Saturday, June 30, 2012

Finding Some Silence

Being an introvert, I need some quiet time on a regular basis to recharge my batteries.  My kids don't know from quiet.  My younger two are so extroverted that they practically have others orbiting them on a regular basis.  Little Brother, in particular, needs near-constant company.  And when his friends are here and it's quiet, that's usually not a good thing either.

Between the radio (loud enough to be heard throughout the house), the TV (at a competing decibel level) and the general kid chatter--or bickering--I feel like I'm being assaulted by noise constantly.

I'm not getting to daily Mass like I'd like to (and like I do on average of 4 days a week during the school year), and that doesn't help.  It's hard to listen to my favorite radio show, The Catholics Next Door, because I don't want to add one more sound source to the sensory overload I'm experiencing.  It's like the lyrics from that Harry Nilsson song, "Everybody's Talkin' at Me."

And when everyone's outside, I relish the silence for as long as I can get it.

At, Sarah Reinhard brought up the topic of summer parenting.  I mentioned in the comments that with my desk in the middle of the house, in the living room, I run into a lot of sound overload (and a lot of interruptions.)  I've been contemplating a way to find some space elsewhere in the house where I can work in quiet.

This afternoon, I got it all figured out and Middle Sister did the heavy moving.  I've got a bookcase full of books emptied out all over the bed, so I have to get those put away, but there's a small desk in my room near a window that has a backyard view.  It's not going to be my primary work space.  But when things get Just Too Loud here in the heart of my home, it's good to know that I've got a spot where I can (temporarily) retreat.

I can run, but I can't hide.  I can't stay up there all day, tempting though it may be.  That won't do my family any good.  Besides, I'm not so sure I want to be working in the same room where I sleep.  We'll see how it goes.  If nothing else, I'll have sorted through all these books--and that's not a bad thing either.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Guess What!

I totally forgot to talk about this, and I really should have said something TWO WEEKS AGO when it first happened, but I am one of a bunch of new contributors to the "Tech Talk" daily feature at!  (How cool is THAT?) 

I'll be writing every other Tuesday about techie topics that are near and dear to my heart as a Catholic, a mom, a Secular Franciscan, a parent of teenagers...

I never considered myself a "Techie," though I suppose the signs were all there.  My younger brother got a computer when I was in high school (a Radio Shack TRS-80, and if you're old enough to know what that is, you're close to my age).  I used that computer as much as he did, learning to write BASIC programs that would print my name 50 times and other useful things like that.  Senior year, I suffered through a half-year of trigonometry so I could enjoy a half-year computer class.  Never popular, I suddenly found myself in demand as students teamed up to work on projects and I was one of the few who knew how to make a computer print my name 50 times.

There wasn't much wiggle room in college for me to take electives, but I took Intro to BASIC as my math requirement (more making computers print my name 50 times) and found room for a one-credit course on computer applications in education.

After two years of teaching, my career path took a turn for the educational-software industry, where I was paid to break software and tell non-English-speaking programmers what I did to break it so they could make the software student-proof.  (I rocked at that job.)  Eventually I freelanced for that company as a software author, writing lesson "scripts."

Down the road, I learned about Internet message boards, blogging, Facebook, Twitter and more.  My husband (who's been a computer programmer since 1995) has kept me in gadgets starting with my very first Palm PDA up through a Kindle, iPad and iPhone.

I enjoy using technology in a variety of ways and look forward to sharing my favorite apps, websites and more, every other Tuesday at  I also look forward to reading what the rest of the "Tech Talk" team shares, and am extremely grateful for this opportunity.

Today's feature is Digital Prayer, in which I talk about the apps you can use to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Quite a Ride

So I need a nickname for the gang of teenagers that hangs around my house.  The little guys are the Street Urchins.  The sixteen-year-olds?  What do I call them?

It's been a rather difficult week in Teenage World.  Parenting teenagers definitely resembles a roller-coaster ride.  You're strapped in for the duration (7 years, give or take time for those rocky pre- and post-adolescent stages).  There are the ups and downs, twists and turns, and occasional spins that turn you upside down.

In the past week, we have experienced
  • curfew battles
  • playing one parent off another
  • sulking
  • plenty of eye-rolling, stomping up the stairs and slamming of the bedroom door
  • The Silent Treatment
  • and an ill-fated trip to the mall.
They've got nothing to do and way too much time to do nothing in. The bunch of them went job-hunting--together--after swimming at my house yesterday.  I'm not sure that the best way to look for a job is to show up as a Six-Pack at the pizzeria or Edible Arrangements with wet hair, wearing short shorts and flip-flops.  I asked the kids if any potential employer had wondered if he was expected to hire the whole crew.  (They didn't get why I thought that was funny, or even worth wondering about).

But we've also got a teenager who dissuades her younger brother from styling his hair like Eddie Munster, who "takes" me grocery shopping so she can do all the heavy lifting, pushing and loading that I can't do, who takes 3 AM phone calls from friends in despair over a family member's bad health and questioning the existence and benevolence of God.  While I'm not thrilled over a 3 AM phone call, I am so gratified to know that when her friends have crises like that, they turn to her.  That says a whole lot about my daughter, right there.

I've got to take the bad with the good here.  A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.  Ultimately, I think I've got a good kid, and maybe her friends are good kids too, but I don't know them well enough to really determine that.

Today is the feast of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, patron of teenagers.  And they need his intercession and inspiration more than ever.  So today, I prayed for that bunch of teenagers (and they still need a nickname).  And I'm on my way to the supermarket, driven by my very own teenager, to stock the fridge with sodas so her friends will find something cold to drink when they show up later.

image credit

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Part of That World

The Little Mermaid was Middle Sister's favorite movie when she was around 3 or 4.  I don't think I've seen, heard or thought about that movie in at least 10 years.

But she borrowed it from a friend and watched it today as a break from a marathon final-exam cramming session.  And really, some of its messages gave me pause.

I've got a beautiful 16-year-old daughter who's strong and strong-willed, who has a bit of a rebellious streak and is definitely a risk-taker.  In other words, I'm raising Ariel.

Does my Ariel think the grass is greener on the other side of some fence?  Does she wish that she were somehow different--different in a way that denies a part of her true self--so that she could fit into a world that is not hers?  Does she think that her life wouldn't be complete unless she fit into that world?  Would she be willing to make a Faustian bargain to get there?

Is this movie's lesson any different from the one we learn in Grease?  Boy is attracted to girl, but she's not good enough to keep "as is."  She has to change so they can be together.

Maybe that's what I like about the movie Legally Blonde (silly though it may be.)  In that one, the girl changes because she thinks it will help her get her boyfriend back.  By the time he comes around, though, she discovers that he's not the man she thought he was--and she decides not to let him get in the way of her goals.

I want my daughter to know that she doesn't have to be Ariel, or Sandy, or even Elle Woods.  I want her to discover how wonderful she is, just because she is Middle Sister.  I want her to discover and develop her unique talents, to use her strength to help others, to love her life.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

When In Doubt, Make It Up

My Kindle was on the table, in screen-saver mode.  Many of the screen-saver images feature famous authors.

"Anne Ghoul-berg!"  Little Brother exclaimed when he saw the picture on the screen.

"Who?"  I said, picking up the Kindle.  "This is Agatha Christie."

"Oh!  I thought it was Anne Ghoul-berg," he explained.

"Who's Anne Ghoul-berg?  Where did you hear of her?"

"In my mind," he replied proudly (I should have known).

I switched on the Kindle and resumed reading my book.  After a few quiet moments, Little Brother inquired, "Is there an Anne Ghoul-berg?"

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Lost Boys

What IS it with the kids on this block?

There are four boys on my street who are the same age as Little Brother.  I call them the Street Urchins.  They wind up here a lot, perhaps because I'm the one who lets them in.

They know that if they play at my house, they've got to play by my rules.  Street Urchins who drop the f-bomb in my family room get sent home.  That's me, the Mean Mommy.

This morning, I mentioned to TheDad that last night one of the boys' moms had come here looking for him about an hour after his sisters picked him up.  That's when he told me that he'd heard there were marital problems in that household, and this boy might be moving soon.

One of the other boys lives with his mom and older siblings.  His parents have been on-and-off separated for several years now.  His dad, though, stays involved and is a Cub Scout leader.

I don't really know much about the new kid on the block, other than the fact that his parents just opened their second pizzeria.  He seems to be on his own quite a bit.

And then there's Adventure Boy, who (like his 3 older siblings) is being raised by his grandparents though his mom lives across town.  Sometimes he goes there.  Sometimes he spends a few hours with his dad, and his grandmother reports that the custody issues aren't pretty.  He's been left to his own devices since he was a preschooler.

A week or so ago, two of these boys knocked on my door at 8:20 on a school night, looking to play with Little Brother.  Ten minutes.  That's all I gave them.  Who lets their kids out at 8:20 on a school night?  Who lets their kids disappear after school, never looking for them until they have a baseball game or soccer practice?  Who doesn't call their kids home until after 8 (if then)--kids who have been out since 4 or earlier, who haven't been fed dinner, who haven't been nagged about homework?

Sometimes I think I should stop calling them the Street Urchins and refer to them as the Lost Boys.

I've ranted about these kids again and again and again.  I resent being Mommy to the whole block.  This isn't what I signed up for.

After yesterday's Cheese Ball Debacle, in which two of the Street Urchins thought it would be fun to toss Utz cheese balls into each other's mouths, and then pulverized the ones that missed--all over my back porch--I was more than a little bit hot under the collar.  They come here, make a mess, help themselves to snacks and drinks, make a mess, kick soccer balls at my pool filter and front door, make a mess, and (apparently) never have to go home.  And I resent that.  A lot.

I plan to come down hard on the Street Urchins next time they show up, about the cheese balls.  That is disrespectful to me and to my home, and wasteful of food.  If I'd found the mess before they left, they would have been the ones out on the porch with the ShopVac.  Instead, it was Little Brother.

But after TheDad mentioned that yet another Street Urchin is dealing with problems at home, my heart melted just a little bit.  These kids need what they're not getting at home, I realized.  None of them is in a situation of his own making.

I was wondering, the other day, if refusing to buy Johnson's Baby Shampoo and Starbucks lattes really does any good.  I'm not convinced that it does.  And while I'm happy to be able to afford the big box of diapers every month that I donate to a local crisis-pregnancy center (and I will continue to do so), that effort is a drop in the bucket.

What I need to do is give where it really counts, and that means giving until it hurts.  That means putting up with the Street Urchins and continuing to remind them that baseballs are not Pool Toys and sending them home when the streetlights go on.  It means welcoming them, but setting (and sticking to) limits.  It means praying for them.  It means doing the right thing even when I don't feel like it; even when I'm cranky and resentful and feeling put-upon.  Maybe especially then.

Honestly, this may be the most pro-life thing I can do right now.

In your charity today, please offer a prayer (or several) for the Lost Boys.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Fashion Emergency, Little Brother Style

Little Brother (pointing at the shirt he's wearing now, which is, not surprisingly, dirty):  Mom, can you wash this shirt tonight?
Me:  No.  I don't do laundry on Sundays.
(commence pouting by Little Brother)
Big Brother:  What's his problem?
Me:  He just remembered he has a dress-down day tomorrow and he wants to wear THAT SHIRT that he wears all the time.
Big Brother:  Did you wear that to the last dress-down day?  Then find something else to wear tomorrow.
Little Brother:  No!
Middle Sister:  You can't wear that if you wore it last time.  Never repeat an outfit!
TheDad:  Boys don't wear "outfits."

Friday, June 01, 2012

Boycott Burnout?

This afternoon I was listening to my favorite radio show, The Catholics Next Door, on Sirius XM (totally worth the price of the subscription just for this show, by the way!)  Hosts Greg and Jennifer Willits were discussing boycotts.  I wish they'd allotted more time to this issue.

That topic has been on my mind quite a bit lately.  For about the past 20 years, my family has participated in the Life Decisions International boycott of companies that support Planned Parenthood.  That means no Levi's, no Johnson's Baby Shampoo, no Texaco gas--among so many other things.

And then there's the Dump Starbucks Campaign, triggered by their announcement that same-sex marriage is core to who they are and what they value as a company.  More recently, Target announced that proceeds from a line of Pride T-shirts would fund the Family Equality Council.

Now, I don't get Starbucks much; I don't like their coffee.  If I want a $4 fancy coffee, I'll go to Panera and get my latte there.  But Target is right around the corner and it's my go-to store for a lot of things, replacing Wal-Mart, which is farther away and which has boycott issues of its own regarding labor issues, Chinese suppliers and more.

Maybe I'm just wimping out because this is hitting too close to home.  But it's starting to feel like I won't have anywhere to shop if I support all these boycotts.

Do they do any good?  Do the companies really care if I (not a big spender anyway) spend what I do spend someplace else?  Does anybody care?  After all, the American Cancer Society has been linked to support of Planned Parenthood, yet my parish still participates in the local Relay for Life.

So, am I lazy?  Tired?  Wimpy?  Is the devil on my back?  Or do I need to find another way to make a difference?