Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saying goodbye and looking ahead

My aunt passed away on Christmas Eve, in the wee hours of the morning. My uncle held her close for countless hours, so sure each breath was her last and wanting to spend every last second with her in his arms. Her breath would whisper out, then stop and his tears would flow, only to be stopped by another breath, drawn anew. But she was gone, her body just didn't realize it yet. Finally, she breathed her last and her body was still.

We laid her to rest today. I've been to funerals before, a few for people quite close to me. I've lost all but one grandparent, and years ago I had to watch my husband bury his mother. Somehow I cried more tears today than I have ever cried over losing someone. I'm not sure why I was so overcome with emotion. I loved my aunt very much and I will miss her dearly. But she lived several hours away and I only saw her once or twice a year. I can't say we were close. Yet I shed so many tears today, my eyes are raw and my skin is blotchy.

Far more than for myself, I hurt for my uncle and their children. She was not yet 60 years old; she only lived to see her 59th birthday. So very, very young to have to say goodbye. Their children are only in their twenties; four people who had to say goodbye to their mother far too soon. I've seen the pain that causes; I lived through it with my husband. Every time I saw her husband bury his face in his hands, every gasp and sob I heard from my cousins, every tear they shed, sent a wave of grief through me. I was relieved that we chose to have my husband stay home with our kids; I wouldn't have wanted them to be upset, and would have kept my tears in today. It was good to let them go.

It sounds like such a cliche to say that you never know how much time you have, you need to be grateful, etc. But it is so very, very true. Our time here is so limited and we don't know when God will call us home.

Instead of making resolutions to eat better, or work out more or lose weight, I'm resolving this year to be more patient, more kind, more loving, and more nurturing to my family. I don't want my children to remember a mom who is grumpy, frustrated and out of sorts. I want us to forge good memories together; nurtured relationships, care and understanding.

I am not perfect and motherhood is messy and hard. But I will try harder. I will work to approach all things with love and care, devote myself to my relationships with my family and focus on love. Because In the end, love is all we really have.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Should Christmas be only for Christians?

Over the last couple of years, I've seen a sentiment amongst some of my fellow Christians that goes something like this:

"I wish non-Christians would just quit celebrating Christmas, since all they do is perpetuate consumerism and materialism, want me to quit saying "Merry Christmas" and take all the nativity scenes out of public places. They take one of the most important Christian holidays of the year and try to strip it of all true meaning and what we're left with is a whitewashed, meaningless, postmodern spend-fest."

Or something like that.

Since last year, when a friend of mine said something to the affect of the above on her Facebook page, I've thought about whether there should be some separation of Christian Christmas, and secular Christmas; or whether non-Christians should celebrate it at all. Should non-Christians, particularly the staunchly non-religious, leave our holiday alone? Should the solution to the "don't-say-Merry-Christmas-for-fear-of-offending-someone" attitude be to reclaim our holiday for ourselves, creating a marked separation between those who celebrate the birth of Christ in December and those who do not?

Personally, I say no. I don't think it would be better if non-Christians began to forgo the tree and lights and stories of Santa Claus; if they packed up their Elf on the Shelf and quit baking cookies and hanging up stockings.

Do many of the secular Christmas traditions and practices muddle our view of the real meaning of Christmas? Sure. Do I get annoyed at the idea of not telling people "Merry Christmas" because it might somehow offend someone? Yep. Is there far too much emphasis on the material side of Christmas? Probably. But I don't think the solution is to insist that Christmas is solely a Christian holiday and non-Christians ought to just leave it alone already. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater here.

In our culture, there is already a line drawn between Christians, and basically everyone else. Faith and the practice thereof is being pushed further and further into the margins, relegated to the corners of our lives, something not to be brought out except in certain company. The "us" versus "them" mentality is already too pervasive and threatens to create further divisions between those who believe and those who do not.

Rather than take back Christmas as a holiday not to be shared, why not graciously let the non-Christian partake in the feast of the birth of our Lord? Who knows what might come of the experience for some? Isn't it possible that a child might grow up celebrating even the most secularized version of Christmas, only to be curious someday as to where the holiday started? They might ask questions and it could be that maybe, just maybe, the magic and splendor of their Christmas celebrations will plant the tiniest of seeds in their heart. It could be one of many things that leads people to Jesus in the course of a lifetime, but an important one nonetheless.

This is not to say that I think people will grow up with the hustle and bustle and shopping and buying and spending and giving and it will somehow begin converting people en masse. But what if it opens the possibility, however small, for some?

I don't think the solution to rising secularism is to hunker down in our little church bubbles and insist the outside world stay out. I think if we, as Christians, begin pulling away from non-Christians, the divide between us will only grow wider and the opportunities to share our faith, even in the smallest of ways, will dwindle. Instead of perpetuating the us versus them mentality, let us lead by example, celebrating with our families and communities and model the true meaning of Christmas; let our actions carry our message to those around us. Who knows? You never know what small bit of kindness, what tiny bit of joy might touch someone's heart and Jesus only needs the tiniest crack in our soul to begin shining his light inside.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Rounding up

Our best friends have two boys who are a few years older than our kids - 11 and 9. Well, technically I guess they are 11 1/2 and 9 1/2, since both have birthdays in April.

They stopped by this afternoon to bid farewell and wish us a Merry Christmas as they headed out to their week-long family Christmas a few hours away. Their oldest wandered in decked out in headphones, listening to something on his ipod. When it was time for them to go, their dad had to get his attention because, with his music playing, he didn't hear what was being said. The father made a comment along the lines of, "Yep, he's a teen."

No. No, he's not. Not quite. But his parents often refer to him that way, and I have to say, it drives me crazy.

He is on the threshold of that transition into the teenage years, standing on the brink of puberty. He's getting really tall, his shoes are almost as big as his dad's and he has his moments of "teen-ish" behavior.

But he still comes over and has nerf battles with my boys. He still builds things out of Legos and plays elaborate games of pretend. He still plays. I love that about him, and at 11 years old, he should.

I know that he's going to change. That there will come a time when he stops coming over to play with my boys, in favor of other things. There will come a time when girls aren't icky (they are firmly in the gross category, as are any movies or TV shows with kissing... ewwww!). There will come a time, all too soon, when he's moved beyond young childhood and entered the realm of his teenage years. I don't begrudge him that, nor am I in denial that he's getting older.

What bothers me is how often his parents, and I see other parents doing this too, how often they skip ahead in their language. They speak of him as if he's already 13 years old and sulking in a corner with his headphones, unreachable in his teenage angst. He's not. He's happy and fun and sociable and still so, so young. He's such a child and I fear that they are missing out on that; they're missing the last months of this phase of childhood in their eagerness for him to grow up.

Granted, as parents it is all too easy to succumb to that sentiment. We want to see our babies roll over, we encourage them to crawl, and we celebrate when they walk and say their first words. We delight in their growth, in their accomplishments and new skills. This doesn't end as they leave the baby and toddler years behind. We love to watch them learn and grow and try new things. All of that is wonderful, but there's a line that is crossed when the parents seem all too eager to jump ahead and place their child in the next phase before they are truly there.

A passing comment about him being a "teen" isn't the only thing that has prompted my musings on this topic. They, and other friends of mine, have said things that make me think they are watching their kids' childhoods go by with a sort of checklist, checking off the time and almost looking forward to its end. I doubt they would see it that way if confronted with the idea, but things they say still leave me with such an impression.

I guess I just don't know why people want to round up when it comes to their kids ages and stages. It gives the impression of being in a hurry to get this child-rearing business done, and that makes me a little sad. Enjoy each stage of their life for what it is and let it pass in its own time; they will be grown and gone all too soon.

One more day

My dad sent me a picture yesterday. In it, my ailing aunt is sitting up, smiling, surrounded by her husband and four children. A couple of days ago, it appeared her body was shutting down as the tumors in her brain pressed on precious nerves, inhibiting her body's ability to function. Yesterday, they removed the respirator, she woke up, ate breakfast, smiled and waved at her family, and took a nap. They are making preparations for her to return home - with in home medical care, but still home.

I'm rather stunned at this turn of events, but so, so grateful that she has a little more time with her family. Wouldn't it be wonderful if she could still spend Christmas with them, in their home? I pray for that blessing. I know it would mean so much to her family.

I don't know what this means; if she'll have one more day, or two, or five, or thirty. There's only so much of her left that can come through the haze of disease in her brain. She can't talk very much, if at all. I'm not sure how mobile she is. But she knows who people are, and she smiled at everyone who visited her. She waved at my dad and tried to say, "Hi." Blessedly, she isn't in pain and although it is difficult to know how much she truly understands, as her short term memory is very weak now, she's calm and doesn't seem to be in any discomfort.

Each day is a blessing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Prayer for my aunt

My aunt is nearing the end. She was diagnosed with brain cancer not long ago and has deteriorated rapidly in the last few days. As far as I know, at this moment she is still in the ICU at the hospital near her home. Tonight, I pray for her and her family as they likely have to prepare to say goodbye. I can't be there with them, and somehow saying this prayer silently to myself didn't seem like enough. So although it isn't as if she, or any of her immediate family are going to read this, I felt that posting it and sending it out into the digital world was somehow more palpable than to simply pray silently tonight.

Heavenly Father,

Tonight we prepare to say goodbye to one of your beloved children. It is my sincerest hope and prayer that she is now hearing your voice, whispering her name, calling her home. She was not a religious woman, but I know she believed in you and believed in Jesus and I fervently pray that you will embrace her with your loving arms as she crosses into eternity. Please forgive her sins and accept her into your grace with your unending mercy. Please Lord, love her, comfort her and carry her home in peace.

Please be with her family, who will so desperately miss her. For her husband, her son and her daughters, I pray that they have peace and comfort during this difficult time. For my dad, and their sister, I pray for peace and healing. And for my dear, dear grandmother, I pray diligently Lord, that she will weather this tragedy and not give up her own spirit in the face of losing her daughter. I wish no one had to lose a child, ever, even when they are 85. Please Lord, please be with Grandma and help her through this sadness. Please lift her up and carry her along, for I fear she isn't strong enough to bear this burden. At least not alone.

Thank you for the time we had with Debbie. Thank you for her spirit, her laugh and her humor. She was loud and funny and opinionated and sometimes rash. She loved her children fiercely and endured much on her journey as a mother. It is a little hard to imagine a world without her in it, but thank you for creating such a lively and fun woman. She has touched many lives and there are so many who will miss her.

I ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ, your son. Amen.

Feeling raw

I'm feeling so emotionally raw this week. The shooting in Newtown last week started the avalanche, but other things this week have contributed, leaving me feeling wrung out and exhausted. The embarrassing part is that a piece of my emotional state today isn't even from anything real, but from a movie we watched last night that disturbed my dreams something awful.

In the wake of the terrible deaths of those innocents in Connecticut, our nation is grieving and there isn't much more I can say on the subject that hasn't already been said far more eloquently by people better than I. But I still have a lump in my throat when I think on it and looking at my own kindergartner, as well as my other children, leaves me feeling simultaneously so grateful that they are here with me, and irrationally afraid of something happening to them.

My aunt, who has been battling brain cancer, took a turn for the worse yesterday and is now in the ICU. I don't have any reliable details, as the phone calls we get are from different people in her immediate family and they seem to be interjecting their personal emotional state into the news; my uncle acts as if she will be home for Christmas, yet their daughters call crying and are sure the end is near. I'm not sure what is really happening, but being in the ICU is certainly not a good sign. I am so sad for her husband and children, and for my dad and grandma, that she might pass right at Christmastime.

My sister in law got in a minor car accident the other day, and although she was thankfully uninjured, her car was totaled. It has added a layer of anxiety to my week, even though it wasn't my accident or my car. She's about 10 years younger than my husband and I, and we've always tried to help take care of her in a sense. Things are coming together, she's already heard from her insurance company and things will be OK. But it was an emotional few days for her and I was feeling a bit of her pain and frustration as I did my best to help comfort her.

In light of all this, the absolute last movie I should have watched last night was "Seeking Friend for the End of the World." It is a sort of odd, rather dark and sad, comedy-ish movie. It isn't quite a drama, but not quite a comedy either, considering the sobering subject matter. Starring Steve Carrell of "The Office" fame, I thought it would have more humor than it actually did. In the film, humanity has just learned that an asteroid is going to collide with the Earth in three weeks time and it follows what happens to Steve Carrell's character and a woman he meets soon after the news breaks, played by Keira Knightly. They have some interesting, some strange, and some heartwarming adventures, but in the end, yeah... the asteroid hits. And this was no action movie filled with heroics and bombs to shove the thing off course, or showing bits of humanity saving each other and surviving. This was a love story and the final moments of the movie leave no doubt what becomes of the heroes of the story. Their end is rather poignant and very sad as they embrace. And, sorry if this totally spoils the movie for anyone reading, but they hear the huge boom of the asteroid hitting and realizing they have only seconds, and the sound sent such a rush of adrenaline through me, my heart was literally pounding for an hour. Definitely not a movie I should have watched just before bed.

My dreams last night were full of, well, they were yucky. I knew that would happen. I always have emotionally charged dreams when I watch a movie that affects me so deeply and last night was particularly bad. I woke once with the same heart pounding adrenaline rush that I'd experienced watching the movie and was up for much of the night because of it.

Silly, to be so worked up over a movie of all things. But this movie forces you to ponder the idea of what would you do, if you knew the world was really going to end. How would you spend your time? And how would you face your certain death?

It reminded me, as did the tragedy in Newtown and my aunt's illness, that sometimes the worst thing does happen. Sometimes that worst case scenario that you dread above all else - it happens. Anyone who has lost a loved one, or a child, or faced a terrible illness knows this. I've faced that worst case, or at least the almost worst case, and realized that it can happen. I survived, but it was a terrible time and changed my view of the world forever.

These are all sobering thoughts and I'm still struggling with the wash of emotions such thinking produces. There are spiritual lessons here for me, and I know it. I know that often what we feel is the worst case scenario is only the worst in our temporal, woldly life. I try to take comfort in the eternal, in the God who loves us so much that He sent Jesus to save us. But my wild imagination roars with the what ifs and fears of life, fears I dread so deeply I cannot even name them. And it is difficult right now for me to calm those fears with reality, and more importantly, with faith. But I am trying.

And I'm probably going to go watch Elf again to help cheer me up.

Monday, December 17, 2012

These things I can do

Even prior to the horrible shooting last week, I've been struggling lately with some of those big philosophical/spiritual questions that a lot of us wrestle with - What's my purpose? What does God want of me in this life? How can I use my life for God, and how do I know what that even means in a practical sense? And looking at the larger world, what kind of world am I raising my children in? How are we ever going to navigate the increasingly secular culture and what does it mean for our lives long term?

Big questions. The murders at Sandy Hook have done nothing but exacerbate my questioning, pitching the worst of our society in stark relief - a terrible moment in time that makes you want to scream. How could we have fallen this far? How much farther can we fall?

There are times that I feel like our society is on the brink of disaster. We are ancient Rome, so ignorant of our own impending disaster, we will be dumbfounded when the "barbarians" show up at our doorstep. We'll be looking around for our army, our protection, our Praetorian Guard and we will realize they are long gone. We stopped valuing them. We will look up and see that our society has eroded away and something else will wash over our shores to take our place, our great nation merely a blip in the history books of the future.

Sounds gloomy, doesn't it?

So what does one do in the face of such pessimism? I am not typically a pessimist, but it is hard not to look out at the world and wonder, what are we doing? Where are we headed? It doesn't look good.

What I am doing in the face of such dark thoughts is to turn inward, to my family. Perhaps that's what I should be doing anyway, and the events of the last week are simply redirecting my focus back where it should be. There isn't much I can do to solve the problems of the world. I am only one small, tiny person and there's only so much impact one tiny person can make.

But I can make sure our house is in order.

I can strive to be better at my vocation. I can strive to search for God each day, to seek out His will in my life and be the best example for my children that I can be. I can hope and pray and love and remember that my highest calling during this season of my life is to my family.

I take comfort in that. It feels as if it is something I can accomplish. I can love my children, and nurture them and care for them, and teach them. I can love my husband, and support him and care for him. I can nurture my family and nurture my relationship with God. These things I can do.

Friday, December 14, 2012

There isn't much else to say about today

There's no way for me not to connect what happened today with my own family, with my own children. This didn't happen to me, it isn't about me, and my sincere prayers are with the families who have been so devastated - especially to the mothers who won't be kissing and hugging their sweet babies tonight.

But there is something about finding similarity between yourself and a tragedy that make it all the more real, even though it happened to someone far away. I've felt that way before, and I feel it tonight.

My little kindergartner is sitting downstairs watching cartoons with his brother and sister. I can't even fathom losing him, or any of those precious babies down there. I know any mother would say the same of her children.

And as much as, intellectually, I realize that this was one incident among thousands of schools, and I don't believe that children in schools are generally unsafe, I can't help but feel glad that they are home with me right now. No, I can't protect them from every evil, and I don't really think they'd be in actual danger if they were at the school up the street. Logically, I know they'd be fine and the chances of something this horrible happening to us are minuscule. But logic isn't winning tonight. I'm just glad they are here, with me, and they are safe.

My heart aches for the families who are suffering so deeply tonight. May God be with them now and always.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Worth remembering

Today wasn't an extraordinary day. It was a simple day, but in it's simplicity, worth remembering.

We started with our little preschool group and my daughter's exclamations of, "My preschool friends are coming!" were so sweet. I love our little preschool group we have going - we only meet a couple times a month, but it provides an hour or so that is dedicated to our littlest learners, something most of us homeschooling moms struggle with a bit, as so many of our activities and responsibilities revolve around our older kids. We painted paper plate wreaths, played with peppermint scented playdough (I felt so crafty making my own playdough!), listened to stories and played "freeze dance" to "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." So fun.

Our friends said goodbye, and we had some lunch, followed by a chance for the kids to finish the movie they'd started watching last night. Disney movies on Netflix for the win! When that was done, we snuggled in together on the couch for a reading of the original story of Cinderella. We talked about how it was different from the movie (although that wasn't what they'd just watched, we did watch the Disney Cinderella not too long ago), and we were all interested to know her name in the Grimm's version is Isabella. I'd always thought it was just "Ella" and they tacked on the "cinder" to make Cinderella. My kids pointed out the lack of talking mice, and how the prince himself comes to try on her slipper, and recognizes her before he even puts the slipper on her foot. They loved how it ended, with Cinderella telling her jealous stepsisters that they are welcome to come visit her in the palace anytime, that there will always be a bed ready - the hearthstone next to the cinders.

We've been working on a fairy tale "book" that includes an art project for each story we read. I had the rather brilliant idea, if I do say so myself, to have the boys make pumpkin carriages out of some of our Halloween pumpkins (considering we had about 6 of them). Of course, I had that thought back in October and somehow it is now mid-December... Hmmmm, not sure how that happened. Luckily, we still had a couple pumpkins that were still intact.

The boys made these crazy, wonderful "mixed-media" pumpkins. I set out a random assortment of supplies and told them to make carriages, however they wanted. I just love what they came up with - they worked on them for nearly an hour, intently problem solving to find the best way to make wheels and windows, and my oldest even added horses and reigns, as well as a little drawing of Cinderella inside the carriage through one of the windows. My younger son's randomness shined through, with two "windows" including lots of foam stickers and a "cover" for the stem that didn't seem to have a real purpose, but it was the first thing he made. They were both very happy with their creations.

David, my recently-turned-8-year-old, has been wanting to make a sling shot for a while, and since it was not raining today (a rare occurrence this time of year around here), we decided a walk in the woods to hunt for a good stick was in order. Both boys found sticks, and we did our best to craft a couple of sling shots out of them, along with some elastic I'd saved (glad I saved it!), and electrical tape. They had a lot of fun trying them out in the backyard. It took more skill than I realized - I couldn't get a rock to go more than a few feet, but David hurled a few of them across the yard.

We finished up our day with playtime, dinner and a LOT of reading aloud. I'm literally a bit hoarse from reading so many books, but it was precious time and I'm more than happy to sacrifice my voice for it.

A good day, worth remembering.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Nutcracker

I've always loved the Nutcracker Ballet. I've been to see the Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of the Nutcracker several times, and it is so wonderful. The music is beautiful, and the expressiveness of the story played out in dance so lovely. The sets and costumes were designed by the amazing Maurice Sendak (of Where the Wild Things Are fame), giving the entire production an air of whimsy and magic that I have always loved.

Since we began having children, we've talked about how great it would be to take them to see the Nutcracker someday. My husband loves it too (and I feel ridiculously lucky to have a husband who enjoys the ballet), so it was something we've looked forward to for a long time.

Today we took all three of our kids to see it and it was just as magical as I'd hoped it would be.

My boys sat on the edges of their seats as the mice fought the toy soldiers. The cannon shot took them both by surprise. The giant mouse king was fascinating as ever and even they gasped a little when they saw the Nutcracker had changed into a prince. My daughter loved the character Clara, both as a girl and as the "ballet princess," as she called her. The ooh'ed and the snowflake dancers, and ahh'd at the sugar plumb fairies.

It was such a treat to sit with my kids and share something with them that I hold dear - and it actually played out as well as it could have. You know how it is with kids and expectations; they have a way of crushing your tightly held dreams with their chaotic reality. Yes, we had a couple stressful moments (that bell ringing to warn you intermission is winding down while you're still in the bathroom with a five year old who insists on taking 10 minutes to go "big potty" can definitely make the blood pressure rise a bit). But overall, they were so well behaved, they watched with rapt attention, and loved it.

We wound down the day by having dinner and dessert backwards (courtesy of my three year old who needed a potty stop and the closest bathroom happened to be at a Dairy Queen), and later watched Charlie Brown Christmas snuggled on the couch together.

Life with kids isn't all fun and games, but sometimes things fall into place just how you imagined. Today was one of those magical days.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Back on track (again...)

I did fairly well with my November goals toward making healthier choices and getting leaner. That is, until I started baking last week. As much as I told myself I wasn't going to go nuts over the holiday weekend, Thanksgiving-style eating pretty much went from last Wednesday through Sunday.

Today, however, I turned over a new leaf. Again. Because, you know, I've never been in this position before - trying to lose a bit of weight and spinning my wheels as I allow every distraction under the sun to derail my progress (sarcasm, anyone?). Anyway, today was a good day and I feel better for it.

I also feel new resolve to de-sugar my kids' diet. They probably don't eat as much sugar as a lot of kids out there, but I'm sure it is more than I realize. My husband is big on giving treats, which is really sweet (pun intended), but he tends to go overboard and not think about the cumulative effect of his treat-endowing. Not that their sugar consumption is entirely his fault, but it is something we need to work on, especially as we head into the holiday season, replete with cookies and candy galore.

I'm resolved to finish out the month with good food choices, writing down what I eat and heading in the final month of 2012 with a handle on what I'm putting in my mouth.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Being open to life isn't only what you think

A few weeks ago, I was at mass with my three kids. Daddy couldn't be with us, so I was braving the pews with my young children alone (they are 7, 5 and 3). This isn't usually a big deal. My kids aren't perfect (naturally), but they are pretty well behaved. They're used to mass, they know what is expected, and most of the time, they are just fine.

Not that Sunday.

My boys asked to sit in the front row, but that was clearly a mistake. Often the front row affords them an unobstructed view of the altar and the priest and they wind up watching what is happening a little more - and squirming and making noise a little less. That day it simply meant the whole parish had an unobstructed view of my kids being monkeys.

I did my best to keep them calm and quiet. I'm certain it was clear to anyone watching that I was struggling with my kids, but I wasn't letting them run rampant by any stretch of the imagination. And really, they weren't that bad. They were squirrely, and talking too much, and my oldest son kept making my 3 year old daughter laugh. But I've seen worse.

We'd almost made it through the entire mass. I had successfully navigated potty trips, discarded shoes, attempts to twirl, tickle, and drop things, and had hustled us back to our seats after receiving Communion. Then, as I held my daughter in my lap, insisting my other two keep to their seats, someone came up to me (an usher, I believe), knelt down and quickly said, "Could you please move to the back of the church? Your kids are distracting people."

<Insert me with my jaw on the floor here.>

He walked away quickly, not even giving me a chance to respond. I was floored. Absolutely floored. Communion was nearly over (which means mass was nearly over), and my kids were seated. Yes, we'd had a challenging time that morning, but it wasn't as if I'd had screaming and crying children and I did nothing. The worst thing they did was giggle loudly a lot.

Tears sprang to my eyes and I gathered up my kids and all our stuff and high tailed it to the parking lot. I just wanted out of there. I was so hurt and humiliated. I felt as if everyone in church must have been watching me, judging me. I felt betrayed and unwelcome.

In all the time we've attended mass at this parish, we have never been made to feel unwelcome or that our kids were a problem. We love our parish, and most of the time the atmosphere is very welcoming to families with children of all ages.

I was horrified that day, and also surprised that the comment hurt me so deeply. And then I got to thinking; what if it hadn't been me? What if it hadn't been someone who is a solid member of the parish community? What if it had been someone new? Perhaps someone who had been away from the church for a while? Someone who felt like I did when my first son was a baby, that taking kids to church just wasn't worth the hassle? I remember feeling that way very well. And if someone had asked me to move to the back of the church in those days - I never would have gone back.

As Catholics, we are called to be open to life. I'd wager most people assume that only applies to married couples. I say, it applies to each and every one of us. We have to be open to life, not just as families, but as faith communities. We cannot ask parents to be open to new life, and then shun them or shame them when they bring those new lives into our midst at mass. We have to embrace them, support them, love them all the more because they are bringing up the next generation of Catholics. If we drive them all away because someone doesn't like crying babies at mass, where will our church be in 10 years? In 20 years?

Being open to life means we must embrace the young families at our parishes. We must welcome them, smile at them knowingly when their babies cry and their toddlers throw a fit. We must help them pick up their spilt cheerios and offer scraps of drawing paper and pens to help distract their little ones. At the very least, we must not cast our eyes askance at them when their children act up. Children will be children, and I remember well how difficult mass can be when you are young. No, kids can't sit still; they can't always be quiet. They will be disruptive sometimes, but life with children is disruptive and messy and chaotic and wonderful. These children who are crying and squirming and interrupting - these children are the future of our church and their mothers and fathers are in desperate need of our loving support.

So if you see a mother at church, struggling to contain her young ones, consider offering to help or at least offering her a warm smile. She's probably doing the best she can, and I think we should praise God that she is there at all.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Worries for/in the future

I am a planner and an overthinker. Like a lot of personality traits, it can be a good thing, or a really bad thing. I'm pretty good at being organized, but I'm also pretty good at overthinking myself into a tizzy. Fortunately, my chaotic, random and very spontaneous husband is great at keeping me grounded. Unfortunately, I still tend to stress about things that I really shouldn't.

We might have to move. I could go on and on about why I love living where I do. We've been here almost 8 years, we had the house built so it's awesome, we live right next door to our best friends, we have an amazing parish, quite a few friends, and now a wonderful homeschooling group, etc. etc. But my husband took a new job back in January - 60 miles away. That's a haul, and let me tell you, traffic in this area is rotten.

He doesn't have to commute every day, which was a condition of him taking the job. He goes into his office about half the time - 3 times one week, 2 times the next. He works from home the other days. This year, it has been a decent solution. The drive sucks, we spend a lot on gas, and it's hard having him gone 12-13 hours a day when he has to go into his office. But on days he's here, we see a lot of him and it balances itself out fairly well.

However, his company continues to grow - which is an amazingly wonderful thing, especially in this economy. But that also means he's going to need to be in his office more often. The half time commuting thing wasn't a forever arrangement. It was a do-it-until-it-doesn't-work-anymore arrangement. And with the company's growth, he's likely to have to hire one or two people to work under him, and that's going to mean he needs to be there more. Driving all that way 5 days a week just isn't an option. He'd go crazy, for one thing. And it would bury us in gas costs for another.

So we're faced with the strong likelihood of moving, perhaps sometime next year.

I have so many mixed emotions about moving, I'm finding it very difficult to sort through them. On the one hand, I'd love to live close to my husband's job again. His old job was literally 5 minutes away, and that was such a blessing. Depending on where we found a house, we're also likely to live closer to some of my family, which would also be great.

But my whole life is here. I don't have an outside the home job, so everything is here. Many of my friends, my support system, my resources, my routine - it is all here. I'd be starting over in a way I've never faced before, and truth be told, I'm terrified.

I need to work on letting go of the worry over this, especially because it isn't imminent. We aren't ready to put our house on the market or make this huge change, so I have time. But the planner/overthinker in me wants to know what we're doing, when we're doing it, how it's going to work, etc.

I struggle with leaving tomorrow's worries for tomorrow, but I guess this is one of those times I'm called to stretch myself and grow in virtue a little bit. Even though this one is giving me growing pains.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Random Thanksgiving-ish thoughts, mostly about pie

I'm not hosting Thanksgiving tomorrow, so the brunt of the preparation falls to my mom this year. I did, however, bake pies and cookies today, which kept me in the kitchen for quite some time. A few random thoughts I had as I was preparing for tomorrow's feast.

I like the idea of cooking with my kids more than the reality of cooking with my kids
This dawned on me today as my five year old son was blissfully crumbling butter and flour through his little fingers to help me make pie crust. He and I made a decent enough team, but there really wasn't room for two more sets of hands, as my other two kids caught wind of what we were doing and jostled for positions at the counter. I want them to have fun with me in the kitchen, but when I'm preparing food to take somewhere, all their "help" is not much help at all. I have more baking to do on Friday and I think I'll make an extra bit of pie dough so they can roll and shape it to their little hearts' content - and leave mine alone.

I want to be that really fun, hands on mom that lets them mess up my kitchen and revels in the beauty of the experience, but that is So. Hard.

One Thanksgiving has never been enough
Since I was a kid, I've always had two big dinners Thanksgiving weekend. Thanksgiving day would be spent, alternately, with one of my parents (they were divorced). Friday would be spent at my grandma's house, as she always had a casual, but delicious, Second Thanksgiving. I miss those dinners. Luckily for me, my grandma is still around, but her ability to cook a big meal is not, so it has been years since we've had that dinner at her place. My husband and I took up the tradition though, and we always have a second big turkey dinner on Saturday, usually with a random assortment of friends and family. It is a fair amount of work, but it is always a great time.

I show love by feeding people
I love to feed people good food. Like, I really, really love it. Watching someone enjoy my cooking is so satisfying. I am not a fancy cook, but I can cook some things really well, if I do say so myself. And I make really good desserts. Again, not fancy, but stuff that just melts in your mouth and makes you want to eat nothing else for the rest of your life. Yes, I'm bragging a little. Pies, cakes, cookies - they are my masterpieces. And few things give me such warm fuzzies as watching people ooh and ahh and mmmmmmm over my goodies.

Which is probably why I have a hard time taking criticism for my cooking
My husband is... particular. He likes things a certain way, usually the exact, precise same way as always. Especially when it comes to food. Food is really important to him. If you ask him about our honeymoon, he will to this day, tell you about our trip in terms of where and what we ate. He's not mean or unkind, but he will also tell me when something new I make isn't all that great, or when an old standby isn't what it used to be. He means well - in rather guy-ish fashion, he sees his comments as a help to me, letting me know how something could be better. But I have a hard time not feeling crushed because the approval I so crave wasn't there; the mmm's and oooohs and ahhhhs so glaringly missing.

So I'm a bit nervous about my apple pie
Today I feel like I took a great big step up the ladder of pie making, at least in my family. I made my Grandma Dorothy's apple pie. I love her apple pie. It is so wondrous, so delicious, so tart and sweet and flaky and buttery and perfect. My husband also loves her apple pie and has been bugging me for years to get her recipe. I don't know why I've never attempted it before, but today I called her up and not only did she give me the recipe, she gave me rather detailed instructions as I furiously took notes. I'm excited to try it tomorrow, but I have such enormous shoes to fill, I don't know if my apple pie will ever be as good as hers. She has magic pie hands. I actually think I got my baking gene from her (of course that's a real thing - baking could be genetic), so hopefully my first attempt at the greatest-apple-pie-ever will be a smashing success.

In any case, I know tomorrow will be filled with lots of good food, fully bellies, warmth, love and fun. I'm blessed with a great family and I'm excited for the festivities to come.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Slow Burn: steady as she goes to a slimmer me

I'm joining Calah of Barefoot and Pregnant on a journey toward better health, and hopefully a better waistline. She's doing a series of posts on establishing better habits and making better choices and she's calling it "The Slow Burn."

This hits something that has been on my heart and mind recently as well. Did I say recently? I meant always. Sigh.

I was a skinny teenager who thought I needed to lose weight. I became a not-so-skinny 20-something who wanted to lose weight, and did briefly before I got pregnant for the first time. I lost weight again between my first and second pregnancies, but since then I've been on an up and down cycle of losing a little, but having a couple more babies and never really getting to where I want to be.

Have you ever heard the phrase, "You can't out-train a bad diet"? That's me. I do crossfit anywhere from three to five days a week, which means I have my ass handed to me in the gym on a regular basis. I'm in pretty good shape. I started crossfit almost 7 months ago, and although I've gotten a lot stronger and fitter (which is awesome), I still have this pile of jeans gathering a lot of dust that I can't wear. And it is killing me to work out so hard and not see the results I want.

I just want to fit into my jeans.

Clearly I need to do something different. I need to quit making excuses and exceptions and buckle down to drop some fat. I don't want to be super skinny, I just want to lean down. I don't have a huge amount of weight to lose either, but over the last couple of years I've been spinning my wheels and not losing it, so it is time to make a change.

I read somewhere that "you achieve what you measure," or something to that affect. In that spirit, I think it's important to set some measurable goals for myself. Sooooo... my goals for November are:

  • Go to the gym at least four days a week
    (except next week because they will be closed a couple of days)
  • Avoid sugar (already half way there, so this isn't a huge sacrifice for me - I just need to quit making so many exceptions. Planned splurges will be Thanksgiving (I'm making pie!) and the Saturday after when we do Thanksgiving Take Two (again with the pie).
  • Said splurges will be mindful - enjoying what I love and not stuffing myself beyond belief simply for the sake of stuffing my face
  • Keep a food log of everything I eat. I'm not planning to count calories, that feels to daunting right now (even though I've done it in the past). Writing things down will be my first step, and I'll reevaluate in the next month or so.
Thanks Calah for sharing your journey with us and hopefully your bloggy friends can be a help and a support as we all strive to treat ourselves better!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Kids and Creativity

I'm a big fan of the blog Deep Space Sparkle. This lovely blog is run by an elementary school art teacher, Patty. She shares wonderful art projects, including how to's, supply lists and even pictures of the art her students produce. Her love of art and her passion teaching her students is evident, and her art lessons are so much fun and easy to implement, even at home. Love it!

She recently wrote a post about "open ended art" in response to a critique someone wrote about her blog. An art education student wrote a review of her site and in it, this person called her projects "cookie cutter" and said there was a lack of open ended art projects on her site. She wrote a very gracious response to the critique (and not everything this art student had to say about Deep Space Sparkle was negative), but the topic got me thinking as well. Should we be teaching art in a specific way, with a singular end product in mind? Or should we be teaching kids to do art their own way, keeping it open ended so their creativity can flow?

It reminded me of something I read with regard to teaching language arts and writing - I can't recall where I read this particular nugget, but it has stuck with me. Paraphrased, the person said, "We expect children to be creative, but we don't give them anything to be creative with." In this context, they were talking about exposure to great literature and using copywork of great writing to expose kids to how language can be used.

I think the same thing applies to art. We want kids to be creative, but until they've been exposed to the masters, to great paintings, sculpture and other works of art; and until they've been taught how to use watercolors versus acrylics and oil pastels, crayons and colored pencils, how can they really BE creative? Art instruction, both in technique and in art history, gives students the tools to unlock endless possibilities! How else would they know that if you draw with oil pastel and then watercolor over it, the oil pastel will resist the paint? How else would they know how to draw a vanishing point or learn about perspective and form?

I love the idea of creative kids, but without feeding their imaginations with great stuff, they don't have much creative with. Great books, art, music, and even instruction in technique, is all important to unleashing their creativity; giving them tools to be creative with. And then, the sky is the limit.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Losing the family pet

Today we had to say goodbye to our kitty, Gambit.

It is a hard thing, to lose a pet. We got the news two days ago and I was not at all prepared for my kids' reactions. I knew they would be sad, and I knew they would cry. But the depth of their pain was heartwrenching. I told them we were going to have to say goodbye to Gambit, that he was very sick and not going to get better. They begged me to find a way to save him; they suggested taking him to a differet vet, calling a surgeon, calling an ambulance, and finding medicine for him. I had to gently keep explaining that there isn't anything we could do for him; he's just old and he's going to die.

This is my kids' first experience with the death of someone close to them. It hit them so hard. As much as I am going to miss my kitty, walking my kids through this process has been the hardest part. As much as we would love to keep our children from experiencing pain, we can't. And seeing the looks on their faces as they cried and begged me to do something made me want to cry, for them as much for my own sadness. I hate that they have been hurting so much over this.

Gambit was a good cat. He was quirky, but I suppose all cats are. He liked doritos and goldfish crackers. He would dash outside every time someone opened a door, even if we'd just let him in from the pouring rain only minutes before. He refused to drink water from his water dish, preferring to drink from the bathroom faucet, but he would drink any nasty, slimy puddle water outside. In his healthy days, he was a big 17lb dude with bright green eyes and a beautiful black and gray tabby pattern. He was great with my kids, although I don't know if he ever completely forgave us for bringing them into his domain. We used to call him our dragon kitty, and joke that he let us live in his lair.

We'll miss our kitty and I hope the pain in my babies' hearts subsides quickly. It isn't an easy thing to say goodbye to a family pet. Rest in peace, little meow-meow.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Random tirade about teenagers on TV

I've been watching season 3 of Parenthood on Netflix lately. I like the show; I'm a sucker for this kind of drama. Granted, there are things about it that rub me a little wrong, but overall I enjoy watching it.

You know what I can't stand though? Haddie. If you haven't seen the show, it follows the (oh, I don't know) dramatic misadventures?... of a group of four siblings, their families, and their parents. In current, post 20th century word-mashing hipness, it's a dramedy. Whatever. Haddie is the teenage daughter of one of the siblings.

So why don't I like her? She is a selfish twit. Yeah ok, she has a brother with Aspergers and I'm sure that's hard. And her parents had a surprise pregnancy, so at 17 she has a new baby sister. Big whup. In every scene she's defensive, passive-aggressive and blows off her parents attempts to be a part of her life in pretty much every way. She's not even the black makeup wearing, smoking, bad-grade getting, "troubled" teen in the show. She's supposed to be the good girl, the achiever. Granted, they've characterized her as being "imperfect," but I think they are going for more of a "this is normal for a teenage girl, get with it you prudes," when she starts having sex with her older boyfriend. gets drunk at a party and treats her parents like dirt.

In the episode I just watched, she gets into Cornell, which is super exciting for her family. Good job, kid. But then her parents start talking about how expensive it is ($60,000 a year? holy schnikeys) and privately they agree they need to talk to her about the possibility that she can't go.

Hold up, there. Your daughter applied to go to a $60k a year school and you're just now going to talk about money with her? Um, hello? Does anyone else think that's a little backward?

Ok, so they tell her that finances might be an issue, so ask her to "keep her options open." She immediately shuts down, starts giving them the "it's FINE, go away," bit, which of course actually means, "I hate you and you always let me down."

I'm sorry miss thing, but if having a brother with Aspergers and a new baby in the family hasn't taught you that you aren't the center of the universe, I don't know if anything will.

Instead of realizing sometimes reality bites and you have to live with it, she's bitter. She's bitter and angry that her brother is a mess and her parents had another baby - but mostly the brother thing. "Max needs something, so I don't get to go to the school that I want." Well boo hoo!

Is this what teenagers are like? Someone please tell me there is hope and my children will not be this self absorbed. This character has no sense of loyalty to her family beyond what they can do for her, she is bitter and angry about the way her family has turned out because it is inconvenient for her and the passive-aggressive thing she does whenever her parents try to reach her. Oh my word.

Ok, obviously I'm getting way too worked up over a silly TV show. But it isn't just the show - this makes me look at the state of our culture and want to cry. Because this is how we're raising our children. Ok, certainly not all of us by any stretch. But this show is like a big secular culture extravaganza, and honestly, it makes me so sad.

Because this is how families with no faith suffer. This is how families with no faith go astray. They have nothing to ground them, nothing to guide their path. Their children so often grow up with no sense of sacrifice, no sense of giving to others, no sense of taking one for the team as being a part of life.

At the end, the father was poised to tell her it was a definite no, that they can't do it. But he takes one look at her sad little face and relents, telling her they will do whatever it takes for her to go. Sigh. Yeah, because making sure she's drowning in debt is a great idea, but at least she won't be shooting you dirty looks across the dinner table anymore. Until the next thing doesn't go her way.

I desperately hope I can do a better job with my kids. I know it's possible; I know a few teenagers and young adults who do get the importance of the family, who do get that sometimes we have to sacrifice for each other; who do understand that they aren't the center of the universe and that bad things coming their way isn't always just about them. And what do you know, they're all from families with faith. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying families without faith can't be great families and raise great kids. I'm sure it happens. (And I know families with faith don't always have strong families either). But without faith, you're driving through life with no map, no compass, and absolutely no sense of where you're even going. Some get lucky, and that's great. But a lot of people don't and that makes me sad.

Friday, October 19, 2012

On busyness and filling our time

Life with kids is busy.

Whether they work outside the home, stay home full time, or some combination; whether they drive carpool to school, put kids on a bus, or homeschool - parents are busy. From morning till night, parents live in a crazy world of preparing meals, dressing, correcting, loving, reading, playing, watching and otherwise being with their kids.

During my oldest son's kindergarten year, when I was staunchly trying to avoid the little voice in my head that was trying to get me to think about homeschooling, one of my main fears and objections (when I would allow myself to consider the possibility), was that I was too busy to homeschool. How could I possibly fit it in? It would be so much work!

In fact, that's one of the things people often say to me when the subject comes up. "I could never homeschool! I don't have time! I don't know how you do it!" That, along with "I don't have the patience," probably tops the list of responses I get when I mention I homeschool.

I was thinking about that today - about how concerned I was about the busyness of homeschooling. But the truth is, I don't know that I'd feel any less busy if my kids were attending school. Granted, maybe if you added up the time I spend doing things all day, every day, there would be less to do if I wasn't homeschooling. But in terms of how I feel about it? I don't know that I'd feel some overabundance of time if I wasn't homeschooling.

Granted, my life feels crazy busy a lot of the time. But if I was sending the kids to traditional school, there would be early mornings to get everyone up and dressed, lunches to be made, and kids to hurry off to school. My daughter would still be home with me, and there would still be errands to run, things to do at home, and a child to entertain. This year, with a kinder and a 2nd grader, school pick up would be at two different times. Then afternoons full of homework and trying to fit in any other activities or interests. Dinner, a little time after, and the bedtime routine would follow.

I bet I'd collapse into bed just as tired as I am now.

I think very often, we let our tasks fill up the space we have. If we have 5 things to do, it could take all day, even if we're capable of accomplishing 10. But when we have those 10 things to do, we make it happen (or sometimes not - case in point, laundry in this house). After a while with more to accomplish in a day, you grow accustomed to it, and it becomes the new normal. Sort of like once you've had several children, you wonder what was so hard about parenting one. But parenting one child did seem to take up all the time in the day, yet people manage to add one, two, three, four, or more to their families. We fill the time we have.

Just some random musings today I guess.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Because I said so!"

Have you ever found yourself, usually in a moment of frustration with your kids, echoing the words of your own parents? Whether it be "First name, middle name!" or "Because I said so!" or perhaps, "There are starving people in the world who would be happy to have that dinner!".... it probably makes you cringe, at least a little. Maybe a lot.

But sometimes they just give you good ideas.

When I was a kid, probably around 10 years old, my younger brother and I were with my dad (divorced parents, we lived with Dad on weekends). We tended to bicker quite a bit and at some point, my dad had had enough. He tape recorded us fighting and then made us listen to it. I still remember it, all these years later. It was so horrifying, to hear my awful little voice whining at my brother over absolutely nothing. I hated it so much, I remember begging him to turn it off. I'm sure it didn't stop us from fighting forever, but I bet the rest of our weekend was darn right peaceful.

Tonight my oldest son was gearing up for a little bedtime dramatics. He was completely fine until the second I was closing the door, when suddenly out of nowhere, he had a "weird feeling in his throat." Oh boy. We've been through this particular "situation" a couple of times in the last few months. Weird feeling in throat leads to overly dramatic freak out session wherein child believes he has either been poisoned, has some sort of inexplicable disorder in which he will not be able to continue breathing once he falls asleep, despite the fact that he has always been completely healthy, or some other equally ridiculous concoction. The poor kid has just the right personality/temperament/physiology combination for these kinds of bedtime hysterics (and I mean hysterics - the first time he pulled the "weird throat thing" it took forever to calm him down). He's a worrier by nature, and coupled with being rather bright and inquisitive along with extraordinarily sensitive to being even the least bit sleep deprived.. it's a recipe for nighttime meltdowns. (Not that this is typical behavior, really - but he tends to be the boy who cried "something is wrong with me!" so we're pretty well versed in his brand of drama.)

Tonight I tried to convince him that he was fine (since the other time he's had a "weird feeling in his throat" he's been completely fine physically), but he was headed down the too-upset-to-reason-with road on a fast track to meltdown-city. He followed me out when I attempted to just leave the room (to say I was highly frustrated would be an understatement), and despite my ordering him back to bed, he stood there half-crying and looking at me like I was supposed to wave a magic wand and make him feel better. That, or let him get up and hang out until he feels better. (Sorry buddy, ain't happenin').

Then it occurred to me - the camera. I quickly grabbed my little point and shoot, clicked it to "video" and before I could point it at him, he'd bolted, attempting to hide in his closet. I followed him in, recording, and by the time his brother had dug him out from behind a blanket, we were all laughing. I didn't wind up recording any whining or whimpering or random questions about whether something might be in his throat that will inexplicably grow during the night, rendering him unable to speak in the morning. But the very thought of me recording him in a state of upset was enough for him to decide to let it go and calm down. As I left the room for the second time, he gave me a little shrug and smile that said, "Yeah, I know."

Thinking back on my Dad's trick, all I have to say is - well played Dad, well played.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Focusing on the positive

I've started, deleted and restarted posts several times today, mostly with the theme of "woe is me because...." I've had a stressful day, coming off a stressful weekend and tomorrow and the next day have some big hurdles in store. But in the spirit of keeping things in perspective, here are my reasons that the crappy stuff in my way right now is actually good.

1. My van is in the shop overnight and the exact words of the guy at the dealership were, "It certainly isn't going to be cheap, but...." HOWEVER, unless this amounts to more than my van is actually worth, we have the money to handle this and it won't be going on a credit card. This is HUGE for us.

2. Still on the topic of the van, we've had it for 5 years and we've never really put any serious money into it. We're pushing 100,000 miles and it has been a great vehicle. So even if it does put us back quite a bit, it isn't really that bad, all things considered.

3. And at least I have a reliable vehicle to use. And so does my husband.

4. My husband just finished up a Lego convention over the weekend. My stress over it is how much money he wound up spending on gas and food and everything else. Ouch. HOWEVER, he had a really great time and it was a nice break for him. He appreciated me being supportive of him going and it was a well-deserved bit of frivolity for a guy who works his butt off for his family.

5. Plus, his castle overlooking a medieval village creation that he built won Best Castle and came in second for Best in Show. Sa-weet!
Yes, he built this. Out of Legos. And yes, he is a grown up. Technically.
6. Despite having to be gone half the day to take my van to the dealer, we managed to get in a full day worth of schoolwork and both boys cooperated quite well. All things considered, that part of the day went rather smoothly.

7. Tomorrow I have to somehow finagle my schedule, my kids, carseats, and a shuttle ride to get my van back since my husband has to commute to his office (60 miles away). HOWEVER, my bestie (who also lives right next door) has my back and between the two of us, we're going to make it work.

8. My oldest son has get-cavities-filled-take-2 on Wednesday morning. We attempted to get them filled last month and he freaked out so badly, we left without even getting his mouth numb. It was horrible. Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad dentist appointment. And we have to attempt it again Wednesday morning. HOWEVER, my wonderful, wonderful husband is taking the morning off work to take him so I don't have to. And he's better than I am at getting through to our son when he's in freak-out mode, so I'm hopeful that they'll come home sans holes in teeth.

9. This Friday is our trip to the pumpkin patch with our homeschool group. No "howevers" there - I'm just looking forward to it.

10. Money wise, this month is going to be really tight - between the Lego convention and the van and my son's cavities, not to mention dealing with the bills for my other son's recent ER visit (OMGosh, how could it cost THAT much?!?!). HOWEVER, I think this is giving us a HUGE opportunity to face our bad financial habits and deal with them. It is going to mean making some changes in our spending, keeping careful track of what we've spent, and actually using that information to change our behavior. We're bad at all that. But we've managed to claw ourselves out of credit card debt, we have enough of a cushion to weather a couple of blows (the van, for example) and I am DETERMINED to ride out this month and actually stick to our plan. We made the plan together, so we're both on board - we just need to face that for things to change, we have to actually change. It is giving me a chance to look at what I spend money on and think about what is really important. Do I really need that? Can I manage without? Can I just cook dinner instead of grabbing take out? Can we make do with less? We need to, for spiritual reasons as much as financial ones. I'm hopeful that even though this month is going to be tough, it will be tough in a good way and we'll come out the other side feeling good about having managed it well.

Phew. That post was much better to write than the whiny ones I kept starting.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

How we wound up a homeschooling family

After having a few conversations recently about our choice to homeschool, I have been thinking about the road that led to our decision. I've posted bits and pieces of our homeschooling journey here, and although I didn't start this blog with the intent of focusing on homeschooling (I wasn't doing it at the time), I decided to go ahead and write "that post" - the one that explains why on earth we're doing this and how we got here.

I never thought I'd be a homeschooler. I have said it before and I will probably still be saying it years from now. When my oldest son, David was little, I found him a sweet little preschool and he started there when he was 3. He went there for two years, and we signed up our next son to attend and registered David for kindergarten at our local public school. I definitely had reservations back then, but no serious inkling that homeschooling was an option.

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat: I am not anti-school. I am not anti-teacher. I have great respect for what they do and I know there are lots of great teachers out there. We need schools, public and private and we need good teachers.

But I did have doubts. Although kindergarten was fine for my son, and he had what I would consider a very good teacher, there was something nagging at me. He was such a curious, question-asking, passionate-about-learning kid. He loved school, except he kept asking why he had to spend all this time on things he already knew. He knew how to read fairly well, but he was still stuck reciting "A says a, ant on an apple, a, a, a," every day. He wanted to learn about science and animals, but the closest they got was a "sink and float" unit. Math was making patterns and sorting and bending wikki stix into number shapes. He liked being around other kids (he's the definition of an extrovert - if he is never alone again in his life, he'll be thrilled), his teacher adored him, he rarely got in trouble and he excelled at everything. Sounds great, right? But that spark, that excitement, that passion he had - I could see it starting to fade. He was losing his sense that school meant the joy of learning; it was beginning to mean "doing a bunch of stuff until I get to go home."

As the school year turned into summer, I pondered and worried. I wondered if private school would be better. They're supposed to be better, right? I thought maybe we could find a way to send him to Catholic school, although I knew we couldn't afford it and the location is anything but convenient. These swirls of doubt stirred in my mind and wouldn't go away. I tried to banish these thoughts, tell myself it was "good enough." I was involved in his education, after all. I was in his classroom regularly and we'd read books at home and do all the right things.

I did manage to do one thing right in the midst of my concern. Around the middle of his kindergarten year, I started to pray about it. I prayed that God would guide me to the right decision. At the time, I was certainly not thinking homeschool. But I prayed that God would help us understand the best course for our family with regards to our kids' education. I just wasn't expecting the answer.

It started with a blog post. I was poking around House Unseen, Life Unscripted, and I came across her post about secretly (or maybe it was not-so-secretly) wishing she could homeschool (she does now, by the way, and if I had more time and/or energy, I'd be super sweet and find that post, but I'm not, so oh well). I read her reasons for thinking about homeschooling, and I thought.. yeah. I get that. I feel it too.

Then homeschooling seemed to be everywhere around me. I have a close friend who homeschools and I poked around her blog. Someone posted a random article that linked to something else, that led me to read about homeschooling. I kept seeing things about homeschooling popping up here and there and it seemed like the idea just wouldn't leave me alone. At the time, I was firmly in the "I think homeschooling is great for other people, but certainly not for me," camp. I didn't think it was bad (although I did have some common misconceptions about the whole "socialization" thing), but I was quite sure I could never manage to do it.

Then it happened. I read another post by Dwija of House Unseen, and it was all about their final decision to homeschool (again, I'd link the post, but I am too lazy to find it right now). What I remember about it is the whole family went around and sort of voted, or chimed in - and they were all in favor. Then I seem to recall her describing a lot of hugging and excitement at the new direction their family was choosing.

And you know what? I was jealous.

I realized I was totally envious of this family that had decided to keep their kids home. Why on earth should I be envious? I had already told myself, and in a round about way told God, that homeschooling was not an option. I mean, it's nice and all, but there's no way. It would be so much work! I have three whole kids! How would I ever figure out what, or how, to teach them? When would I do it? When would I get other things done? How? Why? Wait! Nooooooooooooooo!

Then I got my head out of my, well, you know, and I started thinking straight. I did what I do best, and I researched the heck out of it. I bookmarked. I took notes. I made spreadsheets. I made lists. And a strange thing happened. The more I read, the more I researched, the more I looked - the more excited I got. It was like opening an plain, old, worn looking book; something I was almost too skeptical to give a chance. But as the book opened and the pages turned, I had to blink in surprise because the pages glowed with light. This whole new world was illuminated before me and the more I read, the more I loved what I was learning.

I did all this without a word to anyone, and only the tiniest whisper to God. If I said it aloud, I might actually, you know, do it. And that was way too scary. But first grade was rapidly approaching and I knew I had to figure out what I was going to do, and soon. I spent some time making yet another list - this one a simple list of pros and cons. When I finished, my list of pros was pretty long, and my list of cons was pretty short - and many of those had little question marks next to them. I wasn't too sure they would be cons at all.

At this point, I came clean to my husband. He was understandably surprised, but mostly wanted to know my reasoning. I told him all about what I'd learned, what my reasons were, and showed him my list. He was open to the idea, but a little leery of jumping in right away. School was just a couple of weeks away. He was worried I was getting ahead of myself and didn't want to make a big decision too quickly (which is funny, now that I think back on it because he is the spontaneous one and I'm always the one urging caution and taking my time.)

We went on a family vacation and although we certainly didn't spend the entire week mulling over the idea, it did give us some good opportunities for both reflection and conversation. I'd prayed about it intensely since I had broached the idea with my husband and felt more strongly about it with each passing day. Finally, after letting it sit for a couple of days, I told my husband I wanted to homeschool and I wanted to start that year. Like, immediately.

This is where his unshakable faith in me is so humbling. He agreed. He was still a little unsure, mostly because the decision felt rushed. He hadn't had the benefit of my previous months of research and pondering. But he agreed. He felt like I had a lot of good reasons, he saw the benefits and decided that if I felt it was the right thing and the right time, then he'd support me.

The final piece of the puzzle was our son. We had brought up the idea to him while on vacation. I asked him if he knew what homeschooling was. He said sure, he knew and mentioned our good friends who homeschool their daughter. Then I told him that we were thinking about whether that might be a good idea for us and asked him if he thought the idea might be ok. He said yes, he liked the idea a lot. At that point, we assured him we were still considering it and not to worry about it.

When we told him we had decided to homeschool, his reaction was priceless. He said, "Yesssss! I was hoping you'd choose homeschool."

Can't get much better than that. We started our homeschool adventure in September of 2011.

Here we are, a little over a year later, and none of us would change our decision. It hasn't always been easy, but I have always moved forward with the clear feeling that the Holy Spirit led us here. I sometimes wonder why, and sometimes wonder how I wound up one of, you know, "those" people. But this lifestyle works so well for our family, I am so grateful I listened to God's call, even when I wasn't sure. My children are thriving, learning, loving and we are enjoying this road God has set us on very much.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Money stress

I read somewhere once that people, no matter their income level, will generally feel that they wish they made about 20% more money. Whether they make $25,000 a year or $250,000 a year, they tend to answer the same - you ask how much money they would prefer to be making, and it is usually around 20% more than what they have.

I am so guilty of this.

My husband started a new job at the beginning of this year. He makes more money than he did at his old job, and yet we still feel like we have no extra money. Ever. Part of it makes perfect sense. We are finally putting away for retirement, we bought a life insurance policy and the much longer commute eats up a significant portion of his extra earnings. Late last year it seemed as if we were about to emerge from our financial tight spot and finally make some headway. We'd have all this extra money! What would we do? We'd have money for vacations and extras and birthdays and Christmas without running up more debt! It was going to be great!

Fast forward nearly 9 months and that hasn't been the case. We are still left feeling like we wish we made just "this" much more. We've had some necessary increases in our expenses (retirement and life insurance) and some inevitable ones (commuting). So our day to day, week to week, month to month finances are left pretty much where they were before.

Granted, we are not struggling in the sense that we can't pay our bills or put food on the table. So that is GREAT. But I have some serious concerns about the economic stability of our country and if things keep getting worse for the economy, I don't know what we're going to do. We're squeaking by right now, but what if gas goes up to $10 a gallon or the price of food keeps rising like it has in the last 5 years? I don't see much to indicate that things are getting better (or cheaper) and I wish we were in a better position to weather such a storm.

The problem with us is that we don't really want to change our decisions or our behavior. Not really. Every month we say we're going to do better, we're going to stick to our budget, we're going to stop overspending. But a week or so into the month, I haven't kept track well, my husband doesn't think about the budget ever, and I have gotten so tired of the role of bad-news-wifey that I ignore the problem and don't say anything when we're bumping into our budget threshold and he wants to go grab pizza.

I'm honestly not sure what to do to change things. I guess I know what needs to change - we need to spend less money. I'm just not sure how to do it. That sounds so dumb - just spend less, right? I wish it were so easy. We have never, ever in the history of our relationship been good at sticking to a budget and spending money well. We spent years as a double-income-no-kids couple and although we did buy a house during that time (and had the housing market not tanked so badly, we would have made quite a bit of equity in that house and now our current one), but other than that, we blew through a TON of money. Sure, some of it was awesome and not regrettable in the least. We went on some cool trips and did some cool stuff that I wouldn't take back. But we entered the job market in the midst of the dot-com boom and both had decent jobs that paid pretty well right off the bat. We got spoiled and it seemed like the money train was just going to keep going up, up, up.

Now we're a (mostly) single income family of five and that is a totally different thing. We spend more on food, gas, clothes, utilities, everything. We're in a totally different ballgame and our spending hasn't changed with the changes in our family.

Part of the problem too is looking at how much money my husband makes now and feeling like, "This should be amazing. This should be SO much money. WHERE IS IT?" He's making a very good living, or it seems like it should be. Why can't we be perfectly comfortable with what we have?

Because neither of us really wants to change anything. We want to have the things we have, go to the store and grab whatever, whenever. Neither of us really wants to have to reconcile where our money is going or have to pay attention to every little bit we spend. We should have been doing just that from the beginning, but it has always proved to be so frustrating, time consuming and ultimately, neither of us really stick to it or alter our decisions based on whether or not we've gone over budget.

We could live more comfortably if we cut out some things. Sure, we'd miss them. But wouldn't the freedom of getting out of debt and having the money to spend on things like birthday parties and family vacations make it all worth it? I say that in theory, but when I look at our spending line by line, I'm not sure where to start.

This has been an ongoing issue for us since basically forever. We're smart people - we ought to be able to manage our money better than this. But so far, we're not so great at it. I'm not sure what the practical solution really is, but I'm determined to find it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Conquring the doubt monster

I'm sure I've rambled about doubt before. I'm no stranger to doubt's creeping little tendrils wrapping around my otherwise comfortable existence. There was a time when I doubted more deeply than I do now, but I still find myself wondering... is this really what I think? Do I really believe in all this? Am I really doing this?

It isn't just faith that I occassionally doubt, although I admit to doubting my faith more than most people around me would realize. I find myself doubting all kinds of things. Then I realized the other day that most of the time my doubt isn't between me and whatever it is I'm doubting. The source of the doubt is my ever-present and hard-to-get-over concern over what others think. I don't doubt homeschooling because I have any internal or external reason to do so - I start doubting when I start thinking about what OTHER people may or may not think of me for it. I don't doubt my faith because I feel something else is right or because any of the reading and research I've done on the topic pointed me in a different direction - I doubt in the moments when I wonder what others think.

Well isn't that just silly.

I'm not sure why that connection has never occurred to me before, but in a way, it was oddly comforting. I know this about myself - I know I'm too worried about the opinions of others. I always have been. It is something I need to continue working on to keep in perspective.

Doubts have a way of multiplying themselves. Having doubt about something leads to stronger feelings of doubt, simply by the presence of the original doubtful feelings. If I'm feeling this doubt, maybe I'm right to doubt, and look at that, now I'm doubting more....

Remembering that in the midst of a doubt-filled time is helping me to see past it and realize where my doubts are really coming from. Doubting a decision or a belief because you've been challenged and need to focus on it and delve deeper to come to peace is one thing. Being worried that someone (real or theoretical) will judge you for your choice or belief is another thing entirely. I all too often fall into the latter (and it is all usually quite theoretical). It's something I need to work on.

So there you go, doubt monster. I cast thee off into the abyss and will smite thee with my new-found self awareness!

Friday, September 7, 2012

First week of school!

Today marks the end of our first week back to school! And we're all still here!

Overall, things have gone well more often than not. There were some wins and some rough spots and I hadn't counted on how tired the change in routine was going to make me. But we're getting back into the groove of having school work to do and I'm sure in a few weeks things will settle into a new normal - at least for a while.

In the win department, we did morning basket every day and that went well. Our morning basket is essentially a time when we all sit together and read. It's how I fit in things like poetry, literature, and even a little music and artist study (or at least, I will over the course of the year), as well as faith formation for my kindergartener. In the past, I've run into quite a bit of resistance from my Mr. Stinky-Pants five year old over sitting with us for morning basket. Miraculously, this year he hasn't complained a bit. He sits with us on the couch, and even helped pick out Bible stories and fairy tales to read. Today I got out our "Can You Hear It?", which is a book accompanied by a CD featuring classical music and gives prompts to listen for (such as, listening for the sound of the birds chirping in Vivaldi's "Spring" or the bee buzzing around in "Flight of the Bumblebee") and we flitted around the room both as birds to Vivaldi and as bumblebees. Those were some good moments.

As predicted, my five year old isn't as eager to jump into school, and therein lies most of my frustration this week. I am trying to find what works best for him - to sit and do several subjects in a row, thereby getting all his core work done; or to have him do one thing, take a break, come back and do another, and so forth. The problem with the first is he often doesn't have the attention span or willingness to sit through handwriting, read a BOB book, and then do a math activity. The downside to the second approach is that once I let him go from the table, it is very, very difficult to round him back up and refocus on schoolwork. This is one of those things that I'll have to work out as I go because he's really unpredictable and hard to pin down. It will take some trial and error (involving a lot of error and a bit of fist clenching on my part) to figure out what will work best for him. He can literally go from asking to do just one more letter in his handwriting book, eagerly practicing his "frog jump capitals," one minute, to slumping in his seat and grunting like a wounded baby animal at any mention of trying to lay out 7 tally sticks the next minute. I knew going into this he would be a challenge in more ways than one, but I'm hopeful that with consistent, but reasonable expectations, he'll come around a bit and I won't have to coax him into doing school work every single day.

My second grader is always eager for learning, but he'd really prefer to spend all his time googling animals and watching Discovery channel documentaries. Alas, I am not really an unschooler, so we do have to work on some other subjects in an organized way. This week we worked mostly on math and some language arts, and a really soft start to our history studies. Next week we'll jump into some science and really dig into history as well. At least, I think we will. I'm already struggling to keep everyone focused for just a couple of subjects. It might take a couple more weeks before we can dive in and go full speed ahead with everything.

We also started a preschool group with a few other families who have little learners. I don't really think my 3-year-old daughter needs a ton of academic stuff, but it will be good to have something fun that is focused on her. So often, she's the little tag along, but this group will be at her level. We had the first group this week and I felt woefully unprepared, but it still went well. We'll meet once or twice a month and do some songs, stories, games, crafts, that sort of thing. I'm excited about it and my boys were excited to have some friends over (older siblings of the 3-year-old set).

All in all, a good week. Now I'm going to go surprise my kids with some celebratory popcorn for dinner. Woo hoo!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Starting again. Letting go.

First day of school, round two, is slated for tomorrow morning. I say round two, because about a month ago I attempted to begin our school year and for a variety of reasons, but decided to wait and start in September.

So here we are again, once more on the eve of a new homeschooling year. For reals this time. I have all these great ideas, wonderful books, projects and supplies. And I know tomorrow won't go the way I planned.

It just won't. Tomorrow I will get everyone breakfast, we'll do our morning chores and I'll tell them we're starting our day with morning basket. My five year old will protest and not want to participate. My three year old will want to climb up onto my back as I sit at our table. The boys will argue over who goes first. My seven year old will only want to do art projects. My excitement over our new curricula, our new subjects and all the great things we are going to learn this year won't exactly be shared my the little people I'm supposed to be teaching. It probably won't be smooth, we probably won't get as much done as I would want and things won't go the way I envision.

That's OK.

I am learning that part of homeschooling is letting go. I have to let go of my lofty expectations; let go of the notion that they are as excited as I am for what I've planned. I have to let go of the idea that our days will always be smooth and full of beautiful moments of learning. We'll have those days; we'll have days when I gush about how great homeschooling is for us and how amazing my kids are. And then we'll have days where it feels like herding cats just to get the kids to go upstairs or come out from under their pile of Lego creations.

This year I need to remember to find balance; balance my expectations with reality, my plans with flexibility, my desire for order with what is doable with three little kids. I need to remember that we have many years of learning ahead of us and while we do take a fairly organized and somewhat structured approach to school, there are numerous opportunities for learning throughout our days, throughout the year, and we'll all benefit from that. I need to remember that one of the most important things I can do as a homeschooling mom is nurture my relationships with my children and their relationships with each other. I do want them to get a robust education. And they are still little; we have time.

So tomorrow we begin again; another year in this crazy adventure I find myself in, called homeschooling. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - this isn't the life I once imagined, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

One of those gratitude posts

Today we had a third birthday party for my daughter. She'll be three this coming Wednesday and we spent the day immersed in pink princessness. Pink cake, lots of pink balloons, pink crowns to decorate and plenty of pink wrapping paper.

As I sat rocking with her and reading Curious George Goes to the Beach for about the 800th time, I had a rush of gratitude. I know the book by heart, and my mind was wandering as I recited it to her. I looked around her room and thought about how cute it is and how sweet it will look when we get her new big girl bed and fun new bedding in a few days. Then I thought about how lucky we are to have this great house with plenty of space for all of us, full of fun toys for my kids and everything we need (and more!) to live a cozy, comfortable life.

I thought about how lucky I am to have the kids I do. There was a time in my life when I feared I would never be where I am now; a time when having kids was not a certainty. We weathered that road and God blessed us with three wonderful children. It may not have happened according to my schedule, but it turns out, God's timing was perfect. I know, right? Imagine that.

I am in a season of life that is busy, sometimes difficult and oftentimes tiring. But each day is such a gift. My aunt's recent diagnosis with terminal brain cancer has really reminded me to enjoy each and every day, because we truly don't know what tomorrow holds. I am a hopeless optimist, so I don't usually spend too much time in worry or fear for what might happen. But I can also face reality, and the reality is, sometimes those bad things do happen. On the days that they don't, we have to remember to be grateful, to thank the Lord for the day we've enjoyed, and treasure the time we have on this earth with the people we love.

I'm listening to my boys play outside with their friend who is spending the night, even though it's past their bedtime, and their squeals and shrieks are music to my ears. My daughter was tuckered out from her big day and she's cozied up in her bed, all tucked in with her new mermaid dress laid out on her floor, ready for tomorrow. My husband is downstairs vegging out a little bit to an XBOX game and I'm enjoying a few blessed moments of solitude from an otherwise busy (but fun) day. My heart is so full. I am humbled and honored that my life is filled with such magnificent people and such peace and comfort. Things aren't always easy, but God has blessed me so much.

I need to remember to live up to these gifts He has given me.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

In the face of bad news

As anyone who has faced a serious hardship will tell you, sometimes life is going along just fine and then WHAM! you get terrible, horrible, awful news.

This week has been one of those times. On Tuesday, I found out my aunt has brain cancer. Each day that goes by, the news has gotten worse. She has a brain tumor, but they will do surgery. They have to postpone surgery because it is larger than they thought. It is fast growing and clearly malignant. And today we learn that without surgery, she might have a couple of weeks. With surgery, maybe a couple of months.

Out of the blue. Just like that, her whole life has been turned upside down in the most awful way imaginable. I think the only blessing in the way this is unfolding is that she wasn't hit by a truck and killed instantly; she has time to see her family, her husband, her children.

But it's the kind of news that hits you in the gut and makes it hard to breathe. A terrible and stark reminder that tragedy and heartache are out there, and sometimes they happen to you.

I had to tell my boys about what is happening tonight. After a rather long discussion I had to just lay it out there for them. There are bad things in this world. There are horrible illnesses and accidents and bad people who hurt others. Those things happen, and eventually, everyone has to go through times that are hard and make us hurt. But the good news is, most of the time, life is good. Most of the time, we are happy and things are fine and we have good friends and do fun things and we don't feel sad. But yeah, sometimes bad things happen, even to the best of people.

Right now, my heart hurts for my aunt. It hurts for her husband and her kids. It really hurts for my grandma, who is going to have to face the horrible pain of losing a child. I don't care if you are 85 years old, no one wants to bury their daughter. My heart hurts for my dad who is losing a sister who he is very close to. My heart hurts for all the people who's lives she has touched, and for all the people who are hurting because of her illness and who are going to be devastated when she passes.

This life isn't the end, and I take comfort in that. Whatever the days ahead have in store for her, I hope she can take a little comfort in that too.

Tonight I pray that God will care for my aunt Debbie. That he will hold that boisterous, outgoing, and funny soul tight and help her through this terrible trial. I pray that He will guide the hands, hearts and minds of the doctors and nurses who are entrusted with her care. And I pray that He will grant comfort to those who are suffering alongside her and who will miss her so terribly when she is gone. I pray that she has at least a bit more quality time with her family and that her pain and suffering won't be too great. I pray that when He finally does call her name, that all the angels and saints in heaven and loved ones that have gone before her will be there to welcome her home.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

If my boys planned their own curriculum

Today I had a fun conversation with my boys (they are 7 and 5) about what they are interested in learning in the upcoming school year. I asked them two questions - what do you want to learn about this year and what do you want to learn to do this year? They thought for a bit and came up with some fun ideas. A few were silly, some sweet and insightful, but I plan to find a way to incorporate as many as we can (legally... see Grayson's #7).

David, age 7

  1. How to bake a cake
  2. Learn about different types of metal
  3. How engines work
  4. How computers work
  5. Do new dinosaur art projects that are life-like
  6. How to build things with wood and real tools
  7. How to be patient and read a whole chapter book
  8. How to cook
  9. How to sew
  10. Photography - how to take nice pictures
  11. How to play piano
  12. Do parachute experiments (this was after he suggested "learn how to jump out of an airplane, which I had to say no to)
  13. Learn about the human body
  14. Learn how people make things sharp
  15. Learn about moss on trees
  16. Learn about all kinds of bugs
  17. Learn about cats, especially why they have big ears and why our cat chews on grass
  18. Learn how hair grows

Grayson, age 5

  1. Art projects using paper towel rolls
  2. How to build new lego sets (I think he was just hoping for new toys with this one)
  3. How to get money and have a job
  4. How to play basketball
  5. How to put fossils together
  6. How to make cupcakes
  7. How to drive a car
  8. How to build real toys with wood like a toy car
  9. How to use a real camera
  10. How leaves fall off of trees and all about trees
  11. How pencils are made
  12. How to write and read books
  13. How to count to 100
  14. How to make firewood and build a fire
  15. Art project with clay bricks (he had some elaborate ideas with this one, so I think I'll just ask him what supplies he thinks he'll need and let him go to town - I wasn't sure where he was going with it, lol)

I'm so glad I asked for their input. I told them we won't be doing all those things the first day, but I'm going to make a solid effort to refer back to these lists and come up with activities for them. I may revisit this idea again during the school year and see if they have new ideas as well. Granted, we still have our basics to cover, but this just struck me as so sweet and I'm excited about the concept of getting them involved in planning their education, laying the groundwork for a more collaborative effort in the future.