Just a closer walk

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I wanted to do a daily hands-on activity Lenten activity with the two littlest ones. My first idea was to trace their feet and cut out 40 for each. But when my neatnik Cliff would have nothing to do with the feet tracing activity, I had to compromise. Once Lillian saw me come up with a graphic of a foot, she had design plans of her own. What we ended up with was pretty much directed by her.

I used Word and Photoshop. I made twp footprints in Photoshop’s custom shape feature and colored one pink and one blue. (You can guess who came up with that). I saved them as jpegs and pulled them into Word, added a cross on, and an empty heart near each foot (also directed by Lil) and the text: “Walking the path with Jesus brings my heart closer to his.” I printed a total of 40 in each color. The kids each fill in the heart daily with a picture (or scribble ala Cliff) and the number of the day of Lent. It’s hardly craft-0-licious – but it works. We’re tacking them up the wall and they will work their way along the ceiling (eventually leading to a hung crucifix). The children are already excited to see the path grow. I’m not usually a let’s-tape-stuff-to-the-wall mom, but I’m repainting in the spring, so I figured let’s go with my unusual flexibility while the going is good.

Here’s a pdf of what I made: Path of Lent. It’s a nice activity because it’s not too overwhelming or time-consuming, but it is still a multi-step and multi-sensory process. If you’re not for the wall-walking, collecting them in a box would be fun. You could occasionally spread them on the floor (adding a little sequencing exercise to boot). The activity has already prompted some nice conversation, engagement and an opportunity to build on their knowledge of this holy season.

Today (since all are home for break) we are making an Alleluia banner to bring out on Easter. We’ve done this before (usually on Ash Wednesday), and it adds to the celebration (and decor!) of our Easter. And yes: there will be glitter involved – because making all things new has to involve lots of sparkle, right?

Microsoft Word - Document2

For Phil’s sake

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I want to believe Punxsutawney Phil. I’m longing for spring – the thought of which has wedged itself in my brain like a steel spike.

I get a little bit of those lack-of-sun winter blahs. Even though I love the snow, I just don’t force myself out in cold grey weather enough to soak of the helpful vitamin D provided so graciously for free by the sun. Two years ago, when I found myself crying like a baby in the confessional, a really tall and wise man said: “You probably just need some sun. Are you getting enough sun?”

Today’s extra dose of snow reminded me that spring is still far off. And even though Phil basked above the ground long enough for a bunch of grown men in top hats to declare that the rodent knows something we don’t – six, now five, weeks is still a loooooong time. (And dare I say? There is a chance that Phil is … wrong. How can he see his shadow anyway?Have you seen that whole set up? So what if the fat rat is wrong and winter is longer? Much longer.)

Maybe I’m yearning for spring more now since I’m packing some fun-in-the-sun clothing for two kids heading south to visit Grandma and Grandpa.Perhaps shopping for flip flops just wedged that spike in a little further and twisted it. I’ve been in denial, but I think it hit me that they won’t bring the sunshine home with them – so I guess I have to tough it out. (I keep picturing unzipping sunshine from their L.L. Bean duffle.)

Well, on the bright side, there’s always Lent to look forward to.

Here’s a look at a huge crowd of people cheering on the rodent. I suppose the tradition gives folks the excuse to start drinking early in the day to celebrate the coming of spring. Or to start drinking early to drown the sorrow of the long weeks of winter ahead. Either way. Cheers. 

Dear me: Can’t you come up with something good for Advent?

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Dear Advent-preparing me:

You don’t have any intention of reinventing Advent – but you do need to breathe some life into the season around here.

I know, you’ve done wreaths, candles, Jesse trees, sung O Antiphons, hung O Antiphons, read scripture, colored calendars, you name it. You’ve got 20 years of Advent with kids under that belt and are searching for a fresh way to look at this seasonal gift called waiting.

I know you don’t want to revisit last year when you were later putting up the  tree in acknowledgement of the “real” Christmas season. But it felt like Christmas passed you by. Everyone else was taking down their trees, and you were just getting started without the benefit of Christmas music on the radio or decorations at the stores. The hat-wearing bell ringers at Kroger had long turned in their red buckets, and you had pockets full of change.

You arrived at the party just as everyone was leaving.

You were left standing in the picked-over Christmas clearance section of Walmart.

(I could come up with many more to continue to distract me from the point of this letter to you, I mean me. Whatever.)

So, what do you think is the actual benefit of holding off to celebrate Christmas and actually embracing waiting? There’s certainly no real outward point to be proved. You were just there in your own little house trying to stick with the program laid out for by the church year – whether you liked it or not. (That sounds dramatically dreary. Which it wasn’t at all. It was  a joyful season. Waiting included.)

So Advent-preparing me, I challenge you to this: Incorporate the joy of the upcoming season while meaningfully embracing the waiting of the soon-to-be-current season. Make it engaging for the littles and not overlooked by the bigs, and try to keep sane with both Advent and Christmas clutter.



P.S. Oh, and good luck with that.

Finding joy, peace and light in my garden

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My dearest decided that for Mother’s Day, he would plant a cutting garden so I could have fresh flowers throughout the season. (Yes. Awww.)

The last of the season as frost threatens all those lovely buds.

So out went the veggies (eating fresh is overrated anyway), and in went some little bare root tubers – Chocolate and Candy; Firebird, and Tequila Sunrise Dahlias; a few perennials in the form of Regale Album Trumpet Lilies, and Edulis Superba and Bouchela Peony.

It looks great from inside, too.

He also planted some Pink Magellan Zinnia that we got down at Eastern Market just to get things going, since starting from those naked little roots was going to take a while.

We didn’t actually plan to plant this one, but she crashed the party anyway.

We didn’t see the lilies or the peonies flower at all, but they’re just getting ready for next year. The dahlias took some time to get going, but once they did: Pow! Soon enough, we’ll dig them and store them for planting next year.

So … how about a dahlia as big as your head?

This flower would almost be the size of Cliff’s head – if he didn’t have such a GIANT noggin.

As frost threatens those sweet unopened buds, I feel like cursing the weather – even though I love the changing seasons. The flowers, the experiment of the garden, and the thought behind it all has provided so much simple joy since May.

The children have loved the flowers – much more than they did the veggies. We can’t help but be mesmerized by their beauty and be grateful and amazed that things that look like that actually grow right out of God’s earth.

Unlike greenhouse flowers that grow straight and upright, these sweet beauties did what we try to do: seek the Light. They all ended up with a little bend, a little imperfect twist that made them a challenge to contain – but a joy to behold. (Reminds me of a handful of kids I know.)

Note to self – wipe her face before I aim a camera at her. 😉

That’s alarming

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Even new-fangled technology can’t work without cooperation from the user.

Our fifteen-year-old is a go-getter. Mighty, indeed. These past few weeks we’ve had trouble waking her in the mornings. Usually she’s up before the rest of us and already reminding us of her (and thus our) morning plans.

Today, we decided to get to the root of it. Why wasn’t she waking? Was she depressed? She did after all just break her foot, calling off the remainder of her beloved swim season. Was she going to bed too late? No way. She’s a carpe sleepem, carpe diem kind of kid. Was there something wrong with her alarm?


She informed us that she set the alarm on her phone and on her clock, but she still wasn’t getting up. Something was wrong with both of them.

She set two alarms, and both were failing? Why? Did she not hear them? Yes, she heard them. But she set them both an HOUR before she needed to get up to fulfill some fantasy that she MAY choose to get up that early sometimes, but not all the time. But of course, she actually chooses to get up that early none of the time.

So she turns off her clock and then turns off her phone and, oddly (cough) falls back asleep.

We tried to explain that the purpose of an alarm is to get you up and going. Not to wake you so you can decide if you’re going to get going or not. Because chances are on a chilly fall morning without anything really pressing, you’re not.

It wasn’t the system failing her. It was lack of commitment to the system.

Later in the morning, she texted us a photo saying, “I need to use this.”

Click on it to go to the site.

My husband responded with, “No, you just need to use this.”

“…on my birthday.”

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That was Lillian’s tag line for many comments … on her birthday.

“Henry is being obnoxious, which is completely unnecessary … on my birthday!”

“Tell him to stop annoying me. I cannot tolerate it … on my birthday!”

And, when I heard her arguing with her brother, who quickly accused, “Lillian started it!” Her calm and oh-so-logical response was, “Oh no, I didn’t. Why would I start anything mean … on my birthday?”

Presents! She is so easy to shop for and enjoys every little thing.

On Friday night, I kissed her forehead as she snuggled tucked in for bed. “This is the last goodnight kiss I get to give to you as a five-year-old,” I whispered.

She sighed in sweet anticipation of the next day, when she would (at long last!) turn six. She’d been counting the days since May. And then, once she discovered she was going to celebrate her birthday along with her baby cousin’s baptism at the house of one of her most favorite people, she was beyond excited.

In the morning, I announced her first six-year-old kiss, and she beamed eager to accept it. I could see the wheels turning as she contemplated what the day would hold. I wondered if she analyzed herself the way I did at some of my early birthdays. I can distinctly remember thinking: I don’t feel any different. Or look any different. I worried I was missing something or that the whole birthday thing was a sham.

Hula-hoop success!

It really was a spectacular day. There were minor melt downs associated with hula-hoops and Shrinky Dinks, and little and big boys’ hands on newly acquired birthday gifts. I’m sure if you had just unwrapped a Princess Celestia My Little Pony and your brother was trying to cart it off, you might get a little weak-kneed yourself.

The number of declarations that this was her “best birthday ever!” far outnumbered the “worst birthday ever” claims. I think she only once slammed her door in disgust, which makes it a banner day.

Can she do it?

… yes …

… she can!

We enjoyed the fabulously tasty and beautiful Pink Elephant cupcakes, and she and the other children swam, swam, swam.

Now, just humor my moment of reminiscence. That change that happens between five and six seems to me almost unfair. In that year’s time, I’ve watched my little girl – as I have the three children before her – change so dramatically. She’s become more connected to reality, and her sense of humor has morphed into that of a 10-year-old boy (thanks Henry!) more than I’d like to admit. Her face has changed. Her features aren’t as soft, and reveal many more angles and much less baby fat, even when compared with photographs taken just a few short months ago.

I don’t know if it’s a sign of wisdom or desperation, but I feel a vigorous need to cherish the nuances of each stage the children are sprinting through. Perhaps since our oldest is now 20, I have a living, breathing reminder of how very, very fast it all goes.

Oddly though, even as I write this, I’m not a documenter. I don’t scrapbook or take much video. Unlike the example set by my parents, I sadly don’t have a library of beautifully arranged leather photo albums filled with only the best snap shots.

But when I look into the eyes of my children, I try with my might to save fleeting glimpses of their hearts – hoping that I if I collect enough morsels of those sweet love memories, I will have an abundance to feed me when they are all grown.

Fleeting morsels

Every single time we exit the van, Lillian runs to the swing that Richard hung in our front tree. She jumps on and quickly returns to her cherished dream world: chattering to herself, head back, hair blowing. Richard and I have many times watched and wondered what memories she will keep of doing that.

As I watch her – toes pointing to the sky and eyes gazing into the leafy green – it is my hope that she too gathers morsels that will sustain her when time and the stuff of life eventually forces her feet (at least occasionally) to be firmly planted on the ground.

The black-eyed pirate who loves Jesus

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The resident pirate wearing a little faith scapulin from romanticcatholic.com.

After the first of the year, I decided to diminish my participation in music ministry at our parish. The main reason was Cliff. In an effort to spend as much time as I could working on his speech challenges, it meant that I really couldn’t spare the hours of weekly practices and commitments. The byproduct has been that without all the weekly commitments, we’ve branched out and enjoyed a few occasional trips to some of the beautiful historic churches in Detroit.

Today, we visited St. Josaphat’s. It was hot, and attendance was rather sparse. The homily was solid, and the music was good. The organist has a fantastic singing voice. The acoustics in church (oddly) aren’t that great, though. And he sings without a mic. Which I don’t quite get. He even announces the songs by sort of hollering them from the choir loft. And it’s hard to pick up what he’s saying. In part because he also tends to give somewhat extensive instructions (“We’ll sing all four stanzas of the song and only sing the refrain at the beginning and end”). That said, they’re always pretty familiar traditional choices and a joy to sing. One Sunday during Lent, he sang after communion John Stainer’s “God So Love the World,” and well, I thought someone was going to have to peel me off the floor. It was gorgeous, holy, meditational and spectacularly resonant, even with his back to the congregation as he played (beautifully, I might add) the organ.

We’ve gone to noon mass there a few times since March. The pastor is young and energetic and is responsible for that church as well as two neighboring churches. And when I say neighboring … I mean neighboring. One (Sweetest Heart of Mary) is barely more than a stone’s throw away.

When visiting St. Josaphat on Palm Sunday, I had to remove Cliff from the sanctuary and hang out in the vestibule. It had something to do with his pointing out all the many paintings and depictions of Jesus in the church and wanting to discuss them. In full voice. And since he is a boy with whom we do not want to discourage talking, it was just better to take his need for conversation elsewhere.

That’s when we saw it: A tomb with a life-size statue of Christ. Complete with crucifixion wounds. Cliff – at the time – would often say, “Jesus died on the boss.” (To which I would inaudibly come back with “and the E Street Band” before modeling the correct pronunciation of the word “cross.”) When he saw Jesus in the tomb, he declared, “Jesus died in a box!”

I did my best to try – in three-year-old terms – to explain what it was that he was seeing. That it was a statue, wasn’t scary and was for a display to help people understand the story of Jesus dying and rising.

His first instinct was to gently touch the wounds on the statue of Christ.

He couldn’t stay away from it. I quickly snapped the above photo with my iPhone. I was moved by my son’s compassion for a statue that I believe many three-year-olds would find a rather unsettling. When mass was over, he made sure Richard and the other children saw it.

On Good Friday, we visited Sweetest Heart of Mary. It  had a similar statue and a tomb as part of a rather elaborate display. We examined it with Clifford hoping it was a least a step in helping him put the whole Jesus-in-a-box experience in context. We ended up going back there during Easter so Cliff could see the empty tomb.

Richard shows Cliff that Jesus isn’t in the box any more.

I was surprised today at St. Josaphat when I saw that the tomb was again tucked under the stairs to the choir loft (or bell tower – I’m not sure where they lead exactly). I assumed it would be put away somewhere. However, instead of being exposed, the statue was covered with a white sheath of some sort, which to Cliff was very unappealing. He wanted to see Jesus again. I was grateful the statue was covered; it was easier to pry him away and take him into the church.

True to form, during mass (sometime after the Offertory and before he got a shiner from knocking his head on a pew) Cliff’s loud monologue about Jesus dying on the cross (which he pronounces perfectly, now) began.  He started to point out all the paintings and statues of Christ in the church. Finally, he motioned to the back of the church and announced in full voice that, “Jesus died in a bag. In the box. But he’s alive.”

We’re getting there. I think.

Black eye a la pew.

Time out

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What? Me worry?

It’s hard to believe it’s been four months since I posted. I had to put myself in time out. Actually, I led a Lenten prayer group for moms, then planned Vacation Bible School, and all the year-end school stuff – and working. As I type that, it reads a little bit like a litany of excuses. And is, sort of.

There’s a bit more as I’ve been sorting through all kinds of things. Pondering, thinking, praying, reading and pondering more on some of the nuances and occasional heartache of what it means to live in this world as we know it. I know, that sounds pretty heavy duty.

And I guess it is – because it made my little stories of daily life seem insignificant. Rest assured, our family life is strong and everyone is well. It’s all much more big-picture than my little nest. But in the insightful words of my dearest friend – “it must be exhausting living in your head.” And, I will admit, sometimes it is.

But I’m back. Perspective has been granted (thank the Lord!). Life goes on. And all is good. Because God is good. All the time.

Scenes from a Sunday

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Sunday was a glorious day – in spite of a moment of complete failure.

Richard made breakfast. French toast, fresh fruit, sausage. And as always, he makes the best coffee. Perfection from a coffee press with bit of Godiva chocolate powder.

We headed downtown to mass at Sweetest Heart of Mary. Since I have tried hard to reduce some of my singing obligations, one of the by-products is that we can occasionally visit some other churches (although we miss our own when we don’t attend).

We decided to make it our mission to be sure the kids have an opportunity to attend mass at some of the old gorgeous still-operating Catholic churches in Detroit. We want them to learn a little of the neighborhood histories and about the folks who worshipped at them – especially in light the upcoming mergers, clustering and looming closures.

The pictures above are from Old St. Mary’s in Greektown.

But wait, you inquire (somewhat perplexed), weren’t you going to Sweetest Heart of Mary?

Let me just say that nothing says “you-Spring-ahead failure” louder than swinging wide open the huge center doors of a big old (full) church for 10:30 mass on a Sunday morning only to catch the eye of the celebrant as he recesses with his crew full-speed-ahead – to full organ music – right in your direction. Mass was over.

That’s when Richard looked at his phone and queried, “Why does my iPhone say 11:27?”

Don’t worry. It only took about .005 second for Richard and I to inhale the stench of our collective stupidity. A wide-eyed glance at each other, an about-face and a brisk walk of shame back to our vehicle made it almost seem like it never happened. The only breadcrumbs we left  behind were in the vapor trail of Lillian’s endless questioning (which I can only assume eventually dissipated).

By 11:32, we were headed across the freeway and closer to the river for noon maas at Old St. Mary’s in Greektown.

Mass was lovely. The homily fantastic. The priest used my favorite St. Augustine quote and said we were born with a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by Jesus. Two things I say in my St. Mom’s U program. So … it felt like Kismet. If you can call it that. (Probably not.)

The music — an a capella schola standing off to the right in the front few pews — was very nice. Some lovely voices, a nice blend and the acoustics were accommodating. Grant it, we were only four pews from the front so the sound was clear and full where we were. Kind of an interesting mixed bag of mass parts. But it was nice. So, as much as I was hoping to hear that beast of an organ, no such luck.

There are some interesting grotto spaces at the entrance to the church. I’m not going to lie: the kids thought they were creepy. Okay. And while, I’m being truthful: so did I. There are kind of scary statue heads of Christ and a few other less-than-settling images. I’m not sure if something can be equal in kitsch, charm and being the stuff of nightmares – but that’s where I’d put a few of the scenes in the grottos.

And, since going to one church and being completely embarrassed at another apparently isn’t enough for us, we also stopped at beautiful St. Joseph’s.

The organist was the only one left following noon mass, and he graciously let us in for a few prayers and photos. At our next opportunity, we’re going to go to mass there. It seems completely untouched by time. Richard and I are hoping to attend some of the Solemnity of St. Joseph Day activities on Monday if we can.

So, failings aside (which are always abundant anyway) all in all, our scenes from Sunday were sweet.