>Popularity

>Or, more precisely, how to be UNpopular.

Just in case you were wondering how to achieve this famed state, I offer the following, with guaranteed results:

Tell boys they may not whack the heck out of each other with the sticks in the yard {playing, not fighting, but still…}.
Tell the wild man that he cannot skateboard off the brick stairs at any speed, especially not high speed.
Remind them to take their medicine even if its yucky.
Make soup for dinner.
Tell them no ice cream for breakfast.
Or lunch.
Tell them to turn off the tv.
Tell them to go outside and play.
Or do their homework.
Or that you quite ready and happy to go in and clean their rooms, without their help.Tell them that they cannot wear flipflops to Mass.
Make them salad with dinner, again.
Enforce the chore schedules.
Ask the daughter if she has cut her hair, again.
Tell the teen that she cannot wear makeup to the football game.
Then tell her she cannot wear makeup um, anytime, she’s too young.
Then tell her that her nose is only a little bit broken and it is still cute (just a little crooked).
Go on a date with your husband, only.
Ask them to water the flowers and garden.
Consider, out loud, getting a giant Sprinter van.

Now these are only a random selection from the past two days. But, the list, it keeps on growing and growing…and I am an expert on this one!

>Supernatural Smile for A Sunday

>Now, this is an odd one and maybe you’ve seen it. But seems somehow fitting for a Sunday.
This monk smiled, AFTER he died, after he was prepared for burial. Not a single muscle contraction, but a full face smile.
Go, read and see for yourself. Ya gotta wonder…..It makes me smile too.
h/t: the Anchoress.

>Martrydom of St. John the Baptist

>

Carvaggio, 1608

Ok, that title is a more polite way of describing this event. In my house full of rough and tumble boys, they tend to use the other, more graphic title: The Beheading of John the Baptist.

Sigh.
I guess in our modern era of shock tv and horror movies, even this grisly story seems tame.
What a shame. Maybe it should shock and make our stomach’s flop and faces wince.
It does mine.
I used to (still do, really…sometimes) wonder why we had to have these gruesome stories in the bible, and even commemorate them. I mean, really? As they say, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Why can’t it be “nice?” Let’s just look at the pretty stuff…..yes, Pollyanna….

But as we all know all too well, REAL life isn’t always pretty. Real life has real hurt, real gore, real unexplainable happenings, that can’t be explained away….except perhaps by the real existence of evil and our all too human nature to be seduced by it.
And this true story, that we remember especially today, is about evil, to be sure.
I mean, Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter…because her mother told her to ask as she danced. Her mother was so torqued at John for calling out Herod on his adultery (with her), that she pressed her daughter to ask for his death, and decapitation at that.
Talk about a vengeful woman…

Anyhow, this story is not only about that evil impulse and gory act. It’s about John the Baptist being both a harbinger of Christ and His sacrifice to come, but also a man who stood up for Truth – no matter what.

Now, even in our modern days, holding onto truth can sure get hard. Especially when so much of the idea of truth has become a dull gray slide rule……there is not much black and white anymore; absolute truths or rights or wrongs. Or, so it seems in our popular modern culture. And yet, of course, there still is real truth, but it’s not always popular or ‘pc’ or whatever. And while I haven’t heard to too many folks getting beheaded for being ‘non-pc’ lately, there is still a pressure out there to just…not. Not get involved. Not care. Not worry about anyone else. Not call it like it is. Not get into anybody’s business.

But really, it IS a fine line. I myself have more opinions than most, but I find the words “Judge not” ring in my ears. So, how to jive that all up? I don’t know. I tend to do the best I can on the fly. Which is probably pretty poorly, most of the time. I’ll either get too timid to speak up, or too tired, or I will speak up and stick my foot in it. Typically I just throw my opinions out there anyhow.

So, I can let my boys play with swords and be good guys and bad guys; acting out the scary hard ideas of good and evil, right and wrong. And this story can have a place in that sort of teaching, eventually. St. John the Baptist teaches us that we should not be afraid. That speaking the Truth is hard, possibly even dangerous. There is real danger in life, and sometimes it cannot be escaped. But, it is worth it.

And the caveat is: the Truth is Love. Love is Truth. And so….if you (ok, me) can try speak of Truth/Love, with courage….then you or I will live it as well.

Icon written by Constantine Youssis

>Feast of St. Augustine!

>Its the feast day of St. Augustine!
Ok, now this saint, from north Africa, is one of the biggies: a doctor of the church of course and one of the great writers throughout Church history. I like him for so many reasons, not the least of which is his connection with his mom and her devoted prayers for her son. You know, I will always have a soft spot for a mom and son….

His teachings are noted throughout Christendom for their lasting influence and, simply put, their beauty. Perhaps it was his years of living a life that was wild, utterly hedonistic, and dipped into all sorts of heresy and convoluted ideas of god…..but when he returned to the Faith, he did so in a big way, using his brilliant mind to convey the beauty of Truth to generations to come.
Late have I loved you… Indeed. And perhaps, that is part of his appeal to so many, so many of us (ok, me), have really felt that, lived that. Late, have I loved You. I missed so much, for so long. The “band width” of my life was so slim, and I didn’t even know it. But I was fooled by the hedonistic life I lived into thinking it was so wide. I was arrogant enough to think I knew it all. Only, later, later when I finally “let go” of my grip on that did I finally come to realize how small it all was.
And then St. Augustine, once more, came through for me with one of his most famous prayers: “You have made us for yourself, oh God. And our hearts are restless, until they rest in you.” Ah. I know, I’m paraphrasing that quote, but that’s how it sticks in my head and heart. And that about sums it all up: St. Augustine, life in general, me in particular.

Happy feast day!
St. Augustine, pray for us!

>Feast of St. Monica

>

Painting of St. Monica, by John Nava

Today is the feast of St. Monica!
Here is one of the premier examples of patience, especially for us moms.
Really, I should unofficially consider her a patron, because here is a mom who showed such patience and perseverance in prayer…and these are some of the traits (especially that whole patience thing) that I severely lack.

Painting of St. Monica, by Janet McKenzie

St. Monica, a saint from north Africa, prayed for the conversion (successfully) of her husband and his mother. But, most famously, she prayed and prayed faithfully for the conversion of her wild, wayward son, Augustine. Augustine was a son that would give any mom many sleepless nights and teary phone calls with girlfriends. And while Monica wasn’t of the phone call era, I suspect she had many a night awake fretting over her boy. He was wild and ignored her pleas, getting into all sorts of revelry (can read more about him tomorrow on his feast day!).

But Monica persevered, because this was her son, she knew the truth and she had the faith that her prayers would be answered according to God’s will….sooner or later. Well, it was something like 17 years later, but it happened. Not only did Augustine turn his life around and step back onto more solid ground, but he converted to the faith and was ordained by St. Ambrose himself.

I like to think it is in no small part due to the faithful lasting sure prayers of his mom, as well as her prayerful example and steadfast love, no matter what. She didn’t shun him. She might well have corrected him, being his mom and all (whether or not he listened)….. {I know this is an old holy card image, but it makes me laugh.
It’s St. Monica praying for St. Augustine,
but that’s the same look my boys have when I’m giving them advice…
which is surely also a scene from the life of these two!}

….but she never stopped loving him. And that is what will turn even the hardest furthest of hearts back to the truth of Real Love. So I love St Monica, and she reminds me to never give up. Ever.

Happy feast day.
St. Monica, pray for us!

>Happy Birthday Mom!

>

It’s my mom’s 75th birthday today!
Now, she may not be thrilled with that number, but I am!
I think it’s a fantastic thing, 3/4 of a century, and she is still going strong…
healthy and busy and happy.
I wish so much I could be with her today and give her birthday hugs and wishes in person.

And while not everything has always been simple with mom, we clash on opinions and ideas sometimes, when it comes right down to it, it’s the simplest thing in the world.
She’s my mom.
I love her.

As you can see, I have her hair!
I have her hands.
I wish I had her skill with sewing and the patience that goes with it.
She is artistic and creative, always has been.
A terrific, dedicated tennis player (I wish I had that skill too!).
She taught me how to cook.
She taught me how to juggle lots of kids.
She probably passed on her love of reading to me too, as well as her love of crosswords and puzzles.
She loves to do water aerobics nowadays and always been a fiercely good loyal friend.
Even as a kid, brought home stray puppies and still loves nature, from bugs to ocean waves.
A grade school teacher before she was a mom, still a great teacher and nature lover.
She is so smart, but never really gave herself credit for it.

Over the years I have fussed at her and about her, for different things, big and small.
I was young and foolish, mostly, but didn’t even know it.
As I too, age up a bit, I notice more and more that things I didn’t understand before, now make more sense and I have more insight into the why’s of them.
And they don’t make me fuss anymore, they make me understand and accept.
I can only hope that my children will follow that same path, eventually.

And I hope that as I grow older I make it to my 75th, as healthy as she has.
And that while I have her hands, her hair and her feet, I hope I also have her capacity to love.
Because no matter what, when it comes down to it, if I or any of her kids really need her, she is there: caring, helping, biting her tongue if she needs to maybe {or not, ha! we gals in this family are nothing if not opinionated}, but loving all the same.

Happy 75th Birthday Mom!
I love you.

>Tiptoes

>So, we are tiptoeing around here. Ok, I am. And by that I mean that we are gingerly tiptoeing our way through the adjustment process, blundering here and there but making tiny steps forward.

Yes, I am mostly talking about me {duh, of course}, but really it does all apply to the whole family. Because make NO mistake, anytime you add a child the entire family has to morph and stretch and pull and squish over to make room. And I know, they tell you this in the books and so on. But really, it’s just so much different living it and then again, living it adjusting to the push/pull, embrace/release, with an older child. {And I know that I’ve whinged on about this weird twilight zone time of transition already…and it’s so different from last year’s transition with Gabey as a toddler…but since we are still in the throes of it, well, you are too! Because that’s what this blog is babeee…if it’s on my mind, it’s on blog. }

This transition time is something that can’t be totally described with precise instructions and or diagrams…but wouldn’t that be great if it could?!
Imagine: “Instructions: 7. Try to understand when new child retreats behind headphones or to bed early. It’s probably just a small bout of overwhelmed and needing space.”
Or, “12. When two teens try to share a bathroom, particularly if both are female, adjustments in timing will need to be made on all sides. This might take some preplanning and/or extra clocks, strategically placed. Consider investing in extra hair products and towels.”

So, without said instructions, we are trying not to bruise too many shins or hearts or heads along the way, even as we clumsily tiptoe toward a new normal for our family.

Buddybug left for college again, which was a sad day and a sad weekend, especially for Marta and I (ok, a bunch of us). But it seems that just-about-daily phone calls help, especially if that call can be via Skype. And even though Marta is still not speaking much English at all, it is getting slightly less strange overall. I can ask for help in setting the table or taking this plate over to the baby and M understands and so somehow, it feels like we are communicating. School is the main event of the day for us all; for the kids who go out of the house to school and for the kids at home. This is allowing me to really work intensively with both Sbird and Marta and I think it’s showing a benefit in both of them, at the very minimum they seem to do well with the extra mom time.

And I guess, really, that’s the biggest change. Ssshhhhhh. I don’t want to say it too loud. But then again, we Catholics don’t believe in superstition, so that whole “jinx” it concept shouldn’t apply.

But, I’ll say it out loud (not shouting yet tho) I am moving into a new mom spot. One that is not having to scooch over so much for a “new kid” but is instead moving more into the reflex of “one of the kids.” Soon?…I pray, for the fierce deep feeling (I know, it’s not about the feelings, but I crave them)…..”My girl.” I am not totally there yet, we need oodles and oodles of time. But the one on one during the day is helping ease off some of the stiffness and strangeness for each of us. And for me, that is huge! Call me stiff, call me cold, you could and you’d be right. Mea culpa. And I hate learning that about myself (tho some might not be surprised, Nancy, I know).

Perhaps the biggest surprise and disappointment to me this go-round is that this is all taking unexpected time for me to feel normal and for the family to feel normal {Right, patience is obviously not one of my virtues}. Because we are not, not “normal” {Read: the old normal}, anymore. We need the time to make it through to the new normal.

And we are NOT there yet, but in a way, if I stretch my neck I think I might be able to see it on the horizon. And even being able to know it can maybe get there, helps my steps be more sure. And as my steps stop faltering, become more sure…as I smile and tease and trim hair and high five, then everyone else’s steps also stop shuffling and stalling. I don’t have to tiptoe around the pitfalls of presumptions and gaps and fear and otherness quite as much. And that makes everything better, for us all. I’ve never been one for toe shoes…too clumsy. So, I hope I’m done tiptoeing and can now just keep trying to walk forward, with the whole family, to a new normal that feels just right.

>Perks

>There are perks to having a teen son.
Yes, sometimes you have to put up with the “stone face,” above.
But other times you get to take advantage of some of the perks…by which I mean, the friends.
Nice friends drop in, visit this teen boy, and hang around the house with him.

In this instance, I am specifically referring to a certain cute sweet girl, great friends with my Booboo. She has a kind and generous heart and has moved right to the top of my “You’re awesome” list.
See, on Friday night, Booboo was persuaded to take his new sister Marta to the school’s first official football game of the season. Coffeedoc was going too, but as team doc he had to be on the field. The Prima Diva, also known as Bananas, was all too busy being a social butterfly to watch the game.

So I knew we needed to pull in the big guns: the big brother. He agreed to take her to the game and sit with her and keep her company – Marta loves football {so far}.
What I didn’t expect was that his girlfriend would gladly sit and visit with Marta, look at pictures on her Ipod, and help her find the way through the big school to the restroom even. When I thanked her today (as she visited the house), she said easily “It was my pleasure.” Aw, gracious too.

Marta came home grinning from ear to ear, and talking in a rapid mix of Amharic and English about her “great brother” and his “konjo beautiful good nice friend, oh mom, she’s good nice beautiful, happy happy, good night.” So, now Marta thinks this girl hung the moon.
So do I.

That’s one of the delightful unexpected bonuses of having teens in the house: the remarkable nice friends. {You’re right Booboo: totally blogable.}

I’d say pretty, inside and out.

>The Queen

>

Detail of painting by Van Eyck

Today we celebrate the Queenship of Mary.
This is a devotion that helps us remember Mary’s special place in our hearts and the heart of her Son. Indeed, many might object: considering a mere girl a Queen, of all things! And Queen of Heaven, even! The idea of it! Hmmmm…..

But really, it is the idea of it that is so cool, and the reality of it is mindblowing. Here is a mere girl, ok, eventually an old woman (most all of us get there, even Mary) and she lived her life so tuned into God’s call that she is an example for us all.

Even considered as Queen of Heaven, Mary still, always and eternally, points to her Son. “Do whatever He tells you.” {John 2:4-6) It’s not about her and her power trip, like a bad movie (like it would be for me, think of the control issues, ah!). It always, always, is about her son, Christ.

When we ask Mary to pray for us, turn to her for consolation and support, she understands and loves us enough to pray to her son on our behalf. Her love, as a perfect mom with perfect love, is unfailing for us as well. I can use a big dose of that…most every day! So, yeah, I dig this concept and I do think of her as Queen of Heaven in that her prayers are heard and we can ask for them. And what perfect Son doesn’t listen to his mother?

Another way that I think of it is this: I am “queen” of my home. I am. But that means that I am the one who cares for, tends, serves, pays attention to, and helps all the members of my family…down to the smallest details. Or, well, I try to, on a good day. Mary is that for us, for me, too. That’s the sort of “queen” that is real, instead of a mere poster queen or politically twisted definition.

And, especially now as I am learning to love and be mom to a whole new, older and different child in my home and family, I am leaning hard on my spiritual Queen, my Blessed Mother, to be an example to me on how to love better, harder, further…both in the big picture and the small details. And to pray for me and not quit, while I stumble through this awkward time. I believe she is.

Every night when I tuck Little Man into bed, we sing “Salve Regina” together (in english, not the latin). It’s a favorite hymn. And every night he says, “Our voices sound just the same. We sound good.” And I don’t know if that is actually true, but it sure sounds true enough right then. And I like to think that the sweetness of that sung prayer is heard and understood by our Blessed Mother, and her Son, with a smile. Agnolo Gaddi, “Coronation of the Virgin,” 1380



Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy!
Our life, our sweetness, and our hope!
To thee do we cry, poor banished
children of Eve, to thee do we send
up our sighs, mourning and weeping
in this valley, of tears.
Turn, then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us; and
after this our exile show unto us the
blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus;
O clement, O loving, O sweet virgin Mary.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God

That we may be made worthy of the
promises of Christ.

Amen

>Little letters, big progress

>So, this is just a short notice on short words.
We have made a baby step of progress this week, our first real week of school for all the elementary students.
For this particular student, happily smiling above…..we have made little letters of progress.

But OH what big steps they are!
This sweet girl is starting to read!
our Marta can recognize most of her letters, and usually gets them right (tho occasionally needing to sing them to remember).
And she has read these words:
Fox
Box
Cat
Hat
Sun
Egg
Dog
woman
man
mom
dad
fish
sat
mat
sam
and
go
duck

Now, that may not mean much to most of you.
But around here it was cause for whooping and high fives….because this is beginning steps to decoding, in my book.
Cool!

And those are the words that she read and also can understand (tho, she forgets now and then) what they stand for, connecting the word with the actual meaning or object.
Even so, we have a long way to go…she will forget the letter names then remember them again…but it’s a tough language.
Even so, I’m happy for any of these small steps.
Now “my book” isn’t anything official, its just me and my opinions…one mom’s ideas.
But this mom thinks that this can be the beginning of unlocking a strange new difficult code, aka: english!

So, yeah, it was a pretty exciting week.
I think those first words are exciting, no matter when they click!
And to see those eyes light up with pride and glee, it’s always great, no matter what.

>Happy Birthday Coffeedoc!

>

Happy Birthday to my sweet husband!
Yup, 48 years old today!
{Once again, older than me, dear.}

I wish you the best of birthdays and for all your birthday wishes to come true!
Your requested dinner of homemade tamales and german chocolate cake is in the works…and should be yummy for all.
Your present is a big secret for now, but we are pretty excited about it….especially one of your sons.

We are all so grateful for your birthday and all that it brings us: you.
Lover of music.
Extra great dad.
Terrific husband, rock for your wife.
Faithful; sincerely loving your faith and church.
Good eater, loves my cooking.
Patient, with a long fuse and a steady stance to withstand the many moods in this family.Kind of Crazy driver.
Fix-it guy – there is nothing that a cool tool or spreadsheet can’t make better – somehow.
Always a little late, but trying, perpetually and earnestly, to change.
The smartest man I know.
Pack rat, never know when you might need that.
Tireless warrior, going up against all odds to advocate for our kids, no matter what.Night owl, striving to be an early bird against all odds.
Make me cry with your guitar and singing of Fire and Rain, Sweet Baby Jane.
Growing old gracefully, unlike your wife.
Plotter, always cooking up something new.
Intense, but calm.
A contradiction in many ways.
The blueprint for so much of the character and traits in my kids.Steady best friend, no matter what.
Picks me up when I am at rock bottom, gently.
Committed, come what may, to this family and each person in it.
Outstanding surgeon and doc.
Apologetics, church history walking encyclopedia.
Boat lover.
Cat tolerator for the kid’s sake.
Dreamer, schemer.
Inveterate traveler, no such thing as ever too much travel, there’s a whole world out there!Adventurer, in your heart even when you cannot be one in real life due to the world of responsibilities on your shoulders…that you carry without complaint.

You are greatly loved by many.
And we celebrate your birthday today with grins and cheers.

Happy Happy Bday honey, we love you!

>Feast day of St. Jane Francis de Chantal

>Today is the memorial of St. Jane Francis de Chantal.
Now, she is a fascinating saint to me because, for one thing, she was mother to seven children.
That’s right!
Mom to seven kids, and STILL she made it to sainthood.

I’m tellin’ ya, it gives me hope, it does.
If nothing else, here is a gal that I figure can understand me to a fair degree and I can hit up for prayers on my behalf.
We moms of big families stick together!

She was french, born into a noble family. She also married a nobleman. Which is cool in it’s own way because, once again, we see that saints can come from any circumstances; it’s the disposition of our hearts and the choices we make, not the situations we are born to that determine the outcome. I think that’s fairly encouraging! St. Jane was widowed due to a hunting accident – her husband was shot. She struggled for many years to forgive the man who killed her husband; eventually she succeeded after much prayer and counsel.

Her closest counselor, friend, confident was none other than St. Francis de Sales (another top notch fav saint, and the author of this amazing book). So, here we have St. Jane showing us the importance of true friendship and how a holy friendship can lead to amazing things. Another reason I am keen on her. Her long friendship with St. Francis led her to eventually found the order Visitation nuns. Eventually she founded eighty-five convents.A woman who can be a mom to a bunch of kids, manage her household in a holy manner, forgive the hardest things and be a long and true friend, and still then manage to found an organization that does eternal good in the world…..now there is an example!
I have much to learn from a woman like St. Jane.
She is not of this era, but I daresay that Oprah and the modern reality tv micro-celebs could take a lesson from her too!

St. Jane de Chantal, pray for us!

>First Day!

>Today was Little Man’s first day of Kindergarten. Wow. Already.
He was SO excited, of course. I was too. I knew he’d love it and he is just so ready.
At one point, just before we took the picture above, he was standing in the kitchen, ready to go. Excited, impatient. Then, his eyes kind of widened and his smile faded briefly…..”I’m a little nervous,” he said. I laughed and smiled and told him, “You’re gonna do great!”

And he did.

He got into the car telling me of the important things he did today: met two new friends, the name he could remember was “Sam.” The teacher told the kids to use their “inside voice.” He played on the big playground: freeze tag, transformers, red rover, regular tag…the good stuff. Then we met Buddybug for a celebratory lunch out. Little Man ordered a cheeseburger and before taking even one bite, fell asleep in my lap in the booth.

A perfect first day at school.

>The Assumption

>Icon of the Assumption

Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption.

And solemnity doesn’t mean, necessarily, somber and morose…rather it can mean big time, important. Meaning, it’s a holy day of obligation, go to Mass. And while this is one of the “biggie” (Yes, I spent my summers in the seventies on the beach, we used that term, so what?) solemnities in the Catholic calendar, I don’t have the energy to give you all the scholarly apologetics behind it all (go see the link above for a start).

As an aside, however, Coffeedoc pointed out that today was the feast of the Assumption to Marta – Ethiopian Orthodox celebrate this feast in a big way and it is called “Filsata Mariam” – and she jumped up and down with excitement. So it’s a big deal even in the the other ancient Christian faith traditions.

Ethiopian Orthodox Marian icon.

Suffice it to say that this Solemnity is totally cool and has so many threads connecting it all that it blows my mind with a grin. And that, as so much of life is, it’s one of the Mysteries. That’s mystery with a capital “M;” theologically speaking. By which I mean, if I really could understand it through and through, well, I would be be both presumptuous AND wrong. Because some of the mysteries that make life and faith so rich, are not for my puny mind to dissect.

So, that all disclaimed, ahem, I give you my personal gloss on this feast day (My blog, massively opinionated, you knew it was coming.):
Mary was a mother who loved with perfect love (unlike myself). Her son was a perfect son, who also loved with a perfect love. Now, if I, with my very imperfect love can love my sons SO much that it can make me cry and mope when they leave for their very fun new exciting lives in college (Next week, I”m just saying.) once again……then how much more so did Mary ache to see her son leave this earth and his time with her in such a grisly unbearable event? And how much did she miss him, achingly miss him, all those years? And therefore, at the end of her life, when she was able to be reunited with her boy, her Son….just think of the joy, the unbridled radiating shimmery JOY, of that reunion! And in this feast, we believe that they were reunited in Heaven.

Frankly, I simply love everything about this. I mean, just having my boy come back home after a few months at college makes me want to whoop, jump for joy, run down the stairs and hug him tight, not let go, feed him pie and just look at him. It makes me ridiculously happy. So, this feast is a promise of that to me, that reunion, that that kind of love between mom and son (or, ok, kids, but hey, let me run this out), doesn’t just die out…it is eternal. And that is the best promise of all and that is nothing but cool.

So, there, moms….that’s something to smile about.
Happy Solemnity of the Assumption!

Detail of painting of Assumption, by Titian

Magnificat (Luke 1:36-55)

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed;
the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.
He has mercy on those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm
and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
to remember his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children for ever.
Amen.

Lodovico Caracci, The Assumption of the Virgin, about 1586-7

>St. Max Rocks!

>
Today is the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe!
He is my son Booboo’s patron and one very awesome saint. He is a ‘modern’ saint, of the twentieth century, completely devoted to Mary and a Franciscan. But what St. Maximilan is known for is his sacrifice, his martrydom of charity. St. Maximilian was sent to Auschwitz Concentration camp, for being a Catholic and a priest. After ministering to his fellow prisoners during his time there, sick and hungry as the rest, Maximilian made the ultimate sacrifice: he stepped forward and volunteered to go to his death in order to spare a father of a family from this fate. St. Maximilian went to his death in a father’s place; dying after two weeks of forced starvation and ultimately, an injection of carbolic acid (and forgiving the one who gave him that shot as he was injected). As such, not only is he a hero, among many other things, he is the patron of families.


We are big on family here around the coffeeblog. And we have been praying a novena to St. Maximilian on behalf of one special family who had a court date today. And, let me just say that I think St. Maximilian was listening and had pity and prayed for this family to be united. Because they passed court!!! And the prayers of a righteous man, a saint and patron of families, who knows from sacrificial living, are worth much. So, thank you St. Maximilian, for your patronage of my son, and for your prayers for this family!

Happy feast day Booboo!
St. Maximilian Kolbe, thank you for your prayers!

>Back to School

>
Big changes are afoot in our house, due to our big changes this summer.
As you can see by the cute little kick-foot, above, this is an exciting new thing. Or, really, an exciting old thing.

Yup. The girls are going back to our parish elementary school! Fifth and eighth grade. And today is the first day of school! (Little Man begins Kindergarden on Monday, wow!).

So these girls are actually excited to begin a new school year, back at their old school, with old friends and new fun, nice teachers. We have been and still are homeschoolers too. Golly, at this point we have college, high school, elementary, homeschool and toddlers in the equation. I think this effectively covers all bases, no? But this is my take on school, for what it’s worth: School is a per year, per kid, per situation decision. Period. This year, with one daughter and her ongoing special needs and one very new daughter with her own language/adjustment/learning needs….this mom needs to be able to focus and this is the best decision for us, for now. So, this mom is pretty darn happy too, as I know these three will thrive and it clears the way for me to work closely with the two who’s needs are so much more intense.

A win-win, all the way around!
Ah, I love uniforms!
Happy back to school days!

>Adoption Adjustment: Branches

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Vincent Van Gogh, Almond Branches in Bloom, c 1890


So we have been home for almost a month now. And while I am sure it is no surprise to you all, it comes as some surprise to me that we are still adjusting, in a big way. We have adopted a teen but we are making toddler baby steps, forward and backward and sideways….occasionally falling flat on our backsides, occasionally grinning wide with surprise.

I can’t process it all well enough to post coherently. I haven’t come to any great or profound conclusions (as if I ever do, doh!). I am still very much in the “do the next thing” mode. But I am sustained by all your prayers and thoughts and unspeakably grateful for them and beg you, any or all of you, to not quit!

Anyhow, everyone keeps asking, “How it’s going?” And, “Is it all settled in now?” and all those sorts of questions. Frankly, at this point in the process, if I think someone is about to ask me that sort of question, I tend to want to turn on my heel and skedaddle as fast as possible. Because I have no good or reliable sentry on my mouth. While I can be discreet for others and their private issues, I tend to just honestly answer anything that most anyone asks me.

This trait makes my husband, dear Coffeedoc, kind of nuts. He always points out that I don’t have to answer EVERY question I am asked. And yet, I feel compelled to do so. (Yes, I am aware that some therapist could earn themselves a condo beachside w/ this…thank you.) Now, my lack of desire in answering this sort of question is not because it’s too horrible to answer, but just because it’s (the whole adjusting process to this new member of our family) still all murky. It’s a mixed bag of good, hard, funny, frustrating, strange, and sweet. And that’s hard to answer in a short polite social response. But then again, I would have loved to know or read some of this when we were in process, the first half of this process.

So, in no coherent order, here are some notes on the process:
The language thing is still in a ridiculously difficult spot.
I am speaking more Amharic to her (pidgeon amharic, simple poorly constructed baby talk level) than she is speaking english.
But I think her understanding of english is increasing.
She is doing better at Rosetta Stone.
I believe we are in the “silent phase.”
But that phase has rapid fire machine gun bursts of amharic from her.
Which is confusing and frustrating for us both.
Marta loves to swim and boat, she has an adventurous spirit.
However she cannot swim at all and has to be watched closely so she doesn’t splash and drown in her enthusiasm.
Which is mildly nerve-wracking.
She loves music.
By which I mean: loves loves loves music.
Marta sings along to her ipod just like Buddybug used to when we drove on road trips: meaning loudly and just slightly off key.
She has started piano lessons and is very happy about it, music is the universal language is it not?
I love our piano teacher for being a good sport.
Marta loves sports; like watching sports on tv, especially football and basketball.
This is going to make for a fun football season, go Irish!
Shooting hoops is pretty fun too!
Teen sisters will always have issues juggling a shower and sharing a bathroom.
Girls loves shoes.
Marta will always be a tiny person.
She is picking up knitting amazingly fast, which makes me feel a little guilty for being such a crummy inept knitter.
But it will be nice to have one competent crafter in the family.
Sweet potatoes are disgusting.
Salsa is dangerous.
Ice cream is nothing but wonderful.
Marta is not a night owl.
Neither is her mother.
Marta is an early bird.
So am I.
Marta, still, loves going to Mass.
It is probably her very favorite thing.
This humbles me.
She is learning the rosary.
This amazes me.
I am getting pretty fast with a language dictionary.
Marta is not.
Emergency dental surgery is scary and hard.
Doctor appointments are not fun, and a little scary too.
She is definitely a teen, with the requisite moods and drama.
We have finally made it to the point of feeling safe enough to cry frazzled tears.
We are glad to be there, but it is hard to watch and makes us worry too.
It all still feels a little, or a lot, strange.
We are hoping that ends soon.
I wish we could fast forward the clock many days, to a time many months from now, where we are all used to each other.
The best thing about Marta is her disposition: joy.
Coffeedoc and I think that is simply remarkable.

It’s totally dopey, I know. But, it occurred to me today that this adoption process is all very much like a bunch of tied together branches. It’s not your normal family tree….some branches are strong, some fragile and tender, some bending and trying not to break. We are branching toward each other, just barely beginning to sprout anew, still raw in places from the grafting. I pray our roots and the seasons will help grow us all together.

>Feast of St. Dominic

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Painting by El Greco, St. Dominic in Prayer, 1596-1590

It’s the feast of St. Dominic today!
That is my favorite painting of him, above. We have a particular fondness for the Dominicans…mostly due to these wonderful sisters. They are the best things going around here and are some of the most joyful and compelling people I’ve met. Happily for us, they also teach our children (some of them) and we are lucky enough to be able to visit their motherhouse for Mass or vespers whenever we are in need of the sound of angels.
For another great link to online Dominican goodness, go here.

Now, for me, this is what St. Dominic stands for: the vocation to teach, sanctity, and the zeal for truth. And oh my, joy. Just clear joy (not simpleminded, but real, joy). And that is what I’ve seen embodied in so many Dominicans that I have met and know.

The irresistible combination of sanctity and complete dedication to Christ (Uhm, I know, DUH, they are vowed religious, but still…) somehow makes these Dominicans so compelling. You just want to be around them because they radiate. They really do.

Maybe it’s that zeal for truth, a la their founder: St. Dominic. Because that zeal for truth is the zeal for Christ, who is Love and really uniting to that, that truth, that love….it brings joy. And that is why they draw me, and others. They really do just glow, radiate joy and happiness.

And I think we are all searching for that. I am. Always. And it’s so hard to really hold onto….but St. Dominic is an example of how to find it. For real.

St. Dominic, pray for us, that we may radiate the joy of truth and Love.

>Feast of the Transfiguration

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Fra Angelico, fresco, Transfiguration of Christ, 1441

Today is the feast of the Transfiguration.

This feast is, once again, a timely juxtaposition with my mundane little life. I love how living the liturgical year through the Church brings us/me these connections and reminders of what’s real and important…and helps me see beyond my own little self absorbed boundaries, even if only for a millisecond or two. It’s cool. It’s almost like it’s planned to do that or something, I don’t know… Doh!

This feast is the story from the gospel (Luke 9:28-36) that we meditate upon in the fourth mystery of the luminous rosary. Its when Jesus and his apostles, Peter, James, and John go up onto Mount Tabor with Christ. Then Christ appeared to them, not only as the man they knew but in all the blinding splendor of His Divine Nature, and what’s more, with Elijah and Moses beside Him. Peter, one of my fav’s, was so excited that he burst out and said, “Lord it is good to be here! Let’s put up a tent!” (well, that’s my paraphrase, anyhow). He was so thrilled that he just wanted to stay there, it was that cool! (He reminds me of my sweet Booboo here, ok often, but that is just what my son would say and do.)

Well, I just really love the visuals and imagery of this story. But I also love the whole concept of transfiguration. Even as I cringe at change in general, I beg to be transfigured myself as I need it so. And this passage promises that, for each one of us. Now, the caveat is that it promises it through the cross. It was just following this event that Christ went to His Passion, the Cross. He went to suffer. But the transfiguration was a promise to his disciples, his most beloved, that the suffering would not be the end. That there was more and it was Glorious, breathtaking. It was also a promise to us and a path: that our suffering is not for naught, that it too transforms us.

I know, I’ve written this before. I think about this a lot. Maybe because it’s hard to wrap my puny brain and sensibilities around the whole concept. And now, especially, it’s been a struggle, because this past month I’ve been in it. And you know, suffering, um, hurts. But even so, even in the weary of it, the core of me believes it does change you. It transforms you. And you come out on the other side different. Better, stronger. No, not faster, this is not a Six Million Dollar Man cheapie tv show….. but more. Transfigured. More the You that you were made to be. Whatever that is. But MORE. And that, to me, is glorious, and hopefully, for me personally, shinier (as I am nothing but smudgy of late).

I like Raphael’s drawing, below. One, because I love drawings, but also because I love how this study is about the apostles. The actual imagery of the transfiguration of Christ is of course impossible to really know or guess; it is beyond our ken. But the apostles, this story is very much about them, and us, as well. And the wonder and the stunning awe that they must have felt, the joy, the fear, the gasp…..well, I keep finding my mind turning to that. So, today on this feast of the Transfiguration, I will try hard to remember and trust that even we regular Joes (And, erk, Janes) can be transfigured too. The promise is for us as well. And I will meditate on that in gratitude and wonder.

Raphael, study of heads of apostle’s for Transfiguration painting.

>Adoption: Adjustment and Laundry

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** Warning. I’d love for all my posts to be “butterflies and rainbows” as a dear friend says…but during this time, they cannot be if I am to be honest to myself and anyone else. So, sometimes, they are just odd. You all know already this blog is a lot of stream of consciousness drivel. Fair warning.**

My laundry room.

Kidding.
Officially: laundry at “London Terrace Towers”….but a gal can dream….

I never knew I’d be so grateful for laundry.

No kidding.
Occasionally, this thought, this gratitude, has popped into my addled mind…this gratitude for laundry. But really, not so much. I have spent many a moment over my many years resenting the freakishly replenished piles (by which I mean: heaping mounds) of dirty laundry.

But especially of late, coming home and trying to tread water in the tsunami of adjustment involved in this adoption {And, I presume, older child adoption in general}….. I am grateful for laundry.
I am grateful for the normalcy of mountains of laundry needing to be gathered, sorted, washed, swapped, dried, hung, folded and sorted again.

We control freaks love having something that we can control, and that in a nutshell, is the beauty of laundry. I can stand in my little laundry room, folding, and hear the machine’s old familiar churn and the dryer’s whine, and things are normal.
I can sort and fluff and fold and create new clean order again and again.

And I know this might sound like I am hanging on by my fingernails, or failing and slipping and grasping at straws….pathetic….but to be frank, the laundry is, oddly enough, a comfort. Right now, laundry is less a burden than a signpost that life really does go on and returns to the particular habits of my family.

Laundry is a sort of comfort everlasting (in my house, at least). It is constant; a task that can be well done and appreciated (mostly). I can do it with mindless rote motion, or do it and stew or daydream as much as I choose. And, gloriously, I have time alone, for no one wants to join me in the laundry room.
And so it is even peaceful in it’s own noisy way.

I know. This is as mundane as it gets. But that, that very thing, the utter mundanity of it, is exactly what makes me stop and think and smile. Because, we are taught, in my Catholic faith, that even small things, the most mundane routine mind-numbing or unpleasant chores, can have infinite value.

And so, with a smile, and a rueful nod, I can agree. Only once before, during a hospital health scare of my dearest, have I so searingly been aware and grateful for the rote routine of my laundry chores. I said a prayer of thanksgiving for it then, long ago. And now, during this odd uncomfortable time of adjustments, I whisper it again.

I am thankful for laundry: for the clothes to wash, the machines to wash them in, for the chore on every level and the comfort it brings to us all…but right now, especially to me, in those sharp raw and uncertain moments, I am simply grateful for the chore and the routine it implies. And when I don’t know how to manage all this jaggedy new or to move through these big things, or the snaggy small things, if I am gripped with fear or fretting or exhaustion…I can literally stand and quietly do the laundry, and feel like me again, have our family feel normal and not only new. I know these motions, blindfolded, and they remain….and continue even while we find our new normal. It’s comfort. It may well be silly, I know. But for those of you who wonder about this adjustment and how it’s different…this is one unexpected reveal.

The machine churns and slogs along, the dryer whines and turns and turns. And obviously, I am reminded again and again, so must (and will) I.

>Face Act: commentary, clarification

>This is from MlLane Layton, to clarify some misconceptions, worth a look. Mclane is doing good work, important work, and her heart is in the right place and she is trying to help sway change. Needed change. Read. Think about it, help if you can.

And I just want to remind anyone who might forget in the jumble of the legalese and legistlative verbage, this is about our kids. Yours. Mine. Ours. And they have faces…..

Open Letter to the Adoption Community

July 31, 2009

As an adoptive Mother, the President and Founder of Equality for Adopted
Children, and a former senior legislative aide on Capitol Hill, I would
like to address some questions that have been raised about the newly
introduced Foreign Adopted Children Equality Act (FACE Act). These
questions have caused some to suggest the bill should not be supported.
This is unfortunate, because the FACE Act will bring significant
improvement to the adoption process and will, if signed into law,
provide equality for our internationally adopted children as well as
save adoptive parent’s time, money and regulatory hurdles. I know
because I was deeply involved with its predecessor.

The FACE Act was introduced to amend and improve upon the Child
Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA), a bill introduced by Senator Don Nickles
and Senator Mary Landrieu. At the time the CCA was introduced and
passed, I was Legislative Counsel to Senator Nickles and was responsible
for shepherding the CCA through Congress. The bill was conceived after
my husband and I adopted three siblings from Eastern Europe and I
discovered that despite the fact that my husband and I were both
American citizens, our citizenship did not transfer to our foreign
adopted children as it would have if they had been born to us abroad.
As a lawyer I found this disturbing because I knew that under adoption
law, once a child is adopted, that child is entitled to all the same
rights, duties and responsibilities as a biological child. The law says
they are to be treated as if they were the “natural issue” of
the adoptive parents. CCA was drafted to remove discrepancies between
the treatment of children born abroad versus children adopted abroad to
U.S. citizens. In short, to bring adoption practice into line with the
law and in the process ease a number of procedural burdens unnecessarily
borne by adoptive parents.

The CCA began the process of addressing a primary inequality: If an
American gives birth to a child overseas the child is considered a
citizen from birth and is given a U.S. passport and a Consular Report of
Birth (which acts as the child’s birth certificate). The child is
allowed to enter the United States as a citizen with documentary proof
of citizenship. In other words, the child does not have to go through
an immigration process. Not so for an adopted child who must obtain an
immigrant visa, go through a very different (and more costly and
cumbersome) process even though they are every bit as much the son or
daughter of American citizens. Unfortunately, the United States is one
of the few developed countries that still treat internationally adopted
children of their citizens as immigrants and force adoptive families to
go through an immigration process to bring their children home.

U.S. Court decisions have established adoption laws that recognize that
adopted children are entitled to full equality of treatment as
biological children. Yet despite the passage of CCA, not all
inequalities have been addressed. The FACE Act would align U.S. adoption
laws with U.S. statutes by recognizing all children of U.S. citizens as
equal, whether biological or adopted. The FACE Act would rectify
inequities both past and present. Regrettably, as I know is often the
case with legislation, some have misunderstood the contents of the
legislation.

Protecting Safeguards and Meaningful Procedures

Some allege that by removing adopted children from the immigration
process the bill removes the safeguards that protect adopted children,
their biological families and their adoptive families. This is a
completely incorrect assertion. This bill absolutely upholds current
requirements in regard to approval of parents to adopt a foreign born
child, preserves current safeguards, and maintains current regulations
related to intercountry adoption. Here’s how:

* Upholding Requirements and Procedures.

* The FACE Act continues to require that before citizenship attaches
to an internationally adopted child, adoptive parents must be approved
by the U.S. government as fit to adopt, just as under current law.
* Adoptive parents will still need to meet the same requirements
currently submitted for approval of an I-600A or I-800A including an
approved home study, criminal clearances and all other documents that
are now part of the approval process.
* Preservation and Maintenance of Safeguards and Investigations.

* The FACE Act continues to uphold and require all immigration
safeguards currently in place to ensure that a child has been adopted
legally without fraud or trafficking.
* Conditions required to fulfill an I-600 or I-800 form will continue
unchanged including an orphan investigation as mandated under current
law.
* The U.S. government will continue to affirmatively determine that a
child has been adopted appropriately and that the child meets the
adoption requirements of U.S. adoption law for international adoptions.
* A welcome change in the FACE act would be the elimination of the
paperwork, procedures and costs required to file for an immigration visa
after an adoption has been completed and the child has been approved by
the U.S. government as having complied with U.S. adoption law governing
international adoption.

Put simply, American adoptive parents abroad would take their
documentation of a legal and appropriate adoption and follow the same
process as American biological parents who gave birth abroad. The
entire process would be simplified and standardized for both sets of
parents and most importantly, would apply equal treatment to the
children as established in U.S. adoption law. Time and travel costs for
adoptive parents would be reduced lowering further the barriers to
international adoption.

The FACE Act makes no changes to current regulations related to
intercountry adoption. Current adoption law language does not detail
what must be done to approve a family to adopt or what paperwork must be
filed to get an immigration visa. Rather, the details are found in the
regulations implementing the law. This bill and subsequent regulations
would do the same. The FACE Act merely sets the parameters of how the
law would be implemented and the subsequent regulations would provide
the specifics of how it would be implemented.

Establishing Equality for All and Respecting Heritage

Another unfortunate misunderstanding of the FACE Act arises from a
section of the bill that amends Section 301 of the Immigration and
Nationality Act (INA), which defines who is a U.S. citizen at birth.
Currently, this section of law provides automatic U.S. citizenship to
children born to U.S. citizens abroad, but not to those adopted abroad
by U.S. citizens. The practical effect is that under the status of an
immigrant instead of a citizen at birth, the adopted child could never
be President of the United States even though a child born in the same
foreign country at the same time to American citizens could. Amending
this section of law to include our internationally adopted children as
citizens from birth will finally correct one of the major remaining
inequalities that our children suffer under federal law.

Some have erroneously concluded that this provision will strip adopted
children of their birth country’s citizenship and erase their birth
history. In actuality, the FACE Act will help support adoptees who seek
to learn more of their original birth history and reconnect with their
country of origin. The FACE Act includes provisions that state:

* “It is the sense of Congress that the government of each
foreign country from which children are adopted by citizens of the
United States should provide documentation of the adopted children’s
original birth history to the adoptive family in accordance with the
laws of such country.”

* “Nothing in this Act, or in any amendment made by this Act, may
be construed to abrogate any citizenship rights provided to an adoptee
by the adoptee’s country of origin, or nullify the facts of the
adoptee’s birth history.”

Granting of citizenship from birth cannot eliminate the fact of where a
child was born, or to whom that child was born, or deprive them of their
original citizenship rights any more than what occurs now when U.S.
citizenship is granted to them under the CCA.

To the extent a foreign country allows dual citizenship and the
privileges that accompany that citizenship, that child will always have
those privileges as a citizen of that country in the eyes of that
country. No legislation passed by the U. S. Congress can change
citizenship laws of other countries. If a country chooses to negate the
citizenship rights of a child born in that country because they become a
citizen of the United States, there is no law that the U.S. Congress can
pass to rectify that decision.

Further, although Congress cannot pass laws ordering other countries to
provide original birth documentation to adoptive families or to change
their citizenship laws, these provisions mark significant steps towards
establishing U.S. policy in these regards and would strongly encourage
countries from which children are adopted by American citizens to
provide such documentation and maintain such rights.

Protecting U.S. Citizenship and Preventing Family Separation

The FACE Act also improves the current citizenship process for
international adoptees with a provision that rectifies the damage that
is done when adoptive parents fail to take the necessary steps under
past and current law to acquire U.S. citizenship for their child. Prior
to the CCA, internationally adopted children had to go through a
naturalization process to attain citizenship. Many parents wrongly
assumed that their adopted child was a citizen because they themselves
were citizens. Unfortunately, this was not the case and there are many
adult adoptees who found out much later in life that they are not
citizens.

Even after the CCA was passed, the problem remains due to the way the
law is implemented. Currently, only adopted children who arrive on IR3
visas (where both parents, if married, saw the child during the adoption
process) receive automatic U.S. citizenship upon entry into the United
States. Adopted children who arrive on IR4 visas (where only one
parent, if married, saw the child during the adoption process) must be
readopted in their new home state (whether required by state law or not)
before citizenship attaches. If the child is not readopted prior to his
or her 18th birthday, they lose the right to automatic citizenship.

Over half the international adoptees enter this country on IR4 visas and
risk losing their citizenship rights if their parents fail to readopt
them. Many children do not find out they are not citizens until they
apply for a passport or for college scholarships. A number of adoptees
have been deported back to their country of origin due to minor crimes
they have committed because their parents failed to take the necessary
steps at the time to acquire citizenship status for their child. The
FACE Act rectifies this for all future international adoptees by
conferring citizenship upon completion of the adoption and the U.S.
determination that the child was adopted according to law. Citizenship
is conferred with no further action required of the adoptive parents.
This is a significant improvement over current law and will eliminate
the tragic stories of adoptees deported to their country of origin with
no knowledge of their original language, no support structure and no
ability to return to the United States.

For deported adoptees, The FACE Act allows these adoptees to file for
and receive U.S. citizenship if U.S. citizens adopted them under the age
of 18.

In summary, the changes made by the FACE Act are significant but easily
implemented. The FACE Act would:

* Remove internationally adopted children of American citizens from
the immigration process saving time, money and, for many, travel costs;
* Confer U.S. citizenship upon internationally adopted children
immediately upon completion of all the necessary steps without requiring
readoption within the U.S.;
* Improve upon the current system by encouraging foreign countries to
provide original birth documentation; and
* Provide the added benefit of making our internationally adopted
children eligible to run for President.

The sponsors of the FACE Act – Senator Mary Landrieu, Senator Jim Inhofe
(S.1359) and Representative Diane Watson and Representative John Boozman
(H.R. 3110) are great friends and supporters of the adoption community
and have crafted a bill that will provide equality under the law for our
internationally adopted children and allow them to benefit in all ways
from full American citizenship.

In closing, I recommend that all read the relatively short FACE Act bill
in its entirety. It can be found at:
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c111:S.1359:/
In addition, I
invite you to read a detailed section by section explanation of the bill
as well as answers to Frequently Asked Questions that can be found at
the following link:
http://www.equalityforadoptedchildren.org/legislation/face.html
.
Once you do so, I believe, like me, you will find this bill worthy of
your wholehearted support.

For the sake of our internationally adopted children,

McLane Layton

President, EACH