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We have been discussing Mardi Gras themes for this year since before Mardi Gras last year.  Let's just say that 'Masquerade' didn't impress everyone.

You can't win 'em all.

Anyway, Philip just up and decided that Super Heroes would be the theme.  I lobbied for Black and White while Susan requested anything without masks.

It wasn't until the Friday before that we made the decision.  Going back and forth, I finally read ideas aloud from an online list.  When Time Traveler was said, Jac announced that was it and it was.

And, glory be!, wouldn't you know we had everything we needed right under our roof?  Actually, the eldest 4 kids largely decided and found their costumes on their own (Tess needed some help with the decision). I whipped up Lucy's get up around 2 pm on Tuesday and followed that up with my own garb.

We live on the edge, people.  ON THE EDGE.

Our crew ended up including Max the Ninja, Philip the Celtic Warrior, Tess the traditional Mexican, Ellie the Native American, Gemma the Norwegian Princess and Lu the pint-sized Puritan.

Okay, so Gemma actually wanted to be a cowgirl but we couldn't find her boots or a shirt and really, she was happier in her Elsa dress anyway.  Ellie was excited that she "went with" Lu AND Jac.

Oh, yes.  Jac was a Cowboy and I was a Viking woman.

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A Viking woman complete with a spoon on my belt because my ancestors were prepared.  I'm totally claiming it.

Our guests arrived in high style, too. We had a Thyme Traveler (who doesn't love punny friends?!), an 80's rocker, a 50's sock hopper, a 40's lady (and fedora), a classic Larry Byrd, and Marty, Jennifer, and the Flux Capacitor from Back to the Future.

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So great!

The Valle's brought Hurricanes for the adults and the whipped cream and syrup flowed. At one point Gemma requested straight Nutella smeared on her plate so she could eat it.  Being Fat Tuesday, who were we to deny her?

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After the kids were put to bed, we queued up Back to the Future because- brace yourself - Bridget had never seen it.

I know, I know. We rectified that right quick because, Hello, McFly!

"I'm so glad we did this!" Bridget said as she left.

I heartily agreed.  Here's looking forward to Mardi Gras 2016!

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We mardi gras-ed it up right last night.  Things were loud and sticky and just about perfect.

Yes, I thought, this Lent will be great!

Cue rueful laughter here . . .

Again we keep this solemn fast
A gift of faith from ages past,
This Lent which binds us lovingly
To faith and hope and charity.

New year resolutions?  All well and good and I appreciate the sentiment but for real, hard core change?  Serve me up a Lenten list any day.  It was with this attitude and so very many shiny, promising fasts and observances that I went to bed last night.

I awoke this morning to screaming. Screaming and a headache, to be exact, and within 30 seconds those high hopes were trashed.  Why, Lord? Why did I think that 10 hrs and a plan would somehow change who this family is?

Kids still fight.  Feelings still get hurt.  Insecurities still grow.

Let us avoid each harmful way
That lures the careless mind astray;
By watchful prayer our spirits free
From scheming of the Enemy.

I was ready to throw in the towel before I even rolled out of bed.  It's too hard, it isn't worth it, I don't want to! all played on repeat.  From somewhere God whispered, "My power is made perfect in your weakness."

Fine.

And so it begins.  The walls are bare, but our foreheads are not.  We are still working on our lists, remembering that this time is to strip away the things that distract and keep us from God.  It's bare-bones season, baby.  Let's not waste it!

We pray, O blessed Three in One,
Our God while endless ages run,
That this, our Lent of forty days,
May bring us growth and give you praise.

*Hymn: Again We Keep This Solemn Fast.  It was a fight, of course, this morning over which Lenten song would be sung for morning prayer as everyone has their favorite. (It's true.) Tess won out with this one which is darn close to the top of the list for me, too.  The text is ascribed to St. Gregory the Great - it makes my heart glad to sing these words of his.  There's a reason why he bears the distinction of "the Great"!

**Also, no photo today because the only picture I took was of a very full toilet.  It was that kind of day. You can thank me later for sparing you.

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Today was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  It rolled off of a night of fitful sleep full of teeth grinding which was proceeded by an argument with my beloved that had been rearing it's ugly head for days.  Before that was an evening that didn't go as planned on the heels of a week of much of the same.  In fact, trying to find the genesis of this particularly crummy date on the calendar had me traces it's start to some where in January.

Yuck.

Jac found me hiding at lunch time, meeting my crazy eyes with a smile.  "There's always tomorrow!" he reminded me.

I know.  Oh, I know.

I wish I could pin point the issue (Issues?  Lord, help us . . .) but I think it's a combination of things.  Too much to do and too little time to do it.  Too many nights spent scattered to the 4 winds.  Not enough reading.  Not enough praying.  Too much technology and not enough eye contact.  Plus, the weather has been lovely - most of the time - but we know in our heart of hearts that there is March to endure and so we can't revel.  Or at least I can't.

And really?  The devil is throwing punches and hitting us in the soft spots.  Because I'm tired, I stand there and take it, growing dizzy and sick at heart. I feel the strain of my back against the ropes and don't even flinch when the jabs come.

I hate that guy.

This afternoon, after a failed nap, I took Gemma to Boyd's. Jac had returned from the Chapel craving a Twix and caffeine so Gem and I went in search.  She chatted happily all the way there and stood in wonder before the shiny, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate.  She was eager to help and carrying the wallet and king-sized candy bar filled her with importance.

I soaked it in.

I forget nearly every moment the gravitas of my role as wife and mother.  I mean, I know, but I don't KNOW know. I get bogged down in the have-tos and shoulds and ought-tos and pass right by the get-tos.  I let the Enemy in and hand over the joys then mope in the corner. For what?

We made our purchases and walked into the sunshine.

"Mama!" Gemma yelled.  "It is SO nice out here!  I like the sun even when it's bright.  I missed it when I was inside.  Because," here she clicked her tongue in this adorable way that she has while she wrinkled her nose and shook her head, "the sun is not inside.  No it is not.  It is out outside!" With that she ran to the car.

And I think that's it.  The answer to everything.  The going, the doing, the forfeitted joy, it's from dwelling too much on the inside.  Our eyes - all of us - have been focused in when they are meant for the LIght.  The Son is outside, in the other, far from selfishness and self-pity.

This evening was still hard.  But I watched the sun set and asked that the sun would shine again tomorrow.  That I wouldn't squander the light.  That we would celebrate every joy and look out instead of in.  Because that Gemma kid, well, she's onto something.

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Tess and Ellie, laughing riotously, ran down the hall on Sunday.

"Good thing they're washable markers otherwise we'd look pretty silly for mass!" they shouted.

Their faces bore elaborate mustaches and goatees, all penned with colorful Crayola markers.

Why?, I ask you.  WHY???

I don't know what compelled them and I can't begin to guess.  At any rate, we chuckled nervously and advised them that removal of said facial adornments was probably best sooner rather than later. Thankfully, they took the advise but not before trying some rainbow themed 'staches.

I shouldn't have been surprised then, I really shouldn't, when Gemma turned around from her "coloring" this afternoon with a kaleidoscopic face.  Her siblings hooted and chastised and her pride melted into tears.  I assured her that she was fine, though I wasn't a huge fan of the activity in general.

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A short time later I found her busy in the bathroom with sodden toilet paper piled around her.  She took care of things though I will say she was greatly aided by a real wash-cloth.

Again with the surprise tonight when she took a ball point pen to her doll's face.  The other events her siblings found laughable but the doll was a serious offense.  Wipes, soap, Norwex- they fades the marks but I'm sure they're now tattoos.  And Gemma?  Well, I think she finds them an improvement.

Fingers crossed she got it out of her system but I'm rounding up the Sharpies just in case.

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After prayer at lunch Max tacked on at the end, "And thank you that we got all ITs done before lunch!"  Yes, thank ya Jesus that we got them done before lunch - served at 1 today to accomodate, but who cares?- we survived!  The house on the other hand . . .

Last night I was perusing Pinterest how I do and saw a pin Lacey had found.  It was an idea to let little ones paint water color on ice. One of those, Who thinks of this stuff/Why didn't I think of that? projects.  It was a good idea.  A REALLY good idea.  I prepped for sleep and had even tucked myself in but couldn't get the idea out of my mind.  Gemma would love it.  It'd be a good diversion from the Cheerio/Fruit Loop/Apple Jack necklace stringing that is her usual request.  I got up, found a plastic container and prepared for an IT after midnight.

I did feel as accomplished and on top of it as I had imagined I would when I woke up this morning.

The kids all queued up for their times this morning with Gemma clarifying over and over and OVER that she would indeed get an IT.  I finally told her that I had a special project for her which upped the anticipation by 50%.  When I finally put the ice and the paint on the tray, she was hopping with excitement.

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She wasn't the only one.

"Wait, what?" Tess attempted to understand.  Soon everyone gathered around to check it out.  She took to it quickly and with a lot of concentration.

We flipped the ice over a few times.

We even made prints.

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After 15 minutes or so, she decided she was done but she didn't want anyone else to touch it.  She returned after a while, making it a mixed media project.

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We will see if this will be the expected activity from here on out.  The original idea is here. Thanks, Lace, for the heads up!

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Last spring it dawned on us that the kids hadn't been to a wedding in a really long time.  Here we are, photographing weddings, scheming weddings (young adults, I'M LOOKING AT YOU), writing marriage prep retreats and yet our kids can't remember having attended a Catholic wedding.

Tess and Ellie speculated about what happens during the sacrament and how.  The tended to speak in weeping generalizations and asked if Father was the one who told people what to wear. It was troubling.

Then, Andy and Ceci booked us for the wedding.  Much to his delight, they asked Max to serve.  "We have someone else to do the reception, so we'd like you to just come and enjoy it since you probably don't get to do that very often. We'd like the whole family to be there!" They said it at the table in front of everyone and there was so much excitement that we said yes on the spot.  How we would manage it thought was another matter.

Then Chelsey and Allie were coming!  I asked the mother of the groom if we could add a couple of guests.  "Of course!" Was the reply.  "The more the merrier!"

And so our girls were on countdown.  Come December "Andy and Ceci's WEDDING!" made the top 5 list of things they talked about.  Seeing the Hanson family at Christmas Mass and visiting with the siblings added fresh fuel to the fire.  It was Max who announced excitedly that the groom's siblings had said his Christmas outfit was "perfect" for the weddings "Because they said Ceci chose poinsettia red.  So I'm going to wear this to the wedding.  I'm so glad I match." he ended with a relieved sigh.

We've done a lot of weddings and have seen a lot of things.  But this one was special.  Yes, it was beautiful and of course the family was fun, (I speak of them like they're strangers - they're dear, dear friends and a huge blessing to us) but there was something else.  The stress level was low and everyone enjoyed each other but at the heart was a bride and a groom who appreciated the sanctity of their vows and took great joy, not just in each other, but in the generations before them that made it all possible.  They were delighted to be uniting finally and were so happy to have everyone there.

I'm not doing it justice.  It was amazing.

I wish I could've watched our girls take it in.  It was a bitter cold day and getting this herd of cats dressed and into a car was tricky.  They arrived after the procession in and Chelsey said Tess was concerned they'd missed the vows and she didn't want that.  Afterwards, we waited to greet the bride and groom and their parent's.  Jumbled up with the Hofers, Langs and Kinyons, the kids drifted back and forth.  Gemma found me and pulling on my skirts, asked to see Mary.  "Okay," I said, "She's right there." and I directed her towards Mary Kinyon, a babysitter.  "No!"  Gemma frowned.  "I want to go see Mary in the white dress and 'bail'."

Now, cut this Catholic mom some slack.  I have a daughter that wears a chapel veil to every Mass we attend.  We talk about sisters veils.  A Mary in a veil must obviously mean a statue of Our Lady, right?  I racked my brain where Gem might have seen a statue of our Lady of Lourdes. "I don't know what you're talking about." I told her and went back to visiting.

But Gemma was persistent.  By the time Jac and I made it to the reception, she was wandering free, sucking on honey sticks and lingering by the drink stations.  She kept asking for Mary though, all through dinner, the toasts and the first dances.  When the dance had started in earnest, we took to the floor with her but she wouldn't stop asking for Mary so we kept pawning her off on Mary Kinyon.  Time and again, Gem found her way back.  Finally, she sat on my lap.

"Mama," she stared earnestly into my eyes, "I want to dance with Mary in the white dress and 'bail.'" "I know, lovey, but I don't know who you mean.  Mary can't dance with you." "Yes, she can."  she insisted.  "Okay, then go find her." "She's right there, mama.  Right there's Joseph and Mary." She pointed over my shoulder and I turned to see the bride and groom, beaming and lovely, visiting with guests.

Gemma was visibly relieved when I finally got it.

I relayed the story to Jac and then to Chelsey and Allie who said she had spent the morning asking for Mary in the white dress and 'bail.' Jac held her hand and took her to see Ceci and Andy.  This mama's heart welled right up to see them bend down to speak to her and take her in.

She refused to go with them to the dance floor.

Before long, though, she was asking to dance with Mary so we found Ceci and she and her Groom made Gemma's night.

Gemma glowed.

As we made our exit, the bride's parent's caught us to thank us.  We thanked them in return for a great day and congratulated them on a beautiful daughter and a catch in their new son in law.  They brought up the kids and paid compliments but when we related the story, laughing, of Gemma and Mary and Joseph, the bride's mom teared up.

"Oh, thank you for telling us! You don't understand.  This afternoon the boys prayed in their room.  Marcus [her son] prayed that they would always reflect the love of the Holy Family and, your little girl saw it!"

Andy and Ceci, thank you for the invitation and witness of love.  Praying for many years full of God's blessings and a love that is like St. Joseph and Mary's .

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Jac texted me at 7:58 this morning.

"Wanna shower while things are quiet?"

That's how we do love up in here- texts sent from 12 feet away.

By the time towel was in hand, there were 3 different Daniel ladies screaming and I considered joining them.  There was just so much to do and I didn't want to handle it.

But I did because that's what virtue is - doing the right thing even when it's hard.  I could have been more joyful and thankfully there is always tomorrow.  Always . . .

I made Jac breakfast while we snapped at each other.  Oh, how quickly charity slips away!  The stress multiplied like the winding of a spring, turning and turning with each misunderstood word and little girl yell.  The dishes piled in the sink and it wasn't yet 9 o'clock.  The kids chased each other and asked too many times for too many things while Monday careened through it all barking and jumping, simultaneously adding to and attempting to contain the chaos. I willed myself to take it in.

LIFE.  I am PRO-LIFE.

And not just this one- this beautiful, messy, crazy-blessed life- but ALL life.  Because EVERY life matters.

Every.

Single.

One.

We've got to-do lists miles long and we will be away from the kids all weekend and next week is just as busy.  A dear family lost their patriarch today and the car is acting up again and FOR-THE-LOVE-OF-PETE-WHY-CAN'T-THE-YOUNG-ADULTS-GET-THEIR-POOP-IN-A-GROUP?!?! All those things feel heavy but that's not why we slogged through today. No, the weight on our hearts and souls was the weight of 57,557,364 abortions since Roe vs. Wade passed this day in 1973.

Every life matters.

We forget.  We grow complacent.  We turn in and tune out and ignore the weight.

I know there's no easy answer to a culture that says women are strong and no different than men but glorifies our bits and pieces.  I shake my fists at a world that sends all sorts of mixed messages to men AND women and then puts us in a box, shakes us up and expects us to turn out all right. If the world were at my table, I'd say it's crap (though maybe not so nicely) and to knock it off.  Quit hiding behind things and get to the heart of the matter. Alas. . .

Instead, I hold the weight of those lost lives.  I share it with the kids and ask them to heft it.  We talk about pain and sin and hurt and heartbreak.  We pray for mamas in tough spots and pray, pray, pray for people - ALL people - to be virtuous and make good decisions even when it's hard. And I remind them that every life matters.

Every single one.

*500,000 people marched for life in Washington today.  We knew some but cheered for them all.  Every life matters, people.  Every single one.*

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A darn cute baby garners all sorts of advice for brand new parents.  Things you must do - breastfeed!  introduce a bottle early!  pick them up!  let them cry it out! - and things you mustn't - cosleep! use a pacifier! hold them too much! let them cry! It's overwhelming and comforting all at once.

And then there are the things no one mentions.  The things everyone knows and winks about when the mom-to-be gets teary eyed at the prospect of full diapers or the new mom weeps about no sleep or the one-year-old mom complains about tantrums.  Oh, yes, they wink in silent code because it will get so much worse.

The things they don't talk about, well, you just can't believe it until you go through it.  And one of those things is the bathroom. *shudder!* The bathroom! And I am telling you, once you have a child, the bathroom is never the same. The reasons for this are many and sundry but the most pressing is this:

You are never alone.

I've waxed poetic on this before, however the happenings of this evening leave me conflicted.  I attempted (and let's be real, every time I go to the bathroom I attempt to be alone) a solo trip.  Then there was a tiny knock followed by a not-so-tiny, "Mama!"

"Mom-mom-mom!" Lucy chirped and then waited, listening.

I'm telling you, I almost cried.

Because she too had found me?  Yes, and no.  None of the children ever learned my name so early.  Dad?  Sure!  Food?  Yes!  But Mom? Never. And here she was, my babe, calling me by name.

"How can I help you?" I sang back to her.

"Mmm . . . Daaa-yessth, Ma!"

I have no idea what she meant but it was clear we were in conversation.  And it was the cutest darn thing I saw all week.  I'm going to enjoy it's charm until it wears right out and then I'm going to remember to tell every mom I know, new or not.

Some days I feel like a professional mom.  'Professional' in that I've seen that problem, can answer that question , I am one step ahead of the game.

Other days I decide to wear dark jeans with a runny-nosed toddler in the house and I am reminded I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING.

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We learned a song when Max was a baby while watching Nic Jr.

We were ridiculous parents.  

God bless the t.v. for introducing us to Laurie Berkner and her music stylings!  Back to the song . ..

It is a catchy little tune that goes something like this:

"My mom has a lion on her head,
My mom has a lion on her head,
My mom has a lion on her head
Aaaaand she keeps it there all day!
What does a lion say??"

There are several verses and they all end with the making of the named animal sound.  When we found it and called it our own, we didn't stop with animals.  Anything that could be placed on the head was sung about and each kid has learned it in turn.

Tess has got some chonies on her head . . . Philip has a bowl on his head . . . Ellie has some spaghetti on her head . . . 

That is to say that EVERYONE knows it.

The other day, I was getting Lu dressed for the day.  That girl . . . she is the wiggliest and fastest bare booty we've had yet.  She also really likes to adorn herself so we get some fun combos.  The morning in question, she flipped over, sat up and tried to put the folded diaper around her neck.  We laughed and I stuck the velcro together and made her a bonnet.

"Lucy has a diaper on her head,
Lucy has a diaper on her head,
Lucy has a diaper on her head
Aaaaaaand she keeps it there all day!
What does a diaper say??"

From the next room, I heard Gemma answer in song, "Poop! Poop! Poop, poop, poop!" Best. Song. Ever.

 

*In related news, Gemma and I have deep and profound conversations in her corner office while she conducts her business. "I don't like poop in my mouth.  It's not for eating." was her insight this week.  I didn't argue.