Friday, December 31, 2010

I'm Ready!

I'm ready for 2011.

Having received an iPhone for Christmas, I'm already unrecognizable to my old self.

There are memories to be made with my family, challenges in my faith, races to be run, bathrooms to clean!

Enough of this aimless philosophizing. I will come back on the morrow and post photos of our New Year's Eve revelry (unless it gets too racy).


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bidding Goodbye to 2010

This was the year I turned forty.

Bought a new house, intending to stay longer than two years for the first time in eleven years.

Lost a pregnancy.

Watched many friends be out of work, and a few lose their houses.

Built some bridges with parents, step-parents, in-laws, and step in-laws.

Nearly agonized over the consideration of having another child... or not.

Ran some, sat some.

Homeschooled some more.

Felt elated, apprehensive, connected, and lonely - often in a two-minute time span.

Enjoyed practicing hospitality.

Gave up sugar for a year, and it lasted four and a half months.

Prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed that God would cure me of my temper.

Celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and milestones in the lives of the people I love.

Made some friends, lost a few (people leave Vegas often).

Tried to bring women closer to Jesus and each other at Moms' Group.

Gave the mice away.

Laughed a lot with my husband. Scowled at him a few times, too.

All in all, am ending the year a few steps closer to God. That's pretty good if you ask me.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

To Get to the Snow:

1) Inventory your snow clothing supply

2) Make a list of needed items on your iPhone, because it's so cool to type on that cute little yellow "paper"

3) Try to ignore all the whining: "I don't WANT to wear snow pants!"; "I don't WANT to go to the snow!"; "I don't LIKE those boots!"; "I'm hungry!"; "When are we leaving?"

4) Be thankful your neighbors went to the snow two days ago and give you hot tips on location for sledding along with clothes the kids can borrow

5) Go to Goodwill to get bargains on needed items (no luck)

6) Go to Target to get bargains on needed items (no luck... however, while searching for gloves, I discovered they now sell "keypad sensitive" gloves. Just in case the weather dips below forty degrees and I need to text people. Do they sell tiny cute sweaters for the iPhone as well?)

7) Go to Big 5 and spend a freaking fortune on needed items for probably two short hours of snow fun

8) Scold self for not attempting to borrow needed items much sooner than right before the trip

9) Check local paper for possible part-time job to help pay for items purchased at Big 5

10) Drive to Mount Charleston

11) Begin twitching when the road block comes into view along with the "Chains Required" sign

12) Brainstorm alternate activities that will compensate for not making it to the snow

13) Call NHP to see if other, further canyon is also road blocked - it isn't

14) Head up the road to other, further canyon. Everyone has to pee.

15) Observe blizzard, and snow rapidly piling up on roadway

16) Find campground. Stop. Pee (flushing toilets! praise Jesus!). Pay fee to stay in campground area where there is a snow play section. Total cost of this precious family outing has now risen sky-high.

Time to sled. Make snow angels. Climb in and out of a snow tunnel. Eat clean snow. Listen to the sound of rapidly falling snow hitting our hooded heads. Try to make snowmen but it's too powdery. Wonder why family fun has to be so darn difficult. While lying in the snow making a snow angel, look up at the sky and notice a small patch of blue between all the falling flakes and relish that moment of peace and beauty and the oh-so-brief realization that it was worth the monumental effort to get here. They'll remember we took them and I'll remember that single second when I wasn't worried they would break bones on the sled, crashing into a tree, or get frostbite, or ever stop whining.

Afterward, drive down the mountain. Snow ceases below five-thousand feet. Re-entering the city, we saw a rainbow.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Questionnaire

What was the best gift you gave? We gave tickets to my in-laws to see Jersey Boys on the Strip. We never have ideas for them, so this was a nice change.

What was the best gift you received? I have to list three: my new iPhone; a "published" version of my blog; and a vase to replace one I really really really liked a lot that got hit by a stray football and smashed about a month ago. Kevin and Joe are to thank (for the gifts, not the stray football).

What did your mother-in-law give you? (If you have no mother-in-law, what did your sibling give you? If you have no sibling, what is the most unique gift you received?) A new toaster oven.

What was a meaningful spiritual memory from Christmas 2010? Other than being at Mass and really focusing on Jesus, I had a few times in the midst of the pre-holiday madness where I was able to stop and realize my thankfulness for the gifts I'm able to enjoy because of Jesus' life and forgiveness - primarily my children, but especially my relationships with my parents, which are often hard for me.

Furthermore, it was ONLY because of Jesus that I invited my in-laws to join us this year - for the first time since Kevin and I were married 12 years ago. It went wonderfully, as things tend to do when you follow Jesus. And I don't mean that in a circumstantial way - it was still difficult, but I enjoyed the peace in my heart that resulted.

Best Christmas movie you watched this year? Elf. No question.

What was the most stressful memory from Christmas 2010? I forgot to buy John's rollerskates. All three other kids got theirs, and I totally intended to buy them for John. I even got him the knee and elbow pads, but forgot the skates after being in two stores looking for them. He kept asking on Christmas, "when will my skates be here?" Thankfully, he got a little skateboard, so the pads weren't totally random. Poor fourth kid. I already often forget to order for him at restaurants.

Best Christmas baking? Kevin's Dunking Platters. They win the award partly because I don't like them that much so I don't gobble them all up. Everyone else seems to enjoy them.

P.S. My kids seemed to start to "get" giving this year. All three of the older kids had amazingly thoughtful ideas for their siblings, and for Kevin and me, that warmed my heart. In Joe's case, he even had the finances to purchase the gifts himself.

I would love to hear others' answers to these questions in the comments box or on your own blog.

Merry Christmas! (For Catholics, Christmas isn't even half over yet - so keep celebrating!)

Here's my Christmas princess wearing her new roller blades and the accompanying red, white, and blue tiara from her long-ago Fourth of July program at school. She got a 3-foot tube of bubble gum for Christmas, and is chewing some here. If she looks inappropriately dressed to those of you in colder climes, it was 55+ and sunny on our Christmas day.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sticking to What I Know

I don't know how to create the perfect Christmas. I don't know how to erase my parents' and in-laws' divorces from decades ago so as to make today's holidays more pleasant. I don't know how to cook a frickin' perfect turkey. I don't know how to fulfill all my children's Christmas dreams. I don't know how to quit yelling. I don't know how to keep the floors polished. I can't prevent backorders on online purchases. I can't make a batch of toffee AND disinfect the bathrooms at the same time. I can't make sure everyone has festive jammies for Christmas morn. I can't get the perfect seats at Mass to watch my angels sing in the choir. I can't quit drinking eggnog.
But you know what I can do? I can make a kick-ass paper chain!

Check this out --- first, Cayna made one to go with our snowflakes:

Then, Bethanie made one:

So I decided to make one too. Blame it on the frenzy and fury of the pre-holiday, but once I started my paper chain, I couldn't stop.

My "Christmas 2010 Paper Chain Project" required printer paper, scissors, Scotch tape, and just a teeny little bit of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I think even my kids thought I was weird. But look! --- Just a few short sessions of chain-making, and I have forty feet of Christmas whimsy!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wreaths - A Neighborhood Photo Essay

From my vast research, conducted over the past five minutes, wreaths are a Christian symbol of the coming of Christ. We have advent wreaths, we hang them on our doors, and occasionally, if we dress up like Julius Caesar, we wear them on our heads.

All around my neighborhood, there are marvelous displays of Christmas lights and inflatable snowmen. But I wanted to give special attention today to the Christmas wreath. Enjoy!

First, when deciding whether to adorn your door with a wreath, you must make a decision about size and number. This is easy if you have a single door. Single door=single wreath. Easy!

Perhaps, though, you have double doors. Now the possibilities are more numerous. But logic dictates that double doors=double wreaths.

Logic isn't the main factor in decorating, however. Maybe you moved from a single-door house to a double-door house this year, and you just don't have the time or money to go purchase an additional wreath. That's okay. Plenty of people hang a single wreath even with two doors. No one will judge you.

For some personalities however, the two door, one wreath option seems out of whack. Looking at it makes you a tiny bit cockeyed. There's an easy solution. Center the wreath between the two doors! You'll be so avant-garde!

And speaking of centering --- and avant-garde --- who says the wreath must be positioned towards the top of the door? No one! Go ahead and center that sucker however you like!

For that matter, center-shmenter! Put 'em wherever you darn well please! When you're already stressed out about the in-laws coming to visit, convention be damned!

There is some significance to the circular shape of the wreath. It represents eternity. But if you're feeling less immortal, go with square. And again, don't be confined to the somewhat stifling rules of spatial arrangement.

Furthermore, not everyone feels comfortable with a wreath. Why not try bows?


In my neighborhood, the prize for most wreaths on one house? Eight. They hang on doors, lights, stucco popouts, and... windows. Like so.

Conversation overheard at Monty's Custom Wreath Shop: "I don't care if it isn't evergreen. Just so the bows match my shutters."

For the photo-essayist, nothing escapes the eye. Hence, I think I figured out who stole the wreath off of the above house last year... these guys! (Look closely. You can just make out the teal-green bow.)
(I'm wondering who the Santa frog used to belong to. In my opinion, they're better off without it.)

Here we have a classic case of an individual wanting to embrace the Christmas season, but hesitant to leave behind the Autumn gourd and all of its beauty.

"Crap, Sheila! I'm losing my mind. Go check whether I hung the wreath by the fireplace."

Sad but true: If you opt for the 3,700 square-foot house, you might have to settle for a smaller, less expensive wreath for a few Christmases.

Finally, this house gets my "Prettiest Wreaths" award. And even though they belong to my friends Derryck and Kelly, I swear I'm not biased.

These photos were taken in my neighborhood today, December 20, 2010. All photos are mine. So is the humor. Feel free to use the decorating ideas, though!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Best Friends

Tonight at dinner, my step-mom asked me about my best friend. I probably looked at her a little funny because I wasn't sure how to answer. Does every other forty year-old woman have a best friend? I don't know if I can put one person in this category, and "best" implies one, right?

I have fantastic friends. Old friends, new friends, phone friends, Christmas card friends, facebook friends, invite to birthday party friends, Church friends, college friends, neighborhood friends, homeschool friends, homebirth friends, reader friends, adventurous friends. Many friends cross over into multiple categories, of course.

The question intrigued me so much that I got quiet. I just sat there munching on a rib and pondering the answer. (We ate at Famous Dave's. That was my second time. It's pretty tasty.)

I came home and tried to figure out how I'd define a best friend. Is it simply the person you like the most? I can't rank people that way. I admire those who can - who have simple enough lives and thinking.

I decided a best friend would probably like the same things as me, and like to spend time with me. We'd have to share at least a few key opinions (though I have friends who don't). And then out of those thoughts rose this image of... (drum roll here)... ME. Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh! That's WAY too Oprah Winfrey-ish! Me as my own best friend? Well, it kinda makes sense. There's no one else that I have so much in common with. And I do like spending time with me. But when I set out thinking about this, I in no way thought I'd end up here.

Perhaps my first move should be to buy one of those cutesy frames with "Best Friends" engraved on the border - and feature a photo of myself! Or select a best friend charm - and wear both halves!!! I'll take myself out to coffee more often. Start talking out loud to myself. Invite myself on a girls' night out!

Good golly. If any of you, my friends, my blog readers, are still willing to call me your friend after this kooky post - you're a keeper!

I think I'll go to bed now and mull over this some more. At the same time, I can think about what to get my new best friend for Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

One Week Til Christmas

1) You can buy one hundred thousand toys in Target, a million in Toys R Us, but it's really hard to find a simple set of jacks for a seven year-old daughter who saw some and asked for them for Christmas. She had spotted them weeks and weeks ago in Aaron Brothers of all places, but I've checked two of their locations in the last two days and they're gone.

2) People with their houses already covered in lights are still adding more even one week before Christmas. Funny to me.

3) Do I invite my Jewish neighbor over on Christmas to hang out? We're having ham. I'm thinking no.

4) A Minnesota Timberwolves Kevin Love jersey costs nearly $300.00.

5) Next week at this time will feel tremendously different from tonight. And the build-up isn't over yet.

6) There is a time and a place to turn the volume high on even the sappy Christmas songs - and that time and place is mid-morning in my mini van when I'm all alone and shopping for my kids.

7) Had a peppermint mocha frap at Starbucks today, compliments of a CCD student who gave me a ten-dollar gift certificate. And Joe had a decaf eggnog latte. It was pretty fun.

8) Made a visit to downtown Vegas tonight. In one 15-minute stroll down Fremont, we saw the following: an overhead zipline; Elvis; Frankenstein; Tweety Bird; Sylvester; two human statues; a guy with a poster that said, "God Doesn't Want You To Go To Hell;" four girls dressed up as showgirls; and a woman/man (?) wearing next to nothing (you would think the gender would be obvious - but I had to avert my eyes).

9) You can buy a Holy Family nutcracker at Target.

10)  Even with the silly stresses and economic trials and extended family challenges and crowds - I still agree with one of those sappy songs I sang along with this morning - it's the most wonderful time of the year!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Season Filler

(Newspapers, magazines, and my blog all have something in common. From time to time, there is a need for filler. Filler compensates for writer's block, extra space on the page, or lack of good stories. Here is today's filler. You can guess what my reasons are for including it.)

Teri's favorite Christmas carol, based on music - "Carol of the Bells"
Teri's favorite Christmas carol, based on lyrics - "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen"

This year's planned Christmas baking will include the following cookies and treats:

Bull Tongues - a tradition from my father's side of the family
Dunking Platters - Kev's fave - recipe from Todd Riddiough's mom
Toffee - recipe from Angie Nixon
Sour Cream Sugar Cookies - recipe given to me by my sister-in-law, Rachel, from "some lady"
Honey Milk Balls - from Aunt Kathryn (no one likes these but me)
Gingerbread - from sister-in-law again (she is a marvelous baker and cook)
Haystacks - you gotta love a microwave recipe
Fudge - in honor of my step-dad

My Christmas Cards go out to the following states and cities:

Arizona - Chandler; Lake Havasu City; Tempe; Tucson; Prescott; Scottsdale; Flagstaff; Gilbert

California - Crestline; Yucaipa; Hanford; Fresno; Walnut Creek; Mt. Shasta; Bakersfield; La Mirada; Sacramento; Folsom; Stockton; Mt. Aukum; Calimesa; Hemet; Woodland

Colorado - Longmont; Denver; Castle Rock; Thornton

Florida - Melbourne

Georgia - Douglasville

Idaho - Twin Falls; Rexburg

Illinois - Naperville

Missouri - Blue Springs

Nevada - Henderson; Las Vegas; North Las Vegas; Boulder City

Oregon - Salem

Pennsylvania - Allentown; Philadelphia; Centre Hall; Emmaus

Texas - Round Rock; Brownwood

Utah - Parowan; Ogden

Virginia - Fairfax

Washington - Ferndale

and this year, one went to Yigo, Guam

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Photo of the Day - "Hey Reb" and the Loves

It seems kinda perfect that we would have a family photo in front of the "Hey Reb" statue at UNLV. After all, Kevin and I first met at UNLV. We were also engaged right on campus. Looking back, we should have planned the wedding there. Okay, maybe not... but the campus is still a place full of memories for both of us, separately and together. I'll save those for future blogging.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Las Posadas En Mi Familia

In 1994, as a college student, I applied to obtain my non-identifying background information. (I am adopted, and had never known anything about my birth parents.) I wanted to know, among other things, my ethnicity.

I found out I was not Mexican. I had kind of suspected this, considering how much trouble I had had in high school Spanish class.

According to the paperwork, I am half Irish, a quarter Scottish, and a quarter German. This is a bit of a bummer, compared to being Mexican. Mexican food is WAY better than Irish food. Though I do like potatoes. And beer. And Irish pubs. And the color green. And leprechauns. But I digress. My original topic (unbeknownst to you) is Las Posadas.

Had I been Mexican, I would have found out about Las Posadas long before now. Well, maybe not, because Las Posadas isn't just Mexican, it's Catholic. And it took me a lot of years to get back around to my Catholic roots. (As it turns out, my one-hundred-percent Irish birth father was also Catholic.)

This year, I heard about Las Posadas three times! First, at a field trip with other Catholic homeschooling families. They were discussing Las Posadas and staging it at a farm so we could use live animals for the Nativity scene. They also mentioned having a LOT of Mexican food afterward and I wasn't sure how a live Nativity and homemade tamales all fit together.

Shortly after, I learned more in a catechist training session I attended at church. There, several actual Mexicans described how they celebrate Las Posadas. The picture was becoming clearer. Evidently, Las Posadas is a nine-day event, culminating on Christmas Eve, wherein groups of people (family, friends...) sort of reenact the events leading up to Jesus' birth. There will be a procession of some sort, and the visiting of several homes, each of which will turn away the "Mary" and "Joseph". But there is singing. And food. And prayer. And often a pinata. You can read about it from a more reliable source than an Irish/Scottish/German girl here.

The third time I heard about Las Posadas was the best time, because it was my friend Michelle inviting my family to join in her family's celebration of Las Posadas at her home. We did, and it was a great time. There was a procession. Singing. Children dressed as Mary, Joseph, an angel, and a shepherd. Knocking on doors and being turned away. Finally, a place to stay thanks to a kind innkeeper. And then we ate tamales! With some recognition for American diversity, and Michelle's own half-Mexican, half-Irish heritage - we also had chocolate martinis, a chocolate fountain, and a pinata shaped like a ghost (because Halloween pinatas are discounted in December!). It was a very fun evening, no less so because I'm not Mexican. I'm glad I have good friends who are!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

11 Classics for 2011

Here is my reading list for 2011. Anyone want to join me in reading any of these? If you come to my house to discuss any of them afterwards, I will provide wine and finger foods! Or beer and pizza. Or water and a veggie tray. I just love company. I admit it's an ambitious list, but I think I can do it.

1) Don Quixote - Cervantes - I'm reading a translation... I'm not THAT hard-core

2) The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo

3) Something of Aquinas', I just don't know what yet, but I'm not brave enough to tackle the Summa

4) Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

5) Confessions - Augustine

6) Wuthering Heights - Bronte

7) The Divine Comedy (Inferno, Purgatory, Paradise) - Dante

8) Robinson Crusoe - Defoe

9) Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

10) The Iliad and The Odyssey - Homer

11) Collected Speeches - Martin Luther King, Jr.

I'd love to hear others' thoughts on any of these...

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Cure for the Doldrums: Sixth Graders

I have had a serious case of the blues. I've been down in the dumps. Depressed. Forlorn. Irritable. Grouchy. Feeling sorry for myself in a hundred ways.

Tonight I was asked to substitute in a CCD class of sixth graders at church. There were ten of them. We prayed, watched a DVD about Juan Diego, made Christmas cards for our Priests, and processed into the Church to look at the Advent banners and to study the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. They also ate a truckload of Oreos, brownie bites, and candy canes because tonight was their "Christmas party" - their last class until after the new year.

Before the class, I was kind of nervous. I don't have any experience with sixth graders. Right now, my expertise cuts off at fourth grade and doesn't pick up again until college. But it turned out to be a joyful time. I loved talking about Jesus with these kids. I loved hearing their perspectives on things.

I came home with a sense that my black cloud, my Eeyore outlook, my frustration with life had lifted. I've heard it a thousand times that if you're feeling depressed, you have to do something to get your focus off yourself. Serving others is the ideal way to do this. It's true. And tonight, those sixth graders were saving grace for me. Praise Jesus.

Tonight our parish had a five o' clock Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Before I left the building, I stood for a moment in front of her image and smelled the roses and read the words spoken by Our Lady to Juan Diego in the midst of his concern for his sick uncle:
"Listen and let it penetrate your heart ... do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?"
Along with the medicine that those sixth graders provided for me, these words of Mary are also penetrating my mind. Thanks be to God!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Life in Verbs

I'm copying Layla with this verb idea. If you happen to go check out her blog, she has an especially neat post about a tree right after the verb post (therefore above it on the page). Yep, a tree. Trust me, it's good stuff.

This is my life in verbs this Sunday night approaching Christmas:

Acknowledging - that I am in a grumpy mood. Now if I could just figure out why and kill it. Loved the recent episode of 30 Rock where Jack's character said he dealt with problems by crushing them with his mind-vise. Not healthy, not comprehensive, but attractive just the same when I'm fed up with wading in mire.

Congratulating - myself on getting Christmas cards ready to be mailed today. Sending them out adds a big item to the "to-do" list, but I enjoy the whole process. With the grumpy mood mentioned above, I didn't do a little greeting or letter to go with the card, but that's just as well. My bitchiness might have shown through and dampened someone's Yule.

Anticipating - a full week. Here's a run-down (you can sing this to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," if you're in the mood): a potluck at Kevin's office; visit to Santa; Christmas program practice; CCD; Moms' Group Christmas party; baking with friends; shopping for gifts; mailing the out-of-town stuff; attending the program; bidding a co-worker from Kevin's office good bye; celebrating friends' wedding anniversary; driving to the Speedway to see Christmas lights!

Falling - asleep. I gotta go crash. Monday mornings always seem to jolt me, so I better rest up.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

In the Interest of Family Unity... I Bought a Candle

Right before Thanksgiving, my extended family had a rare reunion of sorts. It was the first time I had seen my cousins Fred and Willy (not their real names) in YEARS, which is a tragedy of sorts since we used to spends large chunks of time together in our growing-up years.

The thing about Fred is, he's been through some hard times the past few years. True, they were all his own doing, but that doesn't make them any less difficult. I was careful, at the Thanksgiving gathering, to hug him and smile at him and never once say, "You frickin' bonehead! What were you thinking running off with another woman to Montana?" We all got along quite nicely and it made me sentimental and nostalgic to the point that I thought I would invite him over for Christmas.

So about a week ago, I called him up and he tells me he's "out delivering candles." Huh. I had no idea that candle sales was a good rehab for a rough patch in life, but apparently he's making a go of it with his new girlfriend. And it just so happened I was in the market for a candle that smells like real Christmas tree since ours is fake and devoid of any aroma.

What a perfect opportunity to build some bridges in our family! I order a candle from Fred's new girlfriend, and there will be peace on Earth and in our family forevermore!

Sidenote: the candle scent is quite authentic. But not realistic. With a real tree, you can sit on the sofa sipping eggnog across the room from the Christmas tree and every so often a light hint of pine will make its way to your nostrils. With this candle, it is as if you have somehow enclosed yourself in the actual tree, so strong the scent is. As if the sap is smeared around your nostrils like VapoRub. As if there are no longer any other aromas on earth besides pine.

That nifty candle will burn away all its hours on my countertop - in honor of the efforts we make at Christmastime and year-round to get along with our families, resolve conflict, and accept each other for who we are. However, if anything goes awry and it burns down my house.... I'm going to take that as a sign.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sneak Preview - My Christmas Letter!

Happy Holidays, 2010! What have you been up to? Well... be sure to write and give us the details, because each year I turn The Christmas cards we receive into a professional-quality decoupage suitable for framing, and auction it to benefit quality charities!

But for now, sit back, relax, and enjoy hearing about our family joys, triumphs, purchases, and accomplishments!

I have not one complaint about 2010. Every moment was tinged with delight. I kept my "List of Bright Spots" on the refrigerator, and it got so long - I had to finally break down and buy a double-frig to accommodate it. (Really, we needed those extra cubic feet anyway what with all the entertaining we do now that Kevin has climbed so high on the corporate ladder.)

Probably my proudest accomplishment, truth be told, is making the decision to homeschool the children for another year. The little dearies are thriving under my tutelage, and in between waxing the van on Saturday mornings and baking the week's bread in the afternoon - I write out a college-prep curriculum designed to challenge and stimulate their minds.

Though Joseph is busy memorizing the Old Testament, he takes breaks to tell me he has set his sights on "something overseas" when I ask what university he's considering. He just turned ten!

Cayna is a social butterfly and wants to use her "people gifts" to serve mankind. With all her spare time thanks to homeschooling, she recently earned her MSW (Masters in Social Work) and puts in hours at the downtown homeless shelter reconfiguring their community relations department.

Bethanie, our Kindergartener, moved quickly from basic phonics to reading the Classics. We are racing through Shakespeare's Complete Works together. On weekday afternoons, she deftly manages an early-elementary tutoring program to help public-school children master foreign languages.

John is only three. We don't want to push him. So he spends his day more casually, alternately working on his pilot's license and tinkering around in the garage working on Kevin's newest acquisition - a 50-foot yacht we've Christened Lady Teri.

Which vacation do you want to hear about first? In March, we took our family trip to Nova Scotia. And in October, Kevin and I had our yearly "no-kids" getaway through all of Spain in a too-short three weeks. Many thanks to our live-in nanny, Lisl, who managed to care for the children and simultaneously oversee the addition of an extra 3,200 square feet onto the south side of our home. It was nice to come home to a larger Master bathroom, closet, and astronomical observatory. I think if you can swing it, this is a helpful addition to any homeschooling household.

May your days be merry and bright this season! If you're receiving this holiday letter, you are invited to our Christmas Eve gala again this year. Strictly black-tie, and bring a canned food item for Cayna's shelter. Celine Dion will appear as our musical guest. Don't miss it!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I Missed A Couple Weeks

I planned to process what I've learned about the Mass along with beginning to put together my story of our conversion to Catholicism. Then I missed a couple weeks. But I'm back!

The four parts of the Mass are:
1) The Introductory Rites (all the stuff that happens at the beginning)
2) The Liturgy of the Word (reading the Bible)
3) The Liturgy of the Eucharist (eating the body and blood of Jesus)
4) The Concluding Rites (all the stuff that wraps it up)

Last time I talked about a couple things that are part of the Introductory Rites, the entrance and the greetings. The Act of Penitence, Kyrie Eleison, The Gloria, and The Collect finish up the Introductory Rites. I can list these efficiently because I'm sitting here with a handy-dandy printout from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal in front of me. On my own I would tell you that during this time, we spend time asking God's forgiveness for our sins. It's too short to recall all the ways I screw up in a given week, but definitely long enough to humble myself before God, acknowledge my sins, and thank and praise him for his mercy. Though some of the words and the way we sing or recite them change from season to season - the prayer I resound with most is the Confiteor -
I confess to Almighty God,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have sinned
through my own fault,
in my thoughts
and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;
and I ask Blessed Mary,
ever virgin,
all the angels and saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me
to the Lord our God.
It's powerful to pray this in a Church full of people and really consider what I'm praying. When I acknowledge that I'm asking those around me to pray for me, and they're asking the same from me - it evokes a huge sense of responsibility and accountability in my heart - that if I (we) could constantly act upon, would render me (and all of us) MUCH more free of sin. But, anyway...

The G.I.R.M. lists the Kyrie, Gloria, and Collect next, and there you have the Introductory Rites. If you were to come worship with me, I could point out the occurrence of each of these - and the G.I.R.M. tells their significance. All I have left to say is that each part of the Mass is so full of meaning and reason, it knocks my socks off.

In my experience of becoming Catholic, it was important to learn and study the parts of the Mass. Every little thing has significance - even the Church itself is jam-packed with symbols - down to why there are a certain number of steps leading to the altar. And because we believe God reaches out to us in love through all of our senses - the Catholic Church is the place to be with it's art, incense, statues, candles, music, holy water, silence... beauty! Praise be to God!

Next time I'll write about the Liturgy of the Word, or "Yes, Catholics read the Bible!"

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Not Just Your Usual Wednesday

Today is the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Our family goes to Mass at noon today. We honor the date held as Mary's conception (we celebrate her birthday in September).

Since becoming Catholic, I've read more books about Mary and Marian doctrine than any other subject, probably because my Protestant self was so afraid of her.

But today I'll go to Mass, honor Mary, worship Jesus, and thank them both for each other.

If you want to kick off your day with Jesus in a unique way, watch this beautiful clip in under four minutes. Images are from St. Mary's University of Minnesota and Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary and quotes are from, as the blog's author says, "kickin' saints." "Ave Maris Stella" is sung by a grad student from there, and this was posted this morning on a fave blog of mine called The Ironic Catholic. (Thanks to Andrea, for first introducing it to me.) To give you a taste of the writer's humor, she has a quote on her sidebar that reads: "Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor each morning, the devil says, 'Oh crap, she's up.'"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Tale of Two Opinions

Not so very long ago, I would tell you I detested Charles Dickens' writing. But the reading syllabus I adapted for myself, based on teaching I heralded, included A Tale of Two Cities and I was determined to read it. I fully expected to grit my teeth the whole way through. Boy, was I surprised!

A Tale of Two Cities is hereby added to my "all-time favorites" book list. Plus, I think I got a lesson in good writing. Before reading this book, I realized I was struggling to explain what constitutes good writing and bad writing. I wanted to understand. I thought maybe my brain was dull because I couldn't participate in conversations about good writing, or even good acting. I think I get it now (the writing... I still don't think I'm a good critic of acting).

Take the Twilight series. I thought it was a good story, which kept me reading. But I realized part way through how little I cared about the characters. Crazy things would happen to them, that should have evoked some feeling - but wouldn't. That's the writing! Ta-da! (Now imagine if Dickens tackled the story that Meyer came up with! Or don't. That's probably literature sacrilege.)

I certainly cared about the characters in A Tale of Two Cities. They, and the story, affected my life. THAT'S good writing! Plus, the words were just so flavorful! Even when I had to read and re-read a paragraph (whether from being interrupted or because I didn't understand something), I didn't mind. I love how Dickens writes! Heck, I love how he thinks! I'm realizing those two go hand in hand. You can be one or the other and get by quite well. But if you are both (excellent writer and thinker) - you're going to influence the world with your books.

Speaking of which, Oprah will be reading A Tale of Two Cities in her book club. I think I'll tune in to that discussion for sure. Meanwhile, if the mainstream gets you motivated, you can buy her book club edition which includes Great Expectations and even follow her schedule. I think I'll peruse the website to find out what questions and character backgrounds the club came up with. (About an hour later: I highly recommend the materials on Oprah's site. I just looked it over. There are far better descriptions of the book than I can give, and lots of insight to motivate you to read this book! I was moved to tears reading some of the information. What a joy to share the reading experience with others - even strangers! even OPRAH!)

Later today, in case you've joined my book club, I begin reading Walden, by Thoreau.

I'll end with Sydney Carton's words in A Tale of Two Cities, which are haunting me in a way. I can hear them in a man's voice, deep and resonant. Makes me wonder if I've seen the movie, or just overheard my dad watching it. Whatever the case, they're memorable words from an amazing character in a must-read book: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done..."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Double Digits!

Joseph is ten! Amazing. He spent his birthday going to Mass, bowling with a bunch of his buddies, and then having cake and presents with family and friends.

(I spent the day recovering from barfing in the middle of the night and in the morning, but I don't want my stories of horror to overshadow the sweet tale of my son's birthday - so I'll leave it at that - except to say that I did recover, I don't know what caused it, and it forced me to simplify everything from the cake to the punch to the cleanliness of the backyard - which is actually a good thing!)

Joe's cake. Ten years, ten pins.

And Joe himself, no doubt considering what to wish for. 

I want to list all the wonderful adjectives that describe the miracle that is my son, but they wouldn't be good enough. I love him and I'm so glad he was born! I'll leave it at that. God bless you, Joseph, into the next ten hours, days, weeks, months, years... I hope they go on forever!

In The End...

... I didn't wear the exact same outfit this year as I did last year to Kevin's company party. But I also didn't buy anything. My sharp-dressed friend, Kelly, loaned me a blouse and a sweater to wear with last year's skirt. I finished off the whole flowy ensemble with Kelly's necklace, Cayna's choice of earrings, my hair down, and some brown sparkly lipgloss. For the record, I was WAY more comfortable than I was in the tighter, lower-cut top from last year. And I preferred the neutral lip gloss to the bright-red lipstick that, with my skin, makes me look at best like a porcelain doll - and at worst like a prostitute.

Other details on the party - we had a good time! I thoroughly enjoyed my sea bass, had great fun and laughs with our whole table, and honored Kevin as his ten years with the company were recognized and rewarded. And thanks to the white elephant gift exchange, we brought home this little treasure:

You have to have seen "A Christmas Story" to recognize this. I think it's a tasteful, elegant addition to our bedroom.

All in all, it was a nice night. Thanks for all the help with my outfit - I remembered everyone's advice as I got ready and went to the party. I think NOT buying a new outfit took a lot of pressure off of myself and off the whole event in general. I was better able to relax and party!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dear Diary,

The day dawns and I am of much better fortune than ten years ago today. Ten years ago today I was in labor, not to give birth for about 29 more hours.

At present, though, I have very little pain, except for the prickling of the blood moving back into my arms after reading A Tale of Two Cities in bed in an awkward position, rendering both my forearms soundly asleep.

Yes, it's the last day of Joseph being nine years old. Unbelievable if it were not for the feeling of the decade of time between now and that gruesome labor. Is gruesome too strong a word? I think not. Worthwhile, yes. Gruesome, not less so.

This morning two things weigh heavily on my mind:
1) I must attend a company Christmas party. This has its joys and annoyances. I think everyone feels awkward at this sort of thing, and it doesn't need to be that way! We could can the small talk and right off the bat it would be more fun (for me). Anyway... Kevin works with great people, and he IS working, which is huge right now in our economy, so I'm going to make the best of it and enjoy my sea bass. Besides, I don't have to do dishes!

2) My vain idealism is suffering over the fact that my first Christmas card received in 2010 is from our exterminator! I looked closely at the picture on the front of the card and was relieved to find only a wintry train scene, and no hint of the Truly Nolen trademark.

Apart from the goings-on in my brain, there is grocery shopping to be done. Kevin is about to hang the outside Christmas lights. We have fun lunch plans with old friends. In-laws are scheduled to arrive this afternoon. Life is full and good and I am enormously thankful for all of life. I'm knock-down, drag-out, dance-in-the-streets happy that I'm not in labor right now.

Signing off on this December 4th morning, with my 7 year-old singing a made-up song about "having a dream" downstairs.

Yours Truly.

P.S. Enjoy this photo taken shortly before Joseph was born. Dig the Birkenstocks. And the belly. And Kevin's "Wetlands Clean-Up" t-shirt. This was in the front yard of the house where Joseph was to be born. And I think that's a borrowed Riddiough car in the background? Ah, the memories.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Deck the Halls and Spackle Walls! Fa la la la la la la la la!

Other people have big things to worry about in their lives. But I? I worry about the height of my sconces. It has been troubling me for months - ever since they were installed. The ones that came with the house were cheese ball city. So my mom bought us new ones as a housewarming gift and Kevin put them up. And they were just too high.

Until last night. Last night I sang alleluia while Kevin lowered the sconces. There is still drywall work, texturing and painting left to do - but at least the sconces are in place. I can get on with my otherwise really really interesting life.

Here are the before and after photos:

Before. So high their noses are bleeding.

I mean, seriously. I don't know how I slept at night with such preposterous placement of the sconces. And they were further accentuated by the moulding.

Newly-placed sconces after photo. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. So much better, I can go off my medication.

After recently swapping the living room/dining room/family room set-up, Kevin had to move light fixtures around. Here he is repairing the hole left by the original chandelier and the ENORMOUS and tacky medallion they had adorning the light fixture.  I had to snap a photo to remember this great night of lowered sconces and wall/ceiling repair. Plus he's a stud. He deserves a photo for all his hard work. Right before he did the sconces, he installed a ceiling fan where before there was none. He is magic.

Now, to conclude. Abe is getting in the swing of things with the holidays approaching. I really do think I'm funny. I thought of this all by myself when I looked around the kitchen wondering what else I could decorate.

And this little undertaking was a true pain in the butt and doesn't look HALF as good as it did in the windows of the photo in Better Homes and Gardens. Oh, well. I spent too much time on it to take it down.

The best part is that Cayna took one look at it (and its matching counterpart just to its right) when I finished and said, "It's too much!" Too much! This from a girl who dresses like a cross between Punky Brewster, a jazz-dancer and a Native American princess.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fashion Questions Thursday

It's Thursday, and that means Fashion Questions! (Just kidding. Thursday just means Thursday. Sometimes I like to pretend I have a thematic talk show. Hence the home episode yesterday.) But I do have some fashion questions to pose to the studio audience (see? it's hard to let go of).

1) It's housecleaning day. On housecleaning day, I often opt to wear sweats. I happen to have some UNLV Rebels sweatpants. Today I paired them with my Penn shirt. So here's my question - if I wear an Ivy League t-shirt with sweatpants from a commuter party school, does it upset anything in the university cosmos? Does it balance things out that the pants are fairly new, while the Penn shirt is worn and slightly stained?

2) Kevin's company Christmas party is Saturday night. Last year, I purchased a flowing black skirt, red blouse, jewelry and shoes for the occasion. I then wore the same outfit to Christmas Eve Mass. I then hung the outfit in my closet where it has been ever since. I'm wondering - can I wear the same outfit again this year? I'm guessing such a question makes some women shudder. But considering there are people out of work... considering I have only so much money to cover all pre-Christmas purchases and charitable donations... considering I HATE shopping and DETEST the idea of having to go out again and choose another one-time wear outfit... can't I get away with this? In the name of frugality? Practicality? It can't have gone out of style yet. And how many people will remember my outfit from last year? Well, maybe I underestimate myself. Maybe all eyes were on me. In that case, shouldn't it count that I'm not a First Lady or a Royal or a movie star? Can't an engineer's wife wear the same get-up two years in a row and still maintain her dignity? Or not?

That's all for today. These heavy questions deserve some time for consideration.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"My Home Show" - December Episode

On today's episode - a glimpse of some of my recent furniture rehab, home organization tips, and decking the halls for Christmas!

First, the furniture rehab:

I wanted to buy the girls a white dresser. Cheap. Which means garage sale, but I hardly have the time and desire to shop garage sales. So imagine my delight when our across-the-street neighbors had a white dresser, desk, and two hutches for sale on their driveway a couple weeks back. I knew with some cute, girly handles on the drawers, they could be all I wanted them to be.

Here is the before photo of the dresser. I had already removed one of the handles in my excitement to replace them all.

And here is the after photo.
If I was a better photographer, you could see that these are cute silver handles with pink crystal embellishments on the front. I purchased them in two-packs at Target.

Next --- the before photo of the desk, with its red handles.

Red handles were replaced in favor of simple silver ones, purchased at Lowe's. Here is the after photo.

Next up - some home organization tips:

It was wise of me to marry Kevin. He builds good shelves. Just admire these floor-to-ceiling beauties in the guest room closet.
I highly recommend making the most of your closet space. Here we incorporate our vacuum supplies; gift wrap department; musical equipment; and assorted holiday accoutrements while still allowing space for our guests to hang their clothing. Since this photo was taken, I have added our home paint department as well. (I have roughly twelve gallons of assorted colors of paint on that fifth shelf.) True, the paint fumes are probably not safe or desirable for our houseguests, but no one stays with us for long periods of time anyway, so exposure will be minimal. And the chances of paint can explosion are slim unless there is a house fire - and in that event the exploding paint cans are the least of our worries, right? Not sure how my organizational tips digressed into this conversation about paint can explosion and the effects on my houseguests, but your safety is my number one concern. I don't want to ignore the difficult issues.

Next up? I'm very proud of my potty-room cabinet. Take a look!

Isn't it darling? And clean and innocent and oh-so discreet. For all you know, I keep grilled cheese sandwiches in there. That's the beauty of a toilet-room cabinet. It keeps things discreet. No longer do you have to keep grilled cheese sandwiches strewn about the floor or stacked on the back of the toilet. Or, God forbid, you store the sandwich supplies TOO FAR AWAY from the toilet for easy access when you need them most. (No one likes to hobble across the bathroom, pants down, to the far-away closet to retrieve grilled cheese... no one!!!) So do yourself a favor and purchase or construct your own little potty-room cabinet.

I really wish I could see everyone's potty room. Is that too much to ask? I bet we'd learn all sorts of clever organizational tips. Recently I found out a friend of mine installed a little shelf in his potty room. (Incidentally, I don't think he called it a "potty room". "Potty room" isn't very masculine-sounding. It's downright annoying, really - but what else can I call it?) He explained that he needed a place to set his coffee cup, and I can respect that.

Last but not least - decking the halls for Christmas! That's what I've been consumed with this week. I want to share with you my newest acquisition. I have a feeling this will be especially popular with my fellow desert-dwellers and you will all want to run out and procure one.
Now if that doesn't say "Merry Christmas to all, and happy birthday Jesus Christ!" I don't know what does.*

*What in tarnation was I thinking? I bought this post-season 2009 at Hancock Fabrics. I remember, at the time, thinking it was the embodiment of a desert Christmas and my home would be incomplete without it. This week, when I unwrapped it, I was almost overwhelmed by kitsch. No matter how much I might crave an elegant, sophisticated home, I am doomed by my own cheesiness and the fact that I have four children and WAY too much of a sense of humor to NOT buy snowmen on broncos.