, became involved in an unseemly relationship, and met a premature and disreputable demise. Enough said.

It may seem silly, but I was heartbroken. Oh well, I reasoned within myself, so she wasn't what you thought. Those songs are still lovely and those lyrics are just as meaningful-- if only to you. But I couldn't listen to the music in the same way again. The catchy tunes, rather than lifting my spirits, reminded me of disappointment and left me with a feeling of longing and sadness.

My "older sister" was gone. In fact, I don't know if she ever was real. It is hard for me to imagine anyone writing such lyrics without having a sincere love for God, but I don't know. I can't explain it, and I don't have to. God knows her heart and God will be her judge. "Nothing prevents you from praying for her." Jeremy said when I shared the sad news. He was right-- and I did.

As I reflected on this experience, it occurred to me how natural my feelings were. We all want to see beauty, truth, and goodness united. We don't like the disjoint between great art and a life poorly lived. We want a chaste Mozart and a prudent Jefferson; we want a humble Michelangelo and an orthodox Da Vinci. We want those who inspire us to be inspiring in every way. We desire to see great beauty, truth, and goodness united in a single creature, but most often they are not-- not perfectly anyway.

Our desire to see these qualities together is ultimately a desire for God, for only in Him are beauty, truth, and goodness perfect and united.

"Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." --St. Augustine.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Control



Last night Zachary brought me the remote control to one of our unit air conditioners.

"Thank you, " I said, "Now Mama's going to use this to make Zachary put his hands up in the air." I pointed it toward him and made a button pushing sound.

He looked a bit confused at first, but then put his hands up in the air.

"Good." I said, "Now Mama's going to use this to make Zachary put his hands on the floor. Bzzzeeep." And Zachary complied.

"Now Mama's going to make Zachary roll over on the floor." He rolled over.

"Now Mama is going to turn Zachary off."

"Oh no!" Zachary pleaded, "Please don't."

Poor kid. I didn't realize how much control he thought I really had.

And I imagine that is most likely true in a larger sense as well.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Boy Conversation


Zachary: Pppppphhhhtt....uhh.....ppppppppppphht...uhh.....pppppphhhttt.....uhh....pppppphht.....
Nicholas: Ppppttttt......pppppptttt.....ppppppt....ppppppptttttt......pppptttt


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Entertaining Angels


About a year ago we had to call a plumber to remove a clog in the shower drain. As he was working, I asked him about the cold water faucet that seemed to require a good deal of tightening to shut off the water completely.

Without really looking at the faucet he gave me the dire prediction that the washer was soon to go. On account of the age of the hardware, he continued, the whole thing would need replacement; probably even requiring that tiles be broken for access or a hole be made in the wall of the adjacent room. What?? Aaagghh... This just didn't sound good. I ignored it.

Now, however, that we are preparing the house for an inspection and sale I took a close look at that faucet and realized that something had gone as there was a slow drip (that turned to a drizzle when the water was running) and it was getting into the wall. Not good.

We tried to remove the faucet ourselves to see the problem, but, as the plumber-of-doom had predicted, the hardware had welded to itself over the years. That screw would not turn and all our continued efforts did nothing but bring us closer to stripping it. Not good.

So, I called Roto-Rooter. A second opinion couldn't hurt and they offer fast service and free estimates. They said someone would be here within the hour. Good.

I called all the boys together and told them what was happening and we prayed, "Lord, you have helped us to find a buyer for our home. Now help us, please, to fix this leaking faucet without too much trouble or expense." We said an Our Father, asked for St Joseph's intercession, and before we knew it the Roto-Rooter van was parked out front. Good.

A short bearded man that smelled of stale tobacco presented himself. I showed him the leak and the ancient screw. He tried to turn it and said, "We're not off to a good start, here." Not good.

I ignored him, went downstairs to make lunch, and left him to his work. As I made the sandwiches, our plumber passed back and forth from his van to our bathroom, whistling all the while. I could hear clanks and clacks and probably the neighbor's pipes, so attentive were my ears to the slightest noise that would hint at progress.

The third time our plumber passed through the kitchen he dropped five bendable, winking Roto-Rooter dolls holding red plungers beside me. "Those'r for the kids," he said and was off before I could ask any questions.

As the boys ate lunch and played with the dolls our plumber came downstairs and handed me the nearly-stripped screw. "How did you get it out?" I asked.

"Trick-of-the-trade, Maam. I'm a plumber. That's what I do. I fix things. Your faucet is fine, now."

"Well, you're amazing. Thank you so much. How much do I owe you?"

"Nothin'," he said putting up his hand, "What, will I charge you $175.00 for a service fee? I don' think so."

"What can I say? I can't thank you enough...oh, and the boys love the dolls. How did you know to bring in five? Did you count the children?"

"No, I knew there were lots but wasn' sure how many. Lucky guess, I s'pose. Five, hu? You'ra lucky lady."

Lucky guess..lucky lady...and yet, somehow, I didn't see any of this as mere "luck."

Confessions of an Automated Robot

Is it just me, or does anyone else have trouble with the word verification on some sites? I fail this test frequently. You know, the one under the words...

This test is used to prevent automated robots from posting comments.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Coffee With the Saints

Yesterday evening, I had the pleasure of finding ,in a friendly acquaintance, a new friend. She and I belong to the same home educator's group and so I have seen her many times and have always enjoyed her company, but all our gatherings have been centered around the children and their activities. Last night, it was just the two of us mothers out for coffee. For me, this is a rare treat.

We talked about a great many things and I could have talked with her forever and not seen the time go by and I very nearly did. It wasn't so much that our backgrounds or even current circumstances were so similar; in fact, it was the differences that amazed me.

We couldn't have had less similar childhoods or upbringings. The story of her conversion, too, was so beautiful to hear, but it isn't my own experience-- cradle Catholic that I am. Even with all the similarities we have today there are still some differences; she is the mother of a beautiful bunch of girls and, as you know, I am the mother of all boys.

So how is it that we could finish one another's sentences? Why is it that the things that matter most to her are the things that matter most to me? Why do we have the same struggles, the same hardships, the same outlook, the same joys? In short, how did two women from such different backgrounds become so similar that they could be sisters?

It is because we are sisters. We are sisters in faith. We were both born again in the same water of the same baptism, by the same Spirit, and to the same Father. The Church is our Mother. With the same Father and the same Mother, we are not full-blooded, but "full-spirited" sisters. What a joy it was to see that so clearly and to be reminded that it is a very big family to which we belong.

People from all backgrounds, from all over the globe, and throughout all time belong to this family. I imagine in Heaven when we meet (God willing) St Theresa, St Elizabeth, St Joan of Arc, etc., it will be a very similar experience to the one I had last night. We will sit down with these familiar saints and discover to our great delight, in a new way and despite all the differences, just how much we have in common.

A special "thank you" to our husbands for taking over the household duties after a long day of work so that we could do this.

Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. --Mark 10:29-30

Showing Initiative

Nine year old, James P. Stevens, saved the lives of his mother and two siblings by taking control when his mother passed out at the wheel of the family vehicle. He jumped on his mother's lap, pulled the car safely off the road, put the car in park and called 911. He calmly guided rescuers to the scene while comforting his frightened siblings until help arrived. Wow. What a kid!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Exercising Vocabulary

Our little Zachary loves words. He is, by far, the most verbal of all our children yet. He has an extensive vocabulary for a two year old and he's always looking to increase it.

Sometimes with happy results...

The other day he heard a new word and wanted to learn its meaning, "What's gorgeous, Mama?" he asked. "Mama's gorgeous," I answered (really, how could I resist?) "Well, it means beautiful," I explained. "Kay," Zachary agreed, "Mama's gorgeous." Now it's one of his favorite words to describe me.

Sometimes with less happy results...

Last night, as I typed, Zachary climbed up on my lap. He looked over the landscape of my desk. "It's messy," he said. It was true. Since the anxious cleaning for house showings has ended, I have let things go around here. And by "let things go" I mean I haven't been anxiously cleaning. "It's despicable," Zachary pronounced with clarity. Yeesh. I hadn't thought it was that bad.

This morning I asked Simeon, "Do you know where Zachary might have gotten the word, despicable?"

"Yea," Simeon explained, "That would be from Daffy Duck."

Uh-hu. I oughta roast that bird!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Joseph


For the second time in less than two weeks we have entered into an agreement for the sale of our home. This time, however, we have a signed contract and the deal is even better than the one that fell through. Thank you, all of you, (whether I can link to you or not) who remembered us in your prayers, especially in prayers to St. Joseph.

I love this house. I love the neighborhood and the neighbors. I love the sunroom and the woodstove; I love the built-in toy boxes in the playroom and built-in bookshelves in the livingroom. I love the memories we have made here and the babies we have brought home here. I love the yard and the woods behind. I love the New England color and style, the climbing roses, the blossoming cherry. I love this house. It wasn't easy to find and it won't be easy to leave.

No, it was not easy to find this house. On a single income in the bubbling North Eastern housing market we were pinched and stretched, but we needed a roof and for no small family. We had three small boys and were expecting a fourth. I assaulted St Joseph day and night with prayers and supplications. There were so many tears and disappointments, so many prayers and hardships, but our trust in St. Joseph led us here. I felt so loved when we finally found this house; I felt St. Joseph had taken such good care of us. He had made certain that our house would not be adequate only, but also lovely. It would be charming and welcoming, warm and homey.

Not long after we moved in, we met our neighbor across the street. I was happy to learn that his name was Joseph. Looking back now over the three short years we have lived here, I see what a "Joseph" he has been to us.

Like St. Joseph in his protection and kindness, our neighbor Joseph watched over our house while we were away on vacations and collected our mail; he offered me help, on more than one occasion, when the boys were sick and I was alone. At a recent tag sale he held, too, he sent the boys home with all they could hold and promised more if I would allow it.

Also like St. Joseph, the most tender of fathers, he enjoyed our boys completely. He would chat with them over the fence whenever he was out and invite them to "help" him in his yard chores. The boys loved him to excess and I often held them back with fear that they might become an annoyance. Looking back, I see that was a needless fear.

Lastly, like St. Joseph the carpenter, our dear Joseph loaned us his every tool and, in exchange for legal services from Jeremy, he repaired things around our house. The boys would hang around him whenever he came, asking him question after question as the littlest ones clung to his legs. There were many nights this past summer when we would be sitting at the dinner table while he was out working in our yard repairing or improving our property. (He always refused offers to join us.) He seemed tireless, despite his late middle age and despite the arthritis that caused his limp and weakened his hands. I am certain he has done more for us than we have ever done for him.

So today, when he popped in to see how the bathroom project was coming along and we shared the news of the contract we signed-- after the usual questions and answers and congratulations-- he stood quietly for a moment. Then he picked up and talked about tile, toilet wax seals, lead pipes, grout, levels and spacers. He's a wealth of knowledge about these things and the conversation rolled without lull.

Then suddenly he said, "So you guys are really moving, hu? Maybe I should go, too." He looked down at his hands. "I suppose you wouldn't consider leaving the children?" he joked.

"The boys will miss you." I said.

"It's nice of you to say that," he replied.

But they will.

And I will, too, good Joseph. I will too.

Friday, November 10, 2006

If Only...

Scene One :

After I finished explaining long division with remainders to him...

Simeon: Um...Ok, yea... but all that seems pretty complicated. Isn't there a simpler way?

Scene Two :

I lost the handset to the cordless phone so I pressed the "find handset" button. It began beeping in the room where all the boys were playing. As I came up the stairwell I heard them saying...

Simeon: What's that beeping?

Jacob: (with relish) Hhheeey... maybe there's dynamite in this room about to es-splode!

A Week With Leaves


Gathered...



Pressed...


and turned into art.






















"Lion With Fiery Mane" by Simeon 8


"Lion With Golden Mane" by Alexander 5


Picassoesque "Lion" by Jacob 4


"Rhapsody in Glue" by Zachary 2

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Thankful Thursday


That caption reads...

Because everything in her house is waterproof, the housewife of 2000 can do her daily cleaning with a hose.
Well, (thankfully) that's not exactly how the "future" turned out, but there are many things that my mother did not have when all nine of her children were small and that I am grateful to have today. Joining in on Thankful Thursdays, however late, I add my list of ten such things...
  1. A vehicle with car seats that can safely hold my whole family.
  2. Pay at the pump gas stations.
  3. The necessary support system and materials for homeschooling.
  4. The internet for shopping, learning, news, blogs, and "virtual friends" as real as my real ones.
  5. The additional child tax credit. Not that it covers actual costs, but it sure is appreciated every April.
  6. Peapod by Stop and Shop. I have never actually used this service, but I sleep well at night knowing that it is there.
  7. Netflix.
  8. Oxyclean.
  9. "Mother with child" parking spots at grocery stores, changing stations in public restrooms, and family bathrooms!
  10. The Luminous Mysteries, because the grace of five extra mysteries is that much more to make up for where I am lacking!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

If You Fill it, They Will Come

Sometimes all it takes to renew homeschooling enthusiasm is a freshly filled container of festive #2s.

Nature's Advent

I love that poem by Thomas Hood I posted below and I think it is accurate in many ways, but lest you think I'm feeling depressed in this season, I would like to confess that I love November.

Yesterday's house showing was at 3:30 and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to make our November visit to a cemetery and pray for the departed. (You have until the 8th to gain the plenary indulgence.) As I stepped out the door, Dawn's lovely post still fresh in my mind, I greeted the November afternoon.

The air was cool enough to wear a sweater, but not so cool that a jacket was needed. The sky was gray, gray, gray, like a huge comforter filling the air; it was everywhere. Set against this like so many veins were the bare, bare branches of trees and the black, black wings of crows. Their call, "caw...caw..." pierced the stillness, and bareness, and emptiness.

As I drove to the cemetery, I felt a cozy contentment and a strange sort of hushed excitement. I thought for a moment that it might be morbid of me to enjoy this weather--to feel happy as I walked about a graveyard. But then I remembered that it is the privilege of the Christian to feel joy, even in sadness. We can, because we know the end of the story. We know that death and darkness do not get the last word.

November is nature's advent. As her days diminish and her colors fade, as a frost veils her face, nature assumes a posture of quiet contemplation. November is nature humbling herself, in a kind of premonition, before the Creator's birth. She must decrease. And the Light of the World, born in a cave, must increase and fill the earth.

Perhaps this is why I always begin listening to Advent music in early November, before the liturgical season actually begins.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

November


No sun, no moon,
No morn, no noon.
No dawn, no dusk, no proper
time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness,
No healthful ease.
No comfortable feel in any member.
No shade, no shine,
No butterflies, no bees.
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds.
November.

November by Thomas Hood (1799-1845)
Photograph: (mine) Statue of a woman mourning in graveyard.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Merry-Go-Round



We had another house showing this morning at 9:30 AM. What's a homeschooling mother to do? I rushed breakfast so that I could get to clean-up in time. Oh, the house was spotless the night before--I had made sure to do as much as possible--but five tornados can do a lot of damage in an hour. Toys in stairs, toothpaste all over vanity, unflushed toilets...you get the picture.

So, as I'm running about and shouting to the boys "Do this," "Do that," "Hurry," I run across Jacob in his room. There is a huge pile of shirts on his bed, still on the hangers. There are folded pants on top of these and stuffed animals on top of those. Jacob is in a panic adding more to his pile. "What's going on here?" I ask, "What are you doing?"

"I don't want to leave it here," Jacob sobs and I realize what he's doing; he's packing! Poor little Jacob! In all the chaos and confusion, I had not taken the time to explain to the children what was happening. As far as they knew, we had an agreement with someone and we were not going to do any more house showings. This must be the move, Jacob reasoned. Poor little Jacob!

I tried to explain it to him. I don't know how much he understood, but he did see that we were coming home in an hour or so, that he didn't need to pack all he owned, and that's all that mattered to him.

Where did we go? To the mall. Yep, we completed a morning of school work at a table in the food court of the mall. There were many elderly onlookers and I could write a post or two about what they had to say, but not tonight.

The boys loved it! I mean, it's not everyday you get to ride on a merry-go-round after finishing your math, handwriting, and phonics. I have to say, too, they were good. Very good.

But can I say--might I complain--it wiped me out. I was so tired after. It didn't help either that we had another showing at 5:00. "Where are we going to go?" the boys wanted to know as we left the house for the second time. "We want to go to the mall again!"

Oh no, I think I'm going to hear about this for a while. They won't be satisfied to work at the dining room table anymore. They've seen a bigger, better world!

It's nice to know they're having a grand old time when, personally, I'd like to get off this merry-go-round.

Recharged

Well, we were in an oral agreement with a prospective buyer of our home, but, at the last minute, she decided not to sign the contract. It is probably for the best, but the emotional drain of all this added to the physical drain of continued showings left me tired the other night and maybe-- just maybe-- a little grouchy.

Simeon noticed my sour mood and approached to put his arm around me, but I stopped him. "Not now, Simeon," I said, "Mama is in no-touch mode."

"No-touch mode?" he wondered, "Do you mean that you are recharging?" I laughed at this analogy to a cell phone.

"Yes, Simeon," I said, "Mama's battery is low right now and I just need to sit here, plugged in to my tea, and recharge."

That night, after prayers, Simeon approached me to say goodnight. I scooped him up and gave him a great big bear hug. On the way to his bed afterward, he leaned in close to Jeremy, motioned toward me with his eyebrows, and said--between men--"She's all recharged, now."

Jeremy was probably glad to get the update.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Marked

It never fails. Whenever I go out into public alone, I have at least one or two encounters with someone else's small children, often more. A little one, sitting in a grocery cart, makes eyes at me while his mother shops unawares. A young boy breaks away from his mother in line and approaches me with a tale of something, very exciting to him, that he wishes to share. A small child waves in my direction across the aisles and through the crowds.

These things have happened so frequently that it had me wondering for a time: Did the boys mark me somehow? Could they have written on my face, in some invisible code, a message that only children can read: "Mother of many. Sympathetic to little ones. Attention available here?" Was it possible?

This morning I ran out to pick up some wine glasses. We had dinner guests coming. I wanted to run the errand quickly and since little boys and stemware don't mix well, I went alone. As I stood in the aisle picking and choosing and changing my mind, I became aware of a little girl with her mother beside me. I smiled at the girl and she smiled back. I looked at the wine glasses and then back at her. Her huge brown eyes met mine and she laughed, shaking her curls. As I continued to choose my glasses, we exchanged many smiles and when I had finally decided my purchase, I waved goodbye. My new little friend waved back.

In the parking lot, as I was walking toward my car, I caught sight of a little boy sitting in the back of a moving vehicle. He looked out at me through the tinted window and gently raised one hand in greeting. I raised my hand, too. Each of us watched the other as his van drove away and out of sight.

It was then that I realized that my boys have marked me, though not with a message written in words. With their sweet faces and little ways, with their pure hearts and tender feelings, they have marked me. They have shaped me and molded me to be patient with their stumblings and sympathetic to their affections. They have trained my ears to listen to their tales, so exciting to them, that they wish to share. They have trained my eyes to look with wonder upon the beauty of their simple little world. They have shaped my heart to love what I see and hear from them. They have shaped me.

My boys have molded my arms and my life to be so full of themselves that whenever I am alone (however briefly) I am looking for them. I see them in the face of the little girl in the store. I see the likes of them in the little boy in the back of the van. It is me that reaches out to these other children--stealing a glance, offering a smile-- and they respond readily and affectionately, as children do.

Yes, my boys have marked me. They have shaped, pounded, molded and formed me and they will continue to work me as God has intended-- stretching my patience, softening the hard places in my heart, pushing my hopes and desires beyond myself, and kneading me until I learn to rely ever more fully and constantly upon Him.

Amen, I say to you, unless you become converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever that shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of God. And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me. --Matthew 18:3-5

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Worth Your Thyme


Herb Garden Loaf

Years ago, a man who was very kind to me mentioned that herb bread was his favorite food in all the world. I found this recipe somewhere (I can't remember where) and I made it for him. I've held on to the recipe--scratched in my own hurried handwriting onto three separate index cards-- and I make this loaf a few times a year. It isn't difficult, especially for the beautiful and delicious results.

4-41/2 C. flour
3 TBs. sugar
2 pkg. rapid rise yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. each marjoram, thyme, and rosemary
3/4 C. milk
1/2 C. water
1/4 C. butter
1 egg

In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 C. flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and herbs. Heat milk, water, and butter on stove top until the butter is just melted. Stir milk mixture into dry ingredients and mix well. Mix in egg. Add just enough or remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth (4-6 minutes). Cover it and let it rest 10 minutes.

Divide dough into three equal pieces. Roll each into a 30 inch rope. Braid the ropes and pinch the ends like so...


Tie a knot in the center of the braid and wrap the ends around the knot in opposite directions to form a roundish loaf. Place on a greased baking sheet. (I use my pizza stones)


Cover and let rise in a warm draft-free place until doubled in size...

Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes, or until a beautiful golden brown. Melt extra butter and brush on top. Sprinkle with extra herbs and enjoy. I served this with our first pan-seared steak of the season. The bread is remarkably soft and absorbs the pan sauce beautifully.

And remember, the only thing better than the smell of fresh bread baking is the smell of fresh herb bread baking.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Our Litany

St Joseph's Home Educators' All Saints' Day Party...


Jacob as "St. George the Dragon Slayer." Alex as "St. Dominic Savio, Patron Saint of boys." Simeon as "St. Francis of Assisi," surrounded by the animals he loves. Zachary is his toucan and Nicholas his turtle.



You need to see that toucan from the side and that turtle from the back to get the full effect.



Get Your Tickets Here...


Saints and Scholars Around the World,

It's the second, ever, Carnival of Catholic Homeschooling and it is hosted by the Love2learn blog.

The theme this month is geography and the universality of the Church. What a great idea!

Check it out...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

All Souls


O God of spirits and of all flesh, who have trampled death, broken the power of Satan, and have granted life to your world: grant rest, O Lord, to the souls of your departed servants, in a place of light, joy, and peace, where there is no pain, sorrow or mourning. Kind and gracious God, forgive them every sin, committed in word, deed, or thought, since there is no person who lives and does not sin. You alone are without sin, your justice is everlasting justice, and your word is the truth. For you are the resurrection, the life, and the repose of your departed servants, O Christ, our God, and we glorify You, together with your eternal Father, and your all-holy gracious, and life-giving spirit, now and ever, and forever, Amen.

From the Byzantine Book of Prayer, Byzantine Seminary Press.