Friday, January 29, 2010


I first posted this in March of 2007, before Micah was born. It appeared at Catholic Exchange the following September. I repost it here today in response to several Moms with little ones who have emailed me asking how I manage to keep things orderly.

Short answer: I don't.

Slightly longer answer: Well, it's a constant struggle, but not without its benefits, both material and spiritual. I must say, too, we've come long way since I posted this almost three years ago. The dynamics really do change in family life as children grow older and what seemed all consuming then is more of a side note now...

For me, one of the greatest challenges of having small children has been the sheer amount of damage they have done to our property and possessions. Based on experience and conversations I've had with other mothers, I think I've had to contend with this hardship more than most. Perhaps more than most too, however, these are sweet, loving, happy, and good natured boys. It hasn't been malicious behavior that caused the destruction, but simple carelessness and curiosity (think Curious George... suds, warped bike, loose swine and all. OK, now multiply by five). Five times the innocent cuteness--five times the destruction. Aye...aye...aye.

We have various motivational systems and teaching methods to help the boys develop better habits and the older they get the less of a problem this becomes, but we can't reasonably expect it all to change over night. This is a process, a long process, toward responsible and careful behavior.

In the meantime, I've had to learn to cope with the constant and repeated casualties. Just how many times will we repair the banister at the top of the stairs only to see it broken again? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

And just how should I feel when my things are broken, fixed, then broken again? Desperate, angry, apathetic? None of these seem right. I have a tendency toward the desperate, and so at first I taught myself to look the other way...

From ashes were ye made and to ashes ye shall return.

You can't take it with you.

Build up your treasure in heaven.

I learned a certain detachment from material goods that I'd have never thought possible. It really pulled me away from seeing my worth in what I had to display. It was humbling and good, very a certain point.

Soon, however, I began to suspect that my "detachment" from material goods had degenerated into a kind of stoic hardness that refused to acknowledge their true value. I would not invest myself in them, even in a healthy manner, for fear of the heartbreak at the inevitable loss.

I realized my hardness one day when I found an earring behind the couch. It was an earring that I had treasured because I had worn it on the day that I was betrothed long, long ago in a Spanish-style chapel far, far away. It was a worthless earring from a monetary perspective. It wasn't real gold and the diamonds weren't real, either. Still, I had treasured it, keeping the pair in a special box with a copy of the betrothal invitation and the music program, because they had hung from my ears when I had first heard the binding promise of a life-long love. Then there it was, this earring, suddenly behind the couch, warped and missing some of its fake diamonds... and I vacuumed it up... SSsccchlllurrrp.

So what? It wasn't worth anything, at all, at all.

Then, I sat on the couch remembering the dress I had worn that day and the shorter style of my hair as I had it then. I remembered the soloist chanting, Uxor tua sicut vitis fructifera... (Thy wife as a fruitful vine...) and the way his voice filled the tiny chapel. I remembered the cool stone floor, the stucco walls and sweet musty smell that hung in the air. It was to this same chapel that my betrothed and I had come many evenings and prayed a rosary together and walked the grounds around the hacienda, with its ponds and patios and citrus trees. It was on the way to this chapel one evening, when the air was thick with the sweet perfume of orange blossoms and the sky was bright with stars, that he first told me he wanted me to be his wife. I remembered his earnest face, his square jaw, his gentle way, "Come with me...Come..."

"Hu?" I replied, becoming aware again of the vacuum hose in my hand.

How could I be so cruel to memory just because it hurt too much to care? I needed to care, I realized, and to grieve in measure.

And as the boys get older and some of our motivational work starts to pay off, I can step back a little and see benefit to having learned to deal with the constantly broken things around our house. It has helped me to know how to approach a similar problem in my soul. You see, much is broken in there as well and breaks again every day, often the same things in the very same way...again and again and again.

How should I feel about this? Desperate, angry, apathetic? None of these seem right. It seems I need not be surprised when I fail, despite my best intentions, and a certain collected response to the smaller failings common to my state of life is required if I am to keep fighting the good fight, but I should also guard against apathy and hardness of heart.

I need to grieve and take my broken self to the confessional often because there, unlike material goods, my sorrow and the sacrament really do heal and restore to me what had been lost.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Two More

The opposite wall...

...and a close up of their lobster sheets.

I've Been Painting Again

This time it's been in the little boys' room. I'd need a wide angle lens to capture just how blessedly cheerful and inviting this room has become. The sun pours into this room every morning and this soft yellow compliments the blues of our nautical theme.

Then there's Nicholas' Mama cat nursing her little ones on the stuffed animal hamper all day. Now all that's left to do, is to hang some nautical flags.

Update on Zachary's Blanket: We've put it in storage for now and he is allowed to visit it whenever he likes. This seems to be working.

Did I Just Say That?

Sometimes the words I hear myself say to the children can frustrate me or make me angry. But it's nice to stop and realize, too, that at other times the words I hear myself say show just how lucky we are to live this family centered life of learning. Today, for example, when my oldest son should have been more focused on his math,

Me: Simeon, stop taking care of your little brother and focus on yourself for once.

Or later in the day, when I had enough of the random sounds coming from the living room and I thought white noise would be preferable.

Me: Boys, will you stop composing music on the piano and just watch something on the television, please?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Failed Negotiations

Me: Zachary, I know you're really attached to your white knit blanket, but now that you are getting a new bed, I thought maybe it would be time to put it away.'s all torn up and worn out, it really won't fit in with your nice new bedroom and nautical theme.

Zachary: Actually, I was thinking it DOES fit because it's all broken and junky like things you find in the sea.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Common Usage

Today, we were learning about Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross. When I explained how Clara nursed the wounded soldiers of the Civil War on the battlefields, my younger boys stared at me in disbelief.

"What is it?" I had time to ask before I understood the confusion.

There's only one way we've used the word "nurse" around here and they were right, that is NOT what Clara Barton was doing.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Raising Boys

Sally Thomas, whose writing I enjoy enormously, has written a wonderful article at First Things concerning raising boys, The Killer Instinct. Thomas' conclusion that the natural desire in boys to commit acts of violence is not the same as a desire to commit evil acts is something that we here at Temple Academy have come to learn, too.

The realization that boys are drawn by their very nature to violent or destructive play, to take risks and test their mettle against anything that offers resistance, and to act with less regard for social consequences than their female peers is at once relieving and daunting.

On the one hand, it is a relief to be done with the expectation that boys should change themselves fundamentally in these areas (even if we are never done with the necessary cautions). The acknowledgment that a desire for adventure and battle is a healthy aspect of a boy's nature, despite the forgetfulness of social and safety concerns that often accompany them is the first step.

The next, and somewhat daunting task is finding ways to direct masculine energy into healthy channels, allowing it expression while minimizing harm.
Joseph Susanka at Inside Catholic asks for practical advice in this regard. More on that tomorrow...

Alrighty Then

Zachary: I practiced extra on the piano today because I had a hard time learning that new thing in math this morning.

Me: ?

Zachary: Well, it says on the back of my piano book, " Kids who succeed in music also succeed in math."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

New Light

Last week, when I read that this abortion mill is closing its doors and that this Gianna Center in NY opened, I felt as though a cloud had lifted and sunlight was pouring through the windows. There is much to hope for in a society that demands something more than what has passed for "women's rights" in the past. And women are demanding more as this article clearly demonstrates. However practical their concerns, a push against the prevailing tide of chemically and surgically induced "reproductive freedom" can only improve the landscape.

Openness to life is at the center of true development. When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for the human good. The acceptance of life strengthens the moral fiber and makes people capable of mutual help. By cultivating openness to life, wealthy peoples can better understand the needs of the poor, they can avoid employing huge economic and intellectual resources to satisfy the selfish desires of their own citizens, and instead, they can promote virtuous action within the perspective of production that is morally sound and marked by solidarity, respecting the fundamental right to life of every people and individual.

--Pope Benedict XVI

For My Brother

The atmosphere is nice, modern and classy. It reminded us of an upscale microbrewery.

Here's Zachary enjoying the best peach Ice-cream ever (and a ginger bacon snap on the side). Amazing stuff.

Everything was delicious. We started out right with cheddar Jalapeno corn bread and fried Vidalia rings with mustard dipping sauce. Yum.

This kid LOVED everything. We knew he liked chilli and country music, but we now know he also likes collard greens, black eyed peas, hush puppies and authentic, whole hog BBQ.

And that BBQ? It's really good.

Thanks, brother, for this very yummy southern experience.
We give "The Pit" eight thumbs up.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Best Thing I've Done For Our Homeschool

In the new year I decided to start an official morning prayer time with the boys before school begins. It isn't anything fancy or long, we just meet up on the couch twenty minutes before school begins and we read the liturgy of the word for the day, a short blurb on the saint for the day and pray the first decade of the rosary, finished with a morning offering and a little practice with Latin prayers.

I've been hesitant, with boys, to add too much prayer to our schedule, but the rhythm and balance and peace we have now is nothing but affirmation that I'm doing the right thing. This morning I looked up in the middle of our decade and saw that the boys not only tolerated this formal morning prayer, but really seemed to be enjoying it and I thought to myself, "Why didn't I start this sooner?"

Monday, January 11, 2010

Cloudy With a Chance of Argyles

Micah's favorite thing to do these days is sit in a laundry basket full of socks in need of matching while a brother showers him over the head with more socks. He thinks this is hilarious and it sure beats matching socks for me.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Nicholas: How do I know there isn't a baby chick in my egg?

Alex: Nicholas! There's no chick in there. The grown up chickens have to marinate with each other for that to happen.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

My Work Cut Out For Me

Little Boy's composition: "Jesus helped people every day. He helped men and women and he helped Joseph lead the men."

Me: Which men?

Little Boy: You know, out of Egypt. Oh wait, that was Moses.

Me: OK, you need to rewrite that sentence. Remember how he helped Joseph? Remember how Joseph was a carpenter?

Little Boy: Oh right, he helped Joseph build the ark.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


I've never considered myself much of a tree-hugger, but when they recently clear cut twenty acres adjacent to our property to sell the timber for furniture and paper, a part of me crumpled up inside. We've lost some privacy, some protection from the elements, much beauty and many of the magical places the boys loved to play. It has been hard to say goodbye to those beautiful hardwoods and would a hug have saved them, I'd have hugged every last one.

The now visible old, abandoned house.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Pictionary Junior

We had so much fun playing this game tonight.

This was my drawing for the word "dress."

Here was Simeon's version. Can you believe his team won this one? A triangle? Here are a few other winners...



and "suck your thumb."

New Zoom: Neighbor's Roof

Old Oak

Friday, January 01, 2010

Twenty Ten

Happy New Year and Eighth Day of Christmas!

Here are a few random quotes from around here that I don't want to forget...

Perpetual Advent:

Alex had been counting down the days to Christmas and making an announcement every morning to let us all know just how long we had left to wait. On Christmas morning, rather than calling out that it was Christmas Day he came down the stairs and announced,

"Three hundred sixty five days until next Christmas!"

A Light Shone in the Darkness:

Simeon received an Ultra Violet Blacklight flashlight for Christmas. It was meant for supercharging his glow in the dark stars on his ceiling, which it does very nicely, but it is also useful for discovering body fluids on the carpet or other places...Eeeww (like the ones I saw with plain sight weren't enough). Let's just say I will never again in my life touch an open tissue box. No, Siree. When he first opened it he wasn't sure what it was, Alex had an explanation...

"I know. It's a flashlight, but rather than shining light, it shines a beam of darkness."

And He shall be called "William":

Nicholas and Zachary are a perfect team of brains and brawn. The two of them are also eager little helpers in the kitchen. I find them especially helpful when making apple pie, which I did this Christmas. Zachary peeled the apples and centered the cutter but after pushing with all his strength he just broke the surface. That's when Nicholas took over and easily pushed the cutter through. The two of them cut every apple this way and then played with the cores like race cars. When the crust was ready for the slices, Zachary proudly brought me the fruit of their labors.

"These one are fine, but William and Bruce and Jerry have some bruising," he said.


"Oh," he said shyly, "I named some of them."

Of course you did.