Sunday, November 29, 2009

A stroke of genius

If I do say so myself.

I hated not to make the Advent paper chain this year, but I was really behind on brainstorming a special thing per day.

And I was dreading the whole "who gets custody of the Advent wreath" argument that we have EVERY SINGLE DAY for the entire season (in my book, that's part of the reason for the penitential purple).

So...I made the chain. But instead of writing in an activity for the day, I wrote in ONE name of a family member. That person gets to light the Advent candle before we say grace at dinner. That person also gets to blow the candle out. If that person is not home for dinner that night, Mom and Dad get candle duty. There will be no do-overs, trades or other alterations to the schedule. (The Great Oz has spoken. That would be me.)

I can't believe it took me this long to figure out an easy way to end all those candle arguments.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I don't want to fail Advent this year

There's been a lot of other stuff going on. I'm getting over the pre-Black-Friday craziness that goes along with my writing job, and I'm hoping that things stay calm as Christmas approaches. (OK, I can hope!)

We've got another year of "every piece of music until the Communion Song is new or almost-new" (things that were new last year in Advent count as almost-new, as singing them for only 4 weeks and then not all the rest of the year does not get you familiar with a song). That's frustrating and discouraging. And people can't sing along.

I've had some health concerns, which will be resolved soon. Gotta get through Christmas first, though. Nothing to get too worried about, unless you're me, because I'm a professional worrier.

So I did dig through the Christmas Closet in the basement. I have a weird closet in there. It's about 3 feet wide and 18 inches deep. I keep all the Rubbermaid tubs full of Christmas decorations in there, as well as Christmas wrapping paper. Nothing else would fit in there anyway, and this works well for me. Anyway, I found the Advent wreath, candles, and Nativity. That's all I need for tomorrow.

But usually I overachieve a little more during Advent. Usually I make the Advent paper chain, although looking back at last year, I didn't get that done then either. I think the kids missed it. I don't know if I have any purple paper. If not, maybe I'll just have to write with pink and purple marker on white paper and call it a day.

It's going to be a weird Advent. I'll only be singing one Sunday out of 4; this week we are "off" due to other folk-group members' vacation and work schedules. Next week is Big Brother's Eagle Scout ceremony, and I won't be able to sing at noon Mass and prepare for a 2:00 ceremony. So early Mass it is next week. Same for the last Sunday of Advent, which is our Greccio celebration with the Secular Franciscans. I'm going to need to be there earlier than a noon Mass would let me get there.

Now if only my kids would behave themselves around the candles, it'll be all good. I'm not betting on that, though. And I'm not looking forward to the fights over who gets to light (and blow out) the candles. Maybe I'll let the kids have a week at a time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks, a Little Early

Big Brother traveled to Mississippi with a cold and came back with airplane ear. So today I made a doctor appointment for him; this way he won't have to suffer through the weekend. The plan was, I'd pick him up at school to sign him out at 11:30. He wouldn't miss much class time that way.

The phone rang at 10:45; it was one of Big Brother's former teachers. She wanted to let me know that Big Brother had fainted during Mass, and that an ambulance had been called.


We only live 5 minutes away from the school, and I explained that I was taking Big Brother to the doctor today anyway. Did he have to go to the ER? The teacher passed the phone to the principal, who promised to hold the ambulance until I got there.

Let me tell you, it's pretty freaky to run out your front door and hear sirens that you know are responding to your child's medical emergency--and that will get there before you do. Naturally, I hit both red lights on the way to the school, but once I was in the school's long, narrow, windy back driveway, I set a new land-speed record (42 MPH in a 15-MPH zone, in the van. Usually my top speed is 37 in TheDad's zippy little sedan.) Let's just say it was a good thing that the police officers were already inside the school and not following me up that back driveway.

Running into the building, I was met by the principal, vice principal, several teachers and other staff members, some police officers and a paramedic--and a very pale Big Brother in a wheelchair. His worried-looking girlfriend was also in the hallway. I explained to the paramedic that Big Brother had a medical appointment in an hour, and signed the release form. Big Brother's girlfriend headed to his locker to get the books he needed for the weekend. His English teacher teased him about going to great lengths to avoid the vocabulary test scheduled in her class later that morning. The priest exited the auditorium and spoke with Big Brother, making sure that he hadn't scared him when he anointed him after his fainting spell.

I'm thankful that the doctor thinks Big Brother will be just fine; he was a bit dehydrated and has bronchitis. A Z-pack and plenty of fluids will get him past that. I'm thankful for the priest who took the time to anoint Big Brother and to stop by and see him after Mass. I'm thankful for the vice-principal who walked us to the van, just to make sure Big Brother was steady on his feet. I'm thankful for the teacher who called the house just after we got home, because students in her homeroom were worried, and for the teacher who told me to send her a text message after the doctor visit, because she was worried. I'm thankful for all the kids who texted Big Brother throughout the afternoon, checking up on him.

He's feeling fine now, and I'm just feeling grateful.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Purple Cement Mixer

On my dining room table right now: salt and pepper shakers, basket of napkins, and a purple cement mixer.

That last item arrived on the table last night, when a cute and charming visiting 3-year-old brought it into the dining room, but was distracted by the tin of cookies for dessert and forgot to take it back out.

I'm not worried that said visiting 3-year-old left here without his favorite truck, because the cement mixer actually belongs to Little Brother, who hasn't played with his cars and trucks in a good long time, but seemed to have plenty of fun with them last night when his younger buddies were here.

I am wondering how long that truck will stay on the dining room table. We're not hosting Thanksgiving dinner, so there's no need to get formal. It might hang here a while.

After all, there's still an Army Guy in my bathroom. There's also a plastic Easter egg on the dining room hutch.

It's just part of the charm around here. And I kind of like it that way.

Pardon Me, Your OCD is Showing

Little Brother likes to help me unload the dishwasher. While most of its contents have to be put away in cabinets beyond his reach, he's more than capable of taking care of the silverware, especially since the little basket that holds them in the dishwasher is removable. He actually gets mad at me if I do "his" job.

Letting him help in this way, though, is a lesson in letting go. He (usually) gets the knives, forks, and spoons into the right compartments. But pointing in the right direction? Not so much.

This is one of those times when I need to remind myself that it really doesn't matter if the spoons are all facing the same way. He's 7, and he willingly helped me to a household job. I don't have to go back into that drawer and turn all the forks around so the tines point toward the wall.

I really want to, but I don't have to. And it's going to take all I have today to leave those forks alone.

By the time dinner rolls around, most of the forks will be back out of the drawer and on the table anyway. There's always a chance that tomorrow when Little Brother empties the clean-silverware basket, he'll face the forks the right way. (I can talk to myself like this all day, but I'm still going to struggle to stay away from that drawer.)

I've got to learn to save my perfectionism for situations when it's really needed, like editing. The sorting of silverware is something I'll need to let go. It might drive me crazy today (if I'm not crazy already) but it's way better for my kids.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Correct me if I'm wrong

One of my freelance jobs involves editing and posting articles to the website at Ultimate Coupons. (I highly recommend starting here if you're doing any online shopping, by the way. There are great deals to be had!)

And today I am working on one about the hard-to-find toys that are unavailable this year. One of them is the Zhu Zhu pet.

Personally, I don't see the attraction. It looks like a stuffed-toy hamster with a crop circle shaved into its back. Don't you think so?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday Miscellaneous

It's been busy around here, that's for sure.

Sometime around dinnertime tonight, Big Brother will return home with a duffel bag full of dirty laundry and lots of stories to tell. We're looking forward to that. I'm planning on making an apple pie to go with those stories.

I've barely started my Christmas shopping (for that matter, I've barely started making a list, never mind checking it twice.) But at one of my freelance writing jobs, it's been all-Black Friday, all the time. It's creeping over to the other site where I write as well.

There's a bunch to get done before Big Brother's Eagle Scout ceremony in two weeks. Looks like there will be quite a crowd attending.

Four weeks from now, the Secular Franciscans will once again host our "Living Nativity at Greccio." If you're local, why not join us? We're getting things all set--so far we've arranged for the animals, the hay, the music, and Baby Jesus. Gifts for each family attending are in progress, and there will be cookies and hot chocolate to top off the day.

But today, before much else goes on, my house is going to be invaded by Cub Scouts--20 or so Cub Scouts--and their parents. It's Scouting for Food day. They'll be collecting canned goods in my neighborhood, then sorting them and delivering them to the local food pantry. Last year we had 10 Cub Scouts and the back porch was buried in food. We're hoping to top that this year, as we have double the Scouts!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Taste of Things to Come

I miss Big Brother. He's spending the week in Mississippi, participating in Project Hope and Compassion with 15 other students and 3 teachers/staff members from his school.

Being that he's very busy and cell-phone reception is spotty, we don't hear much from him. He did text me yesterday to say that he's recovering from the cold he's had for the past week and working very hard.

I miss having him around, though. Tonight's folk group practice will be a little less lively. Meal planning was tough--there was a lot of "Big Brother likes this. I should save this for when he's back from his trip." And I don't get to share a laugh with him over Zits comics and

I guess this is what it will be like next year when he goes to college.

I'm proud of him and what he's doing. I'm glad he's having a good time and getting this invaluable experience, helping others and building houses.

I still miss him, though.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mr. Malaprop, Redux

I don't know where he learned the term, since it's not a phrase we say around here (in fact, some people in this house didn't know what it meant until I explained it) but tonight Little Brother put on a white thermal-underwear shirt with his Guitar Hero pajama pants, and then danced around the house shouting, "I'm wearing a tighty-whitie!"

Order Up!

I've been reading about Lisa Hendey's upcoming book, The Handbook for Catholic Moms, and today it is available for pre-order at the Catholic Company! The book is expected to be published in January. I pre-ordered mine; the contributors include Sharmane Adams, Susan Bailey, Rachel Balducci, Mary Ellen Barrett, Danielle Bean, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, Maria de Lourdes Ruiz Scaperlanda, Lisa Duffy, Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur, Fr. Jay A. Finelli, Reverend Mr. Tom Fox, Pat Gohn, Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Mary Ann Kuharski, Phil Lenahan, James Martin, SJ, Laurie Manhardt, Arwen Mosher, Holly Pierlot, Sarah Reinhard, Paula Rutherford, Rebecca Ryskind Teti, Sue Stanton, Kate Wicker, Melissa Wiley--an all-star list to be sure. I recognize many of these names and look forward to seeing what they have to say. Moms can never get too much encouragement!


I was stalked earlier this morning--in my very own bathroom!

There I was, in the shower, when suddenly I realized I wasn't alone. A mosquito was hovering near the shower curtains. Let me just say that if you're alone in a small room with a mosquito, you don't want to be in the shower at the time. 100% of you is a target at that point.

Not wanting to wake up everyone else in the house, I did manage to stay quiet even as I finished my shower, grabbed a tissue and chased the predatory insect around the tiny space. My attempts to capture it were unsuccessful, not to mention ridiculous-looking. I'm sure the mosquito had a good laugh at my expense.

After everyone left for their day at work or school, I looked around the bathroom again, checking all the folds of the shower curtain and behind the medicine-cabinet door. No mosquito. This can only mean one thing: he's moved on to my bedroom. This is not going to be good.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What's in a Name?

I am a member of a musical ensemble at my church. It's been around for more than 25 years, and has a name that has been around that long: the Folk Group.

That's not a very dignified or pretentious name, but that's OK. We're not dignified or pretentious. I'm not saying we're irreverent, just that we're not full of ourselves.

We have no illusions about what we're there to do. We're on a mission, and I believe that as humble as our instruments may be (we've got 5 guitars), we fulfill our mission well. Our mission is to help the assembly at church pray through song. Our mission is to lead them in sung prayer. We don't do solos; we rarely do echoes or descants; there's nothing fancy going on. And I think it works. We see people opening their hymnals. We hear them singing along. Even if the song is new to them, they make an effort.

But now that we are under the leadership of the Musical Powers That Be in our parish, we've had to change our repertoire. We had to cast out of the Mass one of our very favorite acclamations--and one that the assembly absolutely loved. A year and a half later, that wound is still raw. We miss singing "our" version of The Lord's Prayer, and so do the people in the pews, who used to raise the rafters on that one week after week after week for more than 25 years.

We had to learn some new songs. Sometimes that's good. But some of them have not been such great songs, and we cringe--because we don't get to pick, anymore.

Last Sunday there was an interfaith music service hosted at our church. All the choirs from the area churches were invited to participate. Our Folk Group attended, and we were amused to see that we were not labeled "Folk Group" as we call ourselves. We were not labeled "Guitar Group" as the Music Director calls us. We were listed in the program as "Contemporary Group"--even though most of our music is less "contemporary" than what the regular choir sings. Go figure.

I guess "Contemporary Group" sounds classier than "Folk Group." But we're not in it to be classy. We're just folks who sing and play guitars and try to get people to sing along with us, because we're doing this for the glory of God.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Kid Logic: Non Sequitur

Little Brother got dressed before breakfast today, so I made him put his bathrobe over his uniform. That way, he wouldn't have a sweater full of toast crumbs.

After eating, he took off the robe and headed to the couch where I'd set down the newspaper. "Put that robe in your room and put your shoes on," I told him. "Then you can come back and read the paper until bus time."

"You're MEAN," he complained. "Because the Eagles LOST!"

Sunday, November 08, 2009


"You are going to wash that temporary tattoo off the back of your hand before altar serving, right?"

No Tacky Bridezillas Here

Last night when I was getting ready to go to sleep, I brushed my teeth and reached for my "days of the week" container to get my asthma medication. I almost opened the box marked "SUNDAY."

Then I realized that this was because of how I spent the day. TheDad and I attended the wedding of one of his younger cousins. The ceremony was beautiful, with carefully-chosen readings and wonderful, reverent music. And the reception, full of family and friends who all noticed how very happy the newly-married couple, along with their parents, were on this very happy day.

I felt like it was Sunday, because I had been to church. This was no "well, we want a church wedding, but we don't really want it to feel like church" kind of wedding. There was no grand-entrance dance down the aisle, like the Youtube video that's been going around. There was a lot of prayer. Make no mistake about it, a sacrament took place yesterday.

Thank you, Mary and Christopher, for your witness at your wedding yesterday. May God richly bless you both.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Flu = Plague, says the principal

Yesterday the following newsletter came home from my younger kids' school:

Today we celebrate and honor St. Charles Borromeo, who lived in Italy during the time of the Protestant Reformation. St. Charles was very instrumental in bringing reform to the church. St. Charles, although born to affluence, became a role model for all. St. Charles was willing to serve others in many ways. One was by administering to those afflicted with the plague in Milan.
The local public school district has invited all students in our school, whether they reside in the district or not, to be included in the distribution of the H1N1 vaccination.

Hello? Did the principal of the school just equate the Swine Flu with the Plague? Way to give in to the panic! Let's scare the parents into making sure our kids get the vaccine. Yeah, that'll work.

There is one good thing about the "pandemic" Swine Flu right now. Many parents are keeping sick kids home (where sick kids belong). At the school library today, some kids announced that a certain child was sick with the Swine Flu. The librarian informed them that yes, the boy was home sick, but we don't know if it's the Swine Flu or not. I decided to seize the moment and informed the first-graders that whatever this child has, he's right to stay home, and that he should eat some chicken soup and have some orange juice so he can get healthy faster. That derailed them into a discussion about healthy things to eat and got them off the topic of who's got what disease.

Speaking of getting derailed...I was saying that parents are keeping kids home who are sick, whether it's the flu or not. And that's the best way to keep everyone else healthy, including your sick child, who's vulnerable to other sick children's different germs if he's in school. That's why Middle Sister was home the past 2 days, though she hasn't had a fever--she's clearly sick, and I don't want her spreading whatever that is to others, or catching what others are spreading around.

And now I have until Monday to decide if I want my children vaccinated for H1N1. Thoughts?

Tie Story

It's all about ties around here, all of a sudden.

TheDad works in a rather casual environment. He's more dressed-up than most when he wears chinos and a golf shirt to work. But today he came downstairs wearing a dress shirt with his chinos and asking if I'd seen his tie. He has several ties, but he really only wears one--so I knew which one he meant.

I told him where it was, then added, "That tie doesn't match with those pants."

"I'll change my pants, then," he replied, and went back upstairs. He really likes that tie!

Meanwhile, Big Brother is getting ready for this weekend's Homecoming Dance. Apparently, if you take a date to the dance, you have to make sure your tie matches her dress. (He already did this once, for Prom.) So his date took a picture of her dress with her cell phone, and he went to Burlington Coat Factory to look for a tie. From there, he took pictures of ties with his cell phone until they found one that would work. And here I thought that guys had it easy when it was time for a school dance. Wear a suit, buy flowers, and you're done. Not anymore! Now you have to have a Matching Tie. I hope he really likes this tie, because it's kind of a waste to buy a tie and wear it once. I haven't seen him put on that prom tie again.

Monday, November 02, 2009

What is Virtue?

Sometimes you just never know where some wisdom is going to pop up.

I've been reading this book, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress. Overall, this book is rather anti-religious, and certainly the author is opposed to many things that I believe in and hold dear. But the book is funny, and I'm inclined to read it until I get to the end--just for the laughs.

Who knew that today I'd run into this bit of truth:

"virtue isn't a condition of character. It's an elected action. It's a choice we keep making, over and over, hoping that someday we'll create a habit so strong it will carry us through our bouts of pettiness and meanness."
(Rhoda Janzen, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress. New York: Henry Holt, 2009, p. 175)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Halloween: the Aftermath

Halloween was a real bust this year. Between the drizzly, rainy weather and the World Series, we had fewer than 40 trick-or-treaters. On a Saturday, no less!

Little Brother got a ton of candy, though. He came home, spilled out his pillowcase and immediately started divvying it up. No one was here to trade with him, so he went straight into donation mode. "Mom, do you like this? Does Big Brother like this? What about Middle Sister?"

I left a bowl on the coffee table labeled "Donations Gratefully Accepted." It's full.

Big Brother is happy that not too many kids came here, because his friends all bailed on the plan to come and trick-or-treat in this neighborhood. He's claiming the leftovers. (Note to Big Brother: the Milky Ways are MINE.)

There were two parents who came to my door in costume and bearing bags of candy. Really? Parents--trick-or-treating? Come on! (Yes, I gave them candy.)

I was not so kind to the three "repeaters" who showed up here. Maybe if they'd left more than a 5-minute interval between visits, I'd have forgotten them and given them a second handful of candy.

And in the middle of the day I ran out to Petsmart to load up on birdseed--it was the last day of a really good sale on the 40-lb bags. Remind me never again to go to Petsmart on Saturday. It was nuts in there. All kinds of pets, and people milling around the deeply-discounted "dog costume" display. Spare me. On my way out of the parking lot, I passed the Halloween store, where a kid walking out of the store with his mom was wearing a t-shirt that said "This IS my costume." I hate that kind of thing; it seems so rude. Guess who showed up at my house a few hours later wanting candy?

Middle Sister went out with friends in a different neighborhood. I think she learned her lesson: many people were clearly home but didn't open the door when they knocked. Next time, her friends can all come here.

Big relief: not too many "out-of-line" costumes this year. Even most of the older girls were dressed "cute" rather than "hooker." I saw a lot of pirates, Star Wars characters and insect (butterfly, ladybug, caterpillar) and The Wizard of Oz was big this year too. In fact, my dentist and her entire office was dressed up in Wizard of Oz costumes. Let me tell you, it's hard to take a dentist seriously when she's dressed as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North.