Friday, February 26, 2010

Put to the test...

    Every year right around the end of February, the kids and I start to get a little nervous.  We work a little harder at our school work, we watch the calendar very closely, there is a palpable tension in the air at our house.  It is not the coming of Spring that stresses us out.  It is not the Lenten season either.  No, our fears and worries are caused by the coming of our annual home school testing.  Testing is one of the requirements to home school, at least in the state of Florida.  It can be done at any time of the year but must be administered by a certified teacher or other educational professional.  The results are then sent in to be a part of the children's file.   The first year we home schooled we got the name of a tester and when we called she was able to fit us in the last week of February.  It was the only opening she had.  So every year, the last week of February, she has come with her heavy bag of test booklets, flip charts, and grading materials to see what progress we have made.  And every year, the kids and I hold our breath, cross our fingers and say some fervent prayers hoping the results will be positive.
    This year, on February 25th I awoke early with a now familiar fluttering of nerves in my stomach.  Testing day was finally here! We had done our best to study our math facts and spelling words.  We had cleaned and shined our classroom and set up a table and chair for our wonderful tester, a retired principal who is very supportive of home schooling.  We were as ready as we could be.  The kids were unusually quiet as they had their breakfast and I found myself anxiously tidying up rooms the tester would never even be in.  When she drove up to the house a little after 9:30 am, my son announced, "She's here!" and we all answered the door together.
    She took the children into the extra bedroom we turned into our classroom and shut the door for quiet, as she always does.   I tried to sit on the floor and play with the baby while I awaited the results but found myself staring at the clock every few minutes.  The kids did the first part of their test together, then took turns alone with the tester for the rest of it.  In total it took about two hours but finally I was allowed in to see the numbers......and thankfully, they passed for another year!  Despite the daily distractions of family life, the challenge of juggling our new baby and our lessons all at once in the midst of my utter exhaustion after many sleepless nights, the struggle to be motivated on those mornings we all feel burnt out, the never-ending ordeal of lost pencils, missing books, and sloppy desks, somehow, my children are learning. 
    I have heard that home schooling works.  I have read countless articles and books on the subject. I have seen studies that show the amazing results of home education.  I believe in the success of one-on-one family based instruction.  And, without a doubt, I know home schooling is a wonderful blessing. But most days I can't see it.  Day to day, I cannot gauge the results of our efforts.  Day to day, I cannot tell if we are succeeding or failing. Day to day, I cannot measure our achievements accurately.  It is so much easier, most of the time, to see the areas we struggle in than to see the progress we are making.  Every year at test time I brace myself, prepared for the worst and every year my children's tests results surprise and impress me.  Somehow, despite my imperfections, they are learning!  Somehow, all the books I've read and studies I've seen are right.  Home schooling does work.  And so, though I doubt it will get any easier and I doubt I will ever feel completely confident with myself and my teaching abilities, we will continue to trust that this is what God wants for our family.  And for now, we will continue to home school, at least until next February when again we will undergo our annual testing...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Party time!

We have been having a lot of parties at my house lately. I have never really been good at throwing parties. I agonize over every little detail, worry about the silliest things, and stress over the entire process, always thinking in the back of my mind- what if no one comes? I never enjoy the parties I host as much as the ones I am invited to at other people's houses. Thankfully, the parties I have been attending at my house lately have not been planned or hosted by me at all. My son has taken the initiative to arrange, from invitations and food to games and goodie bags, parties for all the stuffed animals in our house. He and his siblings each have beds overflowing with little stuffed friends and the parties have been in their honor and for their entertainment. I have been included, despite that fact that I no longer have many stuffed animals laying around, I guess so I don't feel left out.
Just yesterday I found an invitation on my bed to a costume party for all "stuffed things". The last party required a birthday gift for the stuffed animal of honor, this one requires a costume for all invited guests. I fully participated in the birthday party. I came with gift in hand (wrapped and everything), I played the games, nibbled on the plastic food, sang "happy birthday" to an inanimate stuffed lizard. I am only slightly embarrassed to say, it was the highlight of my week. Though I am a little uncertain about how I might dress the little "friend" I am borrowing from my daughter for the party, I am actually looking forward to the upcoming soiree as well. I can only imagine what the other guests will be wearing, what games we might play, and, most importantly, how nice it will be to spend the time with my children undistracted by the demands of my way-too-grown-up life.
What a joy it is to see them all getting along, to share in their fun, to be a kid again myself, if only for a half an hour. It is these moments that I pray I will look back on after they have all grown up and left home. I pray I will remember the rewards of being home with them all, even more so than the challenges and my inevitable mothering mistakes. I pray my children will remember these moments as well, and that recollections of our rough days and difficult times will be completely overshadowed by our many happy memories.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What I am giving for Lent....

Lent starts tomorrow. If I did not realize how very much I need this time of penitence and sacrifice I would be completely dreading it. I do not really like to give things up. I do not really like to do without. And as I think about what to do for Lent this year, there are so many things I really think I should give up. I have way too many "vices" and distractions in my life.
Instead of just choosing some thing (preferably something easy to live without) and giving it up, I have tried to really think about what God would want from me. Then, it came to me that instead of just giving up, I think God is calling me to give. Instead of just giving up chocolate, God wants me to give Him my hunger (which is, many of the times I desire chocolate, more of a spiritual hunger and a longing for comfort than a physical hunger anyway). Instead of just giving up Facebook, God wants me to give my family more time and attention (which would meet my need to connect with others so much better than sitting in front of my computer does anyway). Instead of just giving up complaining, God wants me to give joy and smiles to those around me (which, of course, would make me feel much happier than complaining all the time does anyway)!
So, though I will probably never enjoy sacrifice and suffering, I am actually looking forward to my Lent this year. I suspect I will get so much more than I will be giving up, and I hope that those around me will benefit as well. I pray that God will help me rise to the challenge of giving, so that I may receive all the blessings He has awaiting me at Easter.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

What do nuns know about REAL life?

Way back in June of last year my son turned on the TV to watch a baseball game. He was quite disappointed to find there was nothing but fuzz on the screen. The television world had officially made the “switch to digital” and we, having made the decision not to participate in the switch, were now locked out, so to speak. Despite my son's initial disappointment about the ball game, we haven't missed the TV in the last 8 months. We really didn't watch it much anyway.
Last week, for the first time since the switch, I heard about a show I really wished I could watch though. The Oprah Winfrey show was going to visit the convent of the Dominican Sisters of Mary in Michigan to see what life was like for the sisters there and to interview them on her show. One of the young postulants had been a volunteer for Tim's youth group last year and I was curious to see where she was now and how her life might be going. Unfortunately without a digital TV, I was unable to tune in. Many of my friends were talking about the show and about how our young friend looked and I was sad to have missed it. Thankfully, a friend posted a link to youtube videos of the show on her facebook page and, this morning, I was able to view a good portion of the show.
What a blessing it was to see all those beautiful young women sharing their life and their experiences with the world. I was so impressed! I could truly see an amazing depth of peace and joy in each of their faces. Their love of Christ was so obvious in their honest, open answers to all the questions Oprah had. They could not have been a more beautiful representation of the religious life.
I was also struck by how misinformed the world is about serving God. The questions were primarily about everything the women had "given up". The interviewer seemed to have a hard time understanding how these young women could do without sex, shopping trips, and make-up. She asked how they felt about not having tweezers to pluck their eyebrows, and about there being no mirrors in their rooms. It really disheartened me to see the blatant misunderstanding of living a life dedicated to service, prayer, and a desire for holiness.
We are all called to serve God. It is only by answering God’s call in our own lives that any of us will know the peace and joy the sisters have. Oprah and her "people" clearly did not get this. Religious sisters are not the only people living out a vocation. I can see, in my own life, that God has called me to a vocation. My vocation is in no way less than that of the Dominican Sisters of Mary. I, too, am called to serve God. Not by living in a religious community but by living in the community of my family. I, too, am to be holy, chaste, and prayerful. "Giving up" selfish desires and worldly temptations is not just for nuns, but for all of us. Knowing God, loving God, and serving God is the call and purpose of every life. Seeing the sisters helped me to appreciate, not only the role they are playing in building up the kingdom of Christ, but also my own role and my own vocation. I hope and pray that all who watched Oprah's peek into religious life were just as moved by the holiness and dedication of the Dominican Sisters and that they too, are inspired to answer God's call in their own lives.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Best Friends Forever

When I was five years old I had my first best friend. She was my age and lived a few doors down from me in my neighborhood. We were in the same kindergarten class and rode the bus to school together every day. I remember having my first ever sleep over at her house. I felt so far from home, though if I looked out the window at the right angle I probably could have seen my house. We moved away after only a few short years and it has been almost 30 years since I was five, but my friend and I have kept in touch over the years, exchanging Christmas cards and trying to keep up with each other's lives.
Once in a while history repeats itself. When my oldest daughter was four and a half years old she found her first best friend. They were in the same pre-school class and the two of them were like two peas in a pod. They enjoyed playing dress up and baby dolls together. It was so cute to see my daughter with her little buddy and as it turned out, her mom and I got along very well too. The girls were inseparable in school and we tried to get them together for play dates whenever possible. I enjoyed the play dates, sitting and talking to my new found friend, as much as my daughter did. And so, we were both devastated when we found out they were moving to Chicago in the middle of the school year. It just didn't seem fair and after they left, pre-school was not quite the same for my daughter. She spent the rest of the year playing blocks with the boys in the class, missing her very best friend.
Now, Chicago is very far away from Clearwater, FL and the girls were both so very young when they parted ways. Though we talked before they moved about keeping in touch and having the girls "write" to each other, it didn't seem likely they would stay close for very long. Thankfully, I, too, wanted to stay in contact and they had family right near us. Still, we were lucky to even have an opportunity to get the girls together for once-a-year play dates when they were in town visiting their family. The girls did exchange occasional letters, which consisted of little crayon drawings at first because neither little girl could read or write. So we did our best, and somehow we did keep the friendship intact.
After four years we received the most amazing news. Our wonderful friends were moving back to Florida! They were going to be living in Orlando, about and hour and a half away, but compared to Chicago it seemed like next door! My daughter was nearing her ninth birthday when they settled back in the Sunshine state, an awful lot of years had passed with only minimal contact. I wondered, would the girls really have much in common any more? I needn't have worried one bit. The girls, now both eleven years old, are still like two peas in a pod! They even enjoy playing dress up together; now they put on elaborate fashion shows, complete with commentary. They are as close as ever and it is still so cute to see them together. This past weekend they were lucky enough to spend the entire weekend together. They talked on the phone every night last week chatting, giggling, and planning their big weekend. The weekend turned out as good as they hoped. They spent the night together two nights in a row, went to Universal studios together, and made themselves matching dresses. The joy in my daughter's voice as she called me from Orlando to check in and tell me about all their fun was such a blessing to me. I am so grateful that my daughter has a life-long friend and that our families are able to share a wonderful friendship too. I thank God for the beautiful friends He has brought into our lives and pray that they know how much we care for them and what a blessing they truly are to us.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


The Catholic Church has a rich tradition, and a long and colorful history. It also has an extensive vocabulary of unique and interesting words. Words such as catechesis, pontifical, vocation, and purgatory, may not be copyrighted or trademarked by the Church, but they are certainly more likely to show up in a papal encyclical than a People magazine. In my free time I have, personally, been pondering my own understanding of Catholic vocabulary. I have been, specifically, giving a lot of thought to the term "mortification". It is, in my experience, one of those "Catholic words" that though I probably heard it growing up, I am just beginning to try to understand.
In my quest to better grasp the idea of mortification I started with the dictionary. When looking it up I found two definitions. The first definition stated plainly, "the practice of asceticism by penitential discipline to overcome desire for sin and to strengthen the will". That wasn't quite plain enough for me. The second definition, "discipline of the body and the appetites by self-denial or self-inflicted privation," was slightly easier to comprehend without an advanced degree in theology. After a little thought I came up with my own definition. To me, mortification means to deny myself some sort of worldly comfort or worldly desire in an effort to grow in virtue and holiness. Fasting is one example of mortification.
I love the idea of growing in virtue and holiness. I am not quite so fond of the idea of self deprivation. I like my worldly comforts and wish I could surround myself with all that makes me feel good and still be holy and virtuous. I have tried to achieve true holiness without giving up a single comfort but it hasn't worked. Unfortunately, the more I try to ensure my own comfort the farther I seem to fall from holiness. I am just too busy trying to keep up with my worldly distractions to ever get around to being virtuous. So, at least in my experience, the Church is right about mortification. I do need some sort of ... "penitential discipline to overcome the desire for sin and to strengthen the will." If I can undertake a little mortification, a little self imposed suffering and sacrifice, maybe I can be strengthened to avoid sinfulness and to be open to God's will. If I can get used to doing without all that I want maybe there will be more room in my life for God to work. If I am more accustom to living without some comforts maybe I can be more at peace when things in life do not go the way I want and maybe, just maybe, I can start to handle life's challenges with more holiness.
I am starting small. I will try to offer up just one little sacrifice each day. Through God's grace and my modest efforts, I am hoping to be truly mortified!


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