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Counting Our Way to Sleeping Bear Dunes

On our trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes this summer we brought ONE baby,

TWO adults and

THREE kids.

As we left the city behind we passed FOUR lakes.

Lake Harriet

Up and down, around the rolling hills we sped until break time at Isle of Ferns Park in Wausau, Wisconsin where we discovered FIVE fun bridges. 

After a hot hike in the park we enjoyed  SIX cool dilly bars on the road.

Once in Green Bay, we unpacked our luggage and headed out to the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary where we saw an animal rescue and a raptor exhibit. Walking around the park SEVEN geese followed us.

Down the street from the sanctuary was the Bay Beach Amusement Park. We went on EIGHT old style rides (.25 cents a ticket). Simply sensational!

Bright and early the next day we drove straight to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help where we said NINE memorares for our family and the marriage amendment vote in November.

Then we jumped back into the big red van and headed south, past TEN lovely farms


until we reached Manitowac, WI. where we boarded the historic Badger car ferry to cross Lake Michigan. ELEVEN seagulls watched us.

We arrived in Ludington, Michigan several hours later, checked into our hotel and spent the next morning relaxing at the Manistee beach.

In and out of the surf the kids played, then returned to the sand to build TWELVE rock and sand castles. At one point Daniel exclaimed,

“Mom, this lake is great!”



Come noon we headed the final hour north to reach our new hotel at the outskirts of Sleeping Bear National Shoreline. That night we discovered Point Betsie’s Lighthouse and found THIRTEEN stones for a rock skipping contest.

Scenic drives, shaded nature hikes, indoor swimming pools, air conditioned toy stores and ice cream helped us endure temperatures that seemed at least FOURTEEN degrees above normal for the next several days.

On our last day we stopped at a farm and picked FIFTEEN pints of blueberries,



then finished the trip with one last afternoon at the beach.

That night as we packed our bags to head for home we brought ONE baby, TWO adults and THREE kids . . .

Tanning

The weather in the Twin Cities has been been getting nicer with each passing day. Even some sunny days in the eighties and nineties. So, as I was working in the garden this morning, feeling the nice warmth of the sun, I realized I had not applied sun screen and the sun was get a bit toasty.

ImageFortunately, we finished up around 10:30 am and got back inside. Then I plopped myself down in front of the computer and came across an article about a truck driver in England whose right side of his face is substantially more wrinkled then his left. He had driven a truck for 28 years of his life, and the damage is obvious. One side of his face is aged appropriate. The other side scarred and wrinkled beyond help. Here is the whole article if you want more information: http://health.yahoo.net/experts/dayinhealth/shocking-evidence-left-sided-skin-damage. V

Anyway, it reminds me of a story my mother always told. She grew up on a farm, born in 1939. Back then, it was a sign of poverty to have a tan. Only the children from poor families who had to work in the fields had tans. So, my mother and her two sisters would work outside covered from head to toe with long sleeve shirts, pants, gloves and a hat just to avoid getting tan lines. Imagine that on a hot 95 degree day! Now that is sacrifice.

Well all that shade paid off. My mother died almost five years ago from colon cancer. However, her skin and complexion were amazing all the way into her fifties. She looked ten, even twenty years younger than women her same age. That was of course before chemotherapy wreaked havoc on her body.

Alas, fast forward to today, I run by Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet almost every day and see all these people slathering up with their oils to get that golden tan. My question to them is this: where have you been? Have you not seen the research on skin cancer? Do you want your skin to look like an old leather bag years before it is time? Sigh!

My humble advice to those still drunk on that golden glow: Maybe you should sober up and do some search. Type in “skin cancer photos” and see what pops up online. Do your due diligence and get back into reality. The sun in small doses is fine, but in large doses can be deadly. It is time to get back into that routine of putting on a moisturizer with a SPF of at least 30. After your morning shower is a good time. Don’t forget the little kiddos too! You can thank me later.

Listening Skills 101

The other day I received a questionnaire from my sister-in-law via Facebook asking to rate her listening skills. It was a multiple choice question with poor, average and excellent being the possible responses. “Wow, what an important piece of information for everyone to have!”, I thought. What would happen if we all sent out this question to our friends and families? Would the response be what we thought it would be?

Back in college a dear priest would say, “We should use our ears twice as much as our mouth. After all, we have two of them!”

Just the other day, Dennis Prager had a whole show devoted helping motor mouths. You know those who have constant verbal diarrhea. The type that dominates the conversations, interrupts, won’t let another person get a word in edgewise and is completely oblivious to the fact that the people around them are either asleep, bored or painfully enduring the topic at hand.

Dennis is a brilliant man, well versed in various fields and very, very humble. He says he has a common practice when speaking to people of limiting his comments to only four sentences at a time. He says it forces him to think before he speaks, organize his thoughts and be very concise.

Then the most important part to being a good conversationalist is that he checks in with the people around him and asks himself: Are they interested in this topic? Do they care? If they do care, do they want to hear more? And, do they have a fuller understanding to offer me in return?

Dennis says he doesn’t necessarily ask the people directly these questions. He simply observes their body language and let’s their body language tell him how to proceed with the conversation. Are they giving him eye contact or trying to avoid eye contact? Are the calm or are they agitated? Are their eyes glazed over and dull or are they relaxed and focused?

Back in college when I was taking classes for my Communications degree, I remember hearing that you can tell how compatible two people are by if the conversation naturally flows back and forth equally between them. A good conversation is one where both are eagerly contributing to the topic.

I found this latest show by Dennis Prager to be tremendously helpful. It gave a very concrete and simple way to improve my listening skills. Hopefully, when put into practice I will score higher if quizzed on my Listening Skills 101. Now, I will stop, afterall, this is my fourth sentence.

A Face of Despair

Over the weekend we watched, “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” by Joe Cross. It is a documentary about two men who are overweight and trying to get their health and lives back.

One of the men, Phil Staples, is a truck driver who was near death at 450 pounds and taking a ton of medications to keep him going.

At the beginning of the show I saw his face and his face was one of despair. I know this sounds silly, but while watching that video, I said a prayer for Phil that he would hold on and not give up hope. Thankfully, if it wasn’t for Joe Cross’s intervention and support, he probably would not be living today.

Now the gist of this movie is Joe Cross, an Australian, suffering from some of the same medical conditions as Phil, decides to do a two month juice fast. He spends one month in New York eating nothing but juiced apples and vegetables, then he takes his final month and drives from the East to the West coast of the United States and interviews people along the way (that is how he met Phil). Anyway, it is interesting to see the faces of those who have just given up trying. They love their burgers and fries and if it sends them to their grave thirty years too soon, so be it.

Now, I understand that frustration and despair. Any woman who was pregnant, then delivers only to have to look in the mirror at the huge belly, stretch marks and the like, know what I am talking about. It can be quite humbling and very frustrating, especially when the weight doesn’t fall off like we had hoped.

But the documentary reminded me that our health is a process. Sometimes we have to be reminded two or three times, before we get our act together to take or make our health a priority. And once we decide it is a priority there are many lessons to learn along the way.

Our family is not perfect when it comes to eating healthy, but we try. In fact, watching this documentary made me realize how far behind I am with eating “mico-nutrients” like fresh vegetables and fruits along with seeds and nuts.

So, I decided to give up caffeine, a first step in detoxifying my body. I have been suffering from what appears to be adrenal fatigue and the caffeine is wreaking havoc on my nervous system. On day three of going caffeine free, I was sitting on the couch feeling miserable with a throbbing migraine headache and realized, “This is what addiction feels like.”

Today, five days later, the headache is gone, but I am in denial. I ask myself, “Why cannot I have just a little coffee? What’s the big deal?” I desperately want my comfort food and beverages back, but I know if I hold on a little longer the grip will lesson and eventually I will loose the desire all together. I am determined. My body needs healing.

The next step is to get myself a juice machine and replenish the lost nutrients that happens during pregnancy and breast feeding. Now make a note of this, my dear father has been telling me to juice for over 10 years now since he healed himself from cancer by juicing and detoxifying. I have heard the reasons many times, the science, etc., but as they say “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41.

I also have realize that something isn’t quite right because I keep eating and eating, but don’t feel satisfied. Now, if I feel this way, while we eat very well, what must all these people who eat junk food feel like? No wonder so many people are taking a boat load of medications to get them through the day.

Anyway, just the other day, Daniel, my eight year old asked me if something he was eating had a lot of calories. I tried to explain to him that we don’t pay attention to fat or calories but our focus is on eating quality foods. Foods with as little processing as possible.

What is more important than eating “organic” is avoiding excitotoxins like monosodium glutamate and artificial sweeteners like Splenda (sucralose), Sweet’N Low (saccharin), Equal and NutraSweet (aspartame), acesulfame K and neotame. Basically, excitotoxins like these are scientifically created to make you crave a certain food or beverage and along with the cravings come a whole host of nasty health issues including but not limited to killing brain cells, especially in infants and small children. Is anyone connecting the dots with regards to the increase alzheimers cases?

Then of course, we try to eat as much organic fruits and vegetables as possible and avoid genetically modified foods, nitrates in our meats, pasteurized dairy and food colorings. Phew! Don’t worry we didn’t start this all at once.

Now you are probably thinking if we eat this well and I still feel on empty. What is wrong with the picture? And, I think it is because of the importance of getting proper micronutrients in our diets and the fruits and vegetables these days do not have the nutritional content that they had in years past due to over farming. The soil is depleted. For example, I heard on the radio that you would have to eat 43 peaches today to receive the same vitamins and minerals of one peach of 50 years ago. So to make up for this deficiency people are juicing to get the nutrients which are easily accessible and processed by the body.

Now think of the average American meal. It is really faux food. Squares and syrupy globs that may look good but in realty are over packaged, over processed and nutritionally void. In health food circles the standard joke is, “Eat the box instead, you’ll get more fiber.”

So is it no wonder why we have so many walking dead in our nation? In fact, we have, for the first time in human history, malnourished obese people. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it?

There is something very sinister, shall we even say evil about this. How well can we live and love, or take care of our children or do our jobs when we our in such a debilitating physical and mental state? I can only speak for myself and say that caffeine makes me edgy and I am more apt to snap at my kids when I drink caffeine than when I drink something else. So, I think the evil one knows this about us. If we want to change our faces from despair to hope and even joy we have to start getting back to the basics. A spiritual adviser I know would always ask when there was a problem, “How well are you sleeping? Eating? Exercising?” It can be as simple as that. As Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

So, tonight I will say a little prayer to all those who may feel overwhelmed by their health and weight issues that our dear Lord might heal their relationship with food, and give them the knowledge and strength to put them back on the right path so that they may live the life God meant them to live. Amen.

Doing More of Nothing

cupcake princesses

We are still finishing up the basement, just a final coat of paint for the ceiling and walls, then my honey will rebuild the stairs for my anniversary present, very romantic I know. All these projects. I love the sense of accomplishment it brings, but at the end of a hard days work, my old days of philosophy classes have come back to haunt me, specifically the discussions on the elemental principles of essence and being, matter and form (still getting mileage out of that degree).

Isaac's nap time

All this work on material things is exhausting. “The more you have. The more it has you.” they say. Material things require maintenance. Heck our spiritual lives require maintenance. Is there anything out there that doesn’t require, demand, request anything of me? I need more time in the adoration chapel just being quiet and not doing anything. The soil is parched. The vine needs water.

baby love

Every year at my husband’s family reunion people go around the room and share what they’ve done in the last year. I dread it for a number of reasons. First, because I detest being the center of attention and loath public speaking. Second, there’s too many peanuts in the peanut gallery who love to interrupt and interject at every pause. This can be very frustrating if you are hesitant to speak up in the first place. Thirdly and more importantly here, I feel pressure to “do something extraordinary” with my life when the reality of it all is my life is very, very ordinary. Don’t get me wrong, I feel fulfilled at home with my kids, but what I need most is quality, not quantity. The focus can get stuck on the doing and not the being. Please Lord, help me throw the bucket list in the bucket.

My reality, my day in and day out is filled with very small but important tasks. These aren’t so amazing to the average twenty-something. In fact, in our hedonistic (maximize pleasure), individualistic (It’s all about me.) culture, my lifestyle seems a poor choice indeed.

“The Hand That Rocks The Cradle Is The Hand That Rules The World ” -William Ross Wallace.

The other day my other stay-at-home moms talked about being in crisis mode and just trying to keep their heads above water. Yes, this has been a theme on this blog and probably thousands of mommy blogs out there. It occurred to me that I need a change of perspective. Tired of doing the doggy paddle, actively striving to stay above water perhaps I need to turn myself around, look up to heaven and just float a bit.

snow going

Is this what the mystics referred to as meditation? Is this how Mother Teresa got through her days serving the poor and needy? Just floating in a spiritual sense? What does that look like for a stay-at-home mom? No more projects? That doesn’t make sense. We are called to bring order out of the chaos.

Perhaps for me it is being more disciplined in taking time to do nothing and fight the notion that I am “wasting” time. My day, week, month, life is not wasted if I didn’t check off all my bucket list items. I don’t have to visit all seven continents, play ten instruments, own a yacht, be listed in the Who’s Who of the World book to live a meaningful life. In fact, living a meaningful life could be as easy as being at peace and loving those around me. To do that I’ll need to order more of nothing and just float a bit.

Snapshots of this Last Month

peek-a-boo

Every Wednesday after daily mass at Holy Family Church there is coffee and donuts. Last week Isaac, Levi and I went downstairs to the basement of the church to dunk the donuts and socialize a wee bit. After about an hour we headed back upstairs to return home. As we were leaving Isaac blew a kiss to the altar and said, “Bye Jesus. Have a nice day!”

Daniel turns 8!

On December 5th Daniel celebrated his eighth Birthday. We had a joint Birthday party with another boy from Daniel’s class. They had a bowling party at Pinstripes Bowl and Bistro in Edina. They had a wonderful time.

Unfortunately, I was unable to make it as I spent the morning at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis getting x-rays for Isaac’s ankle and blood work for Levi (long story, no worries). Isaac twisted a week before and his limping didn’t improve. As it turns out his foot is just fine. He must have tweaked it a bit, but it is on the mend.

Birthday party

Regardless, the party was so much fun. The Birthday boys were the best bowlers.

The party included pizza, drinks and cookies.

As I didn’t want Monica to have to come to the hospital, she went along. Surrounded by boys but she is accustomed to that and did just fine.

Monica's football helmet

Daniel and Monica are really getting into football, in spite of the Vikings horrible record.  Here they made themselves their own helmets.

Daniel plays football outside with the other boys at recess and after school in the basement I enjoy throwing the ball to him while we wait for Dad to get home.

Daniel's helmet

Daniel knows more players on the Vikings football team than I do! It is fun listening to him explain the game to Monica and Isaac.

Greg and I played many games of ultimate football when we were dating. I miss it, especially playing out in a snowy field.

Last week on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, it marked the thirteenth anniversary of Greg and my first official date. It was a Friday. I went to mass after work, as it is a holy day of obligation, and more than that, because I wanted to which is why we should really do anything right! Then after a light dinner I met him at a gym and we played volleyball from about 7:00 pm until 10:30 pm. After volleyball we drove separately to Applebee’s. I remember distinctly being sick and tired of dating by this time (30 years old LOL) and I remember saying 9 memorares for God’s will. I just didn’t want to waste any more time with relationships that were not the right match.

Anyway, at the restaurant we split a strawberry cheesecake, talked about sports, work, life and theology and then there was a particular memorable moment. It happened when Greg asked about my studies in Rome and I told him the story of the building  of the first basilica of St. Peters under Constantine. It’s such a fabulous story. Anyway, I guess I got very enthusiastic and passionate about it. In the midst of describing the events I look up to see Greg smiling at me. I guess he really appreciated my enthusiasm and well as they say, “The rest is history.”

Well, there’s just a few snapshots of what is on my mind this month. Have a holy, blessed Advent!

Random Thoughts

Just some random thoughts today:

Pain Medication – Why do some people have a high threshold for pain while others do not? The other day I heard from a doctor who volunteered in a third world country. He was astonished at the high pain tolerance of the children and adults. Why is that? Could it be that they don’t have or take aspirin and tylenol like we do in the states? I have a high pain tolerance and we didn’t grow up using much pain medication at all. For that reason, I try not to give my kids Tylenol unless they absolutely need it. Who knows, a little discomfort might just have some long term benefits afterall.

Fishermen on Lake Harriet – Who are these guys that fish during the day throughout the week? What do they do for their day jobs? Do they eat the fish? Do they sell the fish or just catch and release for fun? This morning I went for a run and scanned the lake and was surprised not to see anyone out there, but at the last bend sure enough they were there tucked away in a corner.

Hmm and then I wonder, “Could my walleye at Oceanaire be from a city lake?” Yikes! I just must do an interview. On second thought, they are a burly bunch and I’m frightened.

nov first snow

The First Snow – I just want to take this opportunity to thank the dear Lord for a late snowfall in Minnesota. Just a half hour ago it started to snow. We have got so much done inside and outside the house! For the first time in a long time, I actually feel ready for the snow to begin. According to the Farmers Almanac we might have a colder and snowier winter than last. Last year’s winter was horrible. So I asked my darling husband to help clear out the garage so we can use it for the van. He did. It’s done.

We also put up the Christmas lights and finished sheetrocking the basement. It is warmer in the house now and finally, I have all hats, gloves, snow pants and boots purchased and ready for the kids. In fact, they have them on right now as they frolic in the snow and I type holding sleeping Levi. Aaah! It feels wonderful to be prepared. Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.

Coffee Addictions – It is a common sight to see people walking with their Starbucks or Caribou Coffee cups. Reminds me of toddlers carrying around their sippy cups or babies their bottles. Just another comfort beverage I suppose. Fill her up to the rim!

A Runner’s Pet Pieve – It is cold outside so I see this less, but why do runners carry water bottles in their hands? Isn’t that uncomfortable? Annoying? Now, for a long distance run of 5 or 10 miles, I understand because you might end up in the middle of nowhere and not want to get dehydrated, but usually they carry the bottle on a pack or belt around their waist. It would drive me batty to run with a water bottle in my hand. Doesn’t all that sloshing of water make you want to toss it as far as the eye can see? And Lake Harriet and Calhoun both have water fountains every mile and a half. Even if the water fountains weren’t there do they really think they will drop from dehydration on a mere 3 mile jaunt around the lake? I know it sounds snobby, but I just think it is a bit silly.

Fantastic Returns on Your Investment -Does the stock market got you down? Do you need a better quality of life or a better return on your investment that won’t go sour?

I have two ideas: take a cooking class or pick up and learn an instrument. Don’t quit your day job of course. I’m not advocating a switch of careers here, but instead perhaps a life changing or just an eye opening experience. A whole new world of food and music is right around the corner for you to enjoy with a mere $20 or so of an investment. I appreciate good food so much more because of the many cooking and nutrition classes I’ve taken through the years. There’s no comparing the amount of enjoyment I get from food now versus before the classes.

And there’s nothing that can change a bad mood faster than good music. Can you recognize the various instruments in a piece of music? Do you have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the various composers and the different genres of music? To this day, I reap the benefits from a mere six years of playing the flute in grade school. In fact, I just might take it back up again. My two favorite pieces: Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony” and Handel’s “Water Music”.

To Love is to be Vulnerable

Last Friday we went to the clinic to see our pediatrician because Isaac’s two month cough had turned ugly and he began waking several times in the night screaming.

Isaac at play land

It turned out to be pneumonia, with an ear infection and pinkeye. A prescription was made but unfortunately his symptoms got worse in the next couple days. Holding feverish Isaac at 2 a.m. and worrying whether or not to rush him to the emergency room made me realize that I have crossed over into a whole new reality, a reality of vulnerability.

As C.S. Lewis put it in his excellent book, “The Four Loves”:

a hands-on, fatherly love

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

Lil Levi

Is that why, God gave us the command to be fruitful and multiply? Is it to teach us how to love? As soon as a child enters the world, they are completely dependent on us. In order for them to survive, we must serve them. Hopefully through service, we learn to love.

“Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” Mark 10:43

I knew a guy in Rome who came from a very wealthy family. He told me quite proudly that he had never had a job in his life, and would never need one as he had inherited a large fortune. He thought it would impress me and it actually had the opposite effect. I couldn’t help thinking what a poverty it was for him to have never had to work and pay his own way.  I also thought how hard it would be to relate to the 99.9% who do have to work.

When I became a mom for the first time I remember how connected I felt to other moms.  Now with each new stage of development there is a deepening in my appreciation for children and connection to other parents. I feel like I have entered into a greater communion with my fellow human beings. I can relate. But, like all things it has a price, like 2 a.m. wakings. But if that is the price I have to pay, then it is a small price. However out-of-control my life may seem, the fruit of this labor, the fruit of this faith, is a beautiful, blossoming love.

Gallery

Big Blessings

This gallery contains 1 photos.

We have been home with Levi about a month now. It seems like a very long time since we drove to the hospital at 2:20 am with the first contractions. I remember distinctly rounding the bend in the south side … Continue reading

The Stork Has Landed

Friday, September 23, 2011 at 4:07 a.m. the stork landed with another blessed bundle for the Larkin family, Levi Michael Pio. It was not only a special delivery, but it came once again via Federal Express, meaning it was fast. We arrived at the hospital at 2:45 am and baby was delivered at 4:07 am. And, it was a also very special day for his parents, the feast of St. Pio. One of our favorite saints!

Levi minutes after birth

Then, if that wasn’t special enough, we were told a “legend” among  the midwives within the Twin Cities help deliver the baby. She was awesome. A self-proclaimed “straight shooter” who was not only direct, but attentive, empathetic and very motherly, helped me deliver in what was the quietest, most peaceful delivery for me to date. It was a beautiful experience. Extremely rewarding.

We sat down afterwards and talked about the birth. She said something very interesting. She said it is very important to “surrender” to the whole birth process. Many women get into trouble because they want to “control” the process and they cannot surrender. So they fight the pain which in turn causes more tension in the body and prohibits the body from opening up and dialating. “To dialate effectively you need to relax.” she said. One way to do it is by focusing intensely on breathing through the pain and letting go between contractions.

Surrender. Breathe. Relax.

Where was I? Oh yes, so then after birth they scooped up Levi for tests as he was early (35 weeks), but weighed a respectable 6 pounds, 4 oz. The hardest part was not seeing for 2 hours after initially holding him as they had to make sure all his vital signs were okay.

Dad and Levi

Then we were told of some minor respiratory issues which would be 5 days of antibiotics and an extended stay for Mom and baby. Levi was put in the “special care” room at St. Josephs with monitoring 24 / 7. They would call me in to nurse and if he fussed a bit and needed some consoling. Due to keeping germs at bay, Dad and siblings had to wait 5 days before holding Levi for the first time which was such a tender, happy, sweet moment for all. The love and joy present on all their little faces was priceless.

A sad moment was going to mass at the St. Joseph’s hospital chapel where for the first time since becoming pregnant I realized with great sadness that I couldn’t ask Jesus to go say “hi” to the baby in my womb anymore. It struck me hard this time, and I wanted to cry, but instead asked Jesus to bless all four of my children in a special way this day.

at home

Now we are home. The kids are in school for the most part which makes the day easier, but they are very excited to come back and see Levi. Daniel, Monica and Isaac gave him the nick name “Squinchy” because of his little facial grimaces. They cannot get enough of him and even little Isaac calls him, “Silly!” and “funny!”

We are currently waiting to hear back on some additional tests, will know more on our first pediatric visit on Friday. Will keep you posted and thanks to all those who have kept our family and baby Levi in their prayers!

Fall Favorites 2011

Food Favorites – caprese salad with homegrown tomatoes – pumpkin spice lattes – freshly pressed apple cider – porcini mushroom risotto – grilled peaches with dollop of vanilla ice cream.

Cozy Favorites – warm sweaters on crisp mornings – maple leaves in bright red and yellow hues – jeans and cowboy boots – mums in light purple with decorative kale and pansies.

Fun Family Favorites -

greg and isaac on merry-go-round

family on Azul the train

Afternoon spent at the Mall of America with free rides thanks to the nice neighbor down the street.

Best moment of the outing: scared look from kids as they went down the log ride.

monica and mom on merry-go-round

Thanks to the log ride, we think we have successfully cured them of any possible wild ride habits.

Thank heavens for the old reliable merry-go-round.

pumper cars

Proud Moments – Daniel mastering the bumper cars and biking without training wheels!!

Dude! gotta light?

The Hair Cut – By the end of the summer my boys started to look like they belonged on some beach in California with a surf board. Their hair was long, wild and crazy. Both Daniel and Isaac got a haircut and Isaac for the first time actually sat nice and still without throwing a fit.

As a good,  health conscious parent I rewarded his behavior with a cigarette. Just kidding. It is actually a sucker.

Favorite First Day of School

first day of school - 2011

Bright eyed and bushy tailed the kids were up early and excited for the first day of school. Pancakes with strawberries and real whipped cream, sausages and orange juice have become a first day of school family tradition.

A quick photo before entering school, then much to my surprise both Monica and Daniel got a little shy.

Thank goodness that was short lived and the rest of the day went smoothly. With great big smiles they ran to the car at the end of the day.

Favorite Prayer Moment – Daniel’s prayer intention before going to bed that night: that the new kid in class learns all the prayers and everyone in the class learn a lot and be good listeners. He said much, much more. It was delightful!

before school on the first day

They both have very sweet teachers and their friends were missed over the summer months.  It is fun to see how much the kids have grown.

I thought for sure Daniel would be towering over the rest of the kids, only to find out that he is still in the middle of the pack.

Favorite Creative, Hard Working Moments –

lemonade stand 2011

Lemonade Stand to Raise Money for the Annual Holy Family Academy School Fundraiser in October

“Lemonade, Cookies and Art!” – the kids shouted from the sidewalk. The “art” line definitely caused heads to turn. They sold 7 of their 9 pieces on the first day!

When business is low, Monica or Daniel sit on the public piano behind their stand pounding out a few notes while the other jumps around dancing. “Where’s my video recorder!” I wonder. Very fun, creative moment.

Tired of knocking on doors and asking family and friends for donations we started in August to have lemonade stands with cookies and artwork for the kids to sell. Anything they make over the goal they get to spend on toys.

art for sale

Each child in school needs to raise about $150. On the first day we made $84. On the second day in half the time we made $33. We almost halfway there.

I am using the lemonade stand concept to counter our crazy “entitlement” culture and help them acquire some financial skills along the way. The goal being to:

daniel at lemonade stand

- help the kids develop a goal and a plan to get there

- make them aware of the value of money and how hard you need to work to attain it

-  be cognizant of covering costs for supplies

- work on the marketing aspect (what sells and what doesn’t)

cookies!

- emphasize gratitude and the importance of saying “thank you!” after each sale

- encourage sticking to a task even if you are tired and want to quit

- work hard for your own money and not depend on free “hand outs” and mooching from mom and dad

monica - sweet smile

- and last but not least introduce them to the whole “first fruits” concept. That is the importance of getting in the habit of offering the “first fruits” of your labor to our Lord (via the poor or other charity).

Each sale they take out 10% of the earning to give to charity and put some into savings.

This weekend we have the Linden Hill’s Woofstock. An annual event catering to all the pooches in the neighborhood with fun doggy booths, supplies, services, food and music. It is a very, very fun day to see every type of dog under the sun.

Lemonade, Cookies and Art!

And, as can be expected, we will be out in front of our house selling (well actually our neighbors house on the corner of the street), shouting “Lemonade, Cookies and Art!” and passing out free doggy treats.

Come one. Come all. Enjoy the activities and buy some lemonade, cookies and art!

Woofstock – Saturday 10th from 10 am – 3 pm – Downtown Linden Hills.

Just a few of my fall favorites!

Good News Part II

Back so soon? Well, the pot has been stirred and like the St. Agnes booya (a sort of jambalaya) some things have floated to the top (two main concepts) which I thought to add to the last post on “Got Good News”.

First, what is it in my daily walk with the Lord that nullifies, silences or makes ineffective the “Good News” within me?

Answer: it’s those damn weeds again!

lilies

No, I’m not talking gardening (although Thank you Jesus I picked up a whole bunch of day lilies and hosta that were free on the side of the curb yesterday and we need them for a new garden we are adding). God provides!

Sorry, I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, those damn weeds or thorns. This calls for a parable: the parable of the sower and the seed. What does the weeds signify?

“He that receives seed among the thorns is he that hears the word; and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” – Matthew 13:22

Ah yes. There it is, “cares of the world and money, anxieties, worrying and obsessing about moolla that darn bouncing stock market and dwindling 401K.” Sigh.

Those days I am particularly nasty to the children or anyone else in the vicinity that is. Those quick to pounce, on their backs, irritable, wrathful and controlling days. What moi? Yes indeed, if you think I don’t have those days, just ask my husband. It is those days, when my peace and trust are being choked out by the cares of the world.

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Matthew 6:24

“Therefore I say to you, take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body what you shall put on. . .Matt 6:25

consider the lilies of the field (insert smile), how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say to you, not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like of of these. . .Matt 6:28

but seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things will be added unto you.” Matt 6:33

So trust. Breathe deep. Let go and hit the “control, alt, delete” button. Reset your focus. Priorities baby, priorities. First things first. Begin with the end in mind. God first, everything else second. It will be okay. I’m in good hands.

Next concept.

Second thought goes like this: with the Christian conversion that is authentic, personal, intimate and transformational, along with it comes a deep, confidence and peace about what happens after death. In my college days as a waitress at the Cantonese restaurant it would be like getting the fried rice and egg roll with the entree.  It’s a combination package. . . no substitutions (wink, wink).

I didn’t fully realize what a tremendous gift this was until about two months ago. We went on our annual extended family vacation and while we were  sitting around the campfire late one night  my brother-in-law mentions that for the first time in his life he is not afraid of dying.

Now, it is interesting because I automatically thought of the whole process of dying and was in awe at him because I’m afraid of the process of dying. There are many ways to go and some quite unpleasant: see St. Isaac Jogues and the North American martyrs if you need an example.

Then I realized he wasn’t referring to the process but what happens after dying. “Oh really?” I thought. “Wow!” It was as if a bucket of cold water was splashed on my face.  It was shocking to even think of being afraid of the afterlife because the first thing I think about is meeting Jesus and I cannot wait to look into his warm, beautiful and loving face. “Can I hug you! Please, please, pretty please!!” I wonder. Then I think about wanting to see and talk to my guardian angel and thank him for all those crazy close calls. Then meeting my Mom again and my sibling she miscarried and all those people I’ve met and prayed for along the way. That is exciting.

Now, it doesn’t mean that I am this sinless, perfect human being that presumes to have a non-stop, first class seat to the great vacation land in the sky. I’ve screwed up (see wrathful, controlling, irritable days above) and expect to pay retribution for my failings. And, I don’t look forward to this retribution (purgatory time in the Catholic understanding). But, I also understand quite clearly that it wouldn’t be just or loving of God to let Hitler sit across the eternal banquet table with Mother Theresa or my lazy butt as a matter of fact. Justice is giving to those their due. But, and I think this is where so many people miss the boat, “All the evil and sin in the whole world is but a drop in the ocean of God’s Divine Mercy” paraphrased from what Jesus told St. Faustina. But, people must repent and Trust in Him. Not a “Get out of free card”. We do have to do something and that means getting up, shaking the dust off and trying once again. However, so humbling and courageous it may be.

“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ ” – Mark 2:17

He came for sinners. C’est moi! That is me! And that is Good News.

Now, some may wonder, “Don’t leave me hanging! What was your brother-in-laws source of hope that made him stop fearing death?” Well, interestingly enough it was a book he read on reincarnation. That gave him hope and I wish I could have sat down one-to-one and asked him more about that.

Reincarnation’s modern day popularity is a topic for another blog, but suffice to say I think it is a substitution for many spiritual deficiencies in our fast food spiritual diets these days. Ouch. I know, another topic for another time.

Have a blessed day and do some weeding if the garden is getting a bit overgrown.

 

 

Got Good News?

Summer Vacation at the Lake

What’s on your mind these days: summer reflections, tasty treats at the State Fair, school shopping or first day of school preparations, the economy, sickness and health, projects or programs, your winter vacation or the next good book?

There’s been a whole muddle of thoughts racing through my head these days and yet at the end of the day, I have been too tired to put any of them into words. Tidying up the last dog days of summer looks, well, a little dog-eared around here. Meals are a bit thrown together. The house needs a maid. We have big projects that have taken longer than anticipated, sucking the energy out of the every day routine, and yet it could be much, much worse. It is always darkest before the dawn, and in spite of it all,  I have some really good news news to share. Something that gives me hope. Real hope not the superficial cliches of presidential campaigns.

But first the darkness: this summer we have had a couple church friends loose their little ones at or around 20 weeks in utero, and so we are completely thankful that our baby is holding out with early deliveries being a consistent theme within the third trimester for me.

U2 Concert Minneapolis 2011 360 Tour

It is these moments of life or death which an early delivery could bring about or have other humongous ramifications which put vacations, projects, plans, even governments and economies into their proper perspective. It’s not that bad. All is well. We have another day to grow and learn, love and strengthen and even clean-up after life’s little messes. As St. Theresa of Avilla put it, “This too shall pass.” or as Bono sings, “It’s a Beautiful Day!” – U2

singing in the rain skit

So, it is through this lens  that I throw out this question to you: “What is your good news?” If you are a Christian, which I am, we have all been called to “spread the Good News.” 1 Corinthians 9:16 How does that translate in your life?

If your encounter with Christ has been real, authentic, intimate, personal, transformational, then how has that changed you? What does that look like? What does that sound like? What has Christ revealed about Himself that has given you meaning, changed your inner paradigm of thinking and given you . . . a new life?

Or has it?

Bono - Singing in the rain - "Rejoice!"

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not calling everyone to recreate the gospel according to their own preferences and interpretations. I’m just asking for how the gospel message has touched your heart, transformed your life?

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” -Ezekiel 36:26

Or maybe it hasn’t, and you look and act like, well, any other non-believer.

At 2 in the morning, here is 10 second reply, my reason for hope, the dawn: I believe God is intimately close, not distant and far removed from me. He has opened my eyes to my own beautiful dignity and others. Love transforms suffering. Prayer is powerful. Miracles happen.Trust Him completely. Anything (and I mean anything) is possible with God. “He takes the weak and makes them strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10.

So, what is your Good News?

Got it?

Share it!

 

 

 

 

 

Siblings Without Rivalry

Just got done with yet another wonderful parenting book entitled, “Siblings Without Rivalry” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

celebrating another year of life together

My mother grew up in a household that was toxic with rivalry. I have often wondered what sort of ingredients goes into that molotov cocktail of relationships. After hearing my girlfriend describe some of the suggestions it was apparent that parents can easily do things with all the right intentions, yet set their children up for resentments and deep seated hatred of their siblings.

Determined not to let history repeat itself, I dived right in to the book searching for the “Do’s and Do Not Do’s” of parenting multiple children. Here’s a snapshot of their suggestions:

1). No comparing one child with another, especially in front of them.

2). No name calling.

3). No favoritism or excessive focus on one child over the others.

4). No labeling (good or bad). Focus instead on praising good choices or actions and encouraging the opposite virtues of a child’s vice.

5). Teach healthy boundaries on private property (for example toys).

6). Beware of talking excessively about another child in the presence of the other children.

These are just several of her suggestions. It was a good read and really confirmed some of what we had already known and helped us see those areas much in need of improvement. If you have multiple children and want to see loving, supportive relationships formed that will carry and support them through life, I would highly recommend this book.

Opening Ones Eyes to Gratitude

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God. . . there lives the dearest freshness deep down things. – Gerard Manley Hopkins

sailboats on lake harriet

Walking down to the lake I hear the old familiar clink, clank, clinkety-clang of metal chains against buoys as tied sailboats bob up and down in the water waiting to be set free.

“You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” -Yiddish proverb

The trolley goes “ting, ting” as it passes me to whisk visitors down to the other lake. The wind rustles in the trees. I look up into the bright sun shiny sky, through varied heights and hues of luscious green leaves. Looking up into the canopy of a tree is one of the little things that gives me great joy, along with recognizing the little chirps of birds that flutter by. There is a nice breeze coming off the lake. It is about ten degrees cooler than at the top of the hill. I am thankful for the many trees lining the path giving shade. It has been a long day, and I am tired.

sunlight through leaves

The lake is busy with bikers, roller bladers, walkers, runners, strollers, toddlers, lovers, picnickers and lazy fishermen. I enjoy being surrounded by them. There is an energy in the air. It is contagious. It helps propel me around the lake when truth be known, I just want to sit on the sofa and eat chocolates. But, we have all come down to the lake to celebrate the sights and sounds of summer and some, like me, getting a little exercise in the process. I know I will feel much better when the walk is done.

DANIEL`S SAILBOAT.

Adjusting the sails. Something I’ve thought a lot about these last few days. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit.” John: 12:24

Pregnancy is both a celebration of new life within and a dying to self and the old life you once knew. That heroic step out into the unknown: living a life of faith in action. A wee bit scary at times. Makes me want to cling on to what once was. Who knows what lies beyond, but here I am just trying desperately to stay in the present. One day at a time.

Isaac discovers a smooth rocky place

One of the many great contributions children make to the world is the ability to celebrate the little things and stay in the present. They are not stuck in the past or worried about the future. They live in the here and now and enamored with the little things of life.

Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”  Luke 18:15.

Looking through the lens of a two year old wrapped in wonder at an ant colony that has built its mound in the cracks of the side walk makes me smile. I remember doing the same. It has been over thirty years since I stopped and paid attention to those little ants. In an instant, my child has brought me back. For the child, there is no schedule, no task list to accomplish, no expectations, just bending low and beholding. Time has ceased as they sit and observe.

Monica and Daniel climbing trees

I have finished an amazing book called, “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” by Ann Voskamp. Check out her blog: http://www.aholyexperience.com. She is truly life-giving! Just what my soul needed.

And so, I have taken up her challenge and started my own list of counting 1,000 gifts. Here’s a snapshot: 67. Buzzer telling oven is ready. 68. Meandering jaunts in the park. 69. Cool new updates to Minneahaha Falls Park 70. Finding Daniel’s lost sandals.

How do I sum the book up? God is calling us to open our eyes to his loving embrace manifested in the small, but abundant gifts throughout our day, but our vision is drastically reduced when we are rushing at 100 miles a minute. In her book Voskamp says,

“Being in a hurry. Getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing in front of me. I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all the rushing. . . . Through all that haste I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away. In our rushing, bulls in china shops, we break our own lives.”

the sun sets on an old way

My dear friend, Shellee, read from this book just an hour after my early morning walk one day. What she didn’t realize was that the book was an answer to my prayer. As I turned the corner off the busy street and headed for her home that day,  I remembered the loving words my Father once said to me, “Ann, we are survivors.” But on that day, being married, pregnant with three kids and thirty-eight years old, I was annoyed thinking back to those words.

There was a time when I really needed to hear those words, really needed someone to understand the pain. But now, years later it wasn’t enough. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life “surviving” like some poor, miserable victim stuck in the past with “whoa is me” forever on my lips. I want to drink deeply of the One, the True, the Good and the Beautiful. There is a time and a place for everything. A time to suffer and mourn a loss and a time for joy. I want joy, to live fully and celebrate the here and now, but what exactly needs to change to get me there?  In a day filled with sacrifices, I need help to carry my cross, willingly, dare I say, even joyfully?

Ann Voskamp goes on,

” I speak to God: I don’t really want more time; I just want enough time. Time to breathe deep and time to see real and time to laugh long, time to give You glory and rest deep and sing joy and just enough time in a day not to feel hounded, pressed, driven and wild to get it all done – yesterday.”

“You have made us for yourself oh Lord. Our heart is restless until it rests in thee, beauty ever ancient, ever new.” – St. Augustine’s Confessions

Monica's ship

So, here I am. The new me in the making. Trying to be more wide eyed. In search of little things that make His loving embrace present to me throughout my busy and mundane day of caring for little wee ones.

But, I can learn so much from them too. Not only do they give me a second chance to stop and look at this world from a fresh perspective, but children can be a great gage indicating when life has gotten out of control. You can push and drive a little child only so much, and then all of a sudden all hell breaks loose. The melt down comes and it would have been better to exit and count to ten then to have demanded full speed ahead.

The lake path rises and falls. I have shaken off the sloth and now am in full stride. It feels great to be moving. Thank you God for limbs that work, a heart that’s strong, lungs that breathe and a husband that watches the kids so I can get a break and take care of my health.

Perhaps, I would not have appreciated this quiet time to myself as much if I had never had three children. An over abundance of time can become a burden too.

Around the bend, and I hear the clink, clank, clinkety-clang of metal chains. Chains. Chains can make music too! Who would of thought it. Dear Lord, thank you, thank you for even the chains in my life.

Reflecting on my Father

Father’s Day has come and gone. My dear old Dad will turn eighty years old within the next year. This last week I have reflected on the many blessings my Dad has brought about in my life through his dedication to Christianity, health, and striving to be a good parent in the midst of difficulties.

celebrating with grandpa Jack and grandma Ellen

Looking back there were many things he did that have helped me become the person I am today. One powerful and practical piece of advice came when I was in junior high school. It was, “You were not put on this earth to win a popularity contest.” He said it often. It was, sort of his mantra at one time for his children.

Dad spent time in the armed forces. He was a tough old bird and strict. He talked openly about peer pressure; about drugs, alcohol, abortion and smoking. He knew we were especially vulnerable due to the divorce and the emotional instability it often causes.  There were many days I didn’t “feel” any love for him, but through this one simple piece of advice he helped me be an independent thinker, not afraid to swim against the current.

“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

- G.K. Chesterton

a train ride with grand parents at MOA

I remember my first big party in high school. It was a huge, beautiful house in the old Crocus Hill neighborhood of St. Paul packed to the gills with wild kids partying it up. I remember going from one floor to the next and seeing my classmates smoking, drinking heavily, making out or playing with a ouija board in the attic. One particular chearleader comes to mind, beautiful, overly pleasing and wasted. She was from a divorced family as well. She was nice. We talked a bit, then off she went to some room with some guy and I remember thinking, “And if you get pregnant, then what?” She had a good heart, but was desperately in need of the masculine attention her father never was there to give.

I couldn’t wait to get out of the house. The party seemed all very silly to me. Silly but sad at the same time, as if they were all clutching on to their beer bottles saying, “I’m drinking. I’m rebelling, and now I’m cool.” Needless to say, I didn’t frequent any more of these parties and was happy for it.

The other thing Dad helped show me was self-respect and modesty in dress. One day he brought me shopping at Target. I knew something was amiss because he left all my other siblings at home. Once inside the store  he brought me to the girls section and started picking out clothes. I asked him, “What are you doing”? He said he was picking out clothes for me to wear because I was dressing very inappropriately, showing too much skin and if I wanted people to respect me, then I would have to dress differently. I’m fairly certain I rolled my eyes then vehemently stated that if he wanted to go ahead and waste all that money on the clothes he could, but he couldn’t force me to wear any of them.

watching the kids on the rides

We left Target without an article of clothing in hand. I remember feeling triumphant that I had won the battle of the wills, but in the end, looking back, Dad had won. He showed me that he cared and was paying attention. Even if it meant saying the hard truth. Even if it meant being unpopular with his disrespectful, sassy teen.

Then there were the fun times. My Dad loved to take each one of us six kids on a walk around the neighborhood. Just one kid at a time, so that we could talk alone about life and what was on our hearts without interruptions from the other siblings. I really looked forward to it when it was my turn. We would usually go at night when the street was quiet. We would gaze up at the stars. He would ask questions and then listen. This one-on-one time is a cherished memory. To this day, I feel as if I can be straight up with him, transparent even if it will be a bit uncomfortable for both of us.

Then there were the fun times when the whole neighborhood was involved. Dad would keep his eyes open at garage sales for gloves, mitts, softballs and baseball bats. He stored up a couple 5 gallon buckets full of balls, ten to twenty gloves and various bats of all sizes. Then throughout the summer when the weather was nice and the kids chomping at the bit to do something different, he would stuff us all in our old pea green station wagon with the faux wood paneling. The back hatch was lifted up and the older kids dangled their feet off while we went from house to house knocking on doors and inviting the neighborhood kids to a game of softball. The car would be as packed as a can of sardines by the time the rounds were made. Once at the park, we would tumble out and spend the whole afternoon practicing and playing ball.

Dad taught everyone how to catch, hit and throw. Young and old everyone got a turn and no one was left out or favored. He was very patient, very loving, especially to the kids who didn’t have a father at home or were a bit self-conscious or uncoordinated. Now having children of my own, I see how important this one-on-one time is to children. My kids light up when Greg spends special time with them. It makes a huge difference in their emotional stability and reminds me of those days at the baseball diamond with my Dad.

Then there is his dedication to Christianity. My Dad is not Catholic, but loves the Lord with all his heart and it is precisely because of his steadfastness to his faith that I am a strong Catholic today (and all five of my siblings, at least Christian that is). You see, it was my Dad who had the guts and gumption to get in my face as a teen and challenge my Catholic faith. There was no concept of relativism in our house. For that I am extremely grateful.

Although being challenged like that was difficult. It made me painfully aware at how little I learned at my Catholic grade and high schools. And it was precisely this frustration and thirst for truth that I chose a school I otherwise would never have dreamed of attending. I thought I was going to attend some large, well-known university, instead I headed to a small, unknown Catholic college in the middle of nowhere. It was only twenty-five or so years old, and resembled a day camp at the time. I got teased about my choice from family members who worried whether or not it was even accredited. It was accredited and then some. My graduation class was less than 50, but it was a life changing, soul refreshing, joyful experience.

At this school, Christendom College, all the professors take an annual oath of fidelity to the magesterium of the Catholic Church. Over 95% of the student body go to daily mass. Freshman year every class has to take a Catholic doctrine course  and extensively examine the teachings of the Catholic church. We found out why getting drunk, having pre-marital sex, taking drugs are all mortal sins. All the hot issues were brought up and discussed. We could fire away at the professor and no explanation was lacking.

And now wouldn’t you think in a school like this that the parties would be boring or even well non-existent? Oh contraire! The parties were like none I’ve ever been to since. Music, dancing, drinking in moderation, great deep friends and respectful relationships and usually a fire pit in the back where we would sit and debate big questions about life and the meaning of it all. And, you could wake up and look at yourself in the mirror the next morning without feeling ashamed or worried about some disease or other unexpected outcome.

grandpa with birthday girl

It was an amazing experience and I will never regret going there. And, once again, if my Dad would have taken the easy road and let me discover my own “spirituality” – who knows where the wind would have blown me to and which fad I would have ended up with.

Last but not least,  my Dad is a cancer survivor. He treated his prostrate cancer with a holistic method through the Gerson Institute. It is a pretty intensive program. You detoxify the body and restore it by juicing quite a bit of vegetables and literally starving the cancer from your body. It is not a regiment for the faint hearted. It took years of hard work, but now he is cancer free and knows quite a bit about health. Dad and I talk health issues often. It is nice to have that common passion and this from a guy who I fondly remember as being Mr. Hamburger Helper and Mr. Twinkie. It just goes to show you how in life, anything is possible.

Well, there is more that I am thankful for, but only so much space on a blog. Okay, can I just say that my Dad is human and has made his share of mistakes, lest I sound like I have put him off on some unrealistic pedestal. But taking all that into consideration; he is a darn good man. Full of faith, integrity and values and this I am eternally grateful. So, before I go I’d like to leave off with one of my Dad’s favorite scripture quotes that he would recite to us often,

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” – Psalms 23:4

Dad,  I love you!

Sumo Wrestlers Diet Plan

Are you suffering from low weight gain and want to add massive curves to your physique?

Do you want to suffer from such debilitating illnesses such as diabetes, liver disease, heart disease, arthritis and high blood pressure?

Do you want to die 10 to 20 years earlier than the national average?

Sumo Wrestler

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of the above, I have came across the diet plan for you! Yes, if the tiny, petite people of Japan can produce a monstrous, lumbering obese person, it can happen to you too! Just follow the step by step program below:

If you want to LOSE weight, however, just do the opposite.

 

 

Eating the largest meal close to sleeping

The average daily intake of calories for a man is 3000-3500. A sumo wrestler consumes 20,000 calories a day, split between two very large meals of 10,000 calories each. By sleeping after a meal of 10,000 calories a sumo wrestlers body is able to process them slowly for storage (as fat).

Skipping breakfast

This may seem illogical in respect to gaining weight, however according to Dr. Wayne Callaway, obesity specialist at George Washington University, skipping breakfast can not only trigger overeating later in the day but can also cause a drop in metabolism. It was found in research that people who do have breakfast, like sumo wrestlers have a five-percent lower metabolism than those who don’t skip breakfast. This is because by consuming calories, our body uses more energy to digest and absorb the food.

Drinking beer with meals

With some beers containing over 200 calories per pint, consuming it with food helps sumo wrestlers to  gain even more calories. Sumo wrestlers will easily consume 6 pints of beer per meal. Alcholic drinks are known to be ‘empty calories’, meaning that they have absolutely no nutritional value except for providing energy, which means that it will be stored as fat.

Exercising on an empty stomach

Although exercise does increase metabolism, exercising on an empty stomach will infact lower your metabolic rate in the long term. This is because your body tries to conserve as much fuel as possible by rationing what’s available.

Have a sociable meal

Researchers have found that by eating with others and socializing we tend to consume more food because it takes us longer to get full. As sumo wrestlers are literally stuffing their stomachs to their limit with each meal, the more food and calories they intake, the more fat will be stored.

Having a nap after lunch

Sumo wrestlers commonly sleep for four hours immediately after lunch. As mentioned, this allows more of the calories to be taken on and stored as fat in the body rather than being used as energy.

Voila, there you have it. Simple and straight forward. I’m only surprised they didn’t add a daily dose of processed foods “enriched” with msg, high fructose corn syrup and a nice diet coke. Oh well, maybe that’s there secret formula not shared for public eyes. Whatever the case, you too can look like a Buddha! Even if you don’t live in the Orient. Bon Appetite!

Leading the Not so Big Life

Stumbled across an amazing gem of a book the other day, “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids” by Kim John Payne.

Take a hike!

Now anyone who has followed this blog has noticed my love affair with simplicity so it is no wonder that it would strike a chord with me, but mama mia just when I thought I had read everything under the sun to deal with parenting here is a unique perspective.

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes:

“If, as a society, we are embracing speed, it is partially because we are swimming in anxiety. Fed this concern and that worry, we’re running as fast as we can to avoid problems and sidestep danger. We address parenting with the same anxious gaze, rushing from this “enrichment opportunity” to that, sensing hidden germs and new hazards, all while doing our level best to provide our children with every advantage now known or soon to be invented. This book is not about hidden dangers, quick fixes, or limited-time opportunities; it is about the long haul. The big picture: a reverence for childhood.”

Another quote from one of my favorite architects:

Talk softly. Carry a big stick.

“We are facing an enormous problem in our lives today. It’s so big we can hardly see it, and it’s right in front of our face all day, every day. We’re all living too big lives, crammed from top to toe with activities, urgencies, and obligations that seem absolute. There’s no time to take a breath, no time to look for the source of the problem.”

- Sarah Susanka, “The Not So Big Life”

And yet, here it is June and the summer schedule has been planned. The end result: we will be quite busy. Last week, I tried to do Vacation Bible School in the morning and swimming lessons in the afternoon. Come dinner time, I was as cranky as Rosie O’Donnell on a good day. This week, thankfully, we just have swimming in the afternoons.

See opportunities, not obstacles.

Simplicity is difficult to achieve. I know I have to first work on my addiction to being in motion and find satisfaction and fulfillment in who we are as a family and not so much in what we “do” as a family. The focus: being not doing. Constant reality checks are necessary: is my family environment peaceful or stressful? Relaxed or uptight? It is a struggle to be comfortable with less when all around you is an addiction to more, more, more.

There have been some success stories however. Some baby steps forward. I am happy that we have said “no” to t-ball for Daniel this summer. Last year every Saturday morning was filled with not-so-fruitful games when I wondered if he learned anything at all except how to pick dandelions. For the money we paid, I am quite certain he could learn more from some catch and batting practice with Mom. And then again, do we really want him in baseball?

Be the shoes she'll want to fill!

“Wait! What’s wrong with baseball?” you may be wondering. Absolutely nothing. The challenge is there are so many good options out there. Too many good options out there. So much so, we can be overwhelmed by all the good options. Like picking out light fixtures at Home Depot for pete sake. Who under god’s green earth knew there were so many options available for recessed lighting! Oh, yet another blog for another day.

Where was I? Oh yes, baby steps. Success stories. For Monica we picked a two week intensive Russian Ballet school over a six week long program. It falls in August so there is plenty of time to get bored of visits to the nearby kiddie pool. By then we will be in dire need of some alternative activities.

Bloom where you are planted!

And yet another success: I have scheduled in time for boredom. Scheduled in time for getting nothing done. Scheduled in time for picking dandelions without the goal of picking the most dandelions ever picked in the history of the world. I am also fighting the tendency to see life as one big competition. You know? One where whoever crams in the most, wins.

We shall see how it goes. Hopefully, my busiest week of the summer (last week) will be my worst week and each week will get better and better with each passing day. I want my children to be wealthy with the richness of those things that cannot be bought or sold.

Simplicity is a great element of good breeding. – Fanny Kemble.

Leading the “not so big life” will hopefully help us refocus on what matters most: love, faith, hope, joy, kindness, creativity and a biggy, thankfulness  for all the little things around us.

North Shore – Monica Turns Five

This last weekend we headed up to Lutsen, Minnesota north of Duluth to celebrate an early Father’s Day and Monica turning five years old.

Hey there Lil' Miss!

It was one of our best vacations yet (okay, minus the drive up). To save on gas we squished the three kids in the back seat of our Honda Accord and heard an annoying chorus of, “He or she’s touching me!” All the way up. I wanted to post a “for sale” sign on them and drop them off at the nearest corner. Fortunately, we kept them because it was one fabulous moment after another. Once we got there, that is.

Fun Fountain in Canal Park

Half-way through the journey we stopped off to do a walk about in Canal Park, downtown Duluth. The kids loved climbing on the rocks and chasing the sea gulls. Here we are posing next to a fountain across the street from our favorite sandwich joint Amazing Grace Cafe. Excellent fresh baked bread. Hearty soups. Especially because it was cold that day! Can you believe,  I brought our winter jackets in mid-June, and we wore them!

Behold Da Beavers!

Thank goodness the weather got much better on Saturday. We had an early morning canoe trip with a guided tour that day. It was relaxing and a nice change of pace. The beavers were very busy. Yes, we fit 3 kids in one canoe! The only snaffoo was that Isaac really wanted to steer the canoe while sitting on Greg’s lap. As a result, we did some crazy weaving in and out, hardly could keep up with the group at times, but it was fun and the kids had a blast.

Canoe Kids

Another bonus humongous, the canoe trip was complimentary (along with the ice cream social and smores camp fire) with our reservation at Caribou Highlands, the Lutsen resort.  Sweet! In more ways than one.

Each day we spent in the indoor pool. Isaac started off not wanting to get his suit on, but then ended on Sunday sliding down the pool into our arms. Daniel is a rock star. We don’t need to help him out any more. Maybe just keep an eye on him. He knows enough to be dangerous.

I spent most my time with Monica. She is like me, a bit cat-like in water. Needs some prodding, but it helped because they added a nice slide. It was a nice incentive and quick way of introducing myself to the cold water. I went down several times. It was lots of fun, big, pregnant belly and all.

Isaac is Ready to Take to the High Seas

Then someone at the hot tub gave us a recommendation to visit Sugarloaf beach. It is our new favorite beach. Just when we thought we’ve seen it all on the North Shore. Voila, we are surprised by a new little gem. This place is awesome! It reminded us so much of Maine. Safe for the kids, but plenty of variety to hold their interest and keep them busy while Mom and Dad relaxed: large piles of old logs, stones big and small, a peninsula with fantastic rock formations for climbing and a very pleasant little visitor center. All this and only two minutes from the main road.

Awesome Skippin Stones

Did I mention great skipping stones and a ton of agates! We had a good laugh when Greg found his “perfect” skipping stone, only to try it and get only two skips.

I teased him by saying, “Yep, kind of like men. You think you’ve found the perfect man, but in the end, well. . . you get only two skips.” There was a lot of razzing going on throughout the trip. He got me back plenty, don’t you worry, but I’m not repeating them here. I can filter. I am the blogger after all.

heartfelt

It was interesting as I was walking on the beach to discover this very large rock (about 1 foot squared) in a heart shape. I thought of Barbara Larkin. She loved looking for agates. One thing we have in common and after her passing,  her son, Drew, found a heart shape rock on the beach by their old Florida townhouse. He always thought that came from his Mom, and I kind of think this big, beautiful rock was a heartfelt touch from her as well.  What a joyful trip. A little bit of Barbara Larkin in our midst.

Monica Blows out Her Five Candles

Saturday night we spent celebrating Monica’s birthday with a nice dinner out. Here she is blowing out the candles to her hot fudge brownie Sunday.

Island of Chincoteague

On the way home we did a spontaneous stop at the sand beach across to the peninsula on the other side of the lift bridge at Canal Park. The kids made the island of Chincoteaque for Monica’s new plastic ponies (one of which is Misty of Chincoteague). After several hours of spontaneous fun, we headed home. This is the third time we’ve been to this beach without planning. One day, we will come prepared. Yes, we didn’t even have towels! Zoiks. We found a large log to sit on. God provideth.

Daniel Rock Throwing

On the way back Greg and I played, “What would you be if you were . . . ?” A game we used to play when we were dating and trying to get to know each other better. It goes like this: What would you be if you were a piece of furniture? An article of clothing? A body of water? An animal? A condiment? Get the picture?We get quite bazaar. It was very fun to compare our answers and responses from the first time we did it nine or ten years ago. There was a lot of smack talking.  Living under the same roof with someone sure does enhance the game quite a bit.

Temperance Waterfalls

We chose a scenic route to avoid road construction on interstate 35. It was lovely. Our zany moment of the day went like this: Ann – “Why scenic overlook? Is there a scenic underlook? Or a scenic side look?” Greg – “Ann, that’s a Larkin comment. Have you become thoroughly indoctrinated?” Ann – “Yep, I think so.”  Greg, “Hey, how about this why not just, ” Scenic Look?” In the end, wouldn’t you know we drove right by the darn place.

Well, that’s all folks. Another great North Shore experience.

Wait! Cannot end this post without at least one photo of the amazing North Shore waterfalls. Not really toddler friendly to say the least, but such a beautiful place!

Small Spaces Made Beautiful

Iris Everlasting

Yep, you haven’t heard from me in a while. My creative juices have been flowing out into other areas of my life like transferring a side garden into the backyard and replacing our old, rotting deck with a new stone one. I have to thank the good Lord for my time in Rome. Living there sure gave me a greater appreciation for making small spaces beautiful.

Our Lady's Nook

I remember looking out of the bathroom window situated on the third floor of an old convent where I rented a room during my first year in Rome. The convent was just down the street from the Pantheon in the heart of the old city. Peering out of that window all you could  see were terra cotta brown tiled rooftops after yet another rooftop as far as the eye could see intermingled with lovely churches softening the harsh vertical and horizontal lines with their rounded domes reaching up towards the heavens. Then some lovely soul put a flower box out on their tiny patio in the midst of all these brick rooftops and what a world of difference it made. A little green, a little cascading ivy mixed with some simple pink petunias. Just a small, solitary spot, but big enough to breathe deep, soak up some sun and drink a morning cup of cappuccino. Quality not quantity.

To a Quiet Place Beyond

Rome changed my perspective in a number of areas. I always saw myself married on a ranch with a herd of horses in the middle of the mountains somewhere. Until, I lived in Rome for two years that is. Then that mountain lifestyle seemed too isolated. I loved being connected with a pedestrian lifestyle, not dependent on a car to get around. My favorite moments were quiet leisurely walks down the cobbled stone streets, sitting at a nearby cafes having  gelato and listening to bubbling fountains while catching up with some dear friends.

No doubt Minneapolis is a tad bit different from Rome, and life in the city has it draw backs. We are adjusting. The biggest challenge is the whole lack of space issue, but we are finding that it is possible to create little spaces of calm in the midst of chaotic asphalt streets. However, it requires vision, a great deal of restraint and a good sense of proportion.

Thank goodness my beloved loves hard, manual labor, so the heavy work isn’t on my back because I am carrying around extra weight these days. Pregnancy is a wonderful thing and I have been blessed with great pregnancies, but it is fascinating how this most amazing of all creative endeavors takes from my creative storehouse without me even noticing it. Except of course on hot, humid, sticky days in the city when I just feel like immersing myself in a cool, refreshing pool and ordering out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Living down town has its perks after all.

stepping stones

So here’s to flower boxes on little patios in big cities. I’m sure it is even hotter there than here. No matter. Lesson learned. Small spaces can be beautiful too.

the talk

My first born, Daniel, is a very sensitive, loving little boy. He is gentle, kind and doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. I have been dreading this conversation for some time now, but it has happened.

Driving home from school yesterday (thank goodness Monica and Isaac where asleep) Daniel said to me, “Mom, is it true some Moms don’t want their babies in their tummies so they have them sucked out and sometimes their arms get ripped off?”

Baby

20 Week old Fetus

I took a deep breath, gripped the steering wheel, glanced back in the rear view mirror to see his little face, then said, “Where did you hear that Daniel?” He replied, “At school today.” My mind was racing. Where do I begin? What’s the best approach?

This is a particularly painful topic because we often tell Daniel the story of how we thought for a moment when I was pregnant with him that he wasn’t going to live and that the doctor’s thought I was going to miscarry. But, for some unexpected reason, all was well.

Anyway, so I fell back to what he must be feeling right now and said, “How did that make you feel?”

Daniel’s face was fighting back the tears as he said, “Sad.” I said, “Yes, it is very sad. The world is need of lots of prayers.” Then he asked, “Why do they do it?” That led to an even lengthier response. Not having much of an idea how the topic was brought up at school I tried to keep it as simple as possible.

Fortunately there was the annual school parent / teacher update that very night and I was able to get more details from the teacher. She said they were in class talking about how they could be more loving and better Christians. One kid raised her hand and said, “Pray that they stop building the new abortion mill in the Midway.” Then a child asked, “What’s abortion?”  The teacher responded, “When a Mother decides not to have her baby.” But that was over the din of several other children chiming in with their own definitions.

I told the teacher about what Daniel had said, and she nodded emphatically. Yes, their were some kids who were a bit graphic.

What a tough topic. I have two dear friends who have had abortions. I know their deep regret, pain and the heart ache they carry with them to this day. The Rachel’s Vineyard retreats held nationally have been very helpful in their healing process. Suicide, drug addiction are all things they’ve tried to cope with the deep wounds caused by abortion. So, I write this post as one who has stood next to one suffering the affects. Life isn’t all rosy and picture perfect after an abortion as Planned Parenthood would like you to believe.

There’s so much suffering. I encourage people to become educated and if silent, to get involved. In college I attended my very first Prolife march on the United States capital. I remember being nervous and uncomfortable because although my parents talked openly about abortion, we never protested in any fashion. Well, the march wasn’t like anything portrayed by the mainstream media. It was very peaceful, low key, very much a family affair of about not a few thousand, but . . . . more like a hundred thousand people. There was not any confrontation to say the least with the exception of one small group of young adults my girlfriend and I happened to walk by.

It was a small group of punk rockers. Lots of hardware, dark clothes and brightly colored hair. They were angry, very angry. One of the gals ran up to my girlfriend, Eileen, who was holding a sign and shouted, “Oh yea, well what if you were raped!”

Eileen said something calmly to the girl. The girl turned white as a ghost and walked away.

Later that evening as we were having a drink at the Dubliner, a great Irish pub in D.C., I asked her what on earth she said. Eileen said, “Well, my mom was raped and had me and my twin sister.” I sat there in shock because I knew that there was much more to the story. Eileen’s mom was not only raped and conceived twins, but she was also from a poor family and was (are you sitting down?) blind from birth.

Now, as an adult, I am friends with yet another girl whose mother had been raped. Both of these young women are the most amazing, vibrant people. It is sad to think of the world without them in it.

So, please pray. Life can be unexpected. Sin can make things incredibly difficult. No matter where you are in life. Pray for wisdom, truth, understanding and the courage to live heroic lives protecting the most vulnerable in our society, the unborn.

“It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” –  Blessed Mother Teresa

In Thanksgiving for Pope John Paul the Great

It has been a while since my last post. My little two year old, Isaac, has had a stomach bug which lasted about a week, consumed a small landfill of diapers and left me counting my blessings for my childrens’ general good health.

As the days have passed it has been on my heart to write something about  Pope John Paul II, a man who had a great impact on my life.

It was so depressing to see the interpretations of his beatification on the news and in the newspapers. What should I have expected! The day my faith becomes “popular” in the mainstream, is the day I seriously worry about my faith.

Pope John Paul II

I was only seven years old the first time I saw Pope John Paul II. My mom packed us all in the old mustard yellow Suburban and headed down to see the Pope in the middle of an Iowan corn field. It was one of his early trips and they had not gotten down the logistics of how to prepare an event for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in another country. Parking was a disaster. There were long lines for everything, hardly any bathrooms, poor communication and I almost got trampled to death when they opened up a gates and a mass of people ran up the top of the hill to get the best spots. Thank God my sister, Julie, yanked me up and off the ground otherwise I perhaps would not be writing this blog today.

In spite of all the inconveniences, I walked away from that hill in complete awe and wonder. “What just happened?” I remember thinking. I can still remember what he wore, and seeing the helicopter lift off the ground after the final mass and blessing. How do I explain it? It was as if you could feel grace  and the whole area was filled with holy angels. It was an embrace of the supernatural.

And a Playful JPII

Then with what was a total gift from God, I was able to encounter Pope John Paul II several times throughout my young adult life:

Iowa – 1979, Rome – 1990, Winnipeg – 1991, Rome several times a month from 1996-1998, Paris (World Youth Day) – 1997, Toronto (World Youth Day) – 2003.

There were many memorable moments. Some for whatever reason stand out are like seeing a triple bowed rainbow driving out to see the Pope in Winnipeg or in Paris sitting on the grass in the middle of the race track trying to hear the translation of his homily on my little radio and hearing Pope John Paul II say,

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit in the midst of you: and will cause you to walk in my commandments . . and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

- Ezekiel 36:26-28

When I heard that something clicked, and it opened up a floodgate of tears from a girl who hardly ever cries. Then I looked up only to have a tv camera pushed in my face as I tried desperately to get a handle on my emotions and the mascara running down my face. Memorable, but uncomfortable to say the least.

JOHN PAUL THE GREAT

Then one of the highlights was being able to personally meet him. While studying in Rome in 1998, one of my three roommates had a friend who worked in the Vatican and he forwarded on our letter requesting to be in one of Pope John Paul II’s private audiences.  After several weeks of not hearing anything we had pretty much given up hope until one night we got a call not only inviting us to the private audience, but also requesting us to provide and sing for the mass. We of course agreed, but all of us laughed because we were Moral Theology, Philosophy and Social Communication students. No one said anything in the letter about being able to sing!

Regardless, we practiced several songs in English and several songs in Croatian (two of my roommates were from Croatia). Then after a couple of sleepless nights we headed to St. Peter’s for the private audience. We had to be there earlier than everyone else, so at about 5:30 am we went to a designated entrance and were greeted by two Swiss Guards. After checking our credentials, they led us through the back halls and gorgeous marbled stairways to the Pope’s private chapel. In the small chapel that sat about thirty was Pope John Paul II, kneeling before the alter in prayer. We were led to the front and told to sit in the front row. We waited in prayer until the rest of the visitors arrived and mass began at 7:00 am.

A side note: Pope John Paul II had an amazing endurance. While in Rome I was able to go to many papal events which lasted sometimes three and four hours at least. Even at over eighty years old he was able to pray long after I (at twenty something) was exhausted and ready to go home.

Anyway, the mass went well. The songs went off without so much as a wrong note, then afterward while the Pope remained in prayer we were led out to a large greeting room where we stood at the end of a large single file line. One by one the Pope met with and shook hands with the visitors, he would then hand them a rosary and go on to the next guest. What was amazing to see was how he greeted each person in their own language. There were people from all around the world and yet he switched from language to language with ease.

When it came to me he said, “Hello, what are you studying?” I said, “Social Communications.” He  said, “Good.” and smiled, shook hands, then handed me a rosary. Words do not do justice.  He was a very gentle man, very kind and humble.

Pope JohnPaul II with Mehmet Ali Agca

It seemed like he could touch even the most hardened of sinners. I liked to notice the faces of presidents and other leaders before and after they met Pope John Paul II. You could almost see a transformation in their faces. Most notably for me was his encounter with Fidel Castro in Cuba and Mehmet Ali Agca.

There are so many things he’s written that have touched my heart. Here are a few:

“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

“True holiness does not mean a flight from the world; rather, it lies in the effort to incarnate the Gospel in everyday life, in the family, at school and at work, and in social and political involvement.”

The Pope’s last audible words, on hearing tens of thousands of young people singing in St. Peter’s Square as he lay in his deathbed, Friday, April 1, 2005: “I sought you out and now you come to me. Thank you.”

“The goal and target of our life is He, the Christ who awaits us — each one singly and altogether — to lead us across the boundaries of time to the eternal embrace of the God who loves us.”

“The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish.”

“Faced with today’s problems and disappointments, many people will try to escape from their responsibility. Escape in selfishness, escape in sexual pleasure, escape in drugs, escape in violence, escape in indifference and cynical attitudes. I propose to you the option of love, which is the opposite of escape.”

“The way Jesus shows you is not easy. Rather, it is like a path winding up a mountain. Do not lose heart! The steeper the road, the faster it rises towards ever wider horizons.”

After his visit to his would-be assasin: “What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.”

“While it is true that the taking of life not yet born or in it’s final stages is sometimes marked by a mistaken sense of altruism and human compassion it cannot be denied that such a culture of death, taken as a whole, betrays a completely individualistic concept of freedom, which ends up by becoming the freedom of ” the strong” against the weak who have no choice but to submit”.
~Evangelium Vitae

“Dear young people of every language and culture, a high and exhilarating task awaits you: that of becoming men and women capable of solidarity, peace and love of life, with respect for everyone. Become craftsmen of a new humanity, where brothers and sisters — members all of the same family — are able at last to live in peace.”

Divine Mercy Novena

Jesus I Trust in You!

My favorite novena starts tomorrow on Good Friday and ends nine days later on Divine Mercy Sunday. Each day you read a specific prayer and then say the Divine Mercy chaplet which takes only about ten minutes. It is a powerful chaplet, especially for souls at the hour of their death.

This novena and a thorough explanation can be accessed at: http://www.ewtn.com/devotionals/mercy/novena.htm.

My husband, Greg, and I have done this novena together since we started dating nine years ago. Each year we pick a different intention and pray the Novena together.  One year we said the Divine Mercy Novena for God’s will on which house to buy and where. The day we completed the Novena we made an offer on a house that was completely out of our price range. The sellers accepted our offer and we ended up saving $40,000 on our new house!

St. Faustina

St. Faustina

That’s only a physical manifestation of the power of the Novena. If God can deliver on a physical level, I can only imagine what has taken place on a spiritual level!

The story of how the Divine Mercy Novena came about is truly amazing. Jesus gave the Divine Mercy Novena to one of my favorite saints, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (1905 – 1938 . Jesus appeared to her in many times and asked her to write a diary which was later made into the book, “Divine Mercy in my Soul Diary.”

It’s not a hell and brimstone book, although she does write about how her Guardian Angel was allowed to take her up spiritually to hell where she saw suffering souls.  One thing that I won’t forget about that particular story is that she was shocked at how many physically beautiful people were down in hell, and how many souls were in hell who while on earth didn’t even believe hell existed!

The books is not dark nor guilt ridden. Quite the opposite it is full of hope and mercy. Jesus told St. Faustina that all the sin and evil in the whole world from the time the world began to the time it will end is only a drop in the ocean of Divine Mercy.

“Divine Mercy in my Soul Diary” by St. M. Faustina Kowalska. Pick it up. You won’t be able to put it down.

Oops, Jesus Didn’t Get the Memo.

Imagine for a minute Jesus having undergone in a short twenty-four hour period the Agony in the Garden where he was so distraught that he sweat blood, to his sentencing to death by Pilate, to the scourging at the pillar where huge chunks of his flesh were torn off both his front and back, to the crowning of huge spike like thorns on his head, to the carrying of the cross and finally to being pierced by nails in both his hands and his feet and left for dead hanging on the cross.

crucifixion

Now imagine, up walks a very hip, very modern young person with a sheet of paper to the hill of Gulgatha (which means place of the skull. Don’t ask, “Who’s skull?”). In her hand is a  memo. She looks at Jesus matter-of-factly and states, “Didn’t you get the memo?” Jesus, heaving himself up to gasp for breath says, “What memo?”

She rolls her eyes and says, “You know, the one stating that original sin is a myth, every religion is equal and that all you have to be is a “nice” person to go to heaven? That memo.” Jesus stairs down at her in disbelief. The youth waits for a reply, she grows impatient with the silence and turns to walk away, muttering under her breath as she goes, ” Boy, big bummer for him.”

With his last breath Jesus says, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do. . . It is accomplished.” He bows his head and dies.

The Ninth Day of the Novena of the Divine Mercy given to St. Faustina (1905-1938) by our Lord Jesus Christ:

jesus-in-the-garden

“Today bring to me souls who have become lukewarm, and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy. These souls wound My Heart most painfully. My soul suffered the most dreadful loathing in the Garden of Olives because of lukewarm souls. They were the reason I cried out: ‘Father, take this cup from Me, if it be Your will.’ For them the last hope of salvation is to run to My mercy.”

Weighty Issues

There are so many things in life, perhaps we take for granted. So many things, perhaps we don’t think twice about because quite frankly we don’t know any different or it’s just the way it is and has always been ever since we can remember. What we believe about our weight, our bodies, our relationship with food has to a great extent been formed by our early care givers. Not completely defined (afterall, we do have free wills able to overcome the greatest of obstacles), but let’s just say greatly influenced.

Healthy or unhealthy, balanced or extreme, honored or dishonored, one only has to look as far as one’s own parents’ views on the issues to get a good understanding of our own possible strengths and weaknesses.

I have been blessed. As early as I can remember several things have been repeated frequently to me regarding my body and my weight. From my Dad: 1). You’re beautiful 2). You’re a natural athlete 3). You’re graceful. From my Mom: 1). Ever since you were a little girl, you’ve had these cute muscles. 2). You are a great athlete.

Is it any wonder why I would (not perfectly) but for the most part have a healthy image of my body? A girl can go a very long way on these positive messages, but they can go very much in the opposite direction with other opinions.

My sister on the other hand got different messages, “You are uncoordinated. You are accident prone. You eat like a horse.” Was it any wonder she didn’t last long in sports and gave up before even trying? Every effort to diet and stay in shape has been marred by a negative body image, a nagging self-doubt and frustration. It is sad. So what sort of messages are we giving our kids about eating, food and their bodies?

Besides the messages are parents gave us, I think our own parents struggles or lack there of concerning their weight impacts us tremendously as well. It is not so much what they said, but what they did or failed to do that spoke volumes.

Was maintaining a healthy weight seen as something within their control or completely out of their control? Did they live to eat or eat to live? Were they really hungry or were they bored, compulsive or eating out of frustration? Was food their drug of choice? Did they show their love through food or did they show their affection and nurturing in other ways as well?

My parents had a mix of good and bad habits regarding food, but neither had a consistent approach to exercise.  I remember admiring some of their friends who ran or walked around the lake by our house. There was this lovely, peaceful balance in their life that was so appealing. I wanted that for myself and to be that healthy example for my children.

So many people want to lose weight. They want that magic formula. If I had one piece of advice it would be to recognize what messages might be playing in your head. Then if they are negative, I would first pray that God heals those areas negatively impacted.

In college I had gained about 40 pounds and was really struggling with my self-image (in spite of all these positive messages I got from my parents!). The weight surprised me and much to my dismay it wasn’t just falling off. I had formed some bad habits of mindless eating and eating to console myself when I was lonely and needing nurturing.

One night, I remember feeling completely overwhelmed by the problem and not seeing an end in sight, I made a simple, earnest prayer to God. I completely surrendered my body and view of food to Him. I remember praying, “Please Lord Help me! I cannot do this without you.”

That night I felt a tremendous healing take place. From that night on how I approach food, exercise and my body has never been the same since. Sure, I have struggled at times, but not like then.

So, if you are feeling like a failure and overwhelmed about your weight,  I so know how you feel. But there is another possibility for you. After praying about negative childhood messages, I would look for positive things you believe about yourself and then extend them toward your relationship with food,  exercise and/or your body.

For example, “I am an excellent student.” would translate to “I excel at what I do in school and out of school, both my mind and body are in harmony.” You succeeded in one area. Use those same habits of dedication to grow and shape the other areas in your life. True it is easier said than done, but practice makes perfect.

Finally, work towards a lifestyle change. Crash diets don’t work. Extremes don’t work. Ask yourself, “What little change can I implement daily that will be the slow and steady that wins the race?” The devil is always trying to get us to bite off more than we can chew (pun intended). So, if you are not a runner, that’s okay try walking. If you don’t have an hour to spare each day, fine, find thirty or fifteen minutes.

If you cannot find even fifteen minutes in your day, and you have a laundry list of excuses why you cannot make a healthy change in your life than I think you are your own self-fulfilling prophesy. Keep doing what your doing, if you want to keep getting what your getting.

We all make time for the things in life we view as important. If a healthy body isn’t important enough, than let’s be intellectually honest about it. Unfortunately, I don’t think we would be glorifying God by not being a good steward of our own bodies.

So on that note, hope this Spring finds you celebrating life in and through your body! God bless your day and your relationship with all those weighty issues in your life.

Wait a Minute Bucko!

This last week I heard from two completely different sources the importance of having your children delay gratification.

yummy marshmallows

First, I heard on Dennis Prager’s “Happiness Hour” radio show about a study done some time ago where they gave fifteen children one marshmallow and told them that they could eat it right away, or if they didn’t eat the marshmallow and waited another twenty minutes they could have an additional marshmallow. Then, the study group took down the results and periodically followed up with the children throughout their next twenty years.

What they discovered was quite amazing. Those children who were able to wait an additional twenty minutes for the extra marshmallow were surprisingly more successful than those who ate the marshmallow right away. Some of these areas were in health, financial and in their relationship in general to name a few.

Then I met up with my Familia group studying the book, “The Temperment God Gave You” by Art and Laraine Bennett just a day later. At the group one lady mentioned how her spiritual director recommended having her children wait as much as possible in order to strengthen their wills against the tendency toward instant gratification. “We live in such an instant gratification culture. So whenever possible” she said, ” have your children wait.”

What a great piece of advice. Simple and straight forward. Another beautiful reason why adults are asked to fast during Lent. Maybe we could use a little strengthening in the self denial department as well.

“Too much, Too Fast, Too Soon.”

Within the last several months I finished one of my all time favorite parenting books, “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids” by Kim John Payne.

adventures on an old stump

It talks about the crazy fast lifestyles many of us have adopted and how it is affecting our kids emotionally, psychologically and even physically. We are demanding much more from our kids than perhaps is developmentally appropriate. As the author states in simplified terms, we are overwhelming them with “too much, too fast, too soon.”

From competitive sports teams starting as young as 18 months, to a head spinning number of “enrichment” activities that are all set up to give them added edge over the competition, our kids don’t get a break from a whirlwind of stressors and somewhere in it all we have lost the sacredness of childhood.

Maybe the reason why I love the book so much is it explained the loss of my childhood. Often throughout my life people have commented that I seem far older than my years. Now I know why.

a pirate princess

When I was a newborn baby, my mom was in the throws of a bad marriage and was emotionally and physically absent, I in essence from the very beginning was demanded to be like a toddler, independent from her. When I was a toddler, I was demanded to keep up with the other children and when I was a child, I was expected to act like an adult. Burdens that otherwise would not have been placed on the shoulders of mere children were shelled out to us in the guise of “helping out” and being “good kids”.  This robbed us of a carefreeness of childhood.

My oldest sister was like my second mom. My earliest memories is being fed, read to, changed and cared for by my sister. She was a mere nine year old at the time. To this day it makes me pause and wonder when I hear mom’s shell out their maternal responsibilities to their children. I wonder if these children are being robbed of their childhoods, much like my sister’s childhood was robbed from her. Or perhaps, I hope, it is just an isolated case of needing an extra hand which is completely within the parent’s right to request.

picking strawberries

Now don’t get me wrong. I have a very hard work ethic and high standards for my kids. I don’t expect to be a slave to my children, cleaning up after them morning, noon and night, but when I see at the back of church a five year old barely holding on to their plump, fussing one year old baby, with the baby’s body and head swinging all about precariously, I think, “Where the heck are the parents here?”

Now little girls and little boys will often want to “play” mom or dad, and part of that is of course normal and healthy, but at some point a responsible parent needs to say, “Janie, thank you, but run along, this is your time to have fun and play. This is mommy’s job not yours.”

Now, the next statement might sound a bit harsh, but if the parent is so overwhelmed that they cannot maintain the “basic” maternal responsibilities, than perhaps they should (if at all possible) seriously consider holding off on another addition to the family in all fairness to the children they do have until they have regained a sense of balance.

monkeying around

Justice is giving to others their due. A child has a right to each stage of their development being honored and respected not pushed along as if they were some newly delivered wilderbeast needing to run from the approaching lion within 4.5 seconds of its birth. Sure, God could have made humans this developmentally adept as well, but for some mysterious, even frustratingly inconvenient reason, He chose to create us completely and utterly dependent on our parents. . .

Could the reason be, that if we want healthy independent children, we must first lay the foundation with a healthy dependence? Hmm, what does that look like?

Anyway, I chose the above photos because I tried to capture my kids at creative, unscheduled play or quiet moments. One of my favorite take home points was that boredom is your kids’ best friend, because boredom is the precursor to creativity. He points out that we as parents should fight the temptation to be our kids entertainment committee. We should allow and encourage as much unscheduled time as possible and not jump in to fix the problem of boredom, but simply state, “Something interesting is right around the corner.” and repeat that ad nauseum until they solve through creativity their own problem of what to do. This was a tremendous relief to me. I didn’t have to be burdened with the thought of, “What are we going to do today?”

Anyway, there are so many gems in this book, I wish I could quote a bunch for you now,  if it wasn’t for the fact that I enthusiastically loaned it out to a friend just the other day. So, check back in a couple weeks and I’ll flush out a little more for you when I get the book back. Otherwise, if you are a parent check it out at the library (although expect a long waiting list) or better yet buy it on Amazon. It is a keeper and I’m sure you’ll pass it on with raving reviews.

Watching our Words

It was Ash Wednesday of all days and I sat in the nursery at church waiting for the mass to begin with Monica and Isaac.  A lady walked in with her toddler, let’s call her Sally. Sally and I are both quite athletic and have played on some teams together in the past. We started chatting about sports and the conversation turned to another athletic lady from the parish, let’s call her Cindy. Sally, then turned to me and said, “Well, you know Cyndy is anorexic. Her mother is worried sick about her.”

I was a bit taken back. It is Ash Wednesday and Sally just seriously detracted from another parishner’s reputation at our parish. We have been at this lovely parish for over four years now, but are still getting to know all the members. I am not close friends with this poor Sally, apparently “the anorexic”, but felt like she deserved some privacy on the issue. Unfortunately, I was still in shock and said nothing.

Then a couple days later I was with another lady from the parish, let’s call her Sue and lo’ and behold Cindy’s name quite coincidentally got brought up again and  Sue said, “Cindy is extreme. She’s an anorexic.” This time, I just stopped and looked at Sue and said, “Is that common knowledge?”

Sue stammered, “Well, ah, no. I mean maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.”

So, here’s the thing. We all know that lying about someone is a serious sin. But, I’m not sure if the average Joe realizes that detraction or spreading negative “might be true” information about someone which is not “Common Knowledge” is also a serious sin. After all, the person is not there to defend themselves.

How fair would our court system be if it only heard one side of the story and never let the accused defend themselves? Is that not what we are doing when we pass along negative facts about people to others?

St. James says, “For in many things we all offend, but if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small rudder, wherever the govenor wills.

Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindles. . . .

Therewith we bless God, even the Father; and curse men, who is  made in the image of God. Out of the same mouth proceeds blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not be so.” – James 3:2-5, 9-10.

In Stephen R. Covey’s  book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” he says, “One of the most important ways to manifest integrity is to be loyal to those who are not present. In doing so, we build the trust of those who are present.  When you defend those who are absent, you retain the trust of those present.”

With Lent over halfway done, let us become people of integrity, people who focus on words that build one another up and not tear each other down.

Doing Spiritual Battle

At seventeen, a friend of the family paid for me to spend two and a half months in Medjugorje, a small village in former Yugoslavia where six children were having apparitions of Our Lady. It was my first time away from parental supervision and I was elated. There was no curfew nor a drinking age and I felt like a kid in a candy store. Much to my sponsors dismay (if she ever found out that is) the first week was not spent in the church praying, but partying in the pubs and discoteques on the outskirts of the town.

medjugorje_church

Then I had a major conversion experience, something that shook me to the core and grabbed me up out of the slippery slope I was falling down. This blog is not about that conversion experience, but about something that happened shortly thereafter that showed clearly how each one of us is doing spiritual battle whether we realize it or not.

After my conversion experience, I spent the next several weeks hungering and thirsting for the truth about my faith. I had gone to Catholic schools my whole life, but truth be known they were Catholic only in name. They were, what I call, Kumbaya Catholic Churches, lots of entertainment and fluff, but no substance.

Fortunately, there was an amazing priest in Medjugorje who would say daily mass in English and his homilies were chock full of sound Catholic teaching.  After learning some of the truth, I remember feeling robbed. What the heck was my Mom paying for at Catholic school anyway? It was just a bunch of people jumping around with their ears shut and eyes closed saying, “Happy, happy, joy, joy!” As if to say, I see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil.” Basically, it was a school in denial of this powerful spiritual reality.

Then my friend and I got invited to go to a healing mass by a different priest who had the gift of reading souls and healing people. He lived in a nearby village and so got in a bus and headed about a half an hour away to his small church. When we arrived we were early, so we sat in the front pews and chatted a bit. Then the holy priest came and began giving his talk. He was only ten minutes into his talk when we saw a lady enter from behind the altar pushing a girl in her twenties to the priest. He was clearly surprised, then turned to the daughter who began hissing and throwing herself down on the floor, swearing at him in a loud, snarling voice. He grabbed his crucifix around his neck and a bottle of holy water and began praying over her.

crucifix

Our group leader got in front and said to us to start saying the rosary. The exorcism lasted about five minutes more as the young lady shrieked, foamed at the mouth and her body convulsed wildly on the floor. Now, I have volunteered at the Courage Center for people with disabilities and have seen epileptic seizures. This was definitely not one of those. All, I can say was it was not human.

Then all of a sudden she relaxed, laid still on the ground and became very calm. A couple minutes later and the priest and her mother helped her to her feet. Then the mother and daughter exited the Church with the help of some of the other people from the village. We sat stunned. The holy priest was sweating and exhausted but calm. He got back up to the front of the Church and finished his talk.

Only a couple people know that story.  So, why do I blog about it now? Because, I see it as a huge gift that needs to be shared. It was as if the veil that hides the angelic powers (good and bad) was lifted and I saw the spiritual battle plain as day.

Leaving that Church I remember being in shock and feeling overwhelmingly grateful that Jesus Christ gave our beloved priests that special power to cast out demons. Although, it was terrifying to witness. It made me super sensitive to spiritual realities.

But I am dismayed at how many people take the battle so lightly. In fact, back in college I visited my sister who lived in New Orleans. I was shocked at the number of palm reading shops, voodoo stores and the like. Heck, to this day I shudder at kids who are involved in role playing evil spirits and the like. Sometimes it has literally made my hair stand up on the back of my neck to be in the same room with them. They have no clue what they are meddling with even if they don’t believe it will do any harm.

As St. Alphonsus Liguori says, “A person cannot be too cautious in keeping his eyes from dwelling on dangerous objects. If one does not avoid the voluntary occasions of sin, especially those which have frequently proved fatal to his innocence, it is morally impossible to persevere in the grace of God. ‘He that loves the danger shall perish in it.’ (Ecclus. 3.27)”

But, there is hope. “However great the temptation, if we knew how to use the weapon of prayer well, we shall come off conquerors at last; for prayer is more powerful than all the devils.” St. Bernard (1090-1183)

And our beloved Pope John Paul II  said that prayer and fasting are together the most powerful forces in the universe.

With that in mind, Lent is only three days away, let us ask some tough questions, shake ourselves out of our spiritual sloth, look realistically at the battle before us. Where are we in the battle? Are we on the front lines going against the grain of our culture or are we living the big easy?

“The devil only tempts those souls that wish to abandon sin and those that are in a state of grace. The others belong to him: he has no need to tempt them.” – St. John Vianney (1786-1859)

Perhaps now is time to make a firm resolve to implement changes, even if it is but adding five minutes of prayer to our morning routine or giving up watching some television in exchange for reflecting on Sacred Scriptures. Whatever the case maybe, do something however so small for the spiritual battle within your own life! A blessed forty days of Lent to you!

funny things they say

winter carnival ice sculptures 2011

winter carnival ice sculptures 2011

We are riding in the VW to go to the St. Paul Winter Carnival’s ice sculpture exhibit the other weekend. It is a bit cold outside. Inside the van Monica (4 years old) says to Greg, “Dad you should keep your bald spot warm!”

Another day, I am checking my email. Daniel was playing with the Legos on the floor right next to me. Almost daily I get an update on ski deals throughout the country. This time I clicked on the link to view the deal and a recorded message said, “There is nothing better than skiing all day, then cozying up to a roaring fire.” Daniel looked up from playing and said quite firmly, “God is better!”

Princess Party

Monica went to her first Pre-K birthday party the other day. The theme was princesses, and each girl got to dress up as a princess.

Monica had a lovely time making her own crown, hitting a pineata and eating a cool ice cream cone cupcake. The last two years have been hard for her because often she’s been with Daniel when we’ve dropped him off at a Birthday party. She has always wanted to go with, but couldn’t. Now it is her turn. She had a wonderful time.

Three days ago I was dressing Monica for school. She asked me, “Mom, do boys wear shirts with Peter Pan collars? I said, “No. Just girls.” Monica said, “But Peter Pan is a boy!”

Isaac sliding 2011

We babysat two of our cousins the other day for a full twenty-four hours. The kids play very well together, so it was hardly any work. One thing we did was take them to the park a couple blocks down the road. They have ice skating rinks, a huge snow mountain and a very nice warming house with free skates and hot chocolate. The kids had fun sledding down the snow mountain without sleds. A nice way to get some fresh air and use up some excess energy.

Holy Moly Guacamole

guacamole

Here’s to all you football lovers! Found this Guacamole recipe at the neighborhood co-op 7 years ago. Every other recipe pales in comparison. It really packs a punch! And, with enough citrus in the recipe, it won’t turn brown for at least 24 hours. Enjoy!

The Holy Moly Guacamole Recipe

Ingredients:

6 Avocadoes peeled & chopped

1/2 Tomato (medium) chopped

1/2 Red onion (medium) chopped

1/2 Cup Cilantro chopped

1/2 Tbsp. Salt

5 Garlic Cloves (minced)

Juice of 1 Lime

Juice of 1/2 Lemon

Juice of 1/4 Navel Orange

1. Mash avocadoes.

2. Add all other ingredients, and mix.

TOUCHDOWN!

Daniel’s Spelling Bee

Today was the first through third grade Spelling Bee finals at HFA. Last week his whole class had their Spelling Bee to determine the finalists. Daniel made it to the finals along with two other boys in his first grade class.

We spent several nights going over the words. I was just amazed at how many words he knew. Very impressive. We actually got him a plastic humpback whale for his hard work and determination, as sometimes he stayed up well past his bedtime to study his lists with Mom or Dad.

In the finals the nine kids (three from each grade) had to sit on a chair on the stage. Then one by one go up to the podium and say, spell and say the word again. They are quite strict. Daniel was very comfortable on stage. And my favorite part was how energetic he used the markers to write out the word in advance, on the dry erase board resting on the podium. It was so very cute.

Daniel lasted six rounds, then went out on the word “bulb”.

Congratulations Daniel! We are SO proud of you!

How Can We Afford This?

In Robert T. Kiyosaki’s famous book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” he mentions that his “Poor Dad” would say, “We can’t afford it.” and his “Rich Dad” would not allow that phrase in the house. Instead, they would say, “How can we afford it?”

Art Supplies

Art Supplies

Mr. Kiyosaki’s “Poor Dad” was his biological Dad and his “Rich Dad” was a wealthy neighbor who took Robert under his wing at a early age and shared his wealth building secrets with him. If you haven’t read any of his books, they are gold. Pun intended.

Last Fall and into the winter, I was feeling a bit frustrated with my wardrobe and the lack of space in my closet. There were too many miscellaneous pieces that didn’t match, and they took up too much space. So, when a lady from the Lupus Foundation called to see if we could donate some items to their truck I quickly agreed to donate.

Water Bottles

Then I hung up the phone and raced up to my bedroom and began throwing all the stuff out of my closet that I have been hanging onto even if it was a bit too big, or slightly stained or needed to be hemmed or didn’t match a damn thing in the closet, but I had kept them because well . . .  I had nothing else to wear.

Do you remember that saying in the movie “Field of Dreams” that goes, “If you build it. They will come”? Well, throwing out the old clothes was similar to that. I thought, “If I make space for the new clothes. New ones would come.” Even thou, truth be known, I didn’t have a budget for new clothes. But with a strong conviction I thought that some how, some way, it would work out.

If you don’t know me, I kind of have that crazy faith like optimism going on in my life. It has come through for me time and time again, especially say for “Rock Star” parking spaces and living in areas I would never in a million years be able to afford.

sailboat photo

Anyway, where was I?

Oh yes, the stuff was gone. Long gone. I went through a good couple weeks wearing just a few things, feeling very Mother Teresa like. Greg was impressed with how little items were needing to be washed. For my part, it felt a bit monastic, very freeing mind you, but after three days of the same outfit, it got old, real quick. What’s a girl to do?

Well my first reaction was to go to the nearest thrift store and pick up some more stuff for cheap, but then I thought why do that when it usually isn’t exactly what I need anyway and usually doesn’t match a blasted thing. Plus, I noticed something interesting about my thrift store purchases: I don’t appreciate, nor take care of them the way I do when I buy the items new. Hmm, why is that?

Duplicate Pots and Pans

What my wardrobe desperately needed was the basics. So one evening I did some big, positive thinking and went to my favorite store, Eileen Fisher. There is a new store in the Galleria. Some amazing ladies helped me with coordinating several outfits totaling a small fortune. Wait, it isn’t spending right, it is investing.

Now, don’t you worry. I prudently left my Visa card at home. I put the items on hold and then a bit disappointed but determined drove all the way home thinking, “Eeek!  How can I afford this?”

High Chair

Well, the creative juices were going full throttle. Finally, I knew what I wanted, now it was just getting it that was the problem. What I came up with was yet another round of household purging. This time not for the sake of decluttering, but for the sake of selling stuff for a new wardrobe.

Okay, are you sitting down? Would you believe within a month’s time I sold almost $500 worth of stuff? No big ticket items, just trinkets, old toys, odds and ends, and things that where just taking up space and not being used.

Then with money in hand, and doing some price checking, coupons and online sales, I got nearly everything I wanted at Eileen Fisher, minus one piece that I am still waiting for the price to drop!

My favorite Craigslist sale during this time was to an amazing lady who ran for a Republican seat in the Senate for the last election. I’m not kidding you! She was so awesome!

wooden bench

We chatted a bit about what she is doing now. She rocks. Too bad she didn’t win. How cool is that – she buys things on Craigslist. Damn, we SO need her in our government. Anyway, she wanted a high chair because she is a new Grandma and was hosting Thanksgiving at her house as her daughter needed a high chair for the new baby.

Wait, hold on a second, before you start asking me why I’m giving away my high chair, first we still want another kid. Second, I got the chair free and truth be known, I get sick of things easily and got it free on the side of the road in Linden Hills. And well,  sold it for $25. Is that shameless? No, it is industrious.  I already gave to my political party, thank you very much.

Royal Velvet Towel Set

Back to the high chair. When the time comes and we have another baby (God willing) then I’ll start thinking about high chairs again, and perhaps I’ll find another on the side of the road because you can get some amazing stuff on the boulevards at this end of town (like a wooden train table and grill).

Oh, another funny Craigslist story. Did I ever tell you about the time we bought a practically new Mission Style entertainment cabinet (for the television we never watch) for a fourth of the price you would buy new?

ALL-Clad Pan

Then when Greg went to go pick it up, he forgot to bring blankets to protect our van seats from scratches. So the nice guy at the house put an unwanted wool rug down on our seats for us. When Greg got home he showed me the beautiful cabinet and the rug which didn’t match a darn thing in our house (sorry deleted the photo). So, guess what I did? I sold it on Craigslist for $50.

Then there was the time that our dear friend, Chris, who is single and renting an apartment needed a place to put his kayak. We agreed to put it in our basement as we live just blocks from Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet. Well, after three years of having it in our basement, we decided to finish the basement and needed it gone. So, I asked him if he could pick it up.

A Lot of Little People

He said that he wanted to sell it. I said, “Well, I could do that for you for a small fee.” Long story short, he paid about $800 for the kayak five years ago including paddles, life vests, car mount and some extras. I sold the kayak last summer for him for a whopping $675. Not too shabby if I don’t say so myself.

Now many people don’t have the time or interest in doing something like this. Some people turn their noses up on even the thought of something used and I understand that too. I would love to do ALL my shopping at Eileen Fisher, Pottery Barn, Gabberts and Nordstroms. But, then there are budgets and mouths to feed.

Champion Juicer

If you have the money. God bless you. To each his own, but at this time we have to be a bit conservative and creative with making ends meet. So it is nice to take old stuff and turn it into cash. Remember, think, “How can we afford this?” not, “We can’t afford this.” It will turn on your creative thinking flowing and who knows what will happen next.

Walking a Mile in our Snowshoes

snowshoeing 2011

It was a bad start to the weekend. The night before we were to leave for our couple’s only ski trip, Monica threw up and came down with a fever. Then the next morning I learned my Uncle had passed away and the funeral would be on Monday.

So we decided to cancel our long anticipated ski trip. Fortunately Friday and Saturday came and went without any other illnesses, and so we decided to drop the kids off for only one night, from Sunday afternoon to Monday afternoon, with Uncle Drew and Aunt Elizabeth.

This would be the first time away from the kids in nearly 2 years! We didn’t know what to do with all this glorious free time. After some thought we decided to go snow shoeing.

A quick stop at REI to rent some snowshoes, then a short drive to the Hyland Nature Preserve (note to self: the Preserve rents snowshoes for $10 less than REI),  and we were ready to begin a new little adventure. We both had never gone snowshoeing before so it was some unknown territory for both of us.

Within minutes of exiting the chalet we looked up to see a pair of wild turkey scamper across our path and wobble down the path. We quickly sat down on a nearby bench to hook up our snowshoes and then raced after those wild turkeys, only to discover that turkeys can not only fly, but they can perch on high branches well out of the way of annoying city folk like us.

The pines

Well, I have a confession. Much to the dismay of Yogi Bear, we lasted about three minutes on the groomed snowshoe path. The glittery new layer of freshly fallen snow was too enticing for us. We headed out to make our own tracks. Quite typical for both of us.

What a great work out! Snowshoeing was kind of mellow; a great activity for conversation or none at all and just enjoying the silence.

Where are we again?

Okay, we got lost a few times, had to back track and got stuck in a big bunch of thorn bushes. Did I mention the big tracks of an unknown animal which made me high-tail-it in the opposite direction? Oh, a little bit of excitement thrown in I guess. Overall, it was just a hoot.

My favorite moment was walking through a lovely grove of pine trees with a soft layer of snow at their trunks and a gentle breeze rustling through the branches. “Did we just come through the wardrobe into Narnia?” I wondered out loud.

After much exploring, numb fingers and several granola bars later, we decided to head back to the chalet. Minutes from the chalet, we noticed a wooden scenic overlook deck high above a lake and decided, “What the heck!”,  as we raced to the top of the hill. There was much huffing and puffing, but we made it to the top. Then the goofball side of Greg came out and he plopped down and made a huge snow angel.

my snow angel

Several amused cross country skiers glided by. “Yep that’s my man!”, I thought, “What a goofball!” I love it.

After that we headed back to the chalet for a hot drink and a nice dinner out.

Looking back I am glad to have married a man that I can share a variety of interests with. We enjoy each others company and that is one recommendation I would make to friends and my children. Find someone you like and enjoy being with. What a tragedy that some  people fall in love without really liking the one they love.  Thank goodness the opposite is true. Here’s to walking a mile in our snowshoes.

A Playhouse Under the Stairs

Our house has been taken over by little day dreamers with big fairy tales, valiant knights and dainty princesses, leaping leopards and rascally rabbits. So when Greg and I were deciding what to do with the space under the stairs to our newly finished basement, I exclaimed, “What about a little playhouse for the kids!”

the playhouse under stairs

As a child I always longed for a secret, magical place for my lands of make believe. However, thirty or some years later, my adult practical side demanded more storage, an element quite lacking in our hundred year old house. Fortunately, my day-dreamy side won out with the conviction that a child is only a child once.

Soon, way too soon, they will have moved on and then there will be plenty of room for  storage.

That conviction began the “Playhouse Under the Stairs” project or as the Home Depot guys called me, “You’re the Playhouse Stairs lady right?.” Many trips were made with Isaac to pick up boards and such on Tuesdays and Thursdays when Monica and Daniel were both at school. The guys at the Depot were really helpful.

sectional for playhouse

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before buying the boards, I dived into the internet for some ideas and helpful hints. Medium density particular board was recommended. Different styles, different themes were shown.

I opted with something simple: clean lines, minimal painting, recycling materials as much as possible from what was lying around the house like an over-abundance of couch cushions which I turned into padding for my little, “raised sectional” within the playhouse. A sectional for a playhouse? It still makes me smile to think of it.

Why a raised sectional? Well, the floor of the playhouse is cold concrete. Definitely the stuff to wake any child out of a dream-like state once their little tootsies touched the ground. So, something had to be done about that and Greg was very handy and surprisingly open to my wild sectional idea.

wicker baskets for goodies

He made a raised platform in an L-shape by using two-by-fours and particular board so that the kids didn’t have to sit on the cold floor. The pillows added a little comfy-coziness to the seating. I hope to cover over the pillows with something more whimsical, but one of these days if you know what I mean.

I was tickled pink to discover some unused wicker baskets fit perfectly in the low end of the stairs. Amazing, just the right size. Simply magical! They are perfect for storing trinkets and stuffed animals, wands and weapons.

special deliveries

Last but not least, I added a little mailbox so that the kids could play “Postman”. Deliverers can put the letters in the box, and the mailbox opens directly to the inside of the playhouse so that guests can get their mail without leaving the comfort of their tea and crumpets. The result was, if I don’t mind saying myself, charming.

If I were to do it over again what would I change? My recommendation: use real molding. We tried to make our own using the jigsaw (as I wanted a rounded door) and unfortunately the jigsaw had way too much give.  The result was wavy, uneven lines which drives me absolutely batty, but hey I must let go. The little house for children right!

Not perfect, but magical.

On Death and Saying Goodbye

January 17, 2011

Today was my Uncle’s funeral. The picture I have of him is of a very tall, robust man, but if you would have seen him within the last two years of his life he was the anti-thesis of that being confined to a wheel chair as a result of a severe stroke and complications along the way.

Eagan Sunset

As the priest said the parting prayers over the casket, I thought back once again how unnatural death is to us. It wasn’t meant to be so. We weren’t meant to say goodbye. We were meant to live and love forever.

That concept really struck home when I lived over in Europe for a while and had to leave my dear friends to return home. We all knew that the likelihood of us seeing each other again was slim to non-existent. They were entering convents in Denmark and France or going back home to Australia. Saying goodbye to them was a sort of dying. My dear friend said, “Live a holy life. So that if we don’t see you in this lifetime, we can hang out again in our next. God willing I make it too.” This was the first time I had the conviction that this parting between loved ones was never meant to be.

Goodbyes didn’t exist before the fall. Sin brings about death. Death brings the goodbyes. If it seems so wrong to look at your loved one in a casket, that is because it is not what it ought to be. We were meant to love and live as an eternal communion of persons.

My Uncle had two children die in a car accident and another die a year or so after she was born. These deaths were absolutely devastating for him. So, it was a very nice thought to think of that heavenly reunion. May he rest in peace.

December 2010 Recap: Lovely Times of Togetherness.

The confetti has just about settled from the New Year’s festivities, and I have a little more time to look back and record some fond moments of December 2010.

Daniel's Seventh Birthday

In the first week of December our beloved, gentle and exuberant Daniel turned seven. The previous years we have had some pretty nice Birthday parties with friends, and this year we started months earlier to give him a heads up that this year it would be a family only party. This was a way to nip in the bud an “entitlement” attitude that he started to exhibit regarding his Birthday.

So, we tried to make it smaller and more personal. We went to the Linden Hills annual Reindeer Days where we rode on the horse drawn carriage. The driver said to feel free to sing Christmas carols. Daniel right away shouted, “Little Town of Bethlehem!” and began singing with much gusto. Everyone around him smiled. Gotta love his unreserved enthusiasm.

Then, when his actual Birthday came around, Daniel chose a cream cheese cake and pepperoni pizza for dinner with brown cows (rootbeer&milk).

Reindeer Days with the Family

A highlight was sitting in his room and asking him for what he wanted a couple weeks before his Birthday. He named a Playmobil Castle that costs over $200 new. I said that it was a lot of money and that we should pray about it. Then, I had an idea to go downstairs and see if we could find something on Craigslist. Well, as it turned out just moments before a lady posted a very nice Playmobil castle set with many extras. I gave her a call, but she mentioned that someone had just emailed her wanting all of her Playmobil sets (she had many) and she was thinking of selling the whole bunch to him, a toy dealer.

Visiting with the Reindeer

Daniel had seen the picture and was very excited. When the lady told me to hold on, I whispered to Daniel that the lady might sell the castle to another person. He walked away very sad. When she returned, I took a deep breathe and said, “Well, you gotta do what is best for you. Let me know if you change your mind.” It felt great to be detached and put the gift in God’s hands.  Five minutes later the lady gave me a call. She said she would rather give the castle to a little boy then a toy dealer. When all was said and done the castle set she gave us cost over $400 with all sorts of extras she threw in for free. And, she gave it to us for only $50. Daniel was completely beside himself with joy. Thank you God! You are so faithful.

Monica and the Pledge

Later on in December Monica got her first official “Show and Tell”. I got to sit in on it. It was wonderful to see their morning routine. They say their Daily Offering and the Pledge of Allegiance. Monica got to stand in front of the class and hold up the flag. Then she brought out her “Show and Tell” item which was her stuffed unicorn. She then answered any questions. I was very proud of her zeal and composure.

A week before Christmas Daniel and Monica had the Holy Family Christmas concert. Monica sang, “The Little Drummer Boy” and Daniel sang, “Ding, Dong Merrily the Bells.”

Monica stood in the front row and did I great job with her little hand gestures. And I’ll never forget Daniel’s whole being beaming with joy while singing and ringing the bells to the song, “Ding, Dong, Merrily on High”. A lovely sight to behold.

Little Angel on Christmas Eve

As Christmas rolled around we ended up going to the Children’s Mass the night before Christmas where Monica dressed up as an angel and got to walk down the aisle and stand around Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in the front of the church. One of my favorite moments was seeing her big brown eyes light up as she looked back down the aisle to see two big (pretend) camels come loping toward the front (with six sneakered feet) if you know what I mean. The kids were allowed to return to the pews with the parents, and I  ended up with a sleeping angel in my arms by the end of the mass.

Sleeping Angel

We had celebrations with both Greg’s family and mine. Both enjoying sledding and great food. I especially liked going over to my sister Julie’s house where we had a wine and cheese party with sledding, hot chocolate and lots of board games.

It was a wonderful December with many lovely times of togetherness.

Ode to the Ice Fisherman

Ode to the Ice Fisherman

la casita plastica

Somewhere, out there
in a little plastic tarp of a house
set up on a very large lake
in the dead cold of winter
there is a man
sitting all alone

on a small, hard chair
looking down at his auger
and the small hole it left behind
hoping that maybe
just maybe
a little fish
(in the very big lake)
will swim a great distance
up to the top
for its afternoon snack.
Oh to be an ice fisherman.

An Overnight Success Story

Last time we left off we had just tried putting the kids in one bed to help Isaac sleep better. Well, Isaac’s waking in the middle of the night is history. The first night he woke four times, whimpered a bit, then went back to sleep. Each night got better and better to the point that I tucked him in the other night, he stretched out, put his hands behind his head and gave me a great big smile.

Adorable.

Isaac, Lil Sweetie Pie

We have made Isaac’s waking through the night top priority because within two weeks Greg and I will be leaving for a three day ski trip with some friends. It is our first time away from the kiddos in 8 years.

Last night we got a babysitter and went to see, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” It was hard being away from the kids even three hours, so three days will be a stretch, but I know it is the perfect timing for something like this and really important for our relationship. So, here’s to being stretched, both for the kids and for us.

Back to getting Isaac to sleep through the night. It was interesting because just a day or so after starting this new routine I happened to be chatting with a friend who is taking a class entitled, “How to Help People Change When Change is Hard.” The thing they just learned was that often times getting people to change requires only tweaking the environment ever so slightly then participants are more open to adopting the change.

What can I say putting Isaac with Daniel and Monica was literally an overnight success story. Thank God for life’s little tweaks.

In Good Spirits

There’s a blizzard outside. A bag of chocolate chips are opened and slowly dwindling beside my laptop. A bottle of champagne was consumed by two o’clock this afternoon with the help of my awesome snow shoveling husband. It is 8:30 at night. Greg is out shoveling yet one more time before the winds pick up and the temps drop down.

little wee one with big daddy-o

The kids are asleep in our bed three across (a new plan to help Isaac sleep through the night). Where are we sleeping? Oh,  here, there and everywhere. Sound dysfunctional? Maybe it is. Just this evening I was thinking how I ought to add more alcohol to my life.

Really, I think more sleep will pretty much do the trick. Oh, and a temperament transplant. You know, switch out the melancholic side of me in exchange for those lovely sanguine or phlegmatic types. Do they sell those on ebay?

Could someone take a picture for us?

Now, I know there are many mothers out there shaking their head in disbelief over our sleeping situation, as I do to those mother’s whose menus are dictated by their children.

What can I say. I’m a wimp that cannot stand to hear my child crying all alone in the middle of the night. And, truth be known, I love snuggling with my little baby or toddler. After all, isn’t that what millions of mothers do in third world countries around the world? How about for the last thousands of years up until multiple-roomed houses were built with nurseries and cribs, etc.  I rest my case.

But, I really started this blog post not meaning to rant about sleeping preferences. Truthfully, who cares. To each his own and if you want to feed your children peanut butter and jelly sandwiches morning, noon and night because that is the only thing they will eat. Well, God bless you. I don’t have to pay your medical bills for the long term side effects. So go for it. Creamy or chunky? I prefer chunky.

sleeping beauty

Can we get back to drinking alcohol? Last night I went to the neighborhood liquor store and it was as packed as a tourist on Pony Penny day. As luck would have it, there was free wine tasting and a lovely lady who gave me a free glass of amaretto, Disarrono to be exact. A guy  took a sample ahead of  me,  downed the little cup and said, “Aahh, great stuff”. I was thinking, “Amen brother!” The amaretto was heavenly. Just what the doctor ordered for this frazzled choleric-melancholic.

Are my references to the temperaments driving you crazy? Okay, this is the scoop. I am in the midst of studying the four temperaments (choleric, sanguine, melancholic and phlegmatic) with a bunch of church ladies and it is so amazingly revealing.

Warmth. Sun. What the hell happened?

Once again, I’m just starting to figure out why I react the way I do. It is helpful and it is not so helpful, because it makes me wonder why the heck I am a mother of three children. I should be a hermit some place or in a cloister counting beads and brewing brandy.

Always striving for perfection, I am in a perennial state of disappointment and frustration with all that is imperfect in my life. “Embrace the imperfection!” they tell me. Well, that’s all fine and dandy for the phlegmatics of the world, but not second nature to me.  So, once again, I ask myself, “What’s a girl to do?”

Perhaps that is where tall, dark and handsome, Mr. (Amaretto) Disarrono comes in. Give up. Drink more. Be in good spirits while embracing (with a little help from our friends, liquid or otherwise) the imperfections in our life. God help me.

What makes you tick?

What gives you joy?

What makes your heart light?

If it is chocolate, by all means eat more! Okay, all things within reason of course. It is amazing how I can get to 38 years old and need to pause to answer those questions.

A Celebration of Chocolate

But what made me “tick” as a single adult or even 5 years ago may have changed and here I am again trying to figure out what will give me some spring back in my step.

Back to chocolate. Love it! Must eat more.

Perhaps, I am asking this question because I, like some of my friends, are feeling a bit burned out.

This morning in the Star & Tribune I saw an article on dancing for exercise. Yep, I could sure get into that or perhaps reading a book for the sheer entertainment value.

Having small children sure does shine a bright light into those areas that need balance. Well okay, maybe it is just because I am a Libra and we so cherish that attribute in our lives.

On that note, I am going to fly off to bed and take a wee bit of a nap. Sleep is what really makes me tick. Good night.

Hoarders Delight?

The other day a group of women (some with children, some without) and I sipped coffee at a McDonalds while our toddlers crawled through the play land.

closets

One lady, let’s call her Pandora, was complaining because after moving into their new house, they still have boxes upon boxes of stuff to unpack.

Now I have been there done that (twice) and so I know how shocking it is to realize you have a lot more stuff than you thought you had and now you have to juggle unpacking with small children.

But she didn’t have small children and from what she was saying it seemed the problem was not so much in the unpacking process as much as it was in the accumulation of stuff.

Now, I have never watched the show, “Hoarders” but I have witnessed first hand this amazing phenomena on several different levels. Closest to me was my mom who had a huge house. Thank God she loved things neat and tidy, but she also had a hard time throwing things away. So when she passed on, we had a heck of a time going through all of the stuff that was hidden under the stairs and in the basement.

So at first with dear Pandora, I wanted to jump in and give recommendations for decluttering and down sizing, but then I thought, “Why?” She wasn’t asking for solutions, nor seeking answers. It seemed she just needed to vent which is valid in and of itself except when it leads to more venting and more venting and more venting without any action on the other side.

A dear friend always told me, “Don’t assume people want help. Some people actually like being miserable. It serves a purpose.” It is much easier to just complain. No heavy lifting is involved.

Then what if I did make a recommendation? Who is to say that within a month’s time the house might be packed to the gills again because the root of the problem was never addressed. Simply throwing out some things and moving things around isn’t the whole issue. Why do we hold on to things? When are we ready to let things go? How much is enough to be satisfied?

Then another consideration is that people have different thresh holds of cleanliness and clutter. What would drive me batty could be quite comfortable for others. In fact, they just might feel deprived if they lived in my house.

However, it is nice to be free from clutter. Stuff can become a burden. Yet, another thing requiring time and attention, and it is nice to have an honorary place for the things I hold dear. If everything is important, then nothing is important. Kind of like, “If you cannot say “No.” what does your “Yes” mean?

Oh, but some would argue: what about the do-dad that you just might need one of these days? Well, if it doesn’t have its own designated place than it must not be that important and for a couple bucks at Walmart, it can be replaced. Nine times out of ten, if it didn’t have a special place you won’t find it when you need it anyway.

So, poor Pandora. What can I say.  Have you had enough? Simplicity is hard work, but a real treasure when found. Hope you find it.

“Girls are Gorgeous. . . “

“Girls are gorgeous. Mountains are magnificent. Boys are cool. Babies are cute.” – Monica.

Lil’ Miss and Our Lady

Several days ago, Monica dramatically said the above phrase. There was something about that little four year old saying, “gorgeous” and “magnificent” that completely took me back. “Where did you hear that?” I asked. “Oh, I don’t know.” was her answer.

Then she proceeded to call other things “gorgeous” and “magnificent” it was truly priceless.

Our Lady / Daniel and Monica

Fast forward a couple days, and I had another proud mommy moment. After picking Daniel and Monica up at school we headed to the Wedge Coop for some items. As we were strolling down the produce aisle, Daniel and Monica were exuberantly singing the “National” Anthem and the “Grand Old Flag” songs.

They were completely bubbling over with pride and enthusiasm. It made me smile. We received some surprised looks.

I love Holy Family Academy. Several weeks into school and Monica, our pre-schooler, already knows the Pledge of Allegiance, the Angelus and the Morning Offering.

Recently, it has become apparent how so many of our “enlightened” educational institutions loath teaching anything positive about being American. As if we should spend the rest of our days apologizing to the world.

So, it was fun to let them just sing their little patriotic hearts out in public.

Okay, this is funny. Right now as I am typing on the computer, Monica has Daniel’s sword in one hand while pushing the baby buggy in the other and singing, “Ave Maria”. Should this be a sign? They are definitely at the right school.

Beautiful, intelligent, joyful, strong, respectful and confident. Dear God help me guide my little girl, Monica, to be as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.

horsing around

 

Isaac and Zooming Zoomer

 

One delightful afternoon before quiet time my little photogenic Isaac wanted a picture with his beloved Zooming Zoomer.

Monica was second in line.

Will have to put some money away for the real thing. Goodness can we fit our horse in the back yard?

 

Zoning issues.  I’m sure there’s some zoning issues that would have to be worked out.

 

Monica and Zooming Zoomer

 

Perhaps we could get a Shetland Pony. In fact, just the other day I saw someone walking a Shetland Pony around Lake Calhoun. This must have been a toy Shetland because it was literally the size of a great dane, maybe smaller in fact.

Would make a great substitute for the lawn mower.

Sleeping Beauties

sleeping beauty

sleeping beauty

It was quiet time, and after several moments of not hearing Monica I headed upstairs to check on her.

That’s when I found her sleeping right next to her book on the floor.

The photo of Isaac and Daniel were from the family reunion.

Cherubs.

Little cherubs sleeping.

sweet dreams daniel

Isaac is one of our best crib sleepers yet. He has taken to our bed time routine.

After teeth brushing, books and prayers, yes he too gets to go down to sleep in his own special bed.

little bugaboo

Now, I just need to get serious about my own bed time routine.

We’ve had 3 parties in the last 3 days and our whole family is very short on sleep.

Sleep what a great gift!

Couldn’t resist sharing these cute photos with you!

Annual Marathon Appeal

First Day of School

Right around the corner is Holy Family’s one and only fundraiser, the annual Marathon for Non-Public Education.

All of the money will go toward new school equipment and general operating expenses to keep tuition affordable for all.

Greg and I remember raising money for our Catholic  grade schools. As two little introverts, it was quite difficult to knock on our neighbors’ doors.

For that reason and because we have a hard time asking for help, is why Greg and I simply gave Daniel the money for the last two years. Now with Monica in pre-school, we have decided to humble ourselves and ask for donations.

Monica and Daniel each need to raise $125.00. So any donation, big or small is greatly appreciated.

Pledging is quick and easy with PayPal. Simply copy and paste the below link in your web browser to make a donation. Thanks again for your generosity!

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=TUBE4W5BYLVD6

Sincerely,

Ann

The Bullies Down the Block

statue of liberty sept 11th

About a year ago Greg and I went to church at St. Agnes then headed to Mississippi Market for some lunch at the deli. After lunch we packed all three kids  into the van and drove around to get back onto the highway going through some rough neighborhoods in the process.

As it happened we had to take a right to get onto Selby Avenue and there was a car stopped at the stop sign in front of us. The driver ahead of us was chatting with an unsightly character standing on the street and they made no attempt to hurry along and get out of our way. In fact, minute after exasperating minute, they chatted, laughed, looked around and kept on chatting.

I was getting increasingly annoyed.  To go around them we would have to go in the oncoming lane which had a blind side and dangerous.

Then the minute we thought to just make a u-turn an on-coming car pulled onto our street and stopped right where we would turn. We were stuck. Then the guy in the oncoming car rolled down his window and started chatting with the two other guys.

In disbelief we waited for another minute and then my Irish temper kicked in and I reached over and hit the horn long and hard making a gesture with my hands (not the bird) and yelling, “Get out of the way!”.

Three big black men (I’m not prejudiced, just stating facts) turned and looked at me and their looks made a chill run down my spine. For a split second it hit me like a ton of bricks that I am on foreign and unstable turf. I knew absolutely nothing about the character nor mental health of these individuals nor whether or not they are caring fire arms.

Did it feel good to yell at them?  Indeed, but at what cost? We were in a vulnerable position and they knew it. As it turned out, thank God the men turned and pulled out of our way and let us get through.

Now, many of you have heard me praise the talk show host, Dennis Prager. One of the common sense things he says is, “You don’t try to negotiate with people who want to annihilate you.”

Why is common sense so uncommon in the White House these days?

Here we are nine years to the day of the September 11th attack on our homeland. So much has changed in these last few years, and I’m getting increasingly angry at these radical Islamic bullies.

You know, the ones that have no problem bombing innocent women and children in the name of their god, cutting off noses and ears of women who flee for safety from their abusive husbands and threaten us with death and destruction if we burn their Qur’an. This all coming from members of the “religion of peace” (wink, wink).

Now these bullies are taunting our country with building a mosque blocks from the September 11ths site with absolutely no plans to include a tribute to those who suffered and died from those attacks within the building. Does that not strike anyone as peculiar?

Would they do this if President George W. Bush was behind the helm? Hell no. But we have Obama the oblivious sipping cocktails at a Ramadan dinner trying to reassure the attendees that he has their back.

Excuse me Mr. President could he get OUR backs for once!

Then along comes this pastor threatening to burn a Qur’an and that Irish side of me shouts, “Way to go!” And another part of me sees the mental instability of of some of these people and wonder if perhaps there is a better way.

Is burning a Qur’an lawful. Yes. Is burning a Qur’an respectful, prudent and in the best interest of our country as a whole? I would think not, kind of  like building a mosque blocks from an Islamic terrorist site.

Perhaps, the only way of beating those bullies is to speak their own language. That is, carry a bigger stick.

Am I an advocate of violence. Heck no, but does Obama really think these people really give a rat’s behind about his fancy speeches and outstretched hand? Hello! They want to annihilate us.

So what is this little stay-at-home mom to do?

Vote against this political madness in November and  then pray like the dickens.

On the anniversary of September 11th, let us unite in prayer for the families of those who died, for a stronger country, for wise and prudent leadership and the courage and fortitude to know and do what is right.

And last but not least let us pray for those who persecute us that they come to know He who is the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

Let Freedom Ring!

Snapshots of Summer

Washing that Man Right Out of My Hair

Washing that Man Right Out of My Hair

Nina & Pinta

Nina & Pinta
Daniel Reunion Olympics

Daniel Reunion Olympics

Monica Obstacle Course/Olympics

Monica Obstacle Course/Olympics

Tree Climbing - Start'em Young

Tree Climbing - Start'em Young

Monica First Bike Ride

Monica First Bike Ride

Daniel's First Day of School

Daniel's First Day of School

Monica & Andrew's Pre-K Round Up

Monica & Andrew's Pre-K Round Up

Monica's First Day of Pre-School

Monica's First Day of Pre-School

Monica - Berry Picking

Monica - Berry Picking

Isaac Berry Picking

Isaac Berry Picking

Mom & Monica Picking Raspberries

Mom & Monica Picking Raspberries

Well, my goodness, it has been a while hasn’t it!

There’s so many ideas going through my head right now that the last thing I want to do is give snapshots of the summer with a description, but alas here goes and perhaps I’ll have time for an idea or two.

Well, the first photo was a skit during the family reunion. All the Spa ladies sang the famous South Pacific Song. Yes, I’m wearing shorts underneath that towel.

Later in the summer we drove down to Hudson, WI to see an exact replica of the Nina and a version of the Pinta. That day it was hot, damn hot and they had one of those sneaky line systems that make you think the line is short when actually it is twenty times longer (or at least it felt that way in the scorching sun). It was fascinating, at least the part I heard before Isaac started to squirm and scream.

The ships are so much smaller than what I imagined. One fun fact, is that the whole crew lived day and night on the deck! Okay, well the captain might have had a little overhang to sleep under but not much. The hull was reserved for dry goods and animals only. Also, they didn’t have a wheel to steer the ship, it was one huge tiller! Amazing.

Forgive my crazy photo placement. I’m in a hurry and well, oh well we are going back to the family reunion.

The little tykes did the annual olympics. It is really fun to see them grow in confidence not only with the races, but with the skits and songs.

My favorite moment was when Greg lead the “Singing in the Rain” skit with all the kiddos and Aunt Mugsy doing her Baby Jaws skit. Don’t pass on the baton! Not the same without you two!

Isaac is getting SO BIG!

He is talking and signing up a storm. I love sign language for babies.

Isaac at 20 months knows how to sign: rain, clouds, airplane, eat, drink, milk, juice, water, banana, car, dog, bird, more, all done, cracker and elephant.

Now, keep in mind that I am NOT by any stretch of the imagination some sort of hard core, over achieving sign language instructor like mommy.

I pop in a video while making breakfast in the morning. That’s it and voila, sweet toddler communication.

Toddlers are absolutely brilliant and it is such a relief to know what the heck they want!!

Isaac signed rain yesterday when we went to play a game of kick ball at the park in the drizzling . . . rain.

Monica and Daniel are on their bikes. Greg and I are a bunch of bike slackers. As a results, I’m sure we will have the only teenagers still using training wheels.

And that brings me to the present, last week it was the first day of school for both Monica and Daniel.

My favorite moment was yesterday when Monica wanted to sit with Daniel at daily mass. After mass I caught them holding hands and skipping down the side walk together. Then when Daniel got home he said to me, “Mom, I am going to love Monica my whole life!”

However, I did get to remind him of that just moments later when they got in a big fight.

Oh, my
Little Miss is growing up. Today, she wanted to have home work like Daniel does, so I had to make something up. She’s very good at her shapes and writing so that was an easy assignment.

Then last weekend we went strawberry and raspberry picking at an organic farm in Hastings. I couldn’t believe they still had strawberries!! They were very tasty. We have two cartons leftover in the fridge if you want to come on over. The kids were really good helpers. Well, maybe for the first twenty minutes that is. Basically, I picked all the raspberries while they played on the swing set with their Dad for the last half of the outing.

Now with that done, I’ve been reading up a storm this summer. The kids go to sleep. Greg goes down to the basement to remodel and I get to read. So, in a short 2 month time frame, I’ve read about 8 books. Now, that’s pretty good for me. Here are some of my favorites:

“French Woman Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano. Bare with me. It doesn’t matter if you don’t need nor want to lose a pound. Read it anyway. What a wealth of wisdom concerning savoring life and living a balanced existence. It is not about quantity. It is about quality, and what exactly does that look like in various aspects of one’s life. As wealthy as Americans are, the book makes it painfully obvious how truly poverty stricken our lifestyle choices have made us. Are we just spinning our wheels like little rats in a maze.

She actually uses that example to refer to gyms. A woman after my own heart. The emphasis being of course that God made us to be in motion and to be getting our exercise by our daily activities. We were not meant to so sedentary. Ergo, take the stairs, take a hike and drink more champagne. According to Mirielle, champagne goes with just about everything.

Another interesting read is, “The Millionaire Woman Nextdoor” by Dr. Thomas J. Stanley. He is a little bit data heavy for my own taste, but the facts are astounding and what I found most helpful were his stories, good and bad, but especially the tragic stories of well-meaning parents that give their kids everything and then cannot figure out why their kids lack appreciation,  ambition and self-discipline and end up just mooching off them into ripe old age. That is a real poverty.

So, that brings me to my next theme of the summer and that is chewing on what “life skills” am I passing onto my children.

Will they turn to God throughout the day or just in times of serious decision making? Will they pray as much in thanksgiving as they do in their petitions? Will they know how to play respectfully in other people’s sandboxes controlling their anger or jealousy? Will they be free from my fears and not have adopted mine as their own?

Will they know that they cannot where a black belt with brown shoes?

Wait, that brings me to another thing I learned this summer concerning dressing and accessories: small ladies should where small jewelry and prints while bigger and taller women can where larger jewelry and prints. Accessories and jewelry need to be to scale with the individual. It was an a-ha moment for me when I read that. It answered what I innately knew was wrong.

Back to life skills: will my kids know not to pick their nose in public?

Will they have the courage and the confidence to believe and follow their dreams. Another really good read, “The Dream Maker” by Matthew Kelly.

And there you have it a little snapshot of our humble existence in the day of the life of Ann and fam. Peace out.

Reunion Reflections

We  just got back from the annual family reunion. As some of you know, we rent a house off one of those gorgeous lakes in Wisconsin for a week and rub shoulders with nearly forty of our nearest and dearest.

There are all types present, from strong personalities to easy-going ones and everything in between. A big clan of Irish folk we are and jolly at that liking to tip the bottle a bit and toast just about anything.

Being from a very moderate French stock myself, I have wrestled with how much alcohol is too much alcohol. As luck would have it, God gave me some extra perspective when we visited my husband’s friend’s cabin (did you get that?) for the Fourth of July. 

That crowd made our clan look like a bunch of punch sipping Baptists. 

Anyway, so it was really reassuring to go back to the reunion with that experience under my belt. One night I went down stairs and in the kitchen about ten family members were singing lovely Irish pub songs. Thank God for the Irish.

Besides that we had great weather with some fantastic storms at night. The kids were in heaven and were playing non-stop for seven days. They slept hard at night.

We had our first Spa day with only the ladies and that went well with a walk, yoga, manicures, facials and a good talk to finish up the day. My favorite moment developed quite spontaneously in the large kitchen when we were making creme puffs for the Spa event the night before. Someone turned on some awesome music. One thing led to another and we found ourselves dancing around the kitchen like our old dance club days with nearly twenty people dropping by for the jam session. I’m hoping that becomes a tradition.

Anyway, that just about sums it up. Will add photos soon! Promise.

Advent and Christmas 2011

It has been a very different sort of Advent for us. About a month ago Levi was extremely gassy and uncomfortable. Although initially resistant I took a dear friends recommendation and decided to eliminate some of the top allergens from my diet (Levi is primarily nursing). My first choice was milk and fortunately after even a day of going without milk, it made a huge difference. Levi wasn’t doubled over in pain. He was peaceful again.

Monica and Levi

Doing without dairy had some ramifications though. What was I to put in my coffee? I often get my coffee at Dunn Bros. or Caribou Coffee and the only non-dairy creamer they offer is soy milk. So that started a daily dose of soy (even though I know it is not good for you). I didn’t think a fourth a cup would make that big of a difference. Boy was I wrong.

Several days after introducing soy in my diet I started to break out in a rash. Now I didn’t directly associate the rash with the soy because just days before I had a conversation with my sister, Julie, about bed bugs. She had just taken a class on it for her job at Washington County. I guess the number of cases in the state is on the rise and she gave me tips for prevention. One of the tips was to be very careful with second hand clothes and furniture. It is important to wash them thoroughly before using or placing them in your home.

nativity

As it turned out, just days before getting the rash I had picked up a cashmere sweater at the consignment shop and hadn’t washed it before I wore it. I’m usually really good about that sort of thing but this time I had a party to go to and had skipped the step all together.

Now I was itching and I thought for sure it had to be the sweater and some darn bed bugs that hitched a ride. It is amazing how the thought of bugs lurking behind your pillow or under your mattress can effect your sleep. I slept three days on the couch until my dermatologist appointment. The doctor denied that it was bed bug bites and gave me a prescription for what she thought was a virus.

reindeer days

Now through the process of elimination we have decided it is not a virus at all, but really hives because I would break out with the slightest amount of soy milk. Sigh!
This whole experience has been a bit stressful. Happy Advent. I have definitely been a bit on edge lately, but it has been a good reminder for me as well to be careful about what you let under your roof both spiritual and otherwise.

Lake Harriet in December

The image of bugs lurking in the darkness, reminded me of a homily I heard in college years ago. Fr. O’Brian gave it. He is a very stern, but funny and colorful priest with a thick Irish accent who spoke about roaches and how they scurry to dark places, hiding from the light. He encouraged us to live as children of the light removing any actions which we are not proud of, being careful of the words we speak and the thoughts we focus on. Sometimes we can be blind to our own defects. One way to know, he said, is to look at how we act when no one is around and on those things we are defensive about or topics we avoid talking about for fear it might require a change of lifestyle?

When my girlfriend recommended removing dairy from my diet, I resisted and was even a bit annoyed at her. I love cheese. I didn’t want to give that up. Change can be hard.

scooters and balance bike

Mama Mia! That was a lot more than I wanted to say about the whole itchy experience, but it has been a challenge and I’m glad at least now we know what it is and just having that knowledge alone has taken some of the edge off.

Monica as a sheep

Besides that this December we have had some really wonderful moments like the Holy Family Christmas concert in which Monica played a little sheep. Her whole class went down into the basement after their first song and changed into sheep costumes. Then when the second grade class sang about the manger they crawled on the stage in their little white costumes and encircled the Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus. They kept the change of costume a secret, so it was an adorable surprise.

They both sang very well and I am always impressed with the amazing job their school does on all their concerts.

The other highlight is Levi started smiling about two weeks ago. He is by far our most smiley baby. It softens those difficult days.

And now for Christmas. Thank goodness Christmas was joyful and relaxing. We had the Larkin and Bureau Christmas celebrations earlier in the month so we didn’t have to go anywhere.Saturday night we went to the Christmas Eve vigil where Monica was an angel and Daniel was a shepherd. It was beautiful!

Daniel and Isaac on Balance Bike

Christmas Day we opened presents, went down to Lake Harriet to practice on Daniel and Monica’s new scooters and Isaac’s new balance bike. The ice was frozen and we played tic-tac-toe in the snow. It was a balmy 40 degrees. We came home to a warm pot roast with rhubarb compote, mashed potatoes, asparagus and home made pumpkin pie. Yum!

Afterwards we set the kids up for Cinderella in the basement, while my dear husband and I watched Slumdog Millionaire. A funny choice for Christmas I’d agree, but actually it was very appropriate because seeing the poverty in India made me very grateful for all our blessings at home. And that was our Advent and Christmas for 2011.

Hope you had a wonderful day as well. Peace and Joy to your and yours. Merry Christmas and a Happy, Holy New Year!

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