Friday, October 29, 2010

I love Halloween!

    So…Halloween is coming and I know there are those who say it is an evil pagan holiday that good Christians do not celebrate but I have to admit, I love it!   In my defense, I have talked to my children about Halloween being All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saint’s Day, and we do, as a family, celebrate that obviously holy day each year as well .  But, let’s be honest, I love Halloween not because it precedes All Saint’s as much as because I love to see all the children dressed in their cute little costumes.  Halloween, in our culture, may have some shady beginnings and a somewhat questionable history but in my life, and in my family, it is all about the dressing up…well, and the candy, of course.   For children, it is the best of all things.  Playing dress up, getting to stay up late and roam the neighborhood, knocking on doors to show off their costumes and receive candy to boot- what could be more fun? 
    I remember, as a kid, coming home after trick or treating and smelling the sweet scent of my candy bag then dumping it out to sort it into piles- chocolate in one pile, lollipops in another, hard candy, chewy candy, and then always the pile of “other” stuff- raisins, or small coins that a few unusual neighbors gave out.  My sister always wanted to be the last one in the house with candy so she would save hers, not eating any for weeks, so she could lord her candy over the rest of us after ours was long gone.  One year, she was so disciplined in not eating her candy she forgot all about it and it was found, still in her trick or treat bag, a year later-uneaten.  That year us greedy siblings knew we had been the “smart” ones- we had enjoyed our treats while she had missed out!  I remember the first year I was allowed to trick or treat without my parents.  My friend and I went around the neighborhood singing Christmas carols, because we knew no Halloween songs, and collecting mountains of candy until we were too tired to go any farther. 
    As a parent, I might love Halloween even more.  Most years I get to make at least one of their costumes, so it seems we are preparing for weeks ahead of time.  Then, the night of Halloween, dressing my children in their well planned costumes and seeing their eager little faces all ready to set out is so priceless.   I can tell my children are growing up by their choice of Halloween costumes.  In the past they choose costumes like Laura from Little House on the Prairie, Buzz Lightyear, Dora the Explorer, and Minnie Mouse.  They have dressed as a chef, a fire fighter, Shamu, and a pumpkin.  This year 3 of my children will be a witch and a burglar and a mummy.  Not the most adorable options but thankfully, I still have a beautiful blue fairy, and a cuddly little penguin to delight me with their cuteness.  However they are dressed, the evening promises to be a great time for all.  I hope each of you will also be enjoying the blessings and fun of Halloween, a true celebration of the wonderful joys of childhood, with your families.  Stay safe and happy trick or treating!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shining my children

    Did you know that, at least according to the footnotes in my Bible, the Hebrew verb for “instructed” means both to shine and to teach?  I learned this little bit of trivia the other night as I was praying and reading the Bible, specifically Psalm 19.  The Psalm was not really about teaching or instructing but about how we are blessed by understanding and obeying the Lord’s laws and, yet, it was that tiny bit of information in the footnotes that spoke the loudest to me.  I have found myself reflecting on it ever since I read it. 
    My life is all about instructing.  I am a home schooling mother.  I teach my children everyday.  I teach them, or at least attempt to teach them, all that they need to know.  I try to instruct them about living a life of virtue, about thinking things through and making wise decisions, about being the person God wants each of them to be, as much as I try to teach them about math, science, and grammar rules.  I know that I am very blessed to be a mother and a teacher, but day to day I do not take the time to think about what I am really accomplishing in life.  I don't know if I have ever considered that what I am truly doing as I raise and instruct my children is helping them to shine.  I don't know if I have ever considered that God is making me shine through the experience of teaching and instructing as well.
     Psalm 19 tells us that we are instructed by God’s laws, and will be rewarded for following them.  I have been called by God to instruct my children.  Because I have answered God’s call, He is able to work on me, to make me shine.  As much as I teach my children, I learn even more through the experience.  And what I am learning most is how to be the person God has made me to be- how to be more patient, more understanding, more tolerant, and more flexible.  I am learning to trust Him more deeply, to keep things in perspective, to let go of my expectations of how things should be and accept things as they are.  I am being shined by the whole experience.  Home schooling, for me, will never be an easy thing, I will never be perfect at it, but maybe that is precisely why God has called me to it.   So I can learn as I teach.  So as I instruct, helping my children to shine, I can be instructed and made to shine too.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wedded bliss

    In just a few days Tim and I will celebrate our 14th anniversary.  On our wedding day, 14 years ago we were young and in love and very idealistic.  We had no idea what our life would be but we knew we would face it all together.  If you would have asked me then I probably would have told you that by this point in our marriage we would have worked out all the kinks and just be coasting along in wedded bliss.  And, of course, after all this time we surely have worked out all those newlywed issues.  The toilet paper goes on with the paper rolling over the top and we both remember to put the cap back on the toothpaste.  We certainly know each other’s little habits well enough that there should be nothing to fight about anymore.  And yet….if I have learned nothing else in the last 14 years I have at least learned that relationships can never be put on autopilot.  Marriage is never something to just coast along in. 
    As a married couple, everyday Tim and I must wake up and decide to be committed to each other and our life together.  And being committed means so much more than just wearing our rings and living in the same house.  We have to be committed to thinking of each other’s needs, caring about each other’s feelings, supporting each other in everything we do.  It truly is a daily choice.  We have had days in our marriage where it has been so easy, when we feel close to one another and are enjoying life together and things are fun.  But, of course, there have been days when it isn’t so easy too.  When we have gotten on each other’s nerves, annoyed each other and even angered each other to the point that it is hard to be in the same room.  Yet, we keep choosing, even on the hard days, to love each other.  And just like our family, over the years our love has grown. 
    It was 14 years ago that I married Tim- my husband, my soul mate, my best friend.  And though it has not been all easy, all fun, and all wedded bliss, we have faced it all together.
    This year, as a tribute to where the last 14 years have taken us, we will celebrate our anniversary at our son’s cub scout pack meeting.  I suppose that is appropriate, it is the perfect reminder that marriage is not always a pretty picture of romance and excitement.  Marriage is a whole lot of ordinary things, paying bills, taking out the trash, cleaning up after the kids, trying to find a few minutes for adult conversation then finding we have nothing to talk about except for the bills and the kids.  But it is beautiful and sacramental just the same and I feel so very blessed to share it all with the love of my life.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Missing out, or am I?

    Tim and I had a meeting to go to on Tuesday evening.  It was mandatory meeting, we really had to go.  I have to admit though, after a long day of home schooling, running the kids to extracurricular activities, and doing laundry it was really a treat to leave the children in the capable hands of our trusted babysitter and drive away-- just Tim and I.  The ride offered a wonderful opportunity to talk without interruptions or little ears listening nearby.  It was nice to arrive at our meeting and walk into a room full of other adults, no children in sight, and discuss grown up subjects among mature, intellectual people.   When we got home we first saw the face of our oldest son pressed against the window awaiting our arrival and then spied the huge grin spreading across the baby’s face as she saw us walk through the door.  The welcoming hugs, after only being gone for a few hours, made the evening out that much more enjoyable and, feeling renewed by my little break, it was comforting to be home again with my beloved children.
    Wednesday night my home school group was having its monthly support meeting.  I was one of the group members who had most encouraged the meetings citing the incredible need for regular support in home schooling.  I missed September’s meeting because it was held on my daughter’s birthday.  This month, I really wanted to attend.  Unfortunately, Wednesday evenings Tim has his high school youth group meetings.  If I really wanted to go to the meeting I would have to find a sitter to keep the kids for me.  Friday night, Tim is taking his youth group on a Halloween hay ride and he asked me to go along as a chaperone.  I went a few years ago and it was an opportunity to meet Tim’s “kids” and participate in the fun of the hay ride.  I really want to go again this year.  Again, it would mean leaving the kids with a sitter though.  I looked at the calendar feeling torn.  What should I do?  Should I start calling around and find someone to watch my children so I could attend all the events I wanted to, after all I am with the kids all day long, don’t I deserve a break?  Or, should I sacrifice a little fun out of the house for a few more hours of supervising the monotony of life at home?   Though I knew what was right, it was not an easy decision.  It can be tempting, at times, to continually delegate my parenting duties to others, but deep down I know that is not the best way to parent.  I am needed at home.  Last night I stayed with my children while my home schooling friends gathered together in support to discuss the month’s topic of prayer and to visit with each other for a few hours.   Tomorrow as Tim sets off for a night of scary Halloween fun with his youth group I will again be at home, spending time with my children and probably folding laundry.    
    Sometimes caring for my children means I miss out on things out in the world.  But, in the end, this really is right where I most want to be.  If I have to make a sacrifice, and of course life is full of sacrifice, I would rather miss out on a few meetings or events than miss out on the joys and challenges of being with my children.   I would rather be here with them, saying bedtime prayers around the coffee table and tucking them safely into their beds at night than anywhere else in the world.  Being a stay at home mother is not always exciting, it is not always fun, it does not always feel rewarding but I really and truly would never want to do anything else.  Babysitters are wonderful and I am grateful to have a few I really trust, but as I tell my children all the time, no one will ever love them like their mommy, and I have found, it is a lot easier to show them that when I am right here with them.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Food fights, mealtime messes, and amazing art

    I’ve been raising children for a while now.  A little over twelve years, in fact.  I think I am a pretty good mother, and yet, sometimes I just don’t understand my children at all.  My youngest child is 14 months old.  She used to be the chubbiest little thing- she had rolls on her arms,  rolls on her thighs, even rolls on her ankles.  She had a round belly, full round cheeks, and, like the scruff on a puppy dog, a little roll of chub on the back of her neck.  She would eat anything and everything we served her.  One time we gave her avocado and though she grimaced with every bite as though it caused her great pain, she kept right on eating it.  Then she started getting picky, very picky.  She lately has a diet of about 5 or 6 foods that she will eat.  Anything else she is served at mealtimes gets pushed to one side of her high chair tray or thrown over the side.  Ironically, she puts everything else she gets her hands on in her mouth.  It is not unusual to find her eating bits of paper bitten out of books.  She samples leaves and mulch from the front yard.  She sucks on toys, pencils, and glue sticks yet we literally cannot get her to taste a grain of rice during dinner.   I really don’t get it at all.  How can she be so willing to nibble such an array of strange inedible treasures, yet be completely opposed to eating a bean or a bit of chicken?
    Lately, the battle of what goes in baby’s mouth and what does not has gotten a little more interesting.  In typical toddler fashion, she is into everything these days.  Everything!  Over the weekend, she got her hands on a can of Nesquik chocolate milk mix.  Before we realized what she was up to, she had pulled out handfuls of the powder and, with it all over the floor and herself, was decorating the kitchen in sugary brown dust.  The next day she climbed up to a chair next to the kitchen table and dipped her hands in a cup of chocolate milk and proceeded to “finger paint” with it all over the table.  Then, she saw some mashed potatoes on her high chair tray, some of the “reject” food she had decided against eating, and added those to her “masterpiece”.  This morning, she once again scaled the kitchen chair and discovered the fun of shaking salt all over the place.  She stood happily tossing it around in every direction and feeling the wonderful grit in her hands and hair as she created yet another beautifully artistic mess.  The older children and I could only laugh as we swept the floor and wiped the table off.  Food may not always be valued as a source of nutrition around my house but it certainly seems to be a fabulous source of amusement!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Did you hear that?

    My life moves along to a soundtrack of unrelenting noise.  Giggles, whines, constant chatter, baby babble, singing toys, ringing phones, beeping video games, blaring music with booming bass (from the neighbor's house, not my own), the vroom of cars rushing by on the street behind our house, the hum of the washing machine, the whoosh of water running in the bathroom, the splash of drinks spilling in the kitchen, screams- both joyful and distressed, questions, answers, disagreements.  It seems the only thing that never touches my ears is the sound of silence and I never seem to have a chance to even hear myself think.  So, as I read over and over in spiritual books and articles, of the importance of quiet time to pray and listen for God’s still, small voice, I can only laugh.  If God spoke to me in whispers His voice would be drown out in an instant.  I am sure that is why the “experts”, the theologians writing all the spiritual books, stress the importance of finding quiet time, seeking out the silence and making it a priority.  I have found in my weakness and humanity that on the rare occasion I do get a bit of quiet, I, unfortunately, tend to doze off before I have a chance to listen for God’s soft whisper.  I am sure the experts would be greatly disappointed in me.  God, however, in His great love and mercy realizes the obstacles in my life.  He sees my challenges, my weakness, and, thankfully, my great desire to be close to Him in the midst of it all.  Despite the fact that I am often overwhelmed with all the noise and sound surrounding me, I still desperately want to hear God’s voice.  He is so, so good.  For me, God shouts.  No still, small voice would survive around here and in God’s infinite wisdom and power, He can see that quite clearly.  So, when He has a message for me, a word of hope or guidance, He screams out, loud and clear, and there is no doubt the Lord has spoken.
    Just this week, my Little Flowers girls and I were reading about Saint Monica.  As we read the story of her life, a life lived in prayer for her family especially her wayward son, Augustine, we were all struck by her persistence in prayer and her faith that God would answer, eventually.  In case you are not familiar with the story, after 17 years God did answer, in abundance, and St. Monica’s son is now known as St. Augustine.  My children and I also read a story entitled The Glorious Flight by Alice and Martin Provensen, about Louis Bleriot, a French man who wanted to build a flying machine.  He tried over and over before he got it right and became the first man to fly across the English Channel.  Again, the theme of persistence came up as we discussed the story together.  Then, as we always do on Thursday mornings during school, we read the upcoming Sunday gospel.  The story?  The parable of the persistent widow (from Luke 18:1-8).  Even my seven year old could see that God was up to something.  “I guess God wants to tell us to be persistent!”  she said to me after hearing the gospel story.  Yes, God has a way of making himself heard even if we can’t find a moment of quiet.  His voice, which may sometimes be nothing but a whisper, is also capable of shouting over the din of life.  And to hear, we need only to faithfully seek Him and listen-- as best we can.

Monday, October 11, 2010

No wonder I'm so tired by Friday

Monday, the start of the new week…

9:00 am-  Two kids sound asleep in bed.  Two alternately eating breakfast and goofing off, as usual.  One in the high chair not so patiently waiting for me to serve something she is willing to eat- not an easy task these days, as she has gotten VERY picky!  In a half an hour we are expected at our very first co-op class at a friend’s house, a co-op that was in the planning stage for months and is finally about to start.  All of the sudden, without warning, the answering machine comes on and my friend is leaving a message, the phone is no where to be seen, but thankfully we are not the only ones getting a slow start to the day- co-op will be starting at 10 am instead of 9:30.

10 am- By the grace of God, we have made it on time to co-op.  There are only three of our four co-op families in attendance today but that still means 11 children and only 3 adults.  Have I mentioned it is a Catholic home school co-op?  Lots of children but all really great kids.  We start off with a little play time for the kids and visiting for the moms but manage before the day is over to get in some learning through games, crafts, discussion and drawings.  A wonderful start to our co-op year!

1 pm- Home from co-op.  Baby slept on the 10 minute ride home but refused to sleep once I put her in her crib so nap time is over.  We have a quick lunch and hurry to clean up the mess and set up an activity for our Little Flowers girls club meeting, which I lead in my home twice a month.

2:30pm- My Little Flowers girls arrive.  Only 4 this week, one is on vacation, two have recently moved away.  As I conduct the meeting,  my oldest son is working on his co-op “homework” and asking for help every few minutes.  My younger son is just hanging around and distracting the girls from our story of St. Monica.  The baby is climbing on chairs the entire time we are working on our craft.   We are learning the virtue of hope this month and my greatest hope today is that the girls are able to get something from the meeting even though life in my house is always crazy.  Despite the chaos, the meeting is a lot of fun.  The girls finish up their crafts and snacks and we end our meeting with prayer.   Then they run off to play puppy dogs while waiting for their moms to pick them up.

4 pm-  The last of the little girls are picked up and within two minutes Tim is home from work.   Time to think about dinner.  My oldest daughter is my dinner helper but is currently reading a book and is too engrossed to even notice there is work to be done.  I make most of the casserole myself but do delegate the job of dish washing while the food cooks.  I use the time to read our "Five in a Row" book to my 5 and 7 year old.  Then we sit down to eat together, and end our meal, as usual with our family rosary.

6pm- Dinner is done and sort-of cleaned up.  My middle daughter has her religious ed class this evening so I get her ready and drop her off.   I rush home, change my clothes and fit in a two mile walk- the only chance I’ll get to exercise today.  The baby sleeps in the stroller while I walk, I guess she is just too tired to fight the sleep at this point. 

8 pm- Tim goes to get our daughter as the boys shower and get ready for bed.  I start to think about tomorrow.  We are going to a nursing home with our home school group in the morning.  The girls will recite poetry.  The boys are performing a few magic tricks for the residents.  I have to find capes for the boys, make a magic wand, and after their showers have them practice their “show”.   The girls recite their poems in about 30 seconds time, that counts as their practice.

It is now 9 pm-  No one has been put to bed, I am insanely stealing a few minutes to write and reflect on the day, Tim is relaxing with a book, and the kids are all playing, grateful for a chance to stay up a little late tonight since neither mommy nor daddy have the energy to take on the bedtime routine just yet. 

Just another normal day around here….

Friday, October 8, 2010

Not as young as I used to be...

A few months ago, right after I celebrated my 35th birthday, I started noticing some unmistakable signs of my age starting to show on my formerly youthful face.  At the risk of sounding like an “Oil of Olay” commercial, I saw some fine lines developing near the corners of my eyes and my skin tone was showing evidence of over-exposure to the Florida sunshine.  I started paying more attention to my nightly beauty routine and slathered on moisturizer throughout the day.  Still, every time I found myself peering into a mirror I would get right up close to scrutinize the development of the aging process.  I have found myself getting more and more depressed about it over the last few months.  The other day, I was in the bathroom washing my hands and lamenting in my mind the flaws I just couldn’t avoid noticing all over my face- the deepening lines (were they becoming actual wrinkles?), the sun spots on my forehead and cheeks (wasn’t there anything I could do to make them fade?), the dark circles under my eyes (did the skin there look more saggy than yesterday?).  I talked myself into quite a crabby mood over the whole thing only to emerge from the bathroom and enter the kitchen to the smiling face of my wonderful husband.  Maybe he was only be kind, maybe he was just trying to tell me what he thought I wanted to hear but he looked at me and said, “You look really good today.”  Now, there was no way he could have known what I had been thinking just seconds before but in my depressed state of mind I answered in rather a grumpy way, “I don’t know what you are seeing when you look at me but it certainly isn’t the same things I am seeing!”
    Ah, how wise I was in my cranky, negative observation.  Of course, Tim and I were not seeing the same things.  I had gotten so used to getting up close to my reflection and focusing all my attention on the flaws.  He had the perspective to see the big picture, so to speak.  I saw only signs of age, yet somehow, Tim was able to look at me and see something totally different  Where I saw only a face full of wrinkles, bags, and splotches he noticed my good hair day and the jeans I pulled out of the back of the closet that still fit even after having 5 kids.  I felt old and frumpy, yet, he still saw me as the lovable woman he married. 
    It is an easy trap to fall into, looking only at the bad and failing to see the good.  And I have found, it can happen to us as we look at our lives as well as when we look at our faces.  It is so easy for us, as humans, to get so wrapped up in our problems we can sometimes see only the struggles in life.  It can be so easy to get discouraged by our weaknesses and failures that we lose sight of the strengths and talents God has given us.   I sometimes even find myself wondering if God is disappointed in me all the time, as I continue to commit the same sins over and over.   But, God has a different perspective.  He always sees the big picture, and though He can surely look straight into our hearts, He never inspects us looking for faults.  He sees us as the beloved creations we are, formed by His hand, in His own image and likeness, out of love. 
    My revelation has caused me to take a little step back in life.  I stood back farther from the mirror as I fixed my hair this morning and things weren’t quite as bad as I had thought.  I do look a little older than I used to, but I suppose that is unavoidable.  I will not be looking into plastic surgery, botox treatments, or laser therapies.  First of all, because I do not want to admit to being that vain, and, second of all, because our budget will never be able to accommodate such things.  So, instead I will try to focus on the positives and keep my aging skin in perspective.  And, of course, thank God for my wonderful husband who fortunately for me, has really bad eyesight and a really big heart.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hello Fall!

good-bye to the summer of the "silly bands"
I’m not sure how it happened but somehow, in the busyness of life I totally missed the official start of Fall.   One day it was summer, on the calendar and out our front door, and then I realized yesterday it was time to flip the calendar to October.  So now my calendar clearly shows Fall is underway even if the temperatures outside are still soaring into the nineties most afternoons and the sun continues to beat down in earnest here in Florida. 
    October at our house means pumpkin decorations all over the house and warm home-made pumpkin bread straight out of the oven.  The kids start to think about costumes- one for Halloween and one for our home school group’s annual All Saints party both coming at the very end of the month.   We watch a few local churches set up make shift pumpkin patches in fields off their parking lots and excitedly think about visiting for some beautiful Fall photo ops and a chance to find the perfect “canvas” for our smiling Halloween jack-o-lantern.
We start our days with steaming mugs of hot chocolate, not because we are really cold inside but because it is the special morning treat we all share together as soon as summer is passed.  Thoughts turn from swimming with our friends in their backyard pools to meeting them at the park and playing for hours in the shade of the trees.  We make plans to go camping, and to start going on weekly nature walks again.  We watch the squirrels frolicking around the backyard and wait for the birds, and the “snowbirds” (flocks of retirees, our part-time neighbors), to start arriving from up north.  We cross hurricanes off the top of our worry list, at least for another year.  We enjoy the excitement of post-season baseball, this year with our own Tampa Bay Rays joining in the fun.  Tim and I eagerly await our anniversary, on October 26, reflecting on how quickly the years fly by.  We take a breath between the summer of birthday after birthday after birthday and the coming of Christmas season when gift giving and festivities begin anew. 
    The weather may take a little while to catch up with the calendar and Fall in Florida may have traditions a little different than the rest of the country but I am still filled with cozy autumn thoughts as I look forward to the changing of the seasons.  And, I am filled with hope that any day now the afternoons really will be pleasant and beautiful because this morning, my son announced, as he set out quite early to play in the backyard, that there was actually a bit of a chill in the air…
The view over my front yard the other night- a promise of Autumn, perhaps?


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