Monday, April 30, 2012

In search of treasure

What could possibly entice four adults and 8 children to spend their spring break digging through thick brush and traipsing through dense tick-infested forest?   Why on earth would my children ask their grandparents to spend a weekend searching diligently through a thicket of trees near the local Circle K?   Why would anyone dream of hiding a treasure in the humble little park near our home?

The answer to all those strange questions is the same--- GEOCACHING!  

Though it has been around for a long time now, we just recently discovered the wonderfully adventurous world of geocaching.  Several weeks ago we planned a family camping trip with some good friends of ours.  When we met our friends at the camp grounds a little before we could officially set up our tents, they suggested we try a little geocaching.  They had never tried it themselves but had done a little research on it and had downloaded an app for it to their brand new I-phones.   It sounded interesting but would the kids really enjoy following GPS coordinates around the nature park in search of hidden boxes?

We were about to find out.   

            Our friend pulled out his phone and off we went in search of treasure.  The GPS on the phone led us to a grove of trees and within minutes we discovered, hidden on the ground behind the leafy branches, a metal “ammo” box filled with little plastic stuff.  Treasure to be sure!  We signed and dated the log book, stating that we had been there and had successfully achieved the goal of geocaching.  Then the children dug in looking for valuables worth trading.  

Our camp-out lasted two days and in that time we found nine other hidden geocaches.  Then, we spent this past weekend with my parents at their house on beautiful Anna Maria Island.  We hadn’t been geocaching since the camping trip but my parents have I-phones with GPS, just like our friends.....  So, off we went, dragging them along for the fun, in search of more treasure.

There is just something about the hunt, the search, the successful cry of “I found it!” and the moment of joy when the box is opened and the treasure revealed.

In all honesty, I must admit the geocache boxes are not exactly full of riches.  My children have collected a lot of junk from those hidden boxes all over town (of course, we have also left behind a lot of junk, as the point of the treasure is to trade).  And, yet we really have discovered treasure in geocaching.  The treasure of time spent together as a family.  The fun of a hobby we can enjoy all together.   The happy memories we are building along the way.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A tool or a toy

            G.K. Chesterton said science is either a tool or a toy.  His point was that science is often exalted to a level of divinity but it is really, only either a tool or a toy.  It can be used to make life better or to satisfy our natural curiosity but that is all it can do.  It cannot create as God can create, it cannot judge as God can judge, it, therefore, should not be worshipped as God is worshipped.

            I have considered Chesterton’s wisdom and have decided it can be applied to other things in life as well.  For example, the internet can be either a tool or a toy.  It is a fabulous tool for connecting with others, for learning about the world, for spreading information and sharing ideas, and for so many, many other things.  It can also be a wonderful toy.  There are blogs to read, games to play, music to stream, videos to watch, etc….all right at our fingertips.  But, like science, which can easily take on a much-too-important role, the internet can become way too much of a focus, if we let it.

            When my older children were little, we introduced them to the computer via video games.  They had little games on CD Rom featuring their favorite characters. We had a Mickey Mouse game for toddlers, a Dora the Explorer game, and others.  They were allowed to use the computer, under very strict supervision for very limited amounts of time, as a toy.  Though the games claimed to have educational value, teaching shapes, colors, letters, I never considered them to be truly educational and never considered that my children were benefitting from the computer as a tool.  

Now, though, they are older.  I still try to keep their computer usage to a minimum.  They still have very strict supervision and very limited amounts of time to play on the computer.   The internet, however, is a useful tool in their lives now.  They use it for research, and for projects, and just recently we’ve started online classes.  It is getting harder to limit the time my children spend in front of the computer and I find myself struggling to find where to draw the line so to speak.  

Here is where we are now:  they get one half hour of “playtime” on the computer every other day.  The girls get to play their video games on odd days, the boys on even days.  They can only play certain games, approved by Tim and me.  In addition, they are allowed one special project on the computer per week.    My oldest son has gotten interested in movie making and produces, at least, one stop-action Lego movie each week.  So far, we have allowed him the time he needs to do this, not counting it against his video game time but considering it a “special project”.   For online classes, we have allowed the children all the time they need to complete their work.  For research, I sit with them and together we “surf the net” for the information they seek.  

All this seems to be working fine but, at times, I feel the computer desk is like a revolving door, housing one family member after another sometimes with overlap.

Tim heard that the average American family has about 7 internet linked devices in their home.  We have one.  Just the one.  Our desktop computer that sits in the middle of our kitchen.   I am sure, at some point, we will decide to invest in a laptop, or an I-pad, or an I-phone, or something else but for now, we are content with our one internet connection.  In fact, I suspect this one little computer that we all have to share provides the perfect tool for keeping our family’s computer use in moderation.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Facing their fears

             We had been talking about this day for weeks-- the first day of swimming lessons! My 2 year old daughter was excited.  She said she was ready to jump in the pool with her new teacher and practice her kicking and show off how well she puts her face under the water.     

             We arrived right on time and, in her adorable ruffled bottom swimsuit, my little one went right to the teacher, a complete stranger with a big smile and warm welcome.  For the first few minutes everything was fine.  My daughter looked a little wary, her eyes wide and suspicious, but she seemed to be putting on a brave front.  Then, it was all just too much for her.   Her lower lip started to quiver and tears started to fall from her big brown eyes.  She cried until, finally the 15 minute lesson ended.  

            We went home and immediately she pulled out her toys and wanted to pretend swimming lessons.  “This the baby,” she told me, “and this her swimming teacher,” she said showing me a little matchbox car, and a bigger one.  She made her little car jump to the big car and then the baby car started to cry.  All afternoon she repeated the game, the baby car crying at the swimming lesson.  I repeatedly reminded her how much fun the baby car would have if only she relaxed and enjoyed the swimming.  My daughter, though, seemed to enjoy reliving the fear and anguish she herself had felt earlier in the day.  

The "baby" car and the "swim teacher" car.
            A few years ago (okay a lot of years ago now), a similar scene occurred with her older sister.  Tim and I took our only child, at the ripe old age of about a year and a half, to sit on Santa Claus' lap.  She was excited as we stood in line, but at the sight of that bearded old man she burst into uncontrollable tears.  We got a picture but it wasn’t exactly a happy scene, instead I worried my child would be emotionally scarred by the experience.  After we had the picture developed and I scrapbooked it into our family album (because though it was a torturous experience it was still a picture of her with Santa), she would ask, every day, to look at her “crying picture”.  She loved that picture of herself, all tear-stained and distressed.  It was months before she finally forgot about the “crying picture” and stopped asking to see it.  

The "crying picture" my first-born loved so much.
             I’m not sure how these events can one minute cause my children such fear and anxiety, then the next minute fascinate them so.  I can’t help but wonder what it is about these difficult experiences that intrigue them and draw them back time and again.    

             Is it that hindsight has shown them the error of their ways and they look back with a sense of humor at how they had overreacted?  Or, do they see something deeper in their own fear?  Do they see, that in their limited life experience, this is one time they faced their greatest fear and somehow came through it safe and unscathed?  Can it be that my little ones have wisdom beyond their years?   Do they truly understand that it is through leaving our comfort zones and expanding our horizons that we truly grow and that, somehow, we are not the same after we face our fears? 

Or…. are my children just really as strange as they sometimes seem?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Marian Craft

I started with this, my initial sketch and basic idea:

Then I gathered some supplies:

Felt- in cream color, light blue, dark blue, and black

Felt glue, puffy paints, ribbon, also (not pictured) brown yarn, scrapbooking "brads", and permanent markers
Did a little prep work:

Made a template
Traced the pieces onto the felt (with a little help from my daughters)

Printed out the Magnificat
Then we were ready for crafting:

And our finished projects turned out beautifully!
Ironically this was NOT my answer to the great Rosary craft search disaster.  This was our craft for the first Little Flowers meeting on Mary.  It was a more simple craft, for our second meeting of the month, that prompted the aforementioned search and subsequent upset, but I decided to share this craft because I now see the need to flood the internet with beautiful holy references to Our Blessed Mother to counteract the more negative things out there.  And because I thought others might be on the look out for crafts to celebrate Marian feast days.  And because it is almost May, the month that we dedicate to honoring Mary.  And because "my" girls did such a beautiful job I wanted to show their banners off!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Be careful what you search for...

It started out simply enough—I was searching for a quick, easy rosary craft for my upcoming Little Flowers girls club meeting.  Our saint of the month is the Blessed Virgin Mary and I thought a rosary craft would be perfect for the girls (all of them between the ages of 7-9).   I went to Pinterest and typed the word “rosary” into the search box.  I waited a minute for it to load, expecting to find a bunch of wonderful, wholesome, appropriate, Catholic ideas to choose from.  How could a search for “rosary” yield anything else?

            To my surprise and disappointment, I saw nothing at all that could help me plan a Little Flowers craft and SO many things that made me feel as though I should rush off to Confession just for having accidentally viewed them.  There was image after image of scantily clad men and women holding and/or wearing rosaries.  There were a few appropriate pictures of beautiful rosaries and a picture or two of the Blessed Mother but all interspersed between horribly offensive, sexually explicit photos of rosaries as costume jewelry or fashion accessories.  To say I was appalled would be putting it WAY TOO LIGHTLY!  

            I was traumatized. Hurt. Disgusted.

            Is nothing sacred anymore?  Has this oversexed, immoral, self-serving, relativistic world we live in really gone so far off the deep end they cannot respect ANYTHING good and holy anymore?  Am I the only one who thinks this is a big deal and a sign of something intrinsically evil at work?

            So, first, I have sent a copy of this post (in the form of a letter of complaint) to the administrators of Pinterest and have asked them to remove every reference to the Rosary that does not reflect prayer and reverence.  Second, I am sharing my experience here as a warning to good Catholics to be VERY careful what you search for at Pinterest. And, third I am asking for rosaries to be offered up for this world I am raising my children in.  

            I have heard the rosary is the best weapon we have to fight evil.  So rather than using it to promote an agenda of sin, let’s use it for what it is intended- the prayer this world really, really needs!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An unexpected response...

            This morning at church, as I sat with my children waiting for Mass to begin, I looked over the readings we would hear in just a few moments.  I was surprised to see one of my favorite Scripture passages on the list.  Ironically, the very same passage had come into my head unexpectedly while I was praying just a few days ago.  I even took the time to write the words down in my prayer notebook, though they really had nothing to do with what I had been praying about at the time.    

          Even more ironically, just about 30 minutes before we left for church this very morning, I assigned the same scripture to my two older children for handwriting practice, not having any idea it was going to come up at Mass.

            The gospel reading today included the very well-known John 3:16 but those are not the words of scripture that keep coming up for me.  The first reading was from Acts of the Apostles.  It, too, is a lovely passage, full of meaning, but it was also not what keeps coming up.  Instead, it is the words of the Responsorial Psalm that have come up, unexpectedly, three times this week.   

           I feel I have to share......
Psalm 34:2-9
“I will bless the Lord at all times; praise should be always in my mouth.
My soul will glory in the Lord that the poor may hear and be glad,
Magnify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together.
I sought the Lord, who answered me, delivered me from all my fears.
Look to God that you may be radiant with joy and your face may not blush for shame.
In my misfortune I called; the Lord heard and saved me from all my distress.
The angel of the Lord, who encamps with them, delivers all who fear God.
Learn to savor how good the Lord is; happy are those who take refuge in Him.”
            Such a beautiful prayer, especially during Easter!  I LOVE the idea that we are all called to "Learn to savor how good the Lord is."

So, I ask you, will you, 

"Magnify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together!"

Friday, April 13, 2012

Unhappy with motherhood

            I had an interesting conversation today.  I was standing at the counter checking out, for once all alone with no children in tow, when I mentioned that I had 5 children.  I cannot even remember how the subject came up but the woman behind the counter immediately responded with, “You have 5 children?  Do they drive you nuts?”

            Now, as anyone with more than two children will tell you, it is not at all unusual to get surprising and varied reactions to the subject of children and family planning.  Nonetheless, I was thrown off by her question.  “No,” I answered quickly, “I love my children.”  But then, as I thought about it for a second, I had to admit, “Well, there are moments they drive me nuts, but overall I enjoy my children.”  I wanted to be completely honest.

            She looked at me quizzically and maybe I should have let it drop at that but I continued, “My children know their limits.” I told her. 

            “Oh, so you rule with an iron fist,” she said knowingly, nodding her head like she got it now.             

            But as I thought about that, I felt the need to speak up yet again.  “Not really.  I don’t have to most of the time.  They are just pretty good kids,” I told her.

            “Well, I guess you do look like you’ve got it altogether,” the woman conceded (an interesting comment on its own considering I did not have the children with me), “Lots of people these days are not too happy with motherhood though.”

            Since that conversation this morning, I have thought about her observation.  She is right, of course.  A lot of people are unhappy with motherhood.  Children are seen as burdens, not blessings and having 5 (or more) of them sounds like torture to some people, I guess.  None of this is really news to me, but hearing someone admit it so casually as if it is no big deal was upsetting.  It has really caused me to pause and think about this world we live in, and the negative attitudes that pervade it.  

            There is SO much I could say about it all.  I could go on and on about how people are so misguided, how their priorities are skewed, and about how worldly wisdom has ruined family values in this country.  I think I will try to keep my mouth shut about all that this time though……  

Instead I will just pray.  I will pray that my example and witness, and that of other strong Christian mothers, might be enough to convince others to take a closer look at their own attitudes and priorities.  I will pray that God will enlighten the minds of those mothers who are not too happy with motherhood and help them to see the gift that their children, and their responsibility towards them, is.  

Maybe, while I am at it, I will also say a prayer of thanksgiving.  It is such a privilege and a blessing to be a mother.  Though it is not always easy and my children do drive me nuts occasionally, I am grateful to God for the gift of motherhood.  Unusual as it may sound, it is a something I really am very happy with.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Easter bug

            The night before Easter, as Tim was getting our 2 year old ready for bed he asked her, “Do you know who is coming tonight?”  The whole family was very eagerly anticipating the celebration of Easter.  We had had a busy Holy Week, filled with family activities and Holy week Masses and services and events, all to prepare our hearts for a true celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord.  Still, we knew the little ones were probably as excited about jelly beans and plastic eggs as they were about Mass and joyfully singing "Alleluia" with our parish family.  Yet, our littlest one surprised us with her answer to daddy’s question.  She said, “A bug is coming.”  

            We are not sure if she misunderstood when we briefly mentioned the Easter bunny (could she have thought we said, "Easter buggy?") or if she just knew, with it being springtime in Florida, that it is not uncommon for bugs to come into the house at night.  Whatever the cause, clearly she did not really know about the Easter bunny at all.   It was then that we realized we had pretty much forgotten to explain to her about the tradition of Easter baskets filled in the night by a little furry, hopping friend.  

          She knew all about Jesus’ crucifixion and about the boo-boos on his hands and feet.  She knew “Mama Mary” was very sad when Jesus died and she knew that on Easter, Jesus felt better and was not dead anymore.  She told me repeatedly in the preceding week, “Mommy, Jesus died on the cross”. 

        When her siblings were younger there seemed to be a lot more focus on the Easter bunny and not nearly as much on Jesus.  As the years have passed, Tim and I have grown and our understanding of our faith has matured and deepened.  Our older children have also grown and their understanding of our faith has matured too.  Sharing all about Christ’s sacrifice and suffering has become such a part of our life and our family, we forget sometimes about the other traditions that used to mean so much to us.

       Tim, in his amusement and surprise, continued to question our daughter.   “Who do you think will bring all the candy for your Easter basket?” he asked her.  And she promptly answered, “You!”  

Maybe, as it turns out, she is not at all confused, maybe she understands a whole lot more than we give her credit for......

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Thursday

Every Thursday, the children and I start our day by reading the upcoming Sunday's gospel.  Then we do a small activity or have a discussion about it.  This morning, instead of reading Easter Sunday's gospel, we read the gospel for Holy Thursday and Good Friday.  Then we washed each other's feet as Jesus commanded.

Later, we will have a very simple Seder supper and then, as a family, attend Holy Thursday Mass.

Happy Triduum!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Holy week reflections

Holy Week!  We have been busy at our house with Holy Week stories, crafts, and activities.  With the Triduum starting tomorrow we spent some of our school time this morning reflecting on Jesus' passion and the events leading up to it.  

We started with our Resurrection Eggs.  Tim and I bought these years ago but they have spent the last few years on a shelf.  When I pulled them out, they literally had a 1/2 inch of dust on them.  I had forgotten how wonderful they are though.  The kids enjoyed opening the eggs and discussing the symbols in them, then I read the accompanying reflection in the book and we talked even more about what Jesus really went through for us.  

After that, I found this video on Youtube and played it for the children.  My seven year old, especially, was touched by the reality and intensity of Jesus' suffering.  He is too young to watch The Passion but Todd Agnew's beautiful song and the somewhat graphic images of the video were just enough to get the point across without scaring him too much.

Then, we went to Mass.  It was an even more moving experience after our morning of prayer and contemplation.  Later, we will watch our documentary about The Shroud of Turin.  And then..... I think we will be really ready for the Triduum.....

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The whole world in our family room

            We don’t watch television.  There are many reasons why.  Most of all, though we just find the vast majority of programming to be incredibly worldly and shockingly immoral.  Even the commercials, or should I say, especially the commercials are offensive.  

            There is one kind of programming I do like though.  I love documentaries.  So, I decided to start adding some to our school curriculum.  A month or so ago we watched an extremely informative movie all about telescopes.  It went along perfectly with the astronomy unit we had been working on all year.  

Then the other night, the kids really wanted to watch a movie but it was getting close to bedtime and we only had time for something short so we decided to check out what educational options Netflix had to offer on streaming.  We all agreed on “The Riddle of the Sphinx” and ended up learning a lot about ancient Egyptian history, beliefs, and culture and even some things about geology and archeology and art.  

This week, I am super excited because I borrowed a documentary from the library entitled, “Jesus and the Shroud of Turin”.  I watched a show about the Shroud of Turin years ago and was fascinated by it.  I thought it would be perfect for Holy Week and, though I could not find the exact program I saw before, the one I did find looks very promising.  

Documentaries are such a wonderful resource for learning and they make the world around us come alive in full color.  They introduce us to a world of experts and allow them to share their passions with us in the comfort of our own home.   And even better--  they keep the children’s attention and require no extra work or planning on my part, and at least on Netflix or library dvd’s—there are no commercials! :)     

Monday, April 2, 2012

My mission as a mother

When I was just a young mother of one small child I came across this quote:
"When I was a child, love to me was what the sea is to a fish; something you swim in while you are going about the important affairs of life.”     ~ P. L. Travers
I knew, right then and there as I read those words that they summed up my goal as a mother.  I wanted, for my beautiful daughter and any other children God might someday send my way, a life so full of love it would be like swimming in a sea of it.  I wanted my children to be immersed entirely in a world *overflowing* with love.  I even wanted my children to take for granted that they were loved and adored, not because I wanted them to be ungrateful but because I wanted to them to know nothing less than an atmosphere of unconditional love and acceptance.  I wanted the mere idea of a life void of love to be so completely foreign that the thought of such a thing would never ever cross their minds.  I wanted being loved, and lovable, to never be given even a passing thought, as I am sure a fish never even considers the water it swims in.

It seems these days everyone has a mission statement-- churches, businesses, organizations, and institutions of all kinds.  If ever I was to draft a mission statement as a mother, it would be to do whatever P.L. Travers' mother did to inspire the above statement.
My mission is to raise my children in a world so filled with love, they feel like little fishies swimming about in it every day.

It has been years and years since I first encountered P.L. Travers’ beautiful quote  and I can only pray that I come close to achieving it each day as I work to raise my children to be the people God created them to be.  

I don’t know, day to day, how well I am really doing.  I do know, though, that I truly do love my children for the people they are today and the people I see them becoming as they grow and learn.  And besides loving each of them individually and personally, I really like them as well.  I enjoy spending time with them and sharing my days with them and I can only hope that my delight in them shows.  

I am not a perfect mother.  I have days that are marked by more mistakes than successes as far as parenting goes, and days I feel guilty for my impatience and selfishness.  I do not always treat my children with the love I feel for them, or the love I know they deserve.  I am pretty sure, if ever they were asked though, my children would answer with confidence that, yes their mother, and father, do love them unconditionally and completely, without a doubt.    In fact, despite my imperfections, I'm pretty sure my children do feel like they are swimming in love, at least, most of the time.

My oldest and youngest ponder some creatures of the sea.

Watching little fishies swim in tiny tide pools.

Surrounded by the Gulf all around, my boys are fascinated by all they encounter at the beach near our home.


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