Thursday, February 28, 2013

Theme Thursday: Happiness or Joy (& Thirds of {phfr})

I missed last Thursday's link up at Cari's because of my epic fail to bring the camera to church, where I'd planned to snap photos of architecture before Mass.  We were there early and everything: Doh!  And my back-up plan to use photos from October was not realized because digital glitches kept stopping my photos from uploading onto Blogger.  Weirdness. 

 Since I didn't go out "on assignment" for Happiness or Joy (here is a pic from Nemo, already old news, and the snow mostly gone now), I decided to attempt using Cari's Rule of Thirds tutorial in my photo selection.  This is the photo as taken, un-improved by photo software.  How'd I do?

{Happy}

Now excuse me as I try to double-dip in link-ups with one post late on a Thursday evening:

{Funny}
Gianna always makes me laugh with her facial expressions. I had tried to snap this with her face not-quite-center, remembering that I'd once read the focus of a photo is ideally off to the right or left of center: 

Here is the photo after I'd cropped it with Cari's rule in mind, trying to get her face into the "sweet spot" of intersecting lines:
Kind of an extreme close up, and I sort of miss those little fingers lobbed out of the frame, but still better, I think...

{Pretty}
I took this photo of some of my garden blooms in June 2010.  I was pretty amazed by how well it came out, and now I know one reason for the visual appeal: this pic comes close to being naturally composed in thirds.


Can I improve that thirds ratio by cropping to better hit those sweet spots?

Still lovely, but I'm not sure if I detect or am sold on that much of a difference in this case.
{Real}
Real cat, (even freakier than last seen photographed), cropped so that his face is in a sweet spot of intersecting lines: check.  Real window, totally smeared by real children's fingers: check.  This photo is three weeks old and, no, I still have not washed that glass!  Keeping it real, folks: I don't do windows.  




Apologies for an absence of profound thoughts, but my eyelids are drooping; I am calling it a night.  Click over to Clan Donaldson for more variations on this theme (and to get properly schooled in photography; I have no clue yet!) and visit Like Mother, Like Daughter for some Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real photos, too.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

WIWS: Rocking more Maternity Wear





My friend Christina passed along some beautiful floral/flowing maternity dresses.  Result: This week my dream of actually trying the dress-into-a-skirt look was fulfilled!  The sweater is also new; it was my Christmas gift to my husband, and it looked fabulous on him.  It is made in Italy... and made of wool.  Early this month it was mixed into the regular laundry hamper, and washed and dried (oops!) with our normal clothes, thus rendering it a perfect fit for me!  So sorry, sweetheart.  Happy Christmas!

Whenever I say "cheese," I look cheesy.  Coincidence?
Dress- ??? The tag is cut out.  First letter may have been a cursive "K."
Sweater- Men's Marco Fiori, Marshall's, $25-ish
Necklace- Premier Designs
Boots- Liz Claiborne Flex, Marshall's
Leggings (not visible)- from Target
I heart black.  

My youngest had to get in on the action too.  She loved her Mass outfit, which she topped off with a black mesh shawl as a head covering/mantilla (so cute, the pic doesn't even do it justice). After Mass she kept trying to leave without putting on her coat.  In her words, the bulky purple winter coat "would ruin my beauty."
This one is far more photogenic than I am.  She is also a fashionista in the making.  And yes, that is my necklace.
That is all for this week.  Click over to Fine Linen and Purple for more Mass-going Ladies' Fashion.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

7 Quick Takes: How I Escape Feeling Blah

--- 1 ---

This was not the season for pregnant women to watch Downton! Oy! Emre had read the spoilers so I knew what was coming, and it still upset me. Curse you, Dan Stevens, for refusing to renew your contract!  Okay not literally "curse," but... could you work up feeling a little contrite for this, please.  Couldn't he have worked with Mr. Fellowes to end the season on a happy note, thus allowing me to fully recover from Sybil and not have to be pregnant through two major post-delivery tragedies?!  

Oh well.  At least it wasn't Christmas here when this aired.

--- 2 ---

My personal soliloquoy this week has been "To Homeschool or not to Homeschool?"  I have been strutting and fretting my way around the house, feeling full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing.  That interior destructive voice is at it again, pointing out the many ways I fail at this.

The fact that all of my kids are learning and moving forward does not help to lift the angst I'm mired in; I feel like a disorganized failure.  I chalk it up to: February funk-it-is, pregnancy exhaustion/body changes, and the everyday stresses of my own unique life.


--- 3 ---

However, since I also have experienced some intense anxiety this month (to the tune of physical symptoms: muscle aches, chills, feelings of panic) I've returned to weekly therapy to work out what lurks inside of me; something within needs my attention.  I'll blog more on this topic as I get closer to whatever the "it" is.



--- 4 ---


With regard to squashing my funk, this week I made it a point to: write/post on my blog more often, take more photos, plan/prepare more healthy/yummy dinners, and start our homeschooling days early (as in 7:30 am, still-in-P.J.'s-early).  Since shopping-therapy has helped countless others, I also bought a globe on the recommendation of  Dweej at House Unseen, Life Unscripted.

I am geeky enough to be excited for it to arrive in the mail!




--- 5 ---
While I was at it, I sprang for this very cool timer, which John Paul's Occupational Therapist uses and recommends.  The little dude had an excellent and impressive half hour at the O.T. on Thursday, showing her a lot of progress in his fine motor skills, focus, and receptivity to instruction.  We were both bowled over with his behavior/demeanor and work ethic, which also went a long way towards boosting my flailing February self-esteem.  Afterwards I bought us all lunch at the McD's Drive-thru.


--- 6 ---
A mid-week frustrated shout-out on my Facebook status inspired my friend Christina to set aside some "mommy kvetch" time for us.   The children and I went to visit on Friday. While our kids enjoyed time sledding on the hill in her backyard, we settled into tea and I aired my worries and frustrations with home educating.  Cue exhale.  There is nothing like tea and another homeschooling mom to unload on!   Christina listened without judgement, and offered some non-critical suggestions that did not require me to up and change/renounce everything I do.  I left her home feeling better (and soon to be better dressed, since she passed along some lovely maternity wear!) 


--- 7 ---
Another difference which makes for interior consolation is this new prayer we now begin each school day with.  John Paul needed to memorize this for his first confession service, so I taped it on the wall beside the chalkboard for all of us to say and memorize:

O My Queen, O My Mother, I love you and give myself to you.
I give you this day my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my heart, my whole self.  Since I am yours, keep me and guard me as your child forever.  Amen.

Again: no one "gets" a mom quite like another mom.


Thanks for hearing me!  For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

{Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real}: Family Fun and Games

round button chicken
My oldest, aged 9, attended her first slumber party last weekend.  She was glowing;  I had to snap a picture before she left.  Laden with her gear, about to experience the adventure of her "first" overnight without her family, I'd say she looks:

{Pretty}
(and pretty happy)

It has been an emotional week/month for me, one full of self-doubt as to how well I am doing as a mother and home educator.  Just when I was seriously ready to give up, no longer seeing anything special or redeeming in our system, the littlest two decided to play dress-up during one of our breaks from schoolwork.  Having raided Daddy's drawers, Gianna fashioned a nun's habit.  John Paul absconded with my favorite winter scarf (in perfect Lenten colors).  Then they called me over to see them in the "church" they'd built behind the couch.  Here is why we do what we do: to afford them the freedom to be themselves, and unabashedly play like this.

{Happy}


Light sabers as candles in church!  That is how we'll roll without bees, I guess.
Do I detect a crack in the mock-somber demeanor?
He has been building/arranging "altars" since he was  2 years old.  Seriously.


Gianna loves her daddy, who she has dubbed "Mr. Big Boy."  Last night, after beating on sweetly massaging his tired back, she decided to make herself his head covering.  Behold, "Girl as Hat."

{Funny}




Family Game Night is much anticipated by the kids.  Can I be real here?  Oh... that's the point.  Right.
  
Family Game night is often dreaded by adults in this house.  It is another area of work for us.  Newsflash: children do not naturally adhere to/absorb the virtue of patience, rules of fair play or examples of good sportsmanship.  The parent is once more teacher/ring leader in this circus called "Game Night."  There is no relaxing. Watching a movie is so much easier! (Sob!)

Movies are also a cheap thrill, and better for us parents than for the kids.  Games are a fantastic opportunity for our children to apply counting, reading and addition skills (even place value).  Game night is an arena for family togetherness, and for attempting to model/instill the aforementioned socialization skills, but I would not call this event "leisure" for parents.  Our virtues are being tested and getting a work out.  For these reasons, I am making more frequent game nights a standard for this Lent.

The kids' game of choice last week:  Star Wars Monopoly. Oh-so-easy to play with a six and not-quite-eight-year-old:

{Real}




Not.
(Just ask the cat.)

Thanks for hanging out!  Click over to Like Mother, Like Daughter for more of such moments.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

That Which Sounds Pretty, Typically is Not



When I'd first given up a high paid insurance gig to teach English on less-than-a-pauper's salary at a diocesan high school,  I had no money with which to purchase inspiring posters for my classroom.  I  scavenged around those remnants left in filing cabinets, shelves and my desk by the outgoing-retired-teacher.  There was quite a bit of yellowing 1970s-era wall art to choose from.

My foraging yielded a lovely sepia-toned post card of hands shaping clay on a potter's wheel.  The caption read,  "Like clay in the hands of a potter, so you are in Mine”  (Jeremiah 18:6).

'Pretty and poetic,' I'd thought.  How wonderful to be in God's hands!  Here was a western religious idea I could get behind; it didn't make demands on me.  It felt comfortably neutral and safe.  I tacked it on the board alongside my classroom rules and expectations.  I contemplated the muddied hands, shapely vessel and Scripture in that picture every day for the next ten years.  It was my first "memory verse."

I chuckle at my interpretation of that Scripture now.   My assumption had been that God's Hands would be gentle in this molding process.  He loved me so much He would shape me into something beautiful!  I just had to sit back and be the clay.

 Ha.

What I failed to do in my first five years with this verse was to consider context.

What is the real process of sculpting?  Have you done it or watched it yourself?

A sculptor throws a lump of clay onto a wheel (once?  twice?  several times?), in essence beating the you-know-what out of it.  He wets it, spins it, wets it more, pushing, perhaps carving into it,  all the while spinning it, in order to cultivate its shape.   That clay is built up as a vase or some other vessel, frequently to the point of -oops!-collapse!- after which the potter again pounds it into a lump to be split, thrown, and built up once more.  Etcetera.

Once the piece is to the potter's liking, it is fired in a kiln.  As in: Baked.  Made hot.  Really hot.  In-a- raging-fire-of-purgation-hot. 

How do I feel about "being the clay" now?   

Not bad, actually.  This Scripture is comforting if you've already felt beaten about by God's hands.  Why?  Because it spares me from guilt and self-loathing: I don't fall down or fail or feel interior darkness because I have done something displeasing to Him.  He is not punishing me.  While it may feel as if he is angrily beating me up, He is not.  

He is creating something beautiful in me; He is making me more like Himself.  He is taking out the crap (a lot of which I'd worked so hard to put there to "improve"myself); He is refining me.  He is making me ready.

This process does not feel good.  But nothing truly good comes without sacrifice and pain.  One does not get to run a marathon by sitting on the couch with her feet up, eating chocolate, all the time.  The training to get to the point of running 26.2 miles is steady and painful, at times fraught with injury.

Body-building requires an athlete to "shred" or rip muscle for increased growth to occur.  That newer, larger mass of muscle is achieved through the breaking and healing of what had been beneath it.  (I've tried this at the gym.  As much as I've liked the results, it does not feel "nice.") 

One does not co-create a child without anguish and physical suffering, either.  Modern medicine does much to save me from the risk of death and to alleviate some discomfort if I choose, but there is no "easy" way to get a baby onto this earth.  One way or another, that child comes out through me; I will be torn and I will bleed for it.  The result: new life.  The next generation.  A legacy to exist beyond me.

If building our bodies into something kick - ass requires surrender to some amount of suffering, if creating new life requires an acquiescence to discomfort and pain, then why would I ever expect my soul's growing closer to God to be as peaceful or relaxing as getting a manicure or a massage?

No.  I am clay in the hand's of the potter.  The anxiety, exhaustion, self-doubt and whatever else I experience are, when surrendered to Him, the means He works through to get me to be what He intends.  This is not pretty; it is messy and gritty and real.

And absolutely awesome.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Cold Fire of February



In the interest of keeping it real, kicking my game face to the curb, and writing from inside the fire (without having first escaped or put it out), I thought I'd add my voice to the growing choir of those proclaiming this month "Suckuary."  It totally is and does:  Suck the spirit out of me, that is.  (Recent episodes of Downton Abbey have not been helpful on this front, either.)

Dwija at House Unseen and Kelly at This Ain't The Lyceum recently wrote exactly what I'd thought  regarding this topic, so now I feel redundant and late to the party on top of everything else.  Furthermore, my birthday is also in February.  This year I am troubled to know my 30s are nearly over,  which is weird because I'd never thought I'd be the type to fear forty.  Assuming the mantle of "middle age" in lieu of "young mother" is admittedly tough on my psyche right now.

One problem with this February Morass now miring our collective lives is that it makes me angry.  I get snappy; I momentarily lose the desire for virtues such as patience and forbearance because I can't take it anymore.  My mouth opens and my cranky un-napped inner four-year old emerges with a bad attitude, after which I feel guilty for being such a witch lady.  For context: I shouted at the kids in the middle of a lesson.  And then I chucked a pencil out the door.  That's a tantrum, right?  The sort of thing I give my children time outs for, yet I just modelled this manner of "dealing" for them.  Does that constitute a mortal sin?  Ugh.

This bad behavior on my part isn't for lack of trying.  My current reads are How to Talk so Kids will Learn and Dr. Meg Meeker's book, Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Boys.  These titles join countless books on parenting and education I've gathered and digested over the years.  My brain is saturated by everyone's "expert" advice,  a real hoot when experts' advice and methods contradict one another.  I can normally hold these contradictions in my mind and select what fits and release what does not... but not in this month.  During "Suckuary," the expert disagreements freeze my mind, and nothing I do in response to child needs feels natural or right; I fear I've become a walking, incoherent contradiction.   The experts look down from their shelves above, finally agreeing on one point: "That mother hasn't done a thing we've said."

The other problem with Suckuary is it makes me self-obsessed, paranoid and self-defeating.  I start thinking the world is out to get me.  Worse yet, I start thinking maybe the world should be out to get me, because I suck.  Just who do I think I am, not conforming to worldly standards of how a woman should live?  (Same story different decade, eh, ladies?)  Who gave me the authority to teach my kids at home, when one child so evidently suffers from ADD or ADHD (we're boarding that train to diagnosis now) and damn, did I give it to him with my lousy parenting choices?

There are days I skip showering.  My skin is dry and my nails go unpainted.  I don't know why other women love expensive paisley purses so much.  The laundry pile never shrinks, there are toys scattered everywhere, and some days dinners don't get made.  Evidently, I am missing something here.  These signs point to my failure.

Why don't I just go out and get a job, and suffer the worldly slings and arrows which my husband faces as he goes to his public teaching gig each day?  I mean, earning money is the sign that I am in fact contributing, right?  Earning money means I have earned a place on the planet, no?  If I'm not earning something, I must be leeching something, right?  Isn't that the message pitched to us from both sides of the political spectrum these days?  In Suckuary, my confidence is weak and I am exhausted enough to wonder:  Are they right?

I taught high school English for ten years before choosing to walk this path.  My husband alone supports our brood via the public schools.  We don't do this homeschooling thing because we hate teachers.   We are teachers.  We're just... well, we're complicated.  And in February, the teacher in me struggles without a faculty room to retreat to or other people to kvetch with me over coffee.  I slug it out here alone.

But it helps to remember that in February, my colleagues in classrooms everywhere struggle with this beast of a month, too.  (While I think of it, academic integrity compels me to cite my friend Kelli, a teacher in Massachusetts, for introducing me to the term "Suckuary." For all I know, she coined it herself.) It helped to hear Dwija and Kelly and a slew of others sound off on this topic, too.   This isn't just me.

My husband is having a hard week at work, because the world can be an ugly place, even (and especially?) in the field of education.  Every co-Dependent bone in my body screams out to FIX IT for him (and everyone else) because it ISN"T RIGHT; where is the happiness and love in the world, if it isn't in the very environments our society places our children into?  What happened to caring for children's multiple intelligences?  When did we become more like communist Russia, hell-bent on getting seven and eight year olds prepared for their careers in this "global economy" instead of encouraging critical thought and offering guidance to children so they can discover their individual calling?  Why can't we allow kids to know they are loved and worthwhile for something beyond just being a functional cog in a machine?  Why the hang up on test scores and data?

Why must the world force itself upon our kids, and us, and seemingly conspire to make our family lives miserable?  When self-actualized adults do wish to opt our kids out of that rat race (or try to anyway) why must strangers and bureaucrats get ramped up about our choice?  I run across stories like this one, or this one, and rather than mounting a campaign to speak out against well-intentioned insanity, I want to nap and hide my head under a mountain of pillows.  I can't fight city hall in February; I feel like giving up in the face of it all.

Of course, I know in my rational brain that I'm not just marking time.  My son's reading and writing have now hit a more fluid and rapid period of improvement.  We have an appointment with a Behavioral Optometrist to begin putting together what other pieces are needed in his education, above and beyond the Occupational Therapy I've brought him to for the past two years.  He is a smart and critical thinker, with an impressively extensive memory.  My oldest daughter's piano playing and writing are off-the-chart awesome for a kid her age.  Her math skills are not bad.  My kindergartener is learning to read and to add, and is amazing with art.  I give her as many opportunities to learn on the artistic front as I can think to give.  Both girls are independent learners.  We are waxing, not waning, when I step back and look up at it all.

Yet... these are facts that I have trouble feeling good enough about in February.

Why am I hanging all of this out there?  Just as it was a comfort for me to hear that I am not alone in this mid-winter quick-sand pit, I hope to let some other soul know that she is not alone, either, nor is she bad or strange for her feelings.  All "bad" months come to a close; even "Suckuary" shall pass. What seems frozen or ugly is not truly that way.  Not forever, anyway.

This is just one of many seasons.  Remember Ecclesiastes 3?  I say: cue the music.





Friday, February 15, 2013

Seven Quick Takes: Under a Lenten Sky


--- 1 ---
I missed last week's 7QT link-up because I was still in "Minding Nemo" mode.  It snowed all day last Friday; we woke up Saturday to find three feet of snow on the ground.  I'd expected 18 inches, not 32 inches!  Although my mouth opened and closed a few times, no words came out, just little gasping sounds that made the kids giggle with delight.

This was the view out of our diningroom window at 7 a.m. last Saturday:
I guess we should have covered the grill.

When I finally trudged down the path which my husband spent the day digging out, this is what I saw:
We are still only a one-lane road; the plow that made this pass-through had gotten stuck in the cul-de-sac.  No others returned.  We were lucky; some streets weren't touched until Wednesday!
Now I know why they called the darn storm "Nemo;"  I truly felt like a fish stuck in its bowl for the next several days.  Can you say "Snowbound"?
Cars, trailer, garbage cans.  Uncovering this was part of Sunday's agenda.  Glad the Archbishop gave us all a dispensation from Mass.  (How often does that happen?!)
--- 2 ---
I should have known the storm would be "epic;" folk wisdom in New England actually means something.  Don't knock it!  This was the morning sky the day before Nemo:

Red sky at morning, much?  
--- 3 ---
I was super glad Emre did not have work on Monday morning.  For one thing, he was exhausted from shoveling all weekend.  For another, our denial about the impending death of our geriatric/grumpy/gimpy cat, Sage, could no longer continue; she pooped out of the litter box on Sunday night.  Starting behind the computer.  As in: follow the poop trail... from the desk (on the desk, I kid you not) across the kitchen floor, down the hallway, on my bedroom carpet... and I guess she finally made it to the litter box in the master bath.  Ugh. Gag!  Gross.  Worse than any baby diaper I have ever had to smell or see.  Hello, anxiety!?  (Have I mentioned that I am pregnant?!)

Dearest Emre had his hands full for an hour, cleaning up all of that.  I followed through with a mop later on. Thus, we confronted the definition of insanity: repeatedly doing the same thing in the same situation, while expecting a different outcome.  We had to face facts: Sage was not going to improve.  The time for the vet had come, and Emre resolved to take her.

This time, I didn't cry (unlike 2 weeks ago when he'd announced his intention to do the same).  This was not safe for me and the baby.  The cat was not happy anymore, ever.

On Monday morning, I fed her a last meal of Friskies Meaty Bits, and later carefully picked her up to rest her head and front paws on my shoulder.  She purred.  I kissed her.   I tucked a spotted sweater of mine into the carrier for her ride to the vet.

When Emre returned home with an empty cat carrier, I was sad for a moment... and then I was flooded by relief.  I had let her go.  She could be at peace.  And now, surprisingly, so could I.

--- 4 ---
I love my friends.  Those who know me well (and yet still love me anyway) know that I am fairly twisted.  So I  appreciated it when a friend shared the following video to my timeline the night Sage died.

If QT 3 made you weepy, this should fix that for you.

 Then again, it could also give you nightmares.  Viewer discretion is advised:
Jennifer Fulwiler: This is my "Guy on a Buffalo."

 Cherchez la vache!
--- 5 ---
Mardi Gras has become a thing in my house.  It began with hosting a dinner party several years ago.  Since then, the kids eagerly anticipate making Mardi Gras masks and indulging in some kind of fun treat before we kick off Lent.  (This year I baked cupcakes with gold wrappers and green sprinkles, and made chocolate chip pancakes for dinner.)

I asked the younger kids to pose in their finished products, and this is what they gave me:
"C'mon! Vogue! (Vogue!) Everybody groove to the music..." There. Now it is stuck in your head, too. You're welcome. 
--- 6 ---
Am I going to ruin my Catholic credibility if I openly admit that we did not receive ashes on Wednesday?  The roads were still a bit scary to me (ever see how high plows make snowbanks on street corners?) and my car's "Check Engine" light was on.   And of course, I couldn't get my car to the mechanic until after he'd been plowed out.  We finally dropped the van off last night.  We pick it up tomorrow, and then I hope this family can resume its "normal" schedule; the kids and I have all grown stir-crazy (or couldn't you tell?)
--- 7 ---
I am thrilled that it is Lent.  This is one of my favorite times of year to be a home schooling family; we are truly afforded the time to get into the season and grow closer to Christ and one another through our reading and activities.  The kids do the "Holy Heroes Lenten Adventure, " use Catholic Icing's Journey Through Lent calendar to track our days, and count sacrifices (via lentils) in mini jelly jars that we got at church last year.

In the spirit of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, I won't expand into the specific plans for myself, other than to say: I forgot tonight and partook in something I'd sacrificed.  Doh!  Sorry, Jesus.  Better luck tomorrow.

Wishing all of you a blessed start to Lent!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Theme Thursday: Trees or Leaves

I am still loving my new Canon Rebel T4i.  No, I have not started rocking outside of the presets.  I'm a slacker, I guess.

I'll confess I was not looking forward to the "Trees or Leaves" theme in the middle of winter; I am tired of the bare branches.  Everything looks dry and bleagh.  Why would I want to get up close and personal with moldy, dead plant material?

Then I realized that even with the preset macro setting (Thank you, Cari, for the clue-in with the tulip symbol!) things could look different and interesting up close.  Consider these ugly husks of Rose-of-Sharon, for example.  They are literally in my face every time I come into or go out of my house; they have grown past the porch railing and daily beg to be cut back.  (I ignored them all of last year.)  Up until today, I have seen them as annoying and unsightly, and have repeatedly kicked myself for not pruning them away in the fall.

But holy microscope, Batman!  On that funky tulip preset, they actually stopped looking drab and started looking a bit cool.  Almost artsy, even!





Another tree in my yard that is unsightly to me in the winter is this birch tree, which is continually broken in every major storm, yet still hangs in there and refuses to die.  I had not planned to take photos of it, until this morning when my kids excitedly called out that Barnabas was climbing a tree.

The following photo is two weeks late on the sun glare score, but since it has a cat in the tree, and a dreamy/misty effect from the fact that I don't wash my windows, I thought it had poetic interest.  (Nothing sets the internet ablaze like the photo of a cat.)


And then I figured: you have a theme.  Run with it, Lee.  Find beauty in that imperfect tree.
Broken birch, sans cat.

Same birch, different setting.

The birch with a lurch.
I think I have a new appreciation for this tree.  And for the speckled husks of the Rose of Sharon.  OK,  OK: I am sold on this "Trees or Leaves" thing after all.  Good call, Cari!

Now you should really check out the Theme Thursday scene at Clan Donaldson.  (Some people there  even speak camera and live a wild life outside of the presets!)


Today's Lesser Known Saints Coloring Page: Saint Cyril & Saint Methodius

OK, I am new to this whole Blogging bit; this may not jive with the rest of my blog's "theme."  Then again, I am a homeschooling mommy to young children, so this is the kind of thing I surf around looking for all the time.  

When I couldn't find a coloring page for Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius last year, I got crazy and made one myself. So what follows is copy written by me.  Feel free to use it for private home or classroom use, but don't distribute it for profit.  If you use it on your website, kindly link back to my blog (shameless plug for more traffic).

Again, I am a brand-spanking newbie to the blog-o-sphere, so I have no clue how to make this "downloadable" this morning.  Just drag the pdf below into a word processing document and party on.  

Click here and head on over to the Catholic Culture website for information on these Saints and also this other, more familiar and celebrated guy:

St. Valentine
Voila!  An instant/easy lesson on the Saints who share today's feast day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Why am I not Surprised?

As I sat down at this computer early Monday, my cup of coffee in hand, my own face washed in  Facebook's steady blue-white glow, imbibing this combination to kick-start awake my brain in the midst of family chaos (winter storm Nemo, falling out with a friend, a dying geriatric cat needing to go to the vet) a dear friend saw I was on live and Instant Messaged me: "What a way to start the day....Pope Benedict resigns as of the end of the month."

I was online and yet it took 10 minutes for me to reply.  In that time, other friends started posting the online wake-up call with articles, bloggers' takes (my favorite being Jimmy Akin's) and personal reactions that could be summarized as running the gamut from shocked to distressed.

Honestly, my first thought was detached: 'Wow.  Really?!  Hm.  It is too early for me to react or know what to say;  I think I need more coffee first.'

Was that cold & unfeeling?  Perhaps I was just numb, or in a co-dependency induced denial?

My second thought, as I read the myriad other articles and postings: Why is everyone so shocked?  Why are so many laid so low?  Why are a few so freaked out that they are prophesizing this as a sign of the reign of the last pope!?   (I think that reaction disturbs me more than B-16's decision).

Is there something spiritually wrong with me?  Am I somehow less Catholic than the rest of our body, who are right now experiencing sadness, surprise, shock, and anxiety over this event?  If not, what is it about me that causes a lack of interior reaction in the face of this excitement?

 I love Benedict, but the man is 85 years old; this is a logical and noble step, totally in line with his character.  In fact, earlier in the week I was just thinking about whether Benedict had much longer with us; he has been looking ever so old in recent photos.  And tired.  I swear, while serving the children lunch one day last week, it crossed my mind: 'I wonder if he'd ever step down before dying?'  Maybe that Eerie Thing that Sometimes Happens  to Me (which happened a few days before the death of Mother Theresa as well) softened the blow?  (And no, I am not claiming psychic powers or a Gift of the Spirit.  My mind is just always taking flight someplace else;  I guess I have "imagination.")

Is it the fact that I live in perpetual t.v.-radio silence, without cable television and its talking heads to goad and pluck my emotions, which leaves me feeling undisturbed by all of this?  While it is true that no pope has done this in recent history,  the beauty of my faith is that actions need not be modern to be acceptable and "right".  This is a natural process which Canon Law allows for, even if no one else has used the opportunity in the last 700 years.

Life is full of partings.  Those partings are at best bitter-sweet; more often they are more bitter than sweet.  Is it that the sudden and violent parting of so many young ones in a school a stone's throw away from me still wields more reality to me than anything else, even if the earthly leader of my Church resigns his post?

I know, I know: he holds the keys of Peter.  He is our pontiff, our Papa.  And I do love him.  He is Christ's vicar, and has worked to promote unity within a Church that feels pain in the threat of schism.  He is not perfect because he is a man.  I believe he is a holy man, and a supremely intelligent and loving man.  Yes.  I will miss him when he finally steps down. 

But I trust the Holy Spirit will guide the conclave in its election of our next pontiff.  I trust the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us through whatever messes lie ahead. 

When I finally shook myself from my sleepy stupor on Monday, I replied this way: "Pope Benedict is a wise man and an excellent pontiff; if he says we need to fill the Chair with his successor now, given the rapid demands which face the Church, then I trust his call and take comfort in the fact it will be "right".   Now we have something additional to offer up sacrifice for during Lent."

And something to anticipate in the dawn of a joyful Easter.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Theme Thursday: Hats & Scarves

I live in Connecticut, and I waited to post for this theme until after Big Storm Nemo.  First of all, I knew I'd be getting an awesome real camera for my birthday on Wednesday night.  The delay gave me time to play with it.   Moreover, I would not accidentally lose the hats and scarves before the kids' much-anticipated snow day.  (Trust me, I would have mislaid them.)  Also, every major snow around here is a photo op, so: consolidate tasks!  

And that is how I put the "pro" in "procrastination."

It all went according to plan.  Except they refused to wear the scarves.  And...

There was no stipulation that they had to be *wearing* the hat, right?
He rhymes with hat.
I loved that the stripe in her hat matched her coat.  Perfect!  (Unlike those snow mittens...)


Under that hood is both a boy and a hat.  I promise.


Pensive, pink-cheeked, and re-hatted.

I am in way over my head with this technology.  All of the pics I took today were on the pre-set modes (automatic, portrait, landscape, etc).  When I am a big girl, I hope to play with the technical stuff.  Until then, my heart still skips a beat at how sharp and crisp these look compared to my old point-and-shoot.

Thank you, Cari at Clan Donaldson, for hosting this link-up!




Monday, February 4, 2013

What Love is Not


Although familiar, Sunday’s second Mass reading (1Cor 12:31-13:13) gave me pause.  We have all heard it, in whole or in part, at virtually every wedding we've attended.  The lovey-dovey, hearts-and-flowers-on-a-needlepoint -pillow association we make with this verse is misapplied.  I would argue that this scripture passage really isn't as "pretty" in its meaning as it sounds. 

If I actually apply Paul's words to my real, every-day life and frustrations, it is almost too tough to take.
When I listen with an open ear and an honest heart, I don't get an affirmation in the key of: "You love so well!  If Love were degreed, you’d have your Ph.D.!"  No, no, no. Au contraire!

Instead, I hear Paul getting real with me, like an older, wiser brother who can see and cut through my crap:  "Well, yes...I know you are working hard to show God how spiritually gifted you are, but...  That is not the ideal.  You are misapplying your time and effort.  

"Let me clue you in to something: more than those gifts of the spirit you long to have and make your home schooled children memorize, more than your scriptural or theological understanding via Scott Hahn et. al, more than your "faith to move mountains" (because even the devil believes in God), more than all of that is the charge from above to do. all. in. LOVE.  Are you doing that, my dear one?  Or are you not so sure?  Roll up your sleeves, then: let’s run a spiritual diagnostic.”

I am not the first to say this, nor will I be the last: Love is not merely an intangible feeling or emotion; it is an action, a response, and a way to be.  Thus, I can review my mundane life side-by-side with St. Paul’s (in)famous attributes of love, comparing not how I feel, but how I am in the given situations I am regularly faced with.  When I do so, I am convicted.

For instance:

When I hear my children in an angry-worded squabble, do I put aside my own plans for that moment to make the time to hear both sides and talk them through their feelings to a solution?  Because love is patient.

Or in the interests of time, conservation of energy, and sticking to our must-do lists, do I squelch all parties with an angry bark and punitive dismissal to separate corners, even when I know there is something under the surface they need my help to see and address? Will I calmly guide them through this messy human moment, even if it means we start math class late or skip our piano lesson?  Because  love is kind.

Do I compare my situation in life with others’ and wish that I had theirs instead of my own?  Love is not jealous. 

Do I try to flaunt how good I have it, or how much I know, in the faces of others?  When aware of some downfall, failing or obstacle confronting another person, do I congratulate myself on how solid my own choices have been?  Love is not pompous.

When I do put aside my own plans for the good of my kids, or as a favor to my husband, do I do so in a spirit of service or one of distaste?  Do I outwardly act put-upon?  Love is not inflated or rude.

Everyone sometimes makes mistakes; husbands forget plans, misplace their cell phones, leave dirty laundry on the floor.  Children break things, ignore our requests to do x,y, z task, lose their shoes ten minutes before we need to get out the door.  In such moments, do I call on God for his grace to temper my anxiety and anger, or do I open my mouth and let words fall that neither teach nor encourage, but only hurt and provoke anger?  Love is not quick-tempered.  

When a loved one says they are sorry for some misdeed, is my forgiveness truly there?  Do I let the moment’s transgression go forever, or do I instead keep that pain close to my heart? Am I ever secretly glad to be hurt, to be thus able to cast myself as right and a martyr and carry that flame of self-righteous indignation onward? Love does not brood over injury.  

Do I thrill at the sinfulness of others, glad to “not be like that one”?  Love does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  

The truth is that God loves the most hardened sinner every bit as much as he loves me; I am still a sinner, too.  The truth is that no transgression is unforgivable for someone willing to open themselves to God’s mercy and grace.  The truth is that through His sacrifice on the cross, and the spilling of His  blood, everyone may be redeemed.  The truth is that His Love is what will get me to heaven; His patience, mercy and grace is what will slowly, over time, guide me to amend my fallen ways.

His Love has saved me, is saving me, and (with my co-operation) will save me.  Without His love and His gift of grace,  I would be forever mired in my pettiness.  He does not offer this gift because I try;  He offers this gift so that I may try and not give up.

Love bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

There it is: my reality check via St. Paul for how I am faring on this Christian walk.  No matter how well I sacrifice (getting up to make coffee and breakfast for Emre, making it my life's vocation to teach my children at home, in obscurity) how much I may suffer for the Faith (“Four kids? Are you crazy?! So are you done yet?!”), or how much I can do for people I love (as home school teacher, mommy taxi, boo-boo kisser, laundry washer, fixer of broken toys, finder of lost objects), if I do it all without love in my heart, I am nothing

Paul is not telling me to stop striving; faith without works is dead.  Yet he reminds me that my efforts and my knowledge alone won't do anything.  My orthodoxy, my service to others, my discipline, my daily decisions should not flow from anger, fear, practicality or need.  All must flow from Love.

I have my work cut out for me.





Sunday, February 3, 2013

WIWS: A Still More Excellent Way



One side-effect of linking up at Fine Linen and Purple for What I Wore Sunday is that I actually plan and lay out what I'm wearing to Church the night before.  This saves me a tremendous amount of stress and disappointment Sunday morning.  Pre-planning my wardrobe has the added bonus of our getting to C.C.D. on time (8:50 am).

With ample time to dig through my closet and experiment last night, I made the happy discovery that my long black cotton skirt is in fact a "Medium," not a "Small".  It fits over my belly!  Sweet!  Plus I found that my reallllly long tank top is now a perfect shirt to stretch across the growing bump.   Now, I know makers of maternity wear claim to be fashion conscious these days, but at this stage of pregnancy (22 weeks) I still feel as if I'm being encouraged to don a brightly-colored, weirdly printed potato sack when I slip into most maternity tops or pants.  Give me regular stretchy, any day.

Yes, Christmas ended yesterday.  That creche behind me needs to get packed up now.
My outfit (which I triply love because it is comprised of "1980s-hot-pink" and black, my two fave colors.  After which come purple and hunter green, but I digress.):

Black Cotton Skirt: Old Navy (last spring)
Pink tank top: Target (last summer)
Blazer: JCP?? Was once part of a really slick suit.  It is older than my children.
Boots: Marshall's
Silver hoop earrings: A Christmas gift from my husband, way back in the day
Necklace: costume jewelry from my mil
Baby Bump: an original George Thomas

By George, the bump grows bigger!  In fact, the baby is named George.  (I promise you. I did not suck on a lemon prior to this pic.)

I admittedly fell out of the habit of checking on Sunday's Mass readings ahead of time.  When I heard today's second reading from 1 Corinthians 12:31, I felt like doing the wave in our pew.  My interior party is one part recognition of a perennial wedding favorite, and one part realization that this particular Scripture passage is meant to instruct me where I am at right now.  I have some deep thoughts on this which I plan to post later, but for now, consider this pairing:


Love is patient, love is kind.

It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude...


My reaction to Anna's heckling over my "fashion shoot."
Does sticking one's tongue out at their nine-year-old daughter constitute rudeness?  Couldn't we call it "playfulness"?  (Why yes.  I have so obviously "put aside childish things.")


For more fresh Sunday fashion (with and without baby bellies) and possibly better manners, click over to Fine Linen and Purple and feel the love.