Friday, September 7, 2012

My Blog is Moving!

my blog is moving!

Please join me over there!

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Ten Tips for Dealing with Anger in Marriage

We may not like to talk about it, but if you’re married, you’ve been there. How do we deal with our anger in marriage? How do we argue? How do we reconcile? We all have different ways of handling our differences with our spouse, but here are a few things I’ve learned over the 13 years I’ve been married to my husband.

1.    Stop talking – wait till you can be reasonable and sincere
Before you say something you don’t mean, stop. You can’t take your words back. You can ask forgiveness later, you can say you were out of line, but the memory of your voice saying something hateful or unkind will last forever. Stop before you say something you don’t mean. Sometimes this is so hard for me, but I NEVER regret it!

2.    Don’t storm off, or walk away
My husband can’t stand it when someone walks away. I try to respect that, and have found value in that habit. Walking away is wimpy. Walking away either says you don’t care or you don’t respect your spouse enough to listen. If you need a break to keep yourself from violating rule number 1, then tell your spouse, in a reasonable tone of voice, that you might need a break to think. You don’t want to overreact, and you want to make sure that you say what you mean. That’s fine. Your spouse should understand. Just make sure that you DO come back to continue the conversation.

2.5 But, don’t let the sun go down on your anger
Make it a habit to resolve things as quickly as you can. There’s nothing more miserable for each of you, and for your children, than to have you two walking around for days grumbling, rolling eyes and being snippy. What torture! In the end, you will only make things worse by hurting each other more. My husband and I try to resolve things the DAY they happen. This mostly comes from my impatient nature. I can’t STAND to wait! God can bring good from anything, right!?

3.    Don’t be a Princess (or Prince)
We are ourselves. We all have a hard time remembering that we are just one side of the story. Because we live in OUR head, and we hear all OUR arguments, we reason out the injustices done to us and feel OUR pain. We don’t live, hear, reason or feel what our spouses do. We just see their faces and hear their voices, and when they’re mad, that might not engender much sympathy.

Often, when I’m mad, I have to go off to my room, shut myself in, lie on the bed and calm myself down enough to be able to consider the issue from my husband’s perspective. Even if I’m obviously RIGHT, sometimes doing that can help me see a bit of reality: He did travel out of town the past three days and stayed up with the baby last night. He’s really, really tired and I can should cut him some slack. Or, I can consider of how my words might have sounded to him. In light of what he’s been going through lately, I can better understand how my they hurt him, even if I didn’t intend it.
Sometimes we really do just need to stop thinking we’re so perfect and righteous in order to be able to understand how our spouse feels.

4.    Take a break – clear your mind, don’t mull or blab
Sometimes mulling only brews more anger. Maybe you need a break. Go for a walk. Go to the store, play a game of Go Fish with the kids. Get your mind off the topic for a bit. Many times, I have found that after stepping away, and removing the emotion from the topic, I can come back and look at the issue that caused our disagreement and realize that it really wasn’t that big of a deal after all!
Be respectful. Even if you’re angry or upset, there is rarely a time when it is necessary for you to blab to a friend or even a family member. Once everything is resolved, you will usually regret revealing that intimate part of marriage to someone else. Be careful of calling a girlfriend, or complaining over a beer with a friend.  When we’re angry, we are hardly ever fair, and will usually not give the complete story. That never ends well.

5.    Dig Deeper – what is the real reason you’re angry?
Sometimes you’re really not angry about what you think you’re angry about! And that’s just not fair. What can your spouse do if you’re throwing old emotions or misdirecting anger at him? He has no CHANCE! If you feel some burst of anger pop out of nowhere, there might be something more there. Think about things for a while.  Try to find the root cause, so that you can really deal with the issue and move on.

I remember one August getting very upset that my husband wasn’t available to go purchase school supplies as a family. I was so very put out… I think he thought I was a bit nuts. But, after a few minutes of reflection, I realized that I wasn’t really mad that he didn’t want to go buy school supplies. I was really just overwhelmed in general about the end of another summer, and the beginning of a new school year – my kids were growing up, and I was a little shaken! And I took it out on my poor husband!

6.    Pray
Seriously, pray. Don’t pray that God will show your spouse how right you are. Don’t pray that God will comfort you in your agony.

Don’t pray selfishly!

But, rather, pray for God to grant you the virtue of humility. Pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, promised to you when you entered into a sacramental marriage, to be poured out. Pray that God will help YOU to love more, act with kindness, and be a better servant. God will take care of the rest.
“To love is to cherish one thought, to live for the person loved, not to belong to oneself, happily and freely with one’s heart and soul to be subjected to another will … and at the same time to one’s own.”  – St. Josemaria Escriva
7.    It’s okay to apologize first
Because sometimes, it just doesn’t really matter. I don’t know how many times my husband has come up to me, given me a hug, and said, “I’m sorry!” He wasn’t stating who was right and who was wrong. He wasn’t saying, “I’m sorry… that you messed up!” In his mind, and in his voice, he conveyed that he was sorry that we fought. “I love you. I don’t want to fight. You’re my best friend. I’m sorry.”

“You are more important than my feelings.”

It takes great humility to apologize sincerely.  It’s SO hard. But it feels good to let that resentment and anger go.  And sometimes, when one person is willing to start, the other follows. That first step of love and humility can soften hearts and bring the rest of the issue out in the open with an attitude of love and a true desire for resolution.

8.    “I’m sorry, but…” Is NEVER okay
We have a “No ‘I’m sorry, but…’ Rule” in our home, with our children, with each other. If you’re ready to apologize, then you’re either in, or you’re out.  If you say something like, “I’m sorry, but that was a really stupid thing to do!”… guess what? No dice. You’re back at square one, or worse. Make sure your apology can hold water and be taken seriously. Make sure that you are able to be sincere, or wait. And remember, your body language speaks volumes. Make sure that your face, your eyes and your voice echo what you feel.

9.     Don’t be afraid to ask for help when necessary

You may think everyone else’s marriage is perfect and you’re the only couple who has struggled. That’s NOT true. I bet you’d be surprised how many couples you know who have gone to a wise priest for advice, been on a marriage retreat or gone to some sort of marriage counseling. Sometimes loving enough to admit you need a bit of help is the greatest gift you can give your spouse.  It doesn’t mean you’re weak, or that you have failed. You’re just looking for some outside, detached, well-informed perspectives. It might just be the best thing you’ve ever done for your marriage. So, don’t afraid or embarrassed to ask for help.

10.   Be thankful, and love.
Practice love. Remember the good things, and bring them to mind often. Make a habit of speaking well of your spouse. Say something nice on Facebook, praise her to her boss at the Christmas party. Tell him you’re proud of what he does. Tell him you love the way he mows the grass like clockwork or the taste of his sweet rolls on Saturday mornings. Remember those things that made you fall in love with him in the first place. And bring them to mind often.

It’s like strength training. If you go to the gym regularly, and routinely repeat those things that will make you strong, when you’re thrown into a tough moment – that hike up the mountain when you’ve had little sleep and it’s starting to rain (yes, this just happened to me recently!) – the strength you’ve built up over time will carry you through. You will be strong when you need to be.  Even in those unexpected moments.

It is the same with love. Give yourself some strength. The Lord has given you two to each other, to wear down the rough edges, to help you become the person he intends you to be, to bring you closer to Himself by bringing you closer to your spouse. Rejoice in the confidence of God’s faithfulness to your marriage, and be faithful to each other.

“You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working, and just so, you learn to love by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves.” 
-St. Francis de Sales

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

No Greater Love: 3 Heroes from Aurora

(As posted at Austin Catholic New Media:)

When I was sixteen, I had a boyfriend. My young heart was madly in love. I had also spent some time reading the Bible, inspired by my Baptist friends. One day, I came across this verse:

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  John 15:13

In a fit of romanticism, I wrote it out on a pretty piece of paper and gave it to him. “I love you this much!” I said. He looked at me like I was crazy. We were an emotional dicotomy (as most 16 year olds are) and the relationship fizzled over time.

But, that verse came into mind again today, as I read the news story of three brave men who gave their lives for their loves in the Aurora movie theater shooting: Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn and Alex Teves.

I do not like to pontificate on national tragedies. I do not like to blow things up into grandiose ideas or gloss over horrible deaths to make a point. I am not trying to do that here. I am, however, profoundly touched by what these men did for their loves. In a split second, without thinking twice, they threw their bodies on top of their girlfriends, cramming them under seats, pushing them down, and taking the bullets to preserve their lives. They did not contemplate. They did not consider the consequences. They did not take one more look at the girl’s face to decide if she was worth it. Instead, they were all-in and shielded the ones they loved from definitive horror.

I do not know these couples from Adam.  From their photographs, they look like any young couple I might see around this college town. One decked out in formal attire, one couple in swimsuits smiling on a rocky ocean shore and another posing in front of a webcam, numerous piercings decorating their faces. I don’t know what kind of relationships they had, if they held the door open for their ladies, if they said please and thank you or had promising careers. I do know that they did not hesitate to do the good thing.

This gives me hope.

In the midst of such strange horror, God does allow a little peak of light. In the midst of so much confusion and sadness many are asking why, those three girls are still in shock, and so many are hurting. But, I think it’s okay for us to take a glimpse at this little light of goodness and consider it for just a moment.

What more random sampling of people can America pull together than a group going to the premiere of a Batman movie. Really? A nice selection of the American public, all in one room, enjoying their free time. And then one walks in to shatter everything. We have tears. We have confusion. We have anger. We have questions about society, about reality, about media, about safety. But we also have this grand bravery left behind.

Life is not perfect. These men were probably not perfect. Our world is not perfect. People struggle to make the right choices, fight to keep jobs, to make relationships work, to find love. And sometimes, it seems that today’s society makes attaining these things even harder than it used to be.
But, I’m forever an optimist. I refuse to think that it is all over. I’m not a quitter. And these men show me that I’m not alone. We really do want what is good. We really do want to be brave. We really do want to have someone save us. Or save someone else, at all cost. Don’t we?

I pray for all those victims who lost their lives. I pray for those who mourn. I pray that we all, in our gut, without a moment’s hesitation, will have that courage to love with all we have.

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

This verse was read as the Gospel at my wedding. My true love meant it with all his heart. And today I know three men who lived it.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

{pretty, happy, funny, real}

~ Capturing the context of everyday life ~
Every Thursday, at Like Mother, Like Daughter!


I love downtown Bryan, Texas. This wall, across from a cafe where I go sometimes to work, has an old, weathered, once-painted Coca-Cola signed. The colors just can't be recreated. I love this wall!



I've started blogging regularly at Austin Catholic New Media, which serves our diocese, the Diocese of Austin, Texas. So far, I've written 2 posts. I'm wondering when I will run out of ideas. But, so far, I've enjoyed it very much. The site is an exciting project, with a group of around 25 laity from all around the area. I look forward to meeting them in person!

Yesterday, Colleen rolled around in Jonathan's old tonka truck, pretending it was a wheel-chair. She has a great-uncle in a wheel chair and imagines that he has great fun wheeling around the world. 


We were shopping for Katherine's reading prize (I finally have a child who needs major motivation to sit down and read. I once found her with her book on her head, spinning in circles in her room). We found Target Barbie. On clearance. With an orangey-red basket and a target credit card in her hand. 


Yesterday I also backed into a car. A sixteen year old's brand new silver Mustang. I didn't do much damage, just 2 dings. But, as I got out to talk to the girl, I noticed the car behind her. An old, rusty, beat up sedan with literally plastic bags taped over all the back and passenger windows. And the bumper hanging half-off. But, I hit the new Mustang. 


And, while at Target mulling over Target Barbie, we also walked past what used to the the 'summer aisle'. It is now the 'school supply aisle'. And I was sad. And I was so thrilled that I was sad. I'm not ready for them to go back yet. I resist!

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

{Pretty. Happy. Funny. Real.}

~ Capturing the context of everyday life ~
Every Thursday, at Like Mother, Like Daughter!


Fireworks are always pretty. After a strange day where my husband worked instead of taking the day off, it all ended well. We joined the rest of the Bryan/College Station area at the George Bush Presidential Library for the annual 4th of July celebration. A symphony, a breeze, friends and fireworks made it all end well. Very sleepy children and dreams of bursting stars. 


My oldest daughter has begun taking French Horn lessons in preparation for joining band next year. She enjoys it, but begrudgingly practices. Last night, we had the privilege of listening to the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra. Live. Sitting on the pavement smack in front of them. Watching the conductor ferociously lead his people on, flags blowing in the wind, some sheet music escaping the stand, to be caught by a swift tympani player. In the very back row sat the three french horns players. Emelie snuck to back to watch them perform Copland's Hoe-down and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. She tried to unobtrusively
 take a photo of the first chair french horn player - a blonde female, just like her. She was caught! Nevermind, the kind lady smiled for her photo, her hair blowing in her face, and Emelie is practicing her horn as I type....


Spunky little girls are always funny. These two have been friends since they were born. They push and shove. They tattle like their preparing for war. They finish each other's sentences and stand, hugging while waiting for their mommies to stop talking. Like a pair of kittens. I think they'll be friends for quite a while yet. It should be fun!

Zack and Curt, way back in something like 1994 or 5?
Our friend Zack passed away 9 years ago last month. He suffered from Cystic Fibrosis, as did his sister, who passed away the year before he did. Yet, when I remember him, I remember his laughter. How he liked to quote the old testament often, reminding us to "gird our loins" with his raspy chuckle. He was a brilliant mathematician, and a brilliant friend. He was a most faithful Catholic. He prayed for his wife through his last hours and fought beyond hope to make it till their 5th wedding anniversary before moving on to heaven.  When he could no longer work, he would sit in front of Planned Parenthood in a folding chair with his oxygen tank and pray.  His last meeting with a close friend, just a few days before his death, had nothing to do with him. He wanted to know when he would finally become Catholic. Did he have any questions about the Eucharist that he could help  him out with? He was my husband's best friend. He stood up at our wedding. We miss him, but will always remember his laugh and his joy for life. 


sleeping, sick boy. I gave him a mohawk while he slept. 

My boy has been sick with a fever. Too tired to watch a movie, that's how sick. His cheeks turned red and his eyes glassy and he just wanted to lay his head in my lap. Flashbacks to when he was a little tiny boy. Those sweet eyes are still the same. 

Jonathan and his counselor, Jorvis.

Same boy. Not sick. 
Recently, he participated in Camp Adventure, a camp offered by Texas A&M. Quite pricey, but worth every penny.  His counselor, was, well, simply wonderful. One night, after a busy day of camp activities, my husband tucked Jonathan in bed. He stayed in the room for a while, talking. When he finally came out, he dropped onto the couch and said, "That Jorvis. He's a good man."  Me, being the meddling type, asked "Why?  What happened?!" And he, being the man-of-few-words type, simply said, "He's just a really good guy. He and Jonathan had a good talk today..."  And that was all. I was content to let it remain. I'm thankful for Jorvis, thankful for good role-models. Because, as much as we love them, as much as we can tell them everyday that they are wonderful and amazing and talented, sometimes they just want to hear good words from someone else. Who's NOT their mother. Someone with no strings attached. Someone who's just a really good guy with eyes to see and a heart to share. 

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Friday, June 29, 2012

And I Find Myself Smirking at God

Does your child ever do something so witty and surprising that you just shake your head and let a smirk creep across your face?

My son cracked out with a clever quip last week and I just burst out laughing. I don’t often burst out into anything.

I like that feeling.

Over the past few weeks I have found my self smirking at God. Shaking my head once again. Surprised at myself for being surprised. That He loves me.

Keep Reading...

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

"The farmer dude is awesome!" or, "Girls' Commentary on Emma, by Jane Austen"

My daughter had her birthday sleepover last night. We went swimming, out to eat, painted nails and watched a movie. The movie was the main event, anticipated greatly by at least one of us.


You see, this was the first time I allowed my daughter to experience Jane Austen. I have protected Jane  from the offense of being read by to young-a-girl, of being blown off, misunderstood, or haphazardly compared to any other romantic girl-in-pretty-dress period movie or book that they may have seen or read.  I wanted to make sure that Emelie would be old enough to truly appreciate Jane.

I chose Emma, the 2009 BBC version for the movie selection. Emma is the most comedic of Jane Austen's works, and Emma herself is a very realistic character, with serious flaws, who makes real mistakes. The BBC version of the movie is 4 hours long and stays very true to the novel.

I had a fear that they wouldn't like it. That they'd think it was boring, slow, old-fashioned or too complex. If that had been the case, I'm not sure what I would have done. Go cry in my room. Offer my kids up for adoption... I just don't know. But, I didn't have to find out because they all loved it. (See video at the end of this post) At 11:35, when we were just half way through, they tried to predict the ending, and then insisted that we watch it all the way through, right then, and not wait till morning as was the plan. I obliged and we finally went to bed at 2 AM.

It was worth every minute - listening to them groan at Mr. Elton, feel sorry for poor Harriet, complain about snooty Emma, swoon over Frank Churchill and plead with Mr. Knightley to just "get down on one knee already!"

As Emelie said half way through, "Frank is nice and cute, but he always seems to get Emma into trouble. Then, Mr. Knightley is there to pull her out. I think I like him best." They were won over 100%. Jane Austen has been successfully passed down to another generation just as she has been for these past 200 years!

"(Jane Austen's novels) appear to be compact of abject truth. Their events are excruciatingly unimportant; and yet, with Robinson Crusoe, they will probably outlast all Fielding, Scott, George Elliot, Thackeray, and Dickens. The art is so consummate that the secret is hidden; peer at them as hard as one may; shake them; take them apart; one cannot see how it is done."
Thornton Wilder, 1938

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Monday, May 21, 2012

I'm not afraid anymore

I've just realized it. Just now.

I've been sitting here at my computer, attempting to design a stunning website for a client, listening to my two little girls (ages 4 and 6) playing in the living room next to me.

They were playing 'Getting Married'. This entails pretending to put make up on, going dancing and finding a husband. They ask the imaginary men if they think they're pretty. They decide if they like the imaginary guy and then run off with a towel over their hair for an impromptu wedding in the entry way.

I sat here, looking out the window laughing at them.

I just smiled and laughed and tried to watch them without being caught, because that would end the game, of course.

See, several years ago, I would have stopped the game.  I would have told them that they shouldn't be thinking about getting married... you're just little girls, right?! This is a very serious thing.  I would have asked them why they were worried if a guy thought they were pretty. Inner beauty is much more important. And, it takes a long time to find a husband. This just isn't something we play at, girls.

(I'll pause here while you laugh at me...)

But, that was several years ago.

Because I was paranoid.

I've always had an overwhelming desire to have what is good for my children. I want them to be Catholic, moral, holy, discerning.  I want them to choose good spouses. I want them to go to heaven. And, I guess in my ignorance as a young mother, I thought I could 'force' those things by creating a certain environment. By reading only certain books, watching only certain kinds of shows, by playing only certain kinds of games. More impressively, by what we wouldn't do.  What we wouldn't hear, see, discuss or pretend. If I guarded them against anything and everything that could possible open a path to something wayward, then nothing bad could ever happen, right? I could control it. Yes.

I needed to control because I was so afraid. Afraid that they'd be like me. That they'd make stupid decisions. That they'd get hurt and hurt others. That they'd be selfish and worldly and not listen to the Lord speaking in their hearts. Goodness sake, I can't have THAT. None of it. They'd be lost forever. And what would my friends think?

Then, at Easter Vigil this year, I realized something big. Big for me, at least. God got me anyway. Despite myself. Despite my weaknesses (of which there are many), despite my insecurities and obsessions. Despite my temptations, my past, my worldliness. He caught me and let me fall in love with his Church. If He can do that for me, with no lectures or cautionary tales before each life decision, then He can do that for others, surely?

And then, something else has helped. Having older children. I see in them a heart and a conscience that I could not have molded. I see them making choices that impress me. I see them wondering about people and how they act. I see them discussing the Church and her teachings and seeing the bigger picture behind them. I see them choosing friends that are children I admire greatly. I see them naturally seeking the good and turning away from the bad. And this gives me great hope.

Don't worry. I'm not walking away. I'll still fret, I'm sure. I'll still pray for them. I'll still teach our Faith and discuss life with them. But, not out of fear.  Rather, I'll do all these things out of hope. Because I know it's true and good. I see their little souls leaning toward the truth like my houseplant that leans awkwardly toward the window in the kitchen. It'll do anything for a little light.

If He can catch me, He can catch just about anyone. I'm not afraid.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012


As I write this, the man who relieved my husband of his job almost exactly a year ago just walked past me in Starbucks. The man who, because of his actions, caused my husband to find a new job which he spends 3 hours a day driving to and from. I am resentful of this man. I resent his shiny shoes and expensive suit. Of his well groomed head of hair swept back so handsomely. I resent that he tries to make eye contact and I avoid, because this time, I think I really might punch him. I resent the fact that I am stretched farther than I ever thought I'd be stretched. I may be fraying. I expect to snap soon.

As imperfect as it was, I miss our old life. I miss my husband. He is my best friend. I adore him. He listens to me talk. When we first started dating, he told me "I like how you talk. It's like I can hear your brain". For most men, that would be a nightmare.  How lucky am I?

But now, he kisses my forehead while I sleep when he leaves in the morning and I watch him fall asleep on the couch next to me only minutes after the kids are tucked in. He tries to stay awake. He just can't. I'll call him with a run down on the kids: "This one talked back to the teacher, that one cried all through recess because she wasn't invited to a birthday party. French Horns cost $400, let me know if we're going that route. The boy was hopping around the living room in that tall laundry basket, fell into our new bookshelves and whacked off a chunk of wood. Tune in again next week..."

The other day, driving home,  he had to pull over on the side of the road, next to some farm near Cameron, TX because he was falling asleep. I don't know how long he stopped. I don't know how often that happens. I do know that I listen to the radio each afternoon, ears perked for news of car accidents. I pray over his tires and the skinny cattle that sometimes wander onto the highway.  I strain my every nerve to keep myself from obsessing over his safety, from generating statistics on the number of hours he drives, the daylight he is allotted, the condition of the rusty tin can he calls a car. That has no air conditioning.

All this, and I get angry. Seems like he should be the angry one. But he's not. He just goes on. He's tougher. He does it for us. Sometimes I think I need to be angry for both of us. And, at moments, I am. 

I know it will be good in the end. That much worse things befall couples every day. I just never thought this is how it would be. I know someday, we will reminisce with our children and grandchildren, "Oh, remember that job where you were gone all the time and all mom made for dinner was pizza and hot dogs wrapped in tortillas!?"  That will be nice.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bookish Catholics

Reading Woman by Poul Friis Nybo

We have a happy new little thing around here.

A book a month. Great women to discuss them with. Can it get any better?  A book club.

A Catholic Book Club. Inspired by such as Betty Duffy, her reading group Reading for Believers and Leila at Like Mother Like Daughter.

I think this satisfies a long held dream. To be a literature professor at a small Catholic college and sit around discussing classics in the light of life and faith.

So, I have found a way to grant this little longing of mine without abandoning my husband and children. That would not be good.

Bookish Catholics is the happy place.

Because, other than my husband and children, there is really nothing that has ever made me more happy that reading a good book. From when I was 7, reading The Boxcar Children to 3 years ago when I read my first Tolstoy.

This sums it all up quite nicely:

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours” - Alan Bennett

So, feel free to read along, join our bloggy discussions and be happy with me!

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

a Holy Thursday that feels like any other day.

I suffer from the torment of high expectations.

I woke up this morning, Holy Thursday morning, knowing that it is my favorite feast. Knowing that it is filled with stunning memories of my conversion, of special friends, of wafts of overwhelming incense, of priests laying themselves on the carpet before the altar, of walking through the dark in procession singing ancient hymns, of hours kneeling on a linoleum floor praying late into the night in front of the Real Presence with tears running down my face.

And I rolled over and put 15 more minutes on my alarm. Just didn't want to do it today. I alternated through breakfast with my four children, "It's Holy Thursday, the day Jesus created the Mass!" with "If you don't like Cinnamon Life cereal then you just aren't a very thankful kid. Maybe you can make breakfast next week for everyone!"

Such loveliness coming out of me.

on this day.

that I love so much.

I took my older kids to school and came home and sat in the red chair in the living room and watched my 4 year old peruse a picture book Can You Find Jesus? A holy derivation of Where's Waldo.

And I thought that was pretty amusing.

I looked at her young face, her smooth round cheeks and the curl of her blond hair under her chin. The way her eyes searched the page, so blue and big. Her almost red eyelashes. Such beauty. And I was filled with this overpowering love. I so want to do right by her. Please, Lord.

So what is wrong with me, where my memories and aspirations have to scale this colossal wall of my stubbornness? I cannot get there. To that place where I can sit back and sigh with joy that I'm finally "doing it right". I feel the disadvantage of being a convert, of not having these traditions ingrained in me. Of my laziness, maybe.  I feel completely inadequate. What does He think He's doing, giving these four kids to me?

Then, I wonder, were those days I remember really that stunning in real time? Or, was it only later that I recall their significance? Can I really create or fabricate that, or is just all a gift?

Am I just coming up with excuses?

Can Jesus overcome me today, undo my mistakes, and make His impact. Is it enough for me to rely on the Church to do this job? It has for so many generations. The Church did it for me. The Church alone. I had no one hovering over me, pointing me, reminding me, redirecting me. I had the Church, the priests, the Mass, the Triduum.

I pray for my children. Maybe that is all I can do today. I do not feel inspiring. I do not have any touching crafts up my sleeve. I do not have a homemade Seder meal ready in the fridge. Maybe next year. There's always next year, right?

This year I will just love. I will pray. I will take them to live with the Church these three Holy Days. And, I hope, someday when they look back, they will have found Jesus, right here in the midst of all my sloppiness.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

St. Valentine, I'm All In.

I am celebrating Valentine's Day this year.

For the first time in many. Probably the first time since I've been married.

When I was in high school, I'd obsess over V-Day. Would I get a surprise bouquet of roses? Would I have a secret admirer? How many carnations would my friends send me and would I have more than the chick with the locker above mine? Would that boy I looked at in English class declare his love to me?

In college, when I met my future husband, we'd celebrate with flowers, candy, dinner. It was fun, but we were a bit "above" all that. Our love was deeper than chocolate and romantic dinners.

Then, we were married. We showed each other our love every day. Not just one day a year. Jeez, this was serious... marriage.  We had friends who purposely didn't celebrate Valentine's Day because they felt that it demeaned their marriage - that they would show love on Valentine's Day somehow told the world that maybe they didn't show their love on the other 364 days of the year. Or something like that. "Why should I bring her roses on February 14th when I bring her coffee every morning."

So, we ignored the holiday. I'd make crafts with the kids, cards for their friends. Hand out a coloring sheet. Give my husband a kiss on the cheek and a card. If I remembered.

Then, last week, it hit me.

I need a little cheesy romance!

I've been married to this guy for almost 13 years now. What's the problem with some chocolate, a rose, a big annoying foil card with glitter falling out sprayed with perfume? Is that so wrong? Why relegate this day to the 16-25 year-olds who are just dating... still finding their "one". I've been MARRIED to this guy for 12 years! We have 4 children! We've been through losing a job, the death of a parent, surgeries, miscarriage and midnight feedings for crying out loud. We pay bills. We dream of our children's futures. We plan imaginary trips to Chile and Ireland. Who, if not us, deserves a cheesy day full of love? Just to remember that behind, in front of, and through ALL of this, we do really and truly love each other.

So, I say, bring on the giddy poetry, the pink and red, the roses and movies with predictable endings. I don't mind the world helping me remember who I love. And why.

Yes, I'm all in.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Great Books for Children

UPDATED 4/27/12

I’ve compiled a list of our favorite children’s books. This list is for a true reader. I have not included any little children's books or beginner reader books. There are just so many fabulous books out there, so I stayed in the land that I know well – Children’s Literature 2nd – 11th  grade (give or take). I haven't had time to organize the books by order of difficulty.

Here are a few tips to help grow fervent readers:
  • Make them read books! Turn off the TV. Have a set “reading time” during the day.
  • Have them see you read. A lot.
  • Talk about books that you love.
  • Talk about your memories of books - who gave them to you, the first book you loved, what books your teachers read to you, etc...
  • Go to book stores.
  • Meet an author.
  • Read aloud to your children. Even the older ones.
  • Give them books to read of your choosing. For my older children, we take turns. A book that they choose and then a book that I choose. That’s just the way it is, and they know there's no getting around it. But, soon they realize that Mom's books aren't really all that bad! :) And, the books that they choose do have to be approved.
  • Make them re-read books a year or two later. It’s amazing how a book a child thinks is unimpressive or boring one year can be a life-changing experience 2 years later.  Don’t feel bad about pulling out old books from the shelf and having them re-read. There’s something very comforting about reading a book that you ‘know’.
  • Read children’s literature yourself so that you know what is out there and what will touch their hearts. And, face it, most common adult books are written on a grade school reading level anyway, so you don’t have to feel that your belittling yourself by reading children’s literature!
  • Start a book club. I’ve always wanted to do this... over the summer with a few girls and/or boys.
  • Don’t be a slave to A/R reading lists. They’re nice motivation. Points and prizes are great. But, if the book selection is poor, as it often is, let it go. Get a good book list and head to the library. I gave myself a lot of freedom when I abandoned the A/R lists.
These lists are divided up into a few categories. Classics, Series, Favorites, Emelie’s Recommendations (6th grader with a 12 + reading level) and Jonathan’s Recommendations (4th grader with a 8th grade reading level). Then, I give you some of my favorite book lists, so you can do even more research if you'd like.

We love all of these books, but have marked a few for you:
*  Great Family Read-Aloud Books
** Lauren’s Favorites

Betsy-Tacy Series - Maud Heart Lovelace
Anne of Green Gables Series - L.M. Montgomery
Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
An Old Fashioned Girl - Louisa May Alcott
Pollyanna - Eleanor Hodgman Porter
Heidi* ** - Johanna Spyri
Arabian Nights
The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew* - Margaret Sidney
The Little Princess* ** - Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling
The Space Trilogy - C.S. Lewis

Anne of Green Gables ** – L.M Montgomery
Little House on the Prairie  **– Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little Women, Jo’s Boys, Little Men ** - Louisa May Alcott
The Borrowers – Mary Norton
Nancy Drew
Hardy Boys
The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis
The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien         
All of a Kind Family – Sydney Taylor
The Box Car Children – Gertrude Chandler Warner
Trixie Belden – Jule Campbell
My Side of the Mountain Trilogy -  Jean Craighead George
Tomie De Paola Chapter Book Series.
Little Britches * - Ralph Moody
Wrinkle in Time Series – Madeleine L’Engle

Eight Cousins and it's sequel, Rose in Bloom ** – Lousia May Alcott
All Creatures Great and Small **- James Harriot
The Singing Tree - Kate Seredy
Adam of the Road - Elizabeth Janet Gray
Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain
Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
The Railway Children – E. Nesbit
Arabian Nights - Anonymous
Homesick ** – Jean Fritz
Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls
Cheaper by the Dozen ** – Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth
Con of Misty Mountain – Mary Theresa Waggaman
Heidi * ** - Johanna Spyri
The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew * ** – Margaret Sydney
Turn Homeward, Hannalee – Patricia Beatty
The Westing Game - Ellen Raskin
Thimble Summer -  Elizabeth Enright
Gone Away Lake -  Elizabeth Enright
Sing Down the Moon - Scott O’Dell
Just David ** - Eleanor Porter
The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien
Tomie de Paola Series
Pippi Longstocking – Astrid Lindgren
The Bronze Bow – Elizabeth George Speare
The Corn Grows Ripe – Dorothy Rhoads
The Good Master – Kate Seredy
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry ** - Mildred Taylor
My Side of the Mountain - Jean Craighead George
Island of the Blue Dolphins **  - Scott O’Dell
The Endless Steppe  - Esther Rudomin Hautzig
Caddie Woodlawn – Carol Ryrie Brink
Sarah Plain and Tall – Patricia MacLachlan
Little House Series * (read aloud, especially Farmer Boy) – Laura Ingalls Wilder
Carry on Mr. Bowditch – Jean Lee Latham
A Lion to Guard Us * - Clyde Robert Bulla
The Courage of Sarah Noble -  Alice Dalgliesh
Sarah Whitcher's Story – Elizabeth Yates
The Borrowers  – Mary Norton
Julie of the Wolves – Jean Craighead George
The Indian in the Cupboard -  Lynne Reid Banks
The Sign of the Beaver ** – Elizabeth George Speare
Johnny Tremain – Esther Forbes
The Cabin Faced West ** - Jean Fritz
Walk the World's Rim – Betty Baker
Shiloh – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Our Only May Amelia ** - Jennifer Holm
A String in the Harp – Nancy Bond
A Single Shard – Linda Sue Park
The Kitchen Madonna** - Rumer Godden
The Diddakoi (The Gypsy Girl)** - Rumer Godden
An Episode of Sparrows ** Rumer Godden
The Dolls' House - Rumer Godden.
The Winged Watchman * **  Hilda Van Stockum
The Borrowed House ** - Hilda Van Stockum
Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers ** * – Ralph Moody
Shadow Spinner (for olders girls) – Susan Fletcher
Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dell
The Great Gilly Hopkins – Katherine Patterson
The Good Master – Kate Seredy
Just So Stories * Rudyard Kipling
The Incredible Journey * - Sheila Burnford
The Master Puppeteer ** (A Japanese Robinhood Story) – Katherine Patterson
Little Lord Fauntleroy - Frances Hodgson Burnett
Mrs. Mike** - Nancy and Benedict Freedman
Mama's Bank Account** - Kathryn Forbes

Emelie Recommends (with her own parental notes in parentheses):
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwielder -  E. L. Klonigsburg
Indian Captive  (Indians kill her family) – Lois Lowry
A Lion to Guard Us  - Clyde Robert Bulla
Watership Down ** (hard to read and some killing of rabbits)  - Richard Adams
A Single Shard – Linda Sue Park
The Endless Steppe  - Esther Rudomin Hautzig
Kira Kira (sister dies and she was really sweet) – Cynthia Kadohata
Walk Two Moons ** (book is about her mother leaving) – Sharon Creech            
Ruby Holler  - Sharon Creech
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle # (murder mystery) - Avi
Eight Cousins ** – Louisa May Alcott
An Old Fashioned Girl ** – Louisa May Alcott
Secret Garden ** – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Matilda – Roald Dahl
Tale of Despereaux – Kate DiCamillo
Arabian Nights *
Around the World in 80 Days – Jules Verne
Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne
The Chronicles of Narnia Series – C.S. Lewis
A View From Saturday  - E.L. Klonisburg
Mara, Daughter of the Nile – Eloise J. McGraw
The Golden Goblet– Eloise J. McGraw

(The difficult thing about having advanced readers is finding challenging books that are appropriate for a younger child. That's where the classics will save you. There are so many wonderful, exciting classic stories out there that are on a challenging reading level. They may have been written 100 years ago, but no worries. They'll fall in love with timeless favorites!)

Jonathan Recommends:
The Trumpet of the Swan * - E. B. White
Along Came a Dog – Meindert DeJong
Twenty-One Balloons – William Penne Du Bois
The Borrowers Series *  - Mary Norton
The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster
My Side of the Mountain * - Jean Craighead George
Shadrach – Meindert DeJong
Robinson Crusoe * – Daniel DeFoe
The Castle in the Attic – Elizabeth Winthrop
No Talking – Andrew Clements
White Fang – Jack London
Hardy Boys Series
Castle in the Attic and Battle of the Castle - Elizabeth Winthrop
The Adventures of TinTin
Robin Hood -

Other Great Reading Lists, Articles and Links:

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