Monday, December 15, 2014

Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Nativity

If you're in need of a little mid-Advent encouragement, read Keep It Simple, Sweetheart by Elizabeth Foss.

She writes:

The soul who is not simple is represented in the Gospel by Martha, who was restless, anxious, and concerned with many things. The simple soul is represented by Mary, tranquilly seated at the feet of the Master, drinking in each word and solely mindful of His pleasure. The simple soul has found "the better part," "the one thing necessary"; [Luke 10:42] he is wholly given to God.

This reminds me of a piece from a few years back, words I need to take to heart today . . .

I just gleaned some useful Christmas advice over at Faith and Family Live!. Commenter StephC was responding to a mother who is where most of us have been at one time or another: overwhelmed. Tired, out of steam, even a tad hopeless -- and riding the Polar Express full speed into That Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Steph's advice? Keep your eyes on your own nativity.

I have a dear neighbor right across the street who wakes up the morning after Thanksgiving, gathers a few capable sons, and proceeds to put up every last Christmas decoration. It's pretty; it's tasteful; most impressive of all, it's done -- all before I'm finished de-boning the turkey. Yes, I peer through my front window and see my friend moving with great purpose while I shuffle around in my slippers and nurse my second cup of coffee.

I could engage in a lot of comparisons, but I'd much rather take Steph's advice: Keep your eyes on your own nativity. Or lack thereof. Because that nativity of ours? The day after Thanksgiving, believe me, it was still sitting in the attic.

No matter what our spiritual disposition, it is an undeniable fact that Advent and Christmas bring a degree of busyness and stress. For the record, I had my first moment of pre-Christmas panic this very morning. You know, a moment of Oh My Goodness I've Barely Made a Dent in My Shopping, and I Just Bought Advent Candles Yesterday. This was quickly followed by a major reality check, a trip to confession on unrelated issues, and a lengthy venture into the attic. The nativity is now down!

Best Christmas picture ever!
This was just the first of many forays into that vast repository of stuff we call the attic. Our attic. Our attic is both a blessing and a curse.

Some years I take down Christmas with the same care that I put it up. I label boxes; I discard broken and unused decorations; I do a little organizing as I go. Other years, I pull down the attic stairs, do the heave ho, and slam.

Last year must have been just such a year. Why, you ask? I had no excuses whatsoever. Four of the last five Christmas seasons have found me early pregnant or nursing a newborn. Great excuses to pare back, keep it simple, even be a bit slovenly with the take down. The year I was expecting John, I crawled through the entire season  with one eye on the clock wondering when I could finagle my next nap and one eye on the bathroom door wondering how soon I'd be hurtling myself through it.


Worth every last ounce of suffering, but ugh!

Somehow we managed the trek to Michigan for the holidays that year. I think my logic went something like this: I can remain in the fetal position here in Georgia and do all the shopping and cooking by myself, or I can manage to haul our sorry selves to Detroit, assume the fetal position there, and let my mother-in-law and sisters wait on me hand and foot. No brainer!

I remember the trip home was heinous with a capital H. I was throwing up before we left my sister's house. I was throwing up as we crossed the border into Ohio. We had a portable DVD player that I was known for employing with great moderation and discernment. On that trip I said, "Have at it, boys! I'll see you in Augusta!"

It was the quietest fifteen hour drive we've ever had.

God willing we will all celebrate many, many Christmases. Some years find us in fine form, ready to enter the season of preparation, and excited to celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas day. Other years find us (okay, me) scrounging for Advent candles on December 23rd and happy to come up with three burgundies and a red when purple and pink prove to be somewhat elusive. True story. While three burgundies and a red might make fine choices when buying wine, they're just a touch out of the liturgical norm when preparing for Christmas.

Oh well. Keep your eyes on your own nativity!

My dear friend went to confession one Advent. She lamented to the priest how far short she felt she was falling in pulling together a holy season of preparation. This priest is a good man, a holy man, a man who loves liturgy and the church seasons. You know what he told her? Relax and enjoy your family.

Nearly every magazine in circulation is now featuring a story on dealing with stress this holiday season. They'll print to do lists and last minute buying guides and handy calendars you can post on the fridge.To be sure, celebrations -- all of them -- require work. But Father Brett had it right -- it's also about simply enjoying your family.

For us that means lots of egg nog -- Tim's favorite drink. It means multiple viewings of Elf and The Santa Clause -- liturgically bankrupt and really very funny. It means boiled peanuts and chocolate peanut butter cheesecake and potato soup.

It means pulling out the Advent candles, even if a few days late. It means writing out cards to people I look forward to hearing from once a year. It means fun and busyness and a gentle tug back to the true meaning behind all this hurly burly.

And this year -- to increase our joy and to minimize my stress -- it means taking Steph's wise counsel and keeping my eyes on my own nativity.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Santa Baby, Christmas Shoes, and The Little Drummer Boy

Since I am up to my eyeballs in The Move, no time to write.

The good news about The Move? (Aside from the obvious fact that We're Moving!) I am not in the least bit worried about Christmas except for an occasional fleeting thought that goes something like, "Gosh, you're not worried at all about Christmas. Maybe just give it a passing thought or two. Maybe? No?"

I plan to permanently adopt this No Stress Approach to the Holidays. It basically involves jotting down ideas as they come to me, making a few on-line purchases when I have time, avoiding nearly all brick and mortar shopping, trusting God, realizing that it all works out every.single.year.

And that's it.

So in lieu of anything more involved, I offer you a re-run of my thoughts on Christmas tunes -- those I love and those I love to hate.

I love Christmas music, except for the songs I loathe.

Among the worst:

1. Last Christmas I gave You My Heart - I am sad to report that at least two new versions of this tired and ultra-schmaltzy tune have hit the air waves this year. As if the over-played original weren't painful enough! My teenage son came home from school mocking this song. Gosh, I'm proud of that boy! Just one more heartening example of how his school passes on transcendent values.

2. Christmas Shoes - So I made it to the third Sunday of Lent without hearing this one that is, without question, right off the schmaltz-o-meter. Pretty sure this is the reason the schmaltz-o-meter was invented. Doink!

3. Santa Baby - No need to elaborate.

4. Elvis' Blue Christmas - Ditto.

5. Unnamed Song -- This ghastly number starts out "Where are you Christmas? Why can't I find you?"  I don't know the title because, in truth, I have never gone beyond the opening line. Where's that seek button? Or that left-over air sickness bag?

Tunes we like:

1. The Little Drummer Boy - Strictly speaking, this, too, musters some serious schmaltz, but I just like it. David Bowie and Bing? Love it. Bob Seeger? I like this one, too. An added plus? He's a Detroiter.

2. Carol of the Bells - From Transsiberian Orchestra to Kenny Rogers, this is a fav.

3. O Holy Night -  Love Celion Dion. Josh Groban? More than I can take.

4. Anything sung by The Carpenters, Frank Sinatra, or Andy Williams - Yes, some undeniable schmaltz.The Carpenters scream 1970s, but I came of age listening to their eight-track recordings. The others were childhood staples and bring back happy memories of sitting near our fireplace and watching the snow fall.

5. The Messiah - I never get tired of this.

6. Christmas Canon- Makes me want to take up piano or violin.

7. The Grinch - This one hearkens back to Christmas 1986 when I was attending my Officers' Basic Course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. What can I say about Arrrrmy training? Hour after hour of some of the most painfully boring lectures ever endured. My caffeine addiction dates back to afternoons attempting to avoid nodding off as field grade officers droned on about who knows what.

The little bit of levity was Captain Al Rommel (I'm not making this up. I trained with a Rommel and a Patton). If a lecture proved particularly heinous, Al would lean over and whisper, "stink, Stank, STUNK!"

7. Anything my kids play - Tim and Kolbe (and now John!) have brought the gift of music into our home, and I love it.

Googling Worst Christmas Songs Ever will produce a list far more colorful than mine. Did John Denver really sing, "Daddy, Don't Get Drunk This Christmas"? That even tops "Christmas Shoes."

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Things That Make Me Laugh

An e-card making the Facebook rounds: Good luck this Thanksgiving explaining why you're still single and Charles Manson is not.

My teenage son's take on a holiday classic: Santa got Ebola from a reindeer . . . 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Seven Year Old Boys Run the World

Some years back Disney found itself in hot water over a movie aimed at children, a movie that contained a brief snippet of animation that, let's just say, contained adult themes. Very adult themes. Disney denied, denied, denied, and many viewers thought it was some sort of plot like back-masking everyone used to talk about when I was a teenager.

I don't accept Disney's defense for a minute, but not because I sense there's some nefarious plot afoot. No, I look at these things more pragmatically and operate under two basic theories:

First, having supervised the yearbook more times than I care to recall,  I know that creative people put in long hours and get punchy and crazy and just may succumb to the temptation to insert all manner of barely detectable humor into copy they edit, into photos they crop.

Second, I am now firmly convinced that seven-year-old boys secretly run the world.

Let me spend some time expounding on my second theory.

Dave chaperoned the Scouts on a weekend trip to an airshow in Jacksonville. I perused the website and noted the Blue Angels, a variety of aerial acrobats  . . .  and the Port-o-Jet.

Yes, the Port-o-Jet

Because air shows are organized by seven-year-old boys.

The trip was for older boys, but Dave wanted John to come along if he was willing to forego a class field trip scheduled for the same day. I heard Dave talking to John, reviewing his options. And then I heard John guffawing. Big belly laughs reverberating through the house.

Clearly, they had hit upon the Port-o-Jet, and John was sold.

He's a seven-year old boy.

Yesterday was a veritable monsoon in Augusta. I can enjoy a rainy Sunday. It truly becomes a day of rest. We whiled away the hours playing Shoots and Ladders and then moved on to Pictionary. It was all great fun until Kolbe's turn came up and his word was Colon. Yes, Colon.

Because the makers of Pictionary are seven-year-old boys. And late at night -- punchy and crazy and facing a deadline -- someone added the word Colon. The men proceeded to giggle while the women rolled their eyes.

Kobe's word was colon, and hilarity ensued.


And this all hit a little close to home because someone around here may or may not have celebrated her fiftieth birthday recently. And do you know what the medical community offers patrons for their fiftieth birthday? That's right! A colonoscopy.

Spelling practice.
I was loathe to mention it here, and mostly I've taken the high ground on the whole issue and said things like Isn't it a blessing that we have such great preventive medicine? when what I'm really thinking is something along the lines of We can manage to land a camera on Comet 67P, 317 million miles away, travelling at 317,000 kilometers per hour, but we can't concoct a more palatable solution than Movi-prep?

Movi-prep. Yes, the wretched stuff you down by the liter! before a colonoscopy is called Movi-prep.

Seven-year-old boys run the pharmaceutical industry as well.

And I can tell you without naming names that men and women approach post-colonoscopy recovery rather differently. Judging from the conversations taking place behind the curtains -- and clearly audible to every other soul in the room -- men are fairly excited to get free license to deal with their, ahem, gas issues without restraint. Women, for the record, are aghast.

Seven-year-old boys eventually grow up.

But not really.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Do You Believe in the Devil? Because He Believes in You.

Keep Telling Yourself It's Just a Game

So reads the billboard for a movie coming soon to a theater near you. The movie is ouija. Yes, ouija, as in the board, as in the game that many of us remember from seventh grade slumber parties.

So it's a great time to talk about the devil.

The devil has pulled quite a fast one on all of us sophisticated, rational, modern thinkers. Maybe he hired an image consultant. These days he's the portly, comical, pitchfork-wielding fella in the red tights sitting on your left shoulder sparring with an angel on your right. Or he doesn't exist at all.

So almost no one takes the thought of the devil or demonic activity seriously. I'm pretty sure the devil likes flying under the radar.

Addressing this issue a while back, Simcha Fisher wrote a clear and sensible piece over at Patheos. She begins:
Satan is real, and he is not fussy. He doesn't care if you are kidding or not when you call him by name. This is why I tell my kids to stay far, far away from participating in anything occult — ouija boards, tarot cards, etc. — even if it’s just a game.  An invitation is an invitation, and Satan doesn't stand on manners. You may not see Exorcist-style special effects when the Father of Lies creeps into your life. You may not realize anything has happened to you at all, as the rift between you and God slowly gets deeper and wider.
As we drove to school today, we sang Holy, Holy, Holy. Verse two begins:
Holy, holy, holy
Though the darkness hide thee
I pondered for a moment the darkness that hides God.

We live in a brick and mortar world, and I, for one, certainly struggle to see what we actually can't see, both the good and the bad. Yes, the darkness hides quite a lot -- God's goodness, the devil's snares -- both are obscured by noise and busyness, by piles of laundry and daunting to do lists, by flesh and blood, here and now, clearly discernible realities like a scratchy throat and an aching hip, but by the good things, too, the soft feel of my daughter's cheek, John's enthusiastic eyes, Tim's piano playing.

It's hard to see what we can't see.

We live in a world, my friend Father Brett always reminds us, in which our understanding is darkened, and our will is weakened.

Dabbling in the world of the occult, at the very least, serves only to make these already problematic realities a shade worse. Why make the darkness darker?

I played with a ouija board as a teenager. Seances were standard fare at slumber parties. In neither instance did I experience anything supernatural or dramatic. Lots of giggling, but nothing weird. But, boy, do I know people whose experiences were quite different. No one reports what Simcha calls "Exorcist-style special effects," but they do share a sense of gloom descending, a growing distaste for prayer and more generally for the things of God, a feeling of oppression.

I watched The Exorcist as a teenager. Creepy, creepy, creepy. Bed rattling, head spinning, green vomit flying. Since many of us dabbled with the occult and experienced no technicolor drama, we do exactly what the movie poster tells us to do: We keep telling ourselves it's just a game and write it all off as a lark, as so much childhood nonsense.

And yet I've heard and read too much to accept that brushing up with the occult is cost free.

Over the summer I found myself in the odd position of defending people who don't read Harry Potter. It was odd because I've read and enjoyed Harry Potter. Here's my stand on Harry: I have read and liked (to varying degrees) all the books. I have seen several of the movies and not particularly enjoyed any of them. Tim has read about half the books and was neither enthralled nor dismissive. Kolbe, very picky about what he reads, finished about half the first book and said no thanks to the rest.

That being said, I fully understand why parents would pass on Harry Potter. To wit:
1. Harry attends a school of witchcraft and wizardry.
2. Witchcraft is real.
3. Many of the subjects Harry, Ron, Hermione et al study -- arithmancy, charms, divination --  all exist in real life and are used for the purpose of communing with the dead or gaining supernatural control over people or things.
4. All of these are big time no no's for Christians in general and Catholics in particular.

To me it is significant that the characters in Harry Potter are born witches and wizards, much as Gandalf is a wizard, and Legolas is an elf in Lord of the Rings. Harry doesn't adopt witchcraft as someone could do in real life. Like the Narnia series, there is good magic and dark magic in Harry Potter. The books chronicle a battle between good and evil and highlight the virtues of self-sacrifice and courage, among others.

But they do depict heroic characters engaged in practices that Catholics deem objectively wrong. Parents do well to point these out.

I am a big fan of Michael O'Brien. His book A Cry of Stone has one of the loveliest examples of being poor in spirit I have uncovered in contemporary literature. O'Brien published a piece of non-fiction, Dragons in the Landscape, analyzing images in modern literature, particularity a troubling trend he sees in young adult and children's literature. The trend, he shares, is that good used to be good and bad used to be bad. Literature is full of "types," and these "types" were consistent over centuries, but suddenly and especially in the literature we feed our young, they are evolving. Black and white are no more; the world is increasingly gray.

While I reject some of O'Brien's conclusions (i.e. I read Harry Potter), I agree with his basic premise.

When The Hunger Games trilogy was all the rage, I wrote a long post analyzing the good and the disconcerting in the series. Among the more troubling ideas in the later books are the notions that suicide can be heroic, that killing -- not in self-defense or in time of war -- is justifiable, that assassination is okay .

The world is gray.

I don't think my sons will read Harry Potter and and try to jump on a broomstick and fly, but they may read The Hunger Games and absorb messages that are much more worrisome and much more likely to arise in real life.

Simcha sensibly points out that we have to use discernment with individual children in making decisions about books, movies, video games, what to allow, how much, at what ages, etc. She clearly points out that some kids may be more swayed by disturbing plot lines or images.

My kids vary wildly in their personalities and sensitivities. I had a kid freak! out! during 101 Dalmatians. For that matter, I think Dave's still mildly traumatized by the death of Bambi's mother circa 1967. What parent wants to instill fear in a child?

John has been trudging through Magic Treehouse books. We started Mummies in the Morning, and it's all about an Egyptian ghost trying to get her body back or some such rot, and it was all creepy and off, just plain off, and you know what I did? I threw it away.

Yes, I threw it away.

Kelly, the English teacher, threw it away.

And English teachers aren't supposed to do such things -- banning and burning and pitching books.

We have a zillion other Magic Treehouse books, but I didn't like that one. And we don't have to read everything set before us. Crap is crap, and let's not be afraid to label it as such.

Parents can evaluate Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and any other young adult lit and trust that they have the discernment to sift through the good and the dubious and make informed decisions for their children. And here's the startling news: People of goodwill come to different conclusions about these issues, and that's okay.

After All Saints Day/Halloween, Tim came to me and said that a few of his friends had gone to something I believe was called "Blood Plantation." Would I have let him go, he wondered.  I think it was a bad idea, I told him, but I probably wouldn't have told you no. 

Tim's seventeen years old.

I firmly believe in sheltering very young children. I regret that the little people around here are growing up much faster than their older brothers did. But I also believe that there's a time to let kids begin making decisions -- bad and good -- on their own so that they learn to discern these things on their own.

As for ouija?


We'll pass.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Things That Have Value, Things That Don't

The purge to end all purges continues. If it's not nailed down or registering a steady pulse, out it goes.

When I'm in robo-purge mode, I can be nothing short of dangerous. The kids are nervous though I've assured them again and gain that I'm doing nothing with the things we actually use. Even Dave is walking around with an alarmed look on his face.  But here's my take: Why box up and move things you did not need in the old house, will not need in the new house, did not, in point of fact, even know that you owned?

Once again, I am amazed, confused, perplexed, etc. that there is any stuff left to deal with. Forget the Forty Bags in Forty Days deal -- we've been hauling it away by the truckload. I'm guessing 8-10 truckloads so far.

Dare I say it? We are near the end.

I have tackled every room. I have tackled every closet save two. I have some stuff on hooks behind a door to peruse. There may be a stray box or two in the dusty recesses of the attic (which, for the record, are no longer dusty, really. I've been spending some quality time with ye olde shop vac).

We are near the end.

I could write an epic post covering nothing but the books. Oh, the books! As I excavated one closet, I hit the mother-lode. Here is a rough tally:

 -- Books that I owned multiple copies of: 1984 - five copies, War of the Worlds - four copies, Hamlet - three copies, For Whom the Bell Tolls - three copies. And the list goes on.

-- Books I have recently purchased, but in fact already owned: Moby Dick, Pride and Prejudice, The Scarlet Letter, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls. And the list goes on.

-- Books I've recently checked out of the library, but already own -- The Great Gatsby. Actually, there were so many of these, I've lost track.

-- Book I do not need to purchase next year: Tess of the D'urbervilles.

The good news is that I found a whole stash I'm ready to hand over to Tim: Mere Christianity, Exodus, Lord of the Flies, Utopia.

The boy is a bookworm just like his Mama.

Of course I get all philosophical about stuff and its true cost,  a cost far beyond the retail price. Stuff, stuff, stuff. We buy it, we haul it, we store it, we move it , we rearrange it, we re-store it, we loan it, we recover it, sometimes we even have to insure it.

As I sort, I consider what has value to me. I recently opened two boxes of crystal and china I inherited from my grandmother. I have such fond memories of meals we shared with Nana. Let me tell you, that woman could rock a pot roast. But never in the more than thirty years I knew my beloved Nana did I ever see fine china or crystal on her table. So I look at these items, and I know they are old, and I know that they belonged to a person I loved with all my heart . . . and they mean nothing to me.

Nine months out of the year, I get out of bed and put on a robe that belonged to my grandmother. That means something to me. I remember her wearing it. In the disorganized pile of papers I call a recipe box, I have two priceless treasures -- Nan's recipe for cream of broccoli soup and her recipe for that rockin' pot roast. The recipes are written in her looping, distinctive script and if the house caught fire they'd be high on the list of things I'd grab once my husband and children were safe. I have a picture taken of Nan and me at Christmas 1994, a mere four weeks before she died. It may be the only photo I have of the two of us. Nan looks fabulous, just amazing. The picture matters.

Scattered throughout the house I have Nan's dining room chairs. I recovered them years ago. I thought I'd begin by removing the worn fabric. And under it I found another chair cover. And then another.. And then another,. And then another. The final fabric was a traditional, rather formal stripe in maroons and golds and every chair looked great except for the armchair that I'm guessing was my grandfather's. His chair was frayed. And somehow looking through those fabric swatches and seeing the tears and stains gave me such a connection with this dear woman who lived at a very different era (the depression, World War II), yet toiled at the very things I found myself doing -- working to bring order and beauty to a dining room.

Nana was a writer, so that, of course, makes her "snooper duper" (in Ainsley's words). Like the robe and the recipes, when I write I like to think of Nana. I picture myself as one of a line of Regans who have found joy and solace in putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. In each branch of the Regan family, there's a cousin especially drawn to the written word -- my cousin Gary, my cousin Anne Marie, and myself -- all three of us writers and teachers of writing, in some form or fashion.

Nan had an agent in New York, wrote an advice column under the pen name Pat Lane, and authored quite a few published love stories. My dad has shared that she would regularly gather with other writers in her Detroit neighborhood to share and critique their work. They called themselves The Inkslingers.

I love it and just may consider renaming my blog.

When we were teenagers, Nan pulled out some of her romance magazines and showed my sisters and me some of her work.

"He said he loved Susan, so why was he seen kissing Martha?"

So -- roughly -- read the cover of one of the magazines. We howled with laughter and scratched our heads that our Grandmother wrote romance stories! 

As we packed up Nan's condominium after she died, I found pieces of half-finished stories in a notebook here, on a scrap of paper there. I found a list written in that same looping, distinctive script that read "Things I'd do if age didn't matter." The first item on the list was "Become a published author."

She was a published author, but more than that she was funny and smart, beautiful and kind. She always smelled great. If I don't fully value the china and the crystal, I fully recognize the real treasures she brought into my life.

I am not against things, Lord knows. In fact when you're moving into a new house, you invest an inordinate amount of time thinking about a host of things -- blinds and trash cans, linens and bathroom vanities, ceiling fans and dining room tables. Ultimately, though, things matter because of the people they serve, because of the memories forged around them.

As the purge goes on, here's hoping I can keep this in mind.

Monday, November 10, 2014

For Grandma and the Aunts

I present the boy who draws arrows through Jesus' head and the girl who spends Mass asking how many songs until it's over . . .

But don't they look saintly? Mary as a young girl and Saint Tarcisius.

Grandma may remember all the lace she shipped me many moons ago. So fun to embellish Ainsley's costume.

Love my little people. Oh, yes I do.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Thanksgiving Craft

My favorite Thanksgiving craft. My only Thanksgiving craft. One of my favorite pictures of that rascal John.


 -    16 chocolate covered cookies (such as Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers)

-      1 tube orange frosting with piping tips

-     16 small peanut butter cups


1 .    Place cookies on work surface. Place a dollop of icing in center of each to hold peanut butter cups in place.

2 .    Place peanut butter cups upside down on frosting. Press gently.

3 .   Using a round piping tip, draw the hat band and buckle. Let frosting set before storing.


Monday, November 03, 2014

Saints and Saints in the Making

Seven Not So Quick Takes:

1. On my mind today:

Tim meets Saint John Paul II.
Why were the saints, saints? Because they were cheerful when it was difficult to be cheerful; they were patient when it was difficult to be patient; they pushed on when they wanted to stand still; they kept silent when they wanted to talk; they were agreeable when they wanted to be disagreeable.
That was all.
It was quite simple and always will be.

- Hanging on the wall in FJ's mom's beach house

HT: Nicki

2. So a friend was asking about the Magnifikid, a weekly missal aimed at young readers. Short answer: We love it; we've subscribed for years and years; keeps kids engaged in the liturgy.

That is until you glance at the cover and are shocked to note that Jesus has an arrow through his head a la Steve Martin and one of the normally clean-shaven apostles has sprouted a goatee and Brother Goodventure, the amiable friar, has, ahem, gas issues.

And this is just horrible, I mean, horrible. And I plan to take really firm action just the minute I stop howling with laughter.

This past week found us driving home from Mass and me perusing a work book belonging to a certain nameless child of mine who may or may not be preparing for First Communion and the workbook may or may not have had fill in the blank thought bubbles that began, "Hi, I'm a Catholic" and ended with, well, much of the same, i.e. dialogue that's essentially Captain Underpants meets Shrek.

As for me, mother of nameless, and, for the record, a Montessori-trained catechist, well, once again I was doing that laughing soundlessly maneuver that involves clutching your middle and reaching for Kleenex to mop the tears pouring down your face all the while ensuring nameless doesn't have an inkling of what's so funny.

Because it's terrible, I tell you, terrible. And Maria Montessori would not approve, oh, no, she wouldn't. And we're putting a stop to it, but first would you please hand me another Kleenex?

3. So I know all my friends are praying for all the picky details surrounding our move and for the one not so picky, not so much of a detail -- namely That We Sell Our House! Sometimes I realize I live a quiet, simple existence. I am far, far removed from high finance. My days in the world of business are long behind me. And I'm surprised at how these transactions don't exactly intimidate me, no, but seem to consume me.

A friend had a bit of excellent advice: Don't spend too much time thinking about things you can do nothing about.

At the heart of it all: Do I trust God or do I not?

4. All Saints' Day is upon us, and I decided to go all out with Ainsley's costume. Sometimes I embark on these grandiose schemes only to quickly regret this course of action once I'm past the point of no return.

Not so this time.

I've been stitching and embellishing and adjusting and thinking all the while how good it is -- how very good it is -- to have a little girl who wants to dress up as Mary, who appreciates the lace trim on her costume, who wants her hair just so.

Costume making for little people is fun because, really, they are easy to please. The girls want to be beautiful; the boys want weapons; they both want accessories. It's all about the accessories. Note that the parents end up carrying the accessories, but for the first ten minutes -- okay, maybe five to seven minutes -- it's all about the accessories. Costume fabric comes cheap, and I get a chance to use all the embroidery stitches on my machine that have no real purpose whatsoever. But they're fun.

Risk free sewing. Love it.

5. Of course, all of the above ignores the fact that I very nearly dropped a pretty penny on these costumes, and I blame it all on Joanne Fabrics. Actually I blame all retailers who do the deep discount thing. You know, ten percent off of forty percent plus a door buster deal and save a little more if you open a credit card.

You can't just shop. No, no.

First you Goggle coupons which sounds easy, but in fact turns out to be time consuming. Then you had better have your loyalty card in hand. And then while you're actually in the store, you had better check and double check which rack your items came from. Was it the forty percent off rack or the sixty percent off rack? There's always the risk that some dingleberry moved the very items you plan to purchase. Ask me how I know this and I'll;regale you with the sad, sad tale of ten Buzz Lightyear costumes someone moved en masse to a rack labelled with the wrong price.

So I had a brief window while John was at catechism class, and I headed to Joanne's. I'm at the cutting table at Joanne's and suddenly find myself with this sinking feeling that these dirt cheap costumes won't prove to be quite so dirt cheap. I grab my specs and see $22 on the ticket and think, "Well, that's a little more than I planned to spend, but not so bad." And I move through the check out line, and I begin to think, "No, $22 is just one cut of fabric." And, sadly, I am right about this. I ask if fabric is returnable, zip out of the store, grab John from catechism class, and head to Walmart -- not my favorite place but a store that does Everyday Low Price rather than the whole deep discount plus the layered coupon thing. Fifteen minutes later I'm heading out of Walmart with $12 worth of fabric. I head back to Joanne's to return $37 worth of fabric .

And is it any wonder I had a migraine by the time I got home?

I don't want to think about coupons. I don't want your loyalty card. I don't want to scrounge up the sales circular to find out if the towels I'm buying will double in price when the clock strikes noon. I don't even want to shop at all. So make it easy for me, please.

6. One of the reasons I don't even want to shop is that the purge of a lifetime continues. Oh my, yes, it does. And when you're in the middle of the big, bad purge, you really are not in acquisition mode. I've already given the kids a heads up that Christmas will be: 1) lovely 2) cheap and 3) small. Think: cds and books.

But back to the purge. The easy, no-brainer purging appears to be over. Now we're making hard decisions. Our current house has lousy closets, awesome attics. Attics as in plural. The new house has awesome closets, virtually no attic. There's storage under the stairs. (I thought of Christine when John spotted "the cupboard under the stairs" and said, "It's Harry Potter's bedroom!") The best news? Our outdoor storage will about triple in size.

I want to haul everything of value and no junk. It's a process. As Christine shared, a cathartic
process, a good process, but also a long process.

7. Wanna buy a house?

Head over to Jen's and add your Quick Takes after you offer up a prayer to Saint Joseph, my main man, for the sale of our home.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I Have News

So I have news.

Funny, even when you've perhaps -- just maybe -- celebrated your fiftieth birthday, say the word "news", and everyone -- and I mean everyone -- assumes the news is the kind that arrives in about nine months.

Well, I have news.

But it's not that news.

I want to type, "We are moving," but we're not moving for a while. I think about saying, "We're buying a house," and as long as I stick to the present progressive, that's true. The most accurate report would be, "We have a contract to buy a house." Our mortgage papers say, "You're almost home," but it doesn't necessarily feel that way day to day. It's a process, and as I'm learning, it's a l-o-n-g one.

The whole thing came out of the blue and spanned about the seventy two hours from House Is Available to Contract Signed.  As I told someone, Dave and I have put more time into buying a coffee maker than we did into buying this house.

There's nothing like a chat with a real estate agent or a mortgage broker to make you feel stupid with a capital "S". These people couldn't be nicer, but they speak another language. Oh, the terms! Oh, the forms! Oh, the documents! Points and earnest money, escrow accounts and mortgage insurance, inspections and termite letters. It's another world entirely. At one point I turned to Dave and said, "And this is why we do this every eighteen years."

Stage I is The Contract.

Stage II is The Financing. Stage II is far more complicated and time consuming than Stage I and essentially involves locating hard copies of every last shred of paper related to your financial life and converting them to electronic copies so that the mortgage folks can turn them back into hard copies, mail them to you Fed Ex, have you verify them, and return them once again.

Rain forests, beware.

A new level of crazy and totally exposes the myth of "the paperless environment" all those nice computer folks promised us long ago.

Stage III is The Yard Sale, and it took place Saturday. Words fail me here. I could pen a passionate and humorous post on the merits and pitfalls of yard sales, but let me leave it at this: There must be far, far easier ways to score a hundred bucks. We are so beyond exhausted.

The thought of moving, or more precisely the thought of showing our house, has been, hmmmm, motivating. See, Stage IV is Showing the House. The ink wasn't dry on the contract, and I was zipping to Lowe's to buy flowers for my front window. Curb appeal and all that. 'Cause twelve bucks worth of pansies will sell this house, no doubt about it. Seriously, this is a combination of people over for dinner, my tidiest friend dropping by unannounced, and my mother-in-law planning a lengthy visit.

I look at everything in a new light.

And this is all good except that it doesn't jibe well with Stage III - The Yard Sale, Subtitle: Relocate the Entire Contents of the Attic to Your Living Room. Lest you think I exaggerate, on Friday my living room looked like this:

It wasn't too, too bad because until the night before Stage III, the towering mess was confined to one room. I can deal with contained mess. Mostly. Then it was transferred to the front lawn. The unsold items were then transferred to Goodwill or The Fall Fare which, conveniently, is in three weeks. Maybe five items came back into the house.

For most of my adult life, I have considered myself a moderate minimalist. There's nothing like an impending move or a renovation to put that premise to the acid test. I have my areas of excess -- books and teapots, mostly -- but I really have worked to keep things pared down. We support two yard/rummage sales per year, and I have always fancied myself a great contributor.

Faced with a) showing my house and then b) moving the entire contents, I have gone to the darkest corners of the attic, plumbed the far reaches of every closet -- and discovered that any pretensions I have of being "A Minimalist" are so far off course as to be comical. I hereby surrender my Minimalist Card, exposing myself for the impostor that I am. I will don sackcloth leftover from an All Saints' costume and sit in front of The Dollar Tree shouting "unclean, unclean." A dozen lashes with those broken Christmas lights I've been hanging on to for ten years!

Everyone, I am convinced, should touch every surface, every item really, once per year.  Our current house boasts two spacious attics. This, I now realize, is not necessarily a good thing. My mother-in-law always talks about moving into a house with no garage, no basement. I see her point. If you have the storage, it will come -- and it will bring a few companions along for the ride. Things like certificates from high school Model United Nations conferences, notebooks from nuclear engineering classes taken a quarter of a century ago, a piggy back I bought when I was eight, the one and only trophy I have ever earned. Tennis. Most improved.

We've made some fun discoveries.

There have been discoveries nostalgic -- I nearly swooned over Tim's first tennies.

There have been discoveries practical -- a brand new, never been used tea kettle.

There have been discoveries gross -- a set of crutches with arm pads that had liquefied in the balmy climate of our attic.

And there have been boxes and boxes and boxes. I'm talking empty ones. A few weeks ago, I found a box labelled "Empty Box," and I'm not even making that up. If I buy a skateboard or a radio or an iron, I always wonder if I'll need to return it. If it's gift, I wrap it and toss the box in the attic. Multiply this by eighteen years, and we've pretty well insulated the attic with cardboard. The good news is that a third of attic needed nothing more than flattening and tossing in the recycling can.

When I get a few minutes I plan to draft a brilliant and inspiring piece called "You Should Live in the Kind of House You'd Show Potential Buyers or Your Mother-in-Law." It's a working title -- a bit wordy, I know.  We all have To Do Lists, and sometimes they languish like so many good intentions. People have varying degrees of time, money, energy, and skill when it comes to home improvement. But the truth is, I thought about showing the house and planted flowers in the span of an hour. I plan to touch up the woodwork here, finally finish installing a doorknob there,  For at least a year, I've planned to get an estimate on recovering a set of chairs. I got the estimate. Forward march! We're not renovating the kitchen or adding a deck, but we're finishing projects and de-cluttering and sprucing up, and some of the results are startling. I showed Tim his clutter-free closet, and he put his arm around me and said, "Wow, Mom."

If we can accomplish "Wow, Mom" for other people, why don't we do it for ourselves?

Pep talk over.

When we close -- in forty-four days, but who's counting? -- I will post pictures. Until then, it seems premature. As I said, it's a process and a l-o-n-g one. We covet your prayers.

We are absolutely exhausted. We are excited. We are grateful.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Boy and His Fort

John had his buddy Henry over a while back, and they decided to build a fort. The Fort is now John's reason for getting up in the morning.
I can overlook "aloud" --  tricky things, those homonyms -- but the superfluous apostrophe? Ouch.

It started off rough. Then they added a mailbox. And if you're going to have a mailbox, you certainly need mail. John came to me with a sheaf of papers.

"Can I use these," he asked.

"What are you going to do with them," I wondered.

He leaned in slightly and in a conspiratorial tone said, "Secret stuff."

Secret stuff. Of course. And off he ran to do his secret stuff.

The next day he wanted to install carpet. Since I was planning a yard sale, I had an old rug to contribute. I had to laugh when John returned a few minutes later to borrow the vacuum.

Today the addition went in. I found John and his friend Jonah on the roof of the fort pounding planks into the roof of the addition. I wondered where they got the wood and then wondered if Dave would have to be resuscitated when he learned of this development.

No worries.

Our seven-year-old can pound a straight nail. Dave's one proud Papa. He headed for the workroom to grab a power saw and a drill. Suddenly the project became a father-son endeavor.

The addition, it turns out, is a jail.

Ainsley came running to me with a grim report. "If I get a bad grade," she told me, "John said he'd nail me into the prison."

I don't think he intended to nail her actual person. I think the door to the jail doesn't yet have a hinge, so the only way to close it is to nail it shut. Daddy will take care of that, no doubt.

Seven-year-old boys.

Absolutely precious.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Year of the Tooth

The past twelve months have found us spending an inordinate amount of time where I least enjoy it -- namely, the dentist's office. To be precise, I should type dentists' offices, plural, and add to that the oral surgeon's office, the orthodontist's office, and, worst of all, the endodontist's office.

Trust me, neither you nor your bank account should hang out in any of these places.

I had a cracked tooth which resulted in a crown followed by a minor breakdown in the endodontist's chair followed by a root canal followed by a second crown followed by the mother of all canker sores and two more breakdowns, one in the dentist's office which resulted in prescription that would deaden any level of mouth pain and probably a compound fracture of the femur and the second one at the pharmacist's counter.

God bless the hapless, baby-faced cashier at Barney's pharmacy who had the misfortune of waiting on Kelly in agony following weeks of dental work. Our interaction ran something like this:

Hapless cashier, Day 1: You're here for The Wonder Drug. Our compounding pharmacist has left for the day. Would you mind coming back tomorrow?
Kelly in Agony, Day 1: ???
Hapless Cashier, Day 2: You're here for The Wonder Drug. Our compounding pharmacist has left for the day. Would you mind coming back tomorrow?
Kelly in Agony, Day 2: ??????
Hapless Cashier, perceptively suspecting that I did, in fact, mind coming back tomorrow: When did you need this?
Kelly in Agony: Yesterday. Y-e-s-t-e-r-d-a-y.
Hapless Cashier: Let me see if the owner is here.

There simply are no words. No words. None.

Meanwhile Tim, aged sixteen, had no twelve-year molars. This wasn't too terribly surprising for the kid who sprouted his first tooth at fourteen months, but a quick x-ray showed wisdom teeth coming in at odd angles and blocking the molars. On to the oral surgeon for an extraction that left us with a dopey but sweet Tim for a few days.

Not one to be left out, Kolbe arrived for his semi-annual dental check with two molars hanging on by a thread. Problem was, a month later they were hanging on by a tad more than a thread. Like Kudzu on a telephone pole, the thread just grew until the day Kolbe ran into our friend Larry who is a dentist. "Hey, Uncle Larry," Kolbe said. "Look at this."

Larry took a quick look and informed me that  those molars were no longer hanging on by any kind of thread. If we wanted them out, they would have to be pulled. So one shot of Novocaine and $250 later, those molars were gone, baby, gone.

Then John got into the action. He had  a loose tooth that seemed to growing less loose by the day. I told him the Tooth Fairy was running a special -- ten bucks a tooth but the offer expired at the end of the week. My kids will do a lot for cold, hard cash. Out came the tooth, and I figure I saved myself $115.

I was determined to avoid dental repairs of all varieties by a simple, two-step method: A mouth-guard at night would help avoid a repeat performance on the cracked tooth and more diligent flossing would do, I don't know, something positive I guess. Right? Because flossing is good for you. Or so they say.

And then my teeth started to throb. Again. And the pain was suspiciously like the pain of the previous year that cost me hours and hours in the dental chair and more cash then I care to calculate. I decided to do the sensible thing and block out the pain through a combination of denial and excessive amounts of Advil.

The pain grew worse as my dental exam drew nigh. At least they'll be impressed with all my flossing, I thought. Not so. I guess my flossing was a little too energetic. I managed to expose roots and this, apparently, is a bad thing. But cheaper than a crown. And much cheaper than a crown plus a root canal plus risking the life of a teenage cashier and all the legal issues that would have entailed.

Ainsley, John, and Kolbe headed to the dentist last week. No cavities! But John has a tooth coming in at a bizarre angle. And it's trapping a baby tooth. And now the baby tooth has to be pulled, and I don't think the Tooth Fairy Special is going to get it to budge. The dentist ran through the arrangements with me including the menu of narcotics that tend to make the process go smoother. I wondered aloud which drugs they offer the mother.

Sadly, the mother gets nothing but the bill.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Ainsley's signature week 1.
Ainsley's signature week 4.

Now teachers, they call this progress. Dave looked at it and said, "Ainsley can write an "s" correctly?"

Yes, dear, she can. But on the up side, she handed me this the other day:

At least the "Y" is still backwards.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Teenagers, Plural

So we've now experienced approximately eight consecutive days as the parents of teenagers, plural. Naturally, I feel compelled to write about the whole, albeit brief, adventure.

At last count we had two teenagers in the house. Now, plenty of families have three or more teenagers. My parents nearly had four. I did some rough math the other night, and I think my younger sister was twelve and three quarters when my brother turned twenty. My long-suffering parents nearly had four teenagers living at home at one point. Let the record reflect we gave them a run for their money, and it's not without reason that my mother has a bit of a nervous twitch.

I have friends who will one day be able to say they have five teenagers under the roof. Hello, Rachel! Click here to get Rachel's observations on life with teenagers. You can survive and even thrive, though your grocery budget may not.

Yes, it's true. They eat everything in sight. The grocery bills are astounding. Their clothes aren't cheap. Their shoes cost even more. So all of you moms of littles who hit the yard sales and consignment stores, keep it up. The pickings are slim once puberty sets in. You don't often find a bargain on size 11 men's shoes.

Hanging on.
But while sticker shock is, well, shocking, the real challenge for me falls under the category of  what I call The Agenda.

Here's a typical scenario:
Nameless Teenage Boy: Yeah, well, we're all working on our t.v. commercial for Civics and it's worth 900 points and it's due tomorrow and we have to get together and we're headed to the river and it's totally fine with all the other parents and we're leaving in a few minutes . . . oh, they're here right now, so can I go?
Bewildered Parent: ?????
Note that every Agenda has three required components:

1. It's Now!
2. It's New!
3. You're the only parent in this limitless solar system who has ever had the slightest qualm, misgiving, catch in the old spirit about whatever it is.
Hanging on.

Let's examine these points one by one.

1. It's now!

Nothing is ever Next Saturday or The Day After Tomorrow. No, no, no. It's now or never. The future tense barely exists for the average American teenager. They are in the driveway, revving the engine, late, late, late for a very important date and the only thing gumming up the whole works is YOU.

2. It's New!

New is far more troubling than Now. This age is chock-full of Firsts. Deodorant, driving, shaving, braces, acne, checking accounts. Now Firsts can be nerve wracking at any age. I remember when it dawned on me that John really, truly could walk two doors down to the neighbor's to borrow a cup of sugar without any fear of repercussions from the Department of Family and Children's Services. I recall when John and Ainsley could play in our backyard without me hovering over them. When Kolbe could ride his bike to a friend's house.

Hanging on. 
We all struggle with these Firsts, of course, but Teenage Firsts are extra worrisome and when they're your First Teenage Firsts, they're downright alarming. Because they involve cars or boats. Because they usually happen at night. Because they're typically unsupervised. Because they might even include girls.

3. What's Your Problem?

To hear a certain nameless teenager talk, no one else in the state of Georgia spends Sundays with the family. No one else is expected to dine at home on a regular basis. No one else is hampered by such trivial matters as homework, orthodontist's appointments, piano lessons, chores, sleep, Mom's sanity, the family budget, etc.

Every other parent  -- and I mean every. last. one. of. them. -- is a-okay with (insert something never done before, something you've never even envisioned your child doing).

(Here I should admit that there is a slight element of truth in this, just a shred. Tim is an oldest child who is friends with a whole bunch of youngest children.  Many of these parents are grizzled veterans. Been there, done that, don't sweat some things that are, in Tim's vernacular, epic to his uninitiated parents.)

I remember running a youth ministry event when I was young and single. The phone rang. It was my good friend on the line. Her oldest daughter was en route to the party and was driving alone for the first time ever! Would I please call back and tell Mom that Daughter had arrived and do it all clandestinely so that Daughter wouldn't know that Mom was on her knees with a rosary and a box of Kleenex wondering how Daughter had graduated from a Barbie bike with training wheels to a mini-van in the blink of an eye and who on earth decided that sixteen was a reasonable age to issue a driver's license and Saint Christopher, patron saint of travelers, pray for us.

I get it.

My dear friend Bob V, father of many, had a stock response when his kids would come to him with the dreaded Agenda: I'll let you know in ten minutes. Ten minutes. Enough time to ask the question: Am I crazy or is he? Enough time to confer with the spouse because if there's one absolute in parenting it's United We Stand; Divided We Fall. Enough time to assess other priorities and to offer a Yes that is confident or a No that is reasonable and not simply a knee-jerk response to the fact that, ready or not, you're going where you've never, ever gone before.

Teenagers, plural. Just hang on.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Seven Quick Takes

1. Fall has arrived. Let us rejoice and be glad! The other night I carried some plastic out to the recycling bin and was -- for the second time since April -- cold. Cold! Mind you, it was ten o'clock at night, and I was wearing shorts and a sleeveless blouse. But I was cold. Gloriously, mercifully cold! I nearly cried.

I am sure the heat will fire once last shot across the bow, but the end is near. Let us rejoice and be glad!

2. In the spirit of the new weather, Ainsley is compiling  a Naughty and Nice List. I am happy to report that I made the Nice List. In fact, the preliminary Nice List had only three names on it: Hope, Mama, and Ainsley. I think this had less to with virtue than with the fact that these are the only three names Ainsley can spell. In a moment of charity, she asked Kolbe how to spell his name and added him as well.

The Bad List consists of the devil and, at least initially, dinosaurs. John and Ainsley had an animated discussion about dinosaurs, and John is relieved to see they have been transferred to the Nice List.

3. Tim, oh my Tim, has been burning the midnight oil. Among other endeavors, he is in the early stages of his first full length research paper. Here I must offer a shout out to one Linda Finnegan, Tim's middle school English teacher, who had her students write short research papers, MLA format and all, three years straight. Teachers get a fair amount of, ahem, push back from students and parents alike when they embark on ambitious projects and hold kids to high standards. In the long run, short term pain bears enormous fruit, and we are seeing that now.

Tim is writing about Ernest Hemingway, and I will confess right here that I encouraged him to choose a shorter novel than For Whom the Bell Tolls. Time is of the essence, and while Tim is a strong reader, he is not necessarily a fast reader, and that bad boy is 500 pages long.  Well, he chose it, and he finished it around 11:00 last night, a full twelve hours before the deadline. I made him a milkshake by way of celebration.

My bleary-eyed scholar begged me to call him late for school, and to my enormous credit, I made no smart remark linking the bleeping alarm clock and For Whom the Bell Tolls. I didn't call him in, but I did make him a big cup of coffee.

4. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd began yesterday against all odds. About two weeks ago, our directors went into the atrium and discovered we had no water. A brief investigation showed some enterprising thief with the potential to be a successful welder had crawled under our building and stolen all our copper pipes!

Note to thief who probably doesn't read family blogs: We are a non-profit organization operating on free labor and a shoe-string budget. Our plumber estimates you made a whopping $25 hawking our pipes. When it looked like we would have to delay our start day by 2-4 weeks and face thousands of dollars in repair bills, two friends stepped up and re-plumbed the entire house in twelve muddy, nasty, backing-breaking hours for a fraction of the original estimate.

2nd note to thief: The new pipes have no black-market value.

3rd note to thief: We prayed for you, prayed that God's grace would be on you, prayed that if this was to turn quick drug money, that you would be freed from addiction and restored to wholeness.

5. In preparation for our first atrium session, I had about fifty-two pieces of paper to print out including a spreadsheet we use for attendance. I tinkered, I saved, I hit print. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a message that read something like, "printing page 1 of 2,752 pages."

Faithful readers are familiar with my long-standing feud with Hal, the device formerly known as Printer. Kris, especially, will be pleased to hear we have a new printer, a laser jet, a wireless beauty that hums and prints two-sided copies and did I mention that it is wireless and comes with all sorts of handy features that have come about in the past decade?

Sometimes, for reasons I can't fully explain, I still turn to Hal. This reminds me of when we replaced our ancient Buick with a newish van. I missed the comfy seats and the cavernous trunk.

"You are seriously complaining about the van," Dave asked me one day, wondering about the state of my mental health.

No. No. But I get accustomed to how certain things work. I used my $10 hand mixer for years before turning to my state-of-the-art Kithenaid. I am a creature of habit.

But back to yesterday . . . Hal groaned to life. I spotted the error message, and in a move that would amazed Jackie Joyner Kersee, Olympic hurdler, I lunged at Hal and yanked the plug. No messing around with "Cancel print job," a function, I am convinced, doesn't actually exist. I cancelled, I cancelled, again, I cancelled some more. If I plug Hal back in at this very moment, I am confident he would resume printing that oft-killed job.

Hal, to be honest, reminds me of something out of a Stephen King novel, and, really, I think maybe I need to carefully carry him to the backyard and dig a big hole.

6. A good friend shared this scripture the other day:

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.


7. And if that isn't positive enough, let me end by saying my sweet Ainsley is lying on the bed behind me reading Bob Books. "I readed it," she tells me. "I readed it!" Cold weather, new pipes, and Bob Books? Life is good. It is very good indeed.

On that upbeat note, head over to Jen's and add your Quick Takes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What I'm Up Against

Note to self: Every Saturday around two o'clock, take the little people and go somewhere. It doesn't matter where. Just go somewhere. Just go.

The park or the Greenway. Our favorite secondhand book store or the swamp. If it's raining or boiling hot, try the library . . . on the far side of town. The McDonald's play-land will do in a pinch.

Coolest ever four part fort.
Here is the thing: Everyone can't stay inside all day. It never goes well.


Oh, it always looks like it's going well. I thinks it's going well. And then, about four in the afternoon, things fall apart.

When we have a Saturday at home, we typically pass the day full-steam-ahead in project and cleaning mode. Bushes and shaggy hair get trimmed. Lawns get mowed. Pictures hung. Homework completed.

John added a window.
John and Ainsley don't play a huge role in these endeavors. Oh, they like to rake leaves, and they're the only Dolins we can lift into the cans to smush the leaves we've already loaded. And they do other things around the house. Mostly, though, they spend uneventful Saturdays with Legos and forts, Rescue Heroes and, their latest favorite, playing spy.

Eventually, though, they get bored. Their boredom seems to coincide with my peak efficiency. I am making progress, and suddenly and with little warning, they're reversing my progress.

So Ainsley added one, too.
You know, in theory, I am all about one toy/game/project at a time. Really, I am. The problem, as I see it, is that I don't notice when a child is moving from one mess to the next without any "clean up, clean up, everybody do their share" in between. And, actually, it should be "everybody do her share" because a) that's grammatically correct and b) my sweet yellow-haired angel is far and away the biggest culprit.

Seriously, the girl is positively unstoppable. These days it's art, art, and more art. And is this a bad thing? Of course not. But by the eighth hour of the day, when I have tripped over seven crayons, put away the markers three times, searched the entire length of the house for the tape that has gone missing, and spied those horrible little scraps of paper leftover by pages torn out of a notebook, well, I no longer see the developmental benefits of art of any kind. She might as well be spray painting the walls.

I begin formulating household management principles in my mind and even try to communicate a few on the fly.Things like:

A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place.

If You Open it, You Close It.

If You Spill It, You Clean It Up.

And here is the thing: These are good and valuable lessons that I should (and do!) work on everyday. But the best time to make progress is not when Mom is tired and irritable. A friend of mine recently wrote an insightful article about self-control. We need self-control when we encounter out-of-control drivers on a crowded freeway, when we deal with acerbic customs officials at the tail end of a long trip, when we spend five hours waiting in the emergency room.

But my friend added a brilliant piece of advice: The best practice in self-control comes when we're not  in a crisis. We can practice self-control when we're not late for a doctor's appointment, rushing to catch a flight, urgently trying to meet a deadline.

Self-control is a virtue we can grow in the mundane dealings of life so that it's waiting there in times of crisis.

So back to last Saturday. Progress on several fronts! But then I'm tripping over more markers and trying to dodge princess dolls and puzzle pieces. And replacing pillows that have migrated to the floor. And picking up stray playing cards and Silly Putty and a yo-yo and a magnifying glass.

This is the point at which I should have regrouped, loaded up the troops, and headed across town.

Discretion, I hear, is the better part of valor. Because this post simply demands an adage, I think I can throw that one in here. The best strategy in a moment of frustration in the midst of what was (mostly) a highly productive day would have  been a simple one: Change the scenery. While the little people clamored around the McDonald's play-land, I could have sipped a mocha frappe and brainstormed brilliant, creative ways to work on those habits and routines that could use a little attention.

But I'm no quitter.

I spied John swiping the stapler.

I remember years ago Danielle Bean wrote a funny, funny post about her dear dad -- the father of nine, if memory serves -- who chained a pair of scissors to the kitchen counter.

Where, exactly, can I buy one of these chains? Because I am totally in the market for one . . .  or twenty. We could anchor the living room throw pillows, the toothpaste, Dad's favorite flashlight, the remote, the good scissors.

But back to John who was about to abscond with the stapler. See, he had been hard at work at the dining room table making a book about wepens (sic). Now isn't that special? He was making a book about wepens (sic)! And, of course, he wanted to bind his book.  And that, too, should be special, but, really, I was just miffed. The stapler was leaving the room, and, rest assured, it would not return anytime soon. I'd find it on the bathroom sink or in the silverware drawer or next to John's pillow. And this was only a big deal because it was the 86th item I had put back in about 90 minutes. Seems I have a limited capacity for stuff out of place, and that limit happens to be 86 plus a stapler.

"Don't take the stapler out of the room," I told John, perhaps a bit gruffly."Bring your book to the stapler."

John shot me a look of shock and incredulity. Bring the book to the stapler????? His eyes were wide; his jaw was slack. I began to lament that my deepest fears were true, that I have, in fact, taught these kids precisely nothing.

But then he said, "Mom, there's peanut butter all over the stapler."

And that, friends, is what I'm up against.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I Didn't Know Rodentia Was a Word

Tim, thinking aloud: I'm trying to decide on a term paper topic.

Kolbe: I think you should research Stuart Little and the theme of rodentia in children's literature.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Slumber Parties, er, I Mean Sleepovers

So I survived Kolbe's 13th birthday party, and I have the empties to show for it.

The whole shebang was a 16 1/2 hour affair. For the record, this is 15 hours longer than most parties I've thrown.

I have a love/hate relationship with parties, birthday parties specifically.

On the hate side: gift bags, moist cake crumbs everywhere, pairing up, leaving out, incendiary marshmallows that become airborne, water gun fights turned mean.

On the love side: Tim, Kolbe, John, Ainsley, simple joys, camaraderie, life-long friends, childish delight.

In an effort to maximize the fun and minimize the need to binge on chocolate cupcakes and/or sneak a glass of wine early (because, as a friend told me yesterday, it's always five o'clock somewhere), I go into Control Freak Mode.

Here are a few tactics in my arsenal:

1. Ninety minutes start to finish.

2. Hold it all off-site. Let someone else vacuum up moist cake crumbs.

3. If one on one defense is required, enlist the aid of the husband and arm him with explicit and gory details of past parties run amok.

4. Make firm plans that begin approximately six minutes after the party in the off chance that a mother calls and asks, "I know the party ends at three, but could Ralphie hang out until nine?" Recognize that you are a lousy liar, and arm yourself with a plausible out.

5. Note that "No, sorry. I'll be drinking wine and perusing Pinterest right about then" may, in fact, be a plausible out, but it's not one you should share.

6. Keep them moving. Keep them moving. Keep them moving.

7. Did I mention ninety minutes?

8. Don't dwell on the gift bags. Think: death and taxes. Death and taxes and gift bags.

9. But feel free to dispense with the gift bags around age 10.

10. Thank our good and gracious God you have two summer birthdays and can usually skirt the whole party issue by being conveniently out of town for five or six years running.

11. Light a candle to Our Lady of Sorrows in thanksgiving that these summer-born children remain wholly ignorant of that nefarious trend called the "half birthday."

12. Bite the bullet every now and then and schedule a summer birthday party anyway. It's easier than  ministry and cheaper than therapy. Really.

13. Consider the fact that your childhood included more than a few incendiary marshmallows, but you and your siblings still made it to adulthood fully sighted.

14. Always, always, always  keep in mind the words of your precious (now teenage!) son at the end of an uneventful, not exactly Pinterest worthy party: Thanks, Mom, That was awesome!

15. Pause between the pinata and the birthday cake, between cucumber sandwiches and pizza to recall those ineffable moments when you first set eyes on four red-faced, squalling babes who have cleaved both heart and soul and left you forever changed.

One day a year it's all about them, them, them. Happy birthday, dear Kolbe, my one-of-a-kind boy who has flavored our lives with humor and warmth. You are a gem. A gem.