Friday, August 31, 2007

What's in a Name?

If I had been a boy, my name would have been Nevada. My Mom is eternally grateful that I was a girl. She named me Elizabeth, which means “consecrated to God”. She says that is what she did when she found out I had been conceived. My Dad was afraid people would sully my beautiful name by shortening it to Liz, Beth, or Betsy. So he called me Lisa, which is a derivative of Elizabeth. He explained this to all my teachers, and I grew up being called Lisa. (Once he teased that he would call me "Lee" and take me to work at his construction site - I thought this would be fun, but he was just kidding.)

My middle name, Kathryn, means "pure".

Gerold is my maiden name, and Miller is my married name.

In real life, I do not hyphenate my name. The reason I do so on my blog is basically to "hedge my bets".

In high school I remember someone saying, "Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold is such a literary-sounding name!" I actually kept my maiden name for a full five years because I felt it was part of my identity. Then I had it changed to Miller.

So far, I have submitted all of my works in the name of Miller. However, I had always thought I would publish my novels in the name of Gerold. I also thought about Elizabeth Gerold Miller, except that would remove my beloved middle name.

I would love to hear what my readers think.

Thursday, August 30, 2007


“You formed my inmost being;
You knit me in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, so wonderfully you made me;
Wonderful are your works!
My very self you knew;
My bones were not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
Fashioned as in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes foresaw my actions;
In your book all are written down;
My days were shaped, before one came to be.”
Psalm 139:13-16

I never had difficulty with an upcoming birthday before this year. At 30, I felt I had accomplished much and was looking forward to what the next decade held for me. But as this summer approached, 35 seemed to loom over me like a grey cloud threatening a thunderstorm. I started seeing furrows in my forehead and wrinkles around my eyes.

A close friend, age 41, said she also felt like 25 and 35 were big turns of age. It was like she was mentally rounding up to the next decade. So at 35 it felt like she was nearing 40 for a whole five years. By the time she was 40 it was no big deal; she had had five years to get used to the idea.

I reread “The Golden Key”, by George MacDonald, in perfect time for this milestone. The fairytale made me see aging in a whole new light, as a journey to the afterlife, with both wisdom and beauty increasing with age. I started noticing more ads for Botox, fillers, and plastic surgery. I was disgusted at the shallow, empty promises of a false face hiding one’s true self that should emerge with the passing of each decade.

Sitting at the beach this evening, I thought of the joy that accompanies the wisdom of age. For in youth there is a confusion and uncertainty, hidden by nonstop activity and endless energy. With age we become more certain of what we treasure; if that be truly valuable in God’s sense and not the world’s, the security of what we hold brings serenity.

As we realize we are indeed aging, certain new fears may emerge – such as fears of heights that never existed before; and the fear of death, nonpresent in our youth (“We’re only immortal for a limited time,” sings RUSH) makes us appreciate the life that we have. As our parents grow older we come to appreciate them even more.

And so I do believe that as we grow older our capacity for true happiness actually increases.

I very much would like to hear what my readers have to say on the subject!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Thank You to my Readers

“But you must understand that no one ever gives anything to another properly and really without keeping it… Of one thing you may be sure, that while you hold it, I hold it too.”

These are the words spoken by Princess Irene’s great-great-grandmother in “The Princess and the Goblin”, by George MacDonald, when she gifts her a ring that holds one end of a magical string, the ball of which the old lady keeps within her own cabinet.

On this the eve of my 35th birthday, I am honored to accept an award from my friend Leticia. She has nominated me for the Nice Matters Bloggers Award.

“This award is for those bloggers who are nice people; good blog friends and those who inspire good feelings and inspiration. Also for those who are a positive influence on our blogging world. Once you’ve been awarded please pass on to seven others whom you feel are deserving of this award”.

I in turn would like to nominate the following bloggers who have both inspired and encouraged me:

1. Leticia Velasquez, my dear friend, at Cause of Our Joy

2. Joanna Gerold, my sister, at Part of Something

3. Chris Cummings, her fiancé, at Inside Out

4. Angie, who also hosts Catholic Mothers Online, at Many Little Blessings

5. Alice Gunther, at Cottage Blessings, whom I originally knew as host of Immaculate Holy Mother Homeschool Yahoo Group.

6. Natalie, one of my new readers from British Columbia, Canada, hosts a blog called Bigger Families; Faces from the Past, where she features old photos of bigger families. She is looking for contributions from other family archives.

7. Michelle Harmon at Downblogger for her beautiful poem, "No Greater Love than to Lay Down Your Life".

What is a writer? Or, more correctly, who is a writer?

If you have a child, you are a mother. Noone asks, “Have I heard of your child? Is he famous? How many children have you had? What do the critics think of your children? Are you a good mother?” to qualify you as worthy of the title Mother.

For many years I have shied away from calling myself a writer. I knew I was one, for a writer is one who writes, but I was embarrassed. I did not want to be perceived as a “wannabe”. I had not done much publishing since my college years, when I wrote for the student paper and published a thesis. So I was afraid of the polite questions people ask when you pronounce yourself a writer.

I longed to tell the world, “I am a writer! I am a writer!” I yearned to talk about what I was writing, yet was afraid it would interfere with the “creative process”. And so I kept it secret, confiding my dreams to only a select few friends.

When I declared my intentions to stop homeschooling, people started asking me what I planned to do with my “spare time”. Never mind that I had a new baby coming – I still felt I had to explain away my time. For Mothers are not seen as productive – we just are who we are.

And so I “came out”, in a gradual way. I told people I would be working on my unfinished novels. On the children’s school applications, I put down my occupation as “Freelance Writer”.

How much writing did I really do during the last school year? Not much - other than keeping my daily journal. I have written in earlier posts about the difficulties I had to battle this year. When one is tired from a baby who refuses to sleep all night, and in chronic pain from recovery from a car accident, it is hard to be be creative with your words, and physically difficult to sit at a computer for long periods of time.

As June approached, I realized with horror that I had not mailed out any proposals all year. In that last week before school let out, the fire got into my belly. I turned out five items and sent them out – hoping a little in their success, but mostly just proud that I had produced them and put them out there.

Then I took out every library book that could be had on marketing. By the time I got through those, I had had enough of reading about writing. I was ready to just write.

And then I heard about the blogosphere, through my friend Leticia. It took just five minutes to set up my own account, and I was thrust into a new phase of my writing career. Frankly, I was surprised at the amount of writing I was able to do with all of the kids home. Yet I would write in my head all day and the moment the kids were in bed I would turn on my computer. And I would be doing what I loved. (One of these days someone will come up with a thought recorder that you can attach to your head. Then you could write with ease while cooking, swimming, and playing with your kids.)

In just over a month of blogging, I have received much more than the public recognition I had long hoped for. I feel I have been liberated in such a fundamental way. My readers and I have both given and received encouragement and inspiration to and from each other. And so I thank you, my readers, for without you this would not have been possible.

“Edify one another.” – St. Paul

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bear Midnight Miller

After having introduced the rest of the family to the blogosphere, I would be remiss in not mentioning our most loyal pet of ten years.

When my first daughter was two months old, I took her for a ride to a dog shelter and adopted a Black Labrador puppy, also two months old. She had a bit of Golden Retriever mixed in too. (My childhood dog, Alamo, was a Golden Retriever.) My husband was surprised when he got home, but he let us keep it. He had the honor of naming her.

“Bear”, he declared.

I laughed. I imagined a Kindergarten teacher calling me in for a conference because my daughter could not differentiate between dogs and bears.

“Won’t our daughter be a little confused if we call her dog Bear?”

Apparently my husband’s college friend had a cat named “The BBOC” – The Big Bear on Campus. This was a great joke among his friends and he just loved the name Bear. I added Midnight (for her color) as a middle name.

We celebrate Bear’s birthday on my daughter’s birthday. The kids take care of her food, water, and baths. I think sometimes we take her a bit too much for granted. I realize this more as I see the greys increase in her coat.

The baby and the dog have become great friends. While reading on the floor one day, our black Labrador entered the living room. My baby’s attention diverted, she threw the book aside to chase after the dog. I made her a little rhyme:


Big black doggy,

Let us go for a ride.


Big black doggy,

You could be my guide.

Bear is gentle, loyal, sensitive, intuitive, and kind. She is a truly valued member of our family.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Creative Messes

In college I became friends with a young woman, one of three daughters, who grew up in a very traditional Italian home. Years later she came to my home for dinner. She was thinking about getting her own apartment and was looking forward to learning how to cook. I remarked with surprise that I had assumed her mother would have taught her how to cook.

“She didn’t want us to mess up the kitchen,” she explained.

The last time I made brownies with my son, I asked him to crack an egg into a bowl. He accidentally let the entire egg open outside of the bowl.

“Oh no,” I started, then checked myself. I thought of my friend.

“It’s okay,” I continued in a calmer voice, “Just try to get it into the bowl this time.”

Kids make messes. Four kids make lots of messes. Often it seems like all I do is clean up after their continual mess-making. Sometimes it seems like a fruitless use of my energy and abilities. But messes are necessary bi-products of creativity; creativity yields higher-order thinking; higher-order thinking yields productive, moral, intelligent adults.

So let your kids bake and make a mess; then have them all pitch in to clean up. You will have made more than a nice batch of cookies. The smell of the freshly-baked goods, the feel of the powdery flour, the taste of the uncooked batter, the sight of the rising dough, the sound of timers and chattering siblings, all come together firing hundreds of neurons from multiple brain centers to make a memory that will last a lifetime.

“Give her a reward of her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.”
Proverbs 31:31
The All Purpose Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Ethan Becker, and Marion Rombauer Becker (Hardcover - Nov 1998)

The only cookbook I ever really USE!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Austen's Times

Leticia Velasquez wrote a beautiful review of "Becoming Jane", ( , which caused me to recruit a friend to go see it with me. It was well worth my time. After the movie, we were discussing the way young people of that time period were "trapped" by social circumstances.

I kept thinking about that, in relation to the freedom of courtship we have in modern times. The social mores of times past were not entirely a bad thing. Parents earnestly saught the best attachments they could for their children, for they hoped to give them the best life possible. They knew that the passion of youthful love was not enough to sustain a couple for a lifetime. They knew that partnerships based on friendship and commonality of background were more likely to blossom into a love that lasted. Therefore they demonstrated "tough love" in denying youths permission to marry into poverty or a "bad family".

Today we have the freedom to marry whomever we choose. As can be seen by the high divorce rates, society has shown that the majority of people are quite capable of entrapping themselves into a bad marriage. And although divorces are given quite freely, the relationship does not end there. Child custody battles and alimony can hold one hostage to circumstance for decades.

In the gradual shift from rigidity to liberty of movement, parents seem to be at a loss for words when they see their child may be making the wrong decision in choosing a mate. After all, it is "their life" - hence they may fear pushing the child away in making their opinions known.

It is time for parents to bring up their children in a courtship culture, rather than with a dating-just-for-fun atmosphere. "What do you wish for in your lifetime mate?" is a question that can be asked from early childhood. These children will then be asking themselves the same questions when interviewing future spouses on a first date - and save themselves many heartbreaks in the process.

"I always knew you", my husband recently said to me. I remember my mother telling me that somewhere God was preparing a husband for me and that she was praying for him. I know her prayers were answered.

Friday, August 24, 2007


We got a new bunny today. She is a dwarf rabbit, about two months old. She is as soft as a peach and reminds us of the hybrid white peaches with beige markings. So we named her Peach Hoppity Miller. The store owner assured us that the most likely cause of Hoppity's untimely death was fright from the thunderstorm we had the other day. My daughter felt much better after hearing that it was not her fault. We set up two cages, one outdoors and one indoors, and will be bringing the rabbit indoors whenever bad weather is threatened. It is so wonderful to see the children all bright and happy again, chasing after their new pet as it hops about on a bunny leash in the grass.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Vision of Divine Mercy

For the past twelve months my son and I have been on quite a journey exploring his vision.

I took him to the optometrist for the first time last July, at the age of 5, for an annual exam before entering Kindergarten. He had never shown any difficulties and I expected him to pass with flying colors. Therefore I was quite surprised to find that he presented with astigmatism and convergence deficiency (meaning his eyes did not focus together close-up) – this despite 20/20 vision.

Glasses were prescribed with a follow-up visit in one month to see how he was doing with the new glasses. August came, and the doctor was not happy. The prism he had installed within the lens had not done what he had hoped for, as far as bringing his eyes to focus better together. He suggested vision therapy.

I spent a frustrating few days making telephone calls, before finding one pediatric ophthalmologist in my area who performed visual training and took our health plan. She had a good reputation – and was booked for almost three months.

In the meantime, I taught him how to do “pencil push-ups”, in which the child looks at the tip of a pencil eraser or other interesting object while moving it from about a foot away to the tip of his nose. This was an exercise I used to do as a child for the same disorder. An internet search showed this was still the most effective at-home exercise. One study also found at home exercise to be just as effective as in-office visits, when monitored by a professional; the key was diligence in doing the exercises.

That October I took him out of school for the long-awaited visit. It required dilation of the pupil, which would cause some discomfort and blurriness of vision. When I entered the office with my son and the baby, I was a bit put-off by the doctor’s haughty attitude. She also had two young women with her, whom she introduced as “doctors”, although they had earlier introduced themselves to me as students. When I described my family ocular history, and told her of my other two children, she gave me a hard look that seemed to condemn me for bringing four children into the world with eye problems. I was just so astounded by her attitude that I literally became dumb-founded.

I listened, nodding, as she patronized my optometrists techniques and said my son showed absolutely no sign of convergence insufficiency (“A sign the exercises had worked?”, I thought), but instead had a strabismus – or “lazy eye”. She could easily correct this with surgery, she said. She prescribed a course of “patching” the weak eye for one to two hours per day for three months. At the end of those three months, if enough improvement was shown, there would be no need for an operation.

Although I had done some experiments in visual perception as a graduate studying Experimental Psychology, the questions I had in my mind were clouded and could not be formed into words. I therefore came out of there feeling as if she had treated me like an idiot. And wondering to myself why I had been unable to speak.

I scoured the literature for information on this surgery. There was some risk involved and a high rate of repeated surgeries. My gut reaction was to avoid this except as a last resort. Then I found a whole body of literature about vision therapy, and learned about several exercises I could do at home with him.

For three months, for a half hour each day, we did these together. We also did the maximum recommended patching – and prayed. In January I brought him again, hopeful that she would find an improvement.

She found a fifty percent improvement – but still wanted to operate! I realized that what I had neglected to do, in my inability to ask questions at the first visit, was ask for her parameters for success – how much improvement was she expecting as her guidelines for whether or not to operate – and I felt that she just wanted to operate on my son from the very beginning. She sat silently waiting for an answer – when did I want to schedule the surgery? I paused for a moment before responding.

“Well, seeing he’s made such an improvement so far, can’t we see if he’ll do even better if given three more months, perhaps with more time patching?” She seemed doubtful but “didn’t want to push” – so she agreed. “Just don’t wait for too long. His depth perception is failing, and as his neural pathways are forming they will be set in this wrong way of seeing. If he should ever lose vision in the other eye he would be legally blind.” Nothing like scaring a mother into trusting you with her son’s eyes! I found another doctor for a second opinion and pushed on with the exercises for another six weeks.

The night before this all-important appointment, I decided to do the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. (I found a nice website with good directions at: My mother had said it was particularly powerful – and that was just what was needed. I had never been in the habit of saying rote prayers before, but quickly discovered that, by losing my self in the words, the intent was brought into clearer focus.

The doctor had his assistant administer a simple test in which he was supposed to try to pick the wings off of nine dragonflies as they appeared to “fly” off the page. They looked at eachother in amazement. “He picked all nine! This child has perfect depth perception.” The doctor said to continue doing whatever I was doing with him, as it seemed to be working.

This spring we were amazed at how well he did with baseball. Without depth perception, it is impossible to hit a baseball. This was more proof of the improvements he had made since the previous summer. In hindsight we can see he wasn’t even seeing the ball!

At the last check-up, both eyes were found to be equally strong, with a slight tendency to diverge. Our optometrist said, “If you had chosen to operate, his eyes would have focused at one distance but not another, and another surgery would have been needed, followed by more vision therapy.” He presently is working with us hand-in-hand, recommending at-home exercises with monthly office visits to monitor his progress.

We learned so much from this experience. We learned about the relation between self-education and the treatment received in doctors’ offices. We learned that with faith and a willingness to go the extra mile the seemingly impossible can be achieved.

Prayer to St. Odilia

O God, Who in Your Kindness did give us St. Odilia, Virgin and Martyr,
as the Protectress of the Order of the Holy Cross
and the Patroness of the eyes and afflicted,
grant us, we humbly beseech You,
Your protection through her intercession
from the darkness of ignorance and sin,
and grant us healing from blindness of the eyes and other bodily infirmities.
Through Him, Who is the Light and Life of the World,
Jesus Christ, Your Son, Our Lord.


I am adding some more information to my post in answer to a reader's questions about where to find the exercises that I have been doing with my son. I was unable to reply using blogger and did not have a personal email address available. I think the information could be helpful to others, so here it is...

Dear Reader,
The most helpful website I found was
Go to the library and look up "vision therapy", "eye exercises", "orthoptics", "Bates Method". There are several books based on the work of W.H. Bates, an opthalmologist who wrote "Perfect Sight Without Glasses" in 1920. "Better Vision without Glasses", a few versions of which have been written by one of his followers, is one that describes many of the techniques I have been using. There was also a video that I used with my son. I am not posting the name of it because there are probably some better, more current ones available. The Cambridge Institute for Better Vision has a program at; you can save yourself the program fee by taking their book out from the library.
The exercises we are mostly using are called:
thumb rotations
near-far shifting
convergence string
pencil push-ups
If you can't find these please write to me with a personal email address and I will describe them for you.
There was also one my optometrist told me to do and I don't know its name. I use a flashlight in a darkened room and flash a light intermittently on all four corners of a small wall. He is supposed to use one eye at a time to follow it. I rotate to the right, then to the left, first with one eye closed, then with the other eye closed, then with both eyes open.
Baseball is also a great, fun exercise.
You can't hit a ball that is coming to you without depth perception!
Best of luck to you,

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hoppity Hophop Miller

My daughter's beloved pet Dutch rabbit died today. Needless to say, we are all very sad. The baby doesn't know yet, but she used to wave hello as we pulled her past the cage in her red wagon. Just thinking of taking her past the empty cage has us in hysterics. We buried the bunny, with a little ceremony of sprinkling Easter water and saying a prayer which my daughter wrote:

Dear Hoppity,
I loved you dearly.
You made me happy when I was not.
I wish I could see you in heaven all happy and hoppy.
I won’t forget you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Another Rainy Day

It has been a rainy week with nothing to do but dream, read, and write.

I am so happy to see my children are taking my love of writing into their own hearts.

Some of the beautiful pictures I have in my head of my own young mother are of what she would do in her spare time: garden, read, swim, bake, and paint. I also took those activities to be loves of my own.

As I write at the computer now the baby is sleeping, my 6-year-old boy is drawing, and my 8- and 10- year old daughters are writing their own stores, complete with illustrations.

"Is it good enough to be published, Mom?" I often hear.

I often ask that about my own works.

"Of course," I answer musingly, "If the right editor sees it at the right time."

Remember your children will do what they see.

Illustration above: "The New Picture Book" by Hermann Kaulbach

Do you have a young artist or writer that you would like to encourage?
Stone Soup publishes work by children through age 13.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Golden Key

The impression I held from my childhood reading of “The Golden Key”, by George MacDonald, was that of a gorgeous fairytale, a whimsical story of a boy and girl in search of the lock that would turn with their golden key.

When I read the story aloud to my children, however, I was amazed by the depth of its meaning. The story is so obviously about the Journey of Life, and the continuation of that Journey with Death; Growing Old Together, the Passage of Time, the Relativity of Age and Youth, and Love. Like all great fairytales, it unlocks the questions children unconsciously ask about Life. It gives them quiet answers, disguised by delightful characters, but doesn’t bludgeon them with it.

Mossy, so named because he would read in the moss until it seemed he would grow mossy, lives at the edge of Fairyland. His great-aunt tells him that he can find the golden key at the end of the rainbow. She does not know what the key is for. That would be his job to find out. One day he finds the key.

MacDonald leaves Mossy there and brings us to Tangle. He does not divide up his 78-page story into chapters. Sometimes his characters sleep – at which time I would take a break in my reading – then they get up and continue with their journey.

The fairies are disgusted with the household that is bringing up Tangle. It is a slovenly house, and fairies hate messes. The child is unkempt and disused. The maids fail to brush her hair and hence call her Tangle. The fairies decide to teach everyone a lesson by chasing Tangle out of the house.

Tangle winds up at her fairy godmother’s house. “Grandmother” summons her fish-bird to bring a boy who is sitting at the end of the rainbow. Mossy, who holds the golden key, will be a trustworthy companion for Tangle. Together they are sent to find the lock that will turn with the golden key.

The years pass by. They walk through the Valley of Shadows – I see now it is the Valley of the Shadow of Death – and are not fearful. They realize the key must unlock the Land from where the Shadows Fall, and make it their life’s journey to find that Land.

In the course of events they lose each other, and each separately run into the Old Man of the Sea, who appears as a middle-aged man. Then they meet the Old Man of the Earth, who is supposed to be even older, but appears as a young man. Finally they meet the Old Man of the Fire, who is supposed to be ancient, but appears as a baby. He shows them the way to the Land of the Shadows.

Now they are old and beautiful. They find the sapphire-encrusted lock and go up a stair that goes out of the earth, into the rainbow, and up to the Land of the Shadows.

What a delicious read. I highly recommend this book for all ages, zero through one hundred or so.

I recommend purchasing the single volume illustrated by Maurice Sendak (creator of "Little Bear").
You can read the entire text at:

Saturday, August 18, 2007

9/11/01: We Will Never Forget

Tonight New York mourns the loss of two firefighters, yet another indirect loss due to the violence of Sept. 11, 2001.

The sky above Ground Zero is again filled with smoke, after a seven-alarm fire ripped through an abandoned skyscraper next to Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan today. The former Deutsche Bank office building, vacant since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks turned it into a toxic nightmare, was in the process of being dismantled. Two firefighters were killed, and five or six others were taken to a hospital but were expected to be released, Mayor Bloomberg said. No civilians were hurt. According to a radio report, the firefighters came from the same firehouse that lost 11 firefighters to the World Trade Center attacks.

Joseph Graffagnino, 34, and Robert Beddia, 54, went into cardiac arrest due to severe smoke inhalation. 343 firefighters died at Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001.

Pictured above: St. Florian, Patron Saint of Firefighters

Friday, August 17, 2007

End of Summer

The school year is fast approaching. It makes me feel sad. Since August 1, I’ve been feeling like something happy and wonderful is now more than half over.

I have heard people saying, “I can’t wait for school to start.” I don’t know what they mean. I think it’s horrible.

These years go by so quickly. I look at my one-year-old and think how it’s like yesterday my ten-year-old was that size. Now she’s becoming a young lady sparkling with personality and an internal beauty that shines.

I’ve been able to “let go” enough to send them to school. After having given them a solid basis for thinking on their own, I have seen them blossom in their newfound independence. This is why God gave them to me – to help them to grow up. But every moment I have with them is as precious as gold.

“When I was a child,
I used to talk as a child,
Think as a child,
Reason as a child;
When I became a man,
I put aside childish things.”
I Corinthians 13:11

Painting: “Beach Friends”, by Rick Mundy

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Those Stressful Moments that Overwhelm

Some days go so smoothly that you can breathe freely and say, “I can do this. I’ve got everything under control.”

Then there are the moments when everything happens at once. It’s 5:00 PM, you’re making dinner, the older kids need help with homework, a toddler is pulling at your shirt, the baby is crying, the phone is ringing, and the next door neighbor is ringing your doorbell because your dog got out and is chasing her cat.

Once you get through that hectic hour, you’re okay again. But the stress is condensed into such a small timeframe that you’re sure it drained enough nutrients to give you another grey hair.

It is so easy to fall into the comparison trap. Putting your situation in perspective with another’s can be used in a positive or negative way, depending on your slant. Ineffective: “How come Jane has 7 kids and a full time job and she always has everything together? What’s wrong with me?” (The truth: She doesn’t really; nothing.) Effective: If Kristin Lavransdatter could keep it together with 7 children and an irresponsible husband, surely I can too.

I think these moments are opportunities to let us know that we are not fully in control of our lives. These are the times to admit, “Jesus, I can’t do this alone. Please give me the grace to get through this dinnertime. Please give me the patience to mother my children when it is the most difficult.”

Mothering is not an easy job, and we need divine intervention on a daily basis. When people offhandedly comment, “I don’t know how you do it,” my pat answer is, “By the Grace of God.” And I really mean it.

“But I pray to you, Lord,
for the time of your favor.
God, in your great kindness answer me
With your constant help.”
Psalm 69:14

Oil painting by Mark Sanislo, “Mother of the Word”

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Our Move from Home School to Catholic School

I homeschooled three of my children until the eldest was going into fifth grade. About a year and a half ago, when we knew the new little one was coming, we had a family meeting to discuss whether to enroll in Catholic School or continue homeschooling. To illustrate classic decision-making theory, we put together a list of the pros and cons of each:

Catholic School – Pros:

1. Make more friends
2. Cute uniforms
3. Gym class
4. Music class
5. Art class
6. Recess
7. Fun after-school activities
8. Softball team
9. Irish step-dancing
10. Drama
11. Basketball team

Cons –

1. Costs more money
2. Will miss mom, dad, baby, and friends

Homeschooling - Pros:

1. Can make plans with friends during school day
2. Can wear whatever I want
3. Can spend more time with family
4. Can play outside more
5. Can do fun activities whenever I want
6. Can be silly in school
7. Can make noise in school
8. Can make up my own schoolwork
9. Can learn on my own schedule
10. Teacher knows me well
11. Can help teach

Cons –
Mom can’t take us everywhere to do as many activities as are available in school

The list may seem simplistic, but the purpose in drawing it up was to involve the children in the process of making a decision in a rational way. We let them know that Mom and Dad would have the final say, but their input was important to us.

According to decision-making theory, when both sides of the equation come out equally, then is the time to add emotional weights to each portion. Emotions were high on both sides as well. We waited for an answer from the Lord.

After my husband was in a car accident and we thought we would be unable to afford the tuition, I felt broken-hearted. It was then that I realized I had really been hoping to send the kids to school. A month later, my husband said he was on board if I wanted to go ahead with it, and we all attended an open house for our local regional Catholic school. We kept the application for about a week, during which the answer became increasingly clear.

At that time, I was co-leader of a large homeschooling field trip group on Long Island. My partner was very understanding about my decision. I wrote a letter to my members to explain our decision. I include portions of it here, as it lays out very well my feelings about homeschooling.

“Dear Fellow Homeschoolers,

My first homeschooling meeting (5 years ago!) was such an exciting experience. It was so awesome to find out that there were other mothers out there who were fun, intelligent, well-read, well-rounded, and willing to expend all their energies on their kids. At that time, my eldest was 4 and pretty much done with kindergarten. I knew it would be a waste of her time to put her through a formal kindergarten and that an individualized program would be the best thing for her. I didn’t know how long I would carry it on, but decided to make that decision one year at a time. Having close homeschooling family friends for both me and my children has been extremely personally rewarding. How lovely it is to sit chatting with a few best friends while all your children are having the time of their lives! It has also been my great pleasure to serve the homeschooling community for the past three years. Seeing the kids all having fun learn together – seeing the reaction of the management at museums, etc., to what wonderful children we all have – while also learning a thing or two myself – those are all experiences well worth the effort! Now that chapter has closed and my life journey continues. As my Dad says, from time to time your calling or purpose in life changes to something – not qualitatively better or worse but - different. This fall, my three older children will be attending a Catholic school while I tend to our new baby, home business, and incomplete novels.

To me, the essence of Homeschooling is the parents’ claiming the freedom of choice in education that is their natural right. That is why I will always consider myself to be a Homeschooler at heart, no matter where my children may complete their formal education.

Here is a link to an online article I wrote during my homeschooling years:

“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ten Months

One –
A glimmer of uncertainty
A shadow of hope
A secret that is too hard to keep
An idea stirs of mystery deep

Two –
Medical science confirms
The answer is concrete
Appetite ebbs like the tide
This truth that cannot be denied

Three –
Practicality comes to call
With all its earthly concerns
Congratulatory calls and notes
Come as Grandmother gloats

Four –
Energy abounds
As life stirs amazingly within
Friends say that you have a glow
As your tummy begins to grow

Five –
Proudly you walk
At pregnancy’s peak
Your curves bring sly smiles
As you pass through subway turn-styles

Six –
You fall in love
With a sonar image
And crave chocolate malts
As she turns somersaults

Seven –
You start counting weeks
Until the great day
You can hardly wait
For that confinement date

Eight –
Sleep evades
As he kicks all night
Your extra pounds
Make you waddle around

Nine –
Excitement and anxiety
Both ebb and wane
Stares and questions abound
Yes – you’re still around!

Ten –
A beautiful babe
Cradles in your arms
Looks at you in awe
A greater love you never saw!

"Ten Months" by Elizabeth Kathryn Miller, 2006
Picture of me at 8 months, June 2006

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Witnessing in the E.R.

I had an unpleasant yet interesting occurrence last night. I was nursing the baby to sleep, when she accidentally poked me in the eye. I immediately put her in her crib and checked out my eye. There was a half-inch long, bright red line in the white part – the sclera. I showed my husband and he said, “That’s not good, is it?” I called my mom, who is a Doctor of Nursing. She advised me to call the emergency room and speak to an ophthalmic specialist. I did, and they said to come on in. “We see this fairly often. It needs to be treated with an antibiotic right away.”

I went to my local Catholic hospital, where we have always had a wonderful experience. They took me immediately. “How old is your baby?” asked the triage nurse.

“One year.”

”We have an excellent pediatric unit – so if you ever need to bring her in you know where to go.”

Whenever people assume I just have the one baby, I am always quick to let them know otherwise. It would feel like a betrayal to the others not to do so!

“Thank you, I know. Two of my four children were born here.”

“Oh, wow!”

In person, I actually present as a rather quiet person - until you get to know me. Then I might never stop talking. I am a firm believer in teaching by example. There are no preachy bumper stickers on my car. I don’t go around quoting scriptures (although they may come through in my choice of words). As I discussed in my earlier posting, (“Are Those All Yours?”), I believe the way you present yourself has an indelible effect on how people perceive your “class” of people. In my case, people might be judging me as a Catholic, a mother with “lots” of kids, a breastfeeding mother, or a stay-at-home mom.

Whatever stereotype the staff of the emergency room might have had that night of a Catholic breastfeeding stay-at-home mother of four, their vision now must include the calm, polite, intelligent person who, after having her eye injured, put her child to bed, saw that the other children were in order, made the necessary inquisitory telephone calls, and proceeded to drive herself to the hospital.

The resident ophthalmologist first numbed my eye, then examined it with iridescent drops. The fluorescence showed a scratch to the sclera. Interestingly, the scratch was at 3:00 (imagining my eye as a clock), whereas the red spot was at 9:00. The red spot was a “bruise”, he said, caused by the scratch, which was invisible to the naked eye. If the scratch had been on the actual cornea, that would have been serious. He assure me that the sclera should repair itself within 24 hours. However, all scratches need to be treated with antibiotics to prevent infection to the eye.

He wanted to give me a tetanus shot. “Are there any contraindications with nursing?” I asked.

From his next question, it was apparent that he obviously had little or no knowledge of breastfeeding. “Do you nurse her every day?” he asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

“And how long do you intend to continue nursing?”

“Probably another year.”

”Oh. Well, I think maybe we’ll skip the tetanus shot just to be on the safe side.”

By my one little question, I accomplished two objectives.

(1) I escaped a rather unpleasant procedure (soreness, swelling, etc., following a deep shot to the shoulder region);

(2) I broadened the young doctor’s perception of nursing. (As I discussed in an earlier posting, many women neglect to let their doctors know they are breastfeeding, resulting in the profession’s stereotype that most women wean by one year.)

Incidentally, I left my library book in the room. I haven’t read enough of it to recommend it, but I absorbed the main points. The topic was the support and building of emotional bonds with your son. It might cost me a few dollars to replace it, but I hope the next person who picked it up was in need of reading on the subject.

Every day gives us countless opportunities to bear testimony to a Christian way of life. Even negative experiences can be turned to yield positives. The next time you are in a bad situation, ask yourself, “What can I do with this?”

Support your local Catholic hospital. Their very existence is essential to the ethics of health practice in American hospitals. My favorite Long Island hospital is St. Charles, Port Jefferson, New York.

Pictured above: FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE, English nurse and hospital reformer, 1820 to 1910

Thursday, August 9, 2007

An Infant's Dreams

Large lovely eyelids
close reluctantly.
You cuddle
in your cozy comforter.
In your dreams you dally
in fields of dainty daisies,
and frolic with furry doggies.
Your lips smile,
betraying your happy thoughts.
Do you think of playing
with Mommy and Daddy,
or drinking creamy milk,
while you grow in your serene sleep?
You look so beautiful
in your quiet slumber.

"An Infant's Dreams" by Elizabeth Kathryn Miller, 1997.
Photograph of my backyard daisy by Joanna Gerold, 2006.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

"Are Those All Yours?": A Social Commentary

When I was a child I distinctly remember my mother criticizing a driver for displaying a “Jesus” sticker on the car bumper. Sooner or later, she explained, that driver was bound to make a mistake on the road that would bear negative testimony on Christians.

Large families must recognize that they bear witness to the Culture of Life. Our very existence makes people stop and notice. Our public behavior will be the basis of others’ judgments about bearing children. Therefore I believe that we hold a huge responsibility in how we conduct ourselves.

(I include myself in the “large family” category not because I think of 4 as a large number of children – I know of several families with 5, 6, and 7 children – but because many other people here on Long Island seem to perceive us as such.)

Although I address myself here primarily to the larger family, my observations apply to those with one child or more. Misbehaving children cause strangers to point their proverbial finger and mutter to themselves or their neighbor, “That’s why I don’t want any kids,” or, “That’s why I’m not having any more.”

I recall a tired-looking father who was in front of me on the line at my local Wal-Mart with three lively, robust sons. I forget what the problem was – maybe his credit card wouldn’t go through – but he commented, “I’m such a loser.” Usually a silent onlooker, I felt the need to speak up. “Please don’t say that,” I said gently, “You have a beautiful family.” Hopefully my words encouraged him on some level.

We all have our moments of children’s misbehavior in the store or doctor’s office – some more than others. I am the last one to give you dirty looks if your child is acting up in church – my baby could be the next to cry. If you were in the optometrist’s office with me this week you might have shaken your head at my children playing with the glasses instead of sitting quietly in the separate waiting area. (Remember that even Jesus’ parents once lost him back in the Temple?) But for the most part, people come up to me and, after asking, “Are those all yours?” with wide eyes, comment very positively.

Typically it is the very senior citizen, who then reminisces about his or her five children, seventeen grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren. “No one has large families any more,” they say. In church this Sunday a woman came up to me and said, “I just have to tell you that I’ve been seeing your family at Mass for years. You have such a beautiful family – and they are so well-behaved! I had three children and always wished I had a fourth.”

I hope our family helps to make a more positive attitude toward large families in our town. Our pediatrician loves us – “Everybody else just has two kids”, he recently said with an approving smile. When I first found a local optometrist and pediatric dentist, they would not book appointments for “so many” at once – they wanted the children to come on separate days. But, now that they have gotten to know us, we are favorites and they do not mind seeing us all at once.

I did have one negative comment made by a cashier at our local grocery store. When I was starting to “show” with my fourth, she looked at my belly and said, “That must have been a shocker.” I said, “Excuse me?” not because I hadn’t heard her – I couldn’t believe my ears. She repeated herself. “We wanted to have another,” I said (as if it was anybody’s business). “Most people would have stopped at three,” she commented with a shrug. “We enjoy our children,” I replied. There was a stony silence as I bagged my groceries and she continued her scanning.

“Most people view children as a burden,” my husband explained to me later.

How does your family come across in public? Is everyone well-rested, well-fed, and expected to behave? Or do you go out with children who are tired, hungry, and apt to misbehave? Do you appear to delight in your children – or to view them as a burden?

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
Matthew 5:14

Pictured above:
Photograph of the Von Trapp Family
Recommended reading:
"The Story of the Trapp Family Singers" by Maria Augusta Trapp,
1949, Harper Paperbacks, 320 pages, softcover, Catholic

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Aquarium of Our Hearts

The fish tank in my kitchen had gotten so green that we could barely make out the few fish we had left in there. Finally they passed onto a better life, where I imagine they can swim in pure blue water for eternity. We took the tank outside, hosed it down, and left it in the sun for a few days. Separately, we rinsed off the gravel and left them in the sun as well. Yesterday we filled the tank with fresh water, tested the pH, and let it rise to room temperature. Today we got a new filter cartridge and ten new fish.

We always get tetras because they are the “cleanest” fish. These small but colorful species can survive for many months, even without regular water changes. We asked for one of each type, as well as a catfish. It took about an hour for the lady to catch all ten. They seemed a little nervous as we first put them into their new environment, sticking together and hugging the gravel. But after an hour they were eager to explore the apparent openness of their confine.

My water frustrations this summer extend beyond the fish tank. I spend more time maintaining my pool than actually swimming in it. And there has been so much rain on Long Island this season that we have had to cancel our beach-going plans several times because of beach closures due to “run-off contamination”.

I am reminded of the ever-renewing waters of Baptism. Just one time awash in the Christening waters is required and a clean heart is there free for the asking. No chlorination, no algaecide, no sun filtration is needed. From infancy on, I come to the same Water to quench my thirst, to be refreshed, and to be made clean. Because these waters run ever-present in my heart, I will enter the Heavenly House of my Maker purer than the most pristine earthly aquifer.

“One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
Ephesians 4:5

Monday, August 6, 2007

An Infant's Perception of the World

Slipping in and out of consciousness
The day just happens by.
Familiar faces come and go,
Happy voices chatter,
And sibling quarrels break out.
Strong arms gather me
To warm bodies;
Pleasant smells drift
As the dinner bell rings;
I nuzzle mother’s breast
And drink her warm milk.

"The World as I See it"
By Elizabeth Kathryn Miller

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Duggar Family Welcomes Child # 17

Congratulations to Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar on the birth of their daughter, Jennifer Danielle, on Thursday, August 2. Congratulations also to Jennifer’s siblings: Joshua, John David, Janna, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jedidiah, Jeremiah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, and Johannah. Yes, the newest one makes number 17, and they are already looking forward to having more. The sons number 10 and the girls only 7. (I woke up to my husband thrusting the news article in my face this morning – read into that what you will!)

I have been fortunate enough to catch some of the specials the Duggars have been featured in, on the Discovery Health Channel. (Look at their web site for fun facts about the large family, or to see when you can catch a re-run of one of their shows.) Early in their marriage, the couple decided to answer the call of welcoming as many children into their family as God was willing to send them. Together they recently built a large new home in Little Rock, Arkansas, where they are homeschooled by their mother. They frequently make long trips in their RV. Michelle is 40 and her children range in ages from 19 to newborn.

What an inspiration they are to the rest of us!

“Like a fruitful vine
your wife within your home,
Like olive plants
Your children around your table.”
Psalms 128:3

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Minnesota Bridge Collapse

Americans take a uniquely optimistic view of tragedy. We look for the silver lining. We congratulate ourselves on our generosity and our “coming together” to support one another. We are thankful that the result was not any worse.

Last night I sat glued to the television set as the story of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis unfolded. On Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor”, a father stood by his daughter and spoke of “the Hand of God” reaching down and placing his daughter’s school bus (pictured above) within safety while the bridge beneath fell into the Mississippi River.
I just read that the children were on their way back from a swimming field trip. Just think about that for a minute. This story is so unreal. The school bus landed on all four wheels. Like in a movie, where the unspoken rule is to not let harm come to the children. We all breathe a sigh of relief. If the young ones are okay, all is well in the world.

Tonight my prayers go out to the victims of the Minnesota bridge collapse, and for their families. I pray for safe travel for families as they vacation this summer. As school approaches, I pray for the safety of children on school buses everywhere.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Kristin Lavransdatter

I cannot say enough good things about “Kristin Lavransdatter”, by Sigrid Undset, a Catholic author from Norway. The trilogy, which was originally published in one volume, won the Nobel Prize in 1928.

“Kristin Lavransdatter” is a magnificent historical novel set in the Middle Ages. The story is at once poignant, tragic, and rich with Catholicism. I also found the footnotes to be very informative about the time. The translation I read retains the original archaic language, which I like because it gives it a more historic and romantic feel. There are also several modern translations available.

In the nutshell, Undset divides an “ordinary” woman’s life into maidenhood, young motherhood, and the aging woman. ‘The Bridal Wreath’ is about Kristin’s life up to her marriage; ‘The Mistress of Husaby” is about the early years of her marriage; and ‘The Cross’ is about the latter part of her life.

One of the reasons this trilogy is so wonderful is because it shows how the choices made when one is young (as well as the choices of those closest to you) have a lasting effect through the rest of one's life. I will not disclose much of the plot, as there are many twists and turns to the plot that add to the delight of its reading.

The Bridal Wreath” (or “The Garland”, in some editions) will have a profound effect on any young woman, as it carefully treads through the complexity of the purity of maidenhood. The romance as she becomes betrothed is so suspenseful that it is hard to put down. This book should be required reading for all teenage girls.

The Mistress of Husaby” (or “The Wife”, in some translations) is a more difficult read, but it particularly touched me where I am as a young mother. Kristin has seven sons, and feels constantly burdened by the responsibilities maintaining her husband’s lands, while beset on all sides by her children. Later she will look back on those years with longing, too late seeing how wonderful they truly were.

The Cross” sees Kristin battling many difficulties: marital, financial, political, and maternal. The problems she faces are timeless. The ending is profoundly sad, but that was the reality of the time, and it is captured beautifully.