Saturday, December 31, 2011

Rosary Resolution

As goodbyes go, I think the one I had tonight with 2011 was sweet. I was outside at dusk and the sunset was astoundingly pretty. Streaks of pink all across the sky in all directions. I worshiped God right there on the sidewalk. I thanked him for His beauty and I told Him I love Him. And that quiet moment was like a reminder of His love for me, too. I tried to say something about the new year, a sort of an acknowledgment of my screw-ups this year while at the same time an expression of thankfulness for the hope that He gives. And then I kept walking. I'm going to keep walking figuratively, too, because I don't need to stand around and watch the sky go dark.

There are people who think New Year's Day is just another day. And New Year's Eve is just another eve. I'm not one of those people. I LOVE new beginnings. Start-overs, clean slates, change and adventure - the whole bit. So I like to "do it up" when it comes to resolutions. But this year I'm lacking ideas, so I sought help from my husband and from facebook. Kevin's not a resolution kind of a guy, so that was a bit of a dead end. Facebook, though, turned up some good suggestions. There were running-related suggestions, travel ideas, reading and writing and learn-a-new-thing suggestions. All good. But nothing really stuck in my head until tonight.

Tonight when our early party wound down and the kids were in bed, Kevin and I prayed the rosary together. I thought of it as the perfect way to finish the old year and begin the new. And we prayed for our children in particular. So all that is nice and good, but surprisingly to me, I found my resolutions in today's joyful mysteries. These resolutions are short and sweet and yes, a little contrived. But they were pretty loud and clear while I prayed so I'm not discounting them.

The first joyful mystery: The Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary from Luke 1:26-38
My resolution: to listen to the Lord. I want to trust that when He has something important to say, He will get His message across (or He already has!) - and I can read about it in scripture, experience it in the Eucharist at Mass, or hear it through another person. Or, heck, an angel. If God wants to go that route with me, I'll take it.

The second joyful mystery: The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth from Luke 1:39-56
My resolution: to cling to my friendships as gifts from God. I said on facebook, in my "resolutions" post, (when a friend suggested I give it up for New Years) that "I would die without facebook." This is a slight exaggeration, as I am prone to slight exaggeration nearly every minute of every day - but it isn't completely untrue. That being said, I think I could move away from my dependence on the connection I enjoy through facebook if I instead went "visiting" in person more often. Those of you who live close to me - please be nice when I show up on your porch.

The third joyful mystery: The Birth of our Lord from Luke 2:1-21
My resolution: to celebrate His birth and life every day. We are in the midst of the Christmas season and the celebration of the crazy story of the birth of our Lord.  I resolve to enjoy His life every day through more disciplined prayer. I've been a little lazy lately and I've paid for it with an uncomfortable distance from Jesus.

The fourth joyful mystery: The Presentation of our Lord in the Temple from Luke 2:22-38
Don't laugh at my simplicity here, but I took this as: keep goin' to Church. Perhaps my resolution lies in a renewed desire to see our Mass attendance as a solemn responsibility and joyful privilege (simultaneously) rather than a hardship preceded by lots of whining from young children.

The fifth joyful mystery: The Finding of our Lord in the Temple from Luke 2:41-52
Hm. As we headed into praying this decade, I tried so hard to meditate on the familiar passage. All I got was the image of Mary and Joseph's misunderstanding. So I suppose my resolution is to keep seeking wisdom, in scripture, prayer, and spiritual reading so that I am not perplexed by Jesus' actions, in scripture and in my life and the world I'm living in. I might sum up this resolution in one word: trust.

Just a note: I do plan to run a lot this year. And read. And write. And learn some new things. But it's kinda handy that my real resolutions came out of the rosary and are centered on Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for this sinner. Nothing more I can ask for in the new year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Post-Race Reflecting


My brand new half-marathon medal, emblazoned with its sparkling Vegas skyline is hanging from a shelf near my bed. If you look closely at the ribbon, there is some discoloration. That is because I barfed all over myself about an hour after the race. But doesn't that paint the perfect picture of athletic endeavor?-- The pride and the pain are part of the same package.

Walking to the start line for Sunday evening's Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon was pleasant enough. We walked with lots of people, plenty dressed as Elvis, numerous women and men in tutus. How tutus became the "in thing" for runners I may never know, but they were all over the place.

With music in the background, and announcements over the loudspeaker when the full marathon started, we dove into the crowd and tried to check our "gear" and nibble on snacks and stand in line for the porta-potties. Still an hour before our start time, and with all the pre-race energy and optimism, I was mainly concerned about staying warm. Not until we tried to make our way to our starting corral did the weight of the enormous crowd become a burden.

I don't want to go on and on about the overcrowding. If you're interested, you should read Review Journal articles about the masses of people: there were 44,000 runners, plus all the spectators. Better yet, "like" Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon & 1/2 Marathon on facebook and read their apology for the "inconveniences" of the race. The hundreds of comments following that post are revealing. They capture both sides of the issue: 1) This is a for-profit race organizer with an iconic race location. No matter what the complainers say, there will be thousands more racers next year. They're predicting 60,000-100,000 according to some accounts; 2) Someone should pay for the extreme lack of organization and resulting fire code violations. I see both sides. I lived both sides.

Once we jogged over the start line, I felt thrilled to run past so many towering Las Vegas landmarks and through the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo with no cars, only runners. It was magnificent. But I couldn't gaze up for long because I had to dodge people. There were walkers who had evidently skipped their designated corrals and became obstacles right away. When I could squeeze between people, I'd speed up. Then slow again. Then speed up again. I kept overhearing people say, "It will thin out quickly," but it didn't. It didn't really thin out comfortably until about mile six or seven.

At the 5K mark, we were at 36 minutes, and whatever positive outlook I had maintained past the billions of walkers was dashed. The second 5K was a similar pace, and shortly before the 10-mile mark I felt like crap and wanted to collapse on the median. Taking stock, I didn't have any pain, but I also didn't have any energy. That was a strange sensation. My only mental boost at this point was the presence of so many people around me, and plenty more behind. I kept an eye on my GPS and knew that if I could at least maintain a jog, I should be able to accomplish my goal of beating my first half-marathon time of 2:43. Soon after the 10-mile mark, when I kept sputtering and stopping to walk "just to the next stoplight," I realized that unless I could really pick up the pace (like, to a 9-minute mile) this marathon was going to be slower than my first. No way I could do nine minutes at this point. But I managed to jog the last mile without stopping even though it wasn't pretty and I stopped seeing and hearing the cheering crowd at that point. I just wanted to be done.

According to the "Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series Medical and Fluid Replacement Information" pamphlet that was in my race packet, blood is directed away from your internal organs to your legs during a race. It reads, "YOU MUST CONTINUE TO WALK AFTER FINISHING YOUR RACE. MOVE FOR AT LEAST 20 MINUTES!" I walked for about 15 seconds after finishing, and then was herded into a slow-moving mass past medal pick-up, past Mylars, past water and green bananas, and into the reunion area and gear pick-up. I was too grouchy and nauseous then to pay attention to the time, but later estimated I stood in a slow-moving horde of people for 15 minutes immediately following the race. Another 15 minutes was spent waiting to pick up my dry sweatshirt. While waiting in that line, I had to sit twice for fear of fainting, and felt sick. All around us, in the Shark Reef lobby, there were people sitting or lying on the ground, next to medical team members. It looked much more like a Red Cross tent after a natural disaster than a post-race scene.

My friend and ride home was waiting in front of a restaurant, which under normal circumstances would be a 3-minute walk from the Shark Reef area. It took us 90 minutes. We were in a throng of wall-to-wall bodies, most of them sweaty, and moving only a few inches a minute. There was no way out. It was one way with no side exits and it was horrid. I can honestly say that it was one of the worst experiences of my life. After a very miserable hour, just as the crowd began to move at a slow walk, I started vomiting. I should have employed this strategy sooner, because a 3-foot space miraculously opened all around me right when the retching started. I heard comments and murmurings from several men behind me. Oddly, I detected a hint of "this is to be expected" intermingled with the repulsed horror. Moments later, there was a place to pause and try to clean myself up. I stood near an area full of gurneys and EMTs and runners worse-off than me, but wondered if an ambulance ride might get me home quicker. Thankfully, I felt better after my "episode" and survived the remaining walk and monorail ride. Bodies were so close on that monorail that my friend's husband said we all needed to go to Confession afterward.

Today is Tuesday. What little hip flexor pain I had yesterday is now completely gone. I have no limp, no soreness. I suppose this is because I didn't run that hard, physically. Mentally, I am still in recovery mode. Given another couple days, I expect to label this run in my memory as the amazing experience it was: the third largest race of its kind after NYC and Boston; nighttime; on the Las Vegas strip. But for now, I need to get over missing my goal.

Monday, November 21, 2011

On Running Shoes and Knitting Needles

I started running in 1992 because my brother ran and I wanted to have something in common with him other than, you know, our family tree.

I raced and finished my first 5K in Las Vegas in 1997. Cindy Crawford ran one around the same time and it was heartening that my pace was comparable to hers.

While I concerned myself with marrying and beginning to produce offspring, I only ran intermittently. But in recent years I've picked it up again. I love it because it calms my Irish temper, keeps my heart healthy, and people clap for me when I race.

I started knitting two weeks ago, because I am intrigued with the idea of turning string (well, yarn) into clothing and useful household items, and because I want to challenge myself to persist with things even when they're difficult and even when I can't accomplish them perfectly. For you normal people out there, this is no biggie, but for me, it is a giant undertaking. As my friend, knitting instructor, and fellow recovering perfectionist has challenged me: "Dare to be average!"

In recent days, I find myself comparing these two "hobbies" of mine. Here are the findings of my analysis:

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN RUNNING AND KNITTING

Yarn is cheaper than Asics.
Running carries the higher risk of being hit by a truck.
Knitting doesn't require a special bra.
Strangers hand you Gatorade when you run.
I have never once seen my shadow while knitting and thought my butt looked fat.
It is easier to screw up knitting than running.
Someone is teaching me to knit. Running came way more natural.
Knitting can be done in a recliner.


SIMILARITIES BETWEEN RUNNING AND KNITTING

Both make me sweat. One from physical exertion, one from mental and motor skill.
Both distract me from eating large quantities of unnecessary food.
Both indirectly benefit others: knitting produces things like scarves that can be given as gifts; running increases my overall sanity, which helps my children live another day.
I prefer to knit, and to run, in the company of others. But both are also totally acceptable solo activities.
I hope to pass both on to my grandchildren.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Where Is My Gum Specialist's Restroom?

It's quite alarming, really - people turn forty and immediately complain about how their bodies suddenly fall to pieces. I would wholeheartedly object, but out of nowhere my gums are receding!

I can tell by his name that my gum specialist is Korean. And though I have just days before read about the War with Korea - I determine that this might not be the best conversation topic at my gum consult. I vow to keep the dialogue mainly centered on what is to be done about my rapidly elongating teeth.

I've recently taken up coffee drinking, and gum-consult day was particularly stressful, so I downed three cups of coconut coffee right before driving a LONG way across town to meet my new specialist. This means I had to pee like crazy even before I got lost three times, within a block of my destination.

Evidently, disorders of the gums are rampant, because this office is NICE. I only had a moment to take in the opulent surroundings before asking for the potty.

There is no need for me to draw out what happened in the restroom. Let's just say that I was going about my business like normal when the room went pitch dark. Where once there was light and the hum of a fan --- nothing. Perhaps it was instinct that caused me to immediately flail my arms and wave my torso. Whatever, it worked. The light came back on and the annoyance that began with the receding of my gums and grew with the distance of the specialist and getting lost on the way was now enormous.

I finished, situated myself and what's left of my gums on the plush sofa in the lobby, and began the tedium of doctor's office paperwork. Part way through, a man in a tie approached me with a clipboard. He told me that as soon as my chart was complete, he would commence our tour of the office.

What reaction am I to have upon hearing I'm to be given a tour of my gum specialist's office? What purpose does it serve to know the layout and workings of such a place? In my life, I have been to pediatricians, general practitioners, gynecologists, obstetricians, dermatologists, dentists, orthodontists, radiologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, hair stylists, midwives, ear nose and throat specialists, orthopedists, optometrists, and ophthalmologists, and never once before have I been offered a tour of their office! All I can assume is that this is some sort of customer service gimmick and that they think if I've been shown around the digs, I will feel loyal to this specialist forever.

Included in the tour: the restroom (I'd already discovered it, thank you), the coffee maker (as if), the orthodontic room, several staff members in scrubs, and two cutting-edge-technology machines which were explained to me as if I cared one whit (or even understood). My one question: if you pride yourselves on this amazing new technology, could you please do something about the motion-sensor light in the bathroom that leaves your patients in pitch-black mid-pee?

Around three thousand dollars from now, I will have a small piece of tissue grafted from the roof of my mouth and relocated to cover my three nearly-naked teeth. I will drink only milkshakes for a week, and the stitches will dissolve on their own. This was all explained to me very kindly, with the aid of state-of-the-art video. On the way out, I stopped in the restroom to pee again before my trek back across town to home. And yes, the light went out and I sat in blackness. Just forty feet or so from the eight million dollar imaging whatsit machine that my tour guide was so proud of.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I remember the days...

... of college summer Saturday nights in Ridgecrest. I'd arrive at the house of a friend where a bunch of us would gather to hang out and eat and usually watch Saturday Night Live.

It is a vivid sad memory that "Deep Thoughts with Jack Handey" would come on and I would be laughing so hard I'd be doubled over on the carpet. Everyone else (like, nine people) would be silent and stoic and not getting it.

Is it the same thing now with "Catalog Living?" Well, not exactly, because I'm reading it on my computer, usually by myself (some glorious days Kevin reads over my shoulder and laughs, and this is a big part of the reason I married him and not any of those guys from Ridgecrest - even though one of them had the last name McCrary. And Teri McCrary is an epic name.) So typically there is no one around NOT to laugh. But it is all I can do not to post it every single day here or on facebook. It is my fear of the silent and stoic reaction that keeps me from doing so. Go read it! Only tell me if it cracks you up.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Scene at a Suburban Park

I always try to avoid fights. In fact, I have always succeeded. I have never once been in a fist fight. Or even a slap fight. I have been known to raise my voice a time or two, but only rarely at strangers, and the time I hung up the phone on a guy at my library job, I got fired for it. Everyone thinks I'm quite demure, so when I flare for a moment, the troops dive for the bunkers, so to speak.

Recently, I've taken up a friendship with a person who shall remain nameless, who used to "organize" a "fight club" at his/her place of work after hours in a big city. Frankly, all the talk of this makes my heart palpitate and I wonder when his/her old "associates" will "catch up" with him or her and I will have to witness a "payback."

Truth be told, I'm not even entirely sure what a "fight club" is, but the notion is rather gripping, isn't it? And herein lies the problem. I like gripping. Not much in my life is gripping. Never has been. This may be why I once wanted to be a reporter. Reporters crave gripping, and they go after it, and then they write about it. I'm a housewife. But I still crave gripping, and I go after it, and afterward I write about it.

Why, just today I loaded my four offspring into our automatic-door minivan and drove up past the nine-million-gallons-per-minute fake fountain into the country club neighborhood of Anthem. Ah, Anthem. Not really a gripping place. But I parked my minivan and stepped out and smelled trouble in the air.

Dozens of middle-school-aged youth were swarming on the playground equipment. "Don't they have anything better to do?" I complained to my friends who had accompanied me to the park. We should have been an intimidating sight to those middle-schoolers. Three housewives, one of us nine months pregnant, walking in slo-mo toward the playground with eight children between us. But these are middle-school-aged youth, as I've mentioned, so they didn't disperse as I hoped they would. Instead, they turned up the volume on the swear words, blocked my daughter from climbing on the play equipment, and one of them, inexplicably, pulled his pants down. I didn't personally witness the pants incident, but my housewife associate did and I'm just lucky it didn't bowl her over, because she is the nine-months-pregnant one and I would have had to help her up in the midst of all the gripping turmoil.

Add to all this craziness the fact that I had recently ingested two cups of coffee, and am still new to caffeine. The psychological drama, paired with the coffee gave me the shakes. Or maybe I was just scared of a brawl. I don't care how brawny I am...  no one, NO ONE can take on several dozen junior high misfits at a park. Well, maybe my fight club friend could, but he/she wasn't there. So I did what any self-respecting middle-aged suburban housewife in her right mind and with a penchant for "gripping" would do: I called the cops. I didn't mean for it to turn into fodder for my facebook page, but I can't help it - it just was.

After Little Miss Non-Emergency Dispatcher in her safe-haven control center got through asking me questions like, "Are there drugs?" (No.) and "Are there weapons?" (Well, no... but they're cussing, Little Miss Non-Emergency Dispatcher! Cussing! And I don't get out much!) --- she agreed to send an officer on the double! (She didn't actually say "on the double!" - but I wanted to somehow work that in to my story. You understand.)

Mr. Officer was so nice! But don't confuse "nice" for "not intimidating." As soon as those kids (read: hoodlums) saw him coming, they picked up their backpacks (maybe chock full of knives and nunchucks) and skedaddled. Mr. Officer followed on foot and issued a "stern warning" to some of their remnant to "keep their pants on" and "find another place to play." Then he came back to chat with me and assure me of my safety in this mean suburban jungle. During this chat, some other friends of mine arrived on the scene and were intrigued to see me talking to a law enforcement officer, since the last time I invited them to this park, there was a bus load of convicts cleaning up trash on the grounds. I know what you're thinking - action follows me. Come with me to the park sometime!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Flying Kids

I grew up flying over town in my dad's single-engine airplanes and playing in grease in hangars during Summer while other kids played in swimming pools. My dad is an A&P mechanic and a workaholic, so I learned the NATO alphabet at the same time I learned the regular one. Therefore it makes perfect sense that I try to introduce aviation to my kids.

Until recently, my efforts included meals at the municipal airport cafe around the corner; watching jets land in the designated observation lot near the runway at McCarran; and trips to see Grandpa at the hangar where he's working now - even at the age of 74.

But earlier this month, we took advantage of a very cool program which is part of the Experimental Aircraft Association - the Young Eagles. You can read all about it by following the link to their website, but for the purposes of my blog, you only need to know that Joseph got to fly for free over our beautiful Nevadan desert for about half an hour in a homebuilt airplane. I have included a photo of the plane, just before landing safely, in case that word "homebuilt" makes you nervous. Preceding the flight, he was given a basic explanation of the parts of the plane, how it flies, and a logbook of his very own. Any child between the ages of eight and eighteen is eligible for this and you can find a chapter in your area on the website.

The experience impressed my often-stoic ten year-old. And I was proud to have done my part to promote an ongoing affection for aviation in our family. Plus, four more children have been taught to "walk wide around the propeller." Heard that a time or two growing up.
Cayna declined a flight, but liked the right seat.
Bethie wanted to fly, but has to wait a couple years.
Coming in for a landing!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I find myself, at age 41, and with a husband and four children, frequently clueless but concerned about what our family life should look like. I've had enough therapy to know that this is largely due to my parents' divorce. To compensate, I look to other people's families for a model, or resort to my own sky-high ideal based loosely on movies and television. This actually works out okay some of the time. (It helps that I know Jesus, have a phenomenal husband, and am intelligent enough to spare myself too many mishaps.)

Sometimes, however, I am in really unfamiliar territory. Summer vacation for instance. My own childhood summer vacation memories consist mainly of spending weeks with extended family without my parents; going to camp (again, without my parents); or taking long trips with my dad and my brother and sleeping in hotel parking lots in my dad's conversion van. You can see how I might not know what I'm doing, or how this is supposed to go.

Summer, 2011 began and I knew it would be fun and healthy to get out of my house and out of Las Vegas for more than a long weekend. But the idea of making that happen paralyzed me. Facebook gave me some ideas of what people do: The beach. The lake. Washington state. And I talked to people: One friend was packing up her pregnant self and her two small children to fly to New York for two weeks to visit both sets of grandparents. Our teacher friends, with the summer off, spent four weeks on the East coast and included a Bermuda cruise. Our neighbors took three weeks to go to the Virgin Islands. My brother and sister-in-law planned a cross-country camping and sight-seeing trip in their Honda Odyssey.

By late July, the most we had done was pick a week with no major obligations and in early August, Kevin requested the time off work from the 19th through the 26th. Our only semblance of a destination was Carson City, to visit our state capitol since Joe studied it this year - and maybe Lake Tahoe, owing to its proximity to Carson City. My friend Michelle, planner extraordinaire, sent me an inboxful of links to help plan this trip that stubbornly refused to plan itself.

Unexpectedly, on August 12, our friend Rachel Hamilton passed away. She had battled an evil stomach cancer for four months. Her funeral was planned for August 20th in Denver. It was a heckuvan event to plan a vacation around, but it rapidly came together.

One night shortly before the trip, I sent out a deluge of texts and facebook messages to anyone and everyone who might help me with any aspect of this trip. One particularly helpful response came from the Dixons, a family we know with family in Denver. Not only are they in the habit of pulling off this crazy one-day, Vegas-to-Denver road trip, but they do it with four kids! I was incredibly pleased with the detailed itinerary that Rob Dixon sent to me. So much so that I gushed about it to other friends and to my husband. Looking back on all I learned over the past week, I think that it not only fed the scheduled, planned, controlled part of my personality (a sizable chunk) - it also relieved some of my extreme anxiety over what a family vacation looks like. I had it right there spelled out for me on my iPhone in the form of a facebook message! Now if only I could have hit up other friends for plans for the other six days of the vacation... I might have been much more relaxed to start with.

We rolled out of our driveway last Friday the 19th right on schedule at 5:30 a.m. And we were able to stay on schedule until maybe a couple hours out of Denver when we hit a LOT of rain and some unavoidable bathroom stops in unfamiliar towns. Overall, I think we all did remarkably well for having spent roughly 15 hours in a minivan.

The funeral was both sickeningly sad and wonderfully warm and inspirational. It was healing to see our friend, Jeff, (Rachel's husband), and their two daughters Jane (4) and Cate (2). We spent hours afterwards in their backyard while our kids played and watched a movie and we talked and told stories and visited with a bunch of friends.

From there, our vacation week was mostly marvelous, the stuff of postcards. Mass at the Denver Cathedral with the sunshine streaming through the stained glass. A drive to Glenwood Springs, 160 miles west of Denver. Setting up camp by the Colorado River. Swimming in the Hot Springs, tubing on the waterslides. Touring a cave. Racing down a mountain on an alpine coaster. Dining high above the canyon, with breathtaking views from the restaurant and from the tram that delivered us. Playing miniature golf. Getting ice cream downtown. Riding a zipline across the Colorado River. And back. Watching the kayaks and rafts go by, and keeping John from throwing rocks at them.

When I list all those things, doesn't it sound delightful? It really was, in part. But there were also numerous instances when Kevin and I bickered. Or the kids bickered. Or the restaurant sucked. Or we took a wrong turn AGAIN. Or I wanted a shower. And I didn't handle it well. When my ideals aren't met, sometimes I spiral downward into a pit of despair and am absolutely convinced that we are ruining our children and our marriage is done for and the six of us will one day make a cautionary tale told by psychiatrists across the nation.

All I can do during those times is pray. I might initially be miffed at my husband, but the hope and forgiveness that is part of leaning on Jesus gradually takes over. Then I'm able to recall the countless stories I've heard from other families, older than mine, that tell how family vacations are often quite challenging - but years later, either the bad stuff is forgotten or it becomes a really good story.

On the way home today, on the curvy roads of the Colorado highway we were on, Cayna finally succumbed to the motion sickness that seemed to be manifesting itself the entire trip. She barfed all over herself and the back seat. Alarmed by the spewing, Bethanie screamed as if she had witnessed a murder, which scared John, who burst into tears. We pulled over, put on the hazards, and furiously dug through our forty-two bags to find our towels. I soaked up the barf and Kevin stuffed the towels into a trash bag to be dealt with at home. And Cayna got a lesson in motion sickness from her father who suffers as well. And Bethanie quieted down, as did John. And we eased back onto the highway. Crisis managed. And not once did we bicker. (Well, there was one tiny dispute over whether to use paper towels or real ones for the clean-up.) It is a joy and a relief to realize we handled the barf incident way better than some of the issues that came up only days earlier. We're learning. It's funny that it took an unplanned, unprecedented, and unpleasant event to prove that we are making progress in figuring out this family thing. I didn't need facebook help or a text to get through it, and I'm proud that we worked together, cared for Cayna, and then got back on the road.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Underwater Birthday Moments

I think at the moment I officially turned 41, I was reclining on the couch watching my son's home video of my daughter being loony in the car. Then I went to the grocery store.

My official position is that no birthday girl or guy should have to grocery shop. But I have other official positions that supersede that one, such as: no family should be without food. But thankfully, Kevin took off work early so at least I got to grocery shop alone. And also thankfully, the grocery store wasn't the main feature of my day.

Main features of my day:
1) Snuggling with kids in bed since it was a lazy Summer morn. I will spare you the full truth about how this ended in strife when Bethanie and Joe decided to start slapping each other.

2) Going to McDonald's for Egg McMuffins. Because we had no food in the house.

3) A morning swim. With the Egg McMuffins still digesting, we plunged into our backyard swimming hole. It was marvelous. I hope to always remember how the water sparkled in the July morning sunlight. And how my children are trouble-free when we are in the pool.

I am a swimmer. I even lettered in swimming in high school. And MANY of my childhood memories are in my grandma's pool. But even with efficiency in all the main strokes, I still love swimming underwater best. It is so quiet and peaceful and otherworldly beneath the surface. I have never SCUBA dived, but I am convinced I would like it if I could get over my fears of the bends and terribly poisonous fish. In the pool this morning, I purposely kept swimming the length of the pool underwater. And noting how quiet it was. And how blue and shining. And how risky considering any one of my children could cannonball right into my spine without warning. But no one did. And I reveled in the experience.

4) Purple Penguin with Pinneys. (Can't resist alliteration from time to time.) My good friend Michelle and I took all the kids to the snowcone shack and ordered up some flavored ice. It was tempting to order "Birthday Cake" flavor, but I went with my usual, Pina Colada. Memorize this bit of trivia as it may appear on a pop quiz at my 50th birthday party.

5) Dinner with Dad and Vivver. BBQ flavored grilled chicken. Foil pack buttered asparagus, and roasted red potatoes and olive oil. It is a RARE thing that I cook my own birthday dinner, but it just sounded good to me, and no particular restaurant did.

6) Driveway dessert with 21 of our neighbors, plus my parents. It was scrumptious. And sitting out on a night as splendid as this one, with a faint breeze, but mostly just the coolness of the shade - I had to concede that maybe it's not the most insane thing in the world to give birth to a baby in July in Las Vegas, Nevada.

7) A homemade necklace from Cayna. I will treasure it, and this day.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On the Eve of My Forty-First Birthday

I'm hopeful. Isn't that the best way to be?
Kevin and I had our first counseling session together in a long time. I want to work on anger issues and how they affect my parenting, and he wants to support me, and we BOTH have tremendous loads of crap from our childhoods to deal with - and the good news is: it's possible! It's possible to deal with it. And to heal. And to improve. That news is the highlight of my year.

I'm loving my children. On the eve of turning 41, they are ages 10, 8, 6, and 3. They are funny, sweet, smart, loving reflections of the joy of the Lord. I can't wait to hug and kiss them on my birthday tomorrow.

I'm able to run. For yet another birthday. And I have a neighbor nice enough to run with me each time we are both willing to put down the snack foods and put on the running shoes. I still love running more than I hate running, and that keeps me getting out there.

I'm excited about the cake and ice cream. From age one aaaaaaaaaaalllll the way until tonight, I have loved cake and ice cream. And it's even sweeter when it's in honor of a birthday celebration.

I have purpose. I seek to grow in my love for God every day. I want to be a better wife, and have fun with my husband and our kids. I homeschool with conviction (and am ELATED when next year's pieces of curriculum arrive in my mailbox one by one). I maintain and improve our home. I buy portions of grass-fed beef; strive to improve at sewing; read good books; want to grow closer to my friends; try to do Weight Watchers, then screw up, then try to do Weight Watchers again; organize closets; analyze relationships; and continue to pray for everyone I love and plenty of people I don't even know.

All that oughtta keep me going another year, huh?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

And Just Like That...

... She's Eight!

Cayna turned eight today. There was a little fanfare, not too much, but plenty of feeling special.

My morning rosary for her. Prayed in bed with her sitting next to me, then snuggling and remembering newborn her with her rosy skin and how she tried to suck on her whole hand.

Good friends in a toy shoppe playing in 3,000 pounds of recycled milk carton product. A tree at the back of the store sang "Happy Birthday" to her, called her by name, and knew her age.

Spent too much at said toy store, on a toy that she will outgrow soon, but it's noteable that she's not an OLD age eight. And I'm just fine if she wants to play with "young" toys rather than Justin Bieber stuff for a while longer.

Went to a park. She wrote "I Turned 8" on the ground with sidewalk chalk. And used her characteristic 97 colors to do it. She also went barefoot, her favorite way to be; played in the sand; climbed on the jungle gym; ran along the snake wall; and proclaimed that she is not afraid of dogs. Her choice of movie to watch on the DVD player on the drive across town was "Pocahontas." She is enamored by all things Native American and has coerced her Daddy into constructing a teepee for her birthday.

Chose IHOP for dinner and sweetly asked that someone sing for her. The whopping two servers on duty in the near-empty restaurant rallied with the hostess and presented her with a scoop of ice cream and a little song with enthusiastic applause. They were so sweet to her.

Dragged BaBa through WalMart, then Toys R Us and ended up going back to WalMart for the bike she's been searching for high and low. It's a 20-incher. Blue, pink, sparkly, fenders, etc. All I care about is that she'll feel LOTS of wind blowing through her hair in the coming years and if she falls down, she'll get back up. That about sums it up.

Monday, June 6, 2011

What Not to Eat While Giving Blood

At the end of the 9:30 Mass yesterday, Father John announced that the Knights of Columbus were sponsoring a blood drive at the church.

I have this funny habit. When I want to do something, but maybe feel unsure about it, I try to get millions of other people to do it, and then I can just join in unafraid. So I turned to Kevin, "You should give blood!" To my surprise, he said, "I'll do it."

From there, my campaign had a different look: "Hey, so-and-so, Kevin's giving blood. Wanna join him?" I asked eight people and was rejected by eight people. Bravely, for me, the needle wimp, I decided I would join him. Thankfully, my mother-in-law was visiting and took the kids home.

It was a long wait, but finally I went "behind the curtain" to answer questions about my sex, drug, and health practices. The funniest moment was when my interviewer asked if I'd ever been pregnant. I said yes. She asked how many times, and I answered eight. You should have seen her face. And she seriously thought I was joking (we'd already established a rapport, which is good when you're divulging whether or not you've had sex with someone with HIV - and we'd been joking a little bit). I told her I had four kids and four miscarriages and she was still shaking her head as we went on to the next question.

It was determined that I could donate "a double". I was tall enough, heavy enough, and had high enough iron to do it. After my finger prick revealed my super-star iron level, the interviewer goes, "GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL!" at the top of her lungs - announced my double donation and all the volunteer Knights on the other side of the curtain were clapping. (Just a note, the "double" means they can take double the blood because they pump your plasma right back into you and you can give more that way. It's also more readily usable, if I understood right, and just takes 45 minutes or so to give.)

I was actually having fun at this point. There was lots of attention given to the donors, and I like attention. Kevin and I were hanging out without the kids - nearly like a date! And my interviewer told me I had permission to eat a cheeseburger while I donated. I was hungry, having not eaten since breakfast about four or five hours before, and the Knights were sponsoring their monthly cook-out after Mass and all donors got a free ticket.

My plan was to have Kevin go fetch me a burger after he finished his donation. This went awry when time flew and he had to go get Joseph for a meeting back at the church at 1:00. So Ken, my new best friend, and one of the nicest Knights, brought me a scrumptious burger.

This blood donation thing seemed easy-breezy. I do hate needles and get faint at the sight of blood, but I had promised my interviewer I would not be dramatic and would keep communicating with the techs if I had any issues. Plus, compared to the thousand times I've had blood taken during my pregnancies and pregnancy losses, this was like a cruise ship compared to a row boat. The phlebotomists were friendly and jovial, the chair was like a La-Z-Boy recliner, and, for Pete's sake, I was saving a life or two! You can't beat that!!!

I was all hooked up and had enjoyed a small bag of pretzels and two water bottles by the time the cheeseburger arrived. It was delicious. I chewed it slowly while I focused on relaxing and NOT looking at the tube coming out of my arm.

I remembered labor with each of my pregnancies, and how successful it was to employ the mind-body connection. When I heard a tech say my blood had "slowed down" I visualized a river flowing. Even got a random old, old song by Joel Weldon going in my brain: "Still the River Flows". This river visual might have been the beginning of my demise.

It's frustrating, as the whole world knows, to do everything right and still have your body betray you. Despite all my prayer, visualization, happy singing, and relaxation - I started to shiver. Then get light-headed. It was annoying. But it was easily solved. Two blankets and a further reclined position plus two ice bags on my neck and I started to feel better. The guy told me that the saline pumping back into my body was twenty degrees cooler than my body temperature, so that explained the shivers. But I was starting to look more like a hospital patient then a calm, collected, breezy blood donor.

Ken had brought me such joy with the cheeseburger that he decided to bring a whole tray for other waiting donors. I remember when he walked in, my stomach turned. Then turned again. Then started somersaulting and cartwheeling and no amount of forced relaxation or trying to talk myself out of the nausea would work. I told my friendly phlebotomist that I was REALLY nauseous and before I knew it I was barfing endlessly into an orange biohazard bag.

Perhaps you're not fully appreciating this scene. I was wearing a pretty pink dress, left over from church. My friend Andrea had even complimented my hair. I was trying to save a LIFE! And it all came crashing down with a whole lot of wretching into a plastic bag held by a stranger.

Imagine also the orientation of the room. The donor recliners faced straight toward the waiting area. So I had an audience of like a dozen men and women. My buddy phlebotomist mostly blocked their view of my puking, but it had to be evident what was going on when other techs came running with napkins and chorusing, "Is she okay?"

I was okay. My pride was wounded, but the moment I started vomiting, the phlebotomist said, "Your blood came rushing out!" So maybe the visualization HAD worked! (A little TOO well.)

I was given extra time for recovery, and Ken gave me an apple juice. Another man insisted I couldn't drink it from a can, and brought me a cup. My pink bandage tape matched my dress. There was only the faintest hint of barf stench emanating from my cleavage where I hadn't thought to wipe. And as soon as I could walk, I went home where I could change clothes and recline on the couch.

Whether or not they wrote "Puker" on my donor record remains to be seen. I can donate again in September. If I avoid the cheeseburger, and they can put up with me, I'll give blood again. People go through way worse than this to save a life. Just call me the hurling heroine!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

He's Three

Through various turns of events, I found myself on a porch swing in the backyard next-door to my old backyard. John, age 3, was with me. He wanted me to swing higher, but a porch swing isn't the same as a playground swing. He didn't get that. I tried to make conversation, nodding my head toward our old house: "John, there's our old house. You were BORN there!"

And his reply: "How old was I?"

Monday, May 2, 2011

Plastered

The good news is that ALL of the inside projects we wanted to do in this new house are now complete. Anything else we do is like icing on the cake.

The bad news is that plastering the ceiling was WAY more difficult than I bargained for. Plastering, in and of itself, is pretty basic. It was made more difficult by yours truly - thanks to the Easter deadline I imposed, the "side projects" I had going simultaneously, and my perfectionism. Fortunately, when one grows increasingly desperate and anxious, the perfectionism starts to go out the window. Passers-by hear statements like: "I don't give a rat's @$$ anymore about the air bubbles! I just want this stupid project FINISHED!!!" (Sadly, for my husband, he is really the only passer-by.)

It all started with this:
You'll have to squint a little. See that pale spot just past the air vent? That was the former site of a truly ugly medallion which was screwed into the ceiling with many VERY LARGE screws. And a light fixture. But, since we removed the light fixture, Kevin patched the damaged drywall, etc. And that is where he stopped. He kept procrastinating the texture job. Partly because it's messy and partly because on any given weekend we already have 250,000 OTHER things on our to-do list. You understand.

I, the brilliant wife, had the economical idea to finish the ceiling with Venetian Plaster, which can be obtained at your local Home Depot. (You don't have to be even a little bit Italian. They just sold it to me!) Plastering would kill two birds with one stone - release Kevin from the pesky texturing job and accomplish re-painting which would be inevitable.

And here I insert a HUGE thank you to Neal Kellen for loaning us his scaffold, Tammy Kellen for posting a photo of their scaffold on facebook during their painting job (or else I never would have known anyone owned such a thing), and Kathy Litto and Kendra Green for coaching me (in person and on the phone) in the fine art of Venetian Plaster. I still didn't get it entirely right, but I think it looks pretty good, it accomplished my goal, and on days when my perfectionist beast is subdued, I live in happy satisfaction with a job done.

Here is the scaffold, which joined our family for a little less than a week. The kids loved it. They played on it, lunched on it, spilled juice on it... (whoops! didn't mention that to the Kellens!)

And here is the "after" picture.

Please do just enough squinting to appreciate the texture and the effect of the "burnishing." What is "burnishing?" you ask. Burnishing, loosely translated, means: to scrape a steel putty knife across endless square feet of ceiling surface to make it shiny and give it "depth" and color variations; it often results in sore arms and shoulders, plaster-dust in the eyes, vertigo (depending on the height of your ceiling) and a deep need to tell everyone you meet about the job you just did so they can pat you on the back and be impressed.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Easter

Despite the craziness of Holy Week, brought on by my own decision to take on too many home improvement projects while the kids were off school, Easter was still a glorious day.

Easter began for us on Saturday night. Joseph wanted to attend the Easter Vigil again (it has become a tradition of sorts) and since Kevin went with him last year, I was elected to go this year. Kevin stayed home with the children who would implode if they stayed up til midnight and then spent the entire next day eating chocolate bunnies.

(I will eventually post a photo of) the fire that lit the Easter candle. We all gathered here with our candles to process into the church. I'd love to add photos of the baptismal font that Father John built, all 30 baptisms, Father Steve standing on a chair to light the candles behind the altar (we all laughed - the guy is already six foot eight!) and the joy I felt sitting through the Mass with Joseph and our young neighbors Christina and Maria. While we're at it, I wish cameras could capture how moving it is to hear Stephanie sing the litany of the saints. What a night! What a savior we have to celebrate!

After a midnight snack of sandwiches, shrimp, and delicious fruit, we all went home and went to bed with the resurrection on our hearts.

And woke up to Easter baskets!
I'm happy to say that I refrained from buying so much candy as to guarantee diabetes by summer. But there was enough, and the kids were all thrilled with their choco-bunnies, Mike & Ike's, and pool-themed gifts.

After I ran to the Mayers to hide the zillion eggs for the after-Mass hunt, we dressed up and took a family photo on the couch before Mass. At Mass, Joe had altar server duty and the girls both sang in the choir - it was bizarre to sit with just one child! (Though Grandma Noela joined us, too.)
After Mass, it was lots of kids and baskets in the Mayers backyard. Here's the whole group, minus John, who shies away from large group shots.
Back to our house for the potluck. Yummy ham, lots of marvelous side dishes, and, oh! - a wild and crazy confetti egg fight. This was compliments of my fabulous friend Andrea. The confetti eggs are a tradition in her family and she provided 36 of the well-decorated little suckers. The kids (and adults) had a blast breaking them over each other's heads. Here is Joe dashing out of the bathroom, where he had chased Christina and covered her and the entire commode in shiny confetti.
Here is a tiny sample of what my floor looked like at the end of the afternoon. The entire first floor of our house, minus the guest room looked like this. No joke. Praise the Lord for the broom and the vacuum cleaner!
To prove my cheery disposition despite the crazy confetti mess, and despite the fact that she broke an egg over my head right before this was taken, here is photographic evidence that Andrea and I are still friends.
It was fun to have a neighborhood lunch gathering to celebrate Jesus. And Easter season is just beginning. Happy Easter everyone!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Holy Week Upholstery

Leading up to Easter, I didn't have enough to do with filling eggs for the big hunt, ironing Easter outfits, and cleaning the house for a party - so I figured it was a good time to reupholster our dining room chairs.

We bought these chairs in Hanford in 2004. I loved the white fabric, but purposely inspected their design for ease of reupholstering. At the time I had two children and knew the fabric wouldn't stay white for long. Call me a prophet.

Seven years later, these suckers were WAY overdue for a makeover.
I think the cran-grape juice stains make them especially lovely. If I were a guest, I'm not sure I'd even want to sit on a chair this disgusting. (No one needs to ask what kind of forward thinker would buy white chairs with children in the house. I have no answer. Except they were so pretty!)

On about Wednesday night of Holy Week, Kevin unscrewed the seat cushions from the chair frame and I sat on the couch with a screwdriver and some pliers and got to work removing the old fabric from the chairs. Between the black "under-cover" (not sure what else to call it) and the fabric itself, there were roughly 150 staples per chair to be removed. And they didn't come easy. I had a cramped, blistered hand and very sore muscles by the end of the night, and was only half done. I spent about two or three hours the next morning finishing the job.

At this point, I thought the hard part was over. Now I got to use the fun staple gun and be done in a jiffy, right? I pulled out the staple gun we inherited from my step-dad and shot the first staple. It only went half way in to the wood seat. After a desperate and annoyed phone call to my husband, he reminded me that the gun was "about ninety years old" and suggested I hammer in the staples the rest of the way. No freaking way was I going to hammer 900 staples. So I called our neighbor Derryck, who has a very well-outfitted tool collection and works as a high school teacher, so he was home on Spring Break. He sent over his stapler. Shot the first staple. It only went half way in. You might think I was over-reacting if I told you I burst into tears and ran screaming into the closet where I suffered a full nervous breakdown. But what you might not know is that I was functioning on very little sleep since I was working nights on what I think I might start referring to as "The Great Ceiling Plaster Project of Holy Week 2011." Home improvement projects have a way of not going entirely right, so home improvement workers have a way of falling apart emotionally from time to time.

This is staple gun loser #1:

This is staple gun loser #2:
By a wonderful turn of events, my father stopped by shortly after my nervous breakdown and casually said, "Well, hey, I have a staple gun in my car. Let's try it."

The "Little Staple Gun That Could," despite it's size, accomplished the feat of shooting the staple through the fabric and into the solid wood seat. (And here we insert the Hallelujah chorus. It's not just for Easter.)

No longer did my stack of chair cushions look so daunting.
I used the old fabric swatch for a pattern and got to work.

Almost a thousand staples later, I had six beautiful new chairs, only a slightly arthritic hand, and huge respect for people who carry staple guns in their cars.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Toy Stories

Following are some photos I took of my daughters' toys in various "situations." Sometimes I'll come across their play and I'm taken aback, to say the least. I wonder where they get these ideas at the same time that I laugh out loud. I've recently gotten smart enough to capture their "creativity" with my camera. What follows are the results. The toys and dolls are exactly as I found them. The captions are mine.

Rhinoplasty? At such a young age? What kind of mother....?


"Yes, they're a little large... but they keep me warm up to my thighs."


The student body is sufficiently diverse. They even have a grizzly bear.


"I always feel so smiley when I've been to see Jesus!"


In urban areas, it's often hard to find a good saddle shop. In a pinch, masking tape will do fine. Just have the stable boy be the one to remove it.


Dolphins are terrible drivers. Even if it's a shoe car... just don't let them behind the wheel at all if you can help it.


Efanie was soooooooo glad to not be the only one in second grade with an unusual name.


While the Infant Stunt-Riding course is less than popular, there is the occasional newborn who knocks your socks off with her talent.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Still on the Floor

Star Reporter: Much time has passed since your last blog post. Are you still sleeping on the floor?
Me: Yes.

Star Reporter: And how's that goin'?
Me: It hasn't been as difficult as anticipated. A few weeks ago, I removed the memory foam topper I was using and replaced it with a sleeping bag. Much less comfortable, but it beats a bed of nails. If there has been any lesson, it is that I can get by with less than I have. Nice to be reminded of that. We'll be sleeping on the floor at my brother and sister-in-law's during an upcoming visit, and that's just fine and dandy. Couple months ago, I might have been nervous about my comfort and annoyed at not having my bed with me.

Star Reporter: Excited to approach the end of Lent?
Me: Yes and no. Of course I look forward to the joy and celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. But this has been a VERY rich spiritual time for me. Thankfully, that doesn't have to end when Lent does, and many of the disciplines I've attempted will continue. Hooray for that!

Star Reporter: What has been most fruitful?
Me: I can't answer that. Jesus could. Let me know if He clues you in. But I certainly have gained a lot from my reading of the Diary of St. Faustina. Man oh man, that woman loved Jesus. Every word I read of hers brings out a strong desire in my whole heart to love Jesus more. I'll do anything. Well, almost anything. The theme of suffering is STRONG in the life of St. Faustina (and in the lives of all the saints I've read about) and I am daily trying to understand what that looks like for little old me. I resist the level of suffering that Faustina endured, and yet I can hear a call...

Star Reporter: Speaking of suffering...
Me: It is all around me, but mine is so minimal. So I can pray a lot, praise God for that. This very day, I have news of a friend beginning chemo for stomach cancer; my god-daughter desperately needs a new liver; and another friend is suffering through severe emotional turmoil. Still, in the midst of it all, there is the light of the Lord of Lords, and it is the most amazing light. I pray so hard for that light to shine in their darkness. (I suspect, actually, that they might see the light more brilliantly than I do right now.)

Star Reporter: So... you haven't been blogging, but things are okay?
Me: Yes. Jesus is alive and He is the hope of the world and of my life.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Little Pink House

Here is the house I came home to when I was born, in 1970. This photo was taken near Christmas-time, judging from the lights still hanging around the roof.

Can you tell from the photo that the house was pale pink? I wonder if the color of one's childhood home contributes to her personality in any way.

Strain your eyes a little and behold the red-carpeted front step, and the cactus beside the door. Who puts a cactus right by the front door? Welcome mat, no... cactus, yes.

It was 1970, as I said, so stepping inside, you would see the white carpet, gold sofas, and dark wood wall paneling. Not to mention my mom's five-foot high painting of a Spanish bullfighter in blues and greens.

The backyard was huge by Vegas standards. My dad built a two-story playhouse back there for my brother and I, complete with a balcony. Through the years, we had three dogs, three cats, a rabbit and a couple tortoises back there. Additionally, my father found the skulls of cattle on desert hikes and wired them to the back fence for decoration. There was also a tire swing. And a pool table, at one point. And morning glories. And a patio table with Dad's arrowhead collection displayed on the top. My tenth birthday singing telegram came to that backyard. Most of my ballet recital photos were posed there. And our doberman, Tia, once cornered me in the sideyard. (All the good memories blend in with the not-so-good.)

Inside, once the white living room carpet was replaced with dark brown, Dad and I would watch NOVA on PBS while eating ice cream out of glasses. The macrame plant holders that Mom made still hung nearby, but Mom lived elsewhere. Not until halfway through tenth grade did I walk out of that house for the last time. As an adolescent, I wasn't sad to leave behind my bright blue room, the cockroach problem, or memories that balanced precariously between good and bad. I had always wanted a front window in the living room, where we could set up the Christmas tree, and we had that in the next house.

All these years later, I still drive by my old house from time to time. I want to make sure it's still there, and see how it's doing. I can't get away with staring for long, but it only takes a second for the memories to rush in anyway.

I was shocked to see the pink house painted yellow on my most recent visit. There is also a broken window, an unfamiliar car in the driveway, trash and junk furniture near the driveway, and a different front door. Plus no cactus on the front step. But I can tour the floorplan in my imagination. I can see the red and pink carpet in the bathroom. Remember the new kitchen phone with its ten-foot cord. Help a couple of Dad's girlfriends move in, then out. Celebrate another birthday, another Christmas, another Easter. Then I drive away.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Reading Ambition

It's already mid-March, and I've only just finished the first of the eleven books on my "to-read" list for 2011.

Yesterday I finished Great Expectations, by Dickens. WAY easier read than A Tale of Two Cities, but lacking the huge payoff at the end. Don't get me wrong, it still had a nice ending, but not one that lingers in your heart and mind for days and weeks afterward.

Last night I started Robinson Crusoe. I have my fears about this book, but I chose it next because Joe just had to read an abridged version for school and I want to share it with him to some extent. Like Great Expectations, I am reading it on my iPhone. I am reasonably sure that I will be legally blind by age 42 if this phone-reading keeps up, but I don't feel the strain, so I can't forego the convenience.

In addition, for some Lent reading, I have chosen "The Way," By St. Josemaria Escriva. It's more of a booklet, really, and after I complete it during Lent, I imagine keeping it in my purse, or with my Bible. Here's a sample of today's reading: "May your behavior and your conversation be such that everyone who sees or hears you can say: This man reads the life of Jesus Christ." (Yes, the gender-neutral patrol would have a heyday with this booklet, and two notes later, Escriva writes, "Be a man!" - I'm translating that one myself.)

Along with "The Way," the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska is on my "bedside patch of floor" (my nightstand is rendered useless since it's across the room and I'm not using my bed, remember). St. Faustina had a remarkable relationship with Jesus and was the "apostle" for the Divine Mercy, which has become more and more captivating for me lately. So I want to know more. (And I always think it's really cool to read diaries.)

Finally, I read of one or two or three saints a day from my "Treasury of Women Saints." Typically, the phrase that runs through my mind after I read about saints is, "These people are crazy!" So how can I be more like them? How can I be crazier for Jesus?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Well Rested

I don't think I'll be reaching any amazing heights of asceticism... I made it through my first bedless night with only some achy hips.

Kevin set up a floor-bed of sorts himself. I admit I was feeling more than a little sorry for not having discussed this sacrifice with him beforehand, so it's nice he is joining me.

The kids asked all kinds of questions. I think this Lenten decision will be among the more benign of their therapy recollections, and it made the explanation of "sacrifice" all the more tangible.

I found this website through a favorite blog of mine, The Ironic Catholic. It's called Busted Halo, and if you're looking for a really unique Lenten calendar, check there. It also links to a video - "Ash Wednesday in Two Minutes." Ash Wednesday is past, but the teaching is present and relevant.

On with Lent!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday Worries

After blogging about my Lenten sacrifice, I asked Kevin if it was a bad idea to blog about it, in light of scripture that talks about NOT praying for others to see, or making fasting obvious, etc. He didn't say much, he might have still been reeling from the news that I'd be sleeping on the floor for over a month. He did wryly offer to buy me a hair-shirt, which made me laugh, and for the millionth time I chuckled to myself about all the strange things I've learned since becoming Catholic. (Read about hair shirts HERE.)

This morning, I open my nifty "Not by Bread Alone" Lenten app and this was the first scripture: Jesus said to his disciples: "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father." (Matthew 6:1)

I have no defense, unless those two little words "in order" can be highlighted. I am not making my sacrifice to show people. I really do hope that it will make a difference in my relationship with Jesus. But I will still ask God to help me with humility and I will consider my motives carefully.

Have a blessed Ash Wednesday. (In keeping with the Word - Matthew 6:16 - I will not become gloomy as I fast today. However, in telling you I'm fasting, I've already messed up. Oh, dear.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I'll Be Sleeping on the Floor

The idea of a Lenten sacrifice has deepened the longer I've been Catholic. Two years ago, I gave up sweets, because I know how much I looooooove them, and it was a real sacrifice. But last year, I decided to try a sacrifice that was also designed to bring me closer to Jesus. Giving up sweets doesn't inherently bring me closer to Jesus unless I stop to pray every time I would otherwise be grabbing a cookie. So last year I thought about OTHER things I really love (after sweets, I mean, because I do really, really, really love sweets). Sleep was next on the list. So I gave up some sleep. I started setting my alarm an hour earlier to make time in the morning to read scripture, pray, journal, and do other spiritual reading. It was so good for me that it has continued ever since. It has become a regular discipline.

Which brings us to this year. What is next on the list after sweets and sleep? Friends? My iPhone? What? Languishing in my wonderful bed one Saturday morning, looking over the stripes on my luscious plaid flannel sheets, I pledged undying love for my cozy bed. It is a sleep number bed, and I would be willing to do a commercial for it. It is like sleeping on a cloud. Ever since we bought it, all my back pain has been eradicated. I could go on and on but the point is, it is one of my favorite places to be. So this year, I'm giving my bed up for Lent.

I've read a lot of stories of the lives of saints over the past few years. And I am always intrigued by the "mortifications" that some of them performed. In my limited understanding, a mortification is something you do to voluntarily suffer. For Jesus, no other reason. To be like Him. To be closer to Him. Not because you have to, but because you want to. Maybe penance is involved, or maybe it's just a desire to know Him better. I expect I'll figure out a lot about this as the days of Lent go by.

My plan is to set an eggcrate bedroll on the floor with a sheet and a blanket. And my pillow. (I'm not ready to give up my pillow - that'll happen when I am MUCH more serious!) And before bed, instead of checking facebook or playing Words With Friends, I will read more of my "Treasury of Women Saints" compiled by Ronda De Sola Chervin and my newest app: "Not By Bread Alone - A Lenten App" which includes scriptural readings and a short devotional. Sounds great, huh? But then I have to go to sleep on that tiny thin layer between me and the hard floor. I am positive that many parts of my body will be numb every morning. So that's when I'll pray. I'll pray that Jesus will make me more like him, more willing to suffer. And I will SURELY pray for the countless men and women who sleep in much harsher conditions than I. I will still have climate control, pajamas, a pillow, and food in my tummy. So hopefully this will also compel me to give more during this season and into the future. Like I said, these Lenten sacrifices, when taken seriously, tend to extend well beyond Easter.

I will be journalling. And blogging. I hope you'll be reading, and praying, with me!

Here is the scripture I'm holding on to: "Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." - Philippians 3:8-11 ......I can hardly align my little sacrifice with that of Paul or Jesus, obviously. But I look forward to seeing what meaning it will have.

Blessings to you this Lenten season. I pray you will draw closer to Jesus who suffered for you.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Put on your boots and hop in my pickup!

Kevin took the kids to the park for a couple hours this afternoon/evening and I spent the whole time they were gone in the kitchen. There was cheesecake to prepare (read: thaw) for Kevin's birthday celebration; Bethanie's birthday cake and cupcakes to bake. It is a strange but welcome sensation to have the house quiet and deserted now and then.

When you remove an animal from its normal habitat and transplant it somewhere entirely unfamiliar, the animal will exhibit odd behavior. It's only natural. Same goes for housewives, apparently, because when I found myself in a quiet, kid-free dwelling - I grabbed a beer from the frig and started blaring country music on Pandora.

The kooky-ness didn't end there. A song by Trace Adkins called "You're Gonna Miss This" came on and THAT made me get weepy! Seriously! I became the subject of a sullen country music song myself! If there are any budding lyric writers out there, here's your subject: 40 year-old housewife with blonde hair, jeans, a beer, and standing in her socks leaning on the pantry door CRYING.

It's not time for my period. I'm not medicated, so my dosages can't be off. And nothing particularly mournful happened today. But check out the song for yourself and tell me how it makes YOU feel. (This will be more effective, granted, if you are ALSO a wife and mother and have just downed half a beer.) Full lyrics and a sample of the song, along with a photo of Trace Adkins can be found HERE. The best explanation I can offer for my behavior is that this song comes right on the heels of my day yesterday, (see my most recent blog post) in which I became newly aware of my kids growing up too fast. Mr. Adkins is preying on this tendency in us mothers to get all sentimental and nostalgic about not only our children, but also all the other meaningful parts of our lives. (It worked! I bought the song off iTunes.)

I haven't been a big country music fan in the past. And I'm not sure whether tonight's incident will make me one now. But I will conclude with these related facts:
1) Men in cowboy hats are not totally unattractive.
2) I stopped drinking after one beer.
3) Despite the tears and distraction of my mom emotions, all my baking turned out well.
4) My family reappeared at 6:30 p.m. and the sibling rivalry, yelling, complaining, whining, hugging, goofing off, singing, dancing, and tripping over each other commenced. Above all the noise, I could still hear the voice of Trace Adkins: "You're Gonna Miss This."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Three Big Signs They're Growing Up - All in One Day

Bethanie woke up first this morning. That is normal, but it was fun to give her a "happy birthday" kiss in the quiet before everyone else got out of bed. In minutes, she was literally running around downstairs and she came to me and said in a breathless whisper, and with a little grin, "I think I'm faster now." Soon afterward, "I do seem bigger." My favorite moment of all was hours later at the mall, of all places, standing by the fountains hurling pennies in the water. I asked if she was making any wishes and she nodded, "I want to learn to fly!" I gave each of the kids three pennies, after taking stock of the quantity in my coin purse - but Bethanie got six. She turned six years old today, and that was the first milestone of the day.

Since we were already out, and getting out in the middle of the day is a big deal (I will refrain from saying "fiasco") with four homeschooled kids - I threw all caution to the wind and extended an already long shopping trip in order to hit one more store where I'd heard there were reasonably-priced First Communion dresses. Because, you see, Cayna is preparing to receive communion for the first time in May! This is exciting, yes. And a tremendous joy. It is also, in the heart of this relatively new-Catholic mother, completely bizarre to shop for an all-white dress and a veil for your seven year-old daughter. We are helping prepare Cayna to draw closer to Jesus in an all-new way. And Jesus is helping prepare ME to rely on Him in new ways as my daughter grows up. (He is also, thankfully, flooding our hearts with forgiveness because Cayna had a tantrum in the mall parking lot and I wasn't too nice to her in response.)

Joseph needed dress shoes. And he was such a patient, even-tempered companion through the throes of maniacal shopping-with-younger-siblings that I probably would have bought him his own convertible sports car just to thank him for being good. But I kept quiet about the sports car. Our shoe shopping, meanwhile, led us to the men's department. My firstborn now wears a man's shoe size. If that ain't a HUGE indicator that your kid is growing up, I don't know what is. (Well, yes I do, I guess. There was the first purchase of deodorant. And the extension of bedtime. And so on and so forth.) But really, men's shoes??? (Little economic sidenote here: black slip-on dress shoes in the kids' section cost $19.99 at the store we first tried. Same style in men's? A cool $60.00.)

Once safely home from the three-hour shopping bonanza, I marveled at how I could experience three major parenting milestones in ONE day. And then John needed a diaper change. Nothing like a wet diaper to remind me they're not quite off to college yet.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Little Walks Down Memory Lane

Had a Tootsie Roll today. I eat Tootsie Rolls very seldom, and when I do - I might as well be right back at Baker Park at the age of about three. No kidding, I can still remember it. I took swimming lessons and the instructor put Tootsie rolls under water where she wanted us to put our faces. Just a step or two down (and wouldn't they float?-- she must have held them there...) That taste is summertime and swimming pool and reward for taking risks.

For Valentine's Day, Kevin bought me a combo iPhone alarm clock/charging station/music playing thingy. It was past time to throw away my old alarm clock. Many of the buttons were failing to work, and since I had my eyes fixed, I don't need the HUGE display the old clock had. That old alarm clock was the one we got when we got married, and it served us for almost 13 years! Can't say that about many of our other appliances. I can remember it resting on the bedside shelf in our first home on Lorilyn. And Kevin setting "Wake 1" and "Wake 2" when we both had jobs to get up for in the morning. I actually got a little nostalgic when I unplugged it tonight. It was 7:34 p.m. Can't count how many 11:11s I've seen on that thing.

I bought some pretty candles tonight to put in our bathroom. They're Gardenia-scented. A long time ago, my mom told me that was my Grandpa's favorite flower. I bought Gardenia-scented candles for my wedding, too. In a related story, Grandpa used to buy all the girls and women in the family a corsage for Christmas Eve. Not sure what type of flower -- probably not gardenias -- but regardless, the aroma in my bathroom now reminds me of Grandpa and corsages and special occasions.

That's all. Now I'm off to enjoy the scent of the candles drifting into my room and listen to the sounds of my iPod.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Finally Finished Walden

It's never a good sign when a book takes me several months to read. I picked up Walden, by Henry David Thoreau in oh, say... November?

Thoreau was a transcendentalist. I linked to its definition on Wikipedia, but if you don't have time to go there - think Oprah, but without so much fortune and a glossy magazine. Come to think of it, what I wouldn't give to be able to witness a conversation between Thoreau and Oprah. It is for sure that she would have asked him to appear on her show (were he alive) - given his transcendentalist beliefs and cherry-on-topped by his anti-slavery writing and lecturing. I can just imagine her applauding his simple life in a tiny abode on Walden Pond.

I don't have the intellect to comment much on Walden. If I had to sum up my problem with it - it was largely boring. When I was paying attention, I loved some of what he wrote, and found it challenging. But out of 224 pages, I was only truly engaged for about half.

Walden was never required reading in any of my high school or college classes, yet I recognized many lines - and I wonder where I heard them before.

If you're not already friends with Thoreau, acquaint yourself here with a few of his thoughts that stood out to me
"I should not talk so much about myself if there were any body else whom I knew as well." -p.5
"Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate." -p.8
"None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty." -p.13
"It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes." -p.19
"I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes." -p.19
 "We no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven." -p.29
 "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate." -p.39
[Too long to quote here, but he wrote insightfully on "news" (-p.67) and his critique is scathing and (to me) laugh-out-loud funny.]
"I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now." -p.217
"Shall a man go and hang himself because he belongs to the race of pygmies, and not be the biggest pygmy that he can? Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made." -p.219
"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." -p.219
"I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board." -p.222

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Work

I'm introspecting. Nothing new, I do it all the time. But this is a bigger topic than my usual "Should I have that second helping of spaghetti?" Right now I'm wondering if I've ever really had to work hard at anything.

College degree? I went to UNLV. 'Nuff said.

Finding a husband? We were a match made in heaven and InterVarsity brought us together. I didn't even have to join an online dating service.

Ballet? Starring roles in my childhood recitals.

Golf? Natural talent.

Running? Okay, that takes a little effort...



The list of things I've dumped because they are too hard is much longer:
Really learning the computer...
...my camera...
...algebra...
...chemistry...
...online billpay...
...the coffee maker...
...Rubik's cube...
...football...
...Skype...
...shopping sales...
...cooking...

Did I mention cooking? Okay, I haven't dumped cooking because Kevin once gently explained to me that our family won't work unless I make at least a genuine effort to TRY to put together meals. (He also graciously offered to help, a lot, and thankfully follows through on this regularly.)

But, really, I think I skate through a lot of stuff keeping it as simple as possible. I have NO idea how I ever passed algebra and chemistry without cheating. But I know I didn't cheat, and I didn't flunk - so there must have been magic involved.

Today's introspection involves Joseph's registration in this online school. My vocation just got a LOT harder. If all the homeschool moms who know me could read this (and I hope they don't - my ego can't handle it) they would point and chuckle, surely. You see, I was skating along with homeschool. And if I didn't put in an hour of effort into teaching math every day, I justified my laziness by assuming my kids would still get the concepts by "being-home-with-mom osmosis".

For the past week, Joe has had about six to seven SOLID hours of schoolwork per day! Those of you who send your kids to school might roll your eyes at this, since a public school day is about that long - but these are SOLID WORK hours. For both of us. Not counting lunch, snacks, and other breaks. I'm tired. And I feel like I can't feel sorry for myself since I chose this route.

It's still the early days of this new curriculum. I know there's a learning curve and catch-up work involved in a "mastery-based" program. But as I stated before, I'm not good at learning. I'm MUCH happier with being naturally gifted at things. You can see how this new thing is stretching me in good ways, right? Because I can't. I want to go pout a little more.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pudding Woes


Kevin wasn't coming home after work. No Daddy at dinnertime, no hero to put the kids to bed. Just me and my four children, all alone against the elements of a weeknight. A friend suggested I get my kids to help me make mini-pizzas followed by that pudding/banana/Nilla wafer dessert. This would pass the time and hopefully make the evening fun.

I made a grocery list for our menu, and lucked out when another friend kept the older three kids while John and I headed to the store. Once home, I realized I had gotten everything except the pudding, which is kind of crucial to the dessert. I called or texted all six of my neighbors, hoping someone had a box of vanilla pudding on hand. Nalleys - no. Mayers - no. Earlys - no. Elisaldezes - no. Kings - no. Rickards - yes! This was great news because I really had no energy or desire to load up the van and go back to the grocery store.

I procured the pudding and mixed it with milk and THEN noticed that I had a smaller box than the recipe called for. But I'd already added the larger quantity of milk. Texted Derryck Rickards again: "Do you happen to have TWO boxes of pudding?" The reply: "Sorry, no." Called Kristi and asked if she would interrupt her own dinner prep and evening craziness to come hang out at my house for 15 minutes while I ran to the store without kids. She said yes.

I was in a rush. I grabbed the pudding and narrowly missed colliding with a guy in the baking aisle as I attempted to dart between him and his cart while he looked at something on the shelf opposite. He finished looking and turned to his cart, not knowing a crazy lady with three boxes of vanilla pudding would be zooming by. Mutual apologies.

Shrewdly, I bypassed all the long lines at the checkstands to use the self-serve. Scanned the first box of pudding and an annoying pop-up informed me that "the attendant has been summoned and will help you shortly". Out loud, I said, "Seriously?" and scooted to the next station. I'm not sure if the attendant ever appeared. I think the attendant is a ruse. The whole point of the self-serve is to eliminate humans, right? That's my impression.

At home, I ripped open the new package of pudding, but just before adding it to my earlier mixture, Kristi stopped me. She noticed that instead of instant pudding, I had bought the "cook" pudding. I was crestfallen. Despondent. Frustrated. Hopeless. Pitiable. Angry.

Since I'd purchased three boxes of pudding, I scrapped the original batch and cooked up a new one. Kids cut up the bananas and we layered them with Nilla wafers and pudding. Even though this is the easiest recipe in the world - so easy even snakes can make it (and they don't have arms!) - mine turned out terrible. The pudding never set properly and was runny. I left bananas exposed at the top, so they browned. Frankly, I'm surprised toxic fumes didn't come rising out of the dish and wipe out my family.

The day was done. We ate the runny pudding. We brushed our teeth and went to bed. Next time I make dessert, I'll stick to what I know - chocolate chip cookies. In fact, this might be a great time to bake up a batch for all of my wonderful friends - even those who don't keep vanilla pudding on hand. Because I am a COMPLETE loser in the kitchen, but I sure have good neighbors and friends.