Sunday, December 26, 2010

Life in a family

Today is the feast of the Holy Family.  The day we celebrate and honor Jesus’ family.  I have been thinking a lot about family lately.  About my own family, and our extended family and how while some relationships within our family are wonderful, loving, and close, others are strained, awkward, and full of tension.  The homily at Mass this morning was all about family and was so good I wished I could tape record it to listen to over and over.  The priest spoke about how we all come from a family and even our Lord Jesus came from a family.  How our families are so important and how they should be a source of faith, love, and peace.  He also admitted that families are not always what they should be, and sometimes are not so faith-filled, loving, and peaceful.  It seemed every word out of his mouth this morning mirrored the thoughts that have been swirling around in my mind for the last week or so. 
    Christmas is such a beautiful time for families and my own childhood Christmas memories are filled with scenes of family all around.  We would always make the trip to visit our extended family though they were far away.  We would celebrate Jesus’ birth with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.  My grandparents' house would be filled with laughter, talking, and gifts spilling out from under the tree, stacked high waiting to be given in love.  We would gather around the table and share a Christmas feast with all those to whom we were bound in love surrounding us.  My big, extended family growing up was not perfect, of course.  The adults often had differences of opinions.  The children, cousins and siblings alike, had disagreements and feelings were hurt.  But, we were family and though things were not perfect there was always love enough for everyone and, always, that connection to each other.  We may have argued but we also forgave.  We may have disagreed but we cared enough to get past it.  Maybe because I grew up with a strong connection to my extended family, family has always been very important to me.  I knew, growing up, that I was a part of something bigger than my own immediate family.  I knew that, though they lived far away and we did not see them as much as we would have liked, I had a whole, big family who loved and cared for me. 
    It is so important for children to grow up in a family.  Important enough that even our Lord was born into a family.  Even Jesus grew up with the love of his grandparents (Sts. Joachim and Anne), cousins, and (obviously) aunts and uncles.  He grew up with the love and support of extended family because, as our perfect example, He knew that we all need a connection to our family to know who we are, who we belong to, and where we have come from.     
    My own children do not have as many opportunities to be surrounded by extended family as I wish they did.  In some instances, it is only because of physical distance.  In others, it is because of emotional distance and tension between the adults involved.  I wish that it could be different.  I wish my children could see the cousins they love and adore more often.  I wish they could see their loving aunts and uncles more.  I wish they knew the love of all their extended family and could see, with everyone all together, that they, too, are part of a whole, big family. 
    But, as the wise and holy priest at church this morning said, families are not always just as they should be.  Ours is not always what it should be or what I would like it to be but even with our imperfections, my children know they are loved.  Though our extended family is not perfect, I am grateful, for what my children do have.  They know the love of their grandparents.   The aunts and uncles they do get to see are always kind, caring, and generous to them.  They love their cousins and keep in touch with most of them through the internet (the kids love Skype) and occasional phone calls and, when we can work it out, wonderful, fun filled, memory-making visits.  They have even had the chance to meet many of their great aunts and uncles and to build a close, loving relationship with their great grandmother.  And, of course, they always have me and Tim, and each other, to shower them and surround them with love and affection.  We do not get to choose our family.  Ours is certainly not perfect in every way but I pray the strained relationships will one day be close and loving.  And in the meantime, I am grateful that my children are growing up connected to so many of the people who love them completely and unconditionally.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Final Countdown

    The last few days of Advent are upon us!  I am not sure where all the time has gone but in just days it will be Christmas at last.  At our house, the shopping is *almost* done.  The Christmas cookies are made.  The cards (yes, I did reconsider and send out a few) are “signed”, sealed, and delivered.  The Advent candles are almost down to nothing.  Visions of sugarplums are already forming the minds of my little ones.  Tonight night we will attend the Reconciliation service at Church and then, the only thing left to do will be to wait.  As a child, the waiting was always the best and worst part of Christmas for me.  I loved the feeling of anticipation during Advent and all the special things we would do to get ready for Christmas but it always seemed to last so very long.
    My mom would do everything she could to stretch out the waiting even once Christmas morning arrived.   I am not sure if it was the mounting excitement that she knew came with the anticipation or if she was just taking the opportunity to teach us a little patience.  She claims she really and truly wanted to make it last as long as she could because she knew it was all so magical and special for us.  Whatever the reason, she would make us all wait for her and my dad to get up before we could even go downstairs to see our presents.  The four of us kids would all line up at the top of the stairs after waking our parents and wait….. for what seemed like f-o-r-e-v-e-r.... for them to get out of bed and join us for the walk down the steps to the living room to see what Santa had brought.  As we waited, my sisters and I would sit and wonder what might be awaiting us but my brother would inevitably get too excited to sit still and would dart down the steps for a quick peek before mom and dad emerged from their room to catch him.    Finally, after descending the stairs as a family, we would be allowed to open our stockings and see what gifts were there but we could not open anything under the tree until after our parents got their coffee and settled themselves on the couch to watch the unwrapping.   The coffee always seemed to take longer to brew on Christmas morning as we eyed our gifts so eager to see what they contained.  Even then, after all that stalling, we were not allowed to just dive in and start tearing off paper haphazardly.  We would take turns.  One child opening one gift at a time, around the circle, so we could all watch and see what treasures our siblings received, and they could see what ours were as well.  It would take hours but how wonderful my memories are of those Christmas mornings spent all together around the tree sharing our presents and our joy with each other.
    I appreciate all the waiting now that I am grown.  I can see that that is what Advent is all about.  It is about waiting, as Mary and Joseph waited.  They waited to welcome their baby, they waited to see what God had planned for them next, they waited to see how His plan would unfold in their lives.  They waited for their journey to Bethlehem to come to an end. They waited for a place to stay, patiently enduring the doors of inn after inn being shut in their faces.  Much of the Christmas story is about waiting.  And, about anticipation.  And, about trusting along the way, growing closer to God as we prepare, like Mary and Joseph prepared, for the coming of our Lord.
    Like my mother, I will try to encourage my children to wait, to anticipate, to look forward, not only to the wonder of presents on Christmas morning but, ultimately, to the joy of welcoming Christ.  I wish you happy waiting, joyful anticipation, and…. finally a merry, merry Christmas.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"So, who do you think is after St. Joseph?"

As part of our Advent prayers every night we pray the Divine Praises. 
Divine Praises
Blessed be God
Blessed be His Holy Name
Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true man
Blessed be the name of Jesus
Blessed be His Most Sacred Heart
Blessed be Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar
Blessed be the Holy Spirit , the Paraclete
Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most holy
Blessed be her holy and Immaculate Conception
Blessed be her glorious Assumption
Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother
Blessed be St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse
Blessed be God in His angels and in His saints
May the heart of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored and loved with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the tabernacles of the world, even to the end of time. Amen
What a beautiful prayer rejoicing in the goodness and holiness of the Lord.  It does include a few “big” words that I thought might give my children a little trouble though.  I was afraid someone might say, “Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the parachute“, instead of the Paraclete, but that never happened.  Surprisingly, they’ve all pronounced each word correctly and prayed very nicely along with Tim and I.  The other day, though, Tim overheard our 5 year old and 7 year old talking about the Holy Family and wondering why St. Joseph was “chased” so much.  Blessed be little children in their simplicity and innocence.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas cards- a thing of the past

    We haven’t gotten many Christmas cards this year.  We, actually are not sending them either- I think Facebook, and the “connections” we make there have convinced people that once a year communication through Christmas cards is no longer so meaningful, or maybe it is the cost of sending all those cards all over the country.  For us, it was a combination of the two things….  Despite the fact that we aren’t sending them, I still really enjoy receiving Christmas cards.  I was looking at the few cards we did receive and smiling at the smiling faces pictured on them.  I loved the picture from our friends who welcomed their third child this year, a baby girl to join their two boys.  And, the picture from our friends who had their second child two days before we had our fifth.  Their son, who last year was a tiny baby, is now a toddler sitting big and proud on his mommy’s lap in the picture.  It is amazing how quickly time flies, a fact that always seems to hit me hard on my children’s birthdays.  It hit me pretty hard again this morning, looking at my Christmas cards and realizing that, like my friends’ children, my children are growing and changing so quickly.
    It was just last year that our Christmas card picture included a tiny, little infant sleeping in festive red p.j.’s.  This year, getting her to sit still long enough for a picture is a monumental feat.  It was two short years ago that, just days before Christmas, we found out she was coming and announced to her sisters and brothers on Christmas Eve that the best gift would be coming in nine months.  Now, of course, she is here and enjoying the wonder of the holidays like only a toddler can.  She is fascinated by it all.  The candles on the Advent wreath that she loves to “foof” at reminding us that the real purpose of candles is to blow them out (or so say her siblings who get an incredible thrill in the blowing out of candles).  The tree glittering brightly in the family room, full of amazing new “toys” that she desperately wants to get her hands on.  The Christmas cookies we have been making for the last week, and especially licking the spatula after mommy is done mixing with it.  She has had a perpetual chocolate moustache for a week now.  Next weekend, we will visit Santa for pictures and then, of course, there are all the gifts that are coming on Christmas morning.
    What joy our little one has brought to our Advent preparations.  My older children have stopped believing in all the magic of the season but through their baby sister are able to experience and enjoy a new sort of magic- the pure delight of her youth and the awe in her little eyes.  All of the sudden the traditions they have known all their lives are a new and special experience as they share them with the little sister they all adore.  We took them out to see some of the more spectacular Christmas lights displays in the area the other evening and the older kids had such a great time pointing out all the beautiful decorations to the baby.  “Look at the light up duckies,” they screeched.  “Do you see cute little seals in the front yard?”  they asked excitedly as she took it all in completely expressionless.  Even our five year old, who still firmly believes in all the magic is enjoying sharing it with his little sister.  He has explained how Santa works to her.  How she must behave if she wants toys on Christmas morning and how Santa will deliver them only if she is sleeping.
    Though we were sure not sending Christmas cards this year was the right decision, I am starting to reconsider now.  What a beautiful moment in time they capture.  A moment that will be just a memory before we know it…

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Learn at your own risk

    I heard about a blog hop sharing “Helpful Homeschool Hints” at .  I was so excited to participate after seeing that the theme was “project days“.  We have had a lot of really fun, educational project days at our house and always enjoy the break from our schedule to try out a little extra hands on learning.  Many of our project days have been inspired by my oldest daughter’s interest in pioneers.  After reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, she decided she wanted to be a pioneer.  She loved the clothes they wore and the do-it-yourself life they lived.   She wanted to make things from scratch like they did back in Laura’s time.  I loved the idea of do-it-yourself too, but after living my life in modern times with all sorts of conveniences at my disposal, I wasn’t quite as adventurous or pioneering as the pioneers were.  We improvised a little. 
    We made candles, but not exactly like they did in pioneer days.  Instead of dipping them from hot burning tallow that we obtained from the fat of slaughtered animals, I bought a pack of “emergency” candles from the dollar store, melted them down on the stove with a few old crayon bits to add color and poured it all into cleaned out cardboard containers with the wicks from the original candles in the middle.    They turned out pretty cute and my daughter was pleased with the experience of helping peel crayons, carefully putting them into the pot, and then tearing the cardboard apart when the candles were hardened and cooled.
    Then I found a “recipe” for soap crayons using bars of soap grated into pieces, moistened slightly, tinted with a few drops of food coloring, and then re-formed into crayon shapes.  We all enjoyed this project though it turned out to be much messier than one would have thought considering we were working with soap.  The soap crayons ended up crumbling into pieces before we ever got the chance to try them out, but the project was still fun.  We also made our own recycled paper from old, used pieces of coloring book pages and printer paper, and our blender.  Tim teased me about making soap out of soap, candles out of candles and paper out of paper.  I guess I do not get many points for originality.  And clearly, I was not cut out to be a pioneer. 
    Then, we had the opportunity to attend a class to learn to make your own soap.  My mom invited us to it and we eagerly awaited the experience of real do-it-yourself soap making, like the pioneers did it.  The class was offered by a friend of a friend of my mother’s, a woman who regularly made her own soap from scratch.  We would start with lye and ash and end up with real soap.  The class was just what my daughter and I always wanted, a chance to try out an old fashioned pioneer “art” for her, and an experienced expert to guide us along the way for me.  Making a girls’ day of it, with my mom made it sound all the more fun.  We walked into the room and saw tables set up with recipes, scales and  assorted little bottles.  The little bottles held essential oils used for adding fragrance to the soaps and the recipes had everything from hand soap to laundry soap to shampoo and even some bath fizzies.  The teacher began by warning us about the dangers of using lye and then proceeded to arm herself with oven mitts on her hands, scarves around her mouth and nose, and an apron to protect her clothes.  She assured us it was all just a safety precaution, that she had never had any sort of incident but always protected herself just in case.  She went outside with her pot of lye and a big spoon and we watch from the window as she measured things out and mixed them together.  A huge cloud of black smoke rose up as the solution bubbled over the pot and our instructor came running back into the room to avoid noxious fumes.  She had measured wrong and ended up adding way too much dangerous lye, burning through a metal pot, dissolving her spoon entirely and scorching the sidewalk, probably permanently.  The rest of the day, thankfully was uneventful and we did end up with two successful batches of soap, the laundry and hand soap.  The shampoo, which was the batch that went so dangerously wrong, would not have been safe for use on our hair unless we wanted to look like human matches, flaming at the top. 
    Despite the surprises it was one of our most fun and educational project days.  Here are just a few of the many lessons we learned…  First, making soap is dangerous and despite Tim’s teasing I think I made the right decision in taking the safe way out at my own house.  Second, even in the hands of experienced experts chemistry can have some pretty explosive results.  And third, we should all be grateful that though we may have the option to do-it-ourselves, we can also choose to just buy a nice, safe bar of Ivory soap from our neighborhood Wal-Mart.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Missing Mother

    Nothing frustrates me more than losing things.  Lots and lots of things frustrate me.  Whining toddlers, getting stuck behind slow people in traffic, that game that my children play where they repeat everything they hear. “Stop copying me!”,  “Stop copying me!”, “I mean it, stop now!”, “I mean it, stop now!”   It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it.  But losing things makes my blood boil like nothing else in life.  I remember one time when I was about 17, I lost my wallet.  It had in it my driver’s license and whatever little amount of money I had to my name and I could not find it anywhere.  I remember looking everywhere, turning the whole house upside down, completely baffled as to where it could be.  After searching high and low, I was so irritated and upset I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t even see straight.  The wallet finally turned up in the basement, though I never could remember taking it down there. 
    I lost my keys for several months a few years ago.  I had spent the day with my grandmother, who had just bought a furnished double-wide mobile home about an hour north of us.  When I came home with the (then) four kids and all the stuff they had brought along to play with, and all the various things Nana had sent home with us, I spent a few moments putting everything away to avoid leaving the mess of junk at the front door.  Somehow in the midst of all the stuff my keys disappeared.  I could not find them anywhere and, of course, the expensive electronic locking/unlocking thing that comes with all keys these days was missing along with the rest of the key ring.  We could not afford to replace that.  Talk about frustration.  I ended up using Tim’s set of keys to the minivan and finding a spare house key to make do with, giving up entirely on ever finding my keys.  Then one day, literally months later, I pulled out of the closet a set of sheets that Nana had given us because they were twin bed size and she had no twin beds in her house, and low and behold there were the lost keys all folded up inside. 
    This morning, I woke up and sat down on the couch to snuggle with the baby for a few minutes to enjoy the beauty of the Christmas tree.  I was sitting for about 30 seconds when I realized one of the ornaments was missing.  The baby has been stealing ornaments, rearranging ornaments, and tasting ornaments since we put the tree up over the weekend so the fact that one was out of place should not have been even noticeable much less surprising.  This was a special ornament though, purposely placed in the center of the tree, up much too high for little hands to reach.  It was one of a set of three, hand-painted by my mother, ornaments from my childhood that depict the Holy Family.  There on the tree was baby Jesus all wrapped in His swaddling clothes and next to Him, St. Joseph all dressed in brown with his hands folded in prayer and on the other side… just an empty branch.  The Blessed Virgin Mary was missing!  And on the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  I searched under the tree, sure the ornament had just fallen off somehow.  No Blessed Mother.  I searched in the tree, peeking through the branches.  No Blessed Mother.  I searched around the tree and looked at every branch in case she had been relocated, though I could not, for the life of me, figure out who would have done that.   No Blessed Mother.   With the kids help, I searched through all our library books, through all our Christmas books, through the overflowing “Pack n’ Play” that has become our toy box, through the hall closet, and under all the couches and chairs.  Still no Blessed Mother.  At this point, I was bordering on frantic.  How could we lose Mary?  And especially this Mary, that had been a part of Christmas since as long as I could remember.   I prayed, and asked the kids to pray, to St. Anthony, who is the patron saint of lost things.  I was at a loss and kept picturing Mary accidentally tumbling off the tree and being picked up by the baby when no one was looking, only to be deposited in the trash can or some strange place we’d never think to look.  Then, finally, my oldest daughter put her hand into the branches of the tree and pulled out Mary, unscathed and holy and peaceful as always.  I don’t know how I missed her in my crazy searching but thankfully she was back and hung again lovingly on the branch next to her baby and husband.  All was well again. 
    Since then we have lost a math book and a sippy cup full of milk, but I am trying not to let that frustrate me.  As long as we know where to find Our Lady and Our Lord, we are doing just fine.   Nothing else really matters in life, and the milk, at least, is sure to turn up eventually…

Friday, December 3, 2010

The most wonderful time of the year

    It is a great time to be Catholic.  Here we are, having just celebrated the feast of Christ the King and the beginning of the new liturgical year with the first Sunday of Advent.  Now we can look forward with anticipation to next week when we will remember the generosity of St. Nicholas with gifts in our shoes, honor Mary on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception by attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and continue our preparations for Christmas, which is only weeks away. 
    In our house we are enjoying our nightly Advent prayer service.  After dinner we dim the lights and light the first purple candle on our Advent wreath.  This year, for the first time, we bought some incense sticks from Wal-Mart and are including that with our prayer time also.  The quiet room, with the children’s faces glowing and their eyes sparkling in the flickering candlelight, is bathed in peacefulness as we watch the smoke of the incense curling up towards heaven and smell the scent of Church at our own kitchen table.  We listen to a beautiful rendition of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” and pray our Advent prayers followed by the Divine Praises.  The children take turns leading the prayers.  This time truly feels reverent and sacred as we pray together as a family.   Of course, as soon as prayers are over the children all argue over who is going to blow out the candle but at least we have a few moments of peace and prayer each evening. 
    Our school projects reflect the season and this joyful time of waiting too.  We started our Jesse tree this week.  It sits in the middle of our school table and creates quite a focal point, reminding us what we need to focus on as we spend time studying the “family” tree of Jesus and the history of salvation leading up to His birth.  Each day this week we have started our school days with the Jesse Tree scripture passage of the day and the corresponding ornament for the tree.  The kids love coloring the ornaments and hanging them on the tree and it gives us a little something special to look forward to as we continue to school through these first few weeks of December. 
    This weekend we will put up our Christmas tree and all our decorations, including our beloved nativities.  We have been collecting nativities for years now, giving the kids a new one to open every Christmas Eve.  We are up to about 20 beautiful crèches and my goal is to have them everywhere you look in my house at Christmas time.  Considering my house is not that big we are almost there.  Even without our decorations adorning the house, I find myself with little glimmers of that magical Christmas feeling in my heart. Still, I am very eagerly anticipating being surrounded by our scenes of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds and wise men all waiting in the stable for baby Jesus to arrive. 
    What joy this season provides.  It is truly a time of preparation and anticipation in our Church and in our home.  And the miracle of God’s love is all around us.  This would be the perfect time of year if only I could feel some love and peace while standing in endless lines at the store…


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...