22 December 2009

Signs of the Season...

Long time, no blog... And instead of looking for just the right words, today, I'm going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

No matter where we are, there are definitely some things that stay the same this time of year...

Nutcracker always fills some busy weekends in early December... And is always a joy to watch.

K likes to be sure that the house is well lit...

And the annual Nativity Play at Church, this year K was St. Joseph, and SP was a sheep. (K was also Joseph 10 years ago, when we last lived in Indiana)

Then we have the endless string of December birthdays - mmm, more sugar!

And today, we got the tree up...

All is calm, all is bright....

Wishing you the Merriest of Christmases and a joy filled 2010!

27 October 2009

A parting gift.

At our old house, there was a Japanese Maple which draped over our front entry. I had a love-hate relationship with that tree. Mainly love, but just a little hate every October.

After it's final blaze of autumnal glory, it would drop its leaves on the front walk, and they would be tracked in by kids and dogs at a rate which outpaced the ability of any broom or rake to keep in check. Leaves in the front hall, leaves on the stairs, leaves working their way into the kitchen. It was mostly worth the annoyance though. It was a beautiful tree, arching perfectly over the front walk, right at the edge of the front porch. It shaded the west facing front door in summer, it provided glorious color in the fall, a perfect arc for hanging lights at Christmas, a frame for photos of little ones getting ready to trick or treat, or high school graduates in their new suits, a place where oldest and youngest sons would stretch out on their backs and look up at the leaves together.

And it was a perfect access point to the garage roof for #2 son's climbing exploits. Sometimes for virtuous errands, like voluntary trips up to clean the gutters or to rescue a frisbee. Sometimes more questionable ones, like the day he climbed up there during a snow/ice storm (for a better vantage point in a snowball fight), then, at his older brother's prompting slid down from the peak of the roof. And spent the next couple of weeks on crutches.* There was a horizontal branch with the perfect balance of stiffness and spring that even I could not resist swinging on it occasionally.

A lot of life happened on and around that tree.

When we were unpacking, I was moving the beautiful oak cradle my dad had made for us prior
to the birth of our oldest. resting in the cradle was a small cluster of leaves from that tree. Still green - they had dropped a bit early, as the movers hauled the cradle out. Perhaps a parting gift from the tree, since the kids couldn't track it's leaves into the new house, it sent a few along to say "goodbye" once more.

*proper sized crutches were luckily available because older brother had needed them a year or so earlier after the vine he was swinging on broke. But that's another story.

So much "stuff", so little time.

I really love the Franciscan saints: Francis, Clare and Anthony... And after this week I'm starting to see that they had a point with their total lack of posessions. Moving to a new house has forced me to come face to face with my pack-rat tendencies, and there was definitely a point this week when I was ready to ditch all my worldly goods, put on my brown habit, and not have to squander another precious moment of life trying to figure out where to put things.

But now that things are mostly in place, I'm feeling a bit better. That being said, I'm feeling highly motivated to simplify things and figure a few more visits to Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul will be added to the ones already made. How did we accumulate so much "stuff"? Yes, some of it comes with the territory of having a big family, but still, I can only blame that reality up to a point. Well, that and Amazon (my main temptation for book gluttony).
Even now, with the boxes all out of the house (well, all but two of them) I can still almost see how St Anthony could walk away from his Abbey and all the books there. Almost, but not quite. Surrounded by books, and kids and mild clutter, I realize that total simplicity is not in my grasp - but it's been a good week to step back and realize how quickly "things" can overtake the precious hours and days. Hmm, maybe St Bonaventure (a Franciscan and a scholar) might have some insight on finding balance. Maybe I should get some of his books. Or, maybe not.

12 October 2009

Said goodbye to a dear friend...

Pixie will be sadly missed. Some curmudgeonly theologians say dogs don't go to Heaven, but I beg to differ with that opinion. I figure Pixie is even now acting as God's guard dog; and with her on duty, St. Michael can probably occasionally take an afternoon off. Nothing will get past her unnoticed.

04 October 2009

My ears are still ringing...

... But it was worth it!

Saturday night, we piled in the car and headed to the Centre (the theatre/convention center downtown) to catch a concert.

The evening started with a great accoustic set by Bebo Norman. He had another really talented musician (Gabe Scott, I think) with him, who was amazing on the hammer dulcimer. It would have been worth the price of admission for that set alone.

Then the pace (and the volume!) picked up a bit with Natalie Grant. The girls loved her music and the stories she told. Very dynamic and very passionate about her faith.

The last set really ramped up the energy, the sound level, and the lights. Jeremy Camp was fantastic. How Sean managed to fall asleep for the last 20 minutes is beyond me - it was quite a show (and lived up to the Tour's title: "Louder Than Before"), but if you're a tired little boy, apparently sleep can triumph over anything.

Great music, and a lot of inspiration - wish we could go again.


Afterwards we headed home to enjoy yue bing (Moon Cakes - no, not related in any way to Moon Pies!) because it was Moon Festival in China.

28 September 2009

I think I'm going to like it here...

It's been a few weeks since we picked up and moved, and as with any move, it has been interesting to find what things you take for granted in your life. Things like changing from driving almost entirely on tree lined county roads (the kind that make you forget how densely populated NJ is) to driving on roads that seem impossibly wide and brightly lit. I have nicely re-adjusted to a full view of the sky, and gorgeous sunsets.

And I am shifting gears, realizing that I'm just a bit further south than I've ever lived before, so that there are subtle cultural differences, along with the obvious ones. Obvious differences include the essentials of ordering iced tea - if you want it plain, you have to request "unsweet", otherwise, you're getting it sweet, except they don't call it "sweet" they just call it tea. I recall having a discussion about this with a friend from Alabama once; so apparently southern Indiana is definitely "southern". The fact that we are still mainly wearing summer clothes at the end of September should have been clue enough that it is "southern' here, but the tea thing totally clinched it.

We are at that point in a move where you start wondering "what have we done", and where you get hit full force with the fatigue that comes after several weeks of having nothing in life being habitual or mechanical. Everything requires thought, from figuring out where things are in the grocery, to managing without a large percentage of your clothes and cookware, to having every interaction be with a stranger (which for an introvert like me, is a huge energy drain).

So, I was sitting today watching the martial arts class my kids are taking in the homeschool co-op (which meets about 3 min away from our apartment). I hadn't really wanted to go. Which is not to say that I wasn't delighted to find this co-op, and even more delighted at how welcoming everyone was. It was just that I was tired, and really didn't feel like walking into yet another "new" situation. Which was silly of me.

While the kids were letting off steam on the mats, I found myself joining in conversations ranging from discussing the merits of the local Asian markets, the best way to cook squid, to the duck that had been in residence at one of the markets (it had unexpectedly hatched from an egg that was part of a shipment. The owner named it "Lucky" as in "you're lucky we didn't sell your egg to someone before you hatched".) As the class went on,conversation drifted to other topics: software to support collaborative projects and file sharing, to 4H clubs, and career development. And I got the scoop on the local ballet studios, too.

I'm looking forward to heading back next week. As are the kids. It'll take awhile to feel connected but each little step brings us that much closer.

23 September 2009

I was fine until Item #3...

My youngest was thinking today about his birthday (still several months away). He said, "Mom, for my birthday I would like":
  • "an outfit with cargo pants that looks good on me" (makes sense to me - wouldn't want one that looks bad!)
  • "a 'good guys' lego set" (not sure how I know if the lego people are 'good guys' guess that requires that I consult with his brothers)

then, after a bit of a pause...

  • "and..... a cairn terrier."
Hope he's good with two out of three ;-)

11 September 2009

It's the little things that matter...

Human felicity is produced not as much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen as by little advantages that occur every day. -- Benjamin Franklin

We woke up the other day with everyone at low ebb. The exhaustion of cleaning and packing and farewells (not to mention 841 miles of togetherness in car) had worn off and it felt like life had just hit the brakes bringing everything to painfully sudden stop.

Seven people and two dogs in a three bedroom second floor apartment is cozy at best. When you have kids who have spent the past 3 months running outside into the woods or climbing the rocks or playing on the swing set (endless supply of neighbor kids included), being cramped up without most of their toys and books, and no yard, no neighbor kids is a recipe for discouragement. And outings like "let's go look at more houses" or "time to go to Target to get some cleaning supplies" just don't really stir the imagination in the same way that "let's go hike at Jockey Hollow and then get cider and donuts at Wightman's Farms" would do. So I had a houseful of kids in a funk.

But little things can make a big difference.

In this case it was the public library which, providentially, is an easy 5 minute walk from our apartment. We stepped in the front door and YP simply stared for a moment: "The entry is bigger than our whole library in NJ!" She was right.

And then we walked in further and saw beautiful new library - brightly lit with huge windows and leading to the children's section there was a huge stained glass wall - all of a forest scene with all sorts of animals. Beautiful. To complete the scene, there was a little wooden footbridge going over illuminated glass floor tiles (for a river) into a children's section with comfy reading areas, a play area, and of course plenty of books. Not to mention a number of lively, happy children. Then we went over to the Teen section - even my most reluctant reader found books she liked. She also observed, "Mom, there are so many computers here!" She was right there were also two story windows letting in natural light, all sorts of comfortable chairs and desks, tables set up for chess or checkers, and a "wall of water" - a soothing place to sit next to and read.

After we checked out our books we went to the outside seating area and took the walking path around the little pond right next to the Library. All were smiling by the end of that little excursion and pleased to realize how easy it will be to return whenever we like.

Later in the day, after we picked up Kevin from school, we went over to the apartment swimming pool for a bit of welcome play time. Lots of laughing and silliness there.

A trip to the library, a quick splash in the pool - little things that matter. Especially, when you have just walked away from your well loved old home and good friends, and into a small apartment for an uncertain stretch of time before you can really start to re-create normal. And a good reminder to the mom of the family, that every day is composed of the little moments, and that even before we moved, that was what really made up life. So we are trying to use our moment well. And trying to appreciate little things just a little more: making a pan of brownies, playing a game of Uno or Clue, laughing together over an old episode of "Get Smart". Little things can either cheer the heart, or drag it down.

Makes me think of discussions in my Bible study about Mother Theresa's words about not doing great things, but doing little things with great love. Just like it is the little things that make happy family days, so it is little things that show love for God and bring a smile to His face. A welcome and timely reminder for me during these busy days.

08 September 2009


Our oldest is off to college. Anyone who knows me well would expect me to have been waxing sentimental at his departure. But life had other plans - being in the middle of moving halfway across the country has a way of reducing life to practicalities rather than sentimentalities.

I was fully ready to indulge in memories of the little boy who would pull the pans out of the kitchen cupboard and climb inside it as his "rocket ship" (and that was one skinny little cupboard; of course he was one skinny little boy). And the boy who would put on his "Jim Craig hat" (The Man from Snowy River) and chase imaginary horses around the back yard. The former little boy was seen, the last couple of nights before he left, tucked in bed at night reading the same series of books he'd read endlessly about 10 years earlier (The Great Brain books by Fitzgerald). But I was swamped with details to manage for the move - but not so may details that I didn't have time to appreciate those evenings before he took off for new adventures.

And I would normally be expected to dissolve into tears of sentiment and nostalgia at the thought of his last evening at home being spent with his younger brother along with M and P, the first two friends he made when we moved to that house almost 9 years before. Those same two boys came by again at 6:45 the next morning, and they were the ones to help him grab his bags and walk him out to the car and say goodbye. They could not have done anything more perfect. These two boys (now young men, much taller than I am) who spent hours playing in my yard, climbing the rock wall, and eating brownies; and in more recent years, were over playing basketball and x box, were a lifeline for my oldest in the first year after we moved in. And now they were here to say goodbye.

It was not just the goodbye of friends who will meet again at Christmas break. Just before the boys came by to see our oldest off, my son had to take a walk that I know very well - the walk of someone about to leave for school, who is also leaving their childhood home for the very last time. I took that same walk some 28 years ago - and I still remember every step of it. Having your family move at the same time you start school is a profound jolt. For me it worked very well - going off to school took the edge off the move, and I found myself pushed out of natural shyness as I formed a new home at the university. I'm hoping and praying that our oldest finds the same.

And the two young men, M and P who came by that morning are like extra sons who I loved watching grow up. And they were like sons to me one more time: two weeks later, they came by again, the night before the rest of the family was leaving, and they stayed and helped clean house until past 11:00. True friends to the very last; I always hoped that our home felt like another home to them, that they were always welcome - late or early, covered with mud, just as theywere. They made me feel that that was true by being there on that last night.

That was what made me cry - having two of my "other sons" taking care of us when we really needed it.

But still and all, we're in the process of moving - learning our way around, finding a house, church, doctors, sports, and all those other little details. That keeps me busy enough that there's not much time for sentiment. But there is always time to be thankful for some really good years when we had a house full of wonderful neighbor kids.

The last few days were full of goodbyes from M and P and the many other kids who have been part of our lives. That was a good reminder that while the house we left had some irritations that drove the parents crazy, for the kids it's not the perfect house, or lot that matters, in fact imperfection makes things a lot more welcoming. It is knowing that you will always be welcome whenever you drop by that matters.

So maybe I am taking a moment here to be a little sentimental, and hoping that old friends will feel welcome any time in our new home. But I'm also thinking that we need to be sure that our new house doesn't feel too perfect, and that folks know that they are always welcome, just as they are.

06 July 2009

I'm Awake - very awake...

I was going to write a post about our picnic, last week, at a favorite State Park (on an small island, with views of heron and water lilies - very story-bookish) but my topic changed when I woke up a bit before 5:30 this morning and was thinking: "What is that smell? It smells like... something burning... (sniff, sniff) ... definitely like something burning". I woke my husband (not always an easy feat) and he was good enough to not tell his wife-with-the-oversensitive-nose to go back to sleep.

We got up and started walking through the house: nothing on the second floor, the first, the basement; but there was still the undeniable smell of something like burning plastic in the stairwell. I walked back upstairs, checked a couple of the kids rooms; there was a strong, harsh smell coming in through the windows, so I called downstairs to my husband that it must be something outside. He went out; I did one more pass through the house then stepped out on the porch to see smoke coming out the back door of the garage (our garage is semi-detached - connected to the house by a breezeway) as Michael was saying "I found it."

"It" was a bag of paper towels he had used when he was working on staining the deck yesterday. We're so accustomed to working with latex and acrylics that it never occurred to us to read the part on the label that said "dispose of rags in a container filled with water or spontaneous combustion may occur".

We were stupid - stupid to not use our basic (geek) common sense when dealing with a volatile organic chemical. We were lucky - lucky that the bag of rags was on a concrete floor, not near anything else; lucky that the back door to the garage was open so that the smoke drifted up to the open windows so that we smelled it before a full fledged fire had started (which could have spread across to our kids rooms before we even knew what happened); lucky that we woke up when we did.

I'm inclined to think that we were a bit more than just "lucky". Before I went to bed last night, I did one last walk through the house to make sure that everything was shut down and closed up, and for some reason the thought of a house fire briefly crossed my mind. I tucked in, prayed my rosary, but even afterward felt the need to just say a few more prayers of thanksgiving for God's goodness, and praying for my family, for their protection.

Lucky - probably. Blessed - definitely. And very, very wide awake.

12 June 2009

qu na li?

"Qu na li?"  (literally "going where?") was one of the first questions I got from our daughter Sofi - she was almost 12, and just arrived in our home for the first time.  Her oldest brother was heading out the door, and she wanted to know - where was he going?

And for three short syllables, it really says a mouthful.  "Going where?"  It could be work or school, or off to play.   To the store to get ice cream, or to the dentist for a filling  On an adventure to the nearby woods, or a trip halfway around the world.  It could be just out to the garden to pull a couple of weeds and see what seedling the chipmunks and bunnies have left intact.   And yes, it can be the existential question - of future plans and callings, or of our ultimate heavenly (we pray) destination.   And that's important, too.  But in the summer time it's a question that full of possibilities and excitement and just plain fun.  

I'm looking forward to the days ahead and all the possible answers to that question (even the slightly stunning answers, like in August when our oldest will be answering it with "off to college!").      

So, where are you going?  
(today I'm off to my friend Maggie's to learn how to make wontons  - mmmm!)

21 May 2009

Leaders, lieutenants and domestiques...

I love bike races, especially stage races.  Ever since I first heard about the Tour de France in my frehsman French class, more years ago than I'd like to admit, I've been fascinated with the sheer endurance it takes to ride 2200 miles in three weeks.   Grinding up endless mountains, then descending on those winding roads at speeds around 70 mph takes a level of athleticism that I can barely imagine.

But what really draws me to the sport is more than the sheer guts of the cyclists (and the amazing scenery), it's how much the success of any rider depends on his team.   Despite appearances, stage racing is not an individual sport.  On the days you see a cyclist breakaway from the peleton (the main group) and ride on his own over a punishing course, gaining time on the competition, the heroics are not individual.  He had the "legs" to do that break because his team had been protecting him, keeping him safe, pushing themselves to provide him a slip-stream so his effort was less on the days before.  Teammates spend themselves helping the leader along in the early miles of the break, giving up their own chances of glory so another rider could win.  

In cycling teams there are leaders, lieutenants and domestiques (this last being a french term for servants, maids....)  The domestiques grab the feed bags available at designated points along the route (you don't race 120 miles with just the water bottle on your bike).  They keep their leader safe at the front of the peleton and work to chase down any challenges  or breakaways.  The lieutenants, also called super-domestiques, are often the ones who work with the leader to build a successful break in a mountain stage - climbing for as long as their legs can take them, making it easier on the leader.  

Stage racing has good lessons for life - you don't look at the one-day goal, you work for the long game; if you can have some fun (a stage win) along the way, great, but don't lose site of the big picture.  And even when one team member seems to get the glory, it only happens because the whole team is strong - good leaders remember that, just as good domestiques remember that the team only wins if they are grabbing those feed bags, and working a strong pace-line.   Life in a big family is a lot like that.   Ups and downs, easy days, hard days, rest days, mountain stages... but we pull together and look at the longer goals, not just who wins today, and the end we achieve the seemingly impossible - climbing our own Alpe d'Huez.

With cable tv and live streaming on the internet, its alot easier to follow cycling than it was 15-20 years ago.  We'll watch a recap of today's Giro d'Italia stage tonight (note to self: some mountain roads in Italy are terrifyingly narrow!).  Then we'll have a few weeks before the Tour starts to debate the merits of this year's Tour de France teams (and comparing the riders of today with the greats of the past).  And then, come July, once again we'll watch in amazement as the miles roll by, showing the physical and mental toughness of these riders, and of the undeniable power sacrificing individual glory for a greater goal.    As a mom, whose role can often feel like a domsetique, it's a good reminder that even the little tasks are not unimportant.

20 May 2009

I'm no St. Therese

Sometimes you measure the success of a day by what did not happen.  

  • the refrigerator was no longer pouring water and ice all over the kitchen floor
  • I did not burn down the kitchen when I forgot I'd left the tea kettle on and the water had all boiled off
  • I did not get electrocuted when the microwave shorted out
Now, St. Therese would probably give thanks for all this, or at the very least have prayerfully offered up any frustrations she might have had.    But I'm sitting here engaging in stress-eating a plate of cookies.  And not even virtuous, home made cookies; I'm eating Newman-O's.  (Yum!)     So, in the  unlikely event there was ever any doubt, let the record show: I'm no St. Therese.

What's in a name...

My iTunes were happily running on "shuffle" while I tried to come up with a blog name, then one of my favorite songs came on - about a couple walking along the shore, then hearing the music from an open window, dancing together. (Lennie Gallant - "The Open Window") I've always liked that song because I love that image of open windows. When you take a walk in the spring or summer, you walk by houses and for a moment you hear the snippets of the real lives of the people inside - laughter, quarrels, piano practice, stereos... And if you're inside the open window, you still hear the rest of the world - children outside playing (inventing outrageous rules for whatever game they are creating!), sounds of yard work and carpentry, dogs barking...

Open windows give a snippet of real life - not the nice, neat "Disney-ized" life you'd get if you were invited over. Open windows don't reduce life to clean floors, and tidy living rooms. It's the good, the bad, the trivial - -the things that really make up our lives. That's why I like blogs. They're like open windows.

Oh, and yes, you're right, the blog name and the blog URL don't match; its a reference to why I'm finally doing a blog...

I decided to start blogging earlier this year. I was on an airplane flying back up from Atlanta, having just gone to the funeral of a childhood friend, Scotte Hodel - my "extra big brother". Scotte had kept a lot of us old hometown friends close not just with him, but with each other, simply because of his weekly blogs and (pre-blog) family newsletters. It made me realize just how much closeness and friendship comes from knowing the little ordinary things that mark people's lives. I still read Scotte's blog because it makes me still feel like he's there; I just wish I could have a few more conversations with him. His post count on the blog ended at 999 - I sometimes wonder, what would his 1000th post be if he could send it from Heaven. It might be a really bad pun, some tech advice, an amazing insight of faith, or just a word about the latest goings on at home. Whatever it would be about it would be worth reading.