Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Big Shopping Adventure

I got such a tickle out of what counts as a Big Adventure to this mama, I thought I'd share . . .

On Wednesday, I took all four of my children with me to a department store to go clothing shopping for myself.

And that right there is enough that your jaw should be hanging open.

I'm the one who doesn't even take my children grocery shopping, right? I shop online for food and clothing as well. And I figure Amazon is going to take over the world pretty soon considering that I use it for anything else I might need to buy.

For years now, I've done virtually all my shopping online. With so many companies offering free returns, I buy even multiple sizes and simply return what I don't want to keep. Easy sneezy! I can think of two times in my married life I've stepped foot in a department store: I'm sure it's not that few, but you can imagine it isn't much more than that.

Self-perception of
my dowdy winter-wear (photo source)

So yesterday came along and I realized that I have mostly winter-wear and it looks rather worn and dowdy to me, and I surely did wish to have a few outfits more fitting for vacation at the beach. With the Easter triduum coming up, there was no way to go shopping on the weekend, so dragging all the kids with me was my only option if I wanted some clothing.

I loaded us up, started driving, and only then paused to think, "Where are there some clothing stores?" I thought I knew of a strip mall with some big anchor stores, so I drove there. Shows you how much I know my local stores: the stores I was seeking weren't even there, but there was a Ross Dress for Less, which would serve me just fine, thank you!

After giving a pep talk about Good Store Behavior to the kids, in we marched. The children were agog with wonder at this strange store full of racks of clothing. They had no idea what all the long mirrors were for, what were those "whistles"? (the electronic security devices clipped on clothing), "you mean people steal clothing?!" They were completely flummoxed when we went to the fitting rooms to try on clothing ("what are you doing, Mama?!") and the clerk counted my items before I entered.

I started to fall into peels of laughter as I walked these three bug-eyed children (and one baby) through the store and I thought to myself that not so long ago (one measly decade), the person who I was spent most Friday nights after work shopping for clothing as a hobby. You can imagine my bulging closets what with new clothing weekly! Such vanity and frivolity . . . .  Now my closets are bulging only because I have wardrobes in four complete sizes plus maternity to reflect my body size going up-and-down like a seesaw with pregnancies! My, how times change.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Vegetable Garden Report

For the last month or so, I've been planting seeds once a week or so, according to their planting dates based on the average date of last frost. I'd just grab five minutes here and there when I was outside supervising the children's play. Planting of the seeds was the easy work, and I'll probably regret planting so much when it all starts growing.

Straight neck squash
Lettuce, two varieties
Tomatoes, three varieties
Pole beans
Green peppers
Marigold flowers

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week Preparations

The Easter triduum is one of the busiest several days of my Catholic year. As we begin Holy Week, I am taking a deep breath and diving into much planning. 

Chris continues to travel for work--which is difficult in certain aspects, but one bright side is that I can save time by serving cold cereal for dinner and the kids will be quite happy.

This is our final week of school before switching to a summer routine, so I'm wrapping up some studies, planning what our summer studies will be.

In addition to all the holiday festivities, I'm also planning a family vacation: I did all our beach shopping last week, now have to plan the meals as well as any tourist outings while we are there.

The children have tried on all their Easter outfits, they do fit, and now they're confiscated in my closet so no harm can befall them.

My box of Easter supplies has been brought down from the attic. Chris gallantly went to the store on my behalf to buy candy for the Easter baskets, then hid it somewhere in this house so I wouldn't have to know where it is and either (A) be tortured by its presence or (B) eat it all in a terrible Lenten gorge and be required both to drag myself to Confession and spend more money on candy.

I do still have to plan my Easter triduum meals and place on the calendar exactly when I will do my grocery shopping: if something doesn't make it onto my calendar, it doesn't get done!

Note that what I think is my smartest improvement to this year's plans is remembering to cook Easter desserts on Thursday and freeze them, rather than on Good Friday when we're fasting, making the sugary scents particularly torturous. It only took me a few years to figure this one out.

To my local friends: If you run into me this week and I look a little crazed in the eyes, you'll know why. And I'll know why you look that way too!

* * * * *

File this one under "You Know You're in the South When . . ."

The children take swim lessons on Fridays. Last week, the swim director approached us moms on the bleachers and said, "Next week's lesson is on Good Friday . . . is anyone planning to be here? Should I move class to another day?" A couple of other moms admitted that they were not planning to be there, I waved my hand and said we weren't going to come to class (it's just too solemn of a day). It turns out that none of the moms were going to swim class on Good Friday, and only two of us are Catholic. The South isn't particularly Catholic in its makeup, but it is devotedly Christian! I am very pleased to have a makeup day for swimming.

* * * * *

May you have a blessed Holy Week!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Second Anniversary

Yesterday was the second anniversary of my mom's passing. I was overwhelmingly busy but quietly in the back of my head was remembering often photographic moments of that fateful, God-written, startling day. It will always be one of the miracles of my lifetime that God arranged for me to travel 3,000 miles to her the very day she died--being present with her as she left this earth--when we had no idea her passing was imminent.

A picture of my mom and me, as well as her stuffed buffalo, on the bookshelf by my rocking chair

The priest's Mass intention today was for my mom

Mary's Mass intentions

My five-year-old noticed today the book of Mass intentions in the narthex and asked me what it was. When I explained, she asked permission to write down her intentions: I was particularly touched that she remembered her Gramma Lisa.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Blast Off Rocket Launch

As part of Charlotte's Science Festival, on Wednesday we attended the Blast Off Rocket Launch at a local private school (the event open to all children).

My chess-playing kids were initially too excited by the giant chess board to make their rockets.

paper rockets

 First they made Alka-Seltzer rockets, then paper rockets . . .

. . . which were launched by an air generator.

We ended the event by watching several small, commercially made rockets be launched, which has now "launched" a campaign from a certain 7-year-old that we buy him such a rocket for home use.

Signs of Spring

Despite my having moved our My Spy Birdhouse to a new window location, in hopes of attracting a family of birds, no birds have taken up residence.

Instead, a queen wasp has made this her summer residence! She built the first chamber of her nest and, presumably, has been laying eggs for the last 24 hours. While we've never seen her moving around the chamber, when we check on her in her seeming stillness, she is found in different spots, always hanging on her chamber.

I found the girls sitting in the sink, watching the wasp.

While I don't feel like it would be prudent to let her build a complete nest in our birdhouse, given that it is located right above the bench where I sit to supervise the children and the water spigot which I turn on daily to water the plants, I am tempted to let her stay as long as possible. Truly, how often does one get a chance to watch how a wasp nest is built this up-close-and-personal? This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance!

The girls begged to eat their morning snack while still in the sink, watching the wasp.

Our first season using a flower press

A homemade bow made by Daddy and Son

Practicing his aim

Our seedlings are growing!

Carolina jessamine

I am still trying to get a picture of the resplendent bluebird who has taken up residence in our bluebird nesting box.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Joseph Really Becomes a Toddler

Joseph is 14-1/2 months old and I so enjoy this darling toddler age!

Joseph is newly 'part of the gang,' running off to be with his siblings as much as he can. He comes to me for food, nursing, comfort, and sleeping, but he goes to his siblings for interest and activity!

He is now running and playing tag and chase. I see that wonderful increase in communication skills that is so fun to watch: His receptive language has taken a marked leap in the last couple of weeks, such that I can give instructions like, "Bring me your truck" and he can do it.

His spoken words remain few: Down, Up, Mama, Daddy (our first baby to skip 'dada' and go straight to 'daddy'), Yum, Bye, Cheese, Ball, Hello ('hewoh?')

His American Sign Language signs are: WATER, MORE, BYE, NURSING, MUSIC

Also, Joseph communicates by throwing gloriously clear tantrums when he doesn't get what he wants.

I've noticed that during school time, Joseph has begun bringing me books whenever he sees me reading to the older children. He is insistent in handing me a book over and over again. Of course, being the fourth child, he's in stiff competition with the third child for any reading time at all. That poor third child doesn't get all the wonderful picture books appropriate to her age read to her, and she's often stuck listening to me read chapter books to the older children. Sometimes I can satisfy Joseph by putting him in my lap with a board book while I read a school book to the bigger kids. Poor little baby! Thankfully, what he loses in books read to his precious baby self, he gains in a brother and sisters!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Passiontide and my Lenten Moment

The final two weeks of Lent are referred to as Passiontide, which begins tomorrow on Passion Sunday. The first of the two weeks being known as "Passion Week," and the second week being known as "Holy Week."
Passion Sunday memorializes the increasing antipathy against Christ from those who accused Him of sorcery and of being blasphemous and possessed by a devil. From today until Maundy Thursday, the Júdica me and the Glória patris at the Introit and Lavabo are omitted from Masses of the Season (not Sundays and Feasts).

During these last two weeks, the statues and sacred images (except for the Stations of the Cross) are veiled with purple cloth, and they remain covered until the priest solemnly intones the sung Gloria at the opening of the Mass of Easter Vigil. This is one of the most intense moments of the liturgical year where the sustained bells are rung for the first time since the Holy Thursday and signaling the point that Lent ends and Eastertide officially begins.

I bought two yards of purple cloth on deep discount for $6 per yard
to drape our religious artwork year after year.

It is even customary for Catholics to cover statues and icons, etc., in their homes for this same time period (the cloth shouldn't be translucent or decorated in any way). We should feel a small sense of loss due to the absence of holy images in our home during this time.

This veiling of the statues and icons stems from the Gospel reading of Passion Sunday (John 8:46-59), at the end of which the accusers take up stones to cast at Jesus, Who hides Himself away. The veiling also symbolizes the fact that Christ's Divinity was hidden at the time of His Passion and death, the very essence of Passiontide.

* * * * *

On a less academic note, this is time when a mama should be doing a lot of pragmatic planning!

Easter is in a couple of weeks . . . you can find a plethora of ideas for Catholic Easter egg baskets at Shower of Roses! Now is the time to start ordering those special Catholic gift items or your gifts won't arrive in time.

This is when I am managing our calendar, particularly thinking about Holy Week and the Easter triduum. We want our Holy Week to be light duty and we want to clear the decks for the triduum. It is a wonderful thing if a Catholic who works for an employer can take Good Friday off of work. There are so many liturgical events to attend Maundy Thursday through Easter Sunday.

Plan your menus now: simple and penitential for the triduum, and gloriously delicious for Easter and the ensuing octave!

Also, this is a good time to think about how to spend Good Friday . . . I know quite a few families who choose to be silent during the three o'clock hour (when Jesus died) on Good Friday. I know people who minimize conversation for the entire somber day. I know of someone who keeps not just the mandatory fast on Good Friday, but chooses to eat only bread and water for the entire triduum. Every Catholic parish will have Stations of the Cross that day.

* * * * *

Lastly, I will share what I think of as a 'Lenten moment' . . . these moments catch me unawares each year.

This morning I went on errands (by myself!), one of which was to buy the above-photographed purple cloth for Passiontide. I was driving along, listening to a sermon series on forgiveness in which the priest told the dramatic stories of several great sinners forgiven. My mind was wandering a bit as I planned ahead, enthusiastically wanting to write this blog post about veiling statues and artwork: what great ideas I would share with my readers, they'd be so pleased.

I wandered the fabric shop, found my selection, and took the bolt to the cutting table. The saleswoman helping me was, by all appearances of dress, mannerisms, and language, decidedly 'of the world' and not a particularly religious person.

When she asked me, "So, what are you going to do with this purple cloth?" I froze. I was just silent.

I was too embarrassed to tell her that I'm Catholic and what Catholics do is cover our statues with purple cloth.

After a noticeable pause, I answered with forced levity, "Oh, we're just going to do a little craft at home." Then without pausing to breathe, I purposefully distracted her from her line of questioning with: "Now, I think when you check the price, you'll see that it's on sale."

As she checked the price, the words hung in the air: "a little craft."

I had just denied Jesus.

Not one hour earlier, I'd listened to the re-telling of Peter, the first pope, denying Jesus three times out of cowardice in the face of being nearly flayed alive, of being crucified-to-death, or maybe just being stoned by the nearby angry mob. I had just listened to the touching story of Perpetua and Felicity, both who gave away their suckling babes so they could be martyred by wild animals rather than burn incense to false gods.

I don't know about you, but when I hear stories of martyrdom, I think how I'd make that same choice. I'd stand by Jesus. I'd turn away from worshiping the false gods. I would submit to my martyrdom!

And then Jesus reminds me that apparently I can't even stand up to the possible laughter or scorn of a stranger at the fabric store.

I can write all about my purple cloth on this blog . . . for my audience of like-minded women who are all one degree to the left or right of me, one happy, homogeneous group.

But answer a sincere question about my purple cloth to a stranger who might think I'm 'stupid'?

I was Peter. I acted as if I didn't know That Man, That Jesus.

There was a time only a few decades ago that everyone--religious or not--would have known that Catholics behave a decided way during Lent, with our ashes on the forehead, our fish on Fridays, nobody working on Good Friday, our purple fabric, and our many liturgical events that keep us basically at church for three days until glorious Easter.

But slowly, creepingly, people began to feel it was somehow wrong to be seen in public being Catholic, or even answering an honest question: why are you buying that purple fabric? What wouldn't even have needed explanation a mere few decades ago now was a golden opportunity to quietly evangelize by nothing more than answer the question with a friendly, single sentence and a smile.

I was too afraid . . . not of having my suckling baby ripped from me so wild animals could tear me limb from limb, not from an angry crowd that would scourge and crucify me too . . . but just of a stranger thinking less of me.

And that was my Lenten moment.

Being Christian isn't just something theoretical or something about lovely traditions in the home with our happy families. It affects all our choices right here in this modern world, in 2014, whether it is how we spend our money, what media we take in, what language we use, where we shop, what outfits we wear . . . or how we answer a simple question at the fabric store.

May Jesus please give me another chance to answer the question, "Aren't you one of His disciples?"

Mantle in the den

Before: altar in boys' room

After: altar in boys' room

Before: altar in girls' room

After: altar in girls' room

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Gratitude, Humility, and Meekness

Four months ago during Advent--a mini-Lent--I had a deeply meaningful morning retreat during a time I was struggling with anger, resentment, and impatience much more than I am currently. Motherhood is most definitely not all about apple pie, sunny days, and roses. I have let the following reflection percolate all this time, but share it now in hopes that it is useful to other mothers.

* * * * 

It took me a few hours to find out why I was at an otherwise good, fine, and orthodox Advent half-day retreat for women but one from which I wasn't perceiving any profound or particularly meaningful message.

I certainly needed to be on retreat. My priest says carefully, "Katherine, you need to work on achieving meekness." I try, try again, and stumble, trip, and fall.

On the one-hour drive to the retreat, I listened to a sermon on the radio. It was quiet and I valued getting to listen to another adult speaking without constant interruption and general loud noise. The preacher spoke on meekness, explaining that it was patience in the face of injury. He said that meekness is the opposite of sudden anger and vindictiveness. (That part pierced my heart.)

The two men in the Bible most known for meekness were Moses ('the meekest among men') and Jesus ('I am meek and humble of heart'), both men known for strength and authority, not weakness (so often confused with meekness). This gave me much on which to meditate, as I struggle with understanding how one is supposed to be a parent with authority and a human being with meekness.

I arrived at the retreat and sat in back, letting my baby crawl around, while listening to the first of two reflections given by the priest. As I said, it was fine, good, and orthodox, but no 'lightening' was being set off inside of me and I hoped the very rare investment in a half day away from my familial duties would be worthwhile.

I was the only woman at the entire women's retreat who had a baby on her hip, when normally there are many of us. I felt out of place and wondered if my baby was a disturbance. During the coffee break in between talks, I was seated at a table at which apparently none of the women had children at all. I kept trying to make conversation with the women but the lack of common ground made it awkward.

One woman--appearing likely to be beyond childbearing age--commented on my cute baby and asked his age, so I replied and asked the natural question of whether she had children. She answered, "I had a daughter your baby's age when she died."
image source

I offered my condolences just in time before I felt the breath go out of me.

God in his providence allowed that this woman experience motherhood for ten months and never again. Meanwhile, has allowed me to experience motherhood for seven years and counting to four children so far. Yet I struggle with anger, resentment, and impatience.

How I can have exactly the life I wanted and prayed for, how is it that I am immeasurably blessed, but the reality is that this life requires heroic patience and detachment from my own will moment by relentless moment? That remains the mystery: how to be meek even amidst this whirl of blessings that do things like require tremendous household chores that are never completed, make messes, disobey, escape, hurt each other, and make so very much noise.

Thoughts raced through my mind as I sat limply in my chair with my cherubic baby charming all the childless ladies at the table, including the mother whose baby was dead.

God hasn't taken any of my children from me.

Yet I am so ungrateful.

In the following days, I was allowed in rapid succession to remember the tenuous nature of life, that all my children are on loan to me from God.

Over the weekend, Joseph gave me a scare. I had been washing dishes and walked away to tend to one of the many matters that pops up suddenly and urgently in a family with many little ones. Often such a matter pops up one after another, such that Mama remembers after a while what she was doing in the first place. When I made it back to the dishes, I discovered that I had left the bottom cupboard (with its baby latch) wide open and Joseph was playing with various bottles of dangerous cleaning supplies, and had dumped out a pile of Comet (bleach powder). Amazingly, our ten-month-old didn't put any of the powder in his mouth before I got to him! How differently that day could have ended.

On Monday, my fright was over our firstborn, John. We were leaving the doctor's office for John's seven-year well-child check and I was relieved at having managed all four little ones very well. We would be loading into the car to go buy milkshakes as a reward, and we were carefully navigating the peaceful parking lot: I was wearing the baby, pushing the toddler in a stroller, and had Mary walking immediately on my right, John walking immediately on my left. I don't know whether I heard a noise or sensed John looking over his shoulder, but I turned to the left to see a maroon van driving way too fast and bearing down on us, such that I grabbed John by his sweatshirt and yanked all of his fifty one and a half pounds off his feet and out of the way of the van. I literally felt the air of the van whooshing by me as I saw the male driver swerve wildly and then speed up as he drove out of the lot. John asked me, "Why would a person be so dangerous and mean?" How differently that day could have ended.

Tuesday came and I was given a poignant, if not dangerous, reminder of the gift that are children. I received news from a mutual friend of a woman I had met two years ago. This woman and I had been at a conference together, me with my baby (Margaret, at time of this writing two years and nine months), her with her baby (one month older than my Margaret). Well, Tuesday was the morning that that mother found her daughter deceased, while my daughter has been charming and mischievous and singing "Signing Times with Alex and Leah" on a loop for hours all day. How differently that day could have ended.

That leaves Mary, my five-year-old, and I pray that God sees no need to use her as his fourth and final example to me since she gives me frights regularly with all her climbing, leaping, and falling from heights!

Ask nearly any parent if she'd do anything for her child and she'll answer a resounding, "Yes, of course!" We like to think we'd do anything for our children . . . but we don't really mean it. I think it's because we don't think our "anything"--the vice we're supposed to quit, the action we're supposed to take, the virtue we must foster--really matters. As if it won't really have ill effect if I raise my voice and use an ugly tone of voice. As if Jesus wasn't quite clear on the sermon on the mount when he said we are to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

Gratitude will lead to Humility.

Humility will lead to Meekness.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Homeschooling: Real Moments

The 'blogosphere' can so easily present a false front of an ideal life, so--with much humor--I must share a few snapshots from one particular day of homeschooling this week.

I showed up to the schooling room to find that one child had tied the baby gate shut with yarn in an attempt to lock me out. "You can't come in now, so we can't do school!" Indeed, I couldn't open the gate, so said I was going to get scissors to cut off the yarn.

The child replied gleefully that a babyproofing lock had been affixed to my supplies cupboard so that I couldn't access the scissors either.

Of course, being an adult, I could step over the baby gate and remove the baby lock to cut away that yarn, but I couldn't help but laugh at the daunting start to our day of education. 

It probably wasn't a day that was going to go well!

And then I had to laugh again when I discovered a fabulous feature on our old portable DVD player: the Hold Button! By sliding the hold button, a baby can bat at the machine all he wants without pausing or stopping the video. This opens up whole new horizons, such that I can put on an educational DVD for not only my three-year-old but my one-year-old too and zombify them both during school time!

Why yes, I was THAT mother on that particular school morning! Did I ever think I'd put my two tiny tots in a pack-and-play with a television screen? Certainly not! Oh, with what scorn the Less Experienced Katherine would have looked at the More Experienced Katherine.

But Mama's got to do what she's got to do in order to homeschool the children. And the little ones get immense time with me, interaction, wholesome reading, and educational opportunities. But sometimes, when I'm trying to teach math or reading to older children, and I have no Teacher's Assistant, I just need those children to be quiet and still!

So, here I am, THAT mother I never thought I'd be . . . 

To top it off that same day, to make sure I didn't think of my homeschool as some false, ideal bubble of Joy at All Times, one child was so angry at me for making said child do the grammar lesson, the child wrote an angry face (with sharp teeth) and large Xs (which never mean anything good) next to each answer.

Just to make sure I knew the child's feelings toward me at that moment.

Yes, dear, I really do know how you feel. And I love you anyway. And I'll keep educating you!