Friday, August 29, 2008

The Buzz and the Humm...

One last thing...

The Buzz:
We're excited here about McCain's choice of pro-life champion, Sarah Palin, for his running mate.

The Humm:
This little Hummingbird flew into our garage and Alex has coaxed it to perch on the end of a broom. They were even able to hold him a bit and got him to feed from a bowl of sugar water before helping him find his way out. Hummingbird sounds. OK, now we're really going.

Going Away For a Bit

..we'll be back with pictures.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Children who have the Word "Blog" in their Vocabulary

I just played the Katydid song for my littlest ones by clicking on the link in my previous post. It sounded just as it would if I had opened our windows.

"Neat," Zachary said. "Now click on the frogs at the top of your blog and make them croak."

Katydid, or Didn't She?

This is the sound of the end of summer.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hooray For American Bishops!

I am so, so proud of American Bishops this week as they step forward one after another to defend the sanctity of life and the universal teaching of the Catholic Church on this important issue. This is a unique moment for the Church in America and, quite possibly, for the pro-life cause in American politics. Phil Lawler at Catholic Culture rather ironically thanks Nancy Pelosi for her fallacious and scandalous statements on Meet the Press as they have emboldened American bishops and renewed public interest in the question of when life begins and with it--the right to life.

And Now Gustav is Winding Up

Please pray for the safety of those in the projected path of this potentially dangerous storm. Two friends in particular would really appreciate it, I know.

The Remnants of Fay


Blessed Among Men turns two today. I kinda started my own tradition last year of cleaning out my drafts folder on this day and posting a few, so here goes...

There was this draft without a title that looks like the beginnings of a defense of celebrating Halloween??

We found Darth Vader appropriate pants. I also repaired his slightly chewed light saber. I bought a sound effects sword for my Crusader and convinced Prince Philip not to wear Aladdin's turban with his costume. My youngest firefighter thinks he should wear a backpack and carry a drill. I'm OK with that.

We've also found All Saint's Day costumes for the kids whose costumes won't convert (pun absolutely intended) into Saints. That party is on Friday. We like Halloween. We like All Saint's Day. We celebrate both.

You might remember this post?

I wasn't there, but I'm told by their father that today's woodland adventure led the boys up to an eighty foot drop with a lake at the bottom. Do you suppose that's why they call that destination, "Plunge Pool?" Thank goodness for that safety wire thingie. I mean, without that incredibly safe-looking barrier someone could...AAAaaaaa...I don't even want to type it.

Well, this was originally followed up by my husband's response...


I kept thinking of you. I mean, I was really nervous. It was like Whoa, Nicholas OK look, but stay back, you know what I mean? If I was nervous, I just kept thinking you'd have been a wreck. It was just good that you were at home. That's all. I'm really glad you weren't there.

I didn't post his response because I was a wreck. There or not, I was a wreck.

I found this Christmas Eve post that was never posted...

Giving Things (Away):

After a chaotic "formal" Christmas Eve dinner.

Me: I'm glad we're so far along in the wrapping because I am wiped out tonight.

Jacob: Yeah, boy, I sure am glad we wrapped your ipod today.

Then there's this...
Not Now:

There is a boy standing in my doorway holding his new "Grow Your Own Crystals" kit. He's looking at me and I'm just going to keep looking at this screen.

We eventually did grow those crystals.

And this...

Sometimes You Just Need to Make Stuff Up:

Zachary: (painting) Mama what color eyes do rhinoceroses have?

Me: Uh, they don't

Lastly, I found this after bedtime conversation snippet that never went anywhere...

Do you ever have nightmares, Mama?

I do, Zachary, but not very often.

When you were a little girl?

Yes, when I was a little girl. Do you have nightmares?

Yes. I do. That's why sometimes I don't want to sleep.

Your nightmares are that bad? What about?

Well, about a big angry pumpkin that follows me around, I've had some. (eyes water) Also, I dreamed I was caught in that machine at the bowling alley that the balls come out from and I disappeared and didn't come out again. Neither dead, nor alive. (shrugs shoulders) I just didn't see me come out.

Oh Zachy, I'm sorry. That's scary.

Yeah, (lip curls) also once I dreamed I was lost to you and lost to Papa and I was driving the van and I didn't know how to stop it because I was still only three years old in my dream.

Oh Zachy, you need to think happy thoughts before going to sleep. Think about flowers and butterflies and your favorite toys. Think about Papa coming home from work and about playing games with your brothers. Ask your guardian angel to help you think about things that make you happy.

And also sleep in your bed.


Yes. I never ever have nightmares when I sleep in your bed.



Then you come sleep in our bed, OK? Whenever you want.


Thanks for reading, friends, for your email (since I've turned comments off) and your encouragement. They mean so much. I haven't figured out, yet, whether blogging is a bad habit I just need to quit or if it's this unexpected, wonderful, and innovative way to stay at home with my children and still feel, in some small but consistent way, that we are a part of a larger world. So long as this blog doesn't interfere with our priorities, I'll probably be coming back here.

Lastly, and to start the school year off right, I'd like to renew our commitment to our motto:

Thanks again, we love you people!

Monday, August 25, 2008

I Am Now the Mom that Knows Everything...

...only it doesn't feel so great as I once thought it might.

This last Sunday Alex came downstairs dressed for church. His shirt looked fine, but the pants were horribly wrinkled.

Me: Why are your pants wrinkled?

Alex: I don't know.

Me: Because you aren't putting your clothes away in your drawers correctly. When I give you your laundry to put away you don't always keep it folded, but let it get all balled up in your drawers.

Alex turns to Simeon for support, but the older brother isn't much help.

"Wow," he says to Alex, "She's good."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Funny Big 'ol List

I had to laugh about this list of tips for Northerners moving South found at Mommy Life. We moved to an area full of Northern transplants so we don't feel so out of place, but every once in a while we have an exchange like the one we had yesterday.

Two men were here selling wholesale meat products (there is no end to door to door solicitation here). One gentleman saw that I was skeptical and thought he could sell me by talking about his famous recipe for "Chicken Fried Steak" that he'd throw into the deal free of charge. At least I think that's what he said.

Chicken Fried What? How about Duck Roasted Shrimp? Or Turkey Baked Lamb? I laughed to myself because it reminded me of that Saturday Night Live skit where Jessica Simpson advertises "Chicken of the Sea brand tuna--America's #1 non-Chicken brand fish." Then Nick Lachey asks "But...what if you wanted tuna that is chicken?" He then offers her "Tuna of the Dirt brand chicken--100% top-grade tuna-free canned chicken" and it just gets sillier from there.

At this point, the second gentleman noticed his partner's angle wasn't working on me and said to the first, "Do you hear her accent? Stop talking about yer cookin' and offer her some NY strip!"

Just so you know, I don't have a NY accent though most of my friends here do.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Deer Path

We see many deer on our property. We noticed, soon after moving in, that we always see them at the same places. After some time, and after having spotted them from different angles of the house, I noticed a pattern. They always come from the woods behind a new home site, they cross the road into our property and follow the line of trees to the woods behind our house. I was describing this phenomenon to a friend of mine, "It's like a deer highway running through our yard," I said full of excitement. "Ummm... you mean a deer path?" my friend corrected me gently. "Oh, yeah, right, of course! A deer path," I said feeling a little less than brilliant.

It is a deer path and it probably has been there long before our house was here or the site was cleared across the road. These deer have most likely seen many changes since our development began construction. I wonder what they make of it all. Recently, without thinking, we added yet another obstacle to their path. Our new sandbox, a great big hexagonal sandbox, is right in the deer's path. We didn't even think of it when we put it in. It just seemed the perfect place for a sandbox, surrounded by trees and shaded most of the day, far enough from the house to shake off the sand, but still visible from our screened-in back porch.

We only thought of it the other night when we were eating dinner on that back porch and saw a doe come running. Oh no, I thought for a split second, but when she reached the sandbox she did not stumble. She leaped silently into the air with astonishing grace. She seemed to pause a moment, hovering midway in a breathtaking pose, to glance at the "herd of humans" starring back at her from their caged porch. She cleared the sandbox with fluent perfection, prancing off into our woods, her white tail punctuating the motions like notes on a musical scale. And she was gone.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rough Green Snake

This snake climbs trees. The word for that, we learned today, is "arboreal."

Five Boys, Three Bathrooms Haiku

Toilet scrubbing day
Comes around too often, yet
Not often enough.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Haystack Full of Needles

By Alice Gunther

When we learned we were moving, I mentioned it in a same time chat with my internet friend, Alice Gunther. She typed back with enthusiasm, a friend of hers, someone who was a part of her home education group had just moved to that state. She mentioned the town her friend had moved to, Did I know that area? Did I ever. That was the very town we were moving to and a quick Googling of the address revealed Alice's friend lived a few short minutes from the house we were hoping to purchase. Alice introduced us and we exchanged email addresses and phone numbers.

Ironically, it was this friend of Alice's that loaned me my first copy of Alice's new book, A Haystack Full of Needles as we were driving together to a meeting and registration for the home educator's group in this new area. Two friends of Alice's that she had brought together, driving to our new Catholic home educator's group with the hope of meeting others, talking about Alice's new book about how to meet and interact with other Catholic home educators. Who'd have thunk it?

I read the book, poolside, in a weekend and I loved it! I shouldn't have been surprised, but when I heard that Alice was writing this book I imagined it would be full of charm and grace, all the beauty and richness of faith that overflows every corner of life at the thatched cottage that is Alice's home on Long Island and that she chronicles at Cottage Blessings. And it is. But it is also a very practical guide to making and keeping friends and organizing activities in the setting of Catholic home education.

Alice (I know this is something of a review, but I just can't bring myself to call her "Gunther") offers, as to a friend, her proven methods of organizing activities. She suggests the best times, places, and structures and all that she says rings true with my own experiences both of the activities we have successfully arranged and those we've attended and most enjoyed. Alice also offers sage advice on how to meet and keep true friends. She suggests we pray for wholesome friends for our children and once we have them, to guard our tongues against the poison of gossip and backbiting.

Lastly, this book is a wealth of wonderful ideas for the events themselves. From St Martha's Homemakers class to St Luke's Art Class, to gardening club, to chess club to organizing and performing a Shakespearean play, A Haystack Full of Needles has it all and more. This book is a tremendous resource for Catholic home educators. It is an invaluable opportunity to bring some of the abundant blessings found at Alice's cottage into our own lives and homes. Thank you, Alice!

Thank you also, Alice, for introducing me to your friend. She is every bit the treasure you said she would be.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Feeling Behind

Congratulations to Kate and James and their beautiful seventh son, Timothy James! We knew Kate and James during our law school days and even then we weren't able to keep up with them. They always seemed to one-up us. Incidentally, the doctor in Kate's pictures also delivered our Alex and Jacob. God bless the Fifelskis!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Overlooked Details

In answering all the questions the boys ask about the new baby, we talk a lot about him. He is already an important part of the boys' life here. So much so that Nicholas asked after dinner,

"Can I take the new baby and show him the sandbox?"

"No, you can't do that," Alex was quick to answer. "He'd just eat the sand."

Yeah, and then there's the minor consideration that he's not born yet either.

Pockets are a Boy's Best Friend

From today's laundry search.
I've learned the hard way to leave no pocket unturned.

Thought For the Day

The tempter is not so crude as to openly suggest to us directly that we should worship the devil. He merely suggests that we opt for the reasonable decision, that we choose to give priority to a planned and thoroughly organized world, where God may have His place as a private concern but must not interfere in our essential purposes.

--Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Soccer Mom

My three oldest boys start soccer tomorrow for the very first time. I was talking with the coach, trying to find a game plan that would work to get all three some training at about the same time and same place. He quickly found a schedule that would work for us and gave me a shopping list.

When I returned from the store, the boys were so excited. They sorted their gear and changed in a flash.

"Look!" Alex exclaimed, "My shin pads match my shorts, match the stripes on my shirt, match my ball!"

"He thinks it's a coincidence," I said to my husband, "but while they're thinking sports, I'm thinking sporting fashions."

They really do look cute!

The Girl in the Window

The Girl in the Window is the story of Danielle Lierow. It is the story of the extreme and unconscionable neglect of one family and the exemplary love of another. It is deeply touching, but also disturbing to read at times and so I would suggest you read it through to the end if you read it at all. This story has stayed with me for some time now and I thought to post it because I find myself showing more physical affection to my kids these days, ruffling their hair, rubbing their arms, stealing hugs, and letting them crawl up on my lap even though that place feels already occupied.

No one knew, really, what was wrong with her, or what she might be capable of.

"She was everything we didn't want," Bernie [her adoptive father] said.

But they couldn't forget those aching eyes.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Happy Feast of the Assumption

We made it to Mass, but just barely. "My pants are wrinkled," I complained as we arrived in the church parking lot a minute or so on the late side. "I never even combed my hair" I continued stepping out into the rain, "Or put on make up. Do I look like somebody who's pregnancy insomnia has finally crashed, who spent the day concerned about a loved one, who took a nap and woke up with a sore throat, threw dinner together, and left the dishes in the sink?"

"Mama," Simeon said with the practical wisdom of a boy, "You don't ALWAYS have to look beautiful."

I suppose I don't.

But the Mass was beautiful, the Gospel was beautiful, the sermon was beautiful and I thought this hymn was beautiful...

Mary the dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the gate, Christ the Heavenly Way!

Mary the root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!

Mary the wheat, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the stem, Christ the Rose blood-red!

Mary the font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the cup, Christ the Saving Blood!

Mary the temple, Christ the temple's Lord;
Mary the shrine, Christ the God adored!

Mary the beacon, Christ the Haven's Rest;
Mary the mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!

Mary the mother, Christ the mother's Son
By all things blest while endless ages run. Amen.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wishing I Could BeSwitched

Have you ever sat tired and pregnant on a couch and surveyed the room, found it an annoying mess, but one that could easily be tidied with a half dozen bending-overs and a few impossible sweeping motions and wished again with all the hope of the seven year old girl you once were that you could be Samantha Stevens for just one moment-- just for one little moment?

Pius XI on Marital Chastity and Public Aid

Thursday Thoughts, brought to you by Pregnancy Insomnia. Obviously, these are not random thoughts, but propelled by many disturbing things I've read recently in internet comboxes. I assure you, however, that they are directed at no one person in particular.

If, however, for this purpose, private resources do not suffice, it is the duty of the public authority to supply for the insufficient forces of individual effort, particularly in a matter which is of such importance to the common weal, touching as it does the maintenance of the family and married people. If families, particularly those in which there are many children, have not suitable dwellings; if the husband cannot find employment and means of livelihood; if the necessities of life cannot be purchased except at exorbitant prices; if even the mother of the family to the great harm of the home, is compelled to go forth and seek a living by her own labor; if she, too, in the ordinary or even extraordinary labors of childbirth is deprived of proper food, medicine, and the assistance of a skilled physician, it is patent to all to what an extent married people may lose heart, and how home life and the observance of God's commands are rendered difficult for them; indeed it is obvious how great a peril can arise to the public security and to the welfare and very life of civil society itself when such men are reduced to that condition of desperation that, having nothing which they fear to lose, they are emboldened to hope for chance advantage from the upheaval of the state and of established order.

Wherefore, those who have the care of the State and of the public good cannot neglect the needs of married people and their families without bringing great harm upon the State and on the common welfare. Hence, in making the laws and in disposing of public funds they must do their utmost to relieve the needs of the poor, considering such a task as one of the most important of their administrative duties.

Casti Connubii, 120-121

From this it is clear that when social structures and economic conditions are such that they cause excessive strain on the family, it is not the duty of married persons to deprive themselves of the natural goods of married life in order to accommodate the State, but the duty of the State to make provision for and accommodate marriage and the whole structure of family life that results from it.

That is not to say that a married couple under duress may not mutually agree to heroically observe some form of "virtuous continence" in order to curb the harmful effects of grinding poverty upon themselves and their offspring, but to remember that it is wrong to require it of them.

Lastly, married couples who find themselves in such straightened circumstances should not be shamed for taking aid from a State that has not otherwise adopted appropriate social or economic methods that would have prevented their need from arising in the first place.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Does This Sort of Thing Happen at Your House?

Jacob: (Opens the door and announces loudly with pride) Hey guys, I just caught a toad...

Me: Excellent!

Jacob: ...that just peed all over me! (Pride not fading)

Catch of the Day

This is a Red Spotted Newt in the luminescent, toxin-producing eft stage. He shed gills and teeth to become a terrain-crossing juvenile in search of a new pond where he will become an aquatic adult. He seems determined to accomplish this goal at all costs. He's a little guy on the move, unstoppable, and difficult to photograph--reminds me of my own little efts.

Overheard in the Back of the Van

Jacob: Look! They built that tree house from The Dangerous Book of Boys!

Alex: It's The Dangerous Book FOR Boys, not OF boys.

Jacob: Is there a pink book called The Dangerous Book For Girls?

Simeon: No, it would probably be The STYLISH Book For Girls.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Catch of the Day

This is a Tobacco Hornworm with parasitic Braconoid Wasp cocoons on its back.

EEeeeeeww....but kinda cool.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Tree

We're looking to add to our landscaping with some of the area's signature flora. Our builder gave us a good start with an abundance of Gardenias. I thought they were just cute little green bushes until Zachary came running into the house one day with the fragrant blossoms in his hands squealing with joy, "Mary is going to LOVE these!" I hope our kitchen madonna (who is now in the livingroom) did LOVE them because the boys covered her in them for weeks and weeks thereafter.

We also have a Crepe Myrtle, a tree that I had seen around town and just loved for its colorful bloom. I even decided that we should get one before ours bloomed, making me realize that we... well...had one. You can see I am a brilliant botanist.

There is also a large rose bush I've been enjoying by the front porch. I think it's on its third bloom since we moved here in April. All of these are lovely, but they are having a hard time competing with my memory of our blossoming cherry in Connecticut, the climbing roses along our old sunroom wall, and the Tulip-lined picket fence. I find myself missing the cool carpet that is Connecticut grass and the rich dark soil we had, though not enough sun. Here there is sun enough, but the soil is clay that gets baked in its kiln and the grass is a sparse, needle-like home to biting fire ants.

We've moved often enough now to know that every place has its blessings and its curses and no two are the same. The trick is to wrap your memories around the place you are so that the place you were loses the sting of its hold. That is the thinking behind our plans to plant a tree, a Magnolia or a pear or some lovely blossoming, fruit bearing, joy giving thing in honor of the new baby. We will plant ourselves here.

I loved the idea as soon as my husband proposed it. "We should plant a tree for the new baby," he said and I agreed, but Zachary couldn't understand it. "I don't think the baby wants a tree," he argued, "Babies don't like trees. I know, why don't we get him a blanket, new bibs, or some toys?"

Christmas in August

I found this in my drafts folder and maybe it appeals to me because the weather here is now hovering at one hundred degrees and the humidity is heavy. I keep telling myself, "August is the February of the south." That seems to help me wrap my mind around it and adjust my expectations, but this pregnant Yankee is finding it hard to just breathe these southern summer days.

We awoke this morning to the first Sunday of Advent and the first snowfall of the season. The snowflakes were small and accumulation was slow, but they were snowflakes none the less and there was expectation in the air.

On the drive home from church I was running over all my first Sunday of Advent plans in my mind-- the Jesse tree we were to start today, the decorations I'd dig out from the basement, the Advent wreath and the manger. I thought we'd spend the day together, a fire burning in the woodstove, good things baking in the oven. I was planning a special dinner with appetizers for this the first candle lit meal of the season.

Well, I guess the Jesse tree came off OK with some children participating willingly and others reluctantly, but the real kicker came when my husband reminded me that he was going out to dinner with friends. He had told me about this sometime in the middle of last week, but somehow I'd forgotten it. It isn't often he meets up with with friends. I try to encourage it. Even so, I was disappointed. Our special dinner was off.

Later, as I cleared the table of frozen pizza crusts alone, I thought of something I read somewhere recently (and can't for the life of me remember where) but it was this,

"There is loving that is enjoying and loving that is serving and the first is its own reward."

This seemed a good thing to think about on the advent of Advent. I am always, and especially around the holidays, searching for new and better ways to enjoy my family and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. I hope and expect we will have plenty of that this season and always, but I understand, too, how it is its own reward.

Just yesterday, someone who met me for the first time and learned that we homeschool insisted that I needed to "get away" from my children in order to keep from becoming burnt out. This person only meant well. The truth is, a short get away with my husband would certainly be welcome, but I don't see how that could prevent burn out.

In my experience, the best cure for burnt out isn't escaping my children but really enjoying them--a family picnic or day at the beach, an evening walk, or bike ride. At those times I can sit back and take it all in, everyone getting along, trying new things, and having lots of fun together. We're a family with our own dynamic and when its working, it's a wonderful thing to see. At those times all the good feelings of motherhood rush over me, all the blessings of family and life. I can always go a long while on the juice a day like that gives me.

But I never thought that days like those were when the real work of mothering was taking place. You know, the stuff that trains my children for adult life. Days like those are the loving that enjoys and they are their own great reward for us all.

Most of my days aren't like that. Most days demand math drills, spelling tests, laundry, doctor's appointments, and discipline. Most days are dull and somewhat difficult and while they also have their joys, most days are not their own reward. Most days aim to achieve a much greater future reward.

So, while I didn't enjoy this first day of Advent, I think I've observed it well. After all, what better way is there to begin the season of expectation of the greatest future reward of all than with the love that serves?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Shocking Confessions of a Little Stinker

Nicholas: A long time ago when you were sleeping and Papa was sleeping and Zachy and Jacob, too...
I wasn't.

Me: Oh, what were you doing?

Nicholas: Eating too much potty treats.