Wednesday, August 20, 2014


My son just walloped me at Memory again, and this time I was really trying.

Of course, the first game I helped the little fellar out by regularly interjecting, "Um, no, I don't think so...wait! now just turned it over!" I may have even given up a couple matches that I actually remembered correctly. He beat me 10-7. Before the second game, however, I clearly stated, "Daniel, I'm not playing around this time. Mama's really going to try to win. I'm going to play hard and try to beat you."

I was defeated, and the score was identical: 10-7.

Gosh, I don't know how that happened, and maybe that's the problem. Perhaps the day will come when I lose at Memory, not because I have fewer matches, but because I can't quite recall what the game is about. I have chronic Mommy brain. At least, I think that's what is. It's better than another diagnosis.

Do you have Mommy's brain, too? Here are possible symptoms:

Taking your husband sippy cups of milk when the toddler asks for something to drink
Trying to hand your kids steaming cups of coffee on Sunday mornings
Standing in any room of your house, but most often the kitchen, and asking yourself repeatedly, "Now, why am I in here? What was I doing?"
Tapping your head like Winnie the Pooh and repeating, "Think, think, think."
Asking desperately every school morning, "Has anyone seen my purse?!
Forgetting to pick up your kids on a half day
Gray hair

Here are the causes, as far as I can tell:

Wildly fluctuating hormones due to multiple pregnancies
Toddlers knocking your head about too many times after sneaking into your bed at night for years
The inability to concentrate, truly concentrate, on just one of your children, because The Others insist on interrupting
Indulging in too many unfinished chocolate cupcakes from kids' birthday parties
Not enough adult interaction
No good sleep

At present there is no known cure. Perhaps one day they'll discover it in some miracle plant in the Amazon. For now, I'm afraid, the only proper precautions to take against it growing steadily worse is to play endless games of Memory with your preschooler before his nap to keep your brain sharpish, and then, after you lose again, to promptly zonk out with him in order to forget the humiliation as you rock him to sleep.

Just don't forget to pick up your older kids from school.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Offering It Up for Dad

On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, "Let us cross to the other side." Leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, "Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?" He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Quiet! Be still!" The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, "Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?" They were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?"

Mark 4:35-41 (NAB)

What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?

No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35, 37-39 (NAB)

I have been very worried about my dad. In March he had a terrible fall - just from standing up too suddenly after crouching on the floor to watch his grandson play. When he regained consciousness and the paramedics were called, it was obvious he had broken both his jaw and nose, broken teeth and had bitten his bottom lip nearly off. He was a little disoriented and probably suffered a concussion, but he refused to go to the hospital - just like that time in Tennessee when he was bitten by a copperhead on the foot.

Since then, it seems like it has been one thing after another for Dad - all while trying to finish the last book in his Kelven's Riddle series. He was ill in May with a serious ear infection. When he came to visit our family in early June, he had a lingering headache from his fall and then got terrible nausea and a fever from some kind of virus. He became sick with a bad cold during our trip to San Saba, Texas for my sister Annie's wedding, and just this past month during a visit with his family in Idaho, that headache grew and exploded until he endured a miserable flight home and then didn't get in to see a doctor until more than three days later. Now he is suffering from an acute bacterial infection of the head and neck.

My sister Vinca, who saw how sick Papa was in Idaho and has been very troubled, called to give me an update yesterday, for which I am so grateful. I didn't know how ill he was. Dad's immune system has been wrecked by all the assaults on it, so he can't see anybody, on doctor's orders, but Mom for two-three months at least. Talking on the phone is excruciating for him, because his ears are in terrible pain.

I can't physically do anything to help, can't even talk to him to gain reassurance for my own selfish comfort. It is my lot to worry. Yet I can't just fret and agonize and do nothing at all.

Yesterday, I offered it up in prayers. I offered it up. My worry is nothing compared to the suffering of my dad these several months, but if anyone can use all this anxiety, this sorrow, this regret and this love I feel to help Dad, it is Jesus.

I'm not expressing this well at all. I had never encountered the idea of offering it up before a few years ago, but I like it. I like to think that if I give something to Jesus Christ - no matter how little - to use to help heal someone I dearly, dearly love, that he won't turn me down, that he'll let me help in this small way, uniting myself with His love for that person, with His love for Dad.

Pray for my dad, Daniel, please if you would. God bless you, friends, and thank you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sunlight On the Forest Floor: Hope

No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world; but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at it colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world, and enough of a Christian to die to it?

_From Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

A modern-day parable:

The Devil takes a man on a tour of hell and proudly shows off all his storehouses brimming with sin. There is lust and jealousy, anger and envy, and so on - a large storehouse for each big sin. But the man points out another storehouse larger by far than all the rest. "What do you keep in there?" he asks. "Oh, that," responds the Devil, "that holds the smallest but most effective seed of all. That is overflowing with discouragement."

_ From the Second Edition of the Catholic Faith Handbook for Youth

In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.

_Jesus Christ

I am one of those people who consistently struggles against dicouragement in looking up at the colossal evil in this world. It's difficult to retain hope in the face of a daily onslaught of news stories about the rampant injustice and malice. For this reason I long ago gave up watching nightly news, but I can't quite convince myself that avoiding the news section of the newspaper is a good idea -  despite the fact that every time I read about something happening here, in India, the Middle East, Africa, Central America or Ukraine, I court the idea that evil is winning.

And that is a crying sin.

If I ever truly accepted that notion, I would be guilty of despair. So my work is to hope and pray. And then I must ask myself the really hard and telling question: What can I do? Obviously, I must love my human family enough to think the world worth changing, and how? By showing great love and making the personal sacrifices of a fellow sinner.

Yesterday I read two amazing stories of people who hoped while standing face to face with evil. One was Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide who hid with a group of women in a tiny bathroom for three months. Another was the tale of a priest, a missionary to the Native American population in Canada, who told the good news to and then baptized an Iroquois that was being slowly tortured to death by the Huron tribe. This French missionary, Brebeuf, was later tortured to death along with a fellow priest by the Iroquois that attacked the Huron village in which they were staying. Brebeuf preached to his torturers until they gagged him. His story and countless more from human history - yes, even ancient times - prove that the problem of evil has always been.

And yet people like Immaculee spread hope, love, and forgiveness after the most desperate and seemingly hopeless situations. She wrote that the Devil many times told her to give up, to call out so her persecutors could find her and kill her like hundreds of thousands of others, but she clung to the rosary her father had passed on to her shortly before he was murdered and kept praying and clinging to hope.

It's important for sheltered me not to isolate myself in blissful ignorance, true, but it's important for me to also regularly expose myself to healthy doses of courage, great love and every day human kindness testimonies, too. Hope is there. It's there in the groups of young men patrolling the streets of Cairo to keep other men from harassing or assaulting women. It's there at Dartmouth College where a professor is fighting to change the rape culture that exists on that campus. It's there in Christian-sponsored preschools in Central America where there are high gates with razor-wire to keep out the drug gangs and loving teachers within to keep up the hope and laughter.

It's there in the simplest things: in the smile you give to a grumpy neighbor, when you stop to ask a person involved in an accident if they're okay, in the compliment you pay to a friend on a rough day. The love of God is in all these things.

And, yes, it's even there in that funny (but clean!) story you read on the Internet today.

That was not much of a segue, I know, but I also came across this yesterday: Cheer Up or Dry Up: Proverbs 17: 22. from the humor writer at Whoa! Susannah. I think the project is an excellent idea; we all need to lift our spirits on a regular basis, and, I confess, it is also affirming for a sometimes-humor writer like me. Maybe I'll lighten things up here tomorrow.

I also really loved this post on The Optimism of Jesus by a A Lady In France. It moved me, because I do believe he is the ultimate optimist, our Redeemer, and I need to take more than a few lessons from him.

Friday, August 8, 2014

All You Need is Love....and each other

I'm a very imperfect person. I suppose I first truly realized this when I became a parent. It's like that line in the Billy Joel song, She's Always A Woman:

She'll bring out the best and the worst you can be
Ladidah, ladidah. Forget about that pretty lady who'll cut you and laugh while you're bleeding. It's the kids who can really do a number on you. Though The Beatles were right, all you need is love -  especially in this great adventure of raising the next generation - you'll also need more patience and fortitude than is humanly possible to raise a child, and then exponentially more if you have more little rascals. Parenting is not for sissies. And just in case I haven't quoted enough famous people, I'm going to drag Solomon in here and his very sage advice to Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Solomon's words are a big comfort to parents who have told their children to put things back in their proper place at least one trillion times. Though we know they will never willingly do so in our homes, we are fairly confident that when they are elderly, their houses will be well-organized and immaculate - before the grandkids come and wreck it.
Ah, don't get me wrong now. Children are a blessing, and I feel sorry for those who do not view them as such, but more importantly, I feel sorry for their children. And Love, love, love is all you really need to make a beginning of this most important job. But then you must try - and I stress try daily, hourly - to kill your selfishness, your self-centeredness, your laziness, and your constant craving for peace, sleep and a nice house.
You must also do your darndest to pour solid values, robust good sense, and a concern for others into their little beings. (I am no expert, but I suspect all this good stuff springs from God, and if he is no part of the equation, the job will be very difficult indeed.) And if regularly reading parenting books and articles helps, then do it for heaven's sake! Mine your friends and elders for nuggets of wisdom. Don't be ashamed. I thought parenting was instinctual until I became one. Then I searched out all the sound advice that I could to help me when I was at my rope's end.
There are a few things I have learned along the way to raising four citizens of this world, and I will share some of my paltry knowledge with any fellow parents, as others have shared their wisdom with me. But I have a long way to go, you know. Sadly, I find I am still a very selfish, self-centered being who loves peace and quiet.

Put things back where they belong

No, I do not mean just in our homes. I mean in the world at large. Every time we go to the grocery store, our children should see us place our cart in the cart return. When we take them to the children's store and they want to try on all the miniature sunglasses, they need to understand that what they get down, they must place back. We should remind them repeatedly to put their trash in the proper receptacles.
Why? It's not enough to tell our kids not to litter. They must grasp that littering disrespects other people; other people look at our mess, and they have to clean up after us. Our kids should not walk through life expecting waitresses and store clerks and strangers at large to pick up after them. Not unless we want them to be total brats.

Talk - now!

Yes, before it's too late. If you want your kids to know why you believe certain things, if you want them to have your values instead of scrounging around for what their friends or the media has to offer, you must talk to them on a regular basis. This is one of the greatest things my own dad did for his kids. The day is full of teaching moments, after all - not moments to instill hate or bigotry, but moments to guide your children in building a solid foundation for themselves in a shape-shifting society. Do not leave them to mercy of others.

Forget me; think us

Yes, "me time" is important, or you will surely blow a gasket. But "us time" is vital. There are many, many times as a parent when you must forget yourself to play that game of football in the back yard when it's so dang hot; to snuggle up to an anxious little one in the dark and ask her about her day; to read, play or dance when there are piles of dishes and loads of laundry you'd like to get out of your hair (boy, I struggle with this one!); to put down that book and really listen to your child (boy, do I really struggle with this one!); and to talk to a preteen about issues at school or with you. The whole world is dependent on "Us". We must invest precious time in each other to build a better society, especially in the hearts of our kids.

Dinner, everybody!

Family dinner time is priceless. I have heard a bazillion knock-knock jokes from my kids at the dining room table, sung several silly songs with them. My kids have asked about my childhood, and I've told them a bit of family history. Discussions about God, drugs, life choices, and college have happened at our old table with its finish ruined by hot plates, cold glasses, and fresh pizza boxes. I have even learned about my son's crush there. Trust me, turn off that stupid TV or smartphone and really invest in the not-so-silent but oh-so-golden family dinner hour. Don't be a media drone, unaware of where your family is headed.

A structured life

No one thrives in chaos, children least of all. I am a firm believer in bedtime routines, for instance. The television must be off; the lights are lowered; teeth are brushed; and books are read. Family routines inspire kids to organize their lives and create healthy habits around the necessities of living well - disciplines they'll need in the craziness of life.
Here are links to some great articles that explain why routine is so important to kids:
Love, love, love your kids, and love your spouse most of all, and may God bless us all with the grace to admit our mistakes and the courage to keep striving. The world depends on our efforts.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Facebook and My Habitual Failure to Launch

My family and friends might not believe it, but I have thoughts, too - ideas and dreams even. I just don't share them on Facebook.

Call me lazy. Call me a social media klutz. Tell me I need a smartphone, so I can stay "connected". Just don't slam me for having no reflections on life, because I do, my friends. Here are the slew, and I mean slew, of things I meant to share on Facebook in July:

The Lamb Chop Litmus Test for Home Cooks

My husband made a lovely lamb chop dinner for Mother's Day. It had fresh mint and rosemary and a white-wine cream sauce. I loved it, and I tried to replicate it. It was NOT  the same.

Either I messed up the ratio of ingredients - easy to mend - or it's a surefire sign that my man is meant to do all the cooking from now on. I'm going with that last one.

The Bonsai Trial (Like So Many Others)

Yep, my beautiful bonsai is already dying. It took me barely a month to destroy it.

One night over dinner I was telling my husband how Daniel knocked me into it as I was attempting to revive it, and it skewered my fingers with some of its bone-dry needles. I cried out, "I knew this bonsai didn't like me! It's like, 'I'd rather die than stay here with you, Lady!' "

Berto held up a forkful of food and pointed. "Or you'd rather kill it than have to take care of it."

Matthew eyes widened as he added, waving his fork accusingly, "Now normally Berto's not right when he says stuff like that, honey, but you got to admit - that's got a ring of truth."

"It's not true! I love my Bonsai. My poor little, beautiful tree." I turned sad eyes upon it to prove my point.

But our little Ella Belle had the last word:

"Maybe it's not a tree," she said. "Maybe it's a bush."

That explains everything.

My Favo-right Meal

When I gave birth to Ella, I had the best meal I've ever had in my life; a nurse brought me a platter of cheese and fresh fruit. It hit the spot, and there is no spot worth hitting quite like the one belonging to a woman post-labor.

No, I don't love to cook, but I do love the ingredients of this brilliant, simple meal:

Cheese, two or three varieties
Crackers, two kinds (one should be fancy)
Fruit (grapes, melon slices and strawberries recommended)
Sliced meat - optional
Crusty bread - optional
Raw veggies - always a good idea
Wine - very good idea



All you need to be happy is the opportunity to watch your kids, even the 11-year-old, dance to the Happy song.

You look old

I found my first gray hair. I mean, really, it was iron lady material, coarse and shiny. Matthew has always claimed that I would finally start dying my hair when it turned gray. I have always protested that I shall not if it comes in as I hope: a thick, stylish skunk stripe (wait...that does sound stylish, right?)

But this was just one wee hair, and as I bent over, peering into the mirror, Matthew had just the solution for it: he brutally yanked it out and cried, "There!"


Ooops, that was only five - hardly a slew. Oh, well...maybe I'm just not social media material.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


Berto, my eldest son, asked his younger brother Danny frankly, "Who do you think would win in a fight: you or Booey? I think you would, Danny."

Maybe Berto just assumed all boys, no matter how big, can take girls in a fight. Maybe he felt it was his duty to stand in his bro's corner of the ring, even though Danny is more than two years younger than Booey.

Danny had no such loyalties - to himself or his sex.

"I bet Booey," he said.

We burst out laughing.


I was explaining to my son Berto that his sister Ana just doesn't get in fights.

"Well, maybe it's because she doesn't stand up to people when they're being bratty and rotten to her," he answered stridently.

"Maybe it's also because she's not bratty and rotten to other people," I rejoined.

I had him, and he knew it. He gave a gorilla cry and raised a plastic basketball hoop against me with that devilish grin on his face, proving my point.

"Look," I began philosophically to my children, gathering them around. "We don't have favorites. We don't love Ana more, because she doesn't get into fights...our love for each of you is constant and unconditional. We don't love you more, Booey, because you're spunky and energetic. We don't love you more, Berto, because you're a great athlete and a great leader, too. We don't love Danny more because he's our little apple-schlapple-mapple." (At which vague, saccharine description, Daniel tilted his head and smiled winningly at me; he knew what I meant even if I didn't.) "Nothing you do or say can change our love for you. You might make us frustrated, irritated or angry, but our love for all of you is constant and unconditional."

Five minutes later I recanted as they were running - including Ana - screaming through the house, chasing each other with couch pillows and slipping on plastic grocery bags.

"Never mind!" I yelled above the din. "I change my mind. Our love is only unconditional when you're on the moon!"


Ana, Booey and I snuck out to the store one day during Daniel's naptime. Danny woke up and joined his brother at the computer for a bit, but presently he wandered back out to his papa and, in a concerned tone, asked, "Papa, where's Ana and Booey?"

"They went to the store with Mama."


Suddenly Matthew was curious.

"Hey, Daniel...what's Booey's real name?"


"No, that's her nickname. What's her real name?"

Daniel, confused, reiterated, "Booey!"

"No, her full name."


The little fellar had bestowed that nickname on his big sis and, by George, he was going to stick by it. He didn't know that it had all begun with me calling her Ella Boo; Papa shortening it to Boo; and then he adding the -ey when he was just a tot. Matthew reminded him of his sister's real name, and Daniel pronounced the long, pretty name slowly, but he has never stopped calling her Booey. I just hope she doesn't balk at it when she's a feisty teenager. Otherwise, we just might get to see that fight Berto was predicting.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Day in the Life of Oahu: Makapu'u Point

I'm afraid I've sounded ungrateful. Okay, yes, I can just see a few of you nodding your heads...

When I really, truly realized that our family of six was going to have the fantastic privilege of going to Hawaii all together, I was stunned at our good fortune. I was deeply grateful to my in-laws for paying for their grandchildren's plane tickets. I was amazed that my kids, not of a wealthy family, would have the honor of saying, "We went to Hawaii on summer vacation!" I was so glad my brother-in-law and sister-in-law had invited us to their exotic nuptials.

I just forgot there would be traffic in Hawaii - especially on heavily populated Oahu. I forgot there would be large cities and all the mess and disarray that crowds of human beings living in proximity entail. I didn't fully understand, I guess, that all of Hawaii wasn't a strand of lonely, wild Polynesian islands. I didn't contemplate the fact that less than grand hotel suites exist everywhere - especially not at those prices!

But do you think I lost my sense of good fortune? Well, okay, maybe that first afternoon....but it quickly returned, I assure you.

It returned when we drove out of Waikiki that very next day. I said to my husband, "Wow, it feels like we can finally breath - just being out of the city."

And my man, a city man all his life, answered, "I know, right?"

Even he had felt suffocated by the traffic and the tall buildings of greater Honolulu.

We arrived at Diamond Head and hunted for parking. (Trust me, you must get there by 7 or 8 in the morning if you hope to find any.) My husband began to drive into a large tunnel cutting through the rim of that volcanic crater to more parking on the other side when we were startled by a blaring, insistent horn. It felt as if we were in a movie, our car rattling down railway tracks toward a train that was guaranteed to crush us in the gloom, but it wasn't a train; it was a tour bus. I'm amazed my husband didn't cuss, locked in its narrow path...or maybe he did, and my mind had blocked out everything but the gaudy, brightly-hued colossal that hadn't slowed down one bit. Matthew hit the gas and reversed in such a way it rivaled any pretty boy maneuvers in some spy thriller. Tour buses in Oahu can be black-hearted villains beneath all that bright paint. When we had to enter the tunnel once more, because all parking was full, Matthew fled faster than the 15mph speed limit, getting through that tunnel in lightning speed to avoid any more behemoths filled with fellow tourists.

But I digress. We joined up with Matthew's parents and brother Robert after parking in a community college lot. We risked the tunnel on foot and entered the crater for our hike. Diamond Head was an experience - at times a scary one as my four-year-old walked too close to the path's plummeting edge or climbed winding stairs with but one high rail to contain a fall - but an experience. The sets of steep stairs will test the integrity of shins and knees; the dark tunnels will test your love of daylight; the crowds in cramped spaces will test your love of  fellow man; but the vistas will reinforce your love of nature. And the number of people hiking in dresses and flimsy sandals with no drinking water will confound you.

Our day was not nearly done. After eating a fortifying lunch at McDonald's, we drove to Makapu'u Point. I was hoping for more hiking, but the lookout itself was so beautiful, we were satisfied. And we'd left the crowds behind.

This was the Hawaii we had envisioned, and the color of the water was all that we'd heard it was from people who had actually vacationed on beautiful islands before.

We wanted a dip in that water, just to tickle our toes. Obviously, we weren't so spellbound that we forgot we weren't surfers, but we felt sure we could have a nice wade in the sea from that beach down below.

Matthew told the kids, and by default me, "Don't get wet above the knees - just to the knees, hear me? We didn't bring a change of clothes."

Unused as we were to the prospect of a beach day, we had neglected to bring swim suits, but that didn't impede our fun at all. As soon as that surf swirled about our ankles, we were lost in Neverland - eternal children, awestruck and giggling at our good fortune and our bravery. My father-in-law was holding my purse like a true gentleman. Grandma and Uncle Robert linked hands with Daniel, Ana, and Ella. I closed the link, and my girls and boy in turn jumped into the incoming water, squeezing the hands of their adults, and then the kids and I squealed as we pulled frantically back from the powerful surf and receding tide, dreading being pulled out toward the surfers who we must then rely on to save us. My wonderful mother-in-law reminisced about her childhood near Galveston and doing just this exercise of surf splashing all the time as a little girl. It seemed to go on forever, and we didn't notice at all that we were venturing farther and farther out, the water marks on our clothes advancing well above the knees.

When I finally found my feet on dry sand, Danny was playing in a little pool of ocean water in a broad dip in the sand. Some little boys there had boogey boards which they generously offered to share with Ella and Daniel. I forgot Matthew's edicts, and let the kids go full-belly, full-tilt into the little pool.

"Honeeey..."reproved Matthew. He had resisted the allure of the surf. Poor guy, he so often has to be the adult. I remember too well the temptations of childhood to restrain them as I ought.

It was time to clean up as best we could. We didn't even have towels. Daniel rode back to Waikiki in underwear, poor fella, and the rest of us sopped our seats and created a terrible sand apocalypse in our rented vehicle. I'm still surprised we haven't gotten a letter from the rental car company informing us that the van was irreversibly sand-ridden and salt-water smelly, and we must pay a hefty fine or buy the thing outright, paying for shipping cross-Pacific.

But we didn't, and I'll never forget that great, full day. We were thrilled to be in Hawaii.