Saturday, December 22, 2012

Loss of Innocence

I had my first baby ten years ago.  After giving birth, I gazed down at this tiny new life and was overcome with great emotion.  I laughed and I cried.  The idea that Monkey Toes and I had been entrusted with this child was almost too much to comprehend.  The fist night, I kept Sweet Potato in my room and just stared at him (and kissed his head and held him close. I didn't want to put him down).  I had never imagined love like this; so effortless and so completely encompassing.  I imagined what life would be like for this child.  We would provide a loving, happy, enriching, educational, faith-filled and safe home.  This dream just enhanced with the addition of each gift of life to our family.

There is a part of me that wishes my kids were still babies.  Life at that stage seems so simple and uncomplicated.  But as we all must do, they grow up and they grow up fast.  I've been warned about that since the day I had Sweet Potato.  As much as I want to protect my children's innocence, life happens and one way or another they learn of topics/issues/problems of this world that I am not always prepared to explain.

This past year as our country geared up for a presidential election, our church prayed each day for the protection of life and the end of abortion.  One Sunday after Mass, I was asked by Sweet Potato, "what does abortion mean?"  Another day, as we were praying for some friends of ours, Cucumber asked, "why doesn't the mommy and daddy live together anymore?"  A few weeks ago, the kids and I were listening to the radio and a Christmas song by the Carpenters was playing.  Honey Bunches asked if they were still "making music."  I told him that Karen Carpenter had died a long time ago.  "How did she die?"  "Well, she had an eating disorder."  "What is an eating disorder?" he asked.  And then there are the horrific events of last week; the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.

I have to ask; how do I discuss this event, let alone explain it, when I don't understand it myself?  The entire week, I couldn't bring myself to turn on the t.v. or read a newspaper.  It's not because I don't care, it's because each time I even gave a thought to this, my heart ached to the point of pain and I couldn't catch my breath.  I hugged and kissed my children, feeling spoiled or undeserving of these gifts, as those moms and dads had their hearts torn from their chests.  I have prayed and will continue to do so, as the community of Newtown attempts to pick up the pieces and heal from this tragedy.

This morning we decorated our Christmas tree.  The kids found such joy in this activity.  They couldn't grab the ornaments fast enough as they rushed with excitement to adorn our tree.  Once finished, they stood back and stared.  Somehow, those twinkling lights and shiny ornaments hold a sense of magical wonderment.  This whole holiday season has been one of simplicity and awe, "magic" and innocence.  From the first snowfall of the season to the Feast of St. Nick.  From lighting the candles on the Advent Wreath, to racing to the Advent Calendar to see what is hidden behind the little door.  It is these moments that I want to capture and hold close for a life time.  It is these little moments of happiness, of contentment, that I want to keep in my heart forever, to be reminded that there is good in this world.  It is these memories in the making that I desire for my children to hold close, as well.  I want them to carry these experiences with them, wherever life may take them, if for no other reason than to remind them that they are treasured, they are blessed, and above all, they are loved.

As undeserving as I often feel of the blessings in my life, I will not take them for granted, not even for a moment.  And in the end, I believe with my whole heart, that good will conquer evil.  I will place my trust and my hope in the Lord, for He is my refuge; He is my rock.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

St. Lucy

Today is the Feast of St. Lucy.

To learn more about this lovely saint, go here.

In a last minute effort to do something to commemorate this feast day, I made this.

I made a pretty little cinnamon braid on my pizza stone.  A few words of wisdom;  Do not put wax candles in the braid while it is still hot.  They will melt from the bottom up and leave only a wick.  I am admitting to nothing!

Bail Out

Last night at about 7:00 PM, Sweet Potato began to panic as he came to the realization that project materials were due today at school for a reading assignment.  He needed copies made of some research he down-loaded and also a tri-fold display.  If these items were not turned in on time, he would have to submit a written report.  With tear-filled eyes, red cheeks, and the weight of the world on his shoulders, he asked me for help.  Maybe "asked" is too passive of a word.  He sobbed and begged for me to go to the store for him.  He was also distressed because we don't have a printer at home, so how was he going to get the necessary pages together?

My gut reaction was to let him suffer the consequences.  Isn't that what good and responsible parents do?  Exactly how long did he know this assignment was due and why would he procrastinate?  Maybe a written report would teach him a lesson.  But then I began to get a little selfish.  WHO would have to help him with this report?  WHO would have to sit and listen to him fret and stress out?  Well, that would be me.  So here were my options.  Let him sit and stew over being irresponsible, or take about 40 minutes of my evening to drive to the store, pick up necessary supplies, and drive home and be done with the whole thing.  I chose the latter.  Once the kids were in bed, I headed out.

On the trip to the store, I thought about how my parents may have handled a similar situation.  I was a pretty responsible youth, but time management wasn't always my strength.  I pulled some late nighters and there were times I just met a deadline.  My mom and dad would remind me how much easier my life would be if I didn't wait until the last minute.  And had we 24 hour stores "back in the day" like we do now, there's a good chance my parents would have driven to the store to bail me out as well.  However, with that being said, I am certain they would not have done it with joyful hearts and smiles.  I'm pretty sure my dad would have cursed a little and then grumbled on the drive about the problems with school today.  When he was in school, they believed in oral reports.  None of this tri-fold nonsense.  My mom would have warned, "I will do it this once, but don't count on it again!"

Within 40 minutes, I was home once again.  Uncle saved the day by printing the pages at work that Sweet Potato needed.  Off to school this morning he went with a happy-go-lucky demeanor.  When I returned home after dropping the kids off at school, I saw Sweet Potato's snow pants hanging on the hook.  Sorry pal, I won't bail you out of this one.  You'll just have to stay in at recess today.  But hey, look on the bright side;  You can get a jump start on your project!

On the way home from school yesterday.  How could I not cut the kid some slack after this?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  In the not too distant past, I really didn't know much about Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I had seen countless images of her before, but I never took the time to understand the history nor the symbolism of these images.  The story is beautiful and definitely worth the time to read.  You can find one of the many accounts of Our Lady here.  Her appearance to Juan Diego in 1531 is credited to converting millions of Mexicans to Christianity.

This morning I had the privilege of accompanying grades K-6 of my children's school to a neighboring parish to celebrate Mass for today's feast.  I had no idea what to expect.  The church was beautiful and the children were excited to be visiting someplace new (during a school day).  While sitting in the pew and looking with awe at our surroundings, the sound of a drum began to resonate throughout the church.  A dozen or so Hispanic youth danced down the aisle, wearing red vests, adorned with sparkling images of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  A lump formed in my throat, as I watched these young people dance with both reverence and pride.  Once all of the dancers and Father Tony were before the altar, they all fell to their knees and the drum went silent.  Honey Bunches was sitting next to me, but my other children were sitting with their classes.  I desperately tried to find them to see if this was making an impact on them (like it was on me).

During Mass, the story of Juan Diego was told, and the lovely imagery of Our Lady of Guadalupe explained.    Father also shared how throughout the evening last night and early this morning, people came to the church to pray and present roses at the foot of the altar.  Father shared that he greeted a young man very early this morning, who came with a bouquet of roses.  He said that his wife was going to have a baby girl today and they are going to name her Guadalupe.  He came to the church to ask Our Lady to pray for his wife and daughter; that all will go well with the delivery and to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for his great blessings.

Mass ended the same way it began, with the drum sounding and the youth dancing.

(I apologize for the poor quality of the video.  I took it on my phone and had great difficulty in downloading to my blog).

I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to witness such a beautiful celebration today.  I am also grateful for a faith tradition that is deep and rich; expanding far beyond the depths of my imagination.

I know many who struggle with the concept of our Mother Mary and even find her as a stumbling block of faith.  What was very evident today in participating in this Liturgy, was that it isn't about Mary, so much as it is about her holding our hands and leading us to her son, Jesus.  The devotions people have to Mary always lead to Jesus.  Juan Diego's experience with the Blessed Mother didn't convert millions to Mary;  it converted millions to Jesus Christ.  And so it is with great joy that I celebrate these feast days, giving thanks for a spiritual mother who holds our best interests in her heart and helps to pave the way to a better, more loving, and deeper relationship with Jesus.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Feast of St. Nicholas

Today, December 6th, is the Feast of St. Nicholas.  Here is a little excerpt from the Catholic Encyclopedia about this saint.

The absence of the “hard facts” of history is not necessarily an obstacle to the popularity of saints, as the devotion to St. Nicholas shows. Both the Eastern and Western Churches honor him, and it is claimed that, after the Blessed Virgin, he is the saint most pictured by Christian artists. And yet, historically, we can pinpoint only the fact that Nicholas was the fourth-century bishop of Myra, a city in Lycia, a province of Asia Minor.
As with many of the saints, however, we are able to capture the relationship which Nicholas had with God through the admiration which Christians have had for him—an admiration expressed in the colorful stories which have been told and retold through the centuries.
Perhaps the best-known story about Nicholas concerns his charity toward a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters of marriageable age. Rather than see them forced into prostitution, Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through the poor man’s window on three separate occasions, thus enabling the daughters to be married. Over the centuries, this particular legend evolved into the custom of gift-giving on the saint’s feast. In the English-speaking countries, St. Nicholas became, by a twist of the tongue, Santa Claus—further expanding the example of generosity portrayed by this holy bishop.

As a family, we celebrate this feast day.  On its eve, our children place their shoes outside of their bedroom doors.  In the morning, they spring from their beds to see what St. Nicholas has left them.  In the past, he has filled their shoes with bags of goodies and snacks.  This year, however, being open to Grandma's suggestions, he gave the kids new pajamas.

At school, the kids placed their gym shoes out for St. Nicholas to find.  This morning when they walked into their classrooms, they discovered their shoes filled with candy, blessed medals and prayer cards.

Whether the stories told about St. Nicholas are accurate or not, what is important to us are the lessons of charity and generosity that exceed this tradition; one that we embrace and love.  Happy St. Nicholas Day to all of you.  May your blessings be many, and the love you share be great.

 St. Nicholas, glorious Confessor of Christ, assist us in thy loving kindness.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Advent Crazy Lady

Have you ever begun a project, only to wish you had never started?  That was my sentiment on day 2 of an Advent craft project that I had only predicted would take an hour or so of my time.  It didn't just take me 2 days either. Three.  Three days of agonizing over what I was hoping to be a meaningful, fun, and educational experience for my family.  Three days.

Let me back up, however, and start from the beginning of this crazy adventure.

As I posted earlier, Advent is a time that I try to take full advantage.  As a family, we attempt to slow down, despite all the hurrying that happens around us.  I encourage the kids to be more thoughtful, more conscientious, more prayerful.  So when it comes to Advent traditions, I'm all for anything that helps us along our journeys.  Enter Advent tradition number one:  The creche.

As a family, we have been celebrating this tradition for the past 5 years.  When Sweet Potato was in pre-school, his teacher did this with the class.  I loved the idea so much, that we adopted it.  Each night during family prayer, the kids tell of the good works/kind words they shared during the day.  For each one mentioned, they get to place a piece of straw in the crib.  The goal is to have a full, soft bed for Jesus by Christmas.  The "wreath" is made out of my kids hand prints.  The crib is made out of an oatmeal container.

Tradition number two:  The Advent Wreath:

Our Advent Wreath has taken many different shapes over the years.  This one we received as a gift last year and I love it!  The hardest part about the Advent Wreath is finding the purple and pink candles each year.

So far, so good.  Everything is in check and I am doing well.

For a few years, I have been intrigued by the Jesse Tree.  It was never a tradition of my family while growing up, but I love all of the symbolism and tracing the ancestry of Jesus that it entails.  This is the year that we adopted another Advent tradition.

I  know a Jesse Tree probably shouldn't have Christmas lights on it, but this little tree is so sweet, twinkling in the night.

Putting up the tree was no big deal, but the ornaments; well, they were more difficult than I had imagined.  Monkey Toes printed ornaments for me, but they did not contain the scripture verses, which would have made this project a whole lot easier.  So I spent much time looking up passages, matching up pictures, cutting, pasting, hole punching, tying, then accidentally gluing a couple together, and then winding up with extra (?)  I had to implore help from my children.

Look at those angelic faces.  Aren't they just joy-filled?  (note sarcasm.  Their faces illustrate my attitude at this point in the project).

The completed ornaments

As we neared the end of this fun night, Sweet Potato asked if we were going to have an Advent Calendar this year.  Well, I hadn't given that much thought.  In keeping with my "thriftiness" of the season, instead of purchasing an Advent calendar, I decided to make my own.  Really, how hard could this be?  I found a pattern on-line and thought this would be a fun craft for me and the little ones to do while the older kids were in school.  About an hour into the project, I second guessed my decision to hand craft and Sweet Pea and Pumpkin disappeared from the scene.

At this point, you may be wondering why I would even consider doing yet another project (you may have been asking that question at the beginning of this post).  Here is my answer in a nutshell.  I love traditions.  I love catechesis.  I love passing on my faith to my children;  it is a responsibility I take very seriously.  Participating in these projects brings our family together.  Our experiences may not always portray the romanticized ones in my head, but we're making the effort and doing the best we can.  And yes, sometimes I find myself in over my head.  O.K.  Now onto the calendar.

I decided to use tag board for the calendar.  My thought was that if it turned out, we could re-use it each year.  The cover of the calendar was created out of old Christmas cards.  I laid them out as a collage.  The next step was to cut out little doors for each day of Advent.  I had no idea how hard it would be to cut through tag board and card stock.  I don't have any fancy tools, but I found a box cutter in Monkey's tool box.  Truth be told, I cursed a lot in my head during this step.

Once the doors were all cut out (it took me the better half of an afternoon and into the next one), I was going to cut out and paste symbols for each day.  Then I had this brilliant idea.  Why not match up the symbols of the Jesse Tree to be revealed behind each of the doors on the calendar?  Then all of our "activities" would be intricately connected.  Did I mention that I don't have a printer at home, and because I have the patience of a new puppy when it comes to crafting, I went ahead and free-handed each of the symbols.  A day and half later, the Advent Calendar was complete and I was thrilled that these projects were done.

Here is how our Advent reflections play out each night.  At the beginning of supper, we light the appropriate candles on our wreath.  After we eat, we gather in the living room and one of the children opens the door on the calendar and tells the symbol.  Then Sweet Potato or Honey Bunches reads the scripture passage.  Another child finds the ornament and hangs it on the tree.  We then talk about how the symbols represent the  scriptures.  We conclude with the straw in the creche and prayers.

As I look around at these "traditions" in our home, I am glad that I saw these projects through completion.  Although we are only on day 5 of Advent, my kids have already picked up on the routine.  There are a few altercations when deciding who gets to do what, but once we get passed that part, it flows pretty well.

Was all of this worth it?  Only time will tell if any of it makes a difference in the lives of my children.  My hope is that it does bring them closer to Jesus and cultivates a stronger faith within.  I do these things with the best intentions of my heart.  Hopefully that is one point my children will remember in all of this, and not just memories of "that crazy crafting lady" during holy seasons.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


During this Advent season, the kids are given daily challenges in school.  Today's challenge was to look at people in the eye when spoken to and to smile at them.

7:20 AM this morning:

Honey Bunches, Gummi, Cucumber and I stop in at the grocery store before school.  As we were checking out, the cashier said, "Good bye kids.  Have a great day."  Not one of my children acknowledged her, which greatly bothered me.

Me:  Do you realize that not one of you returned a smile to the cashier?  She was being very friendly and all of you ignored her.  I have to say that I am disappointed.

Gummi:  But Mom, that's our challenge in school today.  We don't have to do it yet.

7:40 AM this morning:

Honey Bunches had command of the radio on the way to school.  He chose to listen to Christmas music.  A song from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra began to play.

Honey:  I like what they do to Christmas music.

I, in turn, begin to share a few things I know about the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  When I had finished, Honey responded, "Did I really need to know all of that?  I was just sayin', I like their music."

At 5:00 PM this evening:

Sweet Potato:  Mom.  I have big troubles with Daylight Savings.  

Me:  What's up?

Sweet Potato:  By the time I get home from school, do my homework, and practice piano, I don't get the chance to play outside because it's too dark.  Daylight Savings does not work for me!

5:30 PM this evening:

Me:  Sweet Pea and Pumpkin - you cannot come out of your room until all of your doll house toys are picked up.

About five minutes later, Pumpkin emerges from her room.

Pumpkin:  My legs are too tired.  I can't clean up anymore.

Me:  Well, it's a good thing you don't need your legs to pick up your doll toys.  Now go back into your room and clean up.

Pumpkin turns around with her head down, shoulders slumped over and drags her feet.  A few moments later, she returns to the kitchen.

Pumpkin:  My hands and arms are too tired.  I don't think I can clean anymore.