Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What We're Reading Wednesday + Five Favorites

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Happy Wednesday, Friends!! I really love Wednesdays, the day when lunch lingers a little longer because I lack the will power to pull myself away from all of the goodies that my favorite bloggers have shared in their What We're Reading Wednesday posts at Housewife Spice or their Five Favorites at Moxie Wife. Pouring over them with a cup of tea, notepad and pen in hand, has a magical way of diffusing the testosterone army of chaos that routinely streaks through my house wielding Nerf guns and swords. I love it (the blogs, the blogs!), I tell ya!

Here's my combined list of personal picks from our homestead:
"Out of the depths of the Depression comes an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times - the improbable, intimate account of nine working class-boys from the American West who at the 1936 Olympics showed the world what true grit really meant."

I'm really drawn to stories that are written about unlikely heroes, underdogs and the like.  And, as a lover of history, The Boys in the Boat packs both a great story of human endurance and triumph as well as glimpses into Great Depression and pre-WWII into it's pages.  Reading Brown's book has also opened my eyes to the beauty and discipline in the sport of rowing (so much so, that I foresee a rowing machine taking over some Lego space in our basement very soon. Thank you, e-bay.).

2. Wonder
August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. (Excerpt from Amazon)

I must confess that this book is here entirely due to the fact that I was under the blogger influence when I bought it.  A few of my favorite writers mentioned it on their sites, so I caved to their cyber suggestion, added it to the ol' Amazon cart thinking that I would read it aloud to the boys. Honestly I'm just not a fan of current day literature, especially what is written for kids.  Call me ancient, but I cannot help but love the classics, and therefore, my kids also read from our "Great Books" list ,too.

Reading Wonder aloud has been a challenge for me.  The author, writing from the perspective of various characters, has chosen a language style completely true to the way in which we converse today (oi).  Even though Wonder is "real life" reading, I struggle to get through the pages, simply because I am not inspired, whatsoever by this modern, conversational style of writing and storytelling, and must depend solely upon content as motivation to keep reading.

That being said, even though Wonder is not a book that I believe my boys would particularly enjoy reading on their own, it has offered us several opportunities to engage in rich and meaningful discussion on virtue, suffering, compassion, empathy, fear and social influences, and to examine our own perceptions of and behavior towards others, which has been of great value.

3.  Saints in the World (formerly Man, the Saint)
"Life is worth living if it is dedicated to some ideal; the nobler ideal, the nobler the life, 
and there is no ideal higher than Christ crucified."

If you are looking for a spiritual life boot camp, this one is a doozy.  It's one of those books that Steve and I both reach for time and time again throughout the year, reading excerpts aloud to each other when we're needing a little push interiorly.  We picked it up again during Lent, and I was reminded of what a treasure this little book is in our library.
4.  Rifle Paper Company
Several months ago, my sister, Sara sent me the most beautiful care package in the mail.  Included in the box of goodies were a lovely selection of stationary and papers from the Rifle Paper Company.  In a world of texting, e-mails and phone chatting, receiving hand written notes on beautiful paper has become a lost art.  I'm hoping for it's revival, and should there be, I'll know just where to go to stock my stationary box! The company, which is included on Martha Stewart's American Made website, also offers calendars, frame-worthy prints, phone cases and more! By the way, have any of you been watching Signed, Sealed and Delivered on the Hallmark Channel? I am loving it! If it doesn't make you want to pick up a pen, I'm not sure what will!

5.  Greater by Mercy Me
Cause I hear a voice and He calls me redeemed
When others say I'll never be enough
And greater is the One living inside of me
Than he who is living in the world.

Easter joy is alive and well in our home! Every day, we've been listening to praise music in the afternoon while tidying up the house before Steve comes home from work.  This song by Mercy Me is definitely the boys' favorite.  I wish I had a video of Charlie dancing to it, because he absolutely goes bananas! It's one of those tunes that can turn around a bad day, really! I hope you like it, too!

Have a lovely day, everyone!!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

You Don't Have to Give Up Everything For Your Kids. That's What My Boys Tell Me Anyway.

Last week I had the most wonderful, yet surprising, conversation with my two oldest sons.  It took place after Benedict's track meet where a few of his buddies, sitting atop the bleachers for their next event, asked me if it was true: Have you really run a marathon, Mrs. Husband?
{I love going to Ben's track meets - it's great family time!}
I wondered how they knew.  My only conclusion was that Ben had mentioned it to them, and I wondered what in the world would make any boy mention his mother at school unless it be related to the food she cooks or, in our case, having another baby.

They had so many questions about the race, and I have to admit it was really fun to reminisce over memories of such a fun event in my life.  On the way home, the topic came up again. Out of the blue, Andrew wanted to know if I collapsed at the finish line. (Oh, the drama!)
No, I answered.  Honestly, for the last quarter mile I was so filled with adrenaline and ran as fast as I could, knowing the finish line was just ahead.  And, when I crossed it, I cried, because I was so happy to have finished! It was a moment I had waited for for 15 years!

After a brief silence, Benedict questioned why I decided to run in the race last year, why I had waited for so long to go for it.  I explained to him, and to Andrew, that sometime in my college days running a marathon became a personal goal of mine.  Over the years I had attempted to train for a few races but, for many reasons, even the training never advanced very far.

They wanted to know why, so I told them:
It just wasn't the right time.  Taking care of you, and your brothers, that is what was right.
After your father and I were married, we started a family right away. Between moving and pregnancies, homeschooling, and dad's business travel, there was little time, opportunity or energy left to train for a marathon.

They looked at one another, and said, "You gave all that up for us?"
I had to smile at their sensitivity toward the moment, but wanted to assure them, that I had no regrets, that every thing, every plan that I had for my life, the great ambitions that I thought were necessary to achieve for my own personal fulfillment, ones that I had set aside for the sake of nurturing my family have been (and will continue to be) small in comparison to the rewards of raising a family.  That includes running marathons.
It's funny how as a child, growing up in a home where I was loved so tremendously, I had only the faintest of ideas of the sacrifices that my parents made for me while under the wings of their loving care.  Now, stepping into their parental shoes for the past 13 years, I think very often of how they never once made me feel guilty for the countless sacrifice they made for me or for my siblings throughout our years at home.

I have this same emotion and perspective toward my own children.  Yes, I chose to give up running marathons, traveling to participate in mission work in far off places, and devoting myself to a teaching career, but I would never want them to think, for even a second, that they took those things away from me. I gave them away freely.

I only hoped that within our conversation, giving them a little glimpse into my world, that they would feel encouraged to see that the greatest callings in life are ones of service to others, not to self and that the fruits and rewards of sacrifice allow us to experience our Lord in ways that don't always appear to be the most attractive or admirable.

Is choosing to let go of our dreams and goals easy? No, but nothing that is worth doing well in this world seldom ever is!

I'll admit that there are those staggering moments when I look at other women and am overcome with bouts of extreme jealousy, because their life on the other side of the fence looks so much greener than mine.  Those are feelings that I think many of us moms experience on a daily basis, and they often cause us to question our life choices or doubt God's love for us within life's circumstances.

I'm particularly challenged to question my stay-at-home mom/homeschool/sacrificial choices when our boys show extreme displays of ingratitude, are uncharitable, self-centered, bicker with one another or refuse to be attentive to their chores, even though I know their behavior is a normal part of the maturation process.  Still, frustration wells up inside of me, and I lose it. Lose it bad.  The list of "things I've given up for my offspring" waves like a banner in my mind, steaks into my heart and I decide for a split second that I'm done.  I quit. Forget this.  I didn't sign up for this much stuff...okay, so I did, but I'm going to un-sign myself now.

And, after reading Jenny's post about having little ones at home, I know that I am in good company, as there are so many of you out there who's every day lives are filled with countless acts of sacrificial offerings - what we wouldn't give at times for a long hot shower, a good night's sleep, lunch with friends, a 5 minute vacation from crisis management, diaper duty or life outside the confines of the home??

The lack of any of those comforts in my life, are not my kids' fault, they are divine opportunity to be stretched and shaped into a person of virtue, of holiness. Despite the daily difficulties, abandoning ourselves to such discomforts is a choice we make based not on circumstance, but on the hope that we have in a greater goal, one that is much bigger than the culmination of everything we give up from day-to-day: family unity and the call to holiness. 

Just as we near our destination the final question from the boys is one that wonders: What about now? Do you have any other goals (oh, boy, do I!)? Do you want to run another marathon?

Yes, I speak past the lump in my throat. If the opportunity presents itself, I'd like to run many, many more.  I want to run until I'm too old to lace up my shoes, I tell them with an earnest smile.
Then, we will help you, Mom! Now that we are older, we can help you!

I was so very surprised by their attentiveness throughout the conversation, and their loving response, that I absolutely could not hold back the tears.  My heart was gripped with a joy I had never felt before.  I've always believed in God's timing, His providential hand in everything in life.  Our little conversation encouraged me to keep believing - to keep giving, because sometimes as mothers we don't really have to give up every little personal goal or dream, we just have to be patient and wait for the right time to start believing in them again.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Story of Our Meeting With St. John Paul II For the Blessing of Our Marriage

Okay, you guys, please, please, please tell me that you are as excited, over the moon, happy- dance-happy as I am that, on Sunday, our beloved Blessed Pope John Paul II is going to be canonized a saint??!!

In celebration of such a great honor, Steve and I had planned to host a big party here this weekend fully equipped with polish food, beer, games and lots of fanfare, but early contractions (hello!) and a fire (I know, talk about plans going up in flames), caused us to hit the pause button on all festivities.  Since Steve is still playing fire-fighter out west, and I'm here with the chillins and can't sleep, I thought I'd console myself by accepting Jenny's invitation at Mama Needs Coffee to write a little JP II love story for the link-up she's hosting.  If I can't party in honor of my favorite saint, the least I can do is write ya'll a story...

I really don't know how else to say this, but technically, my cheek is a third class relic.  Yeah, that means just what you think it means.  It means that the man has touched my face.  I know, I know! I swear I have fewer sun spots and wrinkles on that side, but as for the holiness rubbing off....well, if only you knew how many times I've been to confession this month. Anyway, back to the cheek - I mean the blessings (yes, plural, blessings, details shortly) - well, I've always wanted to write something down about our meeting with Pope John Paul II, one that our kids could read someday, and now seems like the perfect time to do just that.  And, you can read it too, if you like.

Grab yourself some vino.  Or cafe.  Or tea.  Then, come back and I'll try not to put you to sleep.
Rewind life to June 10, 2000, the day Steve and I were united in holy matrimony (applause and glitter and kissing). A beautiful day, the beginning of our life together!!

Fast forward two weeks to a sunny afternoon when I'm planting flowers out in the yard and unexpectedly fall over in the grass dizzy and nauseous. I wasn't just love sick. I was pregnant (more applause, yay for babies!)!

Fast forward again to a trip to Kansas City where a visit with an old college friend brings about an introduction to a wonderful priest, Father, McDonald, who, upon congratulating us on our recent nuptials says, "Did you know that you can have your marriage blessed by the Holy Father?
Oh, yeah, sure we knew that....uh, no, no, actually, we didn't.
"You just have to write a letter of request to the Vatican secretary, and of course it helps if you have someone write it for you....someone who, say, might have an inside connectiono at the Vaticono."

(We may have fallen on our knees at that moment and begged Father McMiracle to make this happen for us...but I'm not mind's a little fuzzy on that one.)
*Side Note*
The thought of going to Rome to meet the Holy Father was almost overwhelming for the two of us. The seeds of admiration, which would blossom into great blooms of love, for him were planted in my heart in 1993 at World Youth Day in Denver.  He inspired me to open the Catechism, to pray the rosary with devotion, to pour over the gospels and to know and love my Catholic faith like never before.  After seeing the Holy Father at WYD in Paris, Steve was also inspired by his message - Be not afraid (to serve and follow Christ)!  His shelves at Franciscan were packed with encyclicals, letters, and books written by the pope, ones we still dig into and find nourishment in today.  In a word, to meet and be blessed by our great shepherd would be an unspeakable privilege.  And, here we were, in a completely unexpected situation, standing in the face of a grand possibility!!

Pause for a reality check: Two kids (plus bebe in le belly), just married, no dinero, no connections (until now, hey, hey, hey!) possibly going to Rome to meet the man who inspired the youth around the world, upheld the dignity of women as no pope had before, passionately defended life at every stage, played a key role in bringing down communism, a poet, a philosopher, an athlete a servant!  We knew that one way or another, God willing, if our request should be granted, we would find a way to make the trip.

A couple of weeks later we received a phone call from Father McDonald, who informed us that he had received a letter from the Vatican with confirmation of our acceptance for a marital blessing. Our names were officially on the calendar for the November blessings.  The only requirements for the fulfillment of the invitation were that we arrive on time and dress in our wedding attire.

No problem! We can do that! 

Somehow we convinced our parents that trip was a wonderful idea, scraped together money for plane tickets, found some sweet nuns who were willing to let us stay in their guest house for 8 days and even squeezed our way into a SECOND meeting with the Holy Father (yes, a private audience!).

When the big day came for us to attend the blessing, walking the short distance from the convent to St. Peter's Square, we were met by numerous vivacious and very outgoing Italians who went out of their way to blow us kisses, and praise, "Beautiful! Magnifico!"  One gentlemen who passed us even boldly proclaimed through a thick accent, "Have a great conjugal life!" If only we could show him a snapshot of our family! We still laugh over his exuberant expression today!
{Steve shares with the Holy Father that we're expecting our first child, and Benedict receives a blessing in my womb!}

Now, as you can see in exhibit A, here, showing up in the wedding attire wasn't as easy as we thought it would be, at least for me, anyway.  Spanx hadn't been invented yet, so the things it took to make that dress fit at 5 months pregnant are nothing short of miraculous.  Pardon the overflow in the bosom region.  A shawl might have been handy there. What was I saving our cash for, gelato?? Souvenirs??  Honey child, why didn't you buy yourself a shawl, or borrow one from one of the 10,000 zealous old Italian ladies who super-piously elbowed you out of the way to get a good seat in the square that morning?  Oh, Dio Mamma Mia!

The marriage blessings typically took place during the pope's Wednesday audience, a time when he would greet the public and teach on a particular topic for anyone who wanted to come and listen. Thousands of people squeezed into the square that beautiful, sun-drenched day, and all of the couples who arrived for the blessing were given special seating close to the pope's stage.

The event was all very surreal.  When it came time for the blessing, there was so much joy amongst the couples, and the Holy Father, who is known for his writings on marriage and family, also shared in our enthusiasm.  Such a beautiful and profound connection between the vocation of priesthood and marriage!!

The moment passed by in an instant, and Steve and I both walked away wishing it could have lasted just a bit longer.  If only we knew then that we would be meeting him again!!

Do you need a refill, a stretch, a foot rub??

Okay, encounter of the second kind, here we go....

While sipping very strong coffee (the kind where you first pour cream into your cup and then add a splash of coffee but the sauce in the cup is still nearly black) during breakfast at the convent my ever-so-shy and terribly tactful husband moseyed right up to one of the sisters and asked her how we (everything is we now), would go about getting a private audience with the pope.  I've tried to erase her "you're an American, so of course you think you can do this" expression from my mind, but it's still there, stuck like glue.  In a very charitable way, she explained the protocol: submit a letter of request to the Vatican secretary then, wait for a response.

Then, he did it.  He asked for paper, a pen and an envelope.  (This is the guy who asks for free apple pies at the McDonalds drive-thru and almost always finds one in his sack.  Given his appalling success rate at Micky D's why shouldn't he believe he could sneak us into a private audience with the pope??)

She didn't exactly roll her eyes, but I could tell it took all of her optic might to keep those peepers in place.  Up to our room we skipped to compose a letter of request.  After trying to make penmanship on printer paper look professional, we locked it up in the even more attractive envelope and traipsed back to the Vatican where we only had to show the letter to the Swiss Guards while explaining our entire (impossible) idea. No biggie.

All I can say is that, to our immense delight and surprise, the next day, after our return trip from Assisi, Sister Sweetheart was waiting for us at the door with a letter in hand.  The baffled expression on her face could only mean one thing: we had received a letter of response from the Vatican.

It is here that I must confess, once again, the help of a connection.  We may have gently implied in the letter of request that we were students of Dr. Regis Martin and Dr. Scott Hahn (two of our favorite professors) and graduates of Franciscan University, of which John Paul II was a big fan. And, it just so happened that Dr. Martin was also in Rome the same time we were.....and he, too, along with his family, was invited to join the Holy Father for the private audience. What Providence!

The day before our return trip back to the States, Steve and I found ourselves, once again, sitting on the steps of St. Peters anticipating an opportunity that we never dreamed in a million years would happen to us.  Patiently, yet nervously, we waited to be led into the Pope's private chambers.  I remember feeling so sheepish about our attire, as we only packed clothes for the tourist trek around Rome, not clothing fitting and proper for the meeting of the Shepherd of the Catholic Church.  Despite our supremely informal dress, it was obvious that the good Lord wanted us to be there, and that was enough to ease the embarrassment we felt standing amongst those donning dresses and suits and ties.
After being escorted into a large room we all found a spot at the room's perimeter and waited for the Holy Father to enter.  I remember the very moment he walked in, acknowledging all of us with a gentle nod and a joyful smile. If not for the pounding of our hearts, you could hear a pin drop.

One at a time, we approached the Pope, and as we bent down to greet him, he handed us a rosary and said, "Ah, the children from Franciscan University!"  We smiled in affirmation and very briefly shared with him how much we loved him and thanked him for leading the youth of the world to Christ....although I'm sure we sounded like babbling toddlers.

Being pregnant, there was just no holding back the tears of gratitude, elation and awe. That was the moment he reached out and touched my cheek with such endearing affection, I couldn't keep it together. Open wide the flood gates. The pretty cry was over.

Words cannot describe the eyes of this man - to look into them, the purest, brightest blue, was like looking directly into heaven.  Through one brief, yet tender gaze, he showed us heaven, he showed us Christ.  Holiness is powerful.  It isn't just possessed, it is transmitted, and we felt the holiness of our father deep in our souls, deep in our bones that day.

When we came to share with others the story of that particular event, I couldn't help but try my hardest to communicate the feelings we experienced during our encounters with the pope.  Not for superfluous reasons, but because I truly wanted people to know that the love they (and we) have for him is real.  It's a love not based on feelings of admiration, but on a deep desire and inspired passion for Christ.

The very roots of our faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that John Paul II challenges us to live and to love every day,  they are the very roots from which he himself lived, roots that anchored him in deep dedication to the shepherding of his flock.  They are roots that connect us to him in a sincerely tangible way, a way that is felt deeply across the span of time and space, even though many of us would never have the privilege of meeting him.
{One of our most favorite quotes from the Holy Father, 
the very one that inspires us every day in our vocation!}

I could go on and on about this man.  I could zealously encourage you to read this and that or copy a million quotes to this page, his thoughtful words that would leave you pondering for days, weeks, months, even years! But, I'll let the story end here.

If you don't know Pope John Paul II, it's not too late! Google that man, and let his story and his legacy spill over into your life - you'll be so happy you did!
Will you raise your glass with me on Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday?  Let's toast this great champion of our faith and then never forget that he is ready and waiting to pray for us from heaven, to help us, as he helped us here on earth, to find our way to Christ, the way to heaven where we might one day meet him again!

St. Pope John Paul II the Great, pray for us!!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Resurrection Joy!! Easter highlights 2014

Happy Easter!!
Oh, the JOY of the Resurrection!!

I have really enjoyed reading so many of your Easter stories (ye who blog) and seeing fun photos of your family all dapper and grinning from ear to ear.  I've also been greatly consoled knowing I'm not the only mama out there who devoured a ghastly amount of chocolate on Sunday.  The feeling of solidarity is much appreciated!! I love you for that!!

I cannot explain just how much I treasure Easter morning, the beginning of a new day, a day when we rise up out of the trenches of Lent, out of our scars and bruising, out of our sorrows and tears, (out of the depths of chocolate deprivation, no??) allowing the glory of Christ's Resurrection to envelope us, to transform us into something brilliant, something more alive, happy and beautiful!  Gloria Deo!!

My alarm chimed early Sunday morning, and for the first time in months, I was happy to rise in eager anticipation of the day. Tiptoeing around the house, there was just enough time for me to assemble breakfast (Pioneer Woman's baked french toast prepped the night before was baked up all yummy - yummy with a side of bacon yummy), and touch up the boys' duds with a sweep of the iron before they came rambling up the stairs.

Is to day the day we've been waiting for?? Is today finally Easter?? Henry questions.
YES!! I proclaim with a ha-uge smile!
He hugs me, hugs the baby and says, This is going to be a great day, Mama!!

The rush-around begins.  Steve cranks up some of our favorite praise songs and an energy of anticipation bubbles over in forms of laughter, teasing and squirming into ties and sport coats. While I pull myself together, the boys saunter in and out of the bathroom, waiting for my thumbs up approval of their ensembles.  I always tell them they look very handsome, just like their dad. Bending down to straighten ties and paste down wild hairs, I see their boyhood wild all scrubbed up fresh, and my heart is pressed with joy.

Everyone always complains about never getting a good family photo at the holidays, but really, my favorite ones are the un-posed and imperfect, so much so, that I wonder why I ever even shout, "Okay, get together, straighten up, stop picking, look heeeeere and smile!"

This is living proof that all of the men in our family ignore pretty much everything I say unless I'm holding a plate of food under their nose or am in labor, and even then.....well, we'll see.
Since there's an overflow of dressy attire from holidays past in the boys' closets, I decided to recycle this year and pull from the stash of old favorites.  With the exception of Charlie, because every baby needs something sweet and newish to wear for Easter, everyone managed to find something that they were content to wear. 
Thank you, Granny, for my new duds.  My mama says I look very handsome!!

At Mass, families poured into the pews, and I couldn't help but steal away from the cross for just a moment to catch a glimpse of all the pastel ruffles, shiny shoes and hair bedecked with braids and bows marching in. Sweetness surrounded me!

I love our parish.  There are so many wonderful families there, families with lots of little ones like ours, who squirm and squeal and bang their heads on the pew during mass. We never feel alone! Steve and I have received so much support and encouragement throughout this pregnancy from all of the moms and dads, especially those of "big" families, who share in our experience.

During the ordinary days of the week, as I weather the typical comments about family size, the sideways disconcerted glances from strangers as my outstretched belly bounces along behind five boys, and the questions concerning whether the life inside of me was a choice or not (surely not, surely that baby is a surprise, because six? Really? Who wants six, let alone 2 or 3 or 4??), it's easy for me to feel alone on the motherhood journey, except on Sundays.  On Sunday my spirit is renewed, thanks to the dear people of our parish who have nothing but excitement to offer.  They are the best support group ever!

Sometimes, I'm tempted to think that people feel the need to ask the list of tactless questions, because being given an answer will help justify the preconceived definition they've already assigned to me, my family, my life.  We live in a society of definitions.  People must be labeled, coded, defined in order for us to know what and how to think of them.  As a mom I sense deeply this disordered habit of labeling and it doesn't sit well with me. 

Which category do you and I fall into?  There's supermom moms, the Martha Stewart moms, overachieving moms and underachieving moms, moms who have traded their careers for diaper duty and story time, mom's who only know how to have babies or moms who are too selfish or broken to have babies.  There's the spoilers who give too much and the selfish ones who don't give enough.  At the end of the day it often feels like too many in this world want to know which one you are, not caring who you are, so that they can slap a label over your heart and call it good.

Jesus never labeled.  He never categorized.  He doesn't now, and he never will.  He calls us only by name, a name that is precious to Him.

Isn't that good news?

More than that, He longs to free us from the old stubborn habit of categorizing our neighbor and instead, give us eyes that see others from a place of real, disinterested love. 
The kind of love that said yes to death in exchange for life, love that hung on the cross by choice - not by circumstance or force. Love that knows nothing for itself, but longs to be everything to and for everyone else.

That's what I'm treasuring this Easter.

I suppose that it is hoping in that very Love that compels one's heart and will to see love multiplied.  For us, the multiplication of love is in family life.  I never thought I would be the mother of six children! But, love can free us from the fear of being stretched by the power of grace in ways we could never imagine.  When we freely choose to live our give our lives, to make choices and to act every day, as Christ has shown us - from that grace-filled font of pure, disinterested love - the fruits of choosing give of ourselves overflows into our own souls, and into the lives of others in an abundance of inexpressible joy. It's the mystery: in giving we receive!

Christ didn't just conquer sin and capture salvation for all of us by the cross, He won for us the opportunity to be conquerors as well, and to share in His freedom to love as He loves, unlabeled, and undefined. We see one another first and foremost (and desire to be known by others) as children of the King of Love.

Whoops! Didn't mean to pontificate there....!

Shall we par-tay talk instead, yes??
After Mass, we all headed over to Steve's parents for the festivities.  We were spoiled with an incredible meal and delicious wine all served at the most beautiful table set with linens, china and flowers.  Hospitality x 1000!!

And, dessert.  Dessert is really the main course of any holiday, right? See the nest down there? I was head of quality control when it came to the eggs.  Approximately 3/4 of the bag failed to meet Easter cake standards (it was one cracked shell after another) and had to be consumed. By me.  {Visualize cheerleading jump here.}
Since our family fasted from desserts during Lent, the boys requested that I bake something sweet for Easter.  A couple of years ago, I started the tradition of making a special Easter cake, and this year, I found a really beautiful recipe on Pinterest.  It's probably not the best idea to select an overly ambitious project for any holiday, say a picture-perfect confection made by a professional baker...but ya know I've always been a bit delusional when it comes to culinary possibilities in my kitchen.  Many of my attempts at pin-worthy creations end up being eaten by the trash can or substituted with Little Debbie's and ice-cream, but this one, this one is being chalked up as an Easter miracle (cue the angels).

Speaking of sweets, just before lunch, we suddenly realized that Charlie was no where to be found.  And, that's because the had struck gold.  Overwhelmed with delight, Moby was rendered mute with joy...I mean his delectable findings....

Catching him in the action was the best part of our afternoon.  We laughed ourselves to tears!

Steve's mom had stashed away a sack of candy for a scavenger hunt later that afternoon.  By the time we narrowed in on Charlie's location, it was too late, the giant chocolate bunny was already decapitated.  Doesn't he look so innocent?? It's okay, Moby, mama loves a little chocolate appetizer once in a while too.  The stealthful silence, may also be my special contribution to your genetic code, but I don't want to brag about it.
After lunch, the children gathered around the table for a little Christ-centered activity that Steve's mom had prepared, called Resurrection Eggs.  I highly recommend it! Each egg contains an object that is symbolic of an even that took place during Christ's journey to Calvary and leading up to the resurrection.  Included in the kit is a booklet with special readings for families to ponder and discuss.

While rain was in the forecast, the clouds kept the sprinkles contained, and we were all able to enjoy the afternoon hours outside, first with a scavenger hunt prepared by Steve's mom...
She left giant Easter eggs hidden around the yard, and each egg contained clues that the kids had to piece together in order to discover the final prize.  The letters spelled out, FAMILY FUN AT THE ZOO! Bob and Kathy then gave each family tickets to the local zoo as a gift.  Wahoo!! We can't wait to go!
Guess who found the most eggs at the egg hung?? 
Me, a hoarder? I think that's a little harsh. I prefer collector, yeah I'm a collector.

And while the kiddos collected eggs, the adults broke out the golf clubs for a little putting around the back yard.

I have a little abdominal impediment that makes swinging a golf club a sheer impossibility (not to mention that it just looks like that type of strenuous activity might send me into labor), so I took up spectating, with my feet up and my (water) koozie close.  Actually, I'm not a big fan of golf, but had fun watching Steve give his sister, Jen, a few lessons.

Henry discovered that smacking the grass in giant swaths is the most fun thing you can do with a club, and that kept him entertained for a while....
Until he got tired and collapsed into the grass for a little rest before walking the grueling 29 yards back to the house.
What a blessing to share and enjoy such a beautiful day with family!

I hope your day was filled with sweet memories, too!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rose Returns From the Farm!! And, The Hope For Things to Come...

Last week, during a normal school day out in our classroom, the boys and I received a wonderful surprise.  Steve brought our golden retriever, Rose, back from his parents' farm!  When we moved last fall, we decided to keep her back at the farm until we had acquired enough acreage to build our own homestead on, a place where she would have room to roam. 
Needless to say, we were all bursting with delight!! The boys bailed out of their studies, running all smiles outside to reconnect with their long lost friend.  She was the happiest dog on the planet...until she saw the backyard fences, fences that she tries every day to wiggle under, over and through, poor girl!  

I'll confess, seeing Rose brought me to tears. Not so much because I'm that attached to our family friend, but because seeing her again brought back to life a part of me that has been a bit overwhelmed lately by doubt and discouragement.

Living in town while we wait for the opportunity to buy or rent land to farm, land upon which we might build a homestead has been more difficult than we anticipated.  The waiting presses upon us, and at times causes us to be restless, as we are fully aware of the passage of time with our boys, especially our oldest son, Ben.  Every moment confined to a city lot, to us, feels like an eternity when the ache for open spaces is nothing near subtle. 

Steve and I were born to live in the country and to raise our family on a farm.  Outside of our Catholic faith, the desire for farm life is the #1 dream that drew our hearts together when we first met. Sometimes your dreams become so much a part of who you are, you can't really imagine your life, or your children's lives, apart from them.  

The waiting on and wondering about the Lord's plans for our family has not been easy.  It's a challenge to be present to daily callings currently played out from day to day, to stay focused on what's in front of us when our hearts really long to be somewhere else....
Like here.  Does this look familiar? 
Yep, it's a photo from the Zuckerman's farm from the movie Charlotte's Webb.  I thank you, Pinterest for keeping my dreams alive!
I dream of this place and all of these too...

{Dream Home - Gotta Dream!}
{Oh, and chickens, mustn't forget the chickens.}
And, a herd of these.  Yes, these.

With all of these deeply nestled dreams waiting to be realized, I am reminded today, Holy Thursday, that while it's possible that such hopes will never be known, in the end, all joy in the letting go of such things must come from knowing, from truly believing that a farm, any farm on this earth is not and will never be my real home.  A greater hunger for heaven is the blessed fruit born from detachment, born from the absence of what we believe will make us happy.  That hunger for heaven anchors our souls ever deeper into the ONE THING, the only thing, that can truly fill us up, and that is a life in Christ.  

Oh, how thankful I am for that, that difficult, but beautiful consolation: 
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
- 2 Corinthians 4:17

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Darby Does It! - The Sweet Rewards of Learning to Read

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Teaching our sons to read has been one of the greatest pleasures, for me, as a homeschool parent. Each boy has learned at a different pace, some taking an interest in reading and accelerating faster than others, and that's okay with us, as long as they each just keep trying. Instilling in them a life-long passion and joy for great literature is a top homeschooling goal, and so far - thankfully - the older three love to read. The absence of video games and limits on television in the home have naturally helped discovering great books to become the leisure of choice.
Henry, however, is not so fond of school, and not so fond of reading.  Like most boys he would much rather be lassoing the table legs in the kitchen (or a human's legs, whichever is closer) with anything that resembles a rope, or trying to ride Rose, our wonderfully docile retriever, around the yard than pursuing academics. School-schmool.  I'm going to write to those Baby Einstein people and ask for a refund.

After months of applying various methods (begging, threatening and faking supreme disappointment are amongst my favorite) to get him to read, I finally gave in to incentives.

I really dislike incentives very, very much. Mostly because, in this case, I had to climb down off of my idealistic motivational, inspirational high horse and submit to the reality that Darby's just not buying into my joy of reading campaign speeches, and that sometimes dangling a prize, in this case a bag of sugar, in front of my son's nose is the only way to get him to march on.

Henry has quite a sweet tooth, and since I'm known as the sugar Nazi around here, promising anything sweet was one sure-fire way to motivate a child who's had to settle for raisins as a sub for candy his entire six years of life.
Sometime back in February, I promised Henry that he and I would walk to the local gas station, Country Acres, and he could pick out a snack and a drink IF he finished reading the first box of Bob Books.  I saw his eyes glaze over like frosting on donuts fresh from the oven.  And, that was all it took to get his reading wheels spinning!

Unfortunately, the wheels of progress were brought to a screeching halt when the Bob Books mysteriously went missing for about a month.  And, thanks to my bright idea to incentivize, he refused to read anything else. No Bobbo, no reado.  Uugh.  Miraculously, the little blue box reappeared and Henry zipped through all twelve books like lightening.
When the day came for us to make our trip to Country Acres, Henry was giddy with delight.  He went straight to the candy isle, where there were several teenagers who were tickled at the way Henry kept asking me what every little confection and candy bar was, what it tasted like.  "Will I like it?" he would ask innocently while holding up a giant box of Mike 'n Ike's for me to see.
After a couple of minutes of contemplating all of the options, his focus narrowed in on a huge package of sour gummy worms.  I agreed to buy them, but only if he promised to share them with his brothers (who would be thrilled to pieces after being doubly dessert deprived this Lent).
Just in case the bag of hyperactivity induction wasn't enough of a reward, I went ahead and threw a fountain drink on top of it (why not go from raisins to insanity in less than three minutes?).  Let me tell you, it might as well have been Christmas for this boy. The whole experience made me feel a bit like Santa in more ways than one - Oi, zee belly!!

His happy little grin and thankful heart were so endearing, I think I'll remember that afternoon for as long as I live.
Last night, in honor of the reoccurring cold temps, all of the boys found a spot around the fireplace and spent some time reading after supper.  I was so happy to see Henry right in there with his Dick and Jane book, sliding his little finger across the lines on the pages sounding out each word quietly to himself.  Every once in a while he would look up, with a twinkle of pride in his eyes, to see if anyone happened to notice that he was reading too. Such a sweet moment!!