Thursday, August 28, 2008

Spontaneity – Part II

I wasn’t born this spontaneous. No, I come from a long line of planners. The Hungarian-Italian side plans meals six months in advance. As for the French-German-English side – well, even a smile is something that must be thought out carefully before allowing it to show.

Remember type A and type B that was all the rage in the 1980’s? Well, I was type AA, driven and organized. I wound up marrying a type BB and we eventually rubbed off on each other until he became an AB and I became a BA.

This is how a typical interview might go if a reporter came to my house to see what the typical daily routine of a self-employed process server is like:

Q: What time do you wake up?
A: Whatever time I’m awake.

Q: What time do you eat breakfast?
A: After I read the morning paper.

Q: What time do you go to work?
A: Whenever I’m ready.

Q: What time do you eat lunch?
A: When I get hungry.

Q: What time do you eat dinner?
A: Right after I get home.

Q: And what time might that be?
A: Whenever my work is done.

Q: And what time do you go to bed?
A: When I get tired.

You can probably see how this might grate the nerves of a woman who needs to be in complete control of her day. It took me years before I finally figured out the best time to make dinner was whenever my babies and I were hungry – which I eventually decided was 5:00 – and thankfully he has no aversion to reheating his dish whenever he might roll in.

Adjusting to being a stay-at-home mom after 10 years of a rigid schedule of working and studying took some time. That seems like another lifetime now. I remember keeping detailed records of my firstborn’s feedings, naps, and diaper changes. I suppose that was my way of making sense of my day.

It was the second child that brought me full circle and changed my life completely. Having two in diapers was a juggling act that gave my personality a new rhythm. No longer did I have to compete with that younger, career-minded self I could still remember. I was a mom through and through, and that was more than enough.

No longer did I mop my floor every day – or keep the screws sorted in my garage – or file my papers as they came in – or keep checklists of my daily accomplishments. The way I see it, the ability to overlook the crumbs on the floor or the dust on the piano is a learned talent and one necessary to enjoying the divine gift of motherhood.

And by the way, when a window broke today as the result of my children’s love of baseball (which they inherited from their father) we both had to stifle our laughter in order to meter out the necessary punishment of several months of menial chores to work off the bill.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Spontaneity – Part I

“So, are the kids looking forward to going back to school?” I was asked a few times this week.

“No, not at all,” is my honest answer.

True, there was some excitement today as a letter arrived from school today. Classmates called my eldest daughter asking what homeroom teacher she was assigned to. Her dearest friend was in her class again.

My son’s little life has become one of utmost misery as he mopes through two whole pages of summer work per day. I must keep watchful vigil over him lest I find him outside playing baseball with only one section of a page complete. A broken pencil tip, a misunderstood phrase, or not being able to find the right color crayon to follow the directions are all excellent excuses to wander off.

“Why would they be looking forward to school?” responded one of my recent houseguests to me, “Summer is bliss at your house.”

Ahh, bliss is the perfect word to describe the past week. I have had the most blissful week of reading. Truth be told, if you look at the cup as half full, I was stuck home last week because the transmission finally went on my husband’s car, which had about 270,000 miles on it. He was looking for a replacement as work allowed. A few times we had to get somewhere and he managed to get home to give us a ride.

When we went to pick up the “newer” car yesterday, I thought of all the places I could go. I was definitely due for food shopping. The baby fell asleep in the back seat and had to be put in for her nap. So I decided to go home and finish reading the Anne of Green Gables series. We had eggs and blueberry pancakes for supper and the kids were delighted! (I had a terrific time shopping by myself later, after my husband had gotten home; I had almost every aisle to myself!)

This morning we woke up close to the afternoon. I looked at the newspaper and saw that it was going to be one of the last nice days before school started. One final opportunity to get to the beach. I put my eleven-year-old in charge of packing up lunches, towels, and sunscreen while I got my toddler and myself ready to go.

I have to admit that this was not the best time we have had at the beach. It was on the cool side, the water was full of seaweeds, and the kids had forgotten to pack the sunscreen. They had also conveniently forgotten to pack their little brother’s water bottle – but that came back to bite them, as he couldn’t be left parched and they had to share theirs with him. We put the baby in a hat and one of the kids’ t-shirts, which covered almost all of her skin from neck to ground, and stayed for just a little over an hour. But, just like they say about pizza, even a “bad” day at the beach is better than none.

We had a chicken for dinner and went for a walk afterwards. This is the kind of spontaneous life we live during vacations. Soon we will be marching to the rhythm of the school schedule, and that is okay too. But these days are ours, to do – or not do – with them whatever we like. What a wonderful feeling!

Painting by V. Ovchinnikov, "Girl and waves", 1958.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Time to Read

I’ll never forget one day as a young girl walking into the living room, where my mother was stretched out upon the soft, light blue loveseat with a book. She looked up and told me that I should take the time to read as much as I possibly could while I was a child, because when I got older it would be hard to find the time to do so. I could not believe that could be true. After all, was she not herself reading a book right in front of me? Wasn’t there always time to do what one really wanted to do?

All through high school I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning reading the classics. Even during my undergraduate days I was able to pick up optional reading, in between my textbook assignments. It was not until graduate school, when I was juggling marriage, a research assistantship, and my arduous studies that I found reading novels to be an unattainable luxury.

So how does a busy mother of four find time to read? When asked this question earlier in the summer, I sadly answered that I had not picked up a book in a while. There are always “dry spells” during which I either cannot find the time to read, am too tired to read when I finally have time to put up my feet at the end of the day, or simply cannot find a good book to read. Then a group of factors come together that cause me to start reading again.

Sickness, bad weather, a car in the shop, and boredom (how many women will ever admit to being bored – it seems to be a declaration that one herself is actually boring, although it doesn’t logically follow) are all good motivators for reading. An almost-empty calendar certainly is necessary for one to be able to pick up a novel and read it through from start to finish. If one is getting ready to go somewhere or preparing the house for company, there is a never-ending list of things to do and the kids need constant picking-up after (or nagging to clean up after themselves).

For me, with our trip to Tennessee behind us and all our summer company come and gone, I can feel free to let the house “go” just a bit, ensconce myself upon a comfortable piece of furniture, let the kids wander over house and yard, and become entranced with another time and place.

Painting by Frederick Carl Frieseke, 1874-1939. “Reading by Lamp Light.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Anne’s House of Dreams

L.M. Montgomery opens Anne’s House of Dreams with the all preparations, both emotional and practical, for Anne’s marriage to Gilbert. He finds a small white house for them by the seaside, which is a little out of the way from his patients. It has all the elements of her house of dreams, but it was to be called that for yet another reason.

Can I tell you how many times I cried while reading this book? I lost count but I can tally the reasons why. First, the words describing the view of the sea at Four Winds Harbour were so hauntingly beautiful. Second, the tragic character of the spellbinding Leslie Moore as she was introduced was so compelling. Third, the beauty of Anne’s “dream” as her little one grew within her, and the neighbors who lovingly crocheted a layette for the baby.

Fourth, the heartbreak of Anne after the death of her newborn baby girl, who only lived an hour: I was thankful that I had been forewarned by brief mention in Anne of Ingleside, as I have been reading the books I missed in the series out of order; and that I knew she would have six beautiful babies in succession afterwards. Still, I was caught off-guard. I decided I could not put the book down until the book had come to a happy conclusion, which you can always expect from a story by L.M. Montgomery.

A friendship blossomed between Anne and Leslie, who ultimately found the love she so deserved. Jem was born. And Gilbert and Leslie left their House of Dreams to purchase the large house in the Glen that would later come to be known as Ingleside. How difficult it was to leave their little house! The home was to fall into good hands, however, and the book ended in the most uplifting way.

I can only regret that I did not read this book as a young girl. I would highly recommend it for girls and women of all ages and stocks of life.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Anne of Ingleside

Anne of Green Gables, hailed by Mark Twain as the most lovable childhood character to be dreamed up in his time, is the one I most empathized with as a child, and carried with me into my adulthood. I am not completely sure whether or not I actually read the entire series, however. I remember getting bored by the love letters that went back and forth between Anne and Gilbert, and perhaps skipped over one or two titles in favor of the more exciting childhood escapades of Anne's children in Rainbow Valley.

Inspired by a post in Faith and Family on re-reading the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery, I went to my daughter’s bedroom where there are two copies of the series. One is the one that my mother purchased for me when I was her age. The other is the one I purchased for her, having misplaced some of the volumes of my own series. The essayist had suggested that one could get the most out of Anne’s character by reading about her at the stage in which one is in herself. So I picked up Anne of Ingleside, which is about Anne as a mother of six, married fifteen years like me. I chose the older copy because I liked the artwork better, and appreciate the feel of a well-loved paperback whose pages are in constant danger of falling out. I also did not want to risk damaging my daughter’s untouched volume while we were poolside.

Anne has a lovely visit at Green Gables, while Susan is at home crocheting “mysterious booties”. I just love how her pregnancy is veiled in secrecy, in comparison with today’s irreverent celebrity “baby bump” shots. When she returns to Ingleside, the kids wonder why they are being sent away, one by one, to various relatives. Her poetic son Walter sneaks back home after his hostess’ children tease him that his mother is dying. Each of the children has some kind of escapade similar to one we all have experienced as children, but told in the most sympathetic and charming way. The story ends on their wedding anniversary, which Anne believes Gilbert has forgotten, imagining herself for a few whole hours to be a withering and unloved middle-aged woman. But of course she is not, and the joy of hearing those simple and tender words “I love you” transform her back into her Anne-ness.

Filled with wonderful descriptions of the natural beauty of Canada’s landscape and weather, this is a great read for August. Personally, following my own wedding anniversary and coming up on my next birthday, the timing could not have been better. I find it very fitting that my two-hundredth milestone post should be devoted to such a great author, and one I hope to emulate. Thank you, L.M. Montgomery, for your beautiful and unforgettable stories.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Child’s Garden

"A Child’s Garden", by Molly Dannenmaier, is full of beautiful, inspiring ideas of how to make the back yard come alive for children and the parents or grandparents who build the landscaping for them. Dannenmaier draws the reader into the child’s mind, calling up memories of how we viewed nature when we were small. She writes of children’s needs to be involved in nature: hearing, feeling, and seeing water; playing with rocks, sand, and dirt; climbing to great heights; learning about and respecting poisonous plants. I started to see my own landscape in a different way, and my head is now filled with ideas of how certain corners can be transformed into magical places for the children to discover. By the time I finish with my yard, there may be grandchildren here to explore and enjoy it.

For ordering information see the publishers website.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

“All Textbooks Must Be Covered”

The first year my children went to a traditional school, I almost passed out upon reading these words: “All textbooks must be covered.” When referring to guidelines for Individual Educational Plans to be submitted to our local district for approval prior to a year of homeschooling, for a textbook to be listed we were expected to “cover” 90% of the material in the book. So when I saw this, I was thinking we were expected to actually read the textbooks over the summer.

Parochial school students who borrow their required textbooks from the school district are expected to pick up their books from BOCES in Hampton Bays. This is just one of the minor inconveniences shouldered by private school students. We pay the taxes for these books, whether we use them or not. We are expected to do all the running around. We receive a postcard that states our textbooks are ready. At that time, we bring in the old ones and pick up the new ones.

That first year, the postcard stated that I was expected to pick up the books the week of July 24-28. My due date was upon me and I asked a friend to drive us out there on July 24.

Now in retrospect, I believe I started to go into early stages of labor on July 23. That was our 13th wedding anniversary. My in-laws came out to baby-sit while we went out for a beautiful lunch at a first-class brunch buffet. (That is the last time we went out to eat together, if you don’t count the two weddings we went to this summer.) They had fresh fruit, scrumptious desserts, and freshly squeezed juices of the day.

My favorite was the omelet station, where the chef would put in any of the many ingredients that were on display. I boldly requested an omelet with the works. My husband could not believe the amount of food I was able to put down. You literally could have rolled me out of there. I did not feel able to walk to the car, and I asked him to get the car and pick me up at the door. I started having contractions in the car from being so full. When I got home, I fell asleep for a good three hours.

On the morning of July 24, I was feeling really uncomfortable. I could feel the baby’s head pressing down on my pelvis. I said not a word to my friend, but was not very talkative. I was a little aggravated with the young ladies at BOCES, who impatiently waited for me to waddle from desk to desk, signing for the books. I carried not a single one, but piled them all in my children’s backpacks and made them carry them to the car.

My friend gave me a refresher course in covering textbooks, old-school-style. I had saved lots of paper bags from the grocery store. The task seemed to me to be a gargantuan one. One of the grades required workbooks be covered as well. We guessed that we were supposed to cut out pieces of cardboard from cereal boxes to support the paper covers. This was pretty tricky work. I put the piles of books in the dining room, alongside the store-bought supplies that I had picked up as soon as Walmart had them stocked the first week of July. I was so relieved that I had all of them before the baby had come.

My sister came to help out the third week after the baby came. She covered each and every book for me, decorating the covers with whimsical curly-cues and flowers. I thought of her appreciatively as I covered the books by myself this year, a three-night chore. I finally discovered that contact paper was the cover of choice for workbooks; I went through a 24-foot roll.

They are all set now, neatly stacked as in years past. New sneakers are sitting pristinely white in their boxes. Supplies are in their boxes, entrusted to my little ones to keep safe in their rooms. Hairs have been cut. 75% of the reading and written summer work has been completed, without much nudging from me. What was a mystery that first year has become an efficient system for preparing for school.

Aah, I am so happy that covering textbooks does not require that we actually pre-read them!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Thoughts on the Olympics

My children have been thoroughly enjoying the Olympics: being allowed to stay up late to watch the games, being introduced to some new sports, and fantasizing about their future Olympic careers. They have also received some valuable insight into the dishonesty and questionable ethics that goes on behind the scenes. Grucci has admitted the fireworks in the opening ceremony were augmented by digital enhancement. The 9-year-old girl who sang in that ceremony was actually lip-syncing for a 7-year-old who has not passed the cuteness test. Bela Karolyi is adamant that the Chinese female gymnasts are under the legal age limit of 16.

And yet, how could I begrudge those girls the gold medal they fought for and won? I repeated for my girls the news broadcasters’ description of how Chinese toddlers are weeded out of daycares and taken from their parents at the tender ages of 2 or 3, only to see them once or twice a year while being put through the grueling training required of their athletes. American gymnasts have a walk in the park compared to these youngsters, being permitted to have a normal childhood until serious training starts at the age of 10. And their self esteem is always being guarded, while defeat for a Chinese athlete translates into shame for themselves and their families. My heart breaks for the little souls whose families are stolen from them, and the families who think they are bettering themselves in the process.

We watch in awe as Michael Phelps wins gold after gold, mainly concerned with beating his own previous world records. There are so many lessons to be learned by watching these games together.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How to Fold Laundry Without Touching It

Two weekends ago, my husband and I spent a full ten hours without our children, leaving them home with someone we trusted their lives with while going to a wedding.

I got myself all dolled up, which I only do once in a blue moon. Of course, once I had my nail polish on I realized I had a load of laundry ready in the drier to be folded. They had been drying for about ten minutes, but I was not yet confident in their holding power.

Gingerly, I opened the drier with my shoe, then used my elbows to get the clothing out. Then, using the flat edges of my fingers, I carefully folded the laundry without fully touching any with my nails.

As we were getting ready to leave, I could hear the baby on the monitor, talking to herself as she always does when she wakes from a nap. Should I say goodbye? I decided that her pre-nap nursing had been enough of a goodbye. I would just upset her further by saying hello and then leaving.

The wedding was at St. Rose of Lima in Massapequa, where we had married fifteen years ago. Just being there together was a blessing for us. So were the little-known scripture from Tobit, a beautifully sung “El Shaddai” and “Ave Maria”, and a poem about hands used at the end. My husband was so thankful that it was a nuptial Mass. Someone was keeping careful time – I heard someone murmur that it was a full hour and fifteen minutes. What did that matter? Most people skipped the Mass and headed directly for the reception.

In the middle of the reception, I found that I had sat in something black and sticky. I tried to get it off, unsuccessfully, leaving a large water spot on my long, silky lavender dress. Thankfully for me, the reception place was so dark that no one seemed to notice.

During cocktail hour, we found a table on a lovely outdoor Spanish-like patio and loaded our plates with shrimp, lobster, and mussels. Once ushered into the ballroom, there was a full half hour in which Kevin and I were able to dance to old school traditional wedding music. Later it would turn into a techo-garble disco, around 11:30 as we were ready to leave anyway.

We arrived home just a little after midnight, just after I lost my glass slipper and my coach turned into a pumpkin.

Painting: The Marriage Feast at Cana, Jan Steen, 1655/70
For Biblical Story see John 2:1-12

Monday, August 11, 2008

Pampers not Pro-Life

Those of you who watch television might have seen the Pampers commercial touting its alliance with the abortion-advocating, International Planned Parenthood-allied UNICEF (I wrote on this prior to last Halloween). One box of Pampers = one vaccine to a child in an underdeveloped nation. I have yet to look into what type of vaccines are being used. (See Leticia’s posts where she advocates vaccines completely developed from lines without the use of embryonic cells.) However, the next time I shopped for Pampers, I was automatically looking for the green box with size 4 on it. I have been using Pampers for many years now. They did not have the size I needed, and I was given pause when I saw another size box with the sponsorship for UNICEF now advertised in bold on the box. I begrudgingly grabbed a box of LUVS, which I am not at all happy with, and will try Huggies next time. It strikes me as so contradictory that a company that sells baby products would contribute to a group with anti-life philosophy. After all, they would have so many more bottoms to cover if more babies were born. But then we always knew Lucifer comes as an Angel of Light, didn’t we? Ignorance is bliss when we go shopping, but it can be a real headache once you are armed with a little bit of knowledge. It would be so much easier for us if Pro-life companies formed an alliance with a universal symbol indicating this.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Muddy Room

For the first time in months, my now-two-year-old went to bed crying last night.

“Room. . .muddy” she whimpered.

“Muddy?” I wondered to myself.

Muddy applies to puddles that may gather anywhere on the ground.

Muddy applies to large patches of dirt that might get her new white sneakers dirty.

Now, her room might have been messy, but it certainly was clean.

So how did the term “muddy” apply to her precious space?

I had been busy at work rearranging furniture all evening. In order to fit a new (“new” for us, anyway) book shelf into her room, I had had to move half of the other pieces around, throwing books and toys out of my way as I worked.

Although I was not satisfied with any kind of finality to the layout, I had to bring the evening’s work to an end so that she could go to bed. So I straightened out her floor and turned the crib so that it would be jutting out into the middle of her room, rather than against the wall, as it had been for her entire life thus far.

This would not do at all. As she looked confusedly out of her crib, I tried to see the world through her perspective. She was on an island in a sea of disorder. Previously, being “attached” to the wall, the crib had been more like a peninsula. A mess could be overlooked from this position.

She had been able to sleep successfully at relatives’ homes while visiting, but she understood those were temporary places of residence. I had disturbed her little castle, the place she had come to understand was “hers”.

But it was too late to start rearranging again, so I did my best to soothe her and she had to go to bed a little upset. This morning she woke up cheerily, and I was able to set things to right before her naptime.

She is not upset at all right now. But neither does she sound as if she is sleepy. She is having a regular ball in her crib! Back in her peninsula, things are safe and orderly now, albeit a bit different. They make sense, and she is playing out her own little drama of the change without the necessity of moving.

“The Lord is king; let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad.”
Psalm 97:1

Sand Shadows is a painting of a Long Island beach by Rick Mundy at

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Monday Morning Meeting

“Have fun!” the babysitter cheerily sang as I left the house.

“I don’t know how much fun it will be. This is pretty serious business,” I said half to her, half to myself.

As I arrived at the printing shop, I checked in the rearview mirror to make sure there were no tell-tale signs of my tears.

I went to the front desk and asked for the location of my meeting. The owner of the shop was not there yet, but I could have a seat, the receptionist said. I walked through the offices of the award-winning mom-and-pop printer and was shown to a room where an elderly gentleman sat, reading a paper, waiting for the others to arrive.

I felt like I was going to an underground political meeting. We were not offered a room to meet at our church over the summer, and the printer had kindly offered the use of their building for our purposes.

“I guess I have time for my breakfast,” I joked lightheartedly, holding up the banana I had grabbed, along with my coffee, as I headed out the door.

I am so unaccustomed to attending meetings without my children that I barely have time to really let the reasons for them to sink in. I think about how to explain the reason for our meeting without hurting their innocent young hearts, but not how to protect my own.

Halfway down the highway I started thinking how profoundly sad was the reason for our mission. That is when the tears started rolling down my face. I brushed them aside so I could see the road.

A Pro-Life meeting has such a happy ring to it. And yet the reason for our meetings is to discuss how best to reach the community to convince people to keep their babies. The fact that this is necessary, in the most pro-life western nation of the industrialized world, is what I have such a hard time grappling with.

Soon I will start writing about 40 Days for Life, which begins on Sept. 24 and commences on Nov. 2. You can log onto the website to find out about this campaign, and sign up for a newsletter which will come daily during those 40 days of prayer and fasting.

Painting by Nicolas Poussin. The Baby Moses Saved from the River. 1647. Oil on canvas. Louvre, Paris, France.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

My Best Four Inventions

We were all sitting down to breakfast when my nine-year-old asked me if I had invented her baby sister.

“Invented? No, I may have given birth to you all but God is the one who invented you. I couldn’t have invented any of you if I had tried!”

“Hmmm…” they all mulled over my statement.

“If I had wanted to invent you I would have had to ask for my firstborn to be this incredibly sensitive, intelligent, athletic girl with brown eyes and wavy brown hair, who really loves bunnies…”

(Here my eleven-year-old’s eyes lit up.)

“And for my second child to be an intuitive, creative, insightful, and artistic girl with green eyes and straight brown hair, who really loves elephants. . .”

(Giggles from my nine-year-old.)

“And for my third child to be a silly, smart, easy-going, boy with hazel blue eyes and brown hair, who never stops playing baseball. . .”

(My seven-year-old looks out the window thinking about going out to play some more ball.)

“And my fourth child to be a fun-loving, musical, laughing girl with brown eyes and brown hair, who loves berries and standing up in her high chair. . .”

(She is standing as I pronounce the words; I fetch her out of her high chair.)

“No, I could never have asked for all of these qualities because only God knew what to give me. He knows us better than ourselves.”

They all just sat there thinking about that for a few minutes.

It is amazing how our children see us as their own inventors. It makes me feel humbled to be given such credit and I am happy to be able to set them straight and give credit where it is due. But it is also wonderful for our children to know that if we had been given a choice as to what qualities they would have been given, we would not have changed a thing.

“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.”
Psalms 127:3

Painting: Margot in Blue, Mary Cassatt,
1902, Pastel on heavy paper with light canvas back; The Walters Art Gallery at Baltimore, MD