Category Archives: Just Me

Making Room

The other day, I was pretty annoyed with the family at large for not doing their share, or any share, really, of the housework. I’d spent the whole day working, and the whole lot of them were gone. Disappeared. Two of them cp-henry-play-blockshad an acceptable reason: they were at work! But the rest of them? Not so much. And they heard about it.  Later that evening, as we went about our Advent devotions, I suggested the song “People Look East”.  The older children got the message right away, but the younger ones were cheerfully oblivious.

Actually, I really like that song, don’t you?  It’s hopefully expectant.  We make time to prepare our hearts and our homes for the coming of our Lord, and why not?  I would tidy up the house for any other expected guest!  Maybe we shouldn’t go quite so far as Old Befana, who is so focused on cleaning that she misses the Lord entirely, but a little prudent cleaning, I think, will not go amiss.cp-tommy-play-living-room Our hearts are very much influenced by our environments. It’s a challenge to feel at peace when the home is cluttered and messy. It’s easier to be calm and recollected when one’s spaces are well-ordered and attractive.  At least, I think so.

It’s a constant battle for me to keep things neat, partly because I have a very large family, and partly because I have a bit of my father’s propensity to collect and save things.  I go through cycles of accumulating and purging, and my desk is almost always covered with books and papers and the detritus of my daily life.  If you want to know what’s going on with me, just glance at my desk! img_4945

This Advent, I’m looking for breathing room. I’m trying to work around the challenges and find space to be the me that doesn’t just spend her days taking care of an active family. There’s a me who loves to write, to photograph, to make art, useful and otherwise. There’s a me who makes home nice and enjoys it as a creative activity. There’s a me who reads and takes bubble baths, sometimes simultaneously. And there’s a me who has time to spend in quiet prayer with my Lord.  I’ve been missing this version of me.

Today, my desk is tidy and stocked with art supplies. My camera battery is charged. The main areas of the house are actually pretty neat.  There’s room to think and create and be.  And this is just where I want to be.  Today and always.


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It’s too early, but it’s been… what?  Two weeks now?  The temperatures have been so mild, we’ve been sleeping with windows open, and nary a fire needs to be started at five o’clock in the morning.  The grass is greening, and the cows are eating it.  The daffodils are in bloom, the maples are all abuzz with the activity of thousands of honeybees, and the Bradford pears are just about to explode in millions of snowy white blossoms.  Only the apple trees seem resistant to the siren call of spring; they show no signs of life, and I can’t help but admire their wisdom.  We’re due for a frost this weekend.  Hopefully, there won’t be too much damage.

A ruffly sort of daffodit in full bloom.

A ruffly sort of daffodil in full bloom.

A random picture of brush growing up through a fence, with a cow in the background.

A random picture of brush growing up through a fence, with a cow in the background.

Bradford pear blossoms opening at breakneck speed.

Bradford pear blossoms opening at breakneck speed.

Maple blossoms, which don't, perhaps, look like much, but which the bees adore.

Maple blossoms, which don’t, perhaps, look like much, but which the bees adore.

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Twinkle Lights and Tombstones

It’s Advent, when we focus on preparing for the birth of our Lord, for life and light. And yet, just a few weeks after Christmas, we will spend our weeks following that same Jesus through the darkest days of betrayal, suffering, abandonment, death. The story has a happy ending, of course, but life and death, they walk hand in hand, and the Church keeps that reality ever in the forefront of our minds. Do you find that morbid, a constant consideration of death? Some people do. I think, though, that it helps us to keep our eyes and our hearts firmly fixed on this present moment, for tomorrow is not promised to us. It’s a gift when it arrives, but it is in no way assured. When I send my girls out into the world in the morning, I say, “I love you, drive safely, and I hope you have a lovely day,” and then again, “I love you!” I want that to be the last thing we have between us, just in case. No angry words or hurt feelings, just the joy of loving and being loved.

We bought this in Germany our very last Christmas there. It has suffered mightily for all its traveling, but I still love it so!

We bought this in Germany our very last Christmas there. It has suffered mightily for all its traveling, but I still love it so!

More practically speaking, though, it’s kind of fun to plan your funeral. Are we the only ones who do that? It’s dinner conversation around here. Funny dinner conversation. I suspect this will be a benefit to the children in the long run because:

  • they are aware that we are indeed going to die at some undisclosed and probably unexpected time, and that reality won’t take them by surprise;
  • they’ll have learned that death is a natural part of life and nothing to fear or worry over; and
  • they’ll know just what to do for us when the time comes, because we already laughed and chatted about what they need and what we need.

But that’s just how we are.  We don’t shy away from the hard things.

So, when I go, I don’t want a wake. That’s kind of a creepy custom. Just skip right to the funeral Mass. I want to be buried, not cremated, because in some places, the cemetery is the only green space left, and I’d like to contribute to a greener world. Don’t spend a lot of money on my casket, but do have those Gregorian Masses said for me. I’ll make it easy and prepay for them; all you have to do is mail back the card when I die. I haven’t decided yet, though, on my epitaph. Have you? I have a fondness for walking through cemeteries, reading the headstones and inventing stories for the people buried there based on the inscriptions, and I figure it’ll be my last message to the world. I want to make it count. And if there is a particular thing of mine you’d like to have to remember me by, let me know.

Tommy is pretty fond of it, too! The heat from the candles makes the fan spin, which makes the wise men spin dizzily about the Holy Family. What's not to love?

Tommy is pretty fond of it, too! The heat from the candles makes the fan turn, which makes the wise men spin dizzily about the Holy Family. What’s not to love?

I know this isn’t your typical Advent fare, but, hey, it’s what I was thinking of, and I’m not always seasonally appropriate. :-)

So how about you? Have you discussed your probable death with your children? Have you decided upon your epitaph?  And how do you feel about wakes, and especially the open casket?

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A Story of My Dad and The Homeless Man

“I’m supposed to write a story about mercy,” Delaney said, “and I have no idea what to write.”

“That’s funny,” I replied, “because when you said “mercy”, a story popped instantly into my head. Maybe if I tell you about it, it will help you find your own mercy story.”

So, a long, long time ago, stores used to offer in-house charging services. My mom could send me down to the local pharmacy for whatever she needed, and I could tell the clerk to charge it to my mom’s account, and home I’d go with whatever she’d asked for, with no need to carry cash. I’m sure it was very convenient and kind of small-town lovely, if you think about it. My dad’s business was doing the billing for these drug stores, and he was very busy from about the 23rd of each month till around the 4th of the next. He had several routes he’d drive in different directions, picking up and dropping off the work.

Way back then, there weren’t many Kentucky Fried Chickens in my corner of the world, but, oh, how I loved that fried chicken! I still do, actually, but seldom indulge. Anyway, on one of my dad’s routes, there was a KFC, and he’d have his lunch there and bring me home a thigh piece, my favorite. He’d leave it on the counter for me for after school, because, of course, chicken is just gross after it’s been refrigerated.

One summer, I drove along with him on his run to keep him company. We stopped for lunch at the KFC, and there was a homeless old man sitting on the sidewalk, eating lunch, too, out of a box someone else had given him. I remember walking by him, feeling sad and uncertain and uncomfortable, but my dad ignored him. We went inside and had our lunch, that homeless man always in view just outside the window.

On the way out, my dad gave him a $20 bill, folded small and barely noticeable in his hand. The man took the money and grabbed my dad’s hand. He pressed his greasy lips to my dad’s skin, and a little piece of chicken stuck in his whiskers passed unnoticed between them. “God bless you, sir!” the man said, his watery blue eyes filling with tears. “What is your name so that I can pray for you?”

My dad smiled down at him. “Ken,” he said simply.

“Ken what?” the man pressed.

“Just Ken,” my dad said.

“God bless you, Ken!” the old man said, kissing the hand over and over until my dad gently pulled away.

We climbed into our car and pulled out of the lot, me trying not to stare at that little piece of chicken stuck to the back of his hand. Finally, he noticed, and flicked it off out the window. He never said a word about what he’d just done, and I never did, either, till many years later. But I never forgot.

See, it seemed like something completely out of character for my dad. He was more likely to rail against the moochers and welfare culture than to preach mercy and charity and compassion, but when he was faced with an obvious need, with broken humanity, he quietly did what small thing he could in that moment. It was one of those profound events in my life which forever changed my mind and my heart, and it was one of the most Christian acts I’ve ever witnessed. (He did not profess any particular creed, and was actually hostile toward religion, so I have no idea what his interior faith might have been.)

I try to explain to the children sometimes why I give food or money to some people and walk past others. You can tell, somehow, the ones who are genuine, and I’ve had Davey pass our packed lunch and the (small) contents of my wallet out the window to a homeless man, much to his chagrin. But there it is. I have that small example always before me, and so I help when I can.

My dad passed away this morning.

And my story didn’t help Delaney after all, but that’s okay.  I still like to tell it once in a while.

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Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

This has been a long, dark week in which our priest has been driven off by certain members of his own parishes.  The other night, a message got back to me. “Tell your mother we did what we had to do.”

I’ve heard vague stories, stories with no details, no names, that run sharply counter to everything I know to be true. I’ve heard words of pride: “A friend of mine who is very active in the church was hurt.” “A parishioner I know was offended by him.” Ridiculous accusations: “A pious woman who went to Mass every day died, and he refused to say her funeral Mass because it was his day off.” And let’s not forget outright lies that do not bear repeating here.

We chose to be friends to Father David. We knew he was coming into a hostile environment, and we knew he’d need a respite, and we set ourselves the task of providing that for him – a home cooked meal, friendly conversation, a peaceful refuge – because we knew that some people in this parish were choosing disobedience, anger, hatred, and, it turns out, even violence.

“Tell your mother we did what we had to do.”

I know who you are now, and I’ve known some of you for as long as I’ve lived here. Did you do it for the good of the people of this parish, or did you do it to protect your own self-interests? Did you do it to save us being led into heresy, or did you do it because you weren’t getting your way?

The truth, plain and simple, is that you only did what you had to do to protect yourself, to maintain the status quo. Father David is being martyred for your pride and selfishness.

He is our shepherd, and you did not throw him to the wolves; you are the wolves.

You’ve waged a campaign of deception and lies, but the truth will always make itself known.  Darkness must always yield to the light.  You may still win, but it won’t be victory at all; it’ll be your greatest loss.

For my part, I’m praying with my whole heart and soul for your defeat.  Because Father David is the best thing that’s ever happened to these parishes.

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This and That

ortonish hay bales thunderstormWe’re having the most perfect weather this week.  All day long, the sun shines, drying the laundry on the line and letting us get our work done.  Then just after milking time in the evening, it starts to rain, and keeps it up right until it’s time to go back out for milking again in the morning.  Is that not perfect?  Sunshine all day, gentle rain through the night.  Perfect growing weather.

My washing machine is on the fritz, and that is always a bad, bad thing in a large family.  A small family can get by for a little while without, but a large family?  If I don’t do the wash every day, we’ll be buried in dirty laundry.  It doesn’t always drain and spin after the wash cycle.  This machine always rinses in cold, but the load I just took out was still warm from the first fill, and there were soap clumps on some items.  It always recovers itself by the last spin, though; I never find the tub full of water.  What do you think of that?  Why some times, but not others?  If a thing is going to be broken, I like it to be consistent so I can figure out what’s wrong.

Photo May 25, 10 38 20 AMHave you ever tried to inventory all of your books?  I have no idea what we own and so don’t utilize them as well as I might.  I’m using the Book Crawler app on my ipod.  It has a barcode scanner that fills in most of the information you’d want: title, author, illustrator, publisher, ISBN.  There a few fields that you can customize, too.  I use them to note the location of the book (I have book shelves anywhere I can fit one!), what grade or course I use it in, if appropriate, and whether it’s out of print.  There’s a tag field, too, so you could note topics there, and if you were searching for books in your library relating to Benjamin Franklin or horses or China, you should get a list of titles.  You can enter default settings, so that if you are scanning books in the office, the location would be automatically filled in, and it can be exported in a .cvs file for use in a spreadsheet program on your real computer.  It’s a time consuming project, but I think it will pay off.  Eventually!

Speaking of books, we are reading aloud The Chestry Oak by Kate Seredy.  She is such an amazing author!  Her prose is like music, and her characters are so bold.  This one takes place in occupied Hungary during World War 2, and it’s a magical read.  I am inspired and awed by the strength and determination and love of Prince Michael’s Nana, how she raises and guides her young charge in the way he should go, right under the noses of the enemy!  I feel like she’s a kindred spirit in a lot of ways.  :-)  We’re only halfway through, but I am quite confident recommending it for your own home library.  I guarantee you won’t be sorry!

insta evie IMG_9569I’m in the final week of planning for a charity event, and I’m so glad it’s almost over!  I have to admit I’ve enjoyed a lot of it, but it has taken quite a lot of time.  Some really amazing ladies have helped to pull it off, and I’m so thankful for them!  But I will still be glad when it’s over.  :-)

Last week at Mass, knowing full well she’s supposed to be quiet, Evie would speak out loudly, then look at me and say, “Uh, oh!  Shhh.”  Alas, she’s so danged adorable, I can hardly scold her.

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A Dog, a Job, a House, and a Mess

I haven’t taken any photos in over a week, so there won’t be any.  It was a long week.  But before I tell you about that, let’s start with:

A Dog

I had the pleasure of working with Roxie last night to round up the chickens for the night.  She knows to circle around before beginning to push forward, and she knows to hold her own position so they don’t get away, and she knows to stay calm or the chickens will scatter.  We had just a few left to get inside, and they were milling about near the fence.  Delaney was positioned so that they couldn’t move into the open, and I was positioned so that they couldn’t go behind the coop, and Roxie, bless her little doggie heart, instead of letting them pass, moved up so they were pinned against the fence, then sat quietly till the people did whatever they were going to do.

She is an amazing dog.  Which makes the following incident that much more perplexing.

The other morning, we were awakened at 4AM by the mournful sounds of a distressed chicken outside our bedroom window.  Davey went out to investigate, as there was no possibility of further sleep, and found the dog standing over a wounded hen.  By the light of day, we were able to piece together some of the story.  The chicken had roosted outside the coop for the night, and we hadn’t seen her in the weeds when we closed up.  That’s where she was attacked, and the trail of feathers leads toward the house.  The dog had been barking at something a couple of hours before the chicken woke us, and though it’s extremely doubtful that she committed the original attack, it is entirely possible that Roxie picked the chicken up by the neck in order to protect her and caused the injuries herself.  But it’s just as likely that the varmint did it and Roxie saved the day.  Either way, it was a short night.

A Job

I thought about getting a job this week.  The position to clean the rectory, the hall, and the CCD classrooms at our parish opened up.  I hadn’t thought it was such a big job when I went to talk to Father this week (just the rectory, I was told), and I prayed and worried on it for several days.  But then, one afternoon, Evie and I were cleaning the living room together, and after we vacuumed, I sat down to play with her.  She’s so smart and funny, that one, and we had such a pleasant afternoon, and I knew that no amount of money could make up for missing this time with her.  And so I’ll have to tell Father I can’t do it.

A House

We met with a contractor yesterday (who I really, really like) to talk about making our house a little (or a lot) bigger.  He gave us an off-the-cuff guesstimate (which word my spell checker isn’t flagging!) of $60,000.  And Davey didn’t faint when he heard it!

I like this contractor so much and I hope he’s willing to do this.  It’s a big job.  But he noticed lots of little details that other people hadn’t mentioned, and I like that he saw all that, and that he noticed other things before I told him.  I feel like he knows his business, and I hope he’ll be able to fix a lot of the deficiencies in our house.

He wants to talk to the building inspector about our place, so hopefully, that’ll happen next week.

A Mess

In the meanwhile, we’re acting like we’re moving!  We love moving, and we miss moving.  We’ve been here too long.  One of the best things about moving is being forced to pare down your belongings to only what you actually love and need.  We haven’t done that in years and we’ve got a lot of stuff.  We’ve gone through all the kids’ bedrooms this week, and sent bags and bags to goodwill, and also thrown a lot away.  We’ll have to completely empty the upstairs for sure, so this is great!  Of course, we’ll also need to put what’s left somewhere, so the downstairs needs to be done, too.  Fun, fun, fun.  No, really.  This is fun!

Those are the good parts of my week.  I don’t want to talk about the bad stuff.  So how was your week?

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Because My Mom Wants To Know If I’m Okay

My darling Brenna, studying for finals in the pleasant Spring air.

My darling Brenna, studying for finals in the pleasant Spring air.

I made a little schedule in order to get some margin around here.  Two nights a week, I have Brenna run the milking so I can bathe, brush and otherwise tend to small children and minor domestic issues, and three afternoons, if needed, Meg or Laney watch the baby so I can write or balance the checkbook.  Last night, though, on one of my baby nights, I found myself with a heap of chores that needed doing, my three oldest children out of the house, and my husband leaving shortly.  The moral of this story is: don’t make a big Sunday dinner and dessert when no one is going to be around to help with the clean up!

Okay, no, the moral of the story is that the girls are growing up and they have to move off and live their own lives now, write their own stories, instead of just being a part of mine.

She pauses to smile.  I tell her she's beautiful.  She says, "Really? Because most of the time, I feel plain and homely."  I tell her to be patient; her love is out there waiting for her, too.

She pauses to smile. I tell her she’s beautiful. She says, “Really? Because most of the time, I feel plain and homely.” I tell her to be patient; her love is out there waiting for her, too.

But something has to give.  I can’t be everywhere and do everything, and lots of the time, I’m spending my energy in ways that aren’t so important to me.  What is important to me?  Well, I like to cook, and I like to have reasonably tidy living spaces.  I like to read to the children and lay on the front lawn playing the cloud game and take them on unexpected outings.  I like to write and make photographs.  I want to make cheese and open an (unrelated) Etsy shop.

And I like to milk the cows.  I really do.  I like the warmth and the scent of their hides.  I like their affectionate, quiet natures.  I like the peace of just doing the work without distraction or interruption.  I like to sing to the rhythm of the milking machine and pray my own quiet prayers.

But something has to give.

And I need a little time and prayer to figure out what that might be.

And then I distract her by laying down on the hammock and taking pictures of this nest way up in the canopy of the maples.  We are happy.  :-)

And then I distract her by laying down on the hammock and taking pictures of this nest way up in the canopy of the maples. We are happy. :-)

In the meanwhile, we have two pigs going to the processor this morning, I have a pile of homeschool books sold on ebay that need to get shipped in the next three days, and we need to make a plan and hire a contractor to build my father-in-law a home here.  This week, we’ll also refill the garden boxes and begin our garden, have a cow bred and several calves polled (horns removed), and see about selling the one milker I don’t want.  The dog has an appointment, the husband has several, and Delaney has had knee pain since last summer that we’re trying to get evaluated – we had an MRI last week and need to follow up today.

Brenna and Delaney are both in and out of the house for work and school, David is in and out for appointments and club meetings, and I’m organizing one charitable event, a tea party, and homemaker club lessons and activities for the coming year.  All of our homeschool curriculum plans need to be revamped and we need to get rid of unused materials to make room for new and better books.

And it all takes time.  Lots and lots of time.

And so that’s how I’m doing.  I’m okay, really, I am.  I’m just spread too thin and struggling to reevaluate what really matters to me.

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Happy, Happy, Happy

Ah, I am a fickle thing, prone to wide swings of emotion.  This week started off just terribly.  I found out a child had only been pretending to do his school work.  My van ended up in the shop for $2500 in repairs.  And I’ve otherwise just been feeling tense and – immobilized.  Like I’m treading water and not making any progress on any front.

But!  But it’s Saturday!  The sun is shining, there is no rain in the forecast all week, and we have a pile of brush to burn tonight – s’mores!  The van came home today and I went to the grocery store with only my littlest children.  So fun to have only littles along!  And we’re going to grill pizza tonight and have invited some friends over.  That just feels a little bit like peace.

PS: I’m cancelling Mother’s Day this year.  Too much stress.  😉

8x10 IMG_9059 jonny potrait 8x10 IMG_9075 tommy portrait IMG_9067 van portrait IMG_9083 fancy daffodil IMG_9100



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Behind The Scenes

I’ve been working on my blog a bit, the functionality aspect.  You know – the nuts and bolts that make it work.  :-)

What I wanted to do was have an easy to update section for books, movies and recipes without cluttering up the feed.  Basically, there are some things I want to be able to post willy-nilly without having to worry about overwhelming you!

So I have a new menu bar, some of which are just category links, and most of those categories have been excluded from the feed, so you’ll only see them if you want to see them.  Which means you have to click.

If you’ve been wanting to do something like this yourself, I set up categories the way I wanted them, then used the WordPress custom menu generator to add clickable links to my top menu bar.  Then I installed the Ultimate Category Excluder plug-in to keep these posts out of the feed and off the main post page.  Settings for this plugin are found in the settings menu on the dashboard.

Happy blogging!

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