Friday, December 31, 2010

Tight Pants and the Year's End

Here is to the last day of 2010!

This has been a very good year for my family. One of the first truly good years we have had in a while. Here is praying 2011 is every bit as good and better!

Next week will see me returning to Weight Watchers. I have enjoyed my freedom from menu planning, I certainly have enjoyed all the treats around. However, my pants are definitely feeling tighter today. So, I will be glad to get back on track!

ArtGuy wrote a family Christmas letter. If you haven't read it yet, it will be below! I hate the things. I DID get two from friends this year, but they were actually good ones. Usually, they just come off so Pollyanna and fake - I just can't stand 'em. No offense meant to anyone - just a personal peeve. But ArtGuy had to write one for one of his extended family's newsletters. He show me first. I tried not to barf.
So, for Christmas, he added the deleted scenes. I like those much better!

Happy New Year! Stay safe!

Christmas letters are funny things. Some people love them, others can't stand them. I understand their purpose. They summarize the high points of the year, and are generally sent out around Christmas time to give distant family and friends  a "recap" of the year's major events. I've never minded receiving them (but my wife absolutely hates them), and actually enjoy most of them. But I think it's human nature to keep them positive and cheerful, so the low points of the year that everyone has either get edited completely out, or are quickly followed with a happy ending. But in the process, instead of being uplifting, this can have the opposite effect, because everyone else's lives seem so much more wonderful and perfect than yours.

And then, this year, I wrote one, and in the process made a discovery. After reading my first draft, I was totally amazed at how smug, self-congratulatory, and sickeningly sweet it sounded. Every bit of it was true, but it was nothing like the year we had. So after reading the letter below, please continue on for the "deleted scenes". So in addition to rejoicing with us as we recount the wonderful highlights of our year, we also invite you to laugh at our mistakes and failures, in the hopes that you will get a more accurate picture of our life.

Merry Christmas from our family!
December, 2010

The Mad Toddler – age 2
Otherwise known in Christine’s blog and Facebook page as “The Mad Toddler”, the Mad Toddler is an active, demanding, but wonderfully sweet 2-year old. He loves his brothers and our cat, Joshua, and his passion for trains may possibly rival his great-uncle Jerry’s. Our living room floor almost always has two railroad tracks (of different scales) in various stages of construction/deconstruction, which his dad and brothers create and he destroys several times a day. He also loves “big trucks” (18-wheelers and any sort of large construction vehicles) and every Monday morning, watches the garbage and recycling trucks come down our street with fascination.
 This past summer, his climbing ability earned him an upgrade from a crib to a toddler bed. So he’s no longer sleeping behind bars, he is now sleeping through the night in his own bed!.
Favorite books: The Thomas the Tank Engine series, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Where the Wild Things Are, and much to our dismay, a Sesame Street Coloring and Activity Book (designed with no discernible plot, we have to make up stories to go with the games and pictures on each page as a bedtime story.)

Romeo– age 8
As much as I resist labeling kids, Romeo is our athlete. He plays soccer for the nearly undefeated Knights (although we’re not supposed to be keeping score yet – ssshhhh!) He’s got a great coach and a supportive team. He’ll run up to us, dripping with sweat after practicing in the Texas heat with a huge smile on his face and say “I just love soccer!”
Outside of soccer, Romeo and spends a lot of his free time riding bikes and playing outside with his friend Speedy. Speedy happens to be on a mission to convince us to enroll Romeo in the neighborhood public elementary school that Speedy attends. “It’s free!” he says, “All you have to pay for is lunch!” Homeschooling is hard work, so his arguments are very persuasive!

Romeo is a cub scout, well on his way to earn his bear rank, and is also the youngest member of Team Storm System, a brand new FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team coached by Christine. (More on that later!)
Favorite books: The Gate of Days, by Guillaume Prevost
Favorite movies: Prince Caspian

Cookie Boy – 11
Cookie Boy is a wonderfully clever and responsible boy. At age 10, he became a certified babysitter, and is fantastic with his little brother The Mad Toddler. Cookie Boy is a cunning strategist, practically unbeatable in checkers, is more than a match for his dad at chess. He only lost his last matchup against his dad because his dad got extremely lucky and accidentally trapped Cookie Boy’s queen at a crucial point in the game. He also loves Speed Stacking. He participated in a Speed Stacking tourney earlier this year, competing with over 550 over kids from the region!
As a second year Webelos scout, Cookie Boy is about to make the transition to boy scouts. Over the last two years, he has already been on several Boy Scout campouts with his dad and his big brother The Young Adult, so he’s more than prepared.
He is also a member of FLL Team Storm System, where he’s putting his strategic skills to use!

Favorite books: The Peanuts Treasury
Favorite movies: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The Young Adult – age 13
First Class Boy Scout in Troop 261. Competition level Scottish Highland Dancer who has performed multiple times at the State Fair of Texas, including the traditional sword dance as a solo. As his dad, I am amazed at his accomplishments, especially when I think about what I was doing at his age. At 12, I was torturing an auditorium full of captive parents, honking along on my clarinet at the middle school band concerts. And I, like most 12-year-old boys, could barely muster the courage to ask a girl to a dance (that involved very little actual dancing). The Young Adult, on the other hand is performing in front of hundreds of people in a kilt, nimbly avoiding crossed sword blades on the stage under his feet in one number, and twirling two girls in another. Christine and I have watched him mature and improve in his skill in many ways, and are very proud of his accomplishments (and his rock-hard abs).
At a Scottish Highland dance competition in Salado, TX, The Young Adult performed four dances, and placed in all of them. He place 2nd in one dance, and 4th in the remaining three!
See for yourself!  Two of The Young Adult’s Highland Dance State Fair of Texas performances are on Youtube:

The Texas Thistle:
The Sword Dance:

The Young Adult is also one of the older members of the Team Storm System, and is really working on leadership and management skills, as he is often looked up to. (Or maybe it’s just his booming voice!)

Favorite books: Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
Favorite movies: Star Wars VI

I’ve just completed my 7th year at the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography. I’m currently Creative Services Manager, and primarily do anything and everything that involves graphic design for the company. From web design, signage at our annual conferences, to all printed material and even an occasional video, I have my hand in the “look” of everything we produce.
About once a year for the last 3 years, I’ve taught a 9-week art class for our home-school co-op, Orchard. (Just to put this in proper perspective, Christine has taught 2 or 3 classes, twice a year, in addition to previously holding a position on the board.)
This coming spring semester, Christine will be getting a long overdue and well-deserved break, and I will be fulfilling our family requirement at homeschool coop by teaching 2 classes, Rocket Science and Animation 101. I hope to make them fun!
Although I’m retired from being a Cub Scout den leader (I was The Young Adult’s leader for 5 years), I still enjoy camping with the older three boys, and someday soon, all four. I know Christine looks forward to that day!

Wow, what can I say? Christine does EVERYTHING. She’s an amazing mom of four crazy boys, and home-schools all of them. And even though there are many prepackaged curriculums available to teach “out of the box”, over the years Christine has cherry-picked the best of each subject and constructed a curriculum based on each of our kids’ needs, interests, and strengths. They are learning history sequentially, starting with ancient Greek mythology in the early grades and progressing through the ages, building on what they know of past civilizations. So the younger ones may not know much about the Civil War yet, but don’t hesitate to ask them about ‘King’ Hatshepsut of Egypt circa 1479 BC! For math, Christine chooses the curriculum that best fits each boy’s learning style. Currently, it’s Saxon Math for one, Singapore Math for another, and Luke is taking his math class live online from a math professor. The boys are also reading classic literature and are even learning Latin via books and DVDs.
Christine is also involved in music ministry at two parishes. She is a cantor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Plano, and is also a member of the choir at St. Gabriel’s in McKinney. Mass once a weekend is a rare occasion for her – it’s usually two or sometimes three times!
Christine is also a member of a newly formed Chant group, which meets weekly and consists of people who are interested in learning, reading and performing Gregorian Chant.
As I mentioned before, Christine prepares lesson plans for and teaches two classes every Friday at our home school co-op (but will get a break from that this spring!)
For much-needed adult interaction and conversation, Christine is involved in book clubs and mom's night outs.
She’s also a writer. See for yourself by visiting her blog, “Deep in the Heart” at, or look up her articles on
On top of all of this, Christine has taken on the enormous challenge of coaching a FIRST LEGO League Team. FLL consists of teams of kids ages 9 to 14 from schools all over the country that participate in a multi-part competition each year based on a theme. One of those parts is to build a real, programmable robot using the LEGO NXT robot set, which has to complete a series of specific tasks on 4’ by 8’ playing field full of LEGO obstacles – in 2 minutes 30 seconds or less. This year’s theme is biomedical engineering, and Team Storm System’s robot must be programmed to do things such as identify good and bad tissue, insert a bone bridge, set a broken bone, and get white blood cells to the “brain” using electric motors, a light sensor, a touch sensor, and an ultrasonic sensor. The other part of the competition is a 5-minute research presentation on their chosen biomedical engineering topic. Our three oldest boys and six other boys are worked hard to learn the programming software, program the robot, and do their research in time for the qualifying competition in November.
The hard work had a huge payoff. Team Storm System placed 2nd out of almost 40 teams in the research project category! They presented their research on using nanobots to destroy blood clots in the bloodstream to prevent strokes. The judges were very impressed! The 2nd place win means that they will advance to the finals in January!
You can also check out Team Storm System’s website at:

Christine and I just celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary. The boys and I are lucky guys, and are grateful for all she does!
And now, the DELETED SCENES:

  • Whenever The Mad Toddler's brothers or his dad build a track for his trains, The Mad Toddler destroys it. Whenever they build a block tower, he topples it. When his brothers spend hours carefully align a cascade of dominos for a spectacular payoff, The Mad Toddler throws something at it. Whenever you try to color with him, he goes out of his way to scribble all over the exact part you are coloring. He's two, and he drives us crazy! In the letter above, it comes across as endearing, but it's maddening! Christine is not really just joking when she says that all her choir practices are partially just to get away from him for a while.
  • Remember the part about Romeo's "nearly undefeated" soccer team? Guess who was goalie during the streak-breaking game? Yup. Of course it would be wrong to blame the loss on our son, but he's not the strongest goalie, and it was our toughest opponent. It's an amazing tribute to our coach's non-competitive nature that he put him in. His own mother was on the sidelines was shouting "NO! WHY?!" After the coach mercifully took him out, Romeo was devastated, in a fetal position behind the bench, in tears. His team was very sweet and supportive and did their best to make him feel better.
  • The Young Adult was the absolute last scout in his year to earn his first class rank. And he's not entirely to blame. Before moving to our present house, we only went swimming a few times a year, and a few years ago, when we enrolled him in swimming lessons, we forgot to take him. It was his swimming test requirement that held him back.
  • The Young Adult did place 2nd in one and fourth in the other three dances he performed. That part is true. But I didn't mention that his placement rank in each of the four dances also exactly corresponds to the number of dancers in his age group/skill level competing. 2nd place out of 2 and 4th out of four doesn't sound quite as wonderful, does it?
  • 2010 marked two memorable firsts for ArtGuy. His first red-light camera ticket and fine, and the first time the water was shut off due to nonpayment (neglect of bill-paying duties rather than financial hardship, but still a dose of humility.)
  • First Lego League. So much money, so much time, and so little hope. There were many times that the financial investment was the only thing keeping us going. The boys just didn't seem to "get it". They would build something essential to the robot's success, and then absent-mindedly dismantle it to use the parts for something else, and have to re-build it again at the next meeting – a frustrating waste of time when there was so much work to be done! We left out the teammate bickering, personality and age difficulties, the rowdiness and the drywall damage it caused, and the clogged toilets that only happened during lego meetings.
  • Broken promises: Early in 2010, Cookie Boy watched his new digital camera slide down an enormous boulder, bouncing to pieces as it fell down a mountain we were climbing on a boy scout campout. It had been his main birthday present in 2009. He was devastated, and I promised him I would replace it. We have never replaced it. We still mean to, but we haven't done it yet for one reason or another. If there's another Christmas letter next year, I hope to have come through for him by then.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Rose by Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

Unless that rose smelled like dog poo. Then it wouldn't smell sweet AT.... ALL!

I remember being in 4th grade. Overall, it was not my best year. I received my first F on a report card and had a teacher who had no qualms making it known who she liked and disliked. I was not one of her favorites.
Other than that, one of my outstanding memories is of perfume. I remember a teacher walking by, a trail of scrumptious scent in her wake. I soaked it in, savoring the smell. I knew then that I wanted to smell just like that when I was older. Yummy.

What no one tells you is that perfume smells different on different people. Very. Different.

I have an unfortunate body chemistry. It turns almost all scent into the same smell - dog poo. I relayed this information to my mother when I was in college. She did one of those mother-scoffs at me. Until we went to the mall and I sprayed a few perfumes on my wrist for her.

After she stopped gagging, she made me go wash myself off in the bathroom of Dillards.

Apparently, my body only accepts vanilla-based or fruit scents. No floral for me. Or anything else.

ArtGuy got me body lotion for Christmas. He knows my "issue". He chose gingerbread. One of my favorite foods and what should seem like a good choice. But even in the bottle it smells more like the actual spice of ginger than the culmination of ingredients of gingerbread, which should have a more homey, fresh-baked smell. In fact, he got good lotion, not the cheap stuff. He got Philosophy's Gingerbread Girl.
I tried it Christmas morning. ArtGuy and I were a little disappointed in the outcome. But, Christmas morning is always an overload of sights, sounds, and smells. So I gave it another try today.
Here I sit, giving off an odor something like the Church at midnight Christmas mass, with the incense going strong. Not at all the impression I want to give.

Looks like the BFF might be getting a new tube of lotion.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

 On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: installation of cat doors into the laundry room and garage. Now I don't have to smell the cat.....smell. ArtGuy loves me!

Today was an up-and-down kind of day. The house is a mess, and I am very tired. I guess Christmas is catching up to me! A headache and several naps accompanied me through the day.

The Mad Toddler and I did get a walk in this afternoon after the sun came out. It was warm, which was nice. It was good to get the over-stimulated toddler out of the house.

I am starting to feel the itch to get really writing again. Not sure what, but I am ready to write. If the Mad Toddler will leave any of my brain cells intact!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On the Third Day of Christmas

Merry Christmas to all!

Today is December 28, and it is the first day I have been able to rest in weeks on end! It is wonderful!

Round about 1am on Christmas Eve. I was still at Midnight Mass. So, either ArtGuy or Santa took this!
The boys all had a great Christmas. Well, we all did! ArtGuy really surprised me with a Kitchen Aid stand mixer - something I have wanted for years but never thought we would be able to pull off! It is silver and shiny and just begging to be used! I WILL use it, as soon as we can eat our way through some of the food here!

Sigh. Beyond happy!

After Christmas day mass at St. Gabriel's
A rare whole family picture. Even my hair looks tired by this point!
The Mad Toddler's new "I'm cute" face

This year will be known as the Christmas of Excellent Food!
a variety of goodies

We started off on Christmas Eve with a dinner of piggies in a blanket, and our favorite smokehouse mac and cheese.
Smokehouse mac and cheese. Not at all on the Weight Watchers plan!
 Christmas Day was filled with my mom's meatloaf (and this stuff is by far the very best meatloaf I have ever, ever had), my Aunt Mike's Enchilada casserole  (which I have had the recipe for for 13 years, but for some stupid reason have never made), and a variety of other, numerous, delectable foods.
Mom's meatloaf! MmmmMMMMMmmmmm!

The following day gave us tipsy fudge and my Aunt Gladys's Tater Tot casserole, which is comfort food at its finest, and beyond words to describe how yummy it is. Let me put it this way: my Lil' Bro and SIL, Sarah, had just arrived but had recently eaten lunch on the road. They were too full to eat the family meal with us, but just sat at the table to chat. They ended up each consuming, well....I won't say embarrassing portions, but "adequate servings" on top of their recent burger lunch! Yeah - it is that good! And while Aunt Gladys keeps promising to get the recipe to me, I have yet to see it! I think she is holding out on me! No problem - I will just call her up when I want some!
Tipsy fudge. Heaven in my mouth. Seriously.

And then yesterday, my mother took ArtGuy, Lil' Bro, Sarah, and I out for burgers, but the burger place was closed. We ended up at a restaurant called The Library Grill in Sherman, TX. The food....there....was....unbelievable! I had the pork tenderloin with raspberry chipotle sauce and green beans with bacon. I ate every single bite on my plate! Heavenly! (and yes,  I AM blogging about it like the pathetic, desperate housewife I am!)

So you can see why I have named this Christmas the Christmas of Excellent Food!!!!

The Young Adult is off at Boy Scout winter camp. He left the morning after Christmas Day. His momma is sad and can't wait to have him home again! 

The Mad Toddler loves his hat and gloves
cousins enjoy a card game

Friday, December 24, 2010

O Come O Come Emmanuel

Rain pours down on our heads, which is much better than the storm that dumped ice and snow last Christmas Eve. The snow storm struck during mass, and we had a long, scary 30 minute drive home! So, this year's rain is okay!

Thanks to Lisa, my friend and music director, for making sure I have a way to jump from one mass to another without drowning or losing my parking space!

About to head out to help direct the Children's choir at Seton in their pageant, then will get chauffeured across to the 4:30 liturgy to sing! Then home for a few hours, then off to midnight mass at another parish, where we will sing amazing songs tonight!

We enjoyed a delicious lunch of crackers and meat, and cheese. The cheese came to us from ArtGuy's brother in Wisconsin, and is one of our yearly delights!

We let the boys open a gift from their Virginia grandparents this morning. #1 - to help while away the rainy hours and #2 - so they get a chance to really enjoy their grandparents' present before the Christmas gift orgy begins! They got a new video game from Grandma Nan and Grandpa John and another video game from Uncle Steve. They haven't gotten new games in a year, so they are thrilled.
The Mad Toddler got a recycling truck from his grandparents, and he is over the moon! He has had it with him all day.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Twas the Night Before the Night Before the Night Before Christmas

Today was busy with Christmas prep, but really great. ArtGuy has not taken all his time off work for years, and so it tends to roll over every year. This year it has to be used up, or he loses it. So, he is off for 12 days. Yessssssss!
The Mad Toddler showed his daddy his truly stinky side today. It was good to know ArtGuy got to deal with what I get all the time! Usually, the Mad Toddler is an angel for Daddy. Not today!
All the boys are getting squirrely.  The Young Adult and Cookie Boy ganged up on Romeo this evening, and some convoluted story ended with Romeo's shirt being ripped off this body and stolen. ArtGuy was putting the Mad Toddler to bed, and me? I was at choir practice, where I received an emergency cell phone call from Romeo asking for help.
Cookie Boy and the Young Adult have lost video game and computer privileges for tomorrow. Bummer, being break and all. Guess they can just park their rears and watch mom play! Bwah haaah haaaah!

ArtGuy is calling me "church lady" this week. Okay, okay, so I spend a lot of time there. Christmas is my "busy season". Along with every other church musician! 4 masses last weekend and 5 this weekend, split between two churches. I will be ready for a break next week!

Yesterday, it was a record high temperature, hovering around 83 degrees. I loved it, as I knew it was short-lived. We all got outside, which was good, as today was cloudy and cold!

Cookie Boy - notice the SHORTS! In December!

The Mad Toddler loves his Y-bike!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Four more days.


Here in North Central Texas the weather is predicted to be a balmy 80 degrees today - close to a record! We have already been outside riding bikes and playing. It will turn cool again for Christmas, which will be nice. Christmas always feels weird when it is 70 degrees. But for the moment, we are enjoying shorts and sun!

We decorated our tree this past Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Advent.

Every year, ArtGuy and I try to find an answer to the question, "How do we keep from getting too caught up in the commercialism of Christmas?". Personally, Advent is my absolute, hand-down favorite church season. I love the music, the liturgy, the rites, the beauty, the quiet hopefulness, everything. But how to translate it into the home? Well, we have done something a little different every year.

This year was our favorite way of keeping Advent alive, and one we agree is now a family tradition. Way back in Lent, I believe, a fellow homeschooler, Kathi Boor, shared one Advent idea - put the Christmas tree out at the beginning of Advent, but decorate it all in purple (the liturgical Advent color), as long as you can basically stand it.
Advent tree all dressed up in purple!

So, we did! The first Sunday of Advent, right after Thanksgiving, we brought out our pre-lit tree (nothing live and breathing this year!), and plugged it in. Over the next week, the boys made purple decorations and hung them up. We have been able to enjoy the beautiful lit tree every day of Advent, but the absolutely beautiful purple decorations reminded us that we were still preparing for Christmas - not there yet!

Let me tell you - there is little hardship in a gorgeous tree decorated in purple! Not that Advent is about hardship, anyway. All the purple has been a good way to remember.

But this past Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Advent, ALL the decorations came out. There is something moving about pulling off the purple and replacing it with colors and shapes and memories. Very symbolic!
Cookie Boy untangles beads

Romeo assembles the Charlie Brown tree - one of ArtGuy's favs
The Mad Toddler mugs
I love my stinker!
The Young Adult deigned to take part in a family celebration
The Young Adult more enjoys the role of "supervisor"
"Let's take a family photo. How hard can it be?" Snicker....snicker...guffaw!
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!

The baking has begun, the house is in the process of being cleaned, the gifts are being wrapped, and our hearts are lightened as we look forward to the end of the week.
chocolate  and pretzel bark

It does hit me, as I watch tv commercials, that the world has it all backwards! Advent is NOT Christmas, but everyone has been celebrating it for weeks now. So, as soon as Christmas day is over, everyone is kind of sick of the music, the food, the red-and-green. But the Church? Hah! The Church is just getting started! Having waited over four weeks, the Church pulls out all the stops until January 9, when the Baptism of the Lord ends the liturgical season of Christmas and begins Ordinary Time.


There are 4 main food groups - candy, candy cane, candy corn, and maple syrup!
Time for our annual "Elf" viewing party!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Christmas Story

One of the joys have having a little one at Christmas is being able to pass down the Christmas story.

We have several nativity sets. My favorite is a set my roommate from grad school gave to us as a wedding gift 14 years ago. It is lovely, and graces the top of my piano downstairs.

I never thought I would love a nativity set more than the one we had growing up. My mother passed that one on to me last year, for which I am eternally grateful. It resides in my bedroom, where I can see it every night when I go to bed and every morning when I wake up.

Then we have the plush nativity set, perfect for baby hands and toddlers with grabby hands.

A few years ago I purchased an inexpensive set from the dollar store. They are quite breakable, but actually pretty (an additional virtue to their $1-per-piece-price!). This set was for the religious ed classroom where I taught 2nd grade. I firmly believe children need to be able to touch and feel things of faith and things of beauty. Well, you obviously shouldn't hand a priceless artifact to a teething 8-month-old, but an elementary aged child should be able to handle statues and items of faith! Even a two-year-old can be taught to be respectful of a nativity set.....Hopefully!

ArtGuy and the Mad Toddler set up the Cheap Nativity Set this past weekend. Since I no longer teach religious ed in the classroom, we placed it in our schoolroom. While they set it up, ArtGuy explained the nativity story to the Mad Toddler. Several times. It was cute.

"Mary and Joseph traveled a long way"

Baby Jesus appears

patting the three kings
Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and angel, three kings, and... a winged lion?
I cannot really explain the extra toy. It is from an Imaginext set, but ArtGuy and I think it looks like King Moonracer (from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer).  Notice the wings? How do you think the Three Kings got there so quickly? (The Young Adult gave me that line.)
King Moonracer's brother?

There were three other kings that showed up. Why not King Mooonracer, too?

The Mad Toddler retells the nativity story

And that reminded me of Mr. Bean. We love Mr. Bean (the real Mr. Bean, not the stupid American movie version). Please enjoy this version of the nativity story.

I think it rocks.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Fifth Joyful Mystery: the Finding of Jesus in the Temple

When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, 'Son, why have you done this to you? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety?'" Luke 2:48

Mary's heart pounded in her ears, her breath ragged. She knew Jesus was the Son of God and would one day return to Him, but she never expected to lose him so young, so soon.

After a wonderful Passover in Jerusalem, they had been headed home. Joseph had searched the large caravan they were traveling with, sure Jesus was with his friends, or being fed by one of their relatives. After a full day of searching, Mary and Joseph had to face the fact that Jesus was not there. They hastily returned to Jerusalem to begin their search.
He was not at the lodgings, or among their Jerusalem friends and family. The city was crowded, full of people who had celebrated the festival in the holy city. One young boy was hard to find.

Another day, and another.
No Jesus.
Joseph looks tired and worried. On one hand, Mary is calm. God is faithful and has fulfilled all his promises to her. She knows He watches over her and her small family. He will provide. Yet, she feels a little afraid, remembering the sword that will one day pierce her heart.

Entering the Temple, they saw a group of men gathered for teaching. Then they heard the sound of a beloved young voice. They hurried over to the group, and found Jesus at its heart. He looked up, and smiled at the sight of them.

The men turned and began to praise Jesus to his parents, wondering at the depth of understanding. Mary and Joseph politely thank them, but hurry to take Jesus aside.

"Where were you?", Mary cried, pain and longing in her voice.
"Why were you looking for me? Did you not know I must be in my Father's house" he stated with loving concern.

Mary and Joseph did not understand. It was too much. Parenting the Son of God could be overwhelming sometimes.

Jesus returned home to Nazareth with them, and "was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart," (Luke 2:51)


Mary and Joseph knew the fear of not knowing where your child is. Turn around too long, and off he goes! They knew the sorrow of waiting to find him.
Once they did find him, reminded them that he did not belong to them, but to God.

As our children grow, we are also reminded they do not ultimately belong to us. They begin to become more independent. They do not need us as much, so not lean on us as much, so not want us as much. We thought we were tired of baby days and the demands of a small child. Hard as they are, our children loved on us, needed us, and nurtured us. As they gain independence, we must step back a little to allow them to grow more. It is what we want, it is what is right. But, it can hurt sometimes.

Just as Jesus reminded his parents that he belonged to God, so we too need to be mindful that our children belong to God. They are ours to cherish and nurture for so short a time. One day, they will be ready to leave us. We must let them, knowing God watches their every step.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Fourth Joyful Mystery - the Presentation

And his father and mother marveled at what was said about him.  Luke 2:33

Little Jesus was bathed and dressed in fresh baby clothes. He smelled sweet. Mary kissed his damp cheek. Joseph called to his family. It was time to go.
To the Temple, in reverent awe. Every firstborn son was consecrated to the Lord, just as Hannah consecrated Samuel in ancient times. Today was the day for baby Jesus.

Into the Temple now, a busy place of various transactions, yet always filled with an air of holiness. Simeon, an elderly man, came forward. It seemed he has been waiting just for them. Out of a shadow he stepped, smiling, reaching for Jesus.

Simeon held Jesus in his arms, murmuring to him. Suddenly, strength and purpose filled his being. He appeared 20 years younger.
He opened his mouth and began to prophesy. His words told of how Jesus would be a light to the Gentiles and Israel's glory. Mary and Joseph knew that, and yet felt surprise to hear it coming out of a stranger's mouth.
Simeon continued, saying the child will be "set for the fall and the rising of many in Israel."

Then his eyes met Mary's.
"Any you yourself a sword shall pierce."

She knew, had known all along, that somehow her heart would be sacrificed in all this. Mary realized now with cold assurance that her son would somehow, some day suffer, and she would suffer right along with him.

As soon as Simeon finished, Anna the prophetess came forth, praising God. She, too, understood the importance of this child, and rejoiced at his coming.

Mary and Joseph knew who their son was. They believed it firmly, despite the fact it still sounded like a day dream. They were filled with awe once again. A day they thought would be ordinary had turned into something amazing. It seemed that every where they would go with this child would be an adventure!


Raising a child is hard work, but one of the benefits is that we, as parents, see so much worth in our children. We desire others to recognize in our child a uniqueness, a special-ness, a reason for existing.
The world can be a hard place, sometimes cruel. We fear for our children. We fear they will not know they are special, that they are loved beyond measure. So when other people exclaim over our child or praise them, as Simeon and Anna adored Jesus, our hearts are moved. We know our child's worth has been revealed to others.

Also in this mystery, we hear the warning of Simeon to Mary, of the sword that will pierce her heart. Mary will suffer for the sake of her son, in his sufferings. Fathers and mothers suffer when they watch their children suffer. It is a trial of parenthood to know that we are no longer independent in our hearts. Our children whom we have borne, whom we have loved and raised, will know pain, just as we have known pain in our lives. We are usually powerless to stop it.
We cannot shield our children from the Cross. It will come to them, as it comes to all. We know trials can bring us closer to God, but it does not make watching our children suffer an easy thing.

As a parent, a sword will pierce our heart. Of all people, Mary the Mother of God understands this.

The Joyful Mysteries

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Third Joyful Mystery

But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.  Luke 2:19

Mary thought about it all the way to Bethlehem. Joseph and she had dreamed and planned how the child would be born. In the comfort of home, in the love of family and friends.

Then, the decree for the census. The long difficult journey to Bethlehem. There is no comfort riding a donkey when you are ready to give birth.

Bethlehem at last. But still, no rest. There is no room anywhere, no comfort. Suddenly, there is urgent need for shelter.

Finally, a stable. Lonely. Lowly. An odd place for God to appear.

In the deep of the night, the babe is born.  Mary holds him in her arms, feels his specialness. Joseph has his turn, as well, marveling at the tiny baby - His King.

A few hours of rest, and shepherds arrive. Shy, unsure, they tell their marvelous tale. Angels, songs of glory. "Holy, holy" fills the night time sky.
God is revealed to two simple parents, a few animals, lowly shepherds, and sheep.


After months of waiting, their baby has arrived. Not in the way they first envisioned, but in the way God planned. Like many parents before and since them, Mary and Joseph had to seriously rethink their birth plan!

Mary and Joseph are in awe of life itself. the tiny child, who has been living in his mother's womb, is now present and visible to all. Jesus's first visitors were not family or friends, but strangers. They came not to a hospital or birthing center, but a stable. The child lay not in a crib with flannel blankets, but a manger filled with hay.
Mary kept all these things and thought on them in her heart. Parents do that. They relive the moment of their child's entry into their life. It is always a drama. It is always miraculous. Parents reflect on this time as their child grows, pondering the meaning of this child in their lives. Every birth is a nativity. Every child is a miracle.

The Joyful Mysteries

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Coaching Experience

So, I have never quite understood the whole coaching thing. Sure, I get people that coach for a living. I even get people who coach because they are really good at something or have a ton of knowledge and experience (like my Little Bro and baseball).

a coaching moment

I never saw myself as coach of anything.

So, how did I come to be coach of a First Lego League team?

First Lego League (FLL) is an organization I have been aware of and looking at for a couple of years, with interest. Then, over the last year, our homeschool coop kept trying to have a class with robots or Lego Mindstorms, and it never panned out. So, I began to look at this whole First Lego League thing again. Just for kicks, this past summer, I put out a few email feeders to gauge interest. I had over 15 responses in 24 hours!
Without looking into it too closely, I decided to go ahead and assemble a team. A friend, Kerry, volunteered to co-coach. Another friend, Kenneth, started out as a programming mentor, but has essentially become a third coach!
Boy, did we not know what we were getting into!
This thing has taken over a good chunk of our lives. It didn't start that way, but as the season progressed, it required more and more of our time.

how I felt after one meeting!

We started with 10 boys, who decided to call themselves Storm System. It dropped to 9 boys half-way through the season.
If you do not know what First Lego League is about, you can visit our team website at

one meeting moment captured

 The boys have been through a myriad of emotions over the past 4 months - mostly involving frustration! The robot game is...challenging, to say the least! In addition, the boys had to research a problem on this year's topic (biomedical engineering), and put together a 5 minute creative, but informative, presentation. There were many, many details they had to include.

Some practices felt like we were dragging through mud. WE could not do the work for them. WE could not give them answers or tell them how they should do something. All we, the coaches, could do was watch, suggest, nudge, prompt, and mostly - herd them!
There were many, many teamwork issues. Nine boys ages 8-almost 14? First, that is a lot of boys in one group. Secondly, they are all spread out developmentally. It caused a lot of friction.

There were times this season I wanted to cry, There were times, after meetings, I DID cry. I felt like a failure, not being able to get this team to work together.

Coach Kerry and I with last minute instructions

We went to competition this past Saturday. An amazing thing had been happening the last few meetings. The boys finally started to come together and work as a team. On Game Day, we saw them excited and nervous. We spent most of the day in a gym, with 27 other teams. We watched our boys laugh, play with one another, make a ton of new friends, and travel around to visit other teams and learn from them. We saw our team share their materials with a neighboring team, and sit and work together.

sharing ideas with a neighboring team

When it came time to do the research presentation, we went with them to the room. Only our team went in, to face a panel of 3 judges. Kerry and I sat outside and peeked and nervously paced and talked.
They came out, exhausted, but happy.

Peeking into the presentation room

The team did well in the robot game. They would never win, but they did better than we thought they would.
robot game set-up

Then, after lunch, we found out we had received a call-back. The judges were going to re-hear 8 out of 28 research projects again. Only this time the boys would face 7 judges.
Now they knew they were in the running, our team vacillated between nerves and excitement.
We accompanied them to yet another classroom. We waited again, for a much longer time. When they came out, they smiled, but looked exhausted. They all collapsed on a big seating area in the hallway and asked if we would stay there a few minutes.
This is one of the moments of this day I will remember the most.
In the quiet of those moments, the boys lay, dazed and wiped out, sharing a few quiet moments with their coaches. All that time we had spent together - all those hours of work, research, learning, laughing, yelling, griping, practicing, growing....we had all gone through it together. No one could understand us as well as we could understand each other. It was indescribably precious to me.

The moment passed, and we moved on. The boys faces more judges, more tests, more scoring.
facing a panel of teamwork judges

In the end, they won 2nd place in the research project, and a spot in the Championships on January 29. We thought our season was over, but we still have seven more weeks!

I am sure there will be more hair-pulling, more sighs, more wanting-to-knock-their-heads-together, more of what ArtGuy calls my "Come to Jesus" moments - when I lecture the heck out of them. But there will also be more laughter, more learning, more growing, and more fun. And we will do it all knowing that we stood together as a team and passed the test of togetherness.

And now I understand why people coach. It is a thrill and a high unlike anything I have ever experienced. Not the winning  - that was icing on the cake.
It was seeing a group who struggled for weeks finally come together. It was feeling like a family, even if just for a moment. It was the unexpected realization that I have been forming a unique relationship to each team member. I have taught most of them at one time or another. We know each other as teacher/student or friend's mom/son's friends. But this....this is a new relationship. Coach/team.

It was....amazing!