Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tempered Joy

I have just received news of the best and worst kind. My dear friends have welcomed a new baby and lost one at the very same time.

Please pray for baby Angelo, brand new here on earth, and his twin brother Benny, who is already in heaven.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Six Kids is Nothin'

Lindsey, Sam and I watched TLC's "16 Kids and Moving In" tonight with our mouths hanging open. This family is absolutely fascinating.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have 17 children. I liked Michelle immediately when the program opened with her quote, "Saying there are too many children is like saying there are too many flowers." While I can't honestly say I'm sorry that it is a biological impossibility for me to approach numbers like this, I can definitely understand why having this many children would be a joy for someone.

This woman is amazing. She not only home schools the children, but has developed an organization system that makes it all look easy. The show we watched chronicles how the family built a 7000 square foot house to accommodate themselves nearly all on their own, with virtually no experience. Every kid down to age 8 had his or her own drill and knew how to operate it!

The house is an inspiration: 8 commercial washers and dryers, two kitchens (one totally commercial with a buffet-style tray slide!) and a tube slide from the boys' bedroom to the playroom. The communal family closet, located right next to the laundromat, has my wheels turning, for sure! Lindsey could not get past the 50 shelf pantry, which not only is bigger than our bedrooms, but also has a garage-style roll up door for easy delivery and unloading of the groceries, straight from the family bus.

I was very sad, during a search for more information on the Duggers, to read some of the comments people have put up about this beautiful family. There are some nasty, hateful, intolerant people out there! Certainly 17 children is not for everyone. But to see a family like this one, working in harmony, devoting themselves to God and each other, is a wonderful thing in my book. I'm quite certain each member of the Dugger family experiences a kind of happiness and peace that members of the "Stop Breeding" crowd will, sadly, never understand.

Michelle and Jim Bob, our family is rooting for you!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Homing Pigeon

This is what I've become in my middle age--a homing pigeon. I believe I, like the homing pigeon, could fly long distances on instinct alone to return to my very own nest. And I'll bet I could even find my way with several senses knocked out.

I used to long for vacations and time away from my regular routine, but with each passing year, it gets harder and harder to get me out of the house. I have become a curmudgeon who almost thinks leaving the house isn't worth any amount of pleasure I might receive by doing so. Any year now I am going to flip over entirely and never leave again. "I love my home, I love my nest, East or West my nest is best..."

I returned home tonight after 8 lovely days in Northern California, where my kids attended their now annual ritual of Bible Camp at our old parish. We had a fantastic time, as we always do when we visit with our dear, dear friends and former neighbors, but still I am delighted to be home again. Home in my own home. Where I have backstock on diapers and I know where my cell phone charger is. Where I understand how the remote controls work and how best to load the dishwasher. Where I know how to effectively diffuse the chaos that comes with having six children and a huge dog. Where I have my trusty pair of eyeglasses for those unfortunate days when I have an eye infection.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am an extremely social person. I would shrivel without time spent with my best girlfriends, eating too much and watching chick flicks (which can be done most effectively on overnight visits of course). My children share this social affinity and delight in slumber parties with the children of my best girlfriends. I will not deny them or me this pleasure. But it is getting harder for me to do this fluidly. Part of it is that I simply have to pack a lot more than I used to. Not just for the children, but for me too. I require more products as I age, and I am bound to forget something critical (eyeglasses, antibiotics, nursing pads, you name it!). Part of it is that I am used to being master of my own domain and it is hard for me to relax outside of my own routine. Regardless the cause, the end result is that the carefree days of tossing a few things in a suitcase and dashing out the door are behind me, I fear, for good. Packing requires high level mental effort for me now (and, let's face it, the faculties are fading fast).

However, once I reach my destination, I do love forgetting about the things that nag me when I'm home. Like unpaid bills, garbage collection schedules and all the projects I should be completing instead of watching The Devil Wears Prada and eating ice cream. When I'm at someone else's house, I can purely enjoy these things without guilt, and that alone is worth the packing hangover!

At this time, I must acknowledge my saints-on-earth friends are who continue to invite me and my brood to stampede through their homes. Try as we might, we are not a low impact family, especially with the drooling, king-size canine in tow. Just this week we took out a ceramic pie plate, a plunger, a bedroom carpet and a piggy bank, among other things. What the dog did not chew, the toddler threw. And this is not even to mention the clutter we overran the house with during our stay. And the volume of trash we produced in their meant-for-four-people trashcan. And, oh, the spills, the endless spills. Thank you, Tim, Tina, Kyle and Rebecca for having us in your home so graciously. And thank you to all my other friends and family members who have received us the same way for extended stays. You humble me with your hospitality, truly.

That said, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to have people stay at our house, indefinitely and in great numbers. Come one, come all. Let the homing pigeon stay in her nest and remain a social butterfly. Come to the desert. Come often and stay long. It's the same great company without the mess and destruction in your home. What could be better?!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Final Harry Potter Book... (don't worry, no spoilers here)

...is the reason I have not blogged all week. I have been devouring it, reading until 1 or 2 in the morning simply because I could not put it down.

I had an eye infection yesterday that completely shut down my right eye. Did that stop me? No. I squinted at the book through the other eye as I waited to see the doctor.

Everything in my life ground to a halt as I finished the book I have been breathlessly waiting for, thinking about, trying to predict, ever since the shocking conclusion to the Half Blood Prince.

I absolutely loved the Harry Potter books and am sad that this is last one. I can't remember the last time I was so excited to read! These books, meant for older kids but every bit as appealing to adults, are clever, funny, exciting and completely original. Though they are, at their most basic level, yet another stage for the classic battle of good versus evil, reading them seems to put me in the genre for the very first time.

J.K. Rowling did not disappoint in this, her final Harry Potter book I will not say anything at all that could possibly be a spoiler for someone who has not yet read the book, so all I will say is WOW! What a great ride these books have been and I am happy to have been a part of it.

As a faithful Catholic, I have no objection to these books. They are pure fiction. I don't think anyone who reads them could possibly think they are seriously advocating magic and witchcraft. Rather, they are a fantasy-trip through a fun, sometimes scary world where people can do all sorts things we have all wished we could do from time to time: disappear, silence others, automatically clean our homes and cook. This is no different from a flying fantasy in my view, and who hasn't wished they could fly!? Yes, the books are dark in places, as Harry and his friends try to conquer pure evil. But this is no different that the real evil that exists in our world. The message throughout the books is a good one: don't succumb to evil, even when it seems to be the easiest or only path. Instead, fight it against all odds and at any cost. Keep your guard up and stay true to truth. Isn't this exactly what I am trying to teach my children?

Thank you, J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, for the past 96 hours of pure, wonderful, fantasy. Now, back to the laundry.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Five Months Old Already

She sits up, she grabs for things...she even rocks back and forth on her knees, trying to figure out the whole crawling thing. How is it that the first year goes by so fast?

As you see, Isabella's tongue is still sticking out. This charming little habit is, apparently, not normal and her pediatrician has referred her to a specialist to see what is going on. She appears healthy in every way outside of this quirk, so they suspect it may be a jaw or mouth problem rather than anything systemic. I am still hopeful it is something she will just outgrow without medical intervention, but we will at least have her evaluated and see what the doctors think.

At any rate, another month, another growth spurt. Lovely Isabella cannot be stopped. Grow, girl, grow!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tony's Brush with Fame

I know, I know, two posts in a row about Tony, but I just had to report on his activities this evening because they brought me so much amusement.

This week the four oldest kids went to Vacation Bible School at my mom's church. She was the arts and crafts person, and was delighted to have her grandchildren in attendance at the program. Tonight the program ended with a BBQ and a little show consisting of songs and skits that the kids worked on all week.

As the show began, Tony sat eagerly in the front row, watching and listening attentively. About half way through the first song the kids began to march in time. If there is one thing Tony can do well, it is march. With a gleeful shout of "March!", Tony leaped from his seat and ran to join the performers, front and center. He marched and marched and tried to do the hand gestures right along with the big kids. He then applauded enthusiastically for himself when the song ended.

That would have been fine, adorable even, if he had just come and sit down and let the show continue from there. But Tony had experienced his first moment on stage and apparently just a moment was not going to be enough for him. He stayed put for song number two which, also, would have been fine if he had just followed along with the other children as he had in the last song.

But no.

A few verses in, Tony decided he didn't need the other performers and began systematically shoving them out of his way, trying to get them off stage. He knocked over one boy older than himself and then pinched Julia in an attempt to get her out of his way. All the while performing to the music.

Naturally, we had to put a stop to this so we ran up and tried to get him off stage. He wanted no part of that and, of course, limp noodled on us and had to be hauled off, shrieking, into another part of the church.

I should be embarrassed. Horrified, maybe. But instead I am just very, very amused. Tony was so cute, trying to get all the attention for himself, that I was in tears, laughing so hard I could hardly breathe.

Good thing we live so close to Hollywood, eh? :-)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Happy Birthday, Tony

Tony is two years old today.

How did this happen? When did he change from a baby into a kid? Right under my nose he has morphed from a helpless infant into an independent, affectionate, determined, intelligent, funny person. Someone I love to spend time with. Someone I can't imagine my life without. Someone who brings unique joy to our family.

When I got married, I thought we would have four children. That number sounded like it would provide us with a nice, full house without too much undue chaos. Imagine if I had clung to that idea! Tony would not be here (not to mention Isabella). I am so thankful to Kimberly Hahn and her wonderful book Life Giving Love that totally changed my thinking about family planning and children. If I had never come across it, this precious child would likely not have been born.

A lot has changed in our lives in the two years since Tony joined our family. We moved to Southern California (from Marin County) when he was just two weeks old. That was a difficult time of change, loss and re-settling for me. But, just as Tony has transformed in two short years, so has the life of our family. Right along with him, we have grown strong and healthy in our new community (which is not so new anymore). We are better off for the changes we made around the time of Tony's birth just as surely as we are better off because of his presence. God, of course, knew what he was doing all along, even when we couldn't see it.

Tony, you are a joy to us all. Your laughter, hugs and kisses, games and determination endear you to us completely. You delight us and I can't imagine our lives, or this world, without you. Happy birthday, my little two year old. I am beyond priviledged to be your mommy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Saved, By the Gentleman In the Back

We went to a family wedding in Carmel on Sunday. It was a beautiful, traditional Jewish ceremony, one of those weddings where everyone in the room really feels how much the bride and groom love one another. I cried through much of it, and I'm not even pregnant!

While we wouldn't have missed it for the world, we were more than a little anxious about bringing six children, to this (or any!) wedding. The groom was Jay's step brother and we were especially concerned about reflecting well on Jay's mom and step dad. We wanted them to enjoy the wedding thoroughly without any scenes or distractions of any kind from our brood. We wanted them to be proud of our family in front of theirs.

So, it was with much preparation and caution that we approached the synagogue. The children were under strict instruction to behave, prepared in every way possible. The bride was kind enough to find someone to play with Tony on the nearby playground during the ceremony so we could relax and enjoy. Even though this significantly improved our chances of anonymity, it by no means guaranteed them, so we were still on eggshells.

Until, that is, we were saved by an elderly guest near the back.

In the middle of the ceremony, this gentleman called out something that I couldn't quite understand. I thought, crazily, that he said, "Who farted?", but I knew it couldn't be. It just couldn't. He was a respectable gentleman who had been nothing but polite in my past experiences with him. And no one would say that during a wedding, of course. So I shrugged it off, even as he got up and moved to another pew. A few people turned around and looked at him, but, like me, I don't believe they thought they heard correctly.

A few minutes later, he got up again and moved back to his original spot. After he was settled, at the critical moment when the couple was about to the seal the deal, he repeated it loud and clear: "Who farted?"

This time, more than a few people turned around. Some young adults began shaking silently with laughter. His wife gave him a swat on the arm and told him to be quiet. The bride and groom did not seem to notice, but just about everyone else did. It was at this moment that I smiled to myself and began to relax.

Because no matter what our kids did during the rest of the wedding or reception, it wasn't that. Someone else logged the entry for the most outrageously memorable moment of the wedding, and for this I am truly grateful.

Who knows what caused this normally well-mannered man to burst out with his question at the time that he did. He is a lovely man in our experience and this seemed out of character. Goodness knows I didn't wish to question his motives as I conversed with him at the reception. Whatever the cause, I am thankful that he lightened my experience, so long as it did not bother the bride and groom.

Yes, it was a wonderful wedding. In every way.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Cultural Transfer

As parents, it is our job to educate our children. We must be careful to expose them not only to the basics like reading, writing and arithmetic, but also to world cultures and the arts.

It is with this in mind that we took our children to the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo when we were passing through on Sunday. Being especially consciencious parents, we took them to the men's urinal. Even the girls.

It was a lesson in culture, art and physics, all in one convenient stop.

Friday, July 13, 2007

High Tech Toys

I didn't want them. I certainly don't need them. But now I don't want to live without them.

Jay got me an iPod for Mother's Day. At first, I protested the gift, saying how I never listen to music anymore, don't need anything of the sort and why did he get me such an expensive gift. What an ingrate I was.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I am listening to music again, for the first time in a decade, and I'm loving it! No more scratched CDs scattered through the car. No more changing CDs while driving to find the song the kids want. Now, when I remember a song I loved long ago I am just 30 seconds and 99 cents away from hearing it all I want. This thing is great! Besides the music, it has movies and photos too. A perfect mini screen for airplane rides. And I haven't even scratched the surface of Podcasts and books on tape. If there is anyone out there that doesn't have one of these babies yet, I say save up your birthday money and go get one. It's worth it.

Perhaps inspired by my new iPod-driven tech savvy, I finally traded in my 3+ year old mobile phone for a new one. Plan prices have come down during this time, and since my new, fancy, orange(!) phone was (nearly) free as my reward for being a Verizon customer for so long, I felt I could splurge the $5 a month for mobile web. I am now paying $5 LESS a month than I have been for the past 3 years and have a phone that flips open to reveal an entire, usable keyboard from which I can easily access my Yahoo email. I can hardly believe it. I know, I am showing my age by my amazement, but I can't help myself. I'm too excited! The phone has a camera nearly as good as my real camera, too, so I'll never be caught without one again. If you've been living with your phone for awhile, see if your provider will give you a new, cool one for free. I'm sure glad I did! After all, what can be more thrilling than being able to see who has commented on your blog while waiting to see your dental hygienist?

Now, don't even get me started on Tivo, the single greatest thing to happen to television since the remote. This is life-changing stuff. My kids have a very limited awareness of what commercials are, since they have been fast forwarding through pre-recorded, pre-approved programs all their lives. How did people raise children without this tool, I'd like to know. Imagine, never missing an episode of American Idol again! It can happen to you, I tell you.

I am guessing that there are those who read this blog who are not fans of technology. Some of you may not even have televisions. Though I admire your resourcefulness, I am not one you. I embrace technology. I love technology. It's so much fun!

Perhaps I have a little work to do in the "materialistic" category.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Family. Fun?

In the "Not As Fun As I Thought It Would Be" category, I have not one, not two, but THREE entries for today.

1. The kids earned Happy Meals for progress made in their summer reading program, so I took them out to redeem them today. They requested all different toys and actually got them (sometimes they all get the same thing and they don't like that) but then spent the entire meal time trading, arguing and crying over who got what toy and who wouldn't trade or trade back. Nothing says fun like multiple meltdowns in Burger King.

2. I used to make the kids' Halloween costumes back when I had just two and three kids. The last few years I have bought and reused costumes because I no longer have the time or the energy to make them. Last year the kids noticed that the homemade ones were better than the store bought ones and asked me to start making them again. I told the kids if they wanted homemade Halloween costumes, they had to ask me at the beginning of summer so I had time to make them. To my surprise, they remembered and asked me, right when school got out, to start sewing. So, today I thinned the herd and took just Joey and Sam to the fabric store to look at patterns and choose their costumes. (I will do the rest of them in later phases.)

Fun as this sounds, it was not. At first they couldn't find anything they liked. Then they found inappropriate or too difficult or too expensive things. Then, they couldn't decide on the proper fabric. Then, when the fabric was cut, they changed their mind and wanted to be something else (not a chance, bucko). Then, the baby's diaper blew out in a messy way, in the middle of the long fabric cutting line and she decided to scream about it for the rest of our visit. Next, one of the items I chose didn't have a price and we had to stand there while a slow-as-molasses sales person meandered back to see if she could find something similar to scan. (I finally sent Joey, who returned with the proper item before the tortoise had even rounded the first corner). Nothing but fun, I tell you. And it only continued as we got home and the "when will it be done" and "why aren't you working on it yet" questions began.

3. We all went bowling tonight. To be fair, overall it actually WAS pretty fun. But, when you are at home thinking about how great it will be for the whole family to be together out doing something so special and rare, you forget about some of the details. Like the toddler who, the second you aren't looking, rolls a ball down someone else's lane. And the pitcher of soda that was spilled nearly the instant it arrived, making everyone's bowling shoes sticky. And the mix up of the bowling order that caused one child to tank a frame on someone else's score, resulting in a bit of strong feedback from one child to another.

However, watching Tony trot to the edge of the lane, shove the ball down it, wait breathlessly to see if any pins fell down and finally shout, "Yay, Tony!" (accompanied by enthusiastic self-applause) made the entire experience worthwhile.

Yes, indeed. Family fun. Exactly as a sane person might have imagined it would be in the first place. But not a crazy optimist like me. An optimist who is already excited about our next family adventure.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

"Hold Her"

That's what I have been hearing, over and over again the last few weeks: "Hold her. Hold her."

Meaning, "Please, mom, can I hold Isabella?"

So, I let him.

The scene is always quickly followed by Tony's cheerful and emphatic "Done!", sometimes even within 2 or 3 seconds.

But oh, how sweet those precious seconds are.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

That's My Boy

The one wearing the "England" shirt on Independence Day. David Beckham's jersey, to be exact, brought home from Jay's most recent visit to London.

He says he chose it because it was red, white and blue. Yet, when I pointed out he was supporting the very country from who we won the independence we were celebrating, he considered that to be a bonus rather than a problem. Not because he dislikes America. Not because our family is anything short of fiercely proud to be Americans. Just because he's Joey. (And I wouldn't have him any other way.)

My contrary child. I can't wait until he's 14.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

12 Years

Who knew 12 years ago today when I married Jay that I would love him more now than I did on that perfect, wonderful day? I didn't, because I didn't think it was possible. But, as it turns out, I do.

Because, 12 years ago, I did not know what an amazing father he would be. With the birth of each child, my wonder at his fathering abilities increases. I am grateful beyond words that God chose this man to be daddy to my children. For he is far more than their provider. He is their role model, their companion and playmate, their security and their beacon...much as he is all of these things and more to me.

12 years ago, I did not know how his devotion to God would grow, and how that would become the pillar of strength that keeps our family so strong and happy.

I did not know then, as I do now, how hard he would work to provide well for his family, both at his job and around the house. I did not know how unflappable and reassuring he would be when life threw unexpected curves our way.

How could I have known that he would put the needs of all of his dependents in front of his own? I hoped, but could not be sure, that he would still tell me he loves me every day. And he does.

12 years later, he is still taking out the garbage, agreeably eating whatever I cook and putting up with my eccentricities. Not to mention changing diapers, mowing the lawn and assembling whatever random thing enters the house. It is in these little day to day things, done willingly and with good cheer, that I feel his love most of all. Lucky, lucky me. Lucky ALL of us.

Happy anniversary, Jay.