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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.

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I am a rule follower through and through so it makes sense that (for the most part . . . ) my children are legalistic about traditions.  This is how things like Mardi Gras, Extravaganzas, The Aminal Tree, and the like have been born.  I happen to do something once that seems like fun then they hammer it down as an ALWAYS and EVER thing.

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I like it, I really do . . .

So it is with The Christmas Jammies.  We've always done new jammies for Christmas Eve because, well, my family did that when I was growing up as did my mom's family before that.  It's tradition! It happened by accident the year that Gemma was born that my hormone fueled mind thought that homemade jammies would be a good idea/cheaper.  I didn't mean for it to become a THING . . .

I never quite got my act in gear this year.  There was no excuse (could the stress of a new engine for the 'burb and assorted dramatic relationships count?), I just didn't get things together.  I did pray through advent- which was very, very good - but the tub for all the decorations never went downstairs and the rocking chair didn't move either, we just tripped over it every day.  We schooled and made things and cookies and even got our shopping done early.  However, the wrapping, which happens to be one of my most favorite things in the world, REALLY!, I didn't start until 2 am Christmas Eve night.   I just struggled.

So it was with dread rather than with joy that I overheard my children in the weeks leading up to Christmas that we open our gifts on Christmas except for one present on Christmas Eve, which is ALWAYS jammies.  And not just any jammies, but "the best jammies in the world because our mom makes them."

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Ugh.

I told myself that Mama Syd would say to look at the positives: they love the tradition and they love my jammies.  I'm not so good at the bright side though.

Last year I was sewing as we walked out the door to Mass on the 24th.  I didn't want to do that again so I vowed I'd have them done before Christmas Eve.  They were complete at 3:30 am on the 24th but since I didn't go to bed on the 23rd, I'm calling it as keeping my promise.

Earlier in the day I had worked on an 'Anna from Fwozen' cape for Gem because she had spent the summer and fall with a fleece blanket tied around her neck. I had set out on THAT adventure in high spirits but picking stitches out of fleece is soul crushing and it sucked up a good chunk of the day. (That pattern is here. All mistakes were mine as it was very well done.) I was rather bleary eyed and shot when we gathered to pray with the kids before bedtime.

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"Lord, we pray for Annie and her sewing tonight.  Give her the energy she needs, a clear mind, and help her not to make any mistakes." Jac pleaded for me. At that point I was rather incredulous that anything could go right, but we all said a rousing, "Lord, hear our prayer!" anyway and sent the troops to bed.

I count it as a bonafide miracle that I began sewing 6 jammies at 10:00 pm and did not make a single mistake.  Not a single stitch was ripped, hallelujah, thank you sweet baby Jesus! (Let me know if you have intentions you'd like Jac to pray over because seriously.)

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The kids were pleased with them and they fit much to my relief.  When I bought the flannel, I didn't think twice about making a Von Trapp Family set but the guy at the fabric store seemed doubtful.  "A whole matching set, hmmm?  What ages?" I told him and then informed him I'd do it until they wouldn't let me any more and I figured it gave them good fodder for their therapy later.

Yes, I did!

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Anyway, for the boys, I drafted my own pattern for their pants from their measurements and current pants.  For the girls, I used this pattern for the base and then embellished from my own mind.  I used t-shirts and skirts from my stash and again thanked the Lord that I was able to sew knits without swearing or crying.

Shoot, reading this, it almost sounds like I had fun!

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You know who did not have fun?  Gemma.  Gemma hated the jammies (still does) because they aren't 'Fwozen' or 'from Mama Syd' or her 'warm ones.'  Really, it's fine that she doesn't like them.  It keeps the tradition of naming the jammies alive. '2014- The Year Gemma Hated.'

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*For those of you with RS feeds - hello 8 readers! - I posted about 2014 All Saints Day costumes today, too.  I placed it in October where it should have gone because, Lord knows, next year or a few down the road, someone will want to remember what it was like and we won't remember and we will come here expecting to find it.  And now we can.  It's here if you want to check it out.

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Bridget Trask and I have had long and serious (and sometimes not so serious) talks about beauty.  About the frailty of it all, the longing for, the desire to be.  We've shared how we'vewrestled with it, been caught up in it, can't begin to understand it.  We do this because beauty is written into our genetic code just as surely as our mom hips and roller-coaster emotions. We do it, too, with a growing sense of panic and fear because being the moms of girls is hard.

We agree that we want our girls to be healthy and love themselves.  But what do you do when your 6 year old says when she grows up she will dye her hair "yellow and finally be pretty"? We want them to know true beauty , to know we see it in themselves, and to encourage their understanding and expression of it.  We know we want to be ahead of the curve when it comes to outward beauty and the questions that are sure to (or already have!) come.

The difficulty comes in not knowing how to REALLY do it.

I struggle with my own identity and self image most of the time.  "Pretty" and "beautiful" are not words that pass my pale and chapped lips when describing myself.  It's rough on my psyche, my marriage, and certainly my kids.  Me and Jesus, we're working on rewriting my story but chiseling out what seems written in stone is a long and arduous process. And while the work is difficult, some things are worth the effort.

The point is, I'm working on it.  I know that wearing lipstick won't make me see myself as beautiful, but it might help.  Therefor I've resolved in 2015 to figure out how to apply it.  This fall, too many clandestine meetings with Gemma rendered my nice Mary Kay brushes and compact trash-bound.  Jac gave me different tools for Christmas and while I am intimidated, I am trying to use them every day.  It may help my self image, it does help my marriage (to take time for myself.  Settle down, feminists!), and certainly helps my girls to watch me in the mirror.

And, as expected, my girls have helped themselves, too.  Under lock and key, it doesn't matter, they will find a way to get at my things.  Tess told me with bright lips and wide eyes that she was cleaning the bathroom and the lipstain just 'happened' to fall from the top shelf, causing the lid to fall down the drain.  Was there another version to that series of events? I wondered.  She spilled in the end but the cap was washed pass the bend in the pipe and gone.

My sanity almost went with it today when I held my new eye shadow brush in my hand and contemplated if I should wash it.  It's new, so do I not mess with it?  Is it dry enough to dry it out without incident?  Oh, what the heck, I thought, and began to wipe the bristles on a tissue.

Pink?  Why were there streaks of pink? What in the name of sparkle?!?!

The bristles clung together.  Ironically, so did my eyelids.  Yes, oh yes!, Gemma had used the big fluffy brush to apply her 'lip-tick.'  "I put it back, though, Mama. I put back your makeup."

I washed the brush.  I tried to tame my second-day hair.  And I wore my sticky eyelids because some things just aren't worth the effort.

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We sat in a beautifully decorated Cathedral today for First Friday Mass today and I felt a pang. The poinsettias were just so full, the lights on the trees were so twinkly, and 'O Come All Ye Faithful' sung in Latin gets me every stinking time.

Adeste fideles, laeti, triumphantes,
Venite, venite in Bethlehem.
Natum videte, Regem angelorum.
Venite adoremus, venite adoremus,
venite adoremus Dominum.

Yes, it's the 9th of January but we're still swilling straight up from the Christmas Cup.  Our lights are on, the tree still stands, and tinsel clings to our socks.  Our neighbors probably think we're crazy and that's pretty accurate.  There is not 1 or 2 or even 3 baby Jesus' up in here but FOUR to keep track of.

I made a futile attempt to tidy the living room, returning stray straw to an empty manger.  It's one thing to do it in preparation for the king but another thing entirely when he has already arrived and just won't stay put.

"Really, Lord," I lamented, "Mary and Joseph couldn't keep up with ONE child Jesus.  How am I supposed to handle four?"

I found Jesus face down under the tree.

It's a matter of course that this should happen.  We have 4 girls, 2 of which are technically toddlers.  Baby Jesus and his little manger are just their size and are right down where they can reach them.  Lucy, before she even began to plunder stockings, had found the babe, stripped him of his swaddling clothes and cradled him, patted him and hauled him around.  And so it continues.

Often though, they've pulled baby Jesus from his bed and, becoming distracted, lay him down and forget he was ever  with them.  Or they move him aside to make room in the manger for other things they deem important. It would drive me to madness (okay, sometimes it DOES) if it weren't for the fact that this is repeatedly the state of my heart.

How often do I haul Jesus out with me only to forget where I left him.  Or cram so many other things into the bed of my heart that there is, alas, no room even there for him.

There was the pang.

I love Christmas.  I love it for it's beauty and wonder and gift.  But I'm anxious for a clean slate and for a new start.  I'm itching for the storage boxes, coveting the space taken up by the tree.  This year, though, I'm excited for the chance to 'live Christmas the whole year through.' To not keep Jesus in the manger, but to tuck him into the crook of my arm and bring him where I go.  To make sure that the manger of my heart stays filled with good, clean thoughts and free of anything else that would make less room for the king of kings.  Yes, I want a new start, but glory be!  That tiny babe was all the fresh start I'll ever need.

Venite adoremus indeed.

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"Are you going to put us on your blog?" Allie asked.

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If you insist...

Sometime in the fall Chelsey wanted to know what the weeks after Christmas looked like for us.  Days later a text came with a screen shot of her ticket info. "Surprise!" she wrote.

The angels sang!

A week later a text came from Allie:

"Am I allowed to come with Chelsey?"

"Whether you are allowed to come is up to your parents but our door is always open to you!" I sent back. There was a pause.

"Guess what?!  I can come!" she sent back.

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The angels sang again! It was the greatest Christmas gift.

And so we celebrated the great feast, took a day to rest and then began our frantic, frenzied countdown to the girls arrival. Then the night before, the reality of traveling in the midwest/west/wherever-it-is-that-Denver-is struck.  Flights canceled, delayed, rearranged.  Arrival times pushed and pushed and pushed.  Have you ever tried to explain to a child that YOU DON'T KNOW! when a plane will land?  Ugh.  Looking into schooling options now because the kids lost all trust in my knowledge that day.

Late on the 30th, in subzero temps, they arrived.  Thanks be to God! They were here buuut . . .Allie's bag wasn't.

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We spent the 31st catching up and resting and checking emails and websites and call centers for the missing luggage.  That night, Luke came and we ate way too much sugar and played minute to win it games and learned about the dangers of Trivia Crack on our phones.  We rang in the new year with the Wyeth's (as is the way God intended New Years to be!), saying hello to 2015 with satisfied hearts.

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Looking back on our week (a glorious, glorious WEEK!) I'm sad we didn't do anything too exciting.  It's hard to do exciting when it's below zero in a tourist town that closes for the winter. We did attend Mass 3 times, a wedding rehearsal dinner (with tamales!  In South Dakota! "This is my Christmas Tamale!" Allie declared.  These were followed by homemade ice-cream!) and a wedding.

IMG_8425.JPGMonday we all needed to bust out of the house so we loaded up the kids in the rain (it cannot be said that SoDak weather isn't exciting!) and headed south to Custer.  We were in search of Buffalo or Wild Donkeys (they exist!) and found sunshine and porta-potties.  Lesson learned: porta potties in the cold aren't so bad!  We listened to fighting, bickering kids over nap time and declared that they needed to pull it together because, and I quote, "We are on a freaking adventure!!!!"  Gooooood times.

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We saw a mama buffalo and a calf and got close enough to make Allie nervous (in the car, of course). We saw deer and antelope and wild turkey tracks.  We turned the 4 wheel drive on and back off and on again and headed back into the hills and the falling snow and passed Mt. Rushmore.  Adventure, indeed!

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Those girls . . . They watched the crew and cleaned the kitchen, brushed the girls hair and remembered to apply lotion to Gemma when she got itchy.  They got the inside track on the days of our lives, held council around the table, and got into towel/water fights with Jac.  And together we crocheted and painted nails and laughed and made plans and stayed up way too late way too many times.

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It is hard living far away from some of our family and friends and when we visit there or they come here, it never seems long enough.  But the beauty in the visits is the distilled, purposeful nature.  We can't waste time or we make a plan to do just that.  And it is always so very, very good.

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We packed them up yesterday, putting on brave faces and pretending to be cheerful.  We bundled up good against the cold of a crystal clear day while Tess and Ellie questioned why God didn't hear their prayer for a blizzard.  There was that one moment when hope flared again . . .

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"So, the bad news is, I think your battery is dead." Chelsey announced with a smile.  Jac headed out not-so-smiley to deal with the 'burb and shortly we were loaded up.  And then a train . . . !

We got them to the gate and we gave hugs and cried and joked about next time.  It hurt to watch them go and we waved and hollered and waved our good-byes again and again, hoping they'd see our love.

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"Did you get a good picture of our butts?" was the text from Allie I read in the car.

"Heck yes!" I replied because that's real love, too.

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*Apologies for blurry, dark photos.  It's hard to take sharp pics in the dark of January whilst laughing, trust me.*

 

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Cathedral was dark.  The pews in front of us were empty, awaiting the arrival of the candle bearers from the procession.  This meant Lu could see Max silhouetted by the candles he and the other altar servers bore.  She pointed and yelled out in recognition while somewhere behind us Tess and Ellie sat in separate pews "Across from Saint Some-guy-that-starts-with-an-L," nervous with excitement for their candles to be lit. 

We sang Silent Night and Adeste Fidelis and watched Max and the Bishop and then the angelic looking girls process up.  The Mass was beautiful.  We visited with friends after and managed to leave before they shut the place down.  We came home to tidy and tinsel and toasty new jammies.  I don't know what time their heads hit the pillows, but it was late and we still had stockings to stuff and nearly every present to wrap.  

It was a late night/early morning.

Stockings were pillaged according to custom and the rules set up by the children.  There was a rush to wrap the last of the last gifts and then the piling of presents.  Gemma declared she would say "Ready? Set? GO!" and she did.  Lucy was satisfied with her book though took to unwrapping with zeal once she got the hang of it.  Excitement, contentment, and joy reigned while outside it snowed, and snowed and snowed.  

It was beautiful.