Saturday, December 31, 2011

Last Week of 2011: Recap

Well, it's been an interesting week.

One week ago today we were loading the car for my husband's Big Family Christmas Eve Celebration and Pierogi Festival.  It was a busy, loud, good day.  I got a kick out of the little kids:  these are the children of the cousins who were little kids when I first met my husband!  Although we don't all get together much, the kids were quite sociable and comfortable around the adults and each other--what a credit to their parents.

My mother-in-law came back here with us after Christmas Eve and spent Christmas with us.  As we have done for the past several years, we spent Christmas at home.  Now that there are teenagers in the house, we let the kids open gifts as they wake up instead of waiting for everyone.  The folk group played at the 11:00 Mass, and we had a FULL choir area.  I don't think we could have fit one more person in there, and the 5 guitars had a lot to do with that.  What a testament to the group, ranging from age 62 to the 5-year-olds who come along with their parents!  We're there because we love what we do.  And on Christmas, everybody sings along.  There's no better way to give God the glory.

After church we came home to prepare dinner and just hang out.  Big Brother's girlfriend came over to have dinner with us.  We had a gift for her, and I had gotten her a funky stocking and put some fun stocking stuffers in with the gift as well.

On Christmas:  The Day After, we dropped off my mother-in-law and then headed to my parents' house.  It was a full house with both my siblings and their families, my parents, my great-aunt, my uncle, one cousin, and one niece's boyfriend.  The day featured lots of presents, lots of laughing, lots of food, and lots of cousins playing card games like "Old Maid," "Go Fish," and "B.S."

Then it was Middle Sister's birthday, a big chunk of which my husband spent in the Verizon store procuring iPhones for me and Middle Sister.  That's a gift neither of us thought we'd ever receive and I've been having some fun with it--though there's plenty still to be learned.  I made her a giant cookie cake AND an apple pie. She spent some time with her friends, and after dinner, our neighbors came over for dessert.

TheDad had been talking all week about going to Pittsburgh; no one knows why he wanted to go to Pittsburgh in December, but he did, so we did.  I refused to leave the house until he'd made a hotel reservation--there was no way I was going to play the "No Room at the Inn" game after driving for 5+ hours. We drove across Pennsylvania, with a detour to Shady Maple Smorgasbord for lunch.  There was all the usual bickering that driving 5+ hours with 3 kids involves.  For a few minutes there I thought there might be bloodshed in the buffet line (thanks, boys...)

TheDad's new GPS totally failed Pittsburgh.  Maybe the highways are just too close together, I don't know, but we were driving on "unnamed roads" a lot of the time, according to TomTom, and spent a good bit of time being told to make a U-turn when we were in a cattleshoot of Jersey barriers on a four-lane highway.

I found a Penzeys Spice Shop 5 blocks from our hotel.  Look at all the cool stuff I got my hands on there!  They had 5 kinds of cinnamon (I restrained myself and only got 3).

We went to a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch and had Pho.  I'm glad I picked up some lemongrass at Penzeys, because I want to learn to make this soup!

We spent the afternoon at the Carnegie Science Center (consensus:  it's cool, but Franklin Institute is way better) and then took a ride up and down the Monongahela Incline.

And bright and early yesterday morning, it was back on the road again to head home.  We were back by 3 and I've got plenty of laundry to keep me busy all day.  Though I love the Hampton Inn's comfortable beds, it was wonderful to be back at home in my own.

I really am a homebody.  It was an enjoyable trip but I do love being in my own home.

We'll ring in the New Year with friends, as usual, at their home.  I look forward to it, except for the staying-up-late part.  I turn into a pumpkin at about 9 PM.

Today, besides laundry, I'll be cooking or baking something to bring along with us tonight--as soon as I figure out what that will be!

Except for that 3-day detour to Pittsburgh, this has been our usual Christmas vacation.  I'm kind of looking forward to Tuesday when they're all back at work or school and the house is quiet once again.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Waiting in the Wings

Today's the day!  Before we leave for the Christmas Eve festivities, Little Brother will place all the figures in the Nativity scene.

Except, of course, for the Three Kings.  Those guys get to hang out behind the stable until Epiphany.

This morning, I unboxed and unwrapped all the figures and lined them up so they're ready to take their places.

The scene is's almost time...places, everyone!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sometimes I feel like Clark W. Griswold

As Christmas gets closer, I look forward to it less. I know that, like Clark, I "set standards that no family activity can live up to."  So by the 23rd of December, I've kind of had enough of it all already.

I'm anticipating what I know will be difficult moments.  I've got 3 days of family festivities coming up:  Christmas Eve with my husband's huge extended family, Christmas Day at home, just us and my mother-in-law, and Christmas:  The Day After with my family in the Great White North.

There will be people with whom I've never really gotten along well, and we'll have to make nice.

There will be people who've hurt me, and I'll have to pretend I've let it go.

There will be people who like to give me "career advice" because my kids are "too old" for me to still stay at home with them.

There will be an extremely shaggy dog that sets off my asthma, and I'll have to be extra careful about that, because I have to sing at church on Christmas Day and I don't want to sound like Bonnie Tyler in "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

It's not going to be a picture-perfect three days by any stretch of the imagination.  To be honest, I'm dreading them.  That shot in the arm of Christmas spirit I got from our Festival of Lessons & Carols?  It's pretty much worn off.  I feel less and less like celebrating, and more and more like I've got to just grit my teeth and get through it.

(It's for the kids, after all.  And I think one of them still believes.)

All of that does nothing to shake that feeling I've got right now, that "we're standing at the threshold of Hell."  The feeling that this one, as bad as I am expecting it to be, is going to be better than the one next year.  It's all downhill from here, for various reasons, and I'm not feeling up for it.

Like Clark, I want it perfect.  It's never going to live up to that dream, and I know it.  Let's face it:  the very first Christmas sure didn't live up to Mary's dreams.  Maybe that's what Christmas is all about...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Still to be done

I'm not done shopping--for my husband's gift, the kids' gifts, and food for Christmas dinner.  Not to mention gifts for Little Brother's teacher and bus driver.

Nothing is wrapped.

I haven't even started baking, and my cookie recipe makes at least 10 dozen and takes at least a full afternoon.

Little Brother has a rehearsal tonight, so it will be another late night (that makes 4 in a row!)

Last night, though, I spent two hours sitting at the front of a church with my guitar, and my son and his bass, and a children's choir that included Little Brother, and various string, woodwind, brass and percussion instruments, and a group of about 30 amazing singers, one extremely talented pianist, and an awesome music director who kept us all together.  We celebrated a "Festival of Lessons and Carols" with beautiful music and nine readings from the Old and New Testaments.

Four hours before the festival began, I still wasn't sure if I could play one of the songs.  It was unbelievably difficult.  I spent part of the morning transposing it.  Then I practiced, and practiced again.

I won't say it was perfect by any means, but I'm happy that I got through it decently enough.  What a challenge!

Last night was a gift.  50 people shared their talents last night--and for many nights before at rehearsals.  Every one of those people could have been doing something else, like Christmas shopping, or homework, or watching football games, or sleeping...but this is what they chose to do.

I suspect that all 50, if asked, would respond the same way I do:  it was definitely worth it.  So worth it.

The rest of it will happen.  If I had it to do over again, I'd put off the shopping and the baking and the housecleaning (who am I kidding--I'm always ready to put off housecleaning).  I'd put it off in a second to be able to be a part of an experience like that.

What a wonderful early Christmas gift.  I am tired, proud, and very grateful.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Enough Garbage Already

In my continuing quest to win the Mother of the Year award, I've been having a bit of a battle of wills with Little Brother.  He's 9 and really feeling his oats these days.  And I've pretty much had it.

He's the one who's home more often than not, so he's the one who gets the chores that fall into the category that a certain camp director I once knew termed "Duties As Assigned."  Basically, that means "do whatever the person in charge asks you to do."  With a shortage of teenagers around here these past few weeks (Middle Sister's been involved in the play at school), the only one around to help with Duties As Assigned is Little Brother.

There has been much moaning, groaning, weeping, wailing, and let's not forget the gnashing of teeth, about how he's expected to do all the chores around here.  Must be why he's so at home in the theatre; he certainly does have a flair for the dramatic.

Last night we were all home for dinner for the first time in several weeks, and we got up from the table and opened up the boxes of Christmas ornaments to decorate the tree.  That done, we remembered that there was still a kitchen to clean up.  TheDad asked all the kids to help me get that done.

Two teenagers headed in and got water running and started emptying clean dishes from the dishwasher.  I handed Little Brother the silverware basket, and he began removing forks and placing them on the still-unwiped table where I'd carved the roast chicken earlier.

That's when it got ugly, so I just sent him to bed, which involved me spending the next half hour repeating, "Good night, Little Brother" until he finally gave up (Curses!  Foiled again by Mom's Broken-Record Parenting Technique.)

After lunch today, I asked Big Brother to please take out the kitchen trash.  He said, "OK" and started to get up.  Little Brother chimed in, "GOOD!  I don't have to do all the chores around here for once."

You know where this is going, right?  Here's what I said next:  "Big Brother, sit down.  Little Brother, please take out the kitchen trash."

That had better be the end of it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Making a List, Praying It Twice

So when you've got a huge list of people who need your prayers how do you handle it?  Do you write them all down so you can remember them?  Do you try to keep track of them all in your head?  Do you make a list on your smartphone?

And is it copping out if you just pray:  "Lord, you know all the people I care about and have promised to keep in my prayers.  You know their needs and their concerns.  Help them to know that you are with them in their struggles, and may your will be done."

That's pretty much where I am right now.  So I hope that will be sufficient, because I am out of words.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent: Sublime, Ridiculous and Sentimental

In honor of Gaudete Sunday, I brought out the Christmas decorations yesterday.  I used only about half of what I usually do, though I will bring other things out of the box if my family asks for them.  (At this point, I'm wondering what decorations are holiday "musts" for them, and which ones can go.)
My collection of handmade Christmas trees surrounds the empty manger.

We've had the Advent wreath and the empty stable out since the first Sunday of Advent.  The trees went up over the weekend.

This is our Advent wreath.  A couple of years ago, my mother-in-law found this wreath among her Christmas decorations.  It's the one they used when my husband and his brother were kids.  We'll use it until those plastic greens fall apart (each year we lose a little more of it.)

That's really what Christmas decorations are all about--the sentimental value (like each and every tree pictured with my manger).  My most precious Christmas ornaments are not the pricey Belleek ball or the Lenox "baby's first Christmas" giraffe.  The ones I treasure most are the popsicle-stick picture frames with my Big Kids' pre-K pictures in them.  The kids' favorites are the ceramic pierogi and the penguins, and they fight to see whose penguin can claim the highest spot on the tree.  It wouldn't be Christmas decorating without that battle, which is why our tree did not go up on "Pink Candle Sunday" this year.  Big Brother will be home by the weekend, and we'll get it done then.

Here's one item that's not going to last beyond this holiday season:  Snowman In a Bowl.

Little Brother picked this up at Lunch with Santa on Saturday.  It's a substance with the consistency of egg white.  You pour it out of the little snowman jar.  Eyes and nose come out of the jar too.  The jar lid is the little hat, which you then pop into the bowl.  12 hours after opening this, it's still jiggly and viscuous.  I'm glad I gave him a dollar-store bowl that I don't mind sacrificing, because I do not know what is IN this stuff, but it's pretty disgusting, especially when Little Brother constantly picks up and relocates the hat.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

From the Department of "How Did THAT Get There?"

Things found on the living-room corner hutch while decorating for Christmas:

--one giant oak leaf, almost too big to fit in a Ziplock gallon-size bag
--two complete decks of cards
--the three of hearts from a third deck of cards
--one guitar pick
--six pieces of Lego U-Build Battleship
--one sea shell (clam)
--one nonfunctional laptop battery
--two Cub Scout awards
--one penny
--one "little black book" of Lent reflections
--one big black patch with a white star and Indian chief pictured on it (I'm guessing this belongs to one of my Scouts?)
--one video camera
--program from MAME
--Middle Sister's certificate from her school's fall Honors Assembly
--one blue plastic frog
--and a black-and-white plastic chicken foot, broken off some long-tossed action figure.

This is, of course, in addition to all the stuff that's supposed to be on those shelves:  photos of all the cousins, our framed wedding invitation, and a statue of St. Joseph.  That cabinet is my living room's very own, very dusty Black Hole.

Peace and All Good

It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work.
It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.

What an appropriate reflection for this very busy time of year.
Thanks, Dawn!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Spelling Errors

Little Brother sorted through the mail after school yesterday and found some Christmas cards to open.  After I reminded him to save the envelopes for me so I can check return addresses and remove the cancelled stamps for the mission collection, he got busy opening the cards and inspecting the photos he found inside.

But since he wasn't just shredding the envelopes like he usually does when he opens mail, he took a few seconds to notice the names and addresses.

"Mom, guess what?  On both of these cards, our last name is spelled right!"

When you've got a last name like ours, that's a pretty tall order.

I mentioned on Facebook that Little Brother is proofreading all incoming Christmas cards.  That got some interesting reactions, ranging from suggestions that people sending cards to my house should write illegibly to disguise the errors, to the declaration from my sister that she'll spell it her way no matter what.  She's been spelling it consistently WRONG for almost 21 years, being a little extra generous with Z's in an already consonant-heavy name.

One of my aunts, a first-grade teacher, remarked that Little Brother should keep a list of the people who've spelled it right so he can give them a special sticker as a reward.

That brought me right back to the days when I was teaching first-grade Spanish, before Little Brother was born.  Each teacher in that school, no matter what the subject, was to make and use a bar graph that could be regularly updated in the classroom:  quite a tall order for a traveling teacher who had only 35 minutes per group as it was.  I wound up asking the kids to bring in those stickers off the bananas that showed the bananas' country of origin.  We would paste them onto a big poster that I hung on my travel cart.  Every time we got a new sticker, we'd count the number of stickers each country had (it was a good year for Honduras, if I recall correctly.)

It's really tempting to make a similar chart with all the variations on our name...I won't, but it's tempting.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Do Your Best

Twice now, in the past couple of days, the issue of how to properly pray the Liturgy of the Hours has come up.

As a Secular Franciscan, I am committed to praying the Liturgy of the Hours, in union with the Church.  I generally don't get beyond Morning and Evening Prayer, but the expectation of us in this Order is that we pray at least those Hours, whether in common or in private.  Now that my fraternity meets during the day, we have begun praying Midafternoon Prayer at our meetings.

We don't all, however, have the same breviary.  Most of us have the one-volume "Christian Prayer" version, but a few use the four-volume set.  I used to type out the prayer for that day's meeting, but it would change with the week and with the season and that got to be a huge time sink, not to mention the use of ink and paper for 15 copies--so now we just muddle through together, with all the "what page is it on?" and other general fumbling that goes along with it.

We've discovered recently, though, that the folks with the four-volume set expect that the antiphon will be repeated after each psalm or canticle, before moving on to the next.  In the single-volume format, it's not indicated anywhere that this should be done.  This has gotten us into a few liturgical traffic jams recently.

I brought up the issue at our November council meeting, and together we worked out a plan.  Before beginning prayer at the December meeting, we would introduce the idea of the repeated antiphon to everyone--and one of the owners of the 4-volume Breviary would be the antiphonarian.  While we were at it, we worked out solutions to a couple of other technical difficulties that other council members had noticed.  It was all good.

At the council meeting on Tuesday, I reviewed the plan.  We had a few members sitting in at the council meeting, because we had been working on a project before that.  The council did not mind having a more "public" meeting this time; it wasn't like anything sensitive was going to come up.  Most of the members just listened and let us do what we had to do, until we got on the subject of Liturgy of the Hours.

At that point, someone commented, "I don't think God cares very much exactly HOW we do it, as long as we do it."

Well, yes.  And no.

Daria Sockey wrote, yesterday, about the challenge of fitting in the Hours when you have a busy family, a demanding job, or nowhere quiet to pray (or all of the above!)  She quoted G.K. Chesterton:  "A thing that is really worth doing is worth doing badly."

Badly when that's the best we can do?  I can live with that.  I do live with that.  I'm sometimes praying with the theme song from Phineas and Ferb as my background music; other times, I've got Little Brother in my face even though I try to gently remind him that I'm saying my prayers now.  A home with a family in it is not often a quiet refuge for prayer.

But when we can do better, we should.  I think that we should give God the best we've got.  If the best we've got is interrupting kids, then we offer that.  On the other hand, if we are together in fraternity, in a nice quiet location, and capable of making a little extra effort to ensure that we are all united in prayer, we can go that extra mile.

Repeating the antiphon is a little thing--there's no doubt about it.  But it's those little things, those little efforts and sacrifices, that can bring us closer to God, a little at a time.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Not What I Had in Mind

Little Brother just came downstairs wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

"It's not THAT warm," I told him.  We were preparing to leave the house for an errand, or it wouldn't really have mattered.

"OK then, I'll put some gloves on," he answered, pulling on his favorite pair of "hobo" gloves (the fingerless kind).

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

And Now, for a Limited Time Only

The kids are getting older.  (I'm getting older.  According to Little Brother, I'm only 7 1/2 short years away from "old.")  And while I've never really been the nostalgic or sentimental type--leaving that job to my husband, who's way better at that kind of stuff than I am--nostalgia has been creeping up on me lately, whether I want it around or not.

Little Brother will turn 10 this March.  By then, Big Brother will be 20 and Middle Sister 16.


My kids are growing up on me, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

Really, I love being a parent of older kids.  They're toilet-trained, literate, and can make their own toast.  2 out of 3 of them don't need a babysitter anymore.  I love watching my kids try something new, work hard at it, pick themselves up when they fall on their faces, and succeed in amazing ways.  I endured their toddler years to get to this point.

But I'm not ready to give up all of it.  I'm glad that Little Brother is still excited that St. Nicholas would leave some treats in his shoe last night.  He was thrilled to receive a ticket to "Lunch with Santa" from a dear friend. He's worrying that Santa won't be able to get down our chimney (maybe I shouldn't have let him listen to a certain rather macabre holiday tune).  I'm not ready for the time when someone has to burst his bubble.

Again and again I am reminded that my kids are kids for a limited time only.  If I'm not careful I will turn into one of those "older people" who smiles at the moms struggling with toddler meltdowns in the middle of ShopRite and says, "Before you know it, they will be all grown up.  Enjoy this!"  (I really hated those people, by the way.)

I had to request Big Brother's medical records from the pediatrician.  He's too old for examining rooms that feature Scooby-Doo and Disney princesses.  We've been with this same pediatrician's office for almost 20 years--all of Big Brother's life--and we've only got 10 years more to go with them.

I am 2/3 finished with this portion of our program, folks.  In 10 years, Little Brother will be off to college and done with the pediatrician--though with luck, he'll still have a soft spot in his heart for Scooby-Doo.  10 years is not that long.

These are the years in which I finish making the switch from "hands-on" parenting to "step away from the helicopter" parenting.  I have to deliberately hold back, let them make mistakes, offer (unwanted) advice, drive them places, shell out cash, drive them other places, refuse to let them go to some places, and have a hot meal ready for them when they're ready for the hot meal.

In return, I get to see them make the honor roll (2 of them), win awards for hard work at soccer (2 of them), competently and confidently pull off complicated Propsmistress tasks, rehearse for musicals, and score interviews for paid summer internships.  (That interview is today.  Prayers would be appreciated.)  All that has happened in the past 3 weeks.

Those have been good weeks.

Here's to the next 10 years.

Monday, December 05, 2011

How Dry I Am

One of the best ways I get a laugh is being around my kids.  It cracks me up when they use an expression completely innocently--but you can so easily take it another way.

Yesterday Little Brother sat next to me during Mass.  After Communion, which we receive under both species, he returned to his seat and whispered, "That wine really hit the spot!"  I just stared at him, wondering how much of it he drank...and he continued, "I haven't had a drink all day!"

After that, there was no keeping my composure, regardless of the inappropriateness of giggling during prayer-after-Communion time.

The Pot Calls the Kettle Black

Middle Sister missed the bus (again) this morning.  As she opened the door of the van to load her stuff in, a video-game cartridge fell out.

"Little Brother doesn't take care of his things," she complained as she threw her backpack onto the back seat, followed by her laptop and enormous sports duffel.

I just looked at her and then at her pile of stuff.

"What?  The IT people test those laptops by throwing them down the stairs!  I think it can handle my 2-pound sports bag."

(She underestimates the weight of this sports bag by a factor of 10.)

"I don't think they actually throw the computers down the stairs," I replied.

"Yes, they do!  My freshman English teacher told us that," she informed me.

"I have a hard time picturing the members of the Technology Department tossing laptops down the stairs," I commented.

"And the keyboards are supposed to be spillproof too!  I kinda want to test that..."

Sunday, December 04, 2011

A Christmas Rhapsody

Because music touches you in a way nothing else can.

Because Christmas is coming.

Because classic rock is...classic.

Don't miss Bethlehemian Rhapsody!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Not a Musical Genius

One thing I enjoy about having an iPod is the "genius" feature in iTunes.  I can pick a song I like, click the Genius button, and immediately a playlist will be generated from the other songs in my library.  It works great--most of the time.

It does not work with Christmas music.

I wanted some background music when I was baking the gingerbread cookies just now.  Some will go to a bake sale tonight, others to a care package for Big Brother, and whatever's left after that will get eaten here.  I made 9 dozen cookies today, so there's enough to go around.

So I cued up Taylor Swift's "Silent Night, Holy Night" and told the Genius to do its thing.  It went from the sublime to the ridiculous.  The second tune was Rascal Flatt's "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," which was very nice.  And then the third tune was "Who's Your Daddy" by Toby Keith.

I don't think that one quite fits the Christmas theme.

I won't be leaving my Christmas music to the Geniuses anymore.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Read While You Eat

Little Brother on "Dress Like a Cow Day" 2010
My mom just called to tell me a story she heard from my great-uncle when she visited him earlier today.  During World War II, Uncle Leo was in the service (I guess the Army; the family just refers to it as "the service.")  I knew he'd been stationed in Japan, because he used to sing us songs in Japanese that he'd learned during the war.

"Did you know," she asked me, "that Leo was stationed in Atlanta during part of the war?  And when he was there, he worked with a man named Truett Cathy.  He even sent Leo one of the books he wrote."

The name sounded familiar, but I couldn't think of the titles of any of his books.

Mom told me that Uncle Leo and Mr. Cathy had stayed in occasional touch over the years, through phone calls or letters.  Then she mentioned the reason the name sounded familiar:  he's the founder of Chick-Fil-A.

We're big fans of Chick-Fil-A.  Good food, great service, unfailingly polite staff, impeccably clean restaurants, and a business that's not afraid to close on Sunday--those things impress me.

When I got off the phone, I was telling my husband about how my uncle knew this man.  As soon as I said the name, Little Brother piped up from the other room, "The guy who invented Chick-Fil-A?"

TheDad turned around and stared at Little Brother.  "How did you know that?"

"They have a whole wall about him in Chick-Fil-A," Little Brother responded.  And apparently he's read the whole thing.

Mending the Mug

Middle Sister is burning the candle at so many ends right now; I'm just hoping she makes it through the week.  This semester she has a demanding course load:  Honors English, US History, Geometry and Studio Art.  Winter track just started for the season (she's hurdling this year).  And tonight is the opening of her school's fall play:  "The Odd Couple."  She's the Prop Mistress.

That's a big job in a play with a small ensemble but a huge props list.  Last week she exported two cases of soda and an entire Rubbermaid bin out of my basement.  I have no idea what she took from the house, other than a few crystal wineglasses that originally belonged to my mother-in-law.  The other day she texted me at lunchtime and asked me to drop off more soda and a tablecloth, and yesterday she took one of my crockpots to school.  (It should be interesting to see how much of my stuff comes back.)

She's been putting in 13-hour days all week, and for the past two days I've been dropping off "meals on wheels" at dinnertime.  She could walk to Wendy's, but I really don't mind bringing a healthier dinner over to her, and frankly, I'm a little flattered that she asked me to do this.  Yup, it was her idea.  How do you say no to a kid who is clearly missing homemade dinner?

Last night when she came home after her long day, she had a cup of something in her hand.  I was in the middle of folk-group practice (we rehearse in my living room so the kids can play), so I didn't pay much attention until she rummaged around in a drawer and retrieved a hot-glue gun, then dumped out a pile of ceramic shards from a coffee mug on my dining room table.  The mug was a prop.  It had been broken, and she was going to fix it.  It's not like they needed this mug, but she needed to fix it.

She spent an hour she could ill afford, trying to glue that mug back together.  People were asking her why she bothered, because it wasn't a necessary item--there are always so many coffee mugs around.  And she really couldn't answer.

I completely got it, though.  She was mending the mug because she needed a mental break from all the other stuff she's juggling right now.  Yes, it required concentration, but it was a completely different kind of task from vocab homework, history assignments, hurdling and prophunting.

When I was in grad school, I started doing the same thing.  Full-time graduate students tend to be very single-minded.  They focus on their studies 24/7.  I can't do that without losing my mind completely, which is why I took my master's degree and left, abandoning all hope of becoming a college professor.  I don't love anything enough to study it 24/7.  I took forced breaks from literature by joining the RCIA program as a sponsor for a fellow student, and by joining the folk group that played at 3 Masses a week.  People wanted to know why I'd spend time doing that instead of in the library; it was precisely because it wasn't the library.

Now I deal with stress by baking.  Whatever works, right?

She wasn't able to repair the mug; there were too many missing pieces.  But I think that hour she spent puzzling it back together, glue gun in hand, was not a wasted hour.  And I'm glad to know that she--however unconsciously--recognizes and gives in to the need for balance in her life.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


This is from 2006.  No paper chain anymore!
It's time to get's Advent.

This weekend, my folk group was off duty, and my family attended Mass at the school parish. Father began the homily by confiding that he really wished that if Christ were to return during his lifetime, that He would find Father serving the poor or visiting the sick or celebrating Mass with due reverence--but he really fears that Christ would instead find him in the middle of a traffic jam.

It was a good point. Do we live our lives by making an effort to do our best wherever we are? Even in traffic?

Although I had time today to get my house ready for Advent, I don't feel ready. The wreath is on the table, and we lit the candle before dinner. The empty manger is in the place of honor in the living room, all by itself except for the stained-glass picture my dad recently made me (I need to find a good place to display that.)

The Big Kids helped TheDad put up the Christmas lights, which I could have waited for, but we had to take advantage of the fabulous weather today. I am calling it "no jacket November."

The house is ready for Advent, but the mom is not. I have been busy getting ready for the Festival of Lessons and Carols, and taking Little Brother to rehearsals so he can get ready to perform in Pippin. I haven't done any thinking whatsoever about getting ready for Christmas, which is pretty much fine with me.  I'm sure it wouldn't be fine with the kids, the cousins, or the grandparents, however.  And sooner or later people around here will want the tree up, even through I am lobbying to postpone that activity.  Usually we do the tree on Gaudete Sunday ("Pink candle Sunday") but since Big Brother will return from college on the 16th, and there is a full 4th week of Advent this year, I'd like to do the tree after he gets back.  It's more fun to have all the kids there, fighting over whose ornament gets the tippy-top of the tree and who gets to hang the ceramic pierogi.

For the moment, I'm unprepared.  I'll get there, though.  Wouldn't want Jesus to catch me while I'm sitting in traffic.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Thankful Day

I'm thankful for a happy and healthy family, for a sister who cooks an amazing Thanksgiving dinner, for a niece whose apple pie is beyond compare, for friendship, and for the full tank of gas that will get us to northwestern NJ and back today.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Not in My House

I love the Zits comic and read it every day.  Creators Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman really have a handle on what it's like to live with teenagers.

They got it wrong today, though.  Around here, Middle Sister is the one most likely to eat the leftovers.

For breakfast.

Even when those leftovers are Beef Enchiladas.  Especially when those leftovers are Beef Enchiladas.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Big Switch

One of the occupational hazards of being a musician at the last Mass in the building on a Sunday is that, every feast of Christ the King, you are enlisted to help switch out the hymnals.  Our hymnals don't contain the extra "daily Mass" sections anyway, so they get this job done on Sunday after the noon Mass when there's a captive audience of musicians and their kids to help with the job (not to mention the deacon's teenage grandson!)

A couple of people wanted to take home a copy of the old hymnal.  That's never a problem, as they're just going to be recycled anyway.  But I observed to a friend, after someone asked us if they could take an old book home, that these hymnals are even more out of date than the hymnal usually is, come Christ the King Sunday.

Our parish has done a commendable job of preparing everyone for the Big Switch, and I don't mean the new hymnals:  the change to the new translation of the Roman Missal.  Once a month, the priests would devote the homily to this topic.  Several workshops were open to the entire parish to explain the translation in detail, review the Scriptural connections, and go over what we can expect beginning next Sunday.

Before Mass yesterday, instead of singing a prelude, we reviewed the new Creed with the assembly.  My observation was that people were good sports about giving it a chance, and there wasn't even any audible stumbling over "consubstantial."

My only issue with the whole thing is a musical one.  Many changes have taken place in the words to the sung acclamations.  Some phrases are added, some subtracted; with the exception of the Great Amen and the Lamb of God, the acclamations needed to be rewritten to accommodate those changes.  I'm only familiar with two settings for the new Mass, and while Mass of God's Promise was done quite well, the retrofit didn't work as nicely with Heritage Mass.  Guess which one we're currently using at our parish?  Sigh...

The folk group I sing with is really going to miss the acclamation that the teenagers in the group call "The Happy Gloria"--the one by the St. Louis Jesuits.  Last I checked, this was not on the slate to be redone in the new form.  It's not our pastor's favorite, because it takes so long to sing, but it really is a happy Gloria.  We just can't help but sing it like we mean it--and isn't that the point of the Gloria, after all?  There have been many times, after singing the last notes of that acclamation, that we musicians have met each others' eyes and just known that we're all thinking the same thing:  we have BEEN TO CHURCH.  We have WORSHIPED.

So I really hope they fix that one, because we haven't found another Gloria that moves us to sing with such gusto that we don't have much voice left for the Responsorial Psalm.

Next weekend, we'll have to pay extra attention.  Musicians, especially, since some of our usual verbal cues might be different.  That's a good thing, though.  Every once in a while, you need to get off auto-pilot and pay attention.  Everyone will have to pay attention, and, for a time, read along.  It'll take time, but we'll get there.  Musically, too.  But most of all, I'll miss that Happy Gloria.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Are the Stars Out Tonight?

So my husband and I went over to the Boy Scout Spaghetti Dinner in 2 separate cars because the Cub Scouts are planning to leave right after spaghetti for an astronomy field trip.

I'd been gone all day, so at dinner, my husband (Mr. Cubmaster) gave me the scoop on the plans for the evening.

"After dinner I'm going over to where they're meeting and I'll make sure everyone has directions and see them off.  Then I'm going to come back here and hang out with the Boy Scout leaders.  Little Brother will be with me because he wants to help with the dinner."  (Translation:  Little Brother wants to hang out with the Big Boys.  And they put up with him, so it's all good.  And sometimes he actually helps, a little.)

So I ate my dinner and enjoyed the '80s music provided by the Troop's own DJs, the Clubmasters.  (Nice job, guys.  I particularly enjoyed "Addicted to Love," for the record.)

I asked my husband, the meteorologist, if this trip was even going to happen.

"It's cloudy," he said.  "There won't be anything to see.  Even if they go, I'm not going."

"What if Little Brother wants to go?"

"I'm not going.  After they all leave, I'll bring Little Brother back here."

OK.  Middle Sister and I finished our food; she visited with her friends among the Scouts and we left.  I wasn't expecting them back for about another hour anyway--and then my cell phone buzzed to signal a new text.

"We're in the middle of nowhere."

Yup.  They went.  Should be interesting to hear all about how that went down.

An Island Never Cries

When I first heard Simon & Garfunkel's "I Am a Rock" I felt an instant connection.  That's me!

A winter's day 
In a deep and dark December; 
I am alone, 
Gazing from my window to the streets below 
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow. 
I am a rock, 
I am an island. 

I've built walls, 
A fortress deep and mighty, 
That none may penetrate. 
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain. 
Its laughter and its loving I disdain. 
I am a rock, 
I am an island. 
[ Lyrics from: ] 

I have my books 
And my poetry to protect me; 
I am shielded in my armor, 
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb. 
I touch no one and no one touches me. 
I am a rock, 
I am an island. 

And a rock feels no pain; 
And an island never cries.

Well, except for the poetry part (I prefer fiction, thankyouverymuch.  Failing that, a good cookbook will do.)

Sometimes, though, I find a few chinks in my emotional armor.  Today, I am not a rock.  Or an island.  And there is no perfectly good explanation for that.  I want to be in control of my emotions--and I pretty much knew, the second I woke up today, that such control is beyond my abilities today.

Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury of staying home and sipping tea and finishing the last book in the Hunger Games trilogy today.  It's going to take every ounce of strength I have--plus plenty of strength I do not have--to keep it together today.

It's easier, sometimes, to be an island.  But when you can't, make sure you bring along plenty of tissues.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Things Parents Say

...and an indication that Standards Are Slipping around here:

"When you eat a Hot Pocket in the bathroom, please clean up what you drop on the floor."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Prepositional FAIL

Little Brother misses his brother.  (We all do, really.)  And he doesn't understand that Big Brother gets more nocturnal with each passing year, so when we do get to see Big Brother, he spends half the day sleeping and half the night wide awake while most of the rest of us are sleeping.  Except for Middle Sister, who can be semi-nocturnal when she needs to, being a teenager and all.

The other day, Little Brother was complaining about this.  He said, "I hope that next time Big Brother comes home, he spends more time playing with me, instead of just sleeping around all the time."

The kid had no idea why I nearly drove off the road after he said that.  Bad choice of words, Little Brother.  But it did give me a good laugh.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

In Harmony

(I'm in this picture, but I'm not telling where.)
One of my favorite activities in high school was the choir.  We were probably about 60 strong--that's half the school!  I loved the chance to sing in harmony.

We only had 3-part harmony (soprano, second soprano, alto) since my high school was not coed.  I was a second soprano, but over the years I've migrated to alto.  (And I'm not above throwing in a tenor or baritone part now and again, just for the fun of it.)  I do not harbor any illusions of having a solo-quality voice, but I do just fine in a group and I can sustain a harmony line without being near anyone else who's singing that same part.

Right now, I'm thoroughly enjoying a chance to stretch my musical muscles.  Over at the school parish, preparations are under way for a Festival of Lessons and Carols, scheduled for the Tuesday before Christmas. It's a mixed group in many ways.  First of all, we've got soprano, alto, tenor and bass--and a children's chorus.  WOW!  It's amazing to be part of creating that wonderful sound.  We're coming from at least 4 different parishes and at least as many different choirs/ensembles.  There are kids (as young as second grade), teens, college students, young adults, parents with kids of all ages, and empty-nesters.  

Soon, we're bringing in the musical instruments!  And we all come together to make music.
Christmas music is wonderful, and there is a huge repertoire of beautiful Christmas music out there.  As a musician at church, though, I'm pretty much limited to standard carols.  And that's fine--people attending Mass during the Christmas season expect, and should find, those old familiar carols.  It makes things easy when people visit from other parishes, other traditions, or just haven't been to church in a while.  When we play and sing at Mass, we're there to lead people in prayer through song, not to perform for them.

This Festival of Lessons and Carols is a combination of Scripture readings and beautiful music, most of which is not your standard carol.  It's a performance, but don't think for a moment that it is not also worship.
Last year Big Brother played bass at this Festival.  The rest of us came along to be part of the audience.  I loved it and was thrilled to be asked to take part this year (along with Little Brother and Big Brother, who will participate again).

That whole "singing is praying twice" thing?  For me, it's completely true.

I love that we pray before we rehearse, thanking God for the gift of music, for the opportunity to share that gift and to give God honor and glory by using that gift.  (That's the gist of the prayer; the music director does a better job phrasing it than I just did).

And I love being a small part of this large group.  Some people in the group are like me, with ordinary musical skills.  Others are incredibly gifted.  When I sing with them, I am challenged beyond what I think I am capable of doing.

Great joy!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

High Anxiety

Remember that prayer that was on all those posters in the 70s: "Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen today that you and I together can't handle"?

I've been letting anxiety get the better of me a little (a lot?) more than usual recently. And really, this has got to stop. When I was talking about this with a good friend, she mentioned that, lately, she has been making an effort to pray when anxiety starts to overcome her. She asks God to help her hand over the situation, to guide her words and actions.

Good advice.

But I don't want to pray that prayer from the 70s posters. To be honest, I find that prayer a little arrogant. 

As Father Cavanagh says in the movie Rudy, "I have come up with only two hard incontrovertible facts: there is a God, and I'm not him."

Better to pray that God will guide me through a situation. I prefer this prayer, attributed to Father Mychal Judge, OFM, who perished in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center:
Lord, take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet who you want me to meet;
Tell me what you want me to say, and
Keep me out of your way.

There's only one thing I may need to add to that: "Keep my foot out of my mouth."


Thursday, November 03, 2011

For All the Saints, For All the Moms

In a month that begins with the celebration of All Saints, what better time to begin learning about the Saints of our Church?  And what better place to start than A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms by Lisa Hendey?

Subtitled "52 Companions for Your Heart, Mind, Body and Soul," this book is packed full of encouragement, challenges, and reflections about saints who can be especially inspiring to moms.

As soon as I received this book, I immediately opened it to the table of contents to see who's in there!  I had to check for my favorites, of course, and they were there in abundance:  Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi, Saint Martha of Bethany, Saint Anthony of Padua, and more.  But there were plenty of other saints with whom I'm much less familiar, such as Saint Sebastian, Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, and Saint Josephine Bakhita.

This book is bigger than I expected, with each chapter composed of a short biography of the saint, lessons from the saint's life and/or writings, traditions of the saint's feast day celebration, a quote from the saint, Scripture passages and reflections--one for each day for a week, activities for moms to complete on their own and with their children, a family prayer and thoughts to ponder.  That's a lot of inspiration packed into just over 300 pages!

This is not a book that you have to begin at chapter 1 and work your way through.  You can choose to read and reflect on the life of a saint that relates to a particular challenge you're having at the time.  That's easy to do, because the table of contents shows not only the saint's name, but a virtue for which the saint is well-known.

A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms isn't going to lose its place on my bedside table anytime soon; it's a devotional that will serve as inspiration for a long time to come.

I wrote this review of A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods. For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases.

A review copy of the book was provided to me. I did not receive other compensation for this review.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Kitchen Conversation

Little Brother's been on a rye-toast kick for breakfast these days.  Specifically Jewish rye, with seeds.

This morning when I was getting breakfasts and lunches going, I asked him if he wanted toast.  When the answer was yes, I said, "Regular, or Jewish?"

That's when the questions started.  (Not like I could answer them...)

"Why do they call it 'Jewish'?"  Aren't Jewish people from Israel?  Was it always called Israel?  What was it called before it was called Israel?"

And then we moved on to...

"Is Galilee a country?"  (No, it's a small town.)  "Is the manger where Jesus was born still there?"  (Well, they THINK they know where that is, but they can't be totally sure because it's not like Mary and Joseph made a big sign for it when they were running away from King Herod who wanted to kill Jesus:  "The Son of God was born here.")

"It should be easy to find." (No, there were lots of barns with mangers around Bethlehem.)

"Barns with mangers and a cow and a sheep and a pig?"  (No pig.)

"Why not?"  (Jewish people don't eat pigs.)

"Why not?  Are they afraid they're going to get gout?"


Friday, October 21, 2011

This, That and the Other Thing

This morning when I went outside to grab the newspaper, I could see the morning star.  Had to rush in and get Little Brother away from his breakfast so he could see it too.  (He thought it was worth it.)

Speaking of breakfast, Little Brother is a major-league toast eater.  He'll go through 6 to 8 slices each morning.  But that wasn't enough to get him through until snack time.  Now I serve him 1/2 cup of vanilla yogurt before the toast.  For snack, he has fruit and a string cheese.  He says mornings are much better now.

I am doing my best to resist the open bag of candy corn that's sitting in my kitchen.  But I've got some Count Chocula in the kids had never eaten it before so I just HAD to get a box.

Generally I am not a flavored-coffee person.  But I highly recommend Godiva Coffee's Pumpkin Spice.  It pairs equally well with candy corn AND Count Chocula.  Note to self:  go back to Wegman's and get another bag of this coffee before it disappears!

Looking forward to tonight's activities.  I schlep the kids around a lot to things they do.  But tonight's event is really for me.  It's the first rehearsal for the Festival of Lessons and Carols in the parish where Little Brother attends school.   Little Brother will be in the children's chorus, and Big Brother will play various musical instruments.  I'll be singing and playing guitar.  I have no illusions of having the kind of musical ability that many of the other singers/musicians possess.  This is an amazingly talented bunch of people!  But I find that I sing and play better when I'm challenged by being among musicians who are better than me.  Time to stretch!

I don't get to bring my guitar tonight, though.  It's just a vocal rehearsal for the first day, which kind of freaks me out because my guitar is definitely my security blanket.  It's hard for me to sing when I don't have something for my hands to do.

I'm still hoping against hope that I find the earring I lost the other day.  It's not a valuable or expensive earring, but it was a really cute pair of earrings and I liked them a lot.  I should have an earring more than 8 days before I lose it, I think.

Last night I took Middle Sister shopping.  She had a really weird shopping list:  shoes for the Homecoming dance and a blanket sleeper (known in this house as a "woobie.")  The sleeper is for her Halloween costume.  The last time I saw her wear one of those, she was 4!  After trying on a lot of shoes with insanely high heels, platforms, sparkles and the whole nine yards, she settled on a beautiful and feminine pair of black silk pumps.  Grown-up shoes and little-kid pajamas, all in the same shopping trip.  I guess that's life with a teenager.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Advanced Math

Math has never been my strong point.  I managed to get through college by fulfilling my math requirement with "Introduction to BASIC."  And I always send the kids to TheDad when they need help with math homework.  He had several semesters of calculus, so he's way above my pay grade in math.

But math has been plaguing me all day today.  First, I got an email from my New York Cousin, who wanted to know how many servings one of my favorite potluck recipes (Dr. Pepper Baked Beans) would make.

That became a word problem:  How many 1/2-cup side-dish servings do you get from a dish that fills about 3/4 of a 4-quart cooker?

For the record, I'm guessing 20 to 25.

Figuring all that out was a lot easier than helping Little Brother with his math homework this afternoon.  Unlike me, he has always been good at math (he gets it from TheDad).  I don't know if the school changed its math curriculum this year or what, but suddenly he's having a really hard time figuring out what to do with the homework problems.  "I don't get how to do this," is a daily refrain around here.  He used to whiz through his math homework, and before this year, my biggest concern was getting him to slow down enough to write the numbers legibly.

I'm not very good at helping him with the homework, either.  I can add, subtract, multiply and divide.  I can even manage fractions and decimals, usually.  But they're asking the kids to do things in strange ways.  I can find the answer, but not using their method.  It's strictly "Old Math" for me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Eyes Have It

...and it's pink.

No, not breast-cancer-awareness pink (ironic when you consider that Susan G. Komen foundation funnels money to Planned Parenthood--and their contraception and abortion industry is linked to higher rates of breast cancer).

Just plain old pink.  As in pink-eye.

Don't worry; I'm not contagious.  I am 100% certain that this is an allergic reaction.  Unfortunately, I am 0% sure of the cause.

Yesterday I went to my Secular Franciscan meeting about an hour early so I could catalog some new books for the fraternity's library.  When I opened up the meeting room, I could smell something--kind of perfumey, but nothing I could put my finger on.  Being asthmatic, I made sure I had my inhaler and worried that as I spent the next few hours in the room, I might need to use it.  Then, after looking for candles and plug-in air fresheners and other likely suspects and finding nothing, I opened the 2 small windows that could be opened and got to work.

Within the hour my nose started running.  At least that symptom is manageable.  Partway through the meeting, my eyes started itching.  By the time I locked up the room after the last person left, I looked like I'd spent the entire afternoon crying.

I knew I needed Benadryl, but I had to take Little Brother to a track-and-field awards ceremony last night and was afraid to take Benadryl before driving somewhere, so I toughed it out until I got home.  It didn't do much good; this morning, my eyes are still red and swollen and painful.

It'll pass.  It's an inconvenience and big discomfort, but it'll pass.  What I really want to know is:  what was in that room that caused this?

Monday, October 17, 2011


Fall is my favorite season.  I love the colors at this time of year!  So I loved the "Real Life Adventures" comic in this morning's paper.
image credit
Normally, this is not one of my favorite comic strips.  Dads/husbands are usually portrayed as idiotic buffoons.  Maybe that's why I loved today's strip even more!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Reelin' In the Years

Middle Sister had four of her friends here earlier, and they were all lining up to primp in front of the bathroom mirror before I drove them to the football game.  As she left the room, one of them asked, "Is there a guitar pick in your bathroom?"

She never asked about the Army Guy, who stands only about an inch away from the guitar pick.  He's been guarding the bathroom for at least 3 years now--possibly more.  It's been so long that he's part of the landscape, and when I clean the bathroom I just put him back on the counter, in the same place he was before.

Sure, it would be easy enough to carry the Army Guy over to Little Brother's room.  It's only across the hall.  For that matter, I could just toss the Army Guy in the trash can.  Earlier this week, I cleaned out the family-room closet and toy box, and boxed up all the Army Guys along with the other stuff Little Brother no longer uses.  My guess is, he'll never notice it's gone.  After a suitable interval, I will donate the usable toys to our school's pre-K or Goodwill.  (Tuesday's good.)

I can't get rid of everything, though.  When I pulled the battered copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar off the bookshelf, there was no way I was putting that into the donation box.  The same goes for the entire "Little Critter" series (Middle Sister was a big fan) and The Little Engine That Could, which we memorized during Big Brother's childhood and hid during Little Brother's.  We just couldn't go down that road (track) again.

Some people have scrapbooks, all beautifully decorated and labeled, full of photos of their kids.  I've got their entire libraries, as well as a few Army Guys, Matchbox cars, and an American Girl doll.

"The things you think are useless I can't understand..."

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Disorganized Student

I was very happy to see that the fourth-graders were required to have "trapper" binders, loose leaf paper, and pocket folders this year. Little Brother has a good handle on academics but not on organization.  In his school, the fourth- and fifth-graders share two teachers for the major subjects, so there is some traveling between classrooms and getting used to two different sets of expectations.  It's a good way to ease the kids into the middle-school mode.

I figured that since his teachers asked for a particular type of binder, they'd be devoting some time, early in the school year, to good use of this organizational tool.

And week after week, I'd see him come home with all kinds of loose papers stuffed into one of the pockets inside his binder, which also contained his homework planner, pencil case, 200 sheets of looseleaf, 5 dividers, and 3 pocket folders.  The looseleaf?  Unused.  Dividers?  Divided nothing.  Pocket folders?  Empty, except for one which had a paper from Spanish class inside it.  Other Spanish papers were stuffed into that same pocket that held Scholastic book order forms, tests I'd signed, and a homework project due September 27--completed, but never handed in.

One month into the school year, it wasn't looking like his teachers were doing anything to make sure the students were using the supplies they'd been required to have.

So this morning, since there was no school, I had Little Brother empty out that binder.  He recycled all the papers he no longer needed (most of them).  He put all the Spanish papers into the Spanish folder.  He's already sort of in the habit of keeping Spanish stuff together, as that teacher encourages that habit in class.  And we labeled one pocket folder "Take Home" and "Hand In."  He will put anything to come home in the "Take Home" side.  When it's finished (homework complete, tests signed, forms filled in) it will go to the "Hand In" side.  We'll see if this works, and I can reinforce this system at home.

We labeled the dividers too, though there's nothing to divide at the moment.

I hope this helps him.  Next step:  dealing with the "flash cards" that are floating around his backpack.  I like that the teachers encourage the kids to make flash cards when they need to remember important terms or lists.  But they do no good when they wind up in the bottom of the backpack, in a jumble of subjects and topics!  Does anyone have ideas for how he can organize and carry these index cards around?  It's not like he can put a 3X5 file box in his backpack.

I really think he'd be better off with an accordion file, but I still think that teachers require things for a reason.  There will be conferences with the teachers in mid-November, so I'll give this another month and see how we roll.  If it's not working out, I'll talk with the teachers about it then.

Ideas for organizing a smart but scatterbrained 9-year-old will definitely be appreciated!

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Bright as Butterfly Wings

No matter how sad the day (and it was a very sad day) there are always those bright spots that help get you through it. I'm grateful for these:

  • hogging a baby (did I say hogging? I meant hugging. I would never hog a baby. No, not me) whom I'd only seen in pictures up until now, and who was so absolutely good-natured about being passed around among cousins who couldn't wait to give him a squeeze 
  • cousins.  So many cousins.  12 out of the 15 in my generation were there
  • lots of reminiscing, lots of comfort carbs
  • the chance to rib my dad about the very fashionable (in 1974) plaid sport coat he wore in one of the many old photos
  • Snoopy, hand-me-downs, and good news about cousin John's cancer treatment using his own stem cells
  • a phone call from a friend to find out how I was getting through the day--and to let me know that the Irish were winning the game
  • and coming home to a lovely sympathy card that a teenager in the church folk group cared enough to send
After the Mass, we gathered outside the church while my aunt, who teaches her first-graders a fascinating science lesson each year using Monarch butterflies, explained that in Mexico (the endpoint of these butterflies' migration) there is a legend that if you whisper a message to a Monarch, it will carry that message to a loved one in Heaven as it flies.  She and her oldest grandson then released a big bunch of butterflies into the air.  Many loving messages went up to Uncle Pat with those butterflies.

And then there's that moment that makes you laugh instead of cry--and you always need at least one of those moments on that kind of day.  The priest explained that when Uncle Pat was baptized, the Paschal candle was nearby, burning brightly.  Then he gestured toward the Paschal candle standing near the casket.  Little Brother turned to me and said, "It's the same one?"

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Going the Distance

It's time my kids learned something about doing the right thing with the right attitude. It's not a lecture I want to deliver, but I think I'm going to have to. The thing is, while the lecture is needed, I don't think I'm going to be able to manage a graceful delivery. And since TheDad is out of town for the next couple of days, I'll have to fly solo on this one.

My uncle passed away Monday night. Until very recently, we didn't know just how sick he was. While we had mentioned a few times to them that he was in the hospital, kids are kids and teenagers are teenagers and some things just don't get through their heads very well, especially when they concern a relative who lives 2 hours away and whom we've seen 3 times in the past year.
I gave Big Brother, who's away at college (but not TOO far away) a heads-up on Monday evening when I heard that Uncle Pat had taken a turn for the worse. I hate to deliver that kind of news via text message, but there's just no good way to do it. Texting him to say "call home" isn't any better, really. And he was as gracious as you can get in a text, commenting "that's not good" and "let me know if you hear anything else." Tuesday morning, after I heard the news and dithered about how I was going to let him know, I got back a :[ and "ok." For him, that's as compassionate as it's going to get, I guess.
I have the feeling that my daughter, when I told her, was busy calculating just how many soccer games/soccer practices/trips to the mall/bonfires with friends she'll have to miss to attend the out-of-town funeral this weekend.
Little Brother is going to absolutely blow a gasket when he is informed that he won't be playing soccer on Saturday. To his credit, he did give me a hug and kiss when I told him the sad news.
Meanwhile, I grieve for my aunt and my cousins and my cousin's kids, two of whom are infants and who will have to grow up with no memory of their grandfather. I grieve for my dad, who has lost all 3 of his younger siblings to cancer. I mourn the loss of a veteran, a firefighter, the "fun uncle."
May you rest in peace, Uncle Pat. And may I find the grace and the words to guide my children through this time of mourning.