Sunday, January 29, 2012

Race cars, a headache, and what makes a winner

            We spent most of the day Saturday at the Pinewood Derby for my sons’ cub scouts pack this past weekend.   The Pinewood Derby is a pretty big deal in cub scouts and is a very big deal in my house.  My boys designed their cars after looking at thousands of design ideas online and worked very hard on the cars, eagerly anticipating the race.   My older son, in particular, was hoping for a win and designed his car with speed and victory in mind.   Just in case his wasn’t the fastest car, he made the design fun and original, in the hopes of winning for that if nothing else.

The "ice cream sandwich car" and the "blue ninja bullet"
             The day of the race started early with check-ins and weigh-ins and last minute adjustments.  Then we grabbed the best seats we could find to watch the races.   Unfortunately, despite our careful research and planning, neither of my boys made it past the first heats.  Their cars were both done racing by about 10:30 a.m.  

The day was far from over though and with trophies for all coming at the end of the day, we stayed for lunch and then to watch the final heats so we’d be there for the ever important award ceremony.  The whole time I was suffering from a migraine headache.  I did my best to smile my way through the day massaging my temples and trying to ignore my throbbing head.  Finally, with only about 10 awards to go I decided I really had to go home and take something for my aching head.  We had come in two different cars so I left in one car while Tim stayed with the boys till the bitter end.  

I was there for the WHOLE DAY, leaving with only a few minutes left and somehow, I missed the best part!  After I’d driven off in search of Tylenol and a few minutes of quiet, they awarded the cub scout who displayed the best sportsmanship of the day.  It was considered the best award of the day (which is why it was awarded last), because it went to the boy who had the best attitude.   The boy who showed the true spirit of cub scouts by putting the feelings of his friends above the thrill of victory and who focused more on enjoying the experience of the race and the opportunity to do his best than on the importance of being the fastest.   

My son, the older one who was so careful about planning every little detail of his car so he would have a good chance at winning it all, ended up getting the most important award of the day even though his car was comparatively slow and unimpressive on the race track.
He won for being the best sportsman!  I could not believe it when I heard, and I especially could not believe I wasn’t there to see him receive his big trophy.  The Pinewood Derby may not really be as big a deal as my boys believe it to be, but it turned out to be a great experience for both my sons.  And, I must admit, I am pretty proud of them both.

My younger son's car and award

My older son's car and awards

Sunday, January 22, 2012

39 years of death and tragedy

            39 years ago today, abortion was made legal in this country.  It has been 39 years of carnage in the name of choice.   39 years of the legal murder of innocent lives for the sake of convenience.  39 years of an attitude, by so many otherwise good moral people, that the control a woman should have over her body takes precedence over the life of her unborn child (a child who is, most often, the result of a choice made by the woman).  Attitudes that have been shaped by lies.  Lies about which choices a woman should be held accountable for and which lives are of most value.  And so many more lies that have transformed our country into a culture which promotes and celebrates death and ignores or remains indifferent to life.  

More than a generation has passed since the passing of Roe vs. Wade.  And I can’t help but ponder the fact that it is my generation who was the first to experience the legal loss of so many through the horror of abortion.  

            I was born just 27 months after abortion was declared legal.  

            I was the result of an unplanned pregnancy.  

           Though my parents never considered abortion (and never would have no matter the circumstances)- they could have.  They could have easily, and legally, decided they did not want me, did not want the hassle of a child they had not planned.  I could have been one of the victims had my parents chosen that.  Thankfully, they did not.  

When they faced another unplanned pregnancy, just a few months after my birth, my parents again chose life and my brother joined the family when I was a mere 15 months old.  My brother and I are among the lucky ones.   And my parent’s beautiful choice of love and sacrifice has had lasting results, of course.  I am the mother of 5 beautiful children.  My brother is the father of 2, and a paramedic and fire fighter who saves the lives of others every day.  

I can’t help but wonder what the world I have grown up in would be like had every child been given the chance at life that I have been given.  Had every parent been willing to rise to challenge of accepting and raising and loving a child they did not plan for.   I can only imagine a world without abortion- I have never actually experienced it.  But I imagine it would be really beautiful.....  and maybe someday I will get the chance to see a culture of life for myself......

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"Be brilliant"

            When I was growing up my parents each had a standard good-bye for their children.  In the morning as my sisters and brother and I would leave for school, my mom would always see us off with the reminder, “Use your heads.”  My dad would tell each of us to “Be brilliant.”  I could probably write a very long blog post about the wisdom of my mom’s words to “use our heads” and the importance of thinking before we acted.  It is my dad’s words that have been in my thoughts today though.

            My sister once told me that “Be brilliant” made her feel pressure.   Not me.  When I heard dad’s words I heard nothing but encouragement.  As I left each morning, going from the security of our home and out into the world of school with its tests and peer pressure and teasing and long boring lessons, I knew no matter what anyone else might think about me, my dad knew I was capable of great things.  To me the words, “Be brilliant” meant "do your best" but they meant so much more too.  They meant "I believe in you" and "I am proud of you" and "you can do it." “Be brilliant” was a daily vote of confidence in my life.  “Be brilliant” made me believe that I really was capable of brilliance.  

            As I ponder my dad’s words today, I think I appreciate them even more.  As a child, brilliance was all about being smart to me.  I thought brilliance was a measure of intelligence and it meant good grades and a positive report from my teachers.  Now I see brilliance is more than intelligence or good grades.  It is about being a light to others and a reflection of God’s goodness and love.   

It is about splendor and magnificence and brightness.

Brilliance is about learning to shine in the world. 

I cannot think of a better vote of confidence 
or a better way to start the day than with the encouragement to 
"Be brilliant".
(thanks dad, for everything but mostly for believing in me and reminding me always to "be brilliant")

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Opportunities- chocolate and movies and lots of fun

            A friend of mine said to me the other day, “Your children have had the most amazing opportunities to experience new things.”  It was an interesting comment because I had been in a little bit of a funk thinking I just don’t do that much.  I look at what other home schoolers are up to and worry that my children are missing out sometimes.  In the past, I have even thought about all that “regular” school children get to do and wondered if I could ever provide all the opportunities they have (not just field trips and riding the bus but also things like afterschool sports, clubs for debate, speech, foreign languages, etc. and school drama productions and even being exposed to different cultures and beliefs, though I did not dwell too long on that one).  

Now that my funk has lifted and I am looking at life with a better perspective, I can see my friend is right though.  My children have been very blessed to experience so many things in their young lives.  It is not really home schooling that has provided these opportunities but home schooling definitely makes me more aware of, first of all, all the things out there, and second of all, the importance of taking advantage of as many opportunities as we can to try new things and learn new things and be exposed to new things.  If not for home schooling, I might not go the extra mile to expose my children to the educational opportunities that surround us, but they are there and are rarely (if ever) open only to home school families.  

Just this past weekend, my second born had the chance to play a role in a small amateur movie.  He has in the last few months expressed an interest in movie-making so this was an awesome opportunity for him to see a little of the process and even be a part of it.  He had so much fun acting his scene over and over, which luckily included a lot of destructive behavior but no lines to memorize.  A perfect fit for his (very limited) acting abilities!   

Then as a family, we attended “The Festival of Chocolate” at MOSI, the science museum near our home.  I was SO excited about this opportunity because my first born has been working on a chocolate unit study all year and this was the perfect chance to see her new found discoveries in practice in so many new ways!  We got to sample some mouth-watering treats and hear about the process and business of chocolate making.  We also got to participate in a cookie stacking contest, vote for the best dress designed from candy wrappers, and sit through a talk that included seeing, touching, and smelling real cacao pods and beans.  The coolest part was that we even got to bring a half a pod, full of beans, home with us.  We are currently attempting to dry them out so we can roast them and maybe make our own chocolate from scratch.   If we are successful, there will definitely be a post all about that coming soon.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

When the science lesson crawls up on the porch

       We might have decided against an unschooling approach to home schooling but that doesn’t mean we can’t still take advantage of unexpected educational opportunities, especially when they crawl right into our midst, so to speak.  

This morning we woke to find this: 

Our unexpected visitor-- known scientifically as "Heteropoda venatoria"

perched above our front porch.   

Now, when Tim and I discussed where we might want to live and raise our family years ago, I shared with him that I really wanted to live in the south where the weather was warm and the winters mild.  “I just don’t want to live in Florida,” I had said, “because the bugs are too big there.”  

This would be what I was talking about.   

Wikipedia's even more impressive picture of a huntsman spider

After a little research via the internet, research that included viewing dozens of different spiders- wolf spiders, banana spiders, white banded fishing spiders, and others, and comparing them against our own newest little resident. We identified our creepy crawly arachnid friend as a male huntsman spider (Heteropoda venatoria) .  Then we learned that they feed on palmetto bugs and cockroaches, which if you know anything about Florida, you know get to be very big and very abundant in these parts.  It is no wonder the spiders are so big- you should see their lunch!  We also learned they can be found in Puerto Rico, Australia, and China and that some people have had them in their houses!  They are poisonous but their bite is not really harmful to people.

            Our lesson ended, when we tried to see how fast the spider would move when scared by flying bits of mulch, supplied happily by my boys.  The spider did move quickly.  We moved even more quickly (out of his way) and after a little screaming and a little freaking out (the children learned how squeamish mommy is around spiders, but I am not sure that was a new discovery!), we parted ways.   And now we know way more about big hairy spiders than we ever cared to know......

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Vocations Awareness Week- answering God's call in my life

            It is "Vocations Awareness Week".  

            I remember the first time I became aware of the concept of vocations.  I was a freshman in high school and was on a retreat that my best friend had invited me to attend with her.  One of the talks on the retreat was given by a religious sister and she spoke about God calling her to the religious life and about how, at first, she tried to ignore the call.  She told us that, as hard as she tried, she could not ignore God forever and eventually she answered His call and was now happily living out her life as a nun.  I listened to her story and found myself praying that God would NOT call me the way He had called her.   

I did not want to be a nun.  

I wanted to be a wife and mother.  

All of the sudden, I was afraid to try to listen to God for fear He might ask me to give up that dream for a life of habits and pious all day prayers and a cloistered existence in a convent.   At the time, I was young and silly and obviously did not really understand that the desire to be a wife and mother had been given to me by God himself.  Though, I felt a call to marriage in my heart, it took some time before I figured out that it was the life God wanted for me as well.  That it was, in fact, the vocation He was calling me to.  I understand now what that nun was trying to tell me so many years ago, that God truly does call us each to a vocation and that if we refuse to listen to and answer His call we will never be truly happy in life.   

         Vocations awareness is so important.  It is important for all of us to be aware of our own vocation and to be aware of the vocations of others, so that we may support them in answering God’s call.  Vocations awareness will help not only to bring greater openness to vocations to the religious life but also to bring greater understanding and respect to the vocation of marriage.  Both are so sorely lacking in our world today.

            Not surprisingly, the priesthood and religious, consecrated life are seen as stifling and unfulfilling by our society that values moral relativity and a self-centered existence.   And, even marriage is seen in a negative light these days.  Marriage is considered unnecessary, disposable, and old-fashioned.   As Catholics, we need to know that could not be farther from the truth.  Marriage is a sacrament, a sacred covenant between a man, a woman, and God.  Marriage, if we are truly called to it, is where we come to know and understand God better and where we find our path to holiness.  It is not easy, it requires sacrifice and cooperation and lots and lots of prayer- but it is a beautiful vocation.  One that provides the necessary basis of the family and that provides us the graces we need to raise strong families.  

            There was a time in my life that I pictured marriage as a blissful relationship of love and support, intimacy and empathy, that would flow naturally from my husband and me, and would fulfill our every need and want.  

It is not really like that at all.  

Instead, marriage is about compromising and learning to make amends and being merciful.  Tim and I spend most of our time together dealing with our high maintenance house and our higher maintenance kids and our tight budget and trying to manage our different personalities and ideas.  It is not always fun and not always satisfying and not always easy, but it is a blessing and it is worth the effort, because it is the life God has called us to.  And, though I sometimes find myself wondering if maybe a cloistered life in a quiet convent would not have been so bad, I do not really regret answering God's call in my life for even a minute.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Longing for "Belonging"

            I kept seeing things about picking a word for the new year and focusing the next 12 months on that word-- on learning more about it and growing more in it and turning to God for greater understanding of it.  The idea intrigued me but I couldn’t decide if I should do it.  

          At first, I thought I would.  I opened my ears and my eyes in search of my word.  And every word I heard seemed to have potential to be “the” word.   

          Then, I decided I wouldn’t because I could not choose just one word and if there were one million words then none of them would have meaning.  So, I tossed aside the idea of a word for the year.  

Then the word “belonging” grabbed me and it has not let go yet.  So, here I am a few days into the new year and focusing a lot of my thoughts on the idea of  belonging.  I have still not committed to a year of contemplating this word, “belonging”, but I am curious to see if that is what happens.  

            My first encounter with belonging came as I wrote my last blog post.  I had intended it to be all about the Feast of the Holy Family but it turned out to be more about my own family and where I fit into it.  About how, after a lifetime of feeling like I just did not really belong, I realized I absolutely do belong and even with all our imperfections and struggles, I am grateful to be a part of my family.  

            Then on New Year’s Day we went to a different parish for Mass, because after staying up way too late on New Year’s Eve, we slept in and did not make it to “our” Church.  I sat there before Mass began, feeling like we did not really belong.  Then we were asked to bring up the offertory gifts.  I thought about all the reasons we should not do it, reasons all centered around the fact that we did not belong.  And as I sat there making excuses not to participate, it hit me once again-- of course, we belonged there.  I realized, every Catholic Church is “our” Church and we should be honored to bring our gifts forward to the altar and be a part of the beauty of the Mass.  We accepted the invitation, and as we came forward, I prayed that God would accept the gifts we held in our hands as well as the ones we offered in our hearts.  It was a beautiful moment.  And, for that second anyway, I understood the concept of belonging and the importance of accepting God’s gift of it in my life.  

            I think my whole life has been about trying to find the place I belong.  

          I think a sense of belonging is what we all look for in life, what we all need and are made for.  “Belonging” wasn’t one of the many words I had considered but it seems it is the word that was chosen for me, and I suspect, it will be the perfect word to see me through this year. 


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