Sunday, November 30, 2008

St. Andrew Christmas Novena Prayer

Happy First Sunday of Advent!

Thanks, Kat, for introducing me to this very powerful prayer two years ago today. The special miracle for which we all prayed, and which seemed impossible, was granted. This novena has become dear to my heart. A blessed Advent to you all!!

The St. Andrew Christmas Novena Prayer to Obtain Favors

HAIL and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

* It is piously believed that whoever recites the above prayer fifteen times a day from the feast of St. Andrew (30th November) until Christmas will obtain what is asked.

+MICHAEL AUGUSTINE, Archbishop of New York
New York, February 6, 1897

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Reflection

What a thought-provoking piece to consider on (and after) this holiday of thanks!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving

O God, we thank you for this earth, our home;
For the wide sky and the blessed sun,
For the salt sea and the running water,
For the everlasting hills
And the never-resting winds,
For trees and the common grass underfoot.
We thank you for our senses
By which we hear the songs of birds,
And see the splendor of the summer fields,
And taste of the autumn fruits,
And rejoice in the feel of the snow,
And smell the breath of the spring.
Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty;
And save our souls from being so blind
That we pass unseeing
When even the common thornbush
Is aflame with your glory,
O God our creator,
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Baby

It was raining softly this morning as we all awoke and headed to the cemetery. It was damp and cool, but the weather just felt right—it matched my mood. Somehow, it is harder to cry when the sun is brightly shining. Tears streamed down my face as we walked toward her grave.

Another year has passed.

The pain is still there, but it is a dull distant ache. Six years have made certain things hard to remember. The once very sharp memories are fading. Certainly there are things I will never forget, but certain details of her brief life have left me. I once mourned the loss of these memories. Today I thank God for the gift of passing time.

We all placed flowers on her grave and we prayed. We asked for her intercession and we thanked God for the gifts of our healthy children. I will hug them all very tightly today, praising God for the gift of each precious life. I prayed silently for all mothers who have lost a child, and all families that are experiencing grief during this holiday season.

It is Thanksgiving week and we are all very busy readying our homes for family and other fun celebrations. I always feel a bit guilty to be grieving during this time of year. The end of November is always difficult, as I remember my baby and many emotions of the past come flooding back. Yet I am not alone in my grief.

There are many, many families grieving the loss of loved ones during this time of year. Cards, notes, phone calls, and prayers go a long way in healing their aching hearts. While we all sit around and plan our Thanksgiving, and soon Christmas, dinners let us also take a moment to plan how we can serve someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. A small note, a dinner invitation, or simply taking the time to pray can go a long way toward healing hearts and building our church communities.

It is the Joy and the Sorrow that makes us Christian mothers. Today I am thanking God for Therese Joy, the baby girl who taught me both.

Thanksgiving menu

I'm the head chef this year for the second year in a row. After last year's very-canned-food-based Thanksgiving, I'm seeking to improve my repertoire.

Does anybody have a delicious and foolproof recipe for whole or chopped cranberry sauce? I'm no domestic goddess, but I do love cranberries, don't you?

Second, a green bean recipe that uses fresh green beans. Past Thanksgivings have seen many a green bean casserole recipe using canned green beans, but that makes for a very mushy dish that kind of grosses me out.

And third, how about a Thanksgiving-appropriate pie with chocolate in it?

Fourth, yes of COURSE this picture is my Thanksgiving table from last year : ) No.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Philly Pic

Mary Alice, Red, and B-mama
Just thought you all would like to see a few of us post-race.  Red has another with Juris Mater taken at the race site...  Way to go girls!!


In light of the recent head lice conversations, I naturally cringed this morning when I noticed H was aggressively scratching her head. Upon close inspection, she is vermin-free but has extremely dry scalp. Any tips as to what to do about this? We are still using Johnson's All Over Baby Wash on all of our children, but for winter we probably need to do something more moisturizing.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Man to Man

So, there will be a lot to reflect on from our morning in Philly, but here is one part that I am thinking about:

Why is it that when I tell my husband that his soreness and knee pain after long runs would be helped by stretching and moving in a cool down he ignores me and is stiff for days, but when B's husband gives him the same advice he follows it and is amazed at how much better he feels?

Sometimes men need to hear it from other men, so tonight I pray for good men to come into my husband's life, the kind of men who can give him counsel, friendship and fellowship in a manly way, to support him and be his companions in the greater race. I also pray that I will have the wisdom to get out of the way from time to time as my boys get older, so that their father can be that kind of man to them.

And the Winner is...


With an impressive time of 34:43!

An 8K is just about 5 miles, so Juris Mater ran sub 7 minute miles for the entire race. She finished 86th (12th overall female) out of 1625 runners. She was amazing--blowing away the competition and living up to her prodigious trash-talking.

As for the rest of us:
* B-Mama and I set out to run under 40 minutes, and we both accomplished our goal. I clocked in at 38:21 and B-Mama finished in 39:50, making her the fastest 3 month post-partum mommy on the course. Way to go B-Mama! As always, I am amazed by your strength.

* MaryAlice finished the race without going into labor! Just in case you all forgot, she is 38 weeks pregnant! Have you ever tried to walk 5 miles when 38 weeks pregnant?

* And last, but possibly most impressive, is Mr. MaryAlice. Mr. MaryAlice ran his first 1/2 marathon. A big congratulations to him for all his hard work and dedication. He has run himself into one fit Daddy.

Overall, the race was a fantastic experience. Despite the 25-degree starting temperatures, we all had a great time, accomplishing our goals, cheering for one another, and enjoying the company of wonderful friends. I'm already looking forward to next year.

We Need Philly Run Updates

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Little Things

It's amazing sometimes how small things can lead to big problems.  
Take, for instance, a small hairline fissure within a cement dam leading to a massive flooding.  Or the smallest, tiniest virus multiplying and dominating one's body during flu season.  Or say, a tiny, dime-sized smiley face sticker leading us to a crazy afternoon spent in an ENT office.  

Yep, you got it.  My little guy stuck it up his nose.

We were all having such fun--I had just initiated a geography project of sorts.  The two oldest boys and I had hung a map in our kitchen, planning to track the world travels of my parents-- "Where in the world are Gramz and Pappy?"  At each stop, we planned to place a small sticker to show their location and learn a little about the places they are visiting.  Each boy had a sticker to initiate the project.  Cute, simple, fun.

No sooner had I heard his whimper than I knew what had happened.  My two-year-old has a propensity for "trying out" things in his nose and ears... only to have this one "stick".  A sticker up his nose.  Lord, help me!!   In retrospect, it is a pretty funny scenario, but you know how situations like these go--I totally panicked and the rest of the afternoon followed suit.

We spent the first part in our bathroom, me with every cosmetic item known to man in an effort to retrieve the folded up, lodged sticker.  I started with a Q-tip, then tweezers, then saline and bulb syringe.  At one point it seemed that victory was in sight (after some successful attempts at getting the little guy to blow out of his nose--no small feat for such a youngster!)  Alas, we lost sight of the sticker (even with flashlight) and off we went to make a call to the doc.

Which led to the call to the ENT.  Which led to the mad dash to the ENT's office.  Which led to me and three children waiting (and waiting) to be seen.  Which led to antsy children in the examination room.  Which led to...

The sticker was nowhere to be found, which means one of two things:
1) He eventually swallowed it.
2) It is still stuck in the upper recesses of his nasal canal, waiting to make it's presence known.

Let's just say, we're hoping for #1...
By chance if you should happen to face a similar scenario in the future, here's a quick tip we learned--bring out the pepper and get that child to sneeze!  

Cheers today to the little things; the good ones that make life interesting. ;)

Friday, November 21, 2008

It's really happening

This week I have realized that slowly but surely, we are becoming the Real Learning family that I always hoped we would be. Elizabeth, and others, assured me that it would happen with time, but for so long it has been hard to see the big picture evolving as I have been dealing with the details. Homeschooling is a joy, and it is as easy as breathing, it is all just flowing naturally.

Let me give a few examples:

1. After some reflection I realized that even in colder weather my kids need plenty of time outside. With the advice of a cousin who lives in New Hampshire, I put out a big bin of hats and mittens and hooks for coats, got the kids nice warm boots and started sending them out every morning. Yesterday I decided to join them outside where I found that they have been spending their time raking the leaves into huge piles to jump into. The older kids have taught the younger kids how to use the rakes and snow shovels to build the piles.

2. Today one of the twins woke up with a stomach bug. Instead of freaking out, I took clean sheets from the closet and tucked him into a clean bed, and then we moved our "learning" operation upstairs. Some children colored or worked on handwriting books, I read aloud for a while, we all took turns petting the sick child and bringing him sips of water, I did a lesson from the religion book. Almost every week, everything on my school "to-do" list gets checked off, even though we rarely have the whole gang assembled "classroom" style anymore.

3. Everyone adores the baby, and looks forward to the new one. H has made an activity of crossing off calendar days until the due date, and first thing in the morning she tells me how many more days we have to wait.

4. We are up to a Human Body unit in the science text, so I got a great DK Encyclopedia on the subject and just left it around. Every few hours, a curious reader announces a fact to me (Mom, did you know that asparagus can turn your urine green?!) or shows me a gross picture of a dust mite or something.

5. In general, our greatest joy is to sit by the fire and read in the afternoon or evening. We just finished reading My Father's Dragon, and whenever I mentioned reading another chapter the children would shout with joy and come running to the couch.

6. They have become "pen pals" with grandmother, and PT will write a few pages without complaining if he is responding to one of her letters. I am hoping to use this to bridge him to other ways to write for pleasure as a way to strengthen both handwriting and language arts skills.

There is such joy and freedom in this way of learning and teaching. It is very flexible, but there is also a plan in place so that I know that nothing is slipping through the cracks. I have learned to trust myself and the children enough to know that school does not look the same every day or week, and it will look very different for the next few months with a newborn in the house, Advent and Christmas work to do, Dad home for a few weeks, but it is beautiful and they are really learning.

In the past, I felt fine about teaching preschool this way, but I was concerned about what would happen when some of my children were really school age. The answer is that my second grader and kindergartener are at or above grade level in all subjects and that they love to learn, which is the most important thing.

To those who consider homeschooling, I will say that the hardest part is no "time off" from the kids -- something that is true when you have children who are younger than school age, anyway. This year, my mother in law has been coming once a week so that I can go to the doctor or do errands. This has been an invaluable contribution to our home life. Part of the reason that I could handle this morning with a good attitude was knowing that she would be arriving this afternoon to take over for a few hours -- I will go to the pediatrician and the OB with two kids, but it will still be a "break" for my spirit. If you don't have a family member who can do this, I think even arranging a trade off with another homeschooling family so that you have an afternoon off every other week would be a good start.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tone, Trash Talk, and Thanksgiving Turkey: The Final Edition

Juris Mater has said she's hotsteppin'
B-mama and Red are just bettin'
Who will run fast
and not come in last
Guaranteed we'll surely be sweatin'

But who really has what it takes
To compete without pride or mistakes?
A prize she will win
In this race of has-beens
To conquer a test of high stakes

The BC crowd will give cheer
From the sidelines others might jeer
As they see what transpires
When the gun quickly fires
Three mamas compete without fear

Mary Alice will humble us soundly
At her full term status, so roundly
She'll glide through the miles
Beaming with smiles
Thoughts of six wee babes so profoundly

And don't forget Mr. MA
Who will be most impressive that day
He's lost 30 pounds
While doing his rounds
The half marathon is his foray.

While we wish everyone could be here
From Germany to Texas, so dear
We're together by Grace
Running life's race
God's blessings undoubtedly clear.  

Good Luck to all of our Philadelphia Half-Marathon and 8K participants!!!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A New Fitness Empire

In light of the upcoming race, it seemed appropriate to post my current workout routine in the hopes that it will become the next great fitness empire. My husband played golf with the husband of "Mrs. Buns of Steel" and claims his golf game would improve if I could create a similar empire and he could retire and play golf all the time. I won't make it up from Texas for race day (or will I?!?), which is probably a good thing since I am at least as competitive at Juris Mater and would be killing myself secretly doing two-a-days before and after the kids were asleep just to smoke the other builders in the race.

My workout is entitled: A Trip to Costco.

The warm-up: Gather all belongings pertinent to such an outing, including, but not limited to water bottles, snacks, blankets, cars, books, baby carrier, purse, list, cart cover, coupons, sunglasses, extra clothes, diapers, towels and a tent, because you never know what will happen.

With all items assembled, it's time to step it up a notch. Carry all aforementioned items to the car along with ~20 pound baby/car seat combo. Strap other two boys into car seats. Good, we're already working up a sweat.

Use the 20 minute drive to Costco to get in the zone. Listen to some pump up music at a high volume.

When you arrive at Costco, the baby will unexpectedly wake-up and refuse to make the transfer to the baby carrier without eating. That's ok. You can stretch and do calisthenics as you climb over the seats to remove baby from his seat and feed him while sitting on the floor of the car...also great for you abs as you try to balance to not fall over.

Baby, suitably tired, goes into baby carrier. Proceed to weight training as you lift 40 pound and 30 pound toddlers into cart.

Run from the parking lot to the entrance. Since you parked far away from the door so no one would see you feeding the babe on the floor of your car, you've got a long way to go while wearing the baby and pushing 70 pounds.

Flash Costco card, then hand it to your 3 year old. He will proceed to drop it at least four times, not maliciously mind you, but because he is distracted by searching for the free samples.

Work on your agility as you dart off course to pick up said samples.

Need some strength training? That's on deck as your husband has requested Gatorade. No need to worry about the rookie mistake of bending from the waist to pick up heavy things...the baby strapped to your chest forces you to squat, using the correct muscles.

Proceed through your shopping list at breakneck speed for fear that the baby will wake up any minute, trying hard not to take anybody out with your careening cart. The wild look in your eyes will make the slower carts cower in the center book section.

Ah, but this is all indoors, you may say. How will my lungs be ready to exercise outside? Take a few laps around the refrigerated produce section, because they rearranged it AGAIN and you can't find the spinach.

Head for the check out line. You will definitely be breathing hard at this point.

Head for the finish line, which is a good thing because the baby is stirring...the person waiting to highlight your receipt just may hand you a medal today...but WAIT! Emergency u-turn. The photo counter was still closed when you began, so you have to turn around to get your on-line ordered photos, straining every last muscle against the forward momentum of the cart + boys + food. The receipt highlighter mercifully lets you take a shortcut through the gate when she realizes the problem.

Finally head back to the parking lot, get in one more round of weight lifting in as you unload the boys and costco items. Baby wakes up on cue. Stretch well while bending to put 3 boys back into their car seats, then collapse into the front seat.

Good thing you remembered to gather all the water bottles during the warm-up. Drink some water and, realizing you didn't pack yourself a snack, eat half of the boys' before handing it back to them.

Crank up the a/c. Congratulations. You just completed your workout regimen AND got your shopping done.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Egg Nog Help!

Anyone have a good recipe for homemade egg nog? I have a bit of an aversion to thick drinks, so I don't drink the stuff myself. Mr. Red, however, starts thinking about egg nog in October and one of his few cooking adventures involved an attempt at homemade egg nog. The taste was good, but it turned out very lumpy. He has requested tips and a new recipe. Your advice is most appreciated.

Beyond Organic

Last weekend was an intense educational experience for our family. We spent the weekend in western Pennsylvania visiting the sustainable “beyond organic” farm of an old law school friend.
The paths of lawyers and farmers usually only cross at an upscale, yuppie farmers market. Fortunately for us, we were blessed to have known our farmer friend before he became a farmer’s market supplier.

Farmer Dave was an old law school classmate of Mr. Red. Despite a stellar first year performance, Dave decided that law school wasn’t for him. Instead, Dave and his beautiful wife Mandy took a big risk - a risk many of us crunchy folks talk about taking, but few ever actually take. Dave and Mandy packed their bags, moved in with Mandy’s parents, and started working towards owning their own sustainable farm.

In the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan spends some time on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. At one point, Salatin lets Pollan know that part of the problem with modern farming is that all the A students have left the farms for higher paying prestigious jobs. Salatin laments that most of today’s farmers are C students. In his book, Pollan clearly illustrates that good, local, sustainable farming takes brains. And like Salatin, Farmer Dave has the brains.

So what happens when an A student goes back to the land for a living?

We arrived on Saturday afternoon to Dave’s home atop a scenic hill in the country. Dave built the house himself. It is designed to be tremendously energy efficient, and includes a row of windows on the south side of the house. These windows provide heat for their well-insulated home. Inside these windows Dave grows herbs and other plants.

In the field, Dave grows a variety of crops. But Dave focuses the bulk of his energy on raising organic chickens and turkeys. The chickens we saw were beautiful little creatures. My daughter Gianna went right into the chicken pen and picked up a chicken.

Dave moves the pens daily so that the chicken poop can fertilize different parts of the field for his crops. Dave also raises some egg-laying chickens. The turkeys are kept in a larger, fenced area but, like the chicken pens, Dave regularly moves the fencing. During our tour of the turkey pen we first met “our turkey.”

Before the visit, Dave joked that instead of just buying our Thanksgiving Turkey from him, Mr. Red should butcher our turkey. Mr. Red nervously agreed. Dave then took us and our Thanksgiving turkey (and five other turkeys) over to his butchering station (shown below).

It’s a clever open-air station very similar to the Polyface arrangement described in Omnivore’s Dilemma. I won’t describe it in detail, but it’s a very respectful and simple butchering process. Mr. Red made the fatal cut to the throat and I helped with the gutting. I’ve written before about organic living and the importance of being “close” to our food. This was a whole new level of closeness.

It was a really incredible experience to take such responsibility for one’s meat-eating. Mr. Red described it as a “spiritual experience.” We even blessed the bird. And bless him we should. He is a wonderful creature, made by God and worthy of respect. It’s wonderful to see a farmer whose work incorporates those values.

The butchering and cleanup took the rest of the daylight. The next day, we briefly visited the farm of Mandy’s parents (Farmer Dave’s in-laws). The kids fed their pigs, pet their beautiful horses, and jumped in the back of a pickup truck to watch the farm dog chase around a large herd of cattle. What more could a kid ask for?

Dave and his family are doing a great thing. Their farming not only uses the land, but nourishes it. The problems of factory farming may seem overwhelming, but to a little plot of land atop a hill in Western PA, Farmer Dave is making a difference.

So the next time your local, beyond organic farmer wants an extra dollar per pound for his meat, remember Farmer Dave, and remember that your extra dollar is going to support something more than just a tasty chicken.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Works for Me: Housework

There has been some talk on our blog recently about household chores, and I thought that I would share a recent revelation that I have had about what works for me when it comes to doing housework. As I said in one of my comments, I grew up with a mother who did a great job keeping our home clean and tidy, while at the same time making it a warm and welcoming place for our family. I always knew that my mother was great at all things related to keeping a home - cooking, cleaning, organization, you name it and she was (and still is) as good as it gets! However, my mother also felt that we children should not have any household chores aside from keeping our own rooms tidy and picking up after ourselves around the house. Her reasoning was that we were busy enough already with schoolwork and outside activities, and that we would have plenty of housework of our own when we became wives and mothers ourselves. Yes, mom, that's definitely true :) But I wish that I had gotten the chance to learn these household skills from the master herself, because now I feel as if I am having to teach myself how to clean, cook, and organize a home! 

So, here is what works for me :)

After more than five years of marriage, I think that I have finally figured out what makes me tick when it comes to housework. I have always enjoyed cooking and baking, so learning how to prepare meals for a family has been less of a task and more of a joy for me. I also don't mind doing laundry, especially now that we have a washer and dryer in our own home! But cleaning...Well, let's just say that I don't enjoy it any more than the average person :) The trend in the past has been that I would spend all week telling myself that I should clean the bathrooms, vacuum, dust, mop, etc., and each day I would wake up dreading the same list of tasks. Finally, by Friday I would barrel through all of my cleaning tasks and at the end of a couple of hours, the house would be clean and I felt satisfied and relieved! "That wasn't so bad," I would tell myself. "Next week, I'm going to do everything on Monday so that I can enjoy the rest of the week without dreading the housework!" But alas, Monday came and went without housework, then Tuesday, and suddenly it was Friday again and the cycle continued. I even tried assigning specific tasks to certain days (Monday for bathrooms, Tuesday for vacuuming, etc.), but this schedule only made me resent the housework that I needed to do and was psychologically not helpful for me.

So, here is what DOES work for me. As you can see in the above picture, I bought myself a lovely piece of stationary paper on which I have made a chart of my weekly household tasks. Along the left-hand side are the tasks (vacuum, groceries, bathrooms, etc.), and horizontally across the top are the weeks (I think I was able to fit 5 weeks across). When I am finished with a task, I check it off on the list. Here are the benefits to this system for me:

1) The chart serves as a reminder to me of what tasks I need to accomplish in a given week
2) When I have finished a task, I get to check it off
3) My husband is able to offer his help with a task that I have not gotten the chance to do yet
4) There is not the pressure to complete a task on a certain day, but it sure feels good to check off lots of items at the beginning of the week!

Everyone works differently, so this system may or may not be helpful to you! But I thought that I might as well share what works for me, and my hope is that maybe it will work for someone else out there as well!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Feast of St. Nicholas

We are all trying hard not to get sucked into the commercialism of Christmas that has been surrounding us since August, but it bears mentioning that Advent is just around the corner and we as mothers have a unique opportunity to establish special family traditions that orient ourselves and our children towards the cradle on Christmas Day.

It is not too early to start planning a few ways to make the meaning of the season come alive for your little ones. We love St. Nicholas in the Incredible household and we have celebrated his feast for several years. He is the patron saint of children, among many other things. We will be out of town this year for the Feast of St. Nicholas (on Saturday, December 6th), so I have been planning how to keep our traditions going away from home. We enjoy teaching our children about the real Santa Claus and encouraging them to demonstrate brotherly love.

If you want to order cookie cutters or prayer cards, now is the time! The St. Nicholas Center is a veritable treasure trove of information, stories, games, coloring pages, supplies, and ideas for all ages. Take a few minutes to click around and pick an activity that you think will connect with your children.

As with most things in the Incredible house, food is a very important part of celebrating. There are great recipes for traditional spiced gingerbread cookies and ideas for decorating them. Even if you can't afford the neat cookie cutters, you can use a knife and a little icing to turn them into St. Nicholas.

Another great source of ideas are the archives at O Night Divine. Here are book suggestions, and here are other ideas for celebrating his feast day.

With MaryAlice's encouragement to get ready and think ahead to make this time of year less stressful, take a few minutes to put some St. Nicholas and Advent books on hold at your library and make sure you have the ingredients for gingerbread in your pantry as we begin to prepare for this special time of year!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Demystifying the Allure of the Foreign

As of today, we have been in Germany for two full months. We still don't have our furniture or our winter clothes, but regardless, it has been two months.

I have been reflecting a lot on the cultural differences between the United States and Europe - trying to walk that fine line between stereotyping and ignoring the subtleties. One lesson that I am working hard to teach myself is that just because something is foreign does not make it right. This may strike some of you as painfully obvious or basic, but for me it was not.

I think you know what I mean: the allure of the exotic, the drive to be "accepting of other cultures", the desire to blend in in a new culture. I didn't realize it at first, but these three factors were profoundly affecting me in our early days in Germany and, consequently, clouding my judgment.

The three big issues for me as an American mommy raising a family in Europe are: 1)family planning 2)fashion and 3)schooling.

#1 - Germans don't have more than two kids. It is a social taboo. People with three draw stares, I can't even imagine how they would gape at Mary Alice. It is nearly impossible to find any car that seats more than four people somewhat comfortably. I rationalized this at first -- cost of living is higher, gas is expensive, they have smaller homes and less land for their people. Ok, the bottom line is the same, there must be some aggressive unnatural birth control going on in this country for every family to look the same and a certain amount of sacrifice can make large families possible in any culture.
#2 - Germans dress to impress, but this comes with a price tag. They look good all the time, and their kids look great too. I am not talking high quality stuff, I am talking children's dresses with attached purses, toddler boys in leather coats. This resulted in a certain amount of covetousness on my part. I found myself urging my husband to indulge the family in new clothing even though our clothes are perfectly fine. These Euro-families make be at the peak of style, but quality, comfort and cleanliness should remain my key values in clothes selection.
#3 - The idea of sending my 4 yr. old daughter to German "pre-Kinder" was immensely appealing. I mean, after all, Germans invented Kindergarten. She would learn the language, I would meet other German mommies, it would help us assimilate all around. I toyed with this for weeks and weeks. I talked to mothers of preschoolers in English schools and German schools. While I talked, I continued my nascent homeschooling attempts, we took nature walks, we visited Daddy at the dining hall for lunch as a family. Then it hit me, wait a minute, just because those kids and parents and children are speaking a different language does not mean anything else will be different than in a typical North American pre-school. I would still be handing my young impressionable child over to strangers at a really young age, I would still be opening her up to the values of children and families which I do not condone. It would still be interrupting the routine of her younger brother and putting us all in the car for many hours a day instead of at home or out in the beautiful German town nearby. Done, no school, not yet.

In conclusion, I love Germany. This was the right decision for our family at this juncture. We are learning a lot about history and efficiency and courtesy. But our values are our values, no matter where in the world we may be and it is my job to safeguard that foundation for my children.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Late Fall To-Do List

It is time to get ready!

First, crisis cleaning: this is a flylady concept, you set the timer for 15 minutes and you clean in one room, then move on to the next room for 15 minutes. Work for 45 minutes, then rest for 15 minutes, have a glass of water, take a walk outside, play with your kids. If your home has more than three rooms (for years, mine didn't, which was a good thing in many ways), you are going to have to do a few 1 hour sessions. You can get your whole house really clean in a day, though, even with kids around (they can help!) and then you just have to do maintenance (clean up after yourself) and have your husband clean the guest bathrooms the morning of the event. I do a crisis clean every few months, it is great because you get your whole house cleaner instead of starting in the kitchen, getting obsessive and sidetracked de-crumbing your toaster, and ending up with four hours of work for a spotless kitchen when the rest of the house is still a mess!

Frankly, even if you are not hosting thanksgiving, now is a great time to get your home in order before the winter and holidays come. What two days can you set aside next week for working on this? This is not about being superficial and saying that you need to have the cleanest home on the block because you are super mom, it is about how you can have more fun with your family if things are in order. You can't bake a pie together if your sink is overflowing with dirty dishes, and you can't play a board game if you can't see your table.

Also, cold season is coming (or already here...). If you are getting a flu shot, do so now. Go through your medicine cabinet and toss your expired tylenol, and add it to your shopping list if necessary. Also, buy tissues now, including a box for the car. Now is a good time to remind your kids about handwashing and "social distancing" to keep healthy through the winter. If you have a baby, add a new nose bulb thingy to your list, too, and just toss the old one, you can never really get them clean. Consider buying new toothbrushes to keep under the sink so that you can swap them out after a cold, too. This seems like a lot, but it is really just a few items tacked on to your grocery list and your holidays will be so much more fun -- you can't prevent your kids getting a cold, but you can be ready to make them (and you) more comfortable if it happens, and if you are like me, home alone more often than not, you won't be able to run out for tylenol when the fever comes and you realize that yours expired in August!

Wash flannel sheets this week and get them on the beds if you have not already.

Next, check out Leanne's Thanksgiving Menu Mailer. Even if you do not use her recipes, you need a plan, and you can modify hers to suit your needs. It starts two weeks out, so now is the time! I just printed mine!

One last tip to share, my life has gotten much, much better since I started using PeaPod, which is Stop and Shop's online grocery service. I had hesitated because they don't have a few of the things we use regularly, but a wiser mother of five pointed out that it is easier to stock up on these items or even to run in to pick up one thing than to waste 2 hours every Saturday fighting the crowds at the store. I will be using PeaPod for all of the non-perishables on my Thanksgiving list. There is a charge for delivery, but I am actually spending less on groceries because I am not tempted by any impulse items. Grocery shopping takes me about 15 minutes every Sunday night now!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Too Educational

Dear Melissa, Dear Doug:

Your Latches Board develops fine motor abilities, memory, and shape, color and size differentiation skills. It is handcrafted using superior wood and brass, and painted in bright colors. It can capture my preschoolers' attention and focus for up to 15 minutes at a time.

Did you consider the long-term repercussions?

Our apartment door came equipped with three different locks for extra child safety, each with a different type of latch. My little Houdini (age 2) and Houdina (age 3) unhook them like they're child's play--oh wait, that's because they are, right?--necessitating our adding a fourth latch 6 feet up where they cannot possibly reach.

Always appreciative of your help in educating the next generation of Catholics, one escape artist at a time...

Juris Mater

Tone, Trash Talk, and Thanksgiving Turkey

If Juris Mater were a Turkey...

But seriously, only a little over 1 week until Race Day!

As my post earlier this week indicated, my family has been overwhelmed with MANY different challenges. Several hours of daily lice removal definitely puts a damper on regular training plans ;-) Couple this with some difficulties I have been having with my one leg (shin splints, I think?) and running has definitely taken a backseat to my other daily obligations.

Prior to the craziness, I was aiming to run 3-4 days per week. I thought this was a modest, yet achievable goal. In the last 2 weeks, I have only run twice! Yikes! While I feel like a complete slacker, and I am well aware that Juris Mater is going to kick my rear-end, I have taken something very positive from all this. In my sports experience, having a goal (be it a race day, opening game, surviving pre-season field hockey or whatever) is essential to keeping my head in the game and pushing through difficulties. I have never been one to just go out for a run because it feels good. I run toward a goal. For me, working out two times in the past two weeks is actually impressive. If I didn't have this road race in the near future I would not have taken the time to work out at all. Those two workouts have kept my body in the game, even when life seemed to say that this "race" was not impossible. Had I not gone out for those two runs, two weeks off would lead to two months off...and the cycle would continue until I wasn't exercising at all! For me, having a goal (race day, big game, etc.), is really important to regular exercise.

Life lessons aside, we have only 10 days left before race day. While I am not as prepared as I had hoped, I will run the race and I will finish. I'll be pretty straightforward as to my strategy. I'm relying on B-Mama to help me keep a nice pace in the early miles and then I'm going to rely on my sprinters kick to get me to the finish line. We will see how it goes.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Look at What We are Building

Well, there are still fewer children here than there are in the Duggar family, but I have to admit feeling an amazing amount of pride when I see this group -- just a portion of the Building Cathedrals family -- gathered together for a baptism last month.

Back in college, GG had the idea to start a rosary group. I remember sitting in a cave-like underground cafe in Princeton and hearing a man pray the rosary for the first time in my life. Together with some other courageous and well educated young people, he was trying to build up the Catholic community on campus. I had become more active in my faith fairly recently, due in large part to God's blessing me with a Catholic man to love, and I found myself along for the ride as Princeton's small side chapel began to be filled for daily mass, as bible studies and weekend retreats were at capacity, and eventually at an evening talk by Prof. Janet Smith titled "Contraception, Why Not".

I was engaged at the beginning of my senior year in college, and some of these other girls, young and in love themselves, were curious to see how I was going to pull it all off. My first child was born 10 months after my wedding, and my story evolves from there. Just now I am expecting to deliver my sixth child in just a few weeks. Others have welcomed children at their own prayerful pace, and it was the third son of B-Mama and GG who was baptized that morning by our college chaplain, surrounded by so many little well-wishers. I was intensely aware of what an amazing journey we are all on, individually, as married couples, and together as a community.

This past Sunday, the Roman Catholic Church celebrated the Feast of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. This church (not St. Peter's, confusingly) is the Pope's parish. Since it was dedicated in the 4th century, the Lateran Basilica has often been called the mother church. The readings for this feast day are quite fitting to our theme of "Building Cathedrals."

Brothers and sisters:You are God’s building.
According to the grace of God given to me,like a wise master builder I laid a foundation,and another is building upon it.
But each one must be careful how he builds upon it,for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there,namely, Jesus Christ.

These words of St. Paul to the church at Corinth tell us what we need to know about our jobs. First, "you are God's building," and so are your husband and your children. In this blog, we hope to support each other to giving careful attention to what we are building upon the foundation set by Christ. If we hope to be building cathedrals, we must know what that means.

On Sunday my pastor explained that the basic mission of the Church is to proclaim that Christ lived, died and is risen from the dead. This is what the Pope himself proclaims to the world from the Basilica of St. John. This is what is proclaimed in the parish churches where Catholics gather all over the world. This must also be the mission of our domestic churches, the homes and families that we mothers and fathers are building.

This mission is universal. It does not tell us to have many children or few, to work or to stay at home, to homeschool or to send our children to school. It does not tell us to cloth diaper or make our own babyfood, to pray outside abortion clinics or quietly at home. These are the decisions that you will make along the way, and the details of your family life will be unique to your family, but they will be right so long as they are guided by the mission to proclaim that Christ lived, died and is risen from the dead.

I am approaching my third heavily pregnant Advent season, and each time it provides alot of reflection on the Holy Family's preparation for the birth of Christ. Over the coming weeks, if my pregnant brain will stay with me, I hope to write several posts which will talk about preparing our domestic churches for Christmas. You have not asked for my help, but as the eldest builder I am going to be bold and give you assignments. November is the end of the liturgical year, and in the Northeast the days are getting shorter and we know that a long winter is coming. The Church in her wisdom has given us feasts that can guide our prayers this month. November begins with, and is especially dedicated to, the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. These are the pilgrims who have gone before us, the living stones that built the Church, and churches, which we have today. Together with the living, the communion of saints forms the universal church that brings Christ to the world. With the Feast of the Basilica of St. John, we also celebrate the physical churches that hold the tabernacles which bring Christ to the world. We celebrate our domestic churches, which hold the little people who will bring Christ to the world even after we are gone. This week, take just a few minutes to reflect on your mission as a family. Before the holiday rush begins, we must be well grounded in this mission.

Brothers and sisters: You are God’s building.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it.
But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day Prayer

Dear Lord Jesus Christ,
those whom we honor today
are examples of your words:
"Greater love than this no one has:
that he lay down his life for his friends."
They gave up their lives in defense of freedom
for their loved ones and their country.

Teach me to appreciate the virtue of patriotism
a true and Christian love of country.
Let me love my country not to follow it blindly
but to make it the land of goodness
that it should be.
Let my patriotism be such
that it will not exclude the other nations of the world
but include them in a powerful love of country
that has room for all others too.

A beautiful Veterans Day prayer courtesy of Lisa over at Faith and Family - thanks!

Monday, November 10, 2008

It's a Lousey Job

The past week has brought its fair share of difficulties for our family. For starters, on Halloween the kids and I boldly ventured into Philadelphia to meet Mr. Red for the big Phillies parade. Crowded and exhausted, we witnessed everything from grown men wearing nothing but Phillies underwear, to homeless men decked out in Phillies garb (Philly fans can afford to be generous once every 25 years). We returned home without Mr. Red and my wallet. The former had an emergency arise at work, the latter was left on the train and later returned sans money. Eight canceled credit cards and $200 later, me and the kiddos were off trick or treating.

After Dad took care of the work emergency on Saturday, we awoke Sunday morning ready for some family time. We naively thought our only obligation was to prep our basement for a major construction project, an overhaul of our 80 year-old heating system, commencing on Monday. On Sunday morning as we all sat peacefully in Mass, Gianna snuggled up close to me and I began to stroke her hair. I looked down and that’s when I saw them.

Head Lice.

Actually, it was only one disgusting louse. I quickly pulled it out of her hair and threw it on the ground.

And then I doubted.

Was it really a louse? Maybe it was a gnat or some other small bug? Maybe I had imagined the entire thing? I prayed, begging God to spare us this cross. Head lice would mean a canceled trip out of town to visit B-Mama, and a hard time finding accommodations during our heating renovation. At that moment I made a conscious decision that I would look no further. I would just sit for the rest of Mass and deal with Gianna’s hair when we arrived at home.

Once home, I quickly googled head lice. I studied pictures and then returned to Gianna’s head to see if I spotted any critters. Mr. Red held his breath and waited for me to announce our fate. Sure enough, I spotted two more live lice, and many, many, many eggs. I wanted to vomit. I asked Mr. Red to check Charlie’s head, and he quickly announced that Charlie’s hair looked identical to the “blond child with lice” photo we found online.

One shaved head and several hours of combing later, we had finished stage-one lice removal on two of our three children (the baby remains lice-free). I had yet to check my own head. With shaking hands I picked up the lice-removing comb and swept through my hair. I looked down and immediately spotted one large live louse. I held back tears as I combed again and found eggs. My head was suddenly very, very itchy. I was out of breath and panicking. Frustrated, I closed my eyes and all I could see was thousands of tiny bugs crawling all over my head. We put the children to bed and Mr. Red began an aggressive lice-removal combing regimen on my hair. Definitely true love. Helpless, I sat under bright lights, listening to REM's Everybody Hurts, and I began to weep. I thought about my looming 30th birthday. I would now spend that birthday heatless and lice-infested. I was in the trenches of motherhood.

Getting out of the trenches required a serious battle plan. I turned to the internet, the doctor and friends for advice. One week later I celebrated a lice-free 30th birthday, with heat in my home and a new set of credit cards.

The first part of my battle-plan was education. Through research I learned that head-lice are a very common childhood problem. Outbreaks generally occur in elementary schools and daycare centers, or any other place where children gather and play. Unlike fleas, lice do not jump, but climb, and so children generally spread head-lice through shared headware (hats, scarves, jackets, combs or hairbands), or shared blankets/bedding. (It is best to tell kids not to share these personal items.) Lice need a blood source to survive, so they are not likely to live for long once they leave the human head.

If you think your child has been exposed to head lice, purchase a lice-removing metal comb from a local drugstore. Then, check out the internet or your doctors office for pictures of lice and their eggs (nits). Baby lice (nymphs) are clear white and are about the size of a sesame seed. An adult louse is about 2-3 times the size of a sesame seed and is usually a brown/red color from having fed on human blood. Lice eggs are called Nits and are a grayish/brownish/yellowish color. Nits are about the size of a poppy seed, and they are glued to the hair shaft about 1cm from your child’s head. Nits are easy to see on blond hair, but much more difficult to see on darker hair.

Resist buying lice removing shampoos. Many shampoos claim to kill lice. These shampoos are loaded with toxic chemicals, complete with warning labels for very young children and pregnant or nursing women, and I have heard mixed reviews as to the success of these shampoos. Instead of the chemicals, we opted for a 21-day intense combing program, and we have had great success.

Here are some other helpful tips for keeping everyone lice-free:

A temperature of 130 degrees kills lice. To kill lice on exposed bedding/clothing, throw it in the dryer for at least 20-30 minutes. Likewise, adults can try blow-drying their hair on a very hot setting, using a hot ceramic straightening iron, and/or washing hair with very hot water. Any clothing or items that cannot be washed can be dry cleaned (those chemicals will kill anything!), or sealed in an airtight bag for 2 weeks. Put away toys such as dress up clothes or helmets that are shared and touch the head.

Lice need air to breath. Try suffocating lice with natural oil treatments. Soak hair in oil/lotion for at least 8 hours, then wash, comb with metal lice-comb, and blow dry. I used olive oil on my head and it had the added benefit of making my hair feel very nice. Many pediatricians recommend using the facial wash cetaphil. I have heard good things about this treatment but did not try it myself. I did not try any suffication treatments on Gianna as they all seemed messy. Instead, we opted for intense, regular, and thorough combing.

Whatever treatment you chose, make sure you repeat every couple of days as most suffocation/heat treatments will not kill the eggs. Eggs hatch after 7-10 days. It takes baby nymphs 7 more days to lay eggs, so it is best to repeat treatments and keep combing for at least 2 weeks.

Finally, inform other parents of potentially exposed children about your child’s case of head lice. The social stigma attached to lice is partially the result of a mistaken belief that lice live in dirty hair. Lice are actually more attracted to clean hair. Dirt, grease, and hairspray weigh hair down and make it sticky and less likely to attract crawling bugs that have to grab onto a single strand of hair. Each live louse lays up to 300 eggs, so it is really important to inform parents promptly of an outbreak.

Here’s to lice-free living! And if you have a moment, feel free to share your lice stories.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Another Link

Since we are all still dealing with our post-election emotions, particularly with regards to legalized abortion, I thought this link might be of interest. Jennifer's thoughts are really moving as she compares the evil of abortion with the holocaust. She begins with this very eerie photo of the staff at Auschwitz relaxing and having a great time during an on-site retreat, and then states:
If were a 31-year-old woman with three little kids in a busy house in Germany 1941, would I have fully understood the evil that surrounded me? As a woman living in 2008 I can see the horror that was going on there, but at the time there were some awfully sleek lies being told about the situation; it would have been really, really convenient to let myself be persuaded by the lies and just make the nasty little problem go away by telling myself that it wasn't really a problem at all...

...Sometimes I think about this, and wonder what advice I would pass along to my own descendants to make sure this never happens again; to help future generations guard against being blinded should they find themselves in the midst of a culture where something terrible is taking place.

But the question is: How would you know?

What litmus test could you offer that would apply to all places and all times as a way for a person to look around themselves with completely clear eyes, piercing through even the thickest fog of self-delusion and widespread cultural acceptance, and see that they are surrounded by grave evil? Is there any simple way for a person to immediately undergo an earth-rocking paradigm shift in which they look up and realize that the world around them is not what they thought it was?

...One thing that stands out in all these examples is that the victims of the widespread evil were categorized as something less than human.

Every decade or so, take a look around the society in which you live, and ask yourself if there is any group of human beings who are seen as something less than human. A big tipoff is if dehumanizing words -- terms other than "man," "woman," "child," "baby," or "person" -- are used to describe any category of people.

And if you ever see that going on, you might be in the midst of something gravely evil.

Yeah, words like fetus, embryo, and choice.

If you read her entire post, I don't think Jennifer's point is to say that the evil of abortion is exactly the same as the holocaust. Rather, she rightly points out that throughout history, otherwise very good people are sometimes blinded to very grave evil. Both the holocaust and abortion occur only when we see a certain group of human beings as something less than human.

Regardless of our other political views, we can, and we must work together to end the grave moral evil of abortion. Let us pray for President-elect Obama, for all our leaders, and for every woman that is faced with an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. Let us pray that we may all see the humanity of every person, born or unborn, and that we will all respond with love.

Mother of Mercy, pray for us.

Time for Pause

For some reason yesterday, my boys and I never ventured out of the house.  To say we were caught in some supernatural conundrum is an understatement!!  By the end of the day I found myself walking in circles without order or purpose.  It's no wonder the TV was on more than necessary or the house looked like a tornado had passed through it.  

"Do you ever feel like quitting?" I asked my husband when he arrived home.  I think I startled him a bit by my question.  I didn't mean it like it sounded--of course I don't want to quit my beloved job as mother of three.  But there are definitely days when I wish I had a pause button; some miraculous means to halt whatever is going on and breathe deeply for one small moment.  I wish I could pause the disarray to create some sense of order so that something in my life felt like I had control.  

Alas, my day had very little opportunity for pause.  The kids' naps were ill-coordinated.  My workout (saving grace) was choppy as I tended to tears and discontentment.  I fled to the computer to escape, but only found myself more behind and funky when I returned.  What was I expecting?  We were all caged beasts with no chance for socialization or energetic output!

As I strolled back from taking out the garbage last night, I drank in the night air.  It was heavenly.  And there was my answer--in cases of extreme home funkiness, GET OUTSIDE.  Even if we're all still in our pajamas and the kids' footies will get dirty and wet in the grass--LEAVE THE HOUSE.  Man-made luxuries can wait.  We need to get out and enjoy God's creation.  Little boys do better on a diet of dirt, grass, and dew.  

Who says that winter must be spent cooped up?  Can't we bundle past the chill and get some fresh air?  I have no excuse but to make it happen in the coming months.  And daily.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tone, Trash Talk, and Thanksgiving Turkey: Part V

T minus 16 days until the "big race".
On Sunday, November 23rd, ready or not, we will come.

My knees have been trying to convince me otherwise.  
My physical therapist sister tells me I'm getting older and weaker.  Ugh.
Has my youth already escaped me?  
Have my muscles begun to defy my almost-30-year-old body?
I pray, NO!!

I guess I'll just have to work harder and actually strength train to get my body back in working running shape.   I guess things won't come as easily as they have over the last three decades.  In the past, I could pretty much pick up and run whenever and for whatever distance.  The old muscle memory and strength kept me in line.

Not so much anymore.   
So this is what aging feels like, huh?!  
I never thought it'd come, but it has.  

No trash talk this week, just hope and prayers.  Hope that I'll be out there on the 23rd.  Prayers that I'll finish.  

Reaction 2008, continued

Rebecca Teti over at Faith and Family Live says it better than I ever could:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Reaction 2008

It’s clear after watching the coverage last night that Obama’s candidacy and presidency have deep meaning to many, many Americans. People crave a new kind of hope, and Obama represents that. (Too bad they’re not looking to Jesus, though.) And particularly for the African-American community and all who have felt marginalized in the United States, Obama’s victory is a huge moment, announcing that we’re moving past all that. It’s an unspeakable shame, though, that the flip side of this is further marginalizing the current class of non-persons, unborn children. This is no victory for humanity.

I think he could surprise us with his adeptness at economic and foreign policy. Let's pray that he has a conversion of heart on moral issues.

Getting our Groove Back

(Not a normal day)

Four years ago today, I awoke as a freshly unemployed campaign coordinator for a major county in Texas in a hotel bed after a long night at the elections department and a post-election party, exhausted in a way that made running a marathon seem like I had just taken a walk in the park.

Today, four years and three children later, I awoke equally exhausted. A four day family wedding and a baptism followed by 8 consecutive days of the stomach flu in all its glory have left us tired and quite a bit out of our normal routine.

Melissa Wiley
often describes her homeschooling adventure as tidal learning. Homeschooling or not, we all experience some degree of tidal living. While I don't begrudge the crazy and chaotic times of traveling and family events (well...maybe I do begrudge the stomach flu!), there is something nice about looking at your calendar for the week and seeing nothing other than your usual friday morning playgroup written down.

(A Normal Day)

So it is time to get back in the groove of life with toddlers. We need our routines to maintain our sanity. Everyone benefits. Well rested, well fed, active boys are much happier. Instead of spending our mornings making sure we have all the pieces to a 2T tuxedo, or washing sheets (again), we can listen to classical music and spend time reading from our fall book basket. We will have outside time and note all the signs of the changing seasons. When Incredibaby naps, we can get out the messier things like paint and clay. Our routines help us create a more peaceful atmosphere in the home. If find that a routine allows me to be more attentive to my children, which in turn makes them happier, which makes it easier for me to be patient and joyful. A happy cycle. Not that all our days are smooth sailing...there will be flights over the blue clay and who gets to blow out the candle at prayer time, but having a baseline helps us tremendously.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Remembering the Least Among Us

As we head to the polls tomorrow, let us remember that we must represent not only our own interests, but the interests of those who cannot speak for themselves, the most vulnerable and innocent among us. Let us vow to ourselves and to our nation that we will continue to speak out against the evils that we see, and that we will not allow ourselves to be tricked by eloquent words that seek to disguise evil as good. Let us work towards building a just, compassionate society in which each person is valued and knows freedom and security.

Please click on the above image if you would like to watch a powerful video

Search us, Heavenly Father, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and Set us free. Amen