Monday, December 30, 2013

A Gracious Response to the VA

So the boys' school made headlines both here and in the national media. Here's the scoop:  Students arrived at our local VA hospital to sing Christmas carols and were handed a list of twelve, VA approved, secular songs, and were informed that those were the only songs allowed. The principal chose to take our students back to school.

There's been some outrage.

And then some outrage in response to the outrage.

They should have stayed! They were right to leave! And my favorite: What would Pope Francis have done?

I know the principal -- he's a friend, my former boss, a co-worker for many years. When I've done some small service for our school, I've received a thoughtful thank you note. Any time in the hurly burly of teacher-principal relationships things became tense, I'd expect and get a kind word in short order. So this I know: Dan is a gracious man. He arrived at the VA intent on bringing a little joy and levity to our veterans, not planning to ignite controversy. And I'm sure he handled it all with tact and decency.

I remember Christmas caroling as a child. We lived in a family-friendly neighborhood with a slew of small houses. My sister and I would team up with our two best friends, Adrienne and Susan, and spend hours copying out song sheets by hand. Those were the days when copy, cut, and paste was the real deal -- loose leaf paper, scissors, and tape. Sheaves of paper in hand, we would wend our way around the block singing Christmas tunes.We did it for the love of singing . . . and because indulgent neighbors usually handed us cookies or, better still, a handful of change.

I recall the night we stood in someone's foyer, began to sing, and then noticed Happy Hanukkah strung across the window in blue crepe paper and a Menorah sitting on a nearby table.

For a moment I thought of six-year-old John's response when he sees two people kissing: Awkward!

But it wasn't awkward.

Because the women listened and smiled and handed us I don't remember what, quarters or brownies, and thanked us for coming.

She was gracious.

We weren't there to insult or to convert. We were a bunch of kids spreading a little Christmas cheer. We were not there to offend, and she didn't take offense.

What is so sorely lacking in this world of ours is this sort of graciousness, a simple, humble tendency to think the best of others and to resist reaching for a memorandum or a pitchfork and a torch every time things don't go exactly our way.

We've attempted to teach our kids that being passionate about your faith does not require disdain for the faith of another person. It helps that they've grown up in an ecumenical community and have been raised along side Jewish cousins. That doesn't mean it's been a slam dunk in any respect. Children are black and white thinkers. If what I do is good, and you do something different, then, logically, that different thing must be bad, right? And then there's boys being boys. They have this innate need to pick, poke, and prod at every single thing -- braces, weight, glasses, zits, whether you say You Guys or Y'all, and, yes, the lengthy list includes religion.

We were heading for the dairy case at Food Lion one December night a few years back when I heard my older boys chuckling and then spotted my visiting nephew furiously texting. We had just passed the meat section and wouldn't you know my guys just couldn't resist making pork jokes to their Jewish cousin. Where oh where can you pick up a thumb screw when you need it? I hissed ominous threats while trying to reach my sister whose husband had already talked to his son and basically told him this: Lighten up and learn to take a pork joke or two.

It was a lesson in being gracious.

A lesson for all. of. us.

We can arms ourselves with lists and legislation. We can rattle virtual sabers all over Facebook and Twitter. We can continue to attempt to draw a hard line between church and state, between the secular and the sacred, between what happens on private and public property, between Christian high school students and aging VA patients.

And the society we produce will be more sterile and less engaged, comprised of cold, compartmentalized, homogeneous entities who can neither share nor celebrate with one another -- in short, a society that has forgotten how to be gracious.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Rent a Four-Year-Old

Everyone needs a four-year-old on Christmas morning.

So said my friend Holly on Facebook.

She's spot on.

Add a six-year-old boy for an extra dose of holiday cheer.

They love it all.

They can't wait to see baby Jesus in the manger. And, boy, was John disappointed that the manger was still empty after 6:00 p.m. Mass. They love the lights. John loves the Christmas station  -- I'd bet he knows thirty Christmas carols by now, and he walks around the house singing them. (And nothing beats his rendition of "Walking Around the Christmas Tree".)

And then, of course, there are the gifts. I know, I know -- really, I know -- it's not all about the gifts, but little people in the house make the gift giving so. much. fun.

Everyone needs a four-year-old on Christmas morning.

They love it all.

Ainsley has worn her Dora jammies for three four days straight. They are beginning to remind me of my nephew, Nick, and his Batman t-shirt. We had to peel it off him at night and run it through the laundry fast.

John loves his pirate ship. He loves his Batman watch. He loves his space jammies. He loves it all, and he makes everyone around him happier.

The big boys are content as well. Kolbe is thrilled with his Penny Board. Tim's favorite was a board game -- Axis and Allies: The D Day edition. He and his friends played for six hours the other day.

Christmas was a long, quiet, relaxing day enjoying the kids enjoying their gifts and enjoying the special gift of having Dave's parents with us for the first time. I think I got out of my jammies about three o'clock when a priest friend of ours popped by to say hello.

The morning of December 26th found me cruising up the highway headed for the doctor's office with Kolbe riding shotgun (fever, cough, vomiting -- that perfect trifecta of  post-holiday misery). I passed the mall, and it was packed. Not Christmas Eve packed. Believe it or not, I -- a person who doesn't go the mall five times in any given year -- entered the mall on Christmas Eve. JC Penney, see, knows how to get you in the store. Embracing the generosity that makes the Christmas season so special, Penney's sent me a coupon for $10 off a $10 purchase. Funny, they seem to do this every year. And who can stand to let that pass? Free stuff!

The trick is that there are Exclusions. As in almost every single thing in the store is Excluded. This year, however, I scored. I grabbed the last item in the entire store that wasn't on sale -- a red Izod tie that retailed for a steep $16 -- and got it for a mere six bucks.

I think the last time I was in a mall on Christmas Eve was about 1982. Sometime about mid-morning on Christmas Eve, Dad let slip that perhaps -- just maybe -- he hadn't quite gotten around to buying anything for Mom and would my sister and I please bail him out? Enablers that we were, we did indeed bail out dear Dad. So about 4:00 on Christmas Eve, we were standing in the checkout line at Sears in Oakland Mall. The front doors opened. In strolled two teenage boys who proceeded to grab armfuls of coats and bolt back outside to a getaway car.


I don't like shopping on Christmas Eve.

I like shopping the day after Christmas even less.

Many years ago my sister and I used to hit the stores for the post-Christmas sales. Oh, the thrill of the chase! Crate and Barrel was always high on our list of stores to hit. Cute, trendy Christmas decor for a song. I bought my tree skirt there  -- a beautiful tree skirt I love, love, love -- and raced home to to brag to Dave about my savvy shopping.

Me, thrilled: Crate and Barrel had all their Christmas wares 75% off. $38 bucks!

Dave: Great! So what was the sale price?

Me, perplexed: Ummmm, $38 bucks.

Dave: ???

This year the very idea of going shopping makes me feel like I've eaten too much chocolate cake. We didn't overdo this year, but enough. Just enough.

(I'm typing this just before getting a piece of pumpkin pie for lunch. Ironic.)

Anyway . . .
Merry Christmas!

And borrow a four-year-old if you need a little holiday cheer!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Manger or the Mall

So maybe I happened upon a reflection on Advent that had a title similar to this one.

And maybe I rolled my eyes at it.

And maybe I didn't even read the thoughtful, uplifting words the author offered because, darn it!, there was shopping to do!

We have two kinds of Christmases around here: There's At Home Christmas, and there's Go To Michigan Christmas.

This year is At Home and, though I dearly, dearly love my family, I am so, so, so happy that I am not engaged in the madness that invariably precedes any road trip --  inventorying mittens, wringing my hands over the mountain of luggage and gifts that must somehow fit into our a mini-van, eyeing the forecast along I-77 and I-75, fielding phone calls from my Dad who has been eyeing the forecast along I-77 and I-75.

For many years, friends and I attended an appreciation dinner that typically fell on around December 14th. My good friend Anna once quipped, "Can't they appreciate me in February?"

Well said.

I love my family. I can love them next July, too.

At Home Christmas means no weather worries, no random thoughts about swapping the mini-van for a Suburban, no checking caller I.D. to see if my Dad is phoning in an updated forecast.

There is, of course, a downside. Crunch time comes early because everything that would normally go North in our well-worn van goes U.S. Mail instead.

I  have nine  eleven packages to ship.

Nine Eleven.

That's nearly ten twelve, and it's a whole lot of shopping and wrapping and hunting for things I put in some very good storage spot that, you guessed it!, I can no longer pinpoint. I lost a whole bag of gifts briefly the other day.

Yes, crunch time comes early, and early meant last Tuesday at about 2:00 when I realized a few things had to get done and get done fast.

We are thrilled that Dave's parents are coming down for the holidays. We have never had guests for Christmas. One of the reasons we redid Tim's room was to accommodate guests. But house guests -- even easy house guests -- summon my inner Martha Stewart, and I dream up all manner of preposterous household projects to do. What's more, I usually accomplish quite a few of them. I get more done in the seventy-two hours before guests arrive than I do all year. Piles I have wrangled with for months suddenly vanish; trim gets a fresh coat of paint; mismatched lampshades coordinate.

If I had house guests once per month, no job would tarry long.

I'm forever eye-balling the bathroom ceilings which are long overdue for spackle, sand, and paint. For about sixty seconds I pondered painting the kitchen cabinets. I even have the paint. As arrival time approaches, I typically do a slash and burn job on my overly-ambitious To Do List. Bathrooms make the cut, but big jobs like curtains and cabinets? Nope. With a long list 'o projects, I start off wholly optimistic ( A girl can dream, right?), move to realistic (Ceilings? Hah!), and descend into cynicism (Cabinets? Was the hope drunk wherein she dressed herself?).

Somehow the critical jobs get done. Every time.

Ainsley, meanwhile has concerns all her own. For starters she was shocked to hear the disturbing rumor that her little friend across the street had wound up on The Naughty List. "They don't have a naughty list at my school," Ainsley told me with palpable relief. "Besides, I be good at school."

And then there's the issue of the fireplace

"How will Santa get down our chimney," she asked Tim the other day.

"Ah, yes," he replied philosophically, "that is the perennial question."

He launched into a long-winded explanation that involved Mom and Dad cranking up the heat really high, and I don't know what else, but it's easy to placate a four-year-old who's convinced she's escaped The Naughty List.

May the last few days of Advent find you at peace!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Making Room at the Inn

Can anyone please explain why the addition of one Christmas tree -- a Frazier Fir that takes up about  three square feet -- leaves me feeling as though someone just parked a grand piano in the middle of my living room?

Of course, as my faithful readers know, the Christmas season comes on the tail end of a  months' long de-cluttering, re-organizing effort. Last summer I felt inspired to sacrifice the room that has served as our study in order to give our sixteen-year-old his own digs. This wasn't too, too much of a sacrifice in that mostly I loathed the study, which seemed to inevitably devolve into a dumping ground of all extrania. Though it had the makings of a functional room, even an attractive room, never could I rise above the onslaught of stuff.

The thing about the onslaught is this: It's perpetual. We think it's seasonal -- a child has a birthday; you expect stuff. Christmas, lots of stuff. But school papers and Boy Scout trips, sporting events and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd -- these are constants in our lives, and they bring with them math tests and shin guards, permission slips and wooden figures of the twelve apostles, and somehow most of it ended up in the study.

Absorbing an entire roomful of stuff is not for the faint of heart. It has been a tough job. I'm down to a just few boxes . . .  and one behemoth of a treadmill. Treadmills, you see, belong in a basement or a garage, neither of which came with this house of ours. I grew up in Michigan where, with few exceptions, even the most modest of homes has both a garage and a basement. We have a humble shed.

The treadmill moved first into the master bedroom. When the study and the bedroom merged, the treadmill went to living room. When the Christmas tree moved in, the treadmill had to vacate the premises. It is currently occupying a good chunk of real estate in John and Kolbe's room. The long term plan is to empty a closet and have it take up residence there. This will not happen before Christmas.

Playing musical chairs with a treadmill is not my idea of a good time, and it all strangely reminds me of The Cat and the Hat. When your mess is So Big and So Deep and So Tall that your mother will not like it at all, you have to do something with it. The Cat and the kids just had Thing 1 and Thing 2 to contend with. I think John qualifies as Thing 3, and Ainsley, with her propensity to try on four outfits before breakfast, why, I think Ainsley would be Things, 4, 5, and 6. This morning she appeared at the table in a black velvet dress complete with sequins, but quickly informed me she fully planned to change before tackling her waffles because those togs "weren't eating clothes."

She needs Anna the lady's maid and fast.

Meanwhile I could use, Daisy, Carson, the whole downstairs staff, as a matter of fact.

I tackled the bathroom the other day. It's so sparkling clean, I'm thinking about getting a roll of police tape and cordoning the whole thing off until after my in-laws arrive on Friday.

Back to de-cluttering and jostling, re-arranging and sorting. Pretty soon we'll resort to simply hiding. Smoke and mirrors, as my friend Bill used to say, smoke and mirrors!

Making room at the Inn -- one way or another.

Friday, December 13, 2013

What I'm Gonna Do When I Get home

Kiss my husband.

Squeeze my Ainsey.

Read Frog and Toad to John.

Listen to Tim play the piano.

Catch up with Kolbe.

Avoid whining about cleaning, grocery shopping, yard work -- really anything that requires a healthy body and a dash of agility.

Make cookies.

Make these.

Make no left turns, maybe ever again, if I can possibly avoid them.

Avoid two lane roads.

Enjoy my coffee (and not that, ummm, sludge my dear Dad brews).


Take my calcium and vitamin D.

Take a second dose.

Feel the soft, healthy cheeks of my little people.

Drink hot chocolate laced with candy canes.

Listen to The Nutcracker with Ainsley.

Sign Ainsley up for ballet.

Feel cold for the first time since Saturday.

Decorate our tree.

Call my Mom and Dad to say I love you.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Those Bothersome Elves

From the Florida Keys . . .

My parents are doing better . . . still in need of prayer . . . but both doing better. The crisis has passed and now we need to tackle the longer term problems . . . and tackle them with both the hope and the fortitude they will surely demand.

Meanwhile I've been taking Dad out for coffee and playing hours and hours of Scrabble with Mom. And if they can go out for coffee and play Scrabble, things clearly are better (Far! Better!) than they were just a few days ago.

I've been trying to get the folks moved into their house and generally situated for their winter stay in Florida. Right at the top of Dad's To Do List was a daunting task: Breaking into his email account. I have touched on this issue before -- my dear Dad and that confounded Internet. I was laughing about this very subject just the other day with two of Dad's close friends. Dad and the Internet -- a love/hate relationship if ever there was one.

Here is the thing you have to know about my Dad: He is one bright, capable guy. In certain areas he's not just bright; he's brilliant. The Internet doesn't happen to be one of those areas.

Last summer the unenviable job of accessing Dad's email fell to my long-suffering sister, Kate. Before calling on Kate's services, Dad had tried all variations of passwords and finally resorted to answering security questions. And it all went something like this:

Question: What is your oldest daughter's childhood nickname?

Answer: *****

Email successfully accessed.

Dad was incredulous. I mean, incredulous. Who put that in there? How did they know that? What's going on with this thing?

Hint to Dad: It wasn't Elves.

Let me reiterate: My  father is one of the sharpest people I've ever known. He builds radios, uses Morse code fluently, plays a wicked game of chess, routinely digests books like Chess Openings and The Open Sicilian 1-- and that last title has nothing to do with pizza.

But this pesky Internet? It's positively baffles him.

So, with just the slightest patronizing air, I attempted to log onto his account. I accessed the security questions. I entered the name of the place my parents had once vacationed. I entered just the state. I entered the city. I  tried the city and state. I added a comma. I omitted the comma. I tried all caps, some caps, no caps.

I abandoned ship and tried to access my own email and had no more success with that. I correctly answered questions -- really, I did, no, I really did, darn it! -- with caps, with commas, with a dash of salt thrown over my shoulder.


Suddenly the Elves didn't seem quite so far-fetched, and I was forced to confront an uncomfortable truth: I'm turning into my father.

He, at least, can still tap out messages in Morse code. As for me, I'm slipping big time. One minute you think you're in control of all your faculties, the next you're scratching your head saying, "Six times seven? Hang on, hang on. I know this one. I know this one."

Not too long ago, I hid the remote to our streaming device. Why, you ask? Because maybe I couldn't decipher the parental controls. So I pulled out the ultimate parental control and hid the blasted thing. And now you can probably guess the ending to this pathetic saga. I can't find it. Checked all the usual spots. No dice. So while I was incredibly stressed thinking about my parents and trying to pack up and facing mountains of laundry that all could have been done oh-so-very-easily if I could just have watched a few re-runs of Downton Abbey. But no remote!

Does Saint Anthony respond if the request involves a soap opera?

Now my boys, they swear I can turn my I-pad into a remote. How they know this, I can not tell you. They are on some sort of mailing list that has bypassed me entirely.

And then there are the non-technological issues.

Kolbe was on day eight of a ten day antibiotic. That boy had faithfully taken his meds. Ever dependable is my Kolbe. One morning I peered into the bottle and was surprised to see so many pills left. One glance at the bottle told me the reason why. Take TWO tablets twice per day. TWO! Which is not to be confused with ONE which, mathematically speaking, is HALF the dose.

And then there's Christmas prep. I thought I'd peruse the old Christmas list in the wake of Dave's Black Friday shopping spree. When it comes to surprising anyone on Christmas, the electronic age brings with it a host of new challenges. For starters, most online purchases are followed by no less than three email messages explaining the exact status of your order  So you have to be prepared to delete multiple emails.

But then there are the pop-ups. Your husband might be idly checking The Weather Channel to see the snow accumulation in Detroit and up pops an image and the price of the very sweater you had just purchased for him. And then there are electronic-savvy kids who helpfully fill up your Amazon cart and browse your order history just for kicks.

I maintain an ever-changing Master Christmas List on excel, and the kids have stumbled upon that as well. So I encrypt the whole thing. With Ainsley, this is easy. I type "The Explorer" and know that this is a Dora doll. As long as I don't get over-zealous hiding Dora, I can be reasonably confident our favorite explorer will make an appearance under the tree.

The older kids call for more sophisticated subterfuge and a touch of wiliness. Instead of Skateboard, I scramble the letters and type something they'll never figure out but I will until I don't and then I'm left looking at Tim's list and wondering what in the world Eblank means and why is listed as a gift from Grandma and have I, in fact, already purchased Eblank and, if so, where is it?

Please don't ask me to enter security questions to access my Christmas list. Been there, tried that, never got the email (though perhaps the Elves are occupied somewhere north of here).

Meanwhile I sit in the Florida Keys unable to decipher Direct TV, fumbling to locate the mute button on the remote.

But this problem Dad can fix.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Jetways, Prayer, and the Kindness of Strangers

Elizabeth Esther is gathering everyone's favorite blog posts for December. Here is mine:

We've had quite a week.

On Monday we got word that my folks had made it to Florida, only to have it fall apart on the first step to the house. My Mom fractured her femur. The bone specialist who had outfitted Mom with a titanium rod when she fractured her hip a few years ago had outlined a rather bleak prognosis: The next bone to go would be her femur, right below the rod. Seems titanium doesn't give way, so the next tumble on the left side would mean a break south of the rod.

And so it happened.

And I'm 500 miles away in Georgia, and my sisters are 1000 miles away in Michigan.

What to do? What to do?

And my Dad, my dear Dad, as good-hearted a guy as ever there was, is worried out of his mind and shuttling between a house in the Florida Keys that he hasn't even moved into and a hospital in downtown Miami, 100 miles away.

Thursday morning I enjoyed brunch with a bunch of women I have known for two decades. Some are older than I am; some are younger. The older ones have been where I am now -- concerned about aging parents -- and every last one of them said go.

Friday was a whirlwind of laundry, shopping, emails, phone calls, thinking through a daunting To Do list. How will the boys get to swimming? What's easy to cook? Car-pools, field trips, basketball, school uniforms. As I learned when I was a teacher, it is far, far easier to live your own life than to get twelve other people to live it for you.

Friday night I took a three hour break from mad preparations to enjoy The Nutcracker with my sweet daughter who dressed in purple taffeta and was flat out mesmerized by the falling snowflakes and the dazzling leaps and spins.

A magical night.

And I needed a little magic to get me through the rest of the night. John started coughing and clutching his ear. He walked through the living room crying and bashed his mouth into the treadmill. Out came the tooth that's been hanging on by a thread. As if that weren't enough, he had left his glasses on the floor, and Ainsley oh-so-helpfully crushed them. Poor John spent half the night holding his ear.

So Saturday dawned with Kelly headed for the Florida Keys and Dave headed for the pediatrician and the optometrist. As we gathered bags and glasses, Tim came up with his specs in two pieces. Hey, we were already headed to Penney's with John. That's Dolin efficiency at its best!

We were minutes from heading out the door when I got the call from my sister. Dad's defibrillator was firing, and an ambulance was headed to his house.

Life brings with it moments when the key is simply to draw the next breath, to take the next step.

My flight out of Augusta was delayed because of weather. We arrived in Charlotte a half hour late and then sat at the gate for, hmmm, eternity, I do believe. E-t-e-r-n-i-ty!

I landed in E22 and was headed for C19 -- an easy 5K, I am certain. So I attempted to do the O.J. Simpson through the airport. Readers might remember that in between football fame and infamy, O.J. Simpson was the spokesman for Hertz Rental Car. Commercials always showed him sprinting through the airport. The Juice, I am sure, had the good sense to don sensible shoes. Of course, O.J. also traveled in the days before 9/11, so no one was insisting he remove those sensible shoes. I, however, was wearing sandals -- easy on, easy off. Great for security. But sprints through three successive concourses? Not so  much.

I pulled them off and hauled.

You know, I've been meaning to start running again, but whoa!, this about knocked me out. Surely we didn't need to defibrillate a second family member.

I arrived at the gate utterly spent but encouraged to see the plane had not yet pushed back.

The gate agent quickly burst my bubble. "Sorry, ma'am. You just missed it."

I gave them the spiel: My mother is in one hospital; my father is in another. I've just run from E-24. E-24! Please, please ask.

No dice.

Oh, both agents were as nice as they could be as they re-booked my flight, and I literally stood hunched over panting for breath. I watched the Jetway retract. The first gate agent began to brief me on the next available flight.

And I didn't listen.

I prayed and prayed and prayed.

Catholics call Mary The Undoer of Knots. I asked Mary to intercede for the whole complicated affair.

The Jetway un-retracted.

Is un-retracted an actual verb? If it's not, I'm coining it right here and now. The Jetway un-retracted, re-attached to the plane. As the gate agent handed me my new flight arrangements, his telephone rang.

"You're on the flight!"

As I walked down the re-attached Jetway, I spotted the second gate agent who obviously had contacted the pilot and pleaded my case.

And I started to cry.

All the stress of my 5K through the airport and packing and leaving and John crying and miserable and who knows? who knows? where my parents are headed -- and one kind stranger had made it all a few hours more bearable. She didn't mend my Mom's broken femur or straighten out Dad's funky rhythms, but she was kind, and her kindness lightened a heavy load.

I was grateful, so very grateful.

And I knew that I knew that I knew that a legion of friends were praying for me, for my Mom, for my Dad.

I made my way through nearly entire plane, tears coursing down my face, to seat 22B.

In the midst of it all, I asked God for a word of encouragement. I cracked open my prayer book and looked down to find Psalm 73: 25, 26:

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there in none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Flesh and heart are failing left and right. Who knows where my parents are headed?

God knows.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

My Red Sweater

During my first, oh, I'd say thirty-six years of life, I spent just one Christmas away from my home state of Michigan.

It was Christmas 1984. I was a junior in college, spending the year at the University of York in northern England. My older sister, Kate, met me in Luxembourg, and we spent the holidays touring Europe. I think the grand tour started out as Europe on $25 a Day and eventually descended to Europe for $7.22 a Day. Back then, you really could find a room (or at least a bed) for about two bucks a night. You didn't really want to shower on site, and you might have considered heading to the train station to use the coin operated potties. But you could do Europe on the cheap. And we did.

Christmas day found us in Paris. On Christmas afternoon we meandered over to the Eiffel Tower. If memory serves, we couldn't afford the elevator ride to the top, so we climbed the stairs as high as we could go. It was then that we came up with the crazy idea of calling Mom from a pay phone. We pooled our change, fed it into the slot, and dialed.

We got through!

"Get Mom," we yelled to whoever answered. We had enough time to yell Merry Christmas as the change cha-chinged through at a rapid rate. The phone went dead.

My parents had sent two wonderful gifts: a badly needed infusion of cash and a red sweater my mom had knitted. Mom was quite the knitter when I was little. Sometime I'll wade through old pictures to find a shot of the three Regan girls dressed in matching knit -- yes, knit -- pants suits at Christmas. I can't imagine the time and money that went into those numbers.

Mom probably hadn't picked up knitting needles in fifteen years before she tackled my sweater. I'm fairly certain it was her last knitting project as well.

Today I'm donning my red sweater in honor of my mom who took a bad fall two nights ago and broke her femur. Mom has osteoporosis, among other ailments. She's broken at least a bone a year for the past four or so years. Her prognosis is not good, and the outcome isn't so rosy for her primary caregiver, my dear, devoted father. My parents had just arrived in Florida for a four month stay -- were, in fact, going up the stairs upon their arrival -- when the fall occurred. My Facebook wall is now flooded with friends who are praying for the entire situation. Thank you so, so much!

As for me, I need wisdom -- wisdom about when to fly down, how best to assist both Mom and Dad, where Mom should go both short term and long term.

My folks breezed into town last Saturday for a brief visit. I called my sister and told her how well Mom was looking. She was walking better than she had in two years. Ironically, I had the thought that we should buy her some knitting needles to see if she was up for trying her hand at her old hobby.

And with months of rehab ahead of her, maybe that's a good idea.

Monday, December 02, 2013

A Lavishly Loving God

Cardinal Timothy Dolan to David Gregory
of Meet the Press when asked about true Thanksgiving:

The right recipe is this. I think it comes down to humility, which is the key. Both people of the book, Jews and Christians, would say humility is the key virtue.
Without God, we're nothing. With God, everything is possible. We realize every breath we take is an unmerited gift from a lavishly loving God, that prompts us literally to fall to our knees and say thank you.
It also reminds us we're not the center of the universe. It's not about me. It's about him and his people. That's gratitude; that's faith; that's humility; that's thanksgiving.

See the complete interview here

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just a few things for which we're grateful:

Tim: Mama

Kolbe: Our house

John: Mom and Dad

Ainsley: Aunt Amy's baby

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An Alarming Day in First Grade

So I had planned to spend the afternoon substituting in the first grade classroom. Then a friend called with an ominous report: She was the morning sub and down with a virus of the icky, icky variety. I generously offered to go in, get things situated with some other reasonably responsible adult and return home.

No such luck. I taught all day.

If I went in with some fear and trepidation, this stemmed from two reasons:
1. My exhausting (not bad, mind you, just exhausting) experience last year that I detailed here.
2. I had Ainsley in tow.
But here's the reason our small school continues to thrive: Everyone does what it takes. And today it meant Ainsley and I were up and out the door ready to teach first grade.

Now Ainsley was game from the start. A while back, when I was organizing clothes and uniforms in our neighborhood Clothing Closet, I grabbed a few uniforms that should fit Ainsey next September when she (sob, sob) starts! kindergarten! This morning she dressed in her miniature uniform with great excitement.

Can I just indulge in a brief moment of insufferable Mommyness?

Let me tell you, she was the cutest thing ever to don a khaki jumper and cable-knit knee socks. The picture just doesn't do it justice.

First period was Spanish. This was helpful because a) I didn't have to teach, and therefore, b) I was able to replenish my coffee, and c) I was able to to read and re-read the lessons plans. The teacher's notes couldn't have been clearer. Every single step highlighted and marked, copied and stacked.  But elementary teachers' manuals? Busy, busy, busy. Most Catholics are familiar with the Liturgy of the Hours. It's about that complicated. There's page 40 which is not to be confused with page 40 a. Every page has 15-20 suggestions for enriching and extending. I am sure that after a week or two with the materials, teachers get the hang of it. Subs are s-l-o-w. And as I've learned from experience, s-l-o-w with elementary students can be your undoing.

The kids returned from Spanish with Senora Funsch raving about the fact that Ainsley can count to ten in Spanish. I would like to claim she's a prodigy; really, she's just watched a whole lot of Dora.

Come on, Vamonos! Everybody let's go!

We jumped into our work, and you know what? I had fun. John is in a class of all boys, and they are sweet and charming, every last one of them. They are active, but have obviously grown up quite a bit from last year when seat work felt like playing Whack a Mole. John's buddy, Henry, charmed the cable-knit socks right off of Ainsley who insisted on sitting next to him and sharing his supply box.

The bad news was that the rain, rain, rain came down, down, down. Recess -- those blessed breaks for boys and teachers alike -- took place indoors. No quick run to the Ladies'; no resupplying the coffee; no running the wiggles out. I did abandon ship long enough to run out to pick up lunch. Ainsley and I dashed to the car in the middle of a downpour only to find that the driver's door -- which has been acting up lately -- wouldn't budge. It was cold, but I didn't think it was cold enough to freeze the lock. I went to the other side and was relieved to find the back sliding door unlocked.

Then the car alarm began to blare.

See, that silver Grand Caravan was not, in fact, my silver Grand Caravan.

Oh joy.

Ainsley and I dashed back through the parking lot and ran into the Mr. Funsch -- my good friend, former boss, and high school principal -- who had been attempting to teach Algebra I before the alarm began to sound not far from his classroom window. I confessed that I was the culprit and assured him that I would locate the person who could put an end to the siren.

I nabbed Mrs. Hebert, whose car I had broken into, and we went back to the high school and into the chemistry lab where her son, who had the car keys, was attempting to add water to sodium bromide.(I think?). We marched to his locker to retrieve the keys. Naturally, by the time we made it back to the van, the alarm had given up.

Every once in while, I told Mr. Funsch, I would like to fly under the radar. Just once in a while.

The afternoon was full of more rain, math, and C.S. Lewis. I can see why John is so excited about The Magician's Nephew. He's reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in school. We finished the day with a rousing game of Sight Word Bingo, and the boys played dominoes while I read a book that claims student achievement across every demographic is strongly linked to high parental expectations and apparently not linked at all to parental hectoring.

You learn something new every day.

I drove home and promptly browbeat Tim about Spanish and geometry.

I am now looking forward to an evening baking cookies with the little people and possibly watching a little of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, one of my all time favorite children's movies.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ten Thousand Reasons for My Heart to Sing

I attended a great women's meeting a while back. Different friends shared those things in life that make their hearts sing. The topics varied widely -- from the practical to the heart-wrenching.

My friend Rachel shared about the new and much-improved chore chart she had devised. After some hand-wringing and much prayer, she abandoned what she thought it all should look like and came up with a plan that brought order and peace to her family, her house. Neat.

My friend Diane shared about the palpable outpouring of God's grace over the past heart-breaking months as she's coped with the unexpected death of her husband, Barry.

God meets us -- God loves us -- right where we are.

What makes your heart sing?

Do you find grace in the both the mundane and the profound moments of life?

Here are a few moments that have made my heart sing:

1. Reading The Magician's Nephew with John. He is enthralled, totally mesmerized. One of the bonuses of having children after a large gap it that you get to revisit your best memories of your older children. (Yeah, yeah, you get to revisit potty training and Don't go near the street!, but I'm focusing on the positive here). The wooden trains came out of the attic, and Curious George moved back to the bookshelf. You blink, and they get a tad older and
begin to love the things you love.

I love C.S. Lewis. And I love John.

2. Many years ago when I was an insufferable, know-it-all teenager, I had two names for my mom. She was Mom if all was right with my world; she became Mother when I was in mood. So it is with our resident teenager. But late at night, when the homework's done and the stresses of the day have been laid to rest, I once again become Mama, and this boy who now towers over me (not too hard to do if Mom is 5'2") wants a hug.

Heart? Singing!

3. So John looks at a note I had written, screws up his face in confusion, and informs me, "I can't read curse words!"

So glad to hear it, John. In third grade, you'll learn cursive.

4. Ainsley had an entertaining conversation with Grandma last night. From what I could gather, it went something like this:
Ainsley: I just love the polka-dotted dress you sent me, but the purple one is itchy.
Grandma: Well, maybe some other little girl would like the purple dress.
Ainsley: No, Grandma. No one wants that itchy dress.
She had Grandma laughing her head off. Little people bring much-needed little levity in life. They make our hearts sing.

5. John loves the Christmas station that begins belting out the holiday tunes around Veterans' Day. The other day he was watching his shadow as he took giant steps through the Kroger parking lot while singing "Walking Around the Christmas Tree. . . "

Too, too funny.

6. I stumbled on some dreadful story on the Internet the other day. People being horrible to small children. I picked up Ainsley and asked, "When you're sad, who do you want?"

"Grandma," she told me without hesitation.

I tried again.

"When you're scared, where do you want to be?"

"Mama's bed."

Okay then. I asked her why she comes into our bed most nights.

"I'm scared of bears," she informed me. "And I like to snuggle."

Heart singing.

7. I dozed off on the couch the other day and woke up to find Ainsley's sparkly baton tucked carefully under my arm. So sweet.

As we head toward Thanksgiving, let's all examine those things that make our heart sing.

Friday, November 22, 2013


So yesterday was Theme Thursday over at Clan Donaldson. This week's theme is Shaming, and I drew a complete and total blank.

Oh, I've got archived evidence like this:

And this:

And this one's a favorite:

But for the here and now, I came up with nothing. I hopped over to Cari's this morning to peruse what other mothers had posted.

Rebekah writes over at Rebekah's Web Log. Oh Rebekah, dear Rebekah! Can I call you "dear" when I'll we've done is chat in comboxes? Hiding chocolate from your children doesn't get filed under "S" for "Shameful". No, no, no. File it under "C" for "Common Sense" of "I" for "Important Life Skill."

And there's Annery who write at Annery at Home. Annery declares Shameful the fact that she's wholly uninterested in potty training her seventeen-month-old. The good news is that Annery seems to be ashamed only in a detached, sort of academic sense, as in "What kind of mother doesn't respond to a child's interest in potty training? Well, me, I guess. Now where's the crossword puzzle?"

In my book, that's progress, Annery.

Hesitation over potty training a seventeen-month-old? See my comments to Rebekah:  "C" for "Common Sense, "I" for "Important Life Skill", maybe "W" for "Ways to Avoid Xanax".

Micaela offers a beautiful post on the end of nursing. No pithy commentary on that one; it is simply sweet.

Dwija posted pictures of her son's grave site. Last summer, Dwija and her husband lost baby Nicholas at twenty weeks. As for the issue of Shame, I agree with Dwija's readers: When it comes to writing, you share what you want to share, when you want to share it.

Motherhood: the good, the bad, the sad, the funny, the heartbreaking, the gritty.

Of course, after drawing a blank yesterday, I eyed my house and yard and instantly came up with about a dozen shame inducing sights:

- The pile 'o papers that was perilously close to toppling yesterday. Whoever predicted a paperless environment never had kids in school, playing sports, or attending Faith Formation. How do you spell Avalanche?
- The inside of my van which is full of hay from the Fall Fare two weeks ago.
- My son's unmade bed. Unmade as in no sheets. Unmade for over 48 hours. I didn't have the energy to make it (top bunk + bulky mattress pad = not fun). The kicker was when I observed that his pillow didn't even sport a humble case.
- John's lonely water bottle sitting on the counter where it will remain until John comes home from school because Mama's not driving it in. Nope.

Years ago I read Confessions of an Organized Homemaker. It's a great book, full of practical suggestions. I moved my coffee pot across the kitchen after reading the book, and that alone has probably saved me millions of steps. But the single most valuable piece of advice for all mothers but especially for mothers who stay home: Stop striving to say, "All the work is done" and instead say, "Today's work is done."

While I don't like the above list, I don't fret over as I once did  because it's just life. I've adjusted my definition of Shame because it's never done.

Except for the naked pillow. Which really does make me gulp.

And now I think I'll go play a game with my boy who is home sick this morning.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, November 15, 2013

One Long Whine . . . And a Prayer Request

Seven Quick Takes

1. Any life-long Catholic is familiar with the recommended response to suffering: You offer it up. You ask the Lord to give you the grace to bear your suffering well and to use it to remind you to pray for others in need.

I am so bad at this, so pathetically bad.

My first response to suffering is denial. I then move on to irritation. Ranting and raving fit in there somewhere, as does consuming gluttonous amounts of dark chocolate.

So here's the big break through: I successfully "offered it up" the other day. This may be a first for me. But here I am blogging about it, so I'm quite sure that negates any grace. Or maybe not.

2. This tiny, isolated victory helped me see just how whiny I really am. Case in point: We have a major traffic artery near our neighborhood that is under perpetual construction. Dysfunction Junction, I call it. I was leaving Walmart the other day with a van full of cold weather gear (hiking boots, hand and foot warmers, gloves, long underwear) for the twenty-five mile, cold weather hike my oldest son was embarking on, only, see, the whole adventure had been cancelled Monday night, but did anyone bother to inform the Logistics Manager (that would be me)? Oh, no, no, no.

But I digress. Because I'm really whining about traffic, not about Scout gear or poor communication. Traffic. Back to it.

So I left Walmart with a pile of useless items and hit the snag of all snags. As a bird flies, Walmart is about a mile from my house. Usually the drive is well under ten minutes. Not so when five lanes of traffic merge into what is surely a small and meandering sheep path hardly wide enough to fit John and Ainsley on their scooters.

Twenty-five minutes to get home. Twenty-five minutes.

The really good news? I get to go return the unused hiking equipment and perhaps hit the path all over again.

3. So that's Whine #1. Whine #2 involved a near collision due to faulty judgment on my part. See, if I'm turning left, and I see you coming down the road and slowing down and signalling that you're going to turn right, I assume (incorrectly, it turns out) that you are, in fact, going to turn right. And I just might pull out to turn in right behind you. But, no, you are busy talking on your phone and begin your right turn only to come to a complete. and. total. stop. in the middle of the entrance because, gosh, it's hard to talk and turn at the same time and, I don't know, maybe you were juggling hot coffee and an Egg McMuffin at the same time.

I'm relieved to be in one piece and never again will assume that the turn signal and the beginning of a turn will, in fact, be followed by an actual turn.

4. Whine #3 involves telephone solicitors who seem to know far more details about my life than my mother does. A typical exchange:

Me: Hello, God bless you.

Well-informed telephone solicitor: Hello, Mrs. Dolin. Are you still at (correct address) and enjoying the Astronomy Club, redoing your house, and celebrating your son's 16th birthday?

Me: ????

I instantly regret saying "Hello, God bless you". I fight the urge to open the back of the phone and search for bugs. I somehow manage to disengage from the conversation without uttering bad words.

5. I recently received a bottle of Excedrin for Migraines in the mail. Gosh, I was thrilled. Who doesn't like getting a package in the mail? Eventually it dawned on me that this wasn't a random event, a mass mailing that happened to hit my Zip code. Someone is tracking my spending habits. Note to that someone: I could use a few Starbuck's coupons ASAP.

I guess that's Whine #4.

6. Number 5 is a doozy. I've never had a true laundry disaster until Monday when I found a black ink pen in the dryer. Oh my. The bright spot was that the rather large load that absorbed the ink didn't include a) uniforms or b) Dave's dress clothes.

What a mess.

I hit the Internet in search of solutions, none of which seemed to work. Bleach? Didn't touch the ink. Nail polish remover? Nope. Finally I took bleach soaked rags and ran them through the dryer on high. I'd say 90% of the ink was gone in twenty minutes. The clothes have not bounced back quite so well. Apparently rubbing alcohol is the ticket. We'll see.

Search those pockets! Painful lesson learned.

7. In the midst of the busiest week of Fall Fare preparations, one of our team members shared a beautiful scripture: Let not your hearts be troubled. If you're having a tough time, the tenth chapter of John will get your eyes off the things of the world. Just typing those words helps me refocus.

Ainsley is obsessed with photo albums these days. She loves to pour over the four-hundred-fifty-two pictures we shot at her birth.

"Oh, I was such a cute baby," she gushes before moving into a whine of her own, "and we gave away every. single. one. of my baby clothes!"

That's not precisely true, so we spent some time yesterday pulling out the keepers -- tiny onesies, newborn diapers that appear far too small for humans, Ainsley's beautiful Christmas dress, Tim's well worn navy blue Keds, John's cowboy jammies. Oh, did she have fun! Ainsley's Madeline doll, I'm sad to report, was forced into a diaper. Ainsley was nice enough to pair it with teeny-tiny ruby slippers, so maybe Madeline will recover from the indignity.

Life is full of its frustrations, but most of the time, it's simply full. For that, I'm grateful.

One of the children in my atrium -- I'll call him Max -- is in Texas this morning for significant hip surgery that involves cutting some tendons among other interventions. Max suffered a brain injury at birth. He is one of the sweetest souls I've ever known, both a light and a delight.

Please pray for a successful surgery, for protection from complications, for Max to tolerate the anesthesia, and for peace for his entire family.

Head over to Jen's to add your Quick Takes. And have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Last Glimpse of Summer

We woke up to 25 degree temps today, but two weeks ago we were still in shorts:

Monday, November 11, 2013

First Things First

Our Fall Fare was Saturday, and it was great fun.

Sometime in August, Dave and I were asked to take charge of a major fundraiser for the boys' school. For twenty-nine years this had been a Christmas Festival held in early December. While it had morphed and evolved over the years, mostly the Festival offered amazing ethnic dishes, a silent auction, a yard sale, a bakery, and a variety of kids' activities all amidst thousands of twinkling lights.

Two years ago, I am fairly sure approximately two hundred people (I'm just guessing that all but two of them were women) simultaneously cried Uncle! We loved the Festival, really we did, but it was a monumental effort, a huge expenditure of time and money in a season known for a shortage of time and money.

Our fearless leaders listened.

Last year we took a sabbatical year with no fall fundraiser. This year it came back in a greatly simplified form, and the Dolins were in charge.

Dave and I thought and prayed and discussed it all in great detail before saying yes. See, I've done things like this before. You can have the most amazing plan on paper, but it's still hard, hard work and twenty-six thousand and two phone calls, texts, and emails.

Dave was pretty positive about it from the get-go. I didn't know if I could handle it. After much rumination, I agreed to take it on with two provisos:

1. Tim's sixteenth birthday would not get lost in the shuffle.

2. Neither would All Saints' Day.

Over the summer I had started thinking about Tim turning sixteen. I began to formulate a plan. If you queried Tim, his ideal gift list would probably include a) a girlfriend and b) a car. Oddly enough, these weren't on my list. But I did think about giving him his own space. We have a four bedroom house. Since the day we moved in, one of the rooms has been an office. And that's worked fine until we added four children to the mix and two of them hit adolescence.

I've pretty much always hated our study -- in point of fact, I dubbed it The Den of Iniquity. Close to the kitchen and to the front door, it has always been a magnet for Stuff, all sorts of Stuff. Over the years, I tried to wrest a little order out of this bedraggled room. I got rid of the couch and bought a cute chair. I hung nice curtains and attractive artwork. Nothing changed the fact that it was nearly always a cluttered catch-all for the detritus of family life -- the backpacks and the cleats, the coat the neighbor left and the stack of over-due library books, the pecan picker and the leftover collage of Antarctica.

Do you remember the oft-quoted line from Field of Dreams? If you build it, they will come?

That's the theme of the study. I was tired of providing too much space for the junk to come. And I started to think about giving that bit of real-estate to my soon to be sixteen-year-old son.

So that was goal #1.

Goal #2 was to really enter into All Saints' Day with the little people. Two years ago, I had grand plans for Ainsley to be Queen Esther. She was just two, and no amount of cajoling on my part could induce her to don any sort of costume at all. Oh, she was all about the candy. And the jumping houses intrigued her. But an ornate, itchy dress and a crown? Pass. Thank you very much.

Last year we had group themes, and ours was Veggie Tales. Ainsley was happy enough to be Laura the Carrot, and John was Junior Asparagus. Yes, these were cute, but this year I wanted something special.

I don't always put First Things First. I remember studying Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The Covey system encourages you to put demands into four categories:

1. Unimportant, not urgent
2. Unimportant, urgent
3. Important, not urgent
4. Important, urgent

The ringing phone that turns out to be a telephone solicitor? Urgent and unimportant. But too often it gets our time as if it were both urgent and important. Investing time making costumes for the little people? Important but not urgent. Investing some time prayerfully considering who Tim is, what his needs are, how we can better meet these needs? Important. Maybe even urgent. But there's no alarm that sounds when you begin missing the boat with your kids. There's no warning that comes registered mail to tell you in unequivocal terms that you are about to close a window in a child's life.

Except maybe there is.

And that warning is the still, small voice of discernment that God gives parents. It began to tug at my heart this summer, insistently whispering that Tim needed space.

It helped me notice the exuberance of these small children of mine.  John and Ainsley are all about costumes and props, beauty and heroism.

That still, small voice reminded me that this is a season, just a season, and a relatively short season at that.

Tim is a young man who will all too soon be on his own. John and Aisnley will move on to other pursuits.

There will be other birthdays; there will be other All Saints' Days. But I felt a pressing need to be present right now.

Here's the thing about putting first things first: There is grace. There is peace. I find that things move faster than expected. I find windows of time to accomplish this or that.

One day a week or two ago -- when things did not seem to be going faster than expected -- I became extremely frustrated at the lack of progress on Tim's room. And then a thought came to mind: You have completely redone two rooms in under two months. While taking care of four kids. And planning a Fall Fare. Go, you!

The little people had nice costumes.

Tim is over the moon about his new room.

The other day, he actually said, "It's weird, Mom, but now that I have my own room, I want to keep it clean."

Be still, my beating heart.

And the Fall Fare? It was a great time

Thursday, November 07, 2013


So it's Theme Thursday over at Clan Donaldson, and this week's theme is Thumb. Here's how Brad Pitt and teenage boys deal with pesky photographers:

Head over to Cari's to add your shots.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Five Favorites

Hallie over at Moxie Wife is putting together Five Favorites. Here are a few of mine.

1. Our favorite boy saint:

Saint George minus a few accessories and the dragon he just slew. Slew?

2. Our favorite girl saint:

Saint Agnes looking especially angelic.

3- 5. And our favorite teenager, who is turning sixteen sometime soon. I'm sure he'd love a car. We gave him the next best thing . . . his own room!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Saint Angels

Warp speed . . . That is life around Casa Dolin these days. All will slow down soon . . . in about nine days to be precise.

But the next thirty-six hours are devoted to All Saints celebrations of various sorts. Tonight, our backyard celebration, parade of saints, and oodles and oodles of candy. Tomorrow night, All Saints Day Mass.

Ainsley just overheard me tell John to get dressed for school.

"Isn't John going to Saint Angels," she wondered.

Saint Angels. That's what she calls All Saints Day.

I remember Danielle Bean writing about homeschooling. I'm sure I'm taking horrible liberties with her thoughts, but a typical exchange went something like this:
What she would say: We home-school.
What the other party invariably would hear: Because we're obviously superior parents, and I can't believe we associate with riff-raff like you.
Saying that we celebrate All Saints Day can elicit similar responses. This time of year the Internet is rife with emotional diatribes on All Saints Day versus Halloween. In a few weeks bloggers will take on the commercialization of Christmas, Santa Claus and Saint Nick, Christmas carols during Advent. These are predictable, seasonal, annual events, kind of like the World Series and Black Friday.

I'm not dissing bloggers for offering their thoughts on weighty subjects. Hey, I'm offering my thoughts here, am I not? Early in this journey we call parenting, I had plenty of opinions, most of them vehement, on all manner of controversial subjects: Do you celebrate Halloween or All Saints? Do you take the kids to see Santa? How do you keep Christmas out of Advent?

Sixteen years into motherhood, here are my brilliant conclusions:
1. Use the grace and wisdom God gives every parent to discern what is right for your family.
2. Know that what you do today will not be precisely what you do tomorrow or next month or in ten years.
3. Relax.
As a younger parent, I, mentally if not verbally, took a hard, hard line on Santa. I'm not lying to my kids, thought the much more orthodox Kelly. Let's not mingle the holy -- the birth of Christ -- with the secular -- reindeer and chimneys, cookies and milk, shiny noses and sleigh bells.

My Jewish brother-in-law would be interested to hear that he very much influenced my line of thinking. I remember having breakfast with him one Christmas morning. He was mystified -- perhaps disappointed would be a better word for it -- by the feel of the Christmas experience we had just shared. Orgy was the term he used, if I recall. And an orgy it was -- kids over-the-top excited, paper flying, noise, mess. Yep. I celebrated Hanukkah and Passover many times with his family, and I'll say this for our Jewish brothers and sisters: Their religious holidays are religious. Oh, I think some Christmas commercialism has found its way into Hanukkah, but for the most part, their religious observances are free of ornamentation.

I like that.

My desire to celebrate the birth of Christ in a less frenzied, materialistic manner translated into one specific practice: I wanted every ornament on my tree and all my wrapping paper to be religious in nature. Santa was ousted. No reindeer, no elves. Angels and trumpets made the list. Ornaments that spelled out Peace and Joy were great. I collected dozens of nativities to hang on my tree and received a gorgeous ornament of the three wisemen. Seasonal baubles like snowmen and snowflakes barely made the cut. But no Santa.

Some time after this, I began my training with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I learned about the beauty of liturgical seasons. Advent and Lent are seasons of preparation for the Feast; they are not intended to be the Feast. I read beautiful reflections on the waiting and preparing. They stirred my heart to focus on the wait. I had visions of decorating our tree on Christmas Eve and celebrating all through Epiphany. (And I eyed with disdain those slackers who put their tree up on Black Friday and had it out on the curb by noon on December 26th.)

But something happened on the way to liturgical purity.

I became first an aunt and then a mother. In short, kids happened. Kids bring several things to bear. Mainly, they bring joy. Unbridled, over-the-top excitement. And it permeates the whole house. The idea of a sterile, minimal Christmas? Just not much fun. I still want to wait, and I don't want the orgy, but I want some of the chaos, some of the mess, some of the noise.

I remember the Christmas my niece came up to me and said, "Mommy bought you a really nice gift, and it's a BIG secret, and I'm not supposed to tell you what it is, but it's a sweater."

As I saw the room get quiet and one of my sisters move toward me with the camera, I thought to myself, "This must be a really, really nice sweater."

I opened up the box and found a Mrs. Beasley doll to replace the one our dog had eaten around 1978.

A happy, crazy Christmas memory.

I remember the year my brother dressed up as Santa. You'd have to meet my brother to appreciate just how wild that was. Eeyore meets Saint Nick. Ho, ho, ho, you'll shoot your eye out! 

I remember how much we laugh watching Elf -- truly a liturgically bankrupt offering, but so funny, so very funny. No singing at the North Pole! Yes, there is! No, there isn't!

I keep in mind the advice a priest gave to a friend of mine who was worried that her kids weren't "getting Advent": Relax and enjoy your family.

Relax and enjoy your family. On Christmas, on Halloween, on All Saints.

To return to those questions I, the young mom, pondered:

1. Do you celebrate All Saints or Halloween? We celebrate All Saints. It's a great opportunity to talk about heroic virtue, of deep love for God and fellow man. I do not think people who celebrate Halloween are worshipping the devil. I don't like the ultra-skimpy nurse/waitress/lady pirate costumes on the cover of every store circular. I don't like the child/zombie on the front page of the Chronicle this morning. John about jumped out of his skin when he saw it.

2. Santa or Saint Nicholas? We don't take the kids to see Santa. We don't dis Santa, either. We have a simple and sweet Saint Nicholas traditions of filling shoes with chocolate coins and a small gift.

3. How do you keep Christmas out of Advent? Short answer: We don't. Long answer: We have Advent traditions that include an Advent wreath and various calendars, small sacrifices, a few Advent songs. But we listen to Christmas carols before Christmas. We put up the tree on a night that works for us, not one dictated by a calendar.

I know there's a way we can get deeper into the trenches of parenting and sort of throw up our hands and cynically conclude that all positions we once held dear now seem ridiculous. Certainly that's not what I'm attempting to communicate. Parenting has proved to be far more challenging and, therefore, more humbling than I would have expected. We have not reversed course on most of what we held important back when Tim was tiny. But we have -- I have -- reconsidered ideas I once viewed as carved in stone.

So All Saints begins tonight.

All of us are pulling out Bibles and Lives of the Saints, pointing out Blessed So and So and the Venerable Such in Such. My friend Colleen asked her five-year-old who she wanted to be for All Saints. Casey cut to the chase: Who's the prettiest one in the Bible? See, most girls don't want to be the Saint who purposefully made herself plain so that she wouldn't attract men and be distracted from her vocation as a nun. No, no, they want to be Queen Esther who spent a year getting one serious makeover.

Meanwhile the boys are solely focused on blood and gore. Kolbe will be Saint Ignatius Loyola because, well, he's a soldier. John will be Saint George because, well, he slayed the dragon. Saint Lawrence is always a hit because who wouldn't want to be shot full of arrows?

Relax and enjoy your family.

And when you return home, go to You Tube and search for Matt Maher's litany of the saints. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful and a perfect reminder that beyond the candy and costumes lies a vast cloud of witnesses ready and willing to intercede for us.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Five Favorites

Hallie over at Moxie Wife is collecting Five Favorites. As Christmas is starting to come to mind, here are five of the bests gifts we've ever given or received:

1. Rip-stick - Awesome.

2. Tin tea set. The single best girly-gift ever. So fun. Unbreakable.

3. Legos - Pretty much any set. Better yet, forget the set. Purchase one of the large building platforms, and let them at it.

4. Legos Mindstorm - When they've gone beyond Indiana Jones and Star Wars, Legos Mindstorm is a great way for them to keep building while also adding in technology and computer programming. Tim produced a rocking science fair project with this.

5. Wooden Trains - Limitless hours -- nay, years! -- of fun

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Clear Sign That I've Purchased One Rotisserie Chicken Too Many

John: What are you baking?

Me: Chicken.

John, clearly perplexed: I didn't know you could do that.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Because I Still Need a Wife

From the archives, I stumbled across this. Never -- and I mean Neva! -- have I had a greater need for a wife than this week!

So here it is:

I can't participate in Seven Quick Takes this week. I might be able to pull together two thoughts, maybe three, but seven? Not happening.

But I did head over to Conversion Diary and laughed at what Jen had to say:
A friend alerts me that the new trend among homeschoolers is to hire tutors so that busy parents can outsource some of the grunt work. These aren't necessarily experts in the subject (at least not for elementary school kids); rather, they function more as teacher’s assistants who answer questions and help young children stay on task. This was a bad can of worms for me to open, because it got me thinking about the resources I could use to make homeschooling run a little more smoothly around here. My list ended up looking something like this:
  • Tutor
  • Babysitter for baby
  • Second tutor
  • Masseuse
  • Sommelier
  • Grape peeler
  • Security guard (to stand outside my bedroom door while I take a nap)
This is just a start, obviously. I haven’t even gotten to the tour guide to arrange engaging field trips and the chauffeur to take them there.
For me, it comes down to this: I need a wife. I may be plagiarizing Barbara Walters who, at the height of her career with ABC, once expressed this very idea.

I need a helpful someone to point out to me -- preferably while I'm still in a store -- that, in fact, I've been in some sort of retail establishment that sells bread every. single. day. this week. And do we have bread? No, we do not. I guess I will be visiting one of those establishments again today. An unbroken record! Go me! I think a wife could help me with this issue.

I would find a wife who is under forty and who has better eye sight than I have. She could point out the flaws in my make-up that I can't see even with a magnifying mirror.

My wife could handle all the meal planning. I'd even be willing to do all the cooking if only I had that helpful someone who would just plan the darn things. I'd handle breakfast and lunch -- which go fine around here (as long as we're not out of bread). Wife, handle dinner for me, please, oh, please!

I'd keep my wife busy running items to the boys' school. I went in there yesterday and told our beloved secretary that they really should install a revolving door with my name on it. Better yet, the school could initiate a courier service that pops by my house each morning around 10:00 to collect the forgotten lunch, the PE shorts, the calculator, the Secret Saint gift, etc., etc., ad nauseam. If I had a wife, the courier service would be rendered totally unnecessary.

I need someone to keep track of my appointments. My wife could analyze my calendar and conclude that there is no logistical way the Dolins could be at six places at once. She could make the seventeen phone calls required to iron out the whole mess.

If I had a wife, I would be free to concentrate on those elements of marriage and motherhood I love -- relaxing with my husband, reading to the kids, finger painting with the little people, going to basketball games, watching Monk with the big boys.

My friends and have laughed about the life captured in Downton Abbey. If I woke up inhabiting that universe, no doubt I'd be Daisy the kitchen maid and not the glamorous Lady Grantham. If somehow, someway I woke up and found myself to the manor born, it wouldn't be O'Brien the lady's maid, I would most appreciate. No, I think every family could use Carson the butler -- that calm, unruffled stickler for detail to iron out all the pesky details of life (and even iron the newspapers).

Carson's not showing up anytime soon, so I'd best get back to it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


So it's Theme Thursday over at Clan Donaldson, and this week's theme is W. 

Here's Woody (made of Legos):

Here's Winter (Augusta's last big snow storm):

Here's Who (the coolest and easiest Pinewood Derby car the Dolins ever fabricated):

And Water or Winner:

Head over to Cari's to add your photos.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Real life has trumped on-line life. I am uber-focused on a) this little family of mine and b) a vast, vast list of projects too complicated to detail and too time consuming to spend much time either or reading.

But I think I can manage Quick Takes:

1. So John is considering his career options. He's always expressed interest in becoming what he calls "one of those polices." Seems, though, that "one of those polices" reacted badly to part of his training at the old Police Academy -- mandatory tazing.

"I don't know if I want to be one of those polices," John informed me upon hearing this tale. "They get donuts, but I don't want to get tazed."

Can't say I blame him.

Note: The Internet disagrees on whether it's tazed or tased, tazing or tasing. FYI.

2. A typical Ainsleyism: Stop it, John! You're a chair, and I'm going to sit on you!

Right up there with tazing.

3. A not so typical exchange:

Ainsley: Can I play with my ball?

Me, half asleep: Sure, just don't put it  in your mouth.

Ainsley: I won't, Mama.

4. A more typical exchange:

Ainsley:  I love Barney!

Tim: You know, Ainsley. Barney died last night.

Me: ????

5. I can't actually identify the precise website a certain older member of the household was viewing with his six-year-old son, but I'll leave you with two observations:

1. It should come as absolutely no surprise that Ainsley took her apple-shaped speller and had it sing the letters I C U P.

2. I am convinced that mild mannered, slightly serious, mostly male engineers charged with our nation's nuclear safety sit in conference rooms and have to work very, very hard to stifle a chuckle or two over the fact that the chemical symbol for plutonium is PU. Then again, I believe men very much like them invented the chemical symbols. Coincidence? I think not.

6. Which all reminds me of a recent Baby Blues comic strip that Tim and Ainsley now have memorized:

Ainsley's line: I had the most amazing dream last night! I was flying to my very own fairy princess castle! Of course, I had on a sparkly gown made of butterfly wings and silver thread... And I was riding on the back of a unicorn with pink wings that I named Cotton Candy!

Tim's comeback: That dream makes me want to trap a bear and barbecue it while I watch hockey in my underwear.

Some families memorize scripture or Shakespeare. Hmmmm.

7. A friend recently passed us a bag of girly hand-me-downs. Ainsley took one look at it and gushed -- I mean Gushed! -- "Oh! My! Goodness! This is so incredible! Kolbe, I have the most exciting news!"

Yes, we are living, breathing stereotypes around here, and we make no bones about it.

Head over to Jen's to add your Quick Takes.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dear Big Pharma

Dear Big Pharma,

If you spend any time at all on the Internet, you are well aware of the legions of people who take issue with your Big Profits and your Big Conspiracies. I, however, want to take issue with a different Big issue: your Big Pills.

I first encountered Big Pills when I was about four months pregnant with my first child. See, I became anemic, and my doctor prescribed iron tablets. I trotted off to the pharmacy, filled the script, and began to laugh out loud when I took a gander at the pill I was expected to swallow.

No way!

Look, I was nearing the twenty-week mark, about thirteen weeks into nearly-incapacitating nausea. I could barely choke down my favorite foods, and I was going to swallow a really wretched tablet half the size of my finger?

I don't think so.

(I would be remiss if here I didn't pause to point out that it was you, Big Pharma, who produced Zofran, AKA Ambrosia, AKA The Nectar of the Gods, for women with debilitating morning, noon, and night sickness. Some bright chemist in your ranks tinkered with compounds long enough to produce Zofran, that blessed substance that elevated me from a miserable lump in the fetal position to one of the walking wounded. While the rest of this piece is tongue-in-cheek, this bit is not. I am grateful).

Now for the rest of my rant.

A year or so ago, my doctor encouraged me to start taking heavy doses of calcium and vitamin D. It took a little doing to find the right combo, but eventually I located a bottle with the recommended strength, brought it home, and began to laugh out loud when I took a gander at the pill I was expected to swallow.

No way!

Just a trifle smaller than the iron tablets, just as horrible to the taste buds, and these bad boys were chalky to boot. I turned to a pill splitter  for assistance.  And the result? The split pills were just as nasty, just as chalky, and, on top of that, sharp!

For the past few years I have taken Lysine to stave off fever blisters and mouth ulcers. It works like a charm. (So, again, thanks, Big Pharma!) I ran out of Lysine the other day and scoured the medicine cabinet for another bottle. I found one, but the pills were enormous, chalky, and foul tasting. I zipped over to Target yesterday and picked up a new bottle. I returned home to find the new tablets were infinitesimally smaller than the other horse pills. Maybe. I halfway choked one down today and then spent the rest of the afternoon feeling as though I had an enormous lump in my throat because I'm fairly certain that I did.


People, Big Pharma, are supposed to swallow these pills. Not elephants. Not the camel in the Geico commercial. People. Can't we coat these bad boys? Instruct us to take two smaller tablets? Make them chewable?


A Concerned Customer with a Lump in her Throat

P.S. I had never heard the term Big Pharma until I watched Stuff Crunchy Mamas Say.  Are you going to the Chicken Pox party? Best line ever.