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Do you see what I see?


Here’s the song reference.

Our parish Christmas pageant was last night, and Bugaboo was a perfectly lovely angel.  Nonno was unable to attend, but Zio Frankie (Manie’s brother) stayed with Nonno so Deedaw could attend.  Grandma came down from Baltimore, too, and spent the afternoon with us.

Words are not coming easily to me this morning, so I’ll share some recent videos of our merry band, including two videos of the pageant (I apologize for the quality), and a couple of our favorite Christmas songs.  May the peace of Our Lord be with all of you, always.

Christmas pageant, part 1 — Bugaboo is the angel who has wings.

Christmas pageant, part 2

Our family You Tube channel

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Ave Maria

Panis Angelicus

The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth

Go Tell It on the Mountain

O Come O Come Emmanuel

Hodie Christus Natus Est

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

Crabs for Christmas

Magnificat

O Holy Night

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming

Old Toy Trains

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the gentle men and women who give of their time to teach Your little blessings about You, and about Your message of redemption and everlasting joy with You.  As so many of us grieve, or prepare to grieve, the end of mortal lives, please take our grief as an offering and replace it with hearts brimming with the happiness of sure knowledge that the souls of our beloveds will rest joyously with You.  Please help us teach Your blessings and each other to love one another as You have loved us, filling us with the desire to do as Your servant Francis instructed, that we may be a beacon leading those who suffer under heavy burdens to You for comfort and for rest.

Mumps will make you lumpy


Here’s the song reference.

Mr. Man was the first to emerge from slumber yesterday morning, as has become his wont since he started sleeping in a bed instead of a crib.  Mercifully, the hour of his rising was around 7:00 a.m., instead of 1 a.m., then 4 a.m., then 6 a.m. . . . you get the picture.  He toddled into the kitchen looking to see what might be available in the way of breakfast.

After the manner of many two-year-olds, I suspect, Mr. Man has something of a different concept of what constitutes acceptable breakfast food than his parents.  We favor oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, eggs, fruit, waffles, toast, and the like, while his taste runs more to candy, cookies, and cake of the non-pan variety.  This is usually the topic of animated debates in the morning, and it has been a source of some frustration to Mr. Man that he never seems to emerge with a winning argument.

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He changed his strategy yesterday morning, as the debate over acceptable morning fare raged, offers and counteroffers flying through the kitchen (Cookies?  No, how about some grapes?  No grapes, want cupcake?  No cupcakes, how about some cereal?  No cereal, want candy.), by falling silent, walking purposefully to the pantry, and opening the door to peruse its contents.  Since most of what is at his eye level is fruit cups, granola bars, and cereal, Manie and I felt safe enough to take our eyes off him long enough to talk about a few things we needed to do over the next couple of days.  We kept talking, not really taking notice of what Mr. Man might have secreted in his little hand until we caught the flash of colored foil.

Grandma had given each child a little tin of foil-wrapped chocolates in honor of St. Nicholas day, and I had forgotten the bag containing said tins was on the floor of the pantry.  Mr. Man had not forgotten, and had retrieved a tasty Reese’s bell from the stash and unwrapped it with blazing speed.  He gently placed the foil on the table, laid the candy upon it, flung wide his arms and crowed triumphantly.

“I gotta mump!”

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for Your little blessings, who are creative and resourceful, and remind me daily that you did not put us here to be miserable and wretched.  As we prepare to celebrate Your arrival as a helpless human infant, please remind us to see both the Advent season and the little trials of everyday life through their eyes, that we may gentle our hearts and our tongues as we give instruction with our words, in what we do and what we fail to do.

Lord, please send special comfort to Your tender servants, Peggy and Kevin, whose foster son took his own life yesterday, ten years after the children they bore were killed in a plane crash.  Please grant that the coming days and weeks will soften every heart towards your grieving children, helping us to love them as You loved us so that their own hearts may not harden into impenetrable scars as they heal.  Please have mercy on River’s soul, and St. Dymphna, please comfort all those who have lost people they love to mental illness.

Get in the kitchen and make me a sammich


Here’s the song reference, but it refers more to Beanie herself than to the title of this post.

When I returned home from teaching seventh grade Faith Formation last night, I found Manie, Bugaboo and Beanie hard at work building the gingerbread house that is our annual gift from Grandma, and a surprisingly quiet Mr. Man and Baby Guy.  Mr. Man seems to have finally internalized the knowledge that just because he can get out his bed after tuck-in time doesn’t mean he should, and we’re somewhat hopeful that his older sisters will learn from his example.  I digress.

After the gingerbread house had been decorated to the girls’ satisfaction and they’d had a proper hand (and arm, and face, and at least one leg per small person) washing, we scooted the girls off to bed, as the hour was approaching ten o’clock, which is way past their usual bedtime.  We tucked them in with plenty of hugs and kisses, and remembered to tell them we love them all the way to the end of the galaxy and back.  There have been nights when they’ve been sufficiently obnoxious about getting into their beds that we’ve forgotten to do that, and have looked at each other in horror before nearly breaking down their door in our haste to remedy the situation.  Last night, we told them twice.

Predictably, less than two minutes after we’d turned off their light and closed their bedroom door, both girls came pattering out of their room.  Bugaboo needed to go to the potty again, and Beanie zipped into the kitchen, where Manie and I were debriefing the events of the day.  With all the cheerful mischief her little eyes could hold, she gazed up at us, grinning, and announced, “You forgot to give me hugs and kisses.”

Manie and I both laughed at the silliness and audacity of her statement, and I replied, “Ohhh, Beanie, I don’t think that’s true.  I’m pretty sure we gave you lots of hugs and kisses.”

“Nooooooo, no, you didn’t.”  Had she grinned any more broadly, I believe she would have dislocated her smile.  Bugaboo was singing “Jingle Bells” in the bathroom.  I scooped her from the floor and wrapped her up in a snug hug, smacking noisy kisses on her cheeks and forehead as Manie stepped over to where we stood.  He wrapped his arms around her from the other side, and she got what she terms, “double hugs and double kisses and double all the love in the world,” before we gently lowered her to the ground and ordered her back to bed.  Bugaboo, who had apparently interrupted a conversation with her collection of stuffed penguins to use the potty, had already shufled back to her bed and was loudly explaing to said penguins that Beanie wouldn’t let her get to sleep.

Beanie, for her part, giggled up at us, “Do it AGAIN!”

We did, and as we snuggled her, she chortled out, “I’m a Beanie sammich!”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for Your little blessings, and for these simple days when a simple embrace can solve most of their problems, particularly if combined with a piece of chocolate candy.  Please help us teach them that wherever they go, and regardless of the availability of sweets, Your embrace is always there for them, to comfort in the tough days and to celebrate the easy ones.  Kindle in our hearts a desire to speak and act lovingly to all people at all times, especially to Your blessings, and especially when we must offer correction or instruction.

Give it away, give it away, give it away now


Here’s the song reference.

We added four living children to our family in the space of 49 months, beginning in May of 2007 and ending in June of 2011.  As a result, we have a quantity of baby stuff that could supply a small town.  After a great deal of prayer and not a few tears, we arrived at the conclusion recently that it is time to start giving some of our bounty away.  We had planned to keep a couple of particularly cherished items for when we became grandparents, but in the end, decided that we have too many friends and neighbors who have real needs for the things we have to hold on to them for sentimental reasons.  In the end, Manie and I said to each other, it’s just stuff.  We love people, we use things, and when the people we love need things, we give them what we have.

That sounds so easy when you’re saying it, so noble and full of the exercise of the faith in Christ we cherish.  It’s not so easy when you’re loading the boxes filled with the things our pregnant friend doesn’t need into the back of the station wagon for delivery to a charity who will give them to families who have been blessed differently than ours.  It’s also not so easy when Bugaboo and Beanie come out of their rooms to investigate the cause of all the racket and see playthings that have been their constant companions for 5 1/2 and 4 1/2 years, respectively, being gently placed into boxes.

We explained to them, as we have done so many times before, that we are called to share what we have.  Both of our tired daughter were able to name examples of times when we  had put money in a basket, put gas in a stranger’s car, or when they had rifled through their own toys to find things to give away, things that they no longer played with but that would delight another child.  This was different, though.  This wasn’t, “okay, we don’t play with this any longer,” this was, “hey, wait, I love that thing!”

Therein lay the lesson, for all of us.  A goodly part of our homeschooling day today will be spent sorting through a lot of things we have in the house that really need to find homes where they’ll be used and appreciated.  This is part of our Advent every year (all of our parents are still living, and we therefore end up with a great deal of new stuff every Christmas, so there’s a practical aspect to it), but there’s a different dimension to it this year, I think, because of Nonno’s illness.  It is nearly embarrassing to recall the tears my husband and I have shed over things, that we have set that example for the tiny people, when we consider how the loss of things pales in comparison to the grief we share in the knowledge that we will soon be losing Nonno.

Peace be with you.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for Your little blessings, and for the full complement of grandparents who have welcomed all of them into the world.  Thank You for the material abundance with which you have blessed our family, and for the opportunities You have provided to share Your bounty with those whom You have blessed in other ways.  Thank You also for reminding us that, in every wise, loving each other is more important than loving our stuff.  Please help us to be gentle stewards of our earthly possessions and to be tender-hearted towards the person, not the thing, when others have need of our worldly goods.

Gotta have that hot stuff


Here’s the song reference.

Manie’s love of extremely spicy edibles is nearly legendary in our family; it’s one of our major differences in matters of taste.  I like my food flavorful, but heat and I don’t get along terribly well.  He, however, is the king of jolokia, which means there is usually at least one bottle of hot sauce gracing our table at every meal.  This is terribly fascinating to Mr. Man, who regards the assortment of narrow-necked bottles with awed curiosity; his interest is only intensified by our insistence that he not touch the bottles in question, as some of them contain concoctions that have actually burned my skin!

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On Saturday, we traveled over several rivers and a couple of woods to Grandma’s house, as we customarily do near St. Nicholas Day; Pop-Pop, her father, was of German extraction, so she enjoys hosting a little celebration at her house in the early part of December each year.  It’s also the day we help her put up her Christmas tree, a pre-lit number that always gets oohs and aahs from the tiny people, as it is a fairly large one.  Once the tree is up and little surprises from Grandma have been opened, we sit down to a feast with Grandma.

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Grandma goes to great lengths to make sure there is something on her table that is a favorite of each of her grandchildren, and that there is always a big bowl of olives for Beanie and Mr. Man, who are fanatical about them.  It is almost always the case that by the time we sit down to the table, the entire tribe has managed to break into the chocolates Grandma gave them and devour at last half of them, which means their consumption of nourishing food is a little spare.  While Bugaboo and Beanie were still sitting at the table, Bugaboo with a mound of strawberries, Beanie with piles of lox and olives, Mr. Man was checking out Grandma’s refrigerator.  He’s only recently discovered that he has both the height and the strength to winkle the big sealed doors open, and he derives a nearly maniacal glee from checking out the contents of every icebox he meets.

Manie and I alternated between feeding Baby Guy what tidbits we could and keeping tabs on Mr. Man’s exploration of Grandma’s kitchen appliances.  Of course, there were those moments when neither of us was looking at him.  The result of the first of these was Mr. Man’s delighted entry into the dining room, waving a plastic juice lemon and delightedly proclaiming, “I want juice now, please!”  We were able to convince him, after an argument that bordered on circularity, that Grandma would be sad if she went looking for the sunshine bottle and found it empty, and that he should return it to its proper place.

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Moments later, Mr. Man streaked past us into the living room.  Manie, Grandma and I exchanged glances before Manie quickly pursued him.  Mr. Man generally only passes us at speed when he’s clutching something he ought not have.  This was, of course, the case, and Manie laughed heartily a couple of seconds later when he realized that our elder son’s prize was Grandma’s bottle of Tabasco.  Grandma, of course, does not live with tiny people, and thus does not close every bottle and jar with a wrench (metaphorically speaking, of course) to prevent accidental openings and spillage.  We now had a two-year old with an open bottle of hot sauce and unsatisfied curiosity.

I was genuinely surprised when he didn’t immediately vomit after he took a swig, particularly given the amount of chocolate and olives with which he’d stuffed himself.  Actually, he liked it — no tears, no complaints, at least not until we took the bottle away from him.

The two-hour car trip home, however, got a little eventful when we hit a patch of choppy traffic.

Yesterday morning, we sat down to our usual large Sunday repast, which in this particular case involved individual cheese omelets.  I had made Manie’s last so I could scramble hot sauce directly into the eggs, which he loves, but which renders the pan unusable for anyone else until it’s been washed.  As Manie was not in the kitchen while I was cooking, he was unaware of this trivium, and stopped at the fridge on the way to his chair to get a bottle of one of his favorites, a potion so spicy that it comes with a tiny spoon and a warning label.  It’s the only one that has nearly done him in (which was my fault for unintentionally putting a little too much of it in his tom kha gai one night).  I warned him about the pre-existing jolokia elixir in his eggs, and he returned the bottle to the fridge.

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Mr. Man was quite dismayed by that turn of events, and promptly set up a staccato series of urgent requests that a bottle of hot sauce be immediately removed from the refrigerator and placed within his reach.  Manie hunted around until he found a bottle of ordinary hot sauce, as opposed to the stuff with warning labels, which Mr. Man happily proceeded to dump on his omelet — just like Daddy.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for Your little blessings, and for their nearly limitless ability to observe and emulate.  Please grant us the grace of conducting ourselves in a manner we want them to emulate, and humility when we fail to do so.  Please help us teach them wisdom as we go, and that while we feel always a deep gratitude and awe towards the bounty and variety of foodstuffs You created, we are cautious about how we combine those.  Make us an example of moderation in all things except joy, and grant that we may always have plastic bags, wipes, and a clean shirt when we travel.

Three bags of coins in a window


Here’s the song reference.

Yesterday was St. Nicholas Day, a holiday made dear to my heart by my Pop-Pop, who was of German extraction.  Bugaboo is just barely old enough to remember Pop-Pop’s last St. Nicholas Day, when he gave us the gift of his last harmonica performance before emphysema stole the breath he needed to play the melodies he’d puffed out since his own childhood.  I can still smell the sandwiches that lay untouched on his table and hear the strains of tunes whose names I never knew, see the fascination in Bugaboo and Beanie’s eyes, feel my mother’s trembling shoulder under my hand.

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We celebrate the saint’s memorial with bags of gold-wrapped chocolate coins and stories about St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, and acts of charity by lesser known persons, some real, some fictional.  The story of the widow with her two copper coins is always part of our festivities.  As the girls enjoyed their little candy treats yesterday morning, waiting for Mr. Man and Baby Guy to awaken, we talked about how important it is to share our blessings, and after we read the short biography of St. Nicholas in their children’s book of saints, we also talked about how something that is relatively little to us can mean salvation for someone who has been otherwise blessed.  Three bags of gold were not a large amount of money to Nicholas of Myra, but to the three young women whose father lacked the funds to pay their dowries, it was the difference between being sold as prostitutes and being able to live as free women with husbands and children.  Rightly did both father and daughters praise the saint for his charity, for his recognition that what was of small value to him was a lifeline to them, for his desire to give his gift in secret.

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After we had read a half-dozen or so stories, the boys began to stir, and I busied myself filling sippy cups with milk and putting bread in the toaster for their breakfast.  As I worked, Bugaboo quietly asked, “Mommy, when we put coins in the basket at church or in buckets at the store, are we being like St. Nicholas?”

“Yes.  That’s why we do it.  People like St. Nicholas remind us that it always matters when we share our blessings.”

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Beanie piped up, “Is that why we give the old toys and coats and blankets away?”

“Yes.  It’s also why we don’t give our name when we do it.  We want to give our gifts in secret, for the joy of giving them, not so anyone can tell us we’re doing a good thing.  Jesus tells us we’re doing a good thing.  It doesn’t really matter what anybody else thinks.”

Both girls were quiet for a moment, then Bugaboo added, “I have one chocolate coin left.  I’m going to put it here for Mr. Man, but don’t tell him it’s mine, okay?”

“Okay, Bugaboo.  That’s very generous of you.”

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for Your friend Nicholas, the patron saint of children, Russia, and sailors.  Thank You for the lips that passed his history down through the ages, and for the hands that committed the stories to paper.  Help us teach Your blessings that You sent these stalwart defenders and examples of our faith that we might learn from their lives and acts.  Please fill our hearts with humility so that when we share Your largesse, we do so for love of You, and not for love of the adulation of other people, and let every coin we give bear Your image to the person whose need is met by it.

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact


Here’s the song reference.

Again, before anyone worries, the title of the post is metaphorical.

As I’ve posted before, Mr. Man is very, very attached to his Spidey sneakers.  There have been, since the acquisition of said kicks in March, no fewer than a dozen crises at our house directly relating to the absence of one or more red, white, and blue light up shoes.  When we had portraits made of the tribe last month, Mr. Man flatly refused to cooperate with anyone until he was permitted to wear his favorite footgear with his footie pajamas.  Every morning for nearly nine months, his first question on the changing table has been, “Where Spidey sneakies?  I need Spidey sneakies and socks.”

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Mr. Man had doffed his shoes upstairs Tuesday night, and thus was unable to reunite them with his feet until he came upstairs for breakfast yesterday morning.  Seizing them from the counter where they lay, he ran to me, waving them in the air while clapping them together to make their lights flash, all the while pleading, “Put Spidey shoes on, Mama, put Spidey shoes on, need Spidey shoes on, can’t not want socks on feet without Spidey shoes Mama!”  Laughing, I bade him climb on a chair so I could help him on with his shoes.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

The sole of his left shoe came off in my hand.

My jaw dropped, and I gasped, less in surprise that a shoe that has seen at least nine hours of daily wear by a two year old for nine months had fallen apart than in anticipation of the reaction of the aforementioned two year old to the demise of his beloved shoes.

Baby Guy wandered in just then, pointed at the sole in my hand, and helpfully offered a cheerful, sing-song, “Shoooooooo!”

Mr. Man looked like he had just lost his best friend.  His eyes widened, his lip trembled, and I dove for the rubber cement to effect a quick, albeit temporary, repair.  “Sweetie, if you stand on that foot until the timer goes off, I think we can get one more day out of your Spidey shoes.”  I set the timer on the stove for three minutes, and Mr. Man obligingly stood very still, watching the timer and periodically calling off numbers.

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Once the cement had set on the forlorn footgear, we headed out the door to a local big-box store, where we were likely to find replacement Spidey shoes that would not only light up, but would also be compatible with a budget that’s on a severe diet this month. Fortunately, we were quickly able to locate a pair in his size (in all honesty, the old ones should have been retired for size reasons a month ago), and after clapping them together briskly to ensure they did, in fact, light up, Mr. Man solemnly informed me, “These my new Spidey shoes, Mama.  I put them in the cart now.”

After adding a few grocery items to our cart, we paid for our purchases and headed home.  I would have put the new shoes on him before we left the store, but they were so laden with plastic tags, elastic cords, and other jumk that I didn’t want to risk missing one or leaving a mess in the middle of the store.  Once all the labeling and display materials had been removed, I called Mr. Man over to put on his new kicks.

“NO. I can’t want new Spidey sneakies, want OLD Spidey sneakies, these MY Spidey sneakies, put those Spidey sneakies on table, I can’t want wear those right now.”

Oy.

Ten minutes later, while I was making soup for lunch, Mr. Man meandered back into the kitchen, holding his tattered old shoes in his hands.

“Okay, Mama.  I have new Spidey shoes now, please?”

“Okay, buddy.  You want to sit in Daddy’s chair and I’ll put them on you?”

“Yeah.  I sit Daddy’s chair and have new Spidey sneakies.  These sneakies broken.”

“Yeah, they are.  Mommy’s going to keep them, though.  Sometimes, Mommy hangs on to things because they were special to you guys.”

“Mama no throw Spidey sneakies in the trash?”

“Nope.  We’ll keep Spidey in your keepsake box.”

“Okay, Mama.  I not can’t want throw Spidey in trash.  I like Spidey.”

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After we got his new shoes on, Mr. Man jumped down from the chair and went clumping all over the house, showing his sisters, his brother, the dogs, the fish, and a cricket he found in the basement his spiffy kicks.  Every so often, he came back into the kitchen to see if his old shoes were still on the counter, and after lunch, he asked me, “Mama, we put Spidey shoes away now? I can’t want them get thrown out.  Bugaboo says they’re trash.”

Bugaboo hotly replied, “I did not!  I said they’re TRASHED.”

In any event, we put the shoes away in Mr. Man’s keepsake box, which stopped the argument.  They’re safe — and I fully expect to have to pull them back out at least once this morning.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the means to provide shoes for Your little blessings, and for that they each have two feet needing to be shod.  Thank you for their hopeful hearts that believe in heroes and truth and good guys winning, hearts that love You and Your good servants.  As they grow, Lord, please help us teach them that it is more pleasing to You to use what You provide to buy two pairs of shoes, that we may share one with a child who has none, than to spend twice as much on a single pair for ourselves, and please keep our eyes open for the shoeless or footless children among us that we may be Your light to them.

Away in a manger


Here’s the song reference.

Today marks the beginning of the new liturgical year for us; it is the first Sunday of Advent, the season in which we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  Every year on the first of December, we start on what may be my favorite project of the year, to wit:  constructing a “manger” to receive the Christ Child.  I’m also doing this project with my seventh grade Faith Formation students.

Our goal is to fill the cardboard manger with construction paper straws, upon each of which is written a kind word or deed we’ve seen, or a song, story or picture we’ve encountered that brings Jesus to mind.  The only rule is that no person may write down his or her OWN actions or words, which helps foster the virtue of humility and opens our eyes to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the people around us.  On Christmas Eve, we make a figure of the Christ Child from construction paper; on Christmas morning, before any gifts are opened, we put the wee babe in his bed, softened with the Advent season’s worth of loving words, thoughts, and deeds, and sing “Joy to the World.”

Here’s how we make our manger:

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We begin with an empty box, of which we generally have several on hand.  This year, blueberry waffles got the honor.

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Next, we split the box seam and lay the cardboard flat.

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Then we fold over the flaps so that the outside of the box will become the inside of the manger.  We don’t want the manger to be an ad for Eggo waffles, after all.

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Next, cut away most of one big side of the box, which will make the opening for the straws and the Christ Child figure.

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Tape the box back together, inside out.

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Take some brown construction paper and cut it to cover the sides of the box.

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Glue the construction paper to the sides of the box.  Bugaboo chose to do the inside, too, and quickly discovered that part of the reason we turn the box inside out is that glue does not adhere well to the printed side of the cardboard.  That’s why we don’t just use a tissue box.

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Take some pink and purple construction paper.  Pink and purple are the colors of Advent.

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Cut the construction paper into thin strips.

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I asked Bugaboo to tell me what kind words or deeds she’d witnessed to that point far yesterday, and what songs or stories she’d heard that reminded her of Jesus.  We wrote them down, using the purple strips for people’s words and actions that weren’t on recordings or in books, and the pink strips for “stuff.”

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Hopefully, this will be a very full manger on Christmas morning.

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, we are joyfully preparing to celebrate Your birth on this earth, Your humble arrival as a helpless infant born to poor parents.  Thank You for miracles and hope, and for taking on the flesh of Your creations to dwell among us. Please help us teach Your little blessings that no gaily wrapped package will ever be more pleasing to You than humble hearts pouring forth kindness and mercy upon Your children, and that the most profound gifts are not available in stores.