Tuesday, June 27, 2006

We Made It

We have arrived in San Antonio...and none too soon, if you ask me. Now, who could have guessed that driving 1400 miles with 5 children 8 and under would be anything other than 100% fun?

Seriously, the kids did pretty well, all things considered, and so did mom since dad decided, literally as we were hugging him goodbye on Saturday morning, that he was going to come with us. He had a "God Breeze", as we call these inspirations, that he should come. We are so glad he did, as it made the trip so much easier having 2 adults...especially since Lindsey developed what we thought was a bladder infection on day 2 which necessitated a stop every hour. A forced diet of cranberry juice solved the problem, thankfully.

Yesterday we spent the day at my uncle's ranch near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Of course, we visited the caverns, which were truly amazing. The ranch itself was almost too much fun for the kids to handle. They rode an ATV, canoed and swam in the swimming hole, found turtles, frogs, fish, bugs and snakes, watched the horses (they couldn't ride because it was too muddy from the night-before rain), made smores at the bonfire by the creek, played croquet, etc., etc., etc. I will post some photos of this amazing day when we return home.

I was very glad they had the break in the middle of the long drive and had the chance to see a life quite different than the one we have in our California housing tract. It was fun to visit, but it must be so much work to live on the ranch and actually make it run. I have new respect for my uncle and the work he does there!

Here's to a few days of not driving and enjoying beautiful San Antonio, Texas!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Friday Family Movie Night: Nanny McPhee

Although I can't write much tonight since I am frantically packing for tomorrow's drive, I had to quickly mention how much we enjoyed tonight's movie, Nanny McPhee.

Two thumbs up from the Di Silvestri family!

So Long, Farewell

I will be silent for a few days, as we are taking a road trip! Again!

This time we are taking 3 days and driving to San Antonio, Texas, where I am going to visit my dear friend Jen (frequent commenter on this blog). We have been friends since we were 7, and we make sure to see each other at least once a year. The time is now!

I am driving the kids on my own, but Jay will fly out to meet us at the end of the week to make the drive home with us. We will stop in Phoenix and Carlsbad, NM on the way. My uncle has a ranch near Carlsbad with a swimming hole, horses and pecan orchards, so I am going to let the kids exercise for a day in the middle of the drive. On the way home we hope to stop at the Grand Canyon, since we have never seen it.

I will post when I get to Texas to report on how the drive went. As before, I would gratefully accept any prayers for a safe and uneventful drive. Thank you and, for now, so long!

It Is Done

Today our house recorded and is officially sold. Thank you for all of you who have been praying for us.

It is funny, though. I thought I would be celebrating on this day when I could finally consider our move complete and our family settled. But it is more complicated than that. A major chapter in our lives has ended. The house where we lived for seven years, where our children came home from the hospital, and learned to walk and talk, is no longer ours. The kitchen I remodeled to be exactly the way I wanted it to be belongs to someone else. Another child is sleeping in the rooms my children slept and dreamed so many dreams in.

On the other hand, I am relieved that this is now behind us. The financial concerns have lessened. And, after all, the memories are in our hearts and heads, not in the walls of the house. And I am so glad to know that it has a new family that loves it, a family with children who will fill the house with laughter and love as it should be.

Congratulations to the new owners. May your time in your new home be blessed. You have found a wonderful neighborhood and community. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Lost (and Found)

A few months ago my mother-in-law gave Joey a Cub Scout pocket knife that was very special. It had belonged to her oldest son, Jay's late brother, when he was Joey's age.

Joey, who is also a Cub Scout, loves this knife. He carries it all over. He sharpens it whenever we let him. He uses it, more or less responsibly (for an 8 year old), for his projects and play.

Yesterday we went up into the nearby mountains for a picnic to celebrate my mother's birthday. We hiked a little off the road to a picnic spot and spread a blanket out. The kids ran around for about an hour while we ate and slapped bugs. Naturally, Joey brought his knife and used it to cut fallen branches and leaves.

As we were returning to the car (and quickly because some of the kids were experiencing an urgent need to visit the bathroom which was down the road a bit), Joey noticed that he didn't have his knife. A search team went back and scoured the area but to no avail. He was nearly hysterical, but there was nothing I could do. We had to go.

We returned home and reported the loss to Jay, who was deeply saddened to have lost the only thing we have that belonged to his brother. I explained that the area the kids were running through had a thick layer of pine needles and branch debris and was about half an acre in size. Even if we had gone back and searched for an hour I don't believe we would have found it. But I knew that I should have returned after the bathroom stop to search, no matter how hopeless I thought it was.

So, we found ourselves back on the road to the mountain today in an effort to find the lost knife. I was sure it was pointless, but I had to do everything I could for both Jay and Joey. On the way we said a prayer to Saint Anthony (Patron Saint of lost things, of course!) and hoped for the best.

An hour later, as I marched through the pine needles once again swatting at the persistent bugs who were quite happy to see that I had returned, I was discouraged. Joey couldn't remember where he had last had it, what he had last done with it or anything else that could have narrowed the search in any way. So up and down I traipsed, squinting at the ground, lifting logs and branches I knew they had played with the day before, and feeling the entire time like it was a complete waste. It was the proverbial "needle in the haystack" search.

Then, all of a sudden, I felt God right there with me in the most powerful way. I stopped and prayed, "God, you can do anything. If this is your will, please do this." And I knew in that instant, because I believed with all of my heart, that we would find the knife. I wasn't even sure it was on the mountain, because Joey's updated story had me wondering if he hadn't actually left it in his pocket and it was really rattling around in my dryer at that exact moment. But, I knew we would find it somehow.

Another deep search of the area turned up nothing, so I turned to head up the hill and return the car, sure that we would find it at home safe and sound. I missed the path and took a steeper way, which I instantly regretted, as I slid in my inappropriate sandals. I struggled up the hill, watching my feet so I wouldn't take a misstep, and what do you know? In the most out of the way, unlikely place, I stepped on a pile of pine needles which moved under the weight of my foot and uncovered the knife an eighth of an inch from my shoe. If I had stepped with my right foot instead of my left or been one inch to the right or left, I would never have found it, because it was buried. Wow.

I hope Joey never forgets our prayer to Saint Anthony and his subsequent intercession. I know I never will. My faith was strengthened in a powerful way today.

Meanwhile, I have ordered Joey a new knife, exactly alike, from eBay. That will be his knife to use and carry, and we will keep the real one safe and sound from now on.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Wisdom from Saint Josemaria Escriva

Jay is a member of Opus Dei. Specifically, he is a supernumerary, which means that he has committed to a certain level of activity both within the organization and, mostly, in his own ongoing spiritual development.

Although I myself have not become involved in Opus Dei, I have been exposed to much of it through Jay's participation. Over the years, I have watched him become a more devoted Christian, and a better father, husband and provider through the writings and teachings of Saint Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei. Jay's inner peace has been decidedly improved by this wonderful yet misunderstood organization, and I thank God for its influence in our lives.

For those unfamiliar with Opus Dei (outside of the Da Vinci Code's gross misrepresentations, that is), it is a personal prelature within the Roman Catholic Church. Except for the priests that assist in its running, it is an organization of lay people committed to finding God in ordinary, daily life. Anything we do, I have learned with the help of Opus Dei teachings, can be sanctifying for us if we do it well and for God. Grocery shopping, diapers, mowing the lawn, everything. This has been an enormous help to me, especially as I fold laundry. This work can become a prayer of sorts if I intend it as such. And how does this intention change my attitude!

Saint Josemaria wrote many books, and among them is a trio called The Way, Furrow, and The Forge. These are collections of "spiritual nuggets of wisdom" that are easily digestable, even for busy mothers, yet extremely inspiring. Jay reads some of these nuggets each morning and often emails me one or two that he thinks will help me.

This morning I read this one, which spoke very clearly to me:
Is this how it is? You are longing for the victory, the end of the struggle... but it doesn't come!

Thank God, as if you had already gained what you are seeking, and offer him your feelings of impatience: Vir fidelis loquetur victoriam, the faithful man will sing the joys of victory.

Sometimes it seems that there will be no end to whatever struggle we are currently facing. But there is so much grace to be found in the struggle, and I must not forget this. Certainly, there will be no end to the challenges of life, even if individual ones resolve over time. But if we remember to seek God, not just for the resolution, but also to embrace Him fully during the darkest hours, the struggle should be as sweet for us as the ultimate victory.

Thank you, Saint Josemaria, for inspiring me this morning.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Kids and Doors

Children can be trained to do many things. I have successfully taught my children to use the toilet. To bring their dishes to the sink. Even to carry up and put away their own laundry (although this is an admittedly new routine, so it is too soon to cry victory here).

But no matter how hard I try, I cannot teach them to close the door behind them when they enter or leave the house. Why is this? They hate flies as much as I do, and they have no problem repeating back to me the reason they enter the house. They also beg me to turn on the air conditioning before I am ready to do so because they are so hot. But they don't seem to mind the hot air pouring in through the gaping door hole they left!

I stationed myself near the sliding glass door for several hours today while the kids played intermittently inside and outside the house. Out of thirty or so entries and exits, the door was successfully closed without prompting three or four times only. I reminded them, nicely at first, each time they came in. By the end of the day I was a little less patient: "OK, WHO left the door open?!" Why doesn't this one stick?

If we had French doors I would put a spring on them, but with a slider I can't figure out what to do. Is there an electric shock collar that would administer a strong reminder anytime they passed through the area without shutting the door? (For those of you who don't know me, I am kidding...but barely.)

I remember my mother asking me repeatedly when I was a child if I was born in a barn, so this must be something common to many children. But this does not make me feel better when I am correcting this for the 100th time, literally, in a day! Kids, why can't you shut the door?!

But, as I told Lindsey as I tucked her in tonight, I always love my kids, even when they act like they've been possessed by aliens, even when they splash so much water out of my bathtub that it drips on my head in the kitchen, even when they don't shut the door after being asked a gazillion times. And that's a fact.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Nuns and a Disco Ball

Tonight Jay and I attended a dinner hosted by the Knights of Columbus honoring the religious leaders of our community. There were priests, nuns, deacons, brothers, and lay people mixed throughout the room.

It is amazing how many religious orders call this desert of ours home (I told you the desert is the place to come to get close to Christ!). We have the Carmelite Sisters, the Benedictine Brothers of Saint Andrew's Abbey and another order of nuns, perhaps Dominicans, although I am not certain. We are surrounded by holy people!

The ever-jovial Knights presented a magician/entertainer in addition to a very nice dinner, and this made for an interesting evening.

As the performance began, the lights went down and the disco ball lit up, illuminating the center table, which was predominately populated by nuns. Jay leaned over and whispered, "I have never before been in a room that contained both nuns and a disco ball. This is definitely a first." I had to agree.

After the magician got rolling with his act, he called up a Dominican (?) Sister to assist him with a card trick. The audience was enjoying the anomaly of this scene when asked her to think of a card, any card, which she apparently did. He did his magic, selected his card and asked her to reveal the card she thought of. She answered "Christmas card." The magician almost came undone, and so did the audience, as she was completely sincere!

The magician pressed on with her, and it soon became apparent that she had never seen a deck of cards (or a magic show for that matter) and was therefore unable to assist him in any way. At one point she identified a nine of Spades as a "lucky 9". She was a great sport, even when the magician milked it for all it was worth throughout the show.

Since my dance club days are long over, I fear from now on I will always associate disco balls with nuns. A bit of a disconnect, don't you think?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


No mirror can offer a truer reflection of oneself than a three year old's observations.

This morning I was shaving my legs when Julia joined me in the bathroom.

Julia: "What are you doing?"
Mom: "Shaving my legs."
Julia: "Why?" (Why, indeed?!)
Mom: "To get rid of the pokey hair so I can have nice, smooth skin."
Julia: "Oh, so you won't be like daddy."
Mom: "Right."


Julia: "What is this green?" (with a decided note of disgust)
Mom: "A varicose vein."
Julia: "Why?" (as if I inserted a bumpy green snake into my leg by choice)
What Mom Thinks: "It is yet another cruel torture of multiple pregnancies"
What Mom Says: "Just 'cuz" (an effective answer for her so far, so I'm sticking with it)
Julia: "Oh."


Julia: "What is this red?"
Mom: "More vein stuff."
Julia: "Oh."


Julia: "What are these holes?"
Mom: "Pores."
Julia: "Oh. What are these brown dots?"
Mom: "Freckles."
Julia: "Oh."

And I thought my legs were still in pretty good shape. Silly me. Well, at least she stopped at the legs and didn't complete a full-body assessment. This time.

I really need to get a lock on the bathroom door.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Unexpected Vacation

Sunday morning. All is normal, all is routine. The Di Silvestri family goes to 9:30 mass as usual. After mass, everyone expects the regular donut stop on the way home. But something different happens.

Instead of turning on 10th Street West toward Sugary Donuts, Jay heads down Avenue I and gets on the freeway heading South. And South we continued, still in our church clothes, for 3 hours. Unexpectedly, we were on a mission.

Goodbye, California, hello Mexico!

We ended up, completely without planning, in the charming pueblo of Rosarito Beach, just south of Tijuana. And I can't remember when our family had so much fun.

Here are some photos of our wonderful afternoon, one that filled our family tank to the brim.

The main street of town, as viewed from our first official stop: a restaurant, of course! Unfortunately, we had an unofficial stop prior to this. It was on the side of the road at the request of the Mexican police officer who took offense to our driving the wrong way down a one way street. In our experience, it generally costs a person a bit of money to be extracted from such a situation. However, in our absence of planning, we entered the country without any cash (we were looking for an ATM!). The police officer looked in the car, filled with 5 hungry children, and decided that hauling us downtown wasn't worth his time and let us go. But not before offering us his best line: "Five kids? Don't you have a television?" Very funny, in any language.

Our next stop was the local curio shop for, what else, fireworks and a Cuban cigar. When in Rome...or Mexico, as the case may be! Jay went to great lengths to explain that he didn't really want a cigar for himself, that he was only getting one to light the fireworks most effectively. Right.

The kids insisted on trying out the local merchandise. But, funny thing, the boys just happened to wear their Mexican guayabera shirts to mass that morning, so they fit right in. Maybe that is what inspired us to begin with!

The next stop was the beach (unless you count the bakery on the way, where we bought assorted cookies to give Tony something to do besides eat sand, which was only marginally successful in the end).

Julia sat very nicely and got some braids. Here she is during and after.

Meanwhile, the boys set up the fireworks (oh, so that's why they call them bottle rockets!).

And Tony had his own entertainment. "If-I-could-just-reach-a-little-bit-higher..."

And for the finale, a visual representation of just how well the children heeded my "don't get wet because we didn't bring any extra clothes" warnings.

Wet, sandy, tired and happy we piled into the minivan and returned home. We got home at midnight (on a school night!) and dumped the kids, sand and all, into their beds that night with nary a tooth brushed. But, says I with my post-vacation attitude, there are worse things.

We woke them up at 6 this morning to shower before school, and I spent all day washing sheets, sweeping up sand and visiting the carwash. And you know what? It was all worth it.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Friday Family Movie Night: The Sandlot

Tonight's Selection: The Sandlot

Plot: IMDB Summary Here
More briefly, it is about boys, baseball and coming of age.

The Kids Thought: It was wonderful. They loved it. In fact, this was an encore performance brought on by multiple requests for it over the months since we first watched this movie. As Lindsey reminded us, this was the movie we chose for our very first family movie night last August when we moved to the desert. Julia (3) did not follow it too well, but ages 4 and up were enthralled.

The Parents Thought: Overall, this is a really good movie. There is a lot to like about it. But there is a reason that I let months go by without granting their request to see it again. This otherwise delightful movie, aimed at families, has several bad words in it. I don't know who in Hollywood thought it was a good idea to pepper s_ _ _ (along with a few other less offensive but equally crude words) into the language of young boys, but apparently someone did. There are about half a dozen objectional words throughout.

Obviously, the kids are eventually going to hear these words, so we handled this by explaining prior to screeing that there was some crude language in the film and that if we heard any of it repeated there would be soap bars inserted into mouths. This seems to have been effective, as I have heard nothing of it from either the first or subsequent screening. They seemed to not even notice, so much were they involved in the story.

There is also a subplot involving an appealing lifeguard which is a little edgy for what I want our kids watching, but Jay tells me I need to lighten up on that, and I believe him. If I could, I would cloister my children from the outside world, but Jay keeps me in balance by reminding me that we have to teach them to live successfully and morally within it.

Overall rating: A-

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Rare Moment

This is rare indeed...a moment of shared interest and complete harmony among the siblings.

I nearly dropped what I was carrying when I reached the top of the stairs this afternoon and saw all the children together, cooperating, while working a computer game. They were not fighting over the mouse, over whose turn it was, over which game to play. In fact, they were not fighting at all. Simply helping eachother solve the puzzle at hand. Wow!

I ran for the camera, determined to capture the moment, and am so pleased that I actually did.

Naturally, it did not last forever. But suspended in that moment was the greatest of all things: hope for the future. Hope that my kids will grow up to be close to one another, hope that they will be well-versed in sharing and taking turns, hope that they will be full of concern for the success of others.

Hope. It's a good thing!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Processing Stuff

When you get down to it, I am a processor. I process stuff. In one form or another, this is what I do most of the day.

Unpack the backpacks and lunch boxes, extract the contents, file and handle accordingly. Repack.

Collect, clean, fold and return laundry. Load and unload dishwasher.

Get, open, act upon, toss or file the mail.

Buy, put away and prepare groceries. Set and clear the table.

Pick up and refile shoes, toys, games, DVDs.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. It's probably all too familiar anyway, since this is what we all do to some degree!

The time I spend with the people, rather than the things, in my life is different. It is time to enjoy because it is not task or accomplishment-oriented (except at breakfast and bedtime, when I am processing my children as well). I sure wish I had more of this "people" time and less of the "processing stuff" kind!

The truth is, running a house with seven people in it takes a certain amount of processing. I am always getting rid of things, to the dismay of my packrat family members, because the less stuff we have, the less I have to process. Fewer toys means less to organize and pick up. The faster the junk mail ends up in the trash, the less time it has to make a pile. A barer pantry makes it less overwhelming to decide what we are having for dinner.

FlyLady has been an enormous help to me in this area over the years. If you aren't familiar with her, check her out here. But even knowing the right way to keep on top of the things in my life doesn't always mean that I consistently do it, especially when pregnancy exhaustion or a new baby ruffle the routines of my life.

I am now reading A Mother's Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot and this is helping, too, by incorporating the other aspects of my vocation that are missing by simply ordering the house. This book covers the ordering of the spiritual person, the marriage and the mothering, as well as the physical environment. I haven't yet written my rule, but I plan to soon and hope it brings much needed balance.

I want my family to live in a pleasant and organized environment. I want them to find their favorite foods in the refrigerator and their socks in their drawers. But I also don't want to have children who grow up believing that their mother thinks the housework is more important than they are, since this is where she spends the bulk of her time.

My children are just now getting old enough to be of consequential help around the house. I think that this must be the key to "having it all." Working with them rather than around them on the tasks of the house will bear fruit of all kinds. I will have more time with them, less time working alone, and they will learn the practical skills of caring for a home as well as the larger view of contributing to the family. On paper it sounds great. Now I just have the small matter of actually getting them started! This will require a heroic display of patience and perserverence on my part, as it is always so much easier in the short term to do it myself.

But attempt it I shall. Just as soon as I process us through the last week of school!

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Desert Was Good Enough for Jesus

"If the desert was good enough for Jesus, then it's good enough for me. "

This has been my frequently chanted mantra over the past year, as I have attempted to convince myself that moving from the beauty and temperate climate of Northern California to the desolate desert of Northeast Los Angeles County was a good thing.

I have told myself over and over again that living in a place where both the scenery and the weather leave much to be desired can only bring me closer to Christ. Isn't the desert where Christ emerged victorious after being tempted three times by the devil?

After nearly a year in our new home, I now have some insight into how awful that time must have been for Jesus. Being tempted by the devil must have been bad enough, but when you throw in a hostile physical environment characterized by sand, lack of vegetation, hot wind and oppressive dryness, it is all the more difficult to fight the good fight. These conditions can make even the holiest person, well, cranky.

So, I have tried to view our placement in the desert as a chance to be holier myself. If I can be happy and pleasant and kind in adverse physical conditions, all the better, right? Yet, even with this compelling argument, I still had some self-convincing to do.

Funny thing, though. As I drove home from my weekend visit to Northern California, I was actually happy to see the Joshua trees and the desert shrubbery. Don't get me wrong, I spent most of my weekend marveling over how lush and green everything was in my old hometown. But I also noted for the first time how close together the buildings and houses were, how narrow the streets. I have become accustomed to the space we have here, where we have land-o-plenty, and I like it!

I also like our new church, very much. And our nice, new grocery stores and mass retailers that make shopping for a large family so much easier. And our larger, newer house with a yard, that gives us all a little breathing room. And the kids' schools. And the proximity of family and old friends. And the wonderful new friends we are making. And the fact that Jay doesn't travel for his job the way he used to.

What do you know? It seems like there are a lot of things to like in this place. Things that matter much more than beautiful scenery and good weather.

As I pulled out of beautiful Marin County yesterday, I knew that it wasn't home anymore. We will always have good friends there and many happy memories. But our home is in the desert now. By choice, not necessity. Go figure!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Road Trip

The car is packed up, the kids are ready and I am drinking a giant cup of coffee.

That's right, it's road trip time! And what could be more fun than 5 kids, one tired mom and 7 hours in the car?

Jay can't join us this time, as he is on a silent retreat. I am thinking his weekend is going to be a bit different than mine will be. (Ha!)

We are leaving this afternoon for a brief run to our old home in Northern California. We are going to the baptism of our good friends' son, and I am looking forward to seeing everyone since it has been 6 months since I've been there.

So, pray for a peaceful and uneventful drive! Those are my favorite kind.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Character Calling

My children "call" characters in television shows and movies.

As in:
"I'm Tom!"
"I'm Jerry!"
"I call I'm always Tom!"
"You can't call that."
"Yes I can, I'm always Tom."
"That's not fair, I want to be Tom."
"You be Jerry."
"Maaaam, Joey says he's always Tom and he can't call that! Tell him he can't do that."

Times like this, when I hear this circular conversation repeat itself over and over again, I wonder how my life came to this: settling disputes about who gets to "be" a particular cartoon character. How can they actually care about this?!

But they do care. And a whole real lot too. Somehow, whatever they are watching becomes more entertaining for them when they get to participate in the action vicariously through their characters.

No matter what the show or movie is, before the opening credits subside the calls are flying fast and furious. It reminds me of the old "I call shotgun" races of my youth (before kids under 12 couldn't ride in the front seat of the car anymore, which effectively settled that one).

It doesn't matter if the show is animated or live action, whether it stars people or animals. I kid you not, a fight nearly broke out over "March of the Penguins" when the kids couldn't tell who they had called since they all looked pretty much the same after awhile.

What is a mother to do? I despise bickering, especially over something so completely ridiculous and detached from reality. I have issued the "no more calling" edicts. I have refused to mediate. I have assigned the characters myself. I have let them duke it out. I have even hidden in the closet, waiting for the entire episode to blow over (that was, admittedly, a low point). The only thing I haven't tried is banning television altogether. That, I think, would be like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Do other children do this too, or is this particular insanity reserved for my family alone?

I must admit, though, that sometimes I find it endearing. Particularly, that my growing-up-too-fast first born still fully participates in this nonsense. I will consider it a sad milestone when he no longer cares enough to engage.

Once the arguing subsides and they have all assumed their roles, I also enjoy watching them get into character. Sam, after winning the call to be Pablo in the "Pirate Treasure" episode of The Backyardigans, immediately races to the playroom and dons his eye patch and pirate hat before dashing back to his spot on the couch, authentic pirate scowl in place on his face. This is fun for me.

I suppose I should be glad they are interacting with the television rather than simply sitting in a trance. But this is of little comfort when the barbs are flying and howls of protest drown out what is supposed to be the sweet (yet all too temporary) peace that the television provides the household.

Unless I devise a brilliant plan, I guess this is mine to embrace until they all outgrow it. Or until I throw the television out. Which is definitely NOT going to happen anytime soon.