Friday, July 29, 2011

Happy and She Knows It

One of Ainsey's favorite expressions is Happy, Happy. This picture captures just that.


On the way to the zoo ...

And on the way home ...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

News of the Weird .. And of the Sweet

Kolbe, threatening a stuffed Peanuts' character: Charlie Brown, where are the rebel forces?

John: I have to go to the baffroom. Can I take my balloon?

Kolbe: Mr. Rogers was a sniper during the Vietnam War. He's covered with tattoos. That's why he wears all those sweaters.

John: I sent a letter to Gwandma. When she sees it, she's going to say, "I love you, John."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pelee Island

Pelee Island, Ontario, Canada.

When I was nine, I first visited this island that would become a home away from home for my family. We stayed with friends, roamed the beaches, jumped in the waves of Lake Erie.

That was nearly forty years ago. We've forged a ton of memories over four decades.

When I was ten, I spent two weeks here swimming and exploring with my sister, Kate, and our two best friends, Adrienne and Susan. I rode my pink bike with three stripped gears and no working brakes all over the east side of the island, hunting frogs and turtles, looking for sea glass, exploring the lighthouse (and unlocked cottages!).

The lighthouse, circa 1973, was in ruins. To be a true Pelee Islander, according to our friend David, you had to climb the rickety and rotted ladder to the very top of the lighthouse and shout out a curse word.

By that measure, I guess I'm a true Pelee Islander.

More than the lighthouse was in ruins during the summer of 1973. Savage storms had rocked Pelee Island that spring leaving a string of cottages reduced to rubble, a testimony to the fury a storm on the Great Lakes can effect.

When I was twelve, once again, we came to Pelee Island. I was at that horrible in-between age -- desperately wanting to fit into the teenage crowd with their poker games and crushes, their long legs and tan lines. Sadly, I found myself firmly plunked into the ranks of the younger set with my little sister, Karen, and her sweet friend, an even younger Karen. I watched my older sister meet (and quickly dump) her first boyfriend. I saw our friend Lisa kiss her boyfriend good-bye as he left the island. I was so ready Not To Be Twelve.

Some wishes are better left unfulfilled.

Not all Pelee memories are pleasant ones. My father had his first heart episode here. He spent three hours in tachycardia before being air-lifted to a hospital in Cleveland. When your heart crosses into fibrillation, a remote island in Lake Erie is not the place you want to be.

When I was in my twenties, Pelee was the place all of us spent time with boyfriends and girlfriends who would ultimately become in-laws. Pelee Island was our destination when my father, sister, and tiny niece took our sailboat on its maiden voyage from Lake Saint Clair, down the Detroit River, and across Lake Erie. Tiny Megan napped in the cabin in her puffy life jacket.

Here I enjoyed some of my happiest memories as Auntie Kelly. We caught toads and roasted marshmallows, doled out sunscreen and cavorted in the waves. We built a zillion sand castles. (Note to my sweet niece, Megan: You actually won that last contest, but I knew you'd be the more gracious loser. So sorry, Peanut!)

Our Lady Star of the Sea is a tiny, clapboard church on East-West Road. The congregation of Not Many sees a deacon on a good week, a priest once in a blue moon. Twenty years ago, Star of the Sea had a resident pastor who would process into church with his dog, a mixed-breed terrier named Alouette. One Sunday -- in the middle of the prayers of the faithful -- Megan grabbed Alouette, and Alouette bit her. The priest -- whose name I've forgotten, but whose dog I remember -- continued our general intercessions. "For Alouette's manners to improve," he said,  "let us pray to the Lord." We dutifully responded, "Lord, hear our prayer."

When I was thirty-three, I came here with my small family -- husband, Dave, and baby Tim.

In the interest of full disclosure, Pelee Island isn't exactly Martha's Vineyard. The water isn't potable. Milk is pushing $10.00 per gallon. When the wind dies, the heat soars, and biting flies go for the jugular. The roads are mostly dirt and plenty dusty.

Like fine wine, Pelee Island is an acquired taste.

Years ago Dave and I were hiking through Yosemite National Park. As I took in vistas that were truly awe-inspiring, I commented to Dave, "This is the third prettiest place I've ever seen."

Numbers one and two?  Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland, and East Shore Road, Pelee Island.

My parents now live on Pelee Island. Three generations of Regans have caught minnows and hauled in walleyes. Some of us have jumped off the North Dock. We've baked lots of cupcakes and downed our fair share of Mike's Hard Lemonade. We have probably invested a solid decade in Scrabble and Euchre. Yesterday my mother scored 118 points with Grainier. Game over!

These days nieces and nephews occasionally bring along assorted girlfriends and boyfriends who might one day be in-laws. Ainsley digs in the sand, and John begs to swim in The Deep End as he calls Lake Erie. We bike and tube and zip across the island for over-priced ice cream. We fish and hike and collect more sea glass. We spot a painted turtle attempting to lay eggs.

As we rode the ferry back to the mainland last night, I watched my oldest boys playing Go Fish.  Is it a sign of a good vacation, I wondered, if I haven't seen my boys just sitting together for two weeks?

So long, Pelee Island. We'll see you in 2012.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

A Time to Laugh

Take an epic drive, Fourth of  July traffic, and a whole lot of togetherness in close proximity. Mix in late nights, early mornings, and generous helpings of chocolate. Eliminte any semblance of routine. Top it all off with scorching temperatures.

Shaken or stirred, you end up with a bunch of quarreling malcontents who need a little talking to.

Should you be the one doing the talking, mind the words you use. You might just fixate on the point that not a single, solitary  parental request of late has been met with a simple "Yes, Mom" or "Yes, Dad". You might be led to offer a sampling of the less than optimal responses that have passed your way:

But I didn't make the mess ...
But there's nothing to do ...
But he started it ...
But I don't feel like reading ...

The children in question just may be of the male persuasion, and if it escapes your notice that each and every example began with the word but, trust me, it won't escape theirs.

When they begin laughing their heads off, you have two choices. One, you can finish the decapitation or, two, you can join in.

All of this just might bring to mind an anecdote from your teenage years when you and your older sister occasionally took the family car and drove it until it ran out of gas. I mean, if you have two bucks to spare, do you refuel or swing by McDonald's for a large fries? No contest.

So there you are driving on fumes. And suddenly you aren't. Instead, you're running down Maple Road in a torrential downpour headed for who knows where, trying to figure out what to do about the car. And then another car pulls up, a car that happens to be driven by your father who has just noticed a second vehicle belonging to him abandoned on the side of the road. And perhaps he is just a tad perturbed by this whole state of affairs.

He opens the door. You and your sister dutifully climb in. Dear old Dad launches into a tirade of epic proportions that concludes with that classic line You don't have the sense to come in from the rain.

Given the inclement weather, you and your sister just may be overcome with a fit of mirth that simply cannot be contained. Your father -- though in rare form and thoroughly irritated in the face of your moronic behavior -- is, in fact, one of the best souls ever. He, too, will see the humor in the situation and burst out laughing as well.

For Aunt Patti

Daelyn, as reported by Kolbe: When I grow up I want to test bullet-proof vests.

Every mother's dream.

Monday, July 04, 2011

From the Motor City

At 3:10 a.m. we hear that officious voice of our GPS intone, "arriving at destination on right."

If we hadn't been so completely spent, there would have been great rejoicing.

Rend Your Hearts and Not Your Garments

And more of Father K. and his words of wisdom ...

Months ago Father K. offered a homily that included anecdotes from his childhood spent in Savannah, Georgia. He grew up as the youngest -- he called himself a "surprise" -- in a large Catholic family whose home reflected their Catholic identity. He shared about his Jewish neighbors with whom he shared a close relationship and the fact that their home reflected their Jewish heritage.

Father K.'s homily focused on the place that symbols -- physical, tangible items -- have on the life of the faithful, be they Catholic, Jewish, or that of another religion. He stressed the importance of inward disposition over external piety. As always he was articulate and to the point. Weeks later I was the Atrium chatting with children ages five to ten. Two of them distinctly remembered Father K.'s homily and quoted it almost verbatim. They got it. We can wear a cross or scapular, decorate our walls with holy water fonts and blessed palms, fill our bookshelves with Bibles and catechisms. In the end, it is the heart that matters so much more than outward conformity. The life of faith is not to be worn like so many spiritual merit badges sewn on a sash.

If wearing a cross reminds me to take all thoughts captive for Christ, great. If leaving a Bible out prompts me to actually crack the thing open, good. If answering  the phone "Hello, God bless you," restrains me from cussing out telephone solicitors, well, victory!

A growing number of women in my home parish have begun wearing veils at Mass. Let me issue one enormous disclaimer: I have never read more than about a hundred words about veiling. I have few opinions on the matter and almost zero in the way of education on the topic. I do have clear memories of my mother wearing a veil to Mass when I was very young. In a similar vein, I recall the elaborate ritual the altar servers (or was it the priest?) would go through to veil the paten and chalice left on the altar at the end of Mass. Both my mother's veil and the veiling of the articles of  the Mass really, really intrigued me as a young child.

In the Atrium we dwell on (and draw on) a child's innate and natural sense of wonder. You don't have to prod a child to be interested in a bird's nest, a wiggling worm, the story of a miracle, a lit candle. Wonder is in-born and hard-wired.

Veiling drew on my sense of wonder. What's under that veil, I thought, and why is it worth covering?

As I have looked around my church and seen the growing number of veiled women, I have briefly considered doing so myself.  And I conclude -- without judging others in the least -- that at this season, my life of faith would be better served by considering the words of  Joel 2:13:
Even now, declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents from sending disaster.
On this passage, Spurgeon comments:

Garment rending and other outward signs of religious emotion, are easily manifested and are frequently hypocritical; but to feel true repentance is far more difficult, and consequently far less common ... True religion is too humbling, too hear-searching, too thorough for the tastes of the carnal men; they prefer something more ostentatious, flimsy, and worldly; Outward observances are temporarily comfortable; eye and ear are pleased; self-conceit is fed, and self-righteousness is puffed up; but they are ultimately delusive for in the time of death, and at the end of judgment, the soul needs something more substantial than ceremonies and rituals to lean upon ...
Heart-rending is divinely wrought and solemnly felt. It is a secret grief which personally experienced, not in mere form, but as a deep, soul moving work of the Holy Spirit upon the inmost heart of each believer.
The text commands us to rend our hearts, but they are naturally as hard as marble: how, then, can this be done? We must take them to Calvary.
The walk of faith is often more of an amble than a steady trek. As a pseudo-type A accustomed to setting and meeting goals, I grow frustrated at the lack of progress I make in moving further into that interior castle that is a life of deep prayer. But at this juncture, it is this inward transformation I need so much more than a new and different external sign of piety.

Let's be real -- it's so much easier to blog about faith than to live it out, to preach it to my children than to practice it with sincerity and humility, to reach for the externals than to rend my  heart.

(During July Small Steps for Catholic Moms focuses on the virtue of humility. Read Elizabeth Foss' thoughts here.)