Sunday, May 31, 2009

I'm OK with the Old Church

"Sing A New Church"

Summoned by the God who made us rich in our diversity
Gathered in the name of Jesus, richer still in unity.

Refrain: Let us bring the gifts that differ and, in splendid, varied ways, sing a new church into being, one in faith and love and praise.

Radiant risen from the water, robed in holiness and light
Male and female in God’s image, male and female, God’s delight.


Trust the goodness of creation; trust the Spirit strong within.
Dare to dream the vision promised, sprung from seed of what has been.


Bring the hopes of every nation; bring the art of every race. Weave a song of peace and justice; let it sound through time and space.


Draw together at one table, all the human family;
Shape a circle ever wider and a people ever free.

~Delores Dufner, OSB

What is with this sappy, heterodox song (sung to the traditional tune of "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing"), and why are we singing it on Pentecost Sunday?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Whose fault is it, really?

Okay, so this is probably going to start a firestorm, but after thinking about the comments to the babysitting post, I wanted to talk a little bit more about what it is that we moms are doing to ourselves, and what we are expecting of our families, and why.

I think that, for at home mothers, there is a lot of guilt about the fact that we are not bringing in an income, so it is hard to hire help for personal time. It may also be hard to convince our husbands that we need it.

I see, too, that amoung my working friends, most have help for just the hours that they work. Especially for those who use day care, help just covers the hours that mom is actually at work somewhere. I bring this up because it means that when it comes to a need for some personal time, at home mothers and working mothers are really in the same boat.

I want us all to stop and read this comment:

When it comes to men who have more regular hours, who sleep at night, who get to leave work and actually leave it behind, it is usually not impossible for them to make some adjustments to accomodate an overtired wife and mother who does not get to make her own hours or get a "lunch break" or even a shower.

Now, with due respect to the commenter, because I think that many of us feel just as she does, I think anyone who gave this an initial "amen, sister" needs to stop and think for a moment.

Unless your husband has a job where he punches the clock, he keeps his hours based on his work load and his time management. There are many days when my husband does not get a lunch break, or does not get to go the gym as planned, because something at work gets out of control for a while. Mostly, though, he gets those breaks because he stays focused and tackles each task efficiently as it comes his way. And, he gets the shower because he gets up in time to shower every single day. The only thing preventing me from being up to shower is my own lack of dicipline. He has the added incentive that he needs to shower in order to work, whereas I can totally let myself go and still do my job, but can I really? Not if it makes me all bitter and burnt out.

Mostly, my husband can get finished with his work by 10 and relax some in time to get to bed by eleven. He gets up about 7.5 hours later when his alarm goes off and hits the shower, then dresses and has a nice breakfast. In our house, the older kids dress themselves and the younger ones often come to breakfast in PJ's. When he leaves the house there are just the toddler and baby to dress, and I can easily do that myself, it takes less than ten minutes. I can get up early and shower or I can throw on "sid the science kid" and buy myself a half hour from 8-8:30 if I want to blow dry my hair, or one evening I can shower while the laundry is running.

On to the next point, I don't have a lunch break per-se, but I can make the lunch and then sit down and eat with the children and most days have a pretty nice time. I can give the baby some cheerios while I eat my lunch and then feed him while the other guys help clear the table. Then, all of my kids have a nap or quiet time and I can use that time wisely by resting in bed while nursing and doing some spiritual reading, intellectual reading or even pleasure reading.

I can throw in a load of laundry in the morning and another one right after the kids go to bed, put them to bed at a decent hour and then clean up the kitchen and be fully done with my housework by 9:30, which is usually when my husband walks in the door from his work.

I am really lucky and glad that I have a cleaning service twice a month, but if I didn't I would set aside a time for housework and do it all in one intense bout every other week, so that the shower scum would not nag me on a daily basis. Also, in times that I have not been able to have a cleaner, I have let a lot go and we have been fine.

My days are not always smooth, it is super hard when everyone gets the flu, or is over tired from a trip, or we have a baby who is not yet sleeping through the night. My husband is a great help to me, and at those desperate times, I expect my husband to step it up physically and emotionally as much as he can.

But I want to say this, loud and clear: if the default mode in your house is that you do not have time to shower, that you eat standing up in the kitchen, that you don't get much exercise and you don't get enough sleep, you are headed for disaster and you need to get a household routine under control.

When we live like this, we are doing damage to ourselves and to our families. When we add bitterness towards our husbands we are making the situation even worse, but we have to take responsibility for ourselves. You might well want to hire help or arrange for dad to take Saturdays until noon, and this might be a great break for you, but this should not be the only time all week you shower, rest, exercise or eat properly.

The key here is good use of time, some planning and also expecting some respect from the kids. We used to be constantly getting up from breakfast to pour kids more juice, etc. Now, when we are at meals we tell them we will not get up for things until after we have eaten ourselves.

I have been blessed to have my husband home on paternity leave twice now and I have learned so much from him -- he does not take nearly as much infringing on personhood from the kids as I do. They cannot steal food off his plate, and he makes them wait to do the next activity until he has taken off his coat and put it away properly. Too often I make myself a slave to my kids and then resent them.

We need to assert ourselves and take care of our own needs for the sake of ourselves and, by extension, our families. This means that we need time to meet our physical, personal and spiritual needs each day, and we need to work that time into our routines and then follow those routines with a balance of discipline and flexibility.

Now, I will add one more thing about the idea of having some outside help -- once you have a good routine in place, the help may feel like an indulgence on the good weeks. When I have had regular babysitting I have found that there were days when I did not know what to do with myself (mass and confession are a good choice, BTW) because things at home were manageable. The mistake I have made, however, is that we do not know when the routine will be thrown for a bit, and when husband's work gets crazy or the baby is teething or your best friend could really use a friend, your regular sitter can be the cushion which will allow your family to get over the little bumps without being thrown off for weeks at a time or having mom become a terror. When I had four kids ages four and under I used to nap when the sitter came. she must have thought I was so lazy, but what I really needed was sleep. We were in survival mode. I worry, though, that those who consider large families might get too used to survival mode and might not ever be getting back to what we builders call "maintenance" mode, which is where things are basically running smoothly.

Okay,feel free to discuss: Whether you work outside the home or stay home, do you make time to take care of yourself? If you already do, what advice do you have for others?

This is tough love, ladies, but I really think that it is true.

Friday, May 29, 2009

You got it, girl!

On our way to the Princeton Pro-Life, Pro-Family Reunion gathering this afternoon, Holly kept asking what it meant to be pro-family. Finally, exasperated, she said

"Well, mom, everyone needs to like kids, because without kids there wouldn't be any grown ups!"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Babysitters: because we're pacing ourselves for a marathon

Over the last couple of months, one by one at separate times, most of the seven of us "builders" have sent around an "I can't handle much more" email to the group. I just sent mine and then realized how not-novel it was. Mine was the fifth or so in a string of them. All our circumstances have been different in some ways (from Red's first trimester misery to B-mama's mono) and similar in others (return from family "vacation"--to call these trips "vacation" for a mother is a sick misnomer). This is unusual. We're not really a complaining or self-pitying bunch, and I must say that the other six builders have a remarkably high level of forebearance.

I think part of what's going on from my end is I'm settling into the realization that mothering, especially mothering a larger family where new babies arrive regularly, is a marathon. It's not a sprint (I really didn't need to try to cram catechism questions and answers into Bella's mind at age 9 months); it's not an 8K (all three of my children really don't need to learn to swim this summer in 4 weeks if it's going to make us all miserable); it would maybe be a half marathon if we had a nanny and only one child. But I'm going to be run ragged by children for many years--physically exhausted with little ones, then, if understand correctly how this works, the mental and emotional work gets heavier as they age.

I've put into place some essential sanity savers like daily exercise outside before the family wakes up, sacraments and prayer according to a schedule, Diet Dr. Pepper (when the nutrasweet kills me, I can honestly say that it made my life happier during the time I lived), and predictable home routines like laundry and grocery shopping.

But I'm getting the sense that a regular weekly break is an essential component of pacing myself for the marathon. Not a "break" to run errands or clean house kid-free, but a break to do something I choose. I think I know some of the activities that truly recharge me and make me feel free. Otherwise, as the builders have been discussing among ourselves, we really can start to feel trapped and entangled and become more and more frayed until simple cheerfulness requires more energy than we can muster. We don't get a break or have time away ever. I can't complete a thought in my own mind without being interrupted. When I reflect on it like this, hiring regular help seems obvious.

Then again, there are factors that weigh against hiring a babysitter. Where we live, babysitters, even teenagers (we're in a fancy school district where the teens constantly weigh the value of their Ivy-League-bound time), are absurdly expensive, people pay $20/hour for three kids, never less than $15. I feel so guilty about paying that it's hard to enjoy the time out. I keep wondering whether I'm really getting my money's worth out of every paid minute. Also, in the past, I've felt like I had to clean up our apartment and have the kids totally ready for a sitter to arrive, so the whole day became stressful "getting ready" for the sitter. Third, one of my children hasn't outgrown freaking out when I leave, particularly when I leave them with a babysitter. I hate to force this child to have to cope with my departure when it's just for a break for me. Fourth, I'm controlling, and it's difficult for me to give someone else charge over my kids. I don't want to see bad behaviors learned on someone else's watch, especially someone I'm paying.

One other thing, AWOL Mommy made a great point recently in favor of hiring a sitter... it's a hard situation when we're relying on tag-team parenting, like as soon as our husband walks in the door we leave the kids and dash off to take care of responsibilities or even to take a quick break for ourselves. Problems with this are: (1) it can make me resentful that I have to ask for a short amount of time off as a favor, even when my husband gives it to me willingly and (2) more importantly, it takes the place of time that we should be spending together as a couple. Paid help during the week really seems best for the family, because it doesn't cut into valuable time with our husbands, it's simply a break for us from our daily "workday" responsibilities.

How do you pace yourself for the long race ahead, and do sitters fall somewhere in your strategy?

You have your hands full

Yesterday, as we entered our car after swimming lessons, my daughter Gianna (age 5) said,

"Mom, what does, 'you have your hands full,' mean?"

Me: as I struggled to buckle in an unhappy 16 month old, "it means they think we have a lot of kids."

Gianna: "Oh, well then MaryAlice really has her hands full!"

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Baby Faith Hope

Dear friends, I wanted to share with all of you the beautiful story of baby Faith Hope, who passed away this past Saturday, May 23rd, in her mother's arms. Baby Faith had anencephaly, the same disorder as Red's daughter Therese Joy and my daughter Lucy Rose, but she defied the odds and lived an amazing 93 days! Faith's wonderful mother, Myah, created a beautiful blog dedicated to tracking Faith's daily life, complete with pictures and sweet video clips. Those of us who have had babies with anencephaly followed Faith's blog and watched in amazement as we saw Faith giggle, coo, and hold up her head for the first time. Please say a prayer for Myah as she grieves the loss of her baby girl, and also a prayer of thanksgiving for the beautiful witness of Faith's life here on earth.  

You can read more here at Myah's blog about her precious daughter, Faith Hope.

Pentecost Children's Activities

Pentecost is one of my favorite feast days, and I am looking for some cool craft/baking/story ideas for my 4.5 year old this week to help her gain an appreciation for the day. Anyone?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Y Chromosome in the House

Well folks, my latest German ultrasound revealed all the makin's of a new male to join our family in October. I know that this blog is no place to feel publicly anxious about the prospect of mothering 2 boys who are just 22 months apart, but here I am, I am anxious about the prospect of mothering 2 boys who are just 22 months apart. Nonetheless, he is healthy as can be floating around in there - so we are grateful. Thanks to everyone for the prayers. Have a blessed Ascension Sunday.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Phil & Ted's Strollers

If you're looking to buy a new double stroller in the near future, Costco has a good deal going on for Phil and Ted's strollers (which are really nice and usually much more costly!) Check it out.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Busy Little Hands

Trying to get your young one to hold a pencil correctly?

According to occupational therapist Stacey Smith, much of our dexterity involves hand, arm, and shoulder strength developed at a young age. The answer to your woes could be as easy as a crab walk race across the yard or snapping beads together to form a necklace. Here are a bunch of great tips and ideas for encouraging the development and strengthening of preschoolers' hands, arms, and shoulders in preparation for writing. For any mother out there with little ones, take note-- these tricks will save you while waiting in a doc's office or out at a restaurant!

Toys for dexterity:
*sand, rice bins, *shaving cream/funny foam, *finger tracing in different mediums (e.g. baggie of hair gel), *bingo markers, *fastener toys, *play doh/theraputty with rolling pins and cookie cutters, *animal walks--crab, bear, wheelbarrow, *jumping jacks, *coins in a piggy bank, *clothespins, *hammering golf tees into styrofoam, *finger paint, *wooden beads and string

Toys on the go:
*color change markers, *magna doodle, *Wikki sticks, *lacing, *snap/Pop
beads, *stamps, *crayon rocks/animal markers, *stickers, *tweezers/chopsticks, *spin tops, *Fun Dip/Pixie Sticks, *"Wilson" the hungry tennis ball (made by cutting a slit in a tennis ball--kids squeeze to make the mouth open)

Favorite Home Games:
*Thin Ice, *Cooties, *Knex, *Don't Break The Ice, *Ants in the Pants, *Hi Ho Cherry-O, *Memory, *Whac-a-mole, *Trouble, *Hungry Hungry Hippos, *Let's Go Fishing, *Zingo (5+),
*Perfection (5+)

Joke of the Day

Every ten years, the monks in the monastery are allowed to break their vow of silence to speak two words. Ten years go by and it's one monk's first chance. He thinks for a second before saying, "Food bad."
Ten years later, he says, "Bed hard."
It's the big day, a decade later. He gives the head monk a long stare and says, "I quit."
"I'm not surprised," the head monk says, "You've been complaining ever since you got here."

-Reader's Digest's "America's 10 Funniest Jokes":

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

This Season of Motherhood

Exactly two minutes after we had left the presence of a potty, my three year old declared that he needed to go. It had just poured down rain and I was looking out the window at a muddy field, when Dash suggested I just put a diaper on him. Good idea. I pulled over, climbed into the back seat and wedged him in between two car seats to get him in a diaper, rebuckled him and climbed back into the front.

At which point I saw a police officer standing right outside my window.

As I rolled down the window, the first thing that popped into my head was, "If I confess to a crime, I wonder if they would let me sleep in a jail cell..."

The officer kindly asked me if everything was ok, and I told him that my 3 year old just had to potty. He nodding understandingly and headed back to his patrol car. I heroically resisted the urge to ask to be hauled in to take a nap in a cell...

We have had a rough go in the Incredible family recently. Our dear boys can't stand to be apart, and yet can't stand to be together. And, at the moment, Incredibaby is covered from head to toe with spots. I am quite sure there are days when I don't sit down (even while pumping) and there are days when I don't talk to anyone over the age of reason until 8pm.

I see mothers of many whose daily rhythms seem so much more peaceful than ours. I have been praying to St. Anne and Our Lady to help us establish a peaceful home life.

Then, over the course of a week, I was flooded with thoughts, encouragement and advice. At a homeschooling meeting, mothers of 7+ children encouraged me and told me that having three little ones was the biggest challenge for them. The other builders encouraged me with their kind words. Katherine summed up so well what I have been thinking about recently:

I think the particular season of mothering, when every aspect of serving others is on your shoulders, is the most intense period of the asceticism of motherhood.

There is much dying to self when you are taking care of just little ones. Your needs must always come second (or third or fourth). But there is a purifying aspect to this. What a blessing to be demanded to give so much. Left to my own weak will, surely I would not be disciplined to do so.

God-willing, we will go through many seasons of mothering our children. This is one of them. But is all part of God's divine plan for us and our salvation.

Prayer of Abandonment

I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures -
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

Charles de Foucauld

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kid Commandments

So in our home we have 3 rules:

1. Love God
2. Love People
3. No Whining

But since we want to properly catechize our children, Mr. Red is teaching the elder two, and more particularly Gianna, the 10 commandments. Sunday night, as I sat listening to their lesson, I overheard this:

Mr. Red--"What is the 3rd commandment?"
Gianna--"Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in, um, in...incarnation."

And that is why I'm sticking with the three rules above.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Father's Kind of Love

"If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." ~John 15: 10-12

Yesterday's Gospel is a common passage from Scripture, one that most of us have heard hundreds of times over the course of our lives during Mass, Bible studies, and talks. The simple (or not so simple!) message is that we are to love one another as God has loved us, meaning that our love is unconditional, constant, and pure. Our pastor, Fr. Troy, gave a wonderful homily yesterday about a deeper message from this passage, and I thought that it was worth sharing with all of you.

Jesus tells us that he abides in his Father's love because he has kept his commandments; in the same way, we abide in Jesus' love when we keep his commandments. Fr. Troy asked the question yesterday, "What sort of love was it that God had for His only son?" We look at Jesus' life and see that God allowed His son to endure great suffering at the hands of his enemies, and even at the hands of his dearest friends! He was beaten, slandered, and nailed to a cross, and he experienced the greatest emotional and physical suffering imaginable before his death. "Some love," said Fr. Troy, "some love."

But here is the important part, the part that really stuck with me: Through all of Jesus' suffering, God was with His son. He didn't spare his son from being tortured, embarrassed, or put to death, but he walked through the depths of suffering with Jesus, and loved him through it all.   As a parent, I realize that watching my child suffer is one of the most difficult things that I will ever have to do, and it would be easier to take their pain upon myself than to watch them suffer.  But I know that at one point or another, my children will suffer, and I will promise to walk with them through the depths of their pain and feel their suffering as my own. This is what God did for Jesus, what he does for each of us, and what He asks us to do for one another. 

On Friday, we remembered the three year anniversary of our daughter, Lucy Rose's, diagnosis with anencephaly, a fatal birth defect. Throughout the next couple of months, our dearest friends walked with us through the depths of our suffering, listening to us when we needed someone to talk to and supporting us in ways that I am still to this day in awe of. It was not easy for our friends, and at times I'm sure that it was uncomfortable and painful for them to walk this path with us. But our friends loved us enough to stay with us through our journey of great joy and great pain, and we are forever grateful. And this is a cause for great joy, isn't it? The love that we felt from our dear friends brought us indescribable joy and peace, and it made the pain that we felt at losing Lucy bearable. This is the love that Our Lord asks of us, and it is the love that will lead us to a place where we can truly abide in His love so that "our joy might be complete". 

Mary, Mother of Great Joys and Mother of Great Sorrows, pray for us!

*Note: Please forgive any grammatical errors or inconsistencies, I've had a restless 18 month-old at my feet while writing this post :) 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It's a Girl

And everything on the ultrasound looked great! We are obviously overjoyed. This is my first ever anatomy scan where the doc said everything looked "normal" and there was no need to return for another scan. We are completely boring, and with pregnancy, boring is a fantastic thing to be. With every other baby, even my healthy 3, we had to return for at least one small thing. But not this time. Unless my midwife sees a problem, I hopefully can go the rest of the pregnancy without another ultrasound. Praise God for such wonderful news. Thank you all for your prayers!

Keeping an Even Keel

As we walked in the door from swim team practice this afternoon,  5 year-old Christopher went straight to the bathroom, hung up his bathing suit, and hopped into the bathtub, just as I had asked him to. He was very helpful in the tub, washing himself off with soap and even helping to get the shampoo out of his little sister's hair. After bath time, Christopher dried himself off and went into his bedroom, and without even asking he put on his pajamas and cleaned up the toys that had been strewn across his room. Ready for dinner, Christopher walked into the kitchen and sat down at his seat, patiently waiting for me to finish getting Maria dried off and dressed before I set dinner on the table. Everything went perfectly smoothly, and we ate a pleasant meal together.

Well okay, that's not exactly what happened...In fact, it's not at all how things happened :) It took some prodding to get Christopher to come to the bath, get himself dressed after bath time, and clean up his toys. He was starving and by the time I got to the kitchen he had snagged a granola bar from the pantry. Some nights this routine takes longer than others, and sometimes I am more capable of remaining calm and organized through it all than others!

On our better days, these are some techniques that help to keep things peaceful and orderly:

1) Counting to 5: When I've asked Christopher to do something and he has not done it the first time, I give him a "Count of 5" to do what I've asked him, otherwise he gets a consequence. For example, if I've asked Christopher to come to the bath and he's playing with legos in his room, I say "I'm going to count to 5 and I expect you to come to the bath...1, 2, 3, 4, 5". If he does not come by 5, I take away one of his bedtime stories, then count to 5 again, take away another story, dessert, etc. You get the idea. The count of 5 gives Christopher enough time to respond, and it gives me 5 seconds to cool off when I'm frustrated!

2) Resisting the urge to raise my voice (aka scream): Nothing good comes out of screaming, really. The only time that I think it's the most effective tool is when one of my children is putting themselves or someone else in danger, like when they're about to walk into the street without looking. Otherwise, it just gives everyone a headache!

3) Having a plan set in place: The nights when I plan ahead (dinner is mostly ready, rooms have already been cleaned, etc.), everyone is less frazzled. When the kids know what to expect, they are more likely to behave well.

What are your survival strategies for keeping an even keel?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Sacredness of Sexuality

There is an interesting discussion going on that you may have caught wind of...

Christopher West has done wonderful, God-ordained work in "translating" John Paul IIs Theology of the Body to make it more understandable for the less... theologically-inclined... among us. The Theology of the Body truly has been one of the Holy Spirit's greatest gifts to Christians in this age, presenting an integrated vision of the human person--body, soul, and spirit--and showing how the physical human body has a specific meaning and reveals answers regarding fundamental questions about us and our lives. It's also a highly challenging read, and Christopher West provides a helpful, exciting annotation and explanation of it.

However, I'll admit to being scandalized by the vulgarity with which sexuality--specifically sex--is discussed, and by the intimate explanation of the excitement of the marital act. I don't think I'm a prude, but Catholic formation has sensitized me to the sacredness and wholeness of human sexuality and has instilled a modesty and reverence for the entire sphere. Also, I'm adult enough to know that chastity is the hardest personal battle that many Christians face today.

My husband and I laughingly recall attending a Christopher West presentation with a good female friend of ours who was engaged at the time of the presentation. Her first comment when we exited the room after the presentation was something to the effect of: "I'm leaving to go take a cold shower, because I'm a living, breathing near occasion of sin for my fiance right now."

There's GREAT value in conveying the excitement that we should feel to participate in God's divine plan through our bodies, especially when we're seeking to appeal to those who never have heard this good news. But there's equally great value in discretion and modesty, in guarding the purity of our minds and hearts and imaginations. What a challenge for all of us to strike this balance in our sexually-charged culture, and a worthy prayer intention: to be able to show the world both the beauty and the sacredness of God's design for human sexuality.

Leap Frog

Does anyone out there have experience with any of the Leap Frog handheld games for kids? I usually avoid toys with batteries, but we do have a Fridge Phonics set from Leap Frog that they boys love.

We are facing some LONG road trips this summer with our 3, 2 and 1 year old. And we will have one activity this summer that will require our 3 year old to sit by himself on bleachers for a bit. Something to entertain/distract him for 30 minutes would make everyone's life easier! I am comfortable with the idea that I am in control of the toys/technology I give my children, and don't plan on making a Leap Frog system part of our daily, low-tech routine. But after 13 hours in the car with my beloved family, I might be willing to compromise my wooden toy/imaginative play philosophy and pay a hefty premium for something like Leap Frog.

There are several options....Leapsters, LeapPads...Any advice or other suggestions for long car rides with little guys?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Learning to say No

You all need to celebrate with me today because it is a momentous day in my life.
Today I have officially TURNED DOWN a leadership position in a mothers organization in which I participate.

It was so hard. But it was so necessary.

Saying "No" to commitments and tasks is not easy for a lot of folks, especially for this gal. I am a people-pleaser by nature and hate letting others down. Most of the time, I am generally interested in whatever position I'm considering. I say "yes" and enjoy myself. The end result, though, is always the same--feeling swamped, overwhelmed and overcommitted. I've lived this way most of my life. These days those sentiments affect not only me, but most importantly my precious family. That's when saying "yes" becomes selfish and prideful and hurtful. And that's when the buck stops.

Three weeks ago I got a reality check through a diagnosis that sent me reeling: Mononucleosis. I was a 30-year-old mom to three young boys with mono. The doc asked if I had felt tired recently. I laughed and replied, "Ma'am, I have three boys under 4. I'm always tired." Our family has limped along since, getting much needed help from family and learning some valuable lessons about ourselves, our limits, and God's great Mercy. We're pretty sure the worst is behind us, thanks be to God.

In addition to all of this, my "yes" husband has also recently declined an invitation to lead our church's Knights of Columbus group. He was very honored, but also honest in his response, sharing with the men his own tendency to overcommit and his need to prioritize family right now. A busy job leaves little spare time for a father to devote to the ones he loves! I am so proud of him for making such a decision--it was also hard for him to refuse, yet led me toward making a similar choice with regard to my group.

Last night I scurried around the kitchen getting ready for the mothers' group monthly meeting. My table was responsible for the food, so I whipped up a couple dishes as I fed dinner to the kids and marveled at my completely dirty kitchen. I had less than a loving attitude because of my stress and found myself curtly responding to the kids' requests.

Needless to say, my decision to say, "No" has been resoundingly affirmed.
Thank you today, Lord, for the strength to prioritize my primary vocation in the home!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Cooking Seasonally

I always love to cook fresh from the seasons best ingredients. In our area, asparagus is in season, and absolutely delicious. Here is a great, somewhat fancy looking, and easy recipe that I made for dinner guests this weekend. It can be served hot or cold.

Asparagus and Mushroom Salad

1 bunch asparagus
one pint mushrooms (I use baby portobello)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup loosely packed chopped basil
Parmesan cheese
salt, to taste

Cut asparagus into 1 inch pieces (trim off rough fibrous parts on bottom) and thinly slice the mushrooms.

Simmer the mushrooms with a small amount of olive oil until tender, remove from heat, set aside, then simmer the asparagus just covered with water, with a pinch of salt, until tender.

While the asparagus is cooking, whisk the lemon juice, vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic, olive oil, and black pepper together.

Once you have drained the asparagus and the mushrooms, gently toss them with the dressing and basil, add salt to taste. Top with Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Family Rosary

Since it is May, I was wondering, do you have a family rosary routine? We grew up praying the rosary as a family any time someone was sick or dying, which, with both grandmothers coming from large families, was often in my childhood. The women in our family prayed private rosaries before bed, we saw grandma kneeling but were not forced to join in. I have heard of many who pray a regular family rosary, though, and I would love to do so. I have made a few false starts with this one, can't quite figure out when to do it, how to get everyone through it, how often, etc. Whenever we do it, it is a disaster with lots of whining and rolling on the floor. I love the crocheted roses idea, but I would love some more reflections from our readers on when and why you pray a family rosary, and if you think it bears fruit.


Mothers' Milk on Mothers' Day

Enjoy this touching read. It is mostly about the parallels between breast-feeding a baby and Jesus' life in ministry, but I think its message can be extended beyond just breast-feeding to motherhood in general.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pride and Pregnancy

Resolved: Pregnancy is God's gift to us to enshrine the virtues of modesty and humility in our lives.

I fought it. Man did I fight going to the basement to retrieve that box marked "maternity clothes." I reveled in the memories of myself as the 7 month-pregnant 21 year old Army officer whom people didn't even know was pregnant. I clung fast to made up deadlines in my mind -- no, I will not don maternity clothes until after my 20-week ultrasound. I fought it hard. Then, last week - week 14 of this pregnancy -I saw the sad indentation of a jeans button on my, forcibly compliant, belly-skin. I thought of the innocent new baby in there wondering why she had to have a metal button eating up her valuable living space for the sake of my own pride and ego. I chucked 'em. All jeans, all tight-fitting shirts away. Constricting shoes, boxed. Anything with a button or latch - shelved for the next 9? months. My mother helped me take the hurdle, she dragged the heavy box of maternity clothes up from the basement and dropped it in the middle of our living room floor. There they sat. And I am 14 weeks pregnant. Our new baby is the size of an apple and she deserves comfort and respect, who cares if the neighborhood kids have already started to say, "look, Mom, she is already so preeeegnant."

Well, as I reluctantly opened the lid to that brown moving box, something miraculous happened. I felt the grace of something bigger then myself pour out of that box. I felt Mother Mary's humility and wisdom warm my soul as I was reminded of cloaking my daughter and son in the same garmets which I would now again wear. I could almost smell the peace of maternal bliss amongst those tent-like shirts and elasticized pants. I wanted to bury my face in the blessings of that box. The reality that this box, not the liposuction ads in our local paper or the itsy teeny bikins of modern beaches, was my reality overwhelmed me with joy. I was granted the instantaneous wisdom that this body isn't mine anyway. It is on loan, and I better darn well use it to creat the healthiest possible environment for the lives that will burgeon within, or else I have bought into pride and materialism. My newest baby deserves better than that. She deserves a grateful mother whose heart is on its way to purification and whose stretch marks are too insignificant of a detail to even cross her mind

Friday, May 8, 2009

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Flowers for our Blessed Mother

At a home school meeting last night, someone suggested a beautiful idea for praying the rosary with little ones that I had never heard before.

She gives her children two baskets, one with one white and 10 red beautifully crocheted flowers.

After the Our Father and each Hail Mary the child transfers a flower to the other basket. It is a simple and quite Montessorian idea. A very tactile way for a young child to participate in the rosary.

And at the end, the child can present the basket to the Blessed Mother. If you cannot crochet, you could use inexpensive silk flowers.

This may be something special to present to your child during the month of May.

We have found it special to occasionally move our family prayer time outside next to our Mary statue this spring, which the boys love!

***UPDATED to add a beautiful link on crocheted roses for little ones supplied by Elizabeth Foss in the comments:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Gift-Giving is NOT my love language

My kids are just reaching the ages where they're invited to birthday parties regularly, and I have been spending a depressing amount of time in toy stores lately trying to find birthday gifts for the kids' friends (approximately ages 3-6) that are exciting, not cheapo plastic garbage, and a good value. How do you handle this? It's so time-inefficient to shop for them one at a time. What I'm saying is please tell me your affordable, slam-dunk kid gift of choice so I can steal your idea, buy 20 of them to have on hand, and get back to mothering my children. My family thanks you : )

Autism Article

For those who are science-inclined, I thought this was interesting.

h/t JesusthroughMary

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Too Good to be True?

Hat tip to Elizabeth who pointed me to this post on homemaking. Keeping house has been a struggle lately, so much so that Red had to talk me down from deciding that I should send all the kids to school so that I would have more time to pick up and do laundry during the day! There may come a time when it makes sense for one or more of my children to go to school outside the home, but I am a good teacher for them right now and delegating that job so that I can clean up just is not a good use of resources and the talents God has given me. However, I want (need) a fairly orderly home to teach and learn in, and I find that especially when we are busy outside the home (ahem, little league, ballet, swimming, too much at once right now...) I can fall behind quickly and get really stressed out.

I am intrigued and inspired by this simple seven step plan.

Number 1: Make Beds Right Away
Number 2: Do One Complete Load of Laundry
Number 3: Empty All Garbage Cans
Number 4: Keep Your Kitchen Sink Empty
Number 5: Clean Up After Yourself and Help Children Do the Same
Number 6: Bathroom Wipe-Down
Number 7: Before Bed 10-Minute Clean Up

Erin has subdivided #5 to clarify:

  1. Clean up after dressing and undressing. If an item is clean enough to wear again, hang it up or put it folded away immediately; if it's not, put it into the laundry stream. Commit to one or the other, don't just throw it on a chair.
  2. Clean up after going somewhere in the car. Take everything out of your car every time you come home, except stuff that is supposed to stay there permanently (maps, emergency kits) and stuff that's ready to go for the next car trip (which should be well corralled). Encourage habits that make this easier, like kids keeping their stuff in bags, having a trash container, etc.
  3. Clean up each item on your to-do list as you finish it. Paying the bills? Don't save a pile of stuff to be filed, file each item as you finish it. Doing schoolwork? Put away all the materials you used for each subject before you start a new one.
  4. Clean up the office, desk, schoolroom, or wherever you do your paperwork after the work session is done. Sweep up pencil shavings, clear the surfaces, ready it for the next use. Homeschoolers, get that schoolroom ready for the next day.
  5. Keep the kitchen surfaces clean while you're cooking. Don't put dirty spoons on the counter or balance the whisk on the edge of the pot where it will fall and spray beaten egg everywhere. Put it on a plate that can be washed, or sometimes disposable stuff like newspaper/foil/wax paper.
  6. Begin cooking with these seven items ready for use (not hidden away in a cabinet): (1) apron (2) empty dishwasher (3) sink full of hot-but-not-scalding soapy water (4) trash can (5) dishrag (6) clean dry towel for dishes (7) clean dry towel for your hands. You'll be able to quickly clean things, including your hands, rather than let them spread gunk all over the kitchen.
  7. Plan to use kitchen workstations so you move around less with messy stuff. Crack eggs within reach of the trash can, work with raw meat next to the sink, chop vegetables for sautéeing right next to the stove with the pan ready.

I am thankful that some of these are already habits for me. I have always been a fairly clean cook(though I don't wear an apron), and I make my bed right away most days. The latter I learned from Flylady, for me the made bed is the bedroom equivelent of the shiny sink, as I am more likely to put the other things I use away if the bed is made.

I did not have the habit of making the bed and shining the sink at the beginning of my marriage, so it is helpful to know that these things can become second nature over time. Therefore, I am going to work on just step at a time to try to add a new habit of tidiness.

My personal goal this week is going to be the clothing part -- everytime you wear something, put it away or in the hamper. Also, going to try to do laundry every day. I will still have PT gather on M/W/F and all of us put away on T/Th/Sat, but if I start a load every morning I will be less likely to stay up until midnight doing laundry without ever finishing.

We have found out that our dishwasher works just as well on a 31 minute cycle. This has changed our lives as it means that we can run it, empty it and run it again before bed each night. There is really no excuse to leave dishes in the sink this way. A few weeks ago we were super busy and I left breakfast dishes in the sink when we went out for the day -- I came home to crusty cereal bowls that needed to be scrubbed and ants in the sink -- uck! If I had just taken the two or three minutes to clear the table and sink properly I would have saved myself from having to spend twice as long cleaning it up later.

We are almost finished with the school work that P and H have to complete before leaving on their trip, so tomorrow we are going to focus on clothes and laundry -- we will totally clear the laundry room shelves (random stuff like washcloths and single socks have been piling up there). We will unpack the last suitcase from Easter, we will hang up the clothes on the floor of the hand-me-down closet.

Around here, too many jobs only get 80% finished before I get distracted, and those little leftover piles do add up over time.

I am thinking of printing out Erin's list and also trying to figure out a way to hold everyone accountable for their participation. In the past, we have been using pennies for the church collection as an incentive for small chores (buckling your own car seat belt, hanging up your towel and coat), unfortunately, I tend to forget to follow through with the system. Perhaps the kids can see this list and earn a penny for their bag each day? Or something else? Any ideas out there?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Greatest Gift

As I tucked Peter in to bed tonight I was so proud of my grown up boy who has made his First Communion today. Today I was truly aware of how blessed we are that the good Lord chooses to come to us in the Sacraments. We had done so much to prepare for this day, and then early this week the computer melted down and we had to stop work on his First Communion Notebook, where he was narrating everything he has learned this year. At first, he and I were both upset about this. We were eventually able to recover the document, and we will continue to work on it later in the summer, but I relaxed when I realized that with or without a binder to prove it, he was ready. While all of our teaching is important, it is the Lord who makes us worthy to receive, whether we are a simple child or a complicated grown up. If we ask Him, He will prepare a tabernacle in our heart and come and spend time with us there. He seeks to be with us, and I know that He was so happy to be truly present to Peter in the Eucharist today.

Tonight I told Peter that he, himself, is the fruit of a sacrament. His father and I are united in sacramental marriage, and through our marriage he was born. The love that our family shows for one another is the way that we make Christ present in our domestic church everyday. We are so thankful for Peter, because through him we learned to be open to life.

In the Old Testament, the Chosen People gave God the first fruits of their harvest. Peter is our own first fruit, and when we bring him to receive the sacraments, we give him with great trust and love to the Lord. The life of Christian can be difficult in our secular world, and we ask for the grace to allow our child to do what he discerns the Lord calling him to do in his adult life. Until then, we are thankful that the Lord gives us the task of teaching him and guiding him. As his first teachers, we bear responsibility for his catechism, and whatever choices he makes in life we will be called to account for his formation.

Surrounded by family and friends who have prayed for him throughout his little life, today he took another step on his journey of faith. As his mother, it is astounding to me that the little boy I held in my arms is now so big that I can't lift him. When I first learned I was having a baby, I thought it was just that, a baby. For some reason I had no sense that Peter would grow from a baby to a child, that what was growing inside of me was truly a person. I can see that in my other babies because I know that they will all grow as big as Peter, and still bigger.

I pray that Peter will continue to grow in body and spirit, and that his faith in the Real Presence will be strong throughout his life. I know that his questions from here on out are only going to be more important, and I ask that the Holy Spirit will be with me when I am tongue tied. Through the sacraments, God will give us the grace we need to sanctify each day, as individuals and as a family.

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Let Them Eat (Butterfly) Cake

I wanted to share this foolproof butterfly cake template. Our baby Angelina turned one yesterday. We've called her butterfly from day one, so that was our party theme. I figured we were looking at a cheesy sheet cake with my poor attempt at a butterfly icing drawing, until I found this. It's a single round cake, cut in half, then you cut out two triangles and flip one side around. Then frost and decorate. VERY fun for the kids to help decorate the butterfly with whatever candy, sprinkles, colors you have on hand. So in case you're looking for an easy, precious springtime or birthday cake suggestion, might I recommend using this template?

In other cake news, I now have tasted homemade special occasion cakes from Texas Mommy, Red, and MaryAlice, whose oldest son received his First Communion this morning. All of them have been absolutely lovely in taste and appearance, professional quality, no joke (and Tex actually is professionally trained). It makes me think of all the rest of you cake baking, cake designing moms out there who have earned the right to add the title "Pastry Chef/Party Planner" to your list of jack-of-all-trades skills. Homemaking certainly is a little touch of everything. Moms are amazing!!!! Happy Sunday, everyone.