Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Printer, Blogger, Washer -- Just Because You're Paranoid Doesn't Mean They're Not Out To Get You

I noticed that a previous post requires a magnifying glass to read. Blogger and I are in a fight, and I can't face another round trying to fix what surely can't be fixed without too much time, too many choice words, or a stiff drink (and I don't have my glass of wine until 5:00).

Blogger, in case you didn't know, is distantly related to my old friend, Printer. You've heard all the Printer stories you care to hear. Blogger acts up in much the same way. They both have an uncanny knack for detecting any sense of stress or urgency on my part.

It has recently come to my attention that both Blogger and  Printer are close kin to Washer, the little white machine that lives down the hall. Washer has always been a stalwart, dutiful member of the household, wholly unrelated to those trouble makers, Printer and Blogger. Its relationship to the peskier members of the extended family remained obscure. These days he's a wayward son, scarcely to be trusted with anything beyond nasty sweat socks.

A month or so ago I posted on Facebook that I had seen my first laundry disaster. Now, I've had a small slip up now and again. A little bleach here, a color bleed there. But this? An entire load tangled with black ink.

Not fun.

Thankfully not too costly, either. Although a few items were beyond repair, they were old. Nothing of value lost.

About two weeks ago, a huge load went into Washer looking just swell, came out of Washer looking just swell, but emerged from Dryer covered with greasy, raspberry colored stains. Raspberry grease proved slightly easier to defeat than black ink, so all was not lost.

Then there was last week.

Black ink + large number of expensive items = Major Laundry Debacle

If I've learned anything about laundry in these many years of kids (and since I've had three laundry calamities in a month, you could debate whether or not I've learned Anything At All), it would be this:

1. You really can ignore warnings about bleach. Not straight on, undiluted bleach. That's bad and an irreversible sort of bad. But nearly anything can survive diluted bleach. Many persistent stains will eventually cry Uncle in the face of repeated washing with diluted bleach.

2. The theory that once an item goes through the wash, the stain is set -- well, that's not always true either. The big bad load of ink went through Washer again and again and again and after all that only one item was in fact ruined.

I still don't trust Washer.

Or Blogger.

And definitely not Printer.

(Especially if I'm in a hurry).

Meanwhile Tim has spent the past two days feverishly designing a web page for his computer class. I'm half-way intrigued and halfway repelled by the work he's doing. I'm a humanities junkie. I could have majored in about six different subjects -- history, English, art history, linguistics, okay so maybe not quite six. Probably my favorite college class was music appreciation (bitingly dubbed "Clapping for Credit"). I loved music appreciation, though it was called something that sounded much better. I would leave the world of Accounting 101 -- the world of balance sheets and amortization schedules -- and spend the next hour listening to Scarlatti, Handel, and Bach.

Bliss, pure bliss.

In my last semester of college, I came to grips with the fact that I was, technologically speaking, a complete ignoramus. With great trepidation, I registered for a class in computer programming. My hesitation proved a fortuitous decision -- in the interim, punched cards went the way of the Dodo. Compared to current technology, we were barely emerging from the dark ages. I clearly remember watching punched cards rain down from dorm windows on the last day of classes, and I was grateful I wasn't one of those long-suffering students.

So convinced was I that I couldn't do this type of work, I signed up to take the class pass/fail.

Well, I loved it. Loved it! Poured extra hours into tweaking my programs. Loved my Teaching Assistant, a man from Yemen named Ophir.  We became buds.

But there was a certain amount of stress involved in programming, mainly due to the fact that the University of  Michigan was woefully short of computers. We didn't have deadlines; we had "last run times". So, a program might have a last run time of midnight on a Tuesday. From the crack of dawn Tuesday, there wouldn't be a computer available. It was this class more than any other that taught me to avoid procrastination. I finished my programs ahead of time, but still I felt compelled to tweak.

I'd show up at the computer lab and stand in line for one of the "Emergency Terminals." So the deal was you wrote code while you stood in line, walked up to the Emergency Terminal, typed your program as fast as possible for five minutes, ran it, waited for your lengthy list of errors, and got back in the line again to code a little more.

At midnight, silence would fall over the lab. You'd occasionally hear students crying.

Crazy. Totally crazy.

I still loved it.

But as I watch Tim trying arduously to convert a font size, to align this bit of text or that pictures, all the picky, picky details come washing over me. One tiny error, one misplaced backslash or missing comma, and the whole thing's kaput.

Sadly, those little demons of strife that inhabit Printer, Washer, and Blogger most definitely worm their way into HTML.

Note to Tim: Remain calm. They can smell fear from a hundred paces.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Throwback Tuesday - Rend Your Hearts and Not Your Garments

Rend Your Hearts and Not Your Garments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On OCD and Attics

Dave has a fraternity brother -- we'll call him Fred -- who was well known and soundly abused for his OCD tendencies. Everything had to be just so. Dave laughs about visiting Fred's apartment in Chicago and being stunned to discover several hangers in the closet . . .  turned the wrong way. Naturally, he brought this startling anomaly to Fred's attention only to learn that the hangers pointed in the opposite direction held dirty clothes.


Another frat brother was visiting along with Dave. He found a can of Folgers in the pantry, grabbed a can opener, and opened . . . the bottom of the can instead of the top. Fred threw the can away and the coffee along with it.

We all have our issues.

Here are mine:

1. I clean the house from one end to the other before we go on vacation. This is equal parts OCD and my contribution to marital harmony. I pack quickly; Dave packs slowly. Over seventeen years of marriage, I've learned I can breath down his neck or boil over in frustration or put my angst toward some constructive purpose. So I clean.
Funny, funny, funny in retrospect.

On the OCD side, I have visions of dying on vacation and strangers going through my house. What will they think? In point of fact, the people going through my house would be friends or relatives and, hopefully, they would be saying, "Gosh, Kelly sure was a good friend" rather than "Whoa! Take a gander at this closet!"

Still, I gotta clean.

2. I have fears of parking lots, and these fears have become much worse since I've had children. How many times have I leaned in to fasten a car seat and pictured getting mugged? So I have a simple plan. Lock all the doors except the one I'm using. Toss my purse to a far corner of the car. Do what I need to do and do it quickly.

3. Another parking lot issue involves the heat. After unloading bags and securing children, I always leave a door open while I return my cart. I have visions of passing out or being mugged and my children being unable to get out of a hot van.

I should probably note that I have never been robbed or rendered unconscious in a parking lot, but these fears persist.

Order brings peace.
4. I don't like spending time in the attic if no one is home. I think this started when a friend fell from a ladder and absolutely shattered her ankle while she was home alone. She didn't languish for hours or anything like that. She managed to get to a phone and get help fairly soon, but somehow this made an impact on me.

Yesterday I did a grand purge of the attic. I mean, epic. So I took Kolbe out of school for two hours so that someone older than Ainsley could dial 911 if needed. No need to dispatch EMS, thankfully, and Kolbe ended up being a huge help.

The results are so fabulous, I'm embarrassed to admit how delighted I am. (And that sounds just like something my dear and tidy friend Rachel might have written. May my laundry room one day look like hers!)

A place for everything and everything in its place.

Over the past week, as I've gone to put various items away, I've quickly realized that way too many drawers, shelves, and closets have met or exceeded their capacity. Some mothers nest before having a baby. I nest before summer vacation.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Throwback Tuesday - I Can't Do It All, But I Can Fold One Shirt

On a day when I feel especially called to exercise the virtue of hope, to view all of us as works in progress and not finished products, to have the vision to imagine all sorts of possibilities . . .

My friend Susan is facing her third bout of cancer. Her hair is still growing back from the chemo following her first recurrence. Cancer has ravaged her body both inside and out. Side effects from medication have brought a fifty pound weight gain.

After Susan and her husband have spent an evening out, they return home and share an exchange of words that never varies.

Larry: You managed to do it again!

Susan: What?

Larry: You were the prettiest one there.

This is a man who knows how to love, how to encourage, how to build up what disease has broken down.

During the month of April, Small Steps for Catholic Moms focuses on courage. Elizabeth Foss writes today about encouragement. She begins by defining both courage and encourage. The definition that most resonates with me is that encourage means to inspire with hope.

When I think back to the many friends, bosses, colleagues, mentors, and teachers who encouraged me, I think of individuals who inspired me and gave me hope.

I remember my high school English teacher, Miss Kaye Hughes. She had a simple formula for drawing out the very best from us: She treated us like we were smart, thinking people. And you know what? If you are treated like that long enough, you start to act the part. Miss Hughes inspired me.

I remember my first boss in the world of Big Business. As a higher ranking manger, he viewed my success as his primary job. He was my most vocal cheerleader and champion. He gave me courage.

I remember the principal I worked under when I began teaching. He did his job with the passion of a novice teacher coupled with the wisdom of a veteran. Despite decades in the trenches, he was always able to look past the rolling eyes, the sloppy handwriting, the kids straggling in late for class. The joy he found in his subject matter and his love for the art of teaching called out the best in me.

I've read that Michelangelo could look at a block of marble and see the finished masterpiece. His job as a sculptor was simply to free it. He was a man of vision.

Last night I sat on the bleachers and watched boys’ baseball try outs. Coaches stood by with clip boards and pencils watching nine-year-old boys miss fly ball after fly ball. Although there was one shining superstar in the pack, for the most part, these coaches didn't have much to work with.

Good coaches succeed none the less. Like Michelangelo, they picture the finished product. They pull from youthful clumsiness the grace of an athlete. They take awkward posture and dicey gross motor skills and somehow fashion a batter and a catcher and a pitcher. They have to see what isn't there and build up what is missing. They have to have vision, and they have to impart that vision to their players.

So it is in parenting. We have to envision the finished product.

Sometimes the masterpiece is well hidden. Sometimes our tools are unwieldy and dull. We whittle ineffectively here; we lop off an unexpectedly huge chunk there. Sometimes – many times, in my case – the block and the tools are just as they should be, but our vision is cloudy.

Parenting takes vision. And faith. And hope. And love.

I have looked at my infant children and marveled at their tininess, their vulnerability, their helplessness. I have looked at my older children and often seen them as finished products when they are still so very young, so very unfinished.

Last week I heard sordid details about a father who relentlessly battered his children emotionally. I knew one of the children. His life ended tragically, and numerous people still struggle to pick up the pieces from his untimely death. As I listened to this sad, sad tale, I wanted nothing more than to go home and hug my kids.

When I returned home, the hour was late. I was tired. The house was a bit of a wreck. Usually all this is the perfect prescription for crabbiness and nagging. Not so last week. I surveyed the scene and said to myself, “In an hour or two, most of this will be set right.”

I hugged my kids, asked them about school, shared a few laughs, gave them a job or two to tackle. In light of the story I had just heard, no haranguing would take place under my roof.

When Tim was five or six and had just started studying piano, a new piece would sometimes overwhelm him. One afternoon he struggled and struggled and struggled to no avail. He burst out crying.

I had just finished loading approximately a zillion loads of clean, unfolded clothes onto the couch. I sat next to Tim and told him how disheartened I was by the laundry.

“I can’t do it all, “ I remember sharing. “But I can fold one shirt.”

It was a moment of grace. Believe me, I can go all Tiger Mother on my kids and have done so more times than I care to recall. But this time, Tim pressed on, not because he was prodded and bullied, but because he was heartened, because he was suddenly more courageous, because he could take that small step.

One of my most treasured psalms is “Without a vision, the people will perish.”

May God continue to renew my vision that I might encourage those entrusted to my care.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Thou Art Graven On His Hand

As we gathered with twenty-two children to celebrate a Seder meal  last Wednesday night, we sang one of my favorite hymns. I especially love three lines in the second verse:
Thou art my chosen
For I have sought thee
Thou art graven on my hand
And I was once again struck by the deep and personal nature of God's love for us.

The other day, Jamie  returned from an amazing retreat and wrote this:

I had an amazing encounter with Jesus this weekend, with a love so tender and humble and patient that it made me say yes, YES, of course I will. I am pretty quiet about my faith in real life, for all that I shoot my mouth off here on the blog, but this morning in Panera I wanted to shout, "Attention, customers of Panera: Jesus really loves you! It's amazing!"

I wasn't sure that would be productive, so I am telling you instead: Jesus really loves you. It's amazing.

God loves you.
He has numbered the hairs on your head.
He has counted your tears.
He knows the plans He has for you, plans for a future and a hope.
He died that you might live forever.
He has gone to prepare a place for you.
He has sent you a helper.

And all this is true  . . .
even if you're bored stiff at church.
even if you've been hurt by institutional church.
even if you're convinced you've sinned like no other.
even if you had parents who tried to beat the love of god into you or the devil out of you.
even if the person sitting in the next pew at your last church was a complete hypocrite.
even if you've encountered dismissive clergy, unkind nuns, bureaucratic church staff.
even if you've sworn you'd never associate with those kind of people.

None of this alters one bit the fact that God loves you.

But you don't know what I've done.

No, I don't.

But God does.

And He loves you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Ringing Endorsement of Magnifikid

If you have a child from reading age up to about eleven, I can not say enough positives for Magnifikid. Among its awesomeness:

1. Great info on Saints, both new and old. We're going to celebrate John Paul's canonization using this as background material:

2. Simple, solid liturgical information such as this lesson on confession:

3. More Saint stuff. Rummy! So fun.

4. A booklet the kids made for Lent. Easy, doable, love it!

5. Love Your Enemies 101. A great lesson on applying the Gospel to the lives of young children. 

Magnifikid has provided great reading practice for John who reads the Gospel on the way to church and, with a little prodding, reads the responsorial psalm during Mass. 

For people who have subscribed to Magnifikid and have forgotten them every last Sunday in the liturgical year, do what we finally learned to do: Store them in the car.

Great stuff. And I swear they're not paying me to say this.

Head over to Hallie's to add your Five Favorites!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Did I Stay Or Did I Go?

In response to Kris: I went camping with the Boy Scouts.

I am reminded of one of my favorite exchanges in Little Women, one of my favorite movies.

Laurie: What do you suppose those girls do all day?
Mr. Brooke: Over the mysteries of female life is drawn a veil, best left undisturbed.

True of adolescent boys as well.

Yes, there are some aspects of Boy Scout bonding that women in general and mothers specifically really don't need to know about. Burping. Lack of hygiene. Dish washing or lack there of. Danger. The list could go on and on.

That being said, I had a great time.


I kept the menu simple.

The weather was beautiful.

The Port-o-lets were cleaners than any I have ever encountered.  (In my Army days, I encountered plenty).

I saw just one snake, from a distance, not poisonous.

My friend and her daughter came along so I wasn't the only mother-interloper.

A particularly industrious dad made rosemary chicken, wild rice, and sautéed veggies for dinner and strawberry shortcake for dessert. I may be investing in a Dutch oven sometime soon. Quite inspiring.

We sat around the table enjoying our dessert as John, Ainsley, and Hope -- outfitted in headlamps -- caught toad after toad after toad. I thought about what we would have been doing at home. Watching a movie, probably. How neat to be outside watching the little people run free.

Then it was time to turn in, and here things went sour.

Up to my late twenties, early thirties, I could sleep on a rock. Not like a rock, on a rock. Seriously. When I was tired, I went to sleep; I stayed asleep. Suddenly all that began to change. I became picky about pillows and mattresses and light and noise. If I woke up, I couldn't go back to sleep. I tried various sleep aids. I got rid of my alarm clock because the light kept me up.

I thought I was prepared Saturday. Dave and I had abandoned air mattresses for cots that don't leak. I recently invested in firmer pillows and ditched all the marginal ones. I brought Tylenol PM.

Dave set up our tent, and we prepared to move in. It was then I discovered our pillows were AWOL. I had neglected an old Army adage that has many, many applications to family life: They only do what the boss checks.

I have learned many a lesson in regards to this valuable principle. You say, "Pack a winter coat." Best you get a visual on that "winter coat" before you cross the Mason Dixon Line because you may picture a thick, insulated puffer jacket, and they just may be thinking of this:

Well, this works just fine in Augusta, Georgia, pretty much any year except 2014, but if you're headed for Detroit? Not quite up to snuff.

They only do what the boss checks.

When you say, "Grab four pillows," a nameless family member just might hear, "Don't forget the nutty bars, the Rick Reardon novel you're reading, and that can of Pringles over there wah, wah, wah, wah, wah."

No pillows. I swallowed my Tylenol PM hoping it would over-ride the missing pillow.

Ainsley, John, and I got into our little tent. I had a cot. Ainsley had  a mini-cot. John had a sleeping mat. We tossed and turned, and John wanted the mat, and Ainsley wanted the mini-cot, and so we switched, but before I knew it, Ainsley had abandoned the mini-cot to sleep with me. In a cot.

Ainsley was asleep in about five seconds, and John was sawing logs shortly thereafter while I tossed and attempted to turn. And I must have started to dose when suddenly John was unhappy with his Spiderman sleeping bag and for reasons I can not recall, I traded blankets with him, and so there I was climbing into a Spiderman sleeping bag made for a six-year-old which meant it reached just north of my belly button, and it was getting cold, but that was okay because Ainsley, the human hot water bottle, was plastered against me. In a cot.

Eventually -- it was a long, long eventually -- I, too, fell asleep.

Suddenly I heard, "Mama, Mama, Mama!"

It was around 1:00 am. Tim couldn't fall sleep and wanted some melatonin. I directed him to the van and attempted to fall asleep once again.

Suddenly I heard, "Mama, Mama, Mama!"

It was around 3:00 am. It was John. He had to go to the bathroom. I unzipped the tent and directed him to the woods and attempted to fall asleep once again.

Suddenly I heard, "Mama, Mama, Mama!"

It was around 5:00 am. It was Ainsley. She had to go to the bathroom. I found my shoes and told her I'd take her to the port-o-let.

"No, thank you, Mama," she told me. "I'll wait until morning."

Why? Whhhhhhy? In the name of mercy, whhhhhhhhhy?

I was delirious from lack of sleep and aching like I hadn't ached since I was 39 weeks pregnant with Ainsley. My sciatic nerves were shot. As I watched rosy-fingered dawn rising up over the lake, I grimly determined to do two things: caffeinate and head home.

I love being in the woods.


Call me the eternal optimist, but I remain convinced there's a way to do this and avoid the whole Bataan Death March experience. Even without Ainsley, the cot wasn't cutting it. My hips can't take it. Do we go back to air mattresses? Switch from Tylenol PM to Ambien?

Groupon ran a special on pop-up campers not long ago. Maybe that's the ticket.

Do you camp? Do enjoy camping? Tell me how.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Anatomy 101

The little people breeze through the room as I'm watching Doc Martin deliver a baby.

Doc Martin: It's boy!

John, perplexed: How can he tell if it's a girl or a boy? I have no idea.

Ainsley, confident: You look at the face. If it's handsome, it's a boy. If it's cute, it's a girl.

I give them a basic anatomy lesson. You can imagine the giggles and groans this elicits.

Friday, April 11, 2014


So the Boy Scouts are off for the weekend . . . along with a massive supply train.

Gracious me, I am fairly sure we emptied half the attic, a third of the shed, and a quarter of the refrigerator and schlepped it all across the backyard and into the Scout trailer. It's all labelled DOLIN  in black Sharpie, so hopefully a sizable chunk will make the return trip on Sunday.

Except that I am blocking out the return trip.

A vast armada of muddy, sandy, smokey gear entering my front door? Not what I want to dwell on at this precise moment and time. Not when it just left the back door.

They had better have fun.

For all the time and money we invest for forty-eight hours in the wilderness, they had better have fun, and lots of it.

Over the years, I've made many a passing comment to Dave along the lines of  "Lots of work for something I don't get to do."

My whining is lighthearted, really, because I love watching my boys go off with their Dad to hike and canoe and, I don't know what else, whittle or geo-cache or water ski. But I do tend to let the record reflect that I spend a whole lot of time on things I don't get to do.

So Dave called my bet this afternoon.

Apparently some of the Moms -- and by that I actually mean one really outdoorsy Mom -- may come up Saturday and camp for the night.

Do I stay or do I go?

It's the logistic that I find daunting -- another trip to the attic, the shed, the store. Cots, sleeping bags, good chocolate, Tylenol PM, contraband wine hidden in a water bottle with "Be Prepared" emblazoned on it.

But to quote Kelle Hampton in yesterday's post: Sometimes you need to build the damn ship.

(This may become my motto).

And John and Ainsey would  l-o-v-e  it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Magical Childhood?

Funny how certain headlines grab a reader's attention and -- Poof! -- a virtual conflagration sweeps through social media, Likes and Shares, What She Said! and Oh, Yeah!, emoticons proliferating. Last week the Huffington Post ran a thoughtful piece about balance and child rearing, a piece that would have had 90% of mothers nodding in agreement.

But where's the fun in that?

More to the point, where's the traffic?

So those bright folks over at Huffington added an inflammatory headline: I'm Done Making My Kid's Childhood Magical. And everyone in the Blogosphere who has a pulse, everyone who would have hit Like on a post titled Balance in Childhood, suddenly felt compelled to comment, to protest, to shout Amen!, to add their own take, their solidarity, their objections.

Just as I am doing here.

I loved what Kristen Howerton shared in Can We Bring the Holidays Down a Notch? Here's chunk of it:
We've got Valentine's Day, which has became The New Halloween, because God forbid you send a simple store-bought card. You'd better include some candy or your child will be shunned. Shunned! One of my kids came home with not just a candy from each class, but a WHOLE . . . GOODIE BAG from each student.
And then, I think I've got a break for a month BUT NO. Surprise! We've got 100 Days of School to celebrate. And by "celebrate" I mean the kids sticking 100 things on a hat. And by "the kids" I mean me.
And suddenly Pi Day is a thing? My children expect to be served pie because someone at school told them so?
And Dr. Seuss's birthday? Sure it's a great event for school, but my kids are now asking what we're doing to celebrate that at home, too.

In my morning surf, I stumbled upon this. Kelle Hampton is both really and funny. She begins her piece with an account of recent struggles involving The Tooth Fairy. Throughout her narratives, Kelle sprinkles helpful hints to avoid the debacle she describes.  I have committed them to memory. Here are Kelle's Tooth Fairy Rules: 

Tooth Fairy Rule #1: Dont' hype up the tooth fairy’s arrival if she’s not going to arrive.
Rule #2: Cross-check  @#$%*  stories between spouses before implementing. (Editor's note: This adage has so many, many applications).
Rule #3:  Don’t blame your kid for your failure. 
Rule #4: (You'd think this would be a given): Don't steal from your kids. 
Rule#5: Keep cash on hand.

Oh, the Tooth Fairy. 

Been there, blown that. Has the Fairy been MIA around here? Oh, yes. Have we "borrowed" from one kid to get out of hock with another? Oh, yes. Have we encouraged a child "to take a second look" when the Fairy has perhaps "overslept"? Oh, yes.

And then Kelle continues:

There was an article that went viral last week about how childhood is magical in itself, and we shouldn't try to make it more magical. I laughed and shook my head with an, “Oh ... so true!” but later felt a little voice, perhaps my own insecurity in wanting to defend our sometimes outlandish and yes, highly unnecessary, attempts to create magic . . .  “Defend the magic!” the voice whispered — an ironic plea, considering our Tooth Fairy magic was a big fat flop days later.
It’s just that, even though we mumble and complain about how ridiculously far we've gone, even though we set ourselves up for failure more times than not, even though it often seems too much (sometimes it is), even though we curse the mom who created the list of 101 Things to Do With Your Elf on a Shelf, sometimes trying to create magic is … well, magic. 
It was to me the night I stayed in my classroom into the wee hours of the night, rigging flaps of butcher paper to the ceiling to build a ship for our Boston Tea Party lesson—an overzealous teacher not yet fully poisoned by benchmark demands, standardized tests and people who thought that the Boston Tea Party was pretty entertaining in itself, so stop trying to make it more. 
Teachers don’t have time for this. Stop purposely adding stress to your job. You're making us other teachers look bad. Kids are going to expect this. They're losing their ability to independently find magic in books.
I get it, I get it. There's a point there. But, you know what? I hope somewhere in the line of competent, benchmark-conscious teachers . . . my kids will have some overzealous ones too — ones who go beyond “Education is magical in itself” and maybe take a page from the student teaching notebook and build the damn ship. 
Good advice, that. As parents, as teachers, as catechists, sometimes we do need to throw caution to the wind and build the damn ship.

And sometimes not.

My kids began one summer vacation by complaining that friends of theirs get A Last Day of School Gift. 

"You get A Last Day of School Gift, too," I told them (gently, I hope). "It's called Summer Vacation."

As for thoughtful, nicely wrapped gifts, those go to the teachers who have worked hard to impart knowledge all year. We have celebrated the end of the year with a trip to the lake, with ice cream, with lunch at our favorite Mexican Restaurant. But Last Day of School Gifts? To quote Kristen: Ain't nobody got time for that.

Sometimes you build the ship; sometimes you don't.

Balance, balance, balance.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Throwback Tuesday

So Ainsey had a birthday party this morning. As I looked at all her little fiends, I was struck by the fact that they're not so little now. On that nostalgic note, I perused the archives and found the following.

First a photo:

A page from Kolbe's prayer journal. Ainsley in a red onesie.

And then a post:

Time to Wean

Ainsley and I just enjoyed what is likely to be our last nursing session. In a few minutes I will smear my nose and cheek with $400 skin cream that, God willing, will halt the growth of squamous cells. You can't be pregnant or nursing and use this medication, so another era of motherhood passes.

I rocked her, smoothed her downy blond hair, and told her how special this time has been. She's, like, "Whatever, Mama. Hand me my pacie."

I love nursing. As I woman who has a penchant for being a Martha, but an ardent desire to be a Mary, nursing has helped me to slow down and enjoy my babies. I have been blessed with four enthusiastic nursers. I hasten to add that enthusiastic has not meant problem free. With all three boys, I faced significant and excruciatingly painful hurdles, but time, perseverance, and helpful hints from other nursing moms helped us negotiate these. Problems solved, we then went on to enjoy many, many months of peaceful nursing.

One of the boys adopted Ainsley's "whatever" attitude toward weaning. In fact he weaned so fast I was unprepared. One day I realized he hadn't nursed for two or three days. Somehow it just didn't seem right to pass through this milestone without fanfare.

"We didn't have our last nurse," I remember telling my husband. While Dave probably didn't fully understand the significance of this, at that point we had been married long enough for him to say, "You're right, honey. I think you should nurse him one last time." A wise man. So we had our ceremonial nurse. He jumped up and said, "Ooohh! Twains!" or something to that effect. Onward and upward! New vistas to explore! Big deal for me. N
o deal for him.

Another boy would have nursed his way into elementary school, content to find a coat closet or a corner of the teachers' lounge so he could top off during recess. Weaning was slow and about as fun as a raging case of mastitis.

I weaned John around sixteen months because I was four months pregnant with Ainsley and had yet to gain ounce number one. Considering what I ended up looking like circa forty weeks - enormous would be the word - this was probably a good thing. But I worried, so I weaned. John never looked back, and neither did I, really, because it was a little much to be growing one baby and having a toddler sprawled all over me. Some women love it. Me? Not so much.

I was supposed to start this treatment almost exactly two years ago. It was a dreary day. I was battling fatigue and finally decided to head across town for a Frappuccino to perk me up. Out of the blue I had the thought: You should take a pregnancy test. Whhhattt? I was forty-four years old. It had taken six years and a load of heartache to have John. He was still nursing! No way was I pregnant.

Except that I was.

That positive pregnancy test was possibly the biggest shock of my life. (Scratch that! Hearing my niece yell, "It's a girl!" beat the pregnancy test by a long shot.)

Still reeling from the news, I went on to a dermatology appointment and explained to my doctor why I would not be starting the treatment as planned. To put it mildly, she was not terribly impressed with my announcement. In fact I felt rather like a delinquent teenager babbling some lame explanation to a skeptical principal. Responsible women don't have surprise pregnancies. Certainly not forty-four-year-old women!

I submit that my sweet Ainsey-girl is the best surprise of my life.

My heart is a bit heavy, and my eyes welled up with tears as I read this to Dave. You know, you can care for other people's babies. You can read to them and rock them and play peek-a-boo. But, wet nurses aside, nursing is strictly a mother's domain. In all likelihood, my nursing days are now over. They have been special days indeed.

To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. Prayers for God's grace as we embark on this next season.

Friday, April 04, 2014

1. So a few weeks back when I thought I had Pink Eye, I totally did not have Pink Eye. How do I know this? I know this because I now have for real Pink Eye, and there's no mistaking the real deal for the itchy, watery variety. Ainsley came home from school with it and decided to share the wealth.

On the upside, I called the pediatrician and left a message explaining her symptoms. The nurse phoned back and -- get this! -- offered to call in a prescription! This, friends, never happens. Neva!  My lucky day. And then I checked my email, and Amazon informed me that I have won a .72 cent credit in an e-book anti-trust suit.  Double prizes! I should have played the lottery right then and there.

2. Is there a cent symbol on a standard keyboard? I can't say that I can find one. And did you know that certain fonts don't include all symbols found on the keyboard? True story.

In the final hours of Science Fair prep, the boys had one last page to print. I proofed it, corrected one error, and added a percentage sign. Daelyn, Kolbe's partner, marched off to print it out. That faithful -- and much maligned -- printer began spewing out page after page after page.

See, kids are not so very different from me it would seem. If they hit print once and nothing happens, surely the solution is to hit print again and again and again. And when the jam is finally fixed or the cable is finally reattached or the slightly-addled mother finally figures out that Cyan means Blue and adds the correct ink cartridge, Printer purrs to life and begins printing out every last one of those jobs ordered when you hit print again and again and again.

And so it came to pass. Printer produced seventeen pieces of paper, but, alas, not the one we needed. I managed to set Printer straight and instructed it to produce that elusive final page. And so it did. And do you know what? It was perfect except that the percentage sign had vanished. I checked the document. There sat the percentage sign, just as I had typed it. I hit print preview. No percentage sign. Architect's Daughter, a font I really like, does not do the percentage sign.

Who knew?

3. I signed up for a 5K, The Glory Run, a fund raiser for The Alleluia Community School. I have been running for a few weeks now. It has not been nearly as awful as I thought it would be. The doing of it, that is. I nearly always feel amazing after  running. Getting back in the running groove after a l-o-n-g hiatus is typically grueling. This has been just moderately grueling. But, oh, those endorphins are nice. Yes, they are.

4. So John's basketball team lost the first round of the play offs. The final score was 1-0. It's hard to explain the excitement in a game involving kindergartners and first graders in a basketball game that goes into double overtime with a final score of 1-0. But, trust me, this was more entertaining than watching Michigan beat Tennessee by two points in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. (We won't mention the results of Sunday night's game).

5. The Pinewood Derby has come and gone. I meant to get the word out beforehand so that my Internet friends could light a candle for us, start a Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, or simply fast and pray.

Not so that we'd win, though that would have been nice, but that all would go well because, in a strange and ironic twist, Dave and I ended up running the show. Exactly how that all came to pass, I can't fully explain, but there we were thinking about decorations and snacks and photos and sound and the ice machine's broken and blah, blah,blah.

It all went well. My parents were able to come! And John loves his car. He carries it all over the house.

6. One of my least successful Lenten disciplines was to waste less time surfing the old 'net. I just clicked on the news headlines and read "George Zimmerman's Parents Sue Roseanne Barr over Tweets." Does it get more ridiculous than this? Oh, yes, it does. "Ten Reasons Gwyneth Paltrow's Divorce Is Better Than Yours." At least that one made me laugh.

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

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

A Guest Post - We're Human Beings, Not Human Doings

Let's talk some more about Putting Your Best Foot Forward: Thoughts on Beauty and Balance. We started the discussion with Amy's piece. Today, I have a guest post from Colleen Duggan who writes over at Colleen touches on the issue of balance, specifically with regard to self-care.

To All The Moms Struggling With Self-Care:

During a recent trip to the park,  I noticed a book in one of my Catholic mom friend's bags.  I am a self-acclaimed bibliophile, so I asked her what she was reading when another Catholic mother -- whom I've never met -- leaned over and proclaimed, "Wish I had time to read."

One of my favorite things -- reading The Littles to the littles.
"We make time for the things we like.  Perhaps you don't like to read.  What is it you like to do?" I asked.

She didn't answer.  She'd made her point, maybe unintentionally, but one which communicated she, a martyr in her family's cause, had no time for self-indulgent frivolities like reading or any other enjoyable activity.  

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes but the conversation left me wondering:  When did the warped Puritan work ethic seep into Catholicism?  When did Catholics -- and women in particular -- accept the idea that we must slave away in life in order to earn our salvation?  It's like we've bought and played some distorted tape recording that says:

"Have lots of kids, cook, clean, and labor and by God -- don't have any fun while you're doing it!  Don't enjoy your life.  The true and good example of an honest to goodness Catholic is one who toils, sweats, and sheds lots of tears."


Catholics are called to re-Christianize the world and women, in particular, have an important role in this effort, but if the way we evangelize makes us look like indentured servants, who wants that?

Not me and not many others.  (In case you haven't noticed, our society is anything but Christian.  Is our "Catholic" example helping our hurting the cause?)

Catholic moms, we don't have to be martyrs.  We don't have to be women so burdened by our lives, we can't take time to do things for ourselves.  That isn't true martyrdom anyway -- it's garnering attention through complaining so others will feel grateful and/or sorry for us. 

But here's what we can do:  we can take time -- every day even! -- to do the things we enjoy. 

One of my own personal goals is to do something creative once a day.  My daily life mortifies me  in a million small ways and what a pleasure it is to finally be able to open the pages of a crisp new book or sit for a moment and bang out a few thoughts on my laptop.  It's renewing and fortifying to me. Without these things I would go crazy and I'm already crazy enough as it is.  I'm a human being, not a human doing and unless I want to teach my children they must constantly have their nose to the grindstone work, work, working, I better demonstrate what a healthy adult looks like when engaged in renewing activities.

What is it you like to do?







What?  What is that interests you?

Pick something and cultivate that, everyday and in some small way.  But don't belittle another a person because they are expanding themselves as a human being.  Don't criticize them for having the chutzpah to do something you don't.  Don't make off handed remarks like "Must be nice" or "Wish I had time" to another woman in the trenches making an active effort to balance self-care and taking care of her family.  Ask her how she does it or when she finds the time but don't imply she's lazy or something is wrong with her because she's developing herself as a person.  Assume every mother is trying to do the best she can because every mother is, I'm sure, doing the best she can.

Your support and encouragement are what others most appreciate, not your catty comments about how best to spend one's time.  Keep those to yourself, thanks.


A Dedicated Mom With Many Interests

Colleen Duggan is a popular writer for Catholic media and her work has appeared in both Catholic Digest and RTJ’s Creative Catechist magazine. For almost two years, she was a bi-monthly blogger for and her articles have also appeared online at CatholicMom, Faith and Family Live, RTJ’s Creative Catechist, GeniusMom, and the K4J Family Blog.  She is a monthly contributor at

Despite any professional and educational accomplishments, Colleen believes her most important job is as a wife and mom to 6 kids. Check out her website ( where she pontificates about potty training and the art of messy housekeeping.

Thanks, Colleen!