In the traditional calendar, today is the feast day of St. Gabriel the Archangel. He immediately precedes the Annunciation, which is tomorrow. This makes perfect sense, as he appears to Mary, asking her to be the mother of Jesus. Happy feast day!
In honor of St. Gabriel, I’ll offer 7 things I’m grateful for.
The Canada geese have been flying overhead all week. (Yes, it’s Canada geese, not Canadian geese. I’ve been corrected!)
And here is a close-up of what they look like for those of you not familiar. These things are big.
We greatly enjoy their raucous honking and the fact that they all land in the cow pasture across the road. It’s great fun. The children and I like to walk down the gravel road to see how close we can get to them.
As you can also see from the photo, our snow is finally melting. This is not only glorious, but great fun for the children, as they stomp around in the mud and make “rivers” for the water to flow down into the ditch.
I brought the baby into the doctor’s office yesterday. She had an ear infection, and I had an interesting conversation.
As the doctor was entering his information into the computer, he said, “Wow, you have 7 kids! You must be a strict Catholic.”
This seemed out of the blue. Apparently my baby’s computer file must keep track of those things. Then he said with a smile and a smirk, “I guess you had to have all those kids, huh?”
Now I’m used to snarky comments about the size of my family, but this ticked me off. Why should I have to put up with his condescending, vitriolic pompousness? I didn’t comment on the size of his family, implying that he’s a dope. So I reached across the baby sitting on my lap, and slapped his smug face.
Ok, no, I didn’t do that. But I did say, “Yes, we wanted all these children.”
He calmly said, “Oh yeah, I suppose you planned them all too?”
What the hell?*
“Natural Family Planning does work, when you actually monitor and chart your mucus.” (Yeah, I said that.)
At this point, the look on his face completely changed. He blushed, cleared his throat, and said, “Uh…I guess the other doctor here at this clinic wants to bring in a nurse trained in Natural Family Planning because she’s so busy with all her NFP patients that she can’t keep up.”
It’s true. I knew that doctor was swamped with women wanting her assistance. So I replied, “Yes, it’s fascinating–the woman’s body. We studied the Creighton Model. You might consider learning too?”
“This isn’t your grandma’s version of the ridiculous Rhythm Method. This stuff actually works.”
Then he said something awkward about my husband’s “swimmers” always seeming to find their way (weird), and I just sighed as he quickly slunk out of the room.
Why do I mention this incident?
Of course I couldn’t slap the guy. That never wins people over, but of course I also couldn’t remain silent. A wise priest once told me that if someone else is going to “go there,” then by all means, go there with him.
In other words, if someone is going to comment on my family size, then maybe I should go there too. Just because you think 7 children is nuts and overwhelming, doesn’t mean that I do. Or, just because you’d rather watch TV in your bedroom, doesn’t mean that we’d rather do that. You wouldn’t believe what some people say. “Get a TV! Don’t you know what the pill is for?” Or, “Don’t you know how that happens?” Come on, people. Be a little open-minded.
Or open-hearted? As a matter of fact, we didn’t specifically plan each of our 7 children; God did. My husband and I knew what we were doing, though. Many of you may not be familiar with Natural Family Planning (NFP), but it’s not that complicated. I simply chart when I’m fertile by monitoring my cervical mucus. Yes, it sounds gross, but it works.
So while we may not have specifically “planned” to have, for example, this last baby, we did choose to have intercourse on a fertile day. We knew the consequences. But our hearts were open. Open to God’s plan–His providence–with all it’s heartaches and joys.
And my heart has become bigger and softer with the birth of each child. And I am so thankful. So thankful.
*I just thought that. I apologize for the foul language. It’s a sin, and you should pray for me.
The other day I came across a curious acronym – JOMO.
Now I know that some of you are much more up-to-date on these things than I am, so you likely have an idea of what it stands for. For the rest of you (and me) it means: Joy of Missing Out. It’s a play on the famous “Fomo,” Fear of Missing Out.
This caught my attention because my husband and I joke about Fomo every time we get a new email suggesting another activity for our children, or I listen to another podcast about someone else’s family doing great things out in the world.
Now don’t misunderstand me, I am glad that extra activities exist, and I am glad that other families do great things, but I also know that I’ve got to be comfortable with where we’re at and not fear missing out.
This is where Jomo comes in. For it’s true, there is great joy in missing out. We say no to many things and prefer to be together as a family. Instead of running our children to multiple sporting events or musical performances, we limit these things and stay home. Our children ice skate in the backyard and build snow forts. We have friends over for coffee. We pray the rosary together every evening. We play Up and Down the River with gummy bears. We laugh with our children.
No, our home isn’t always peaceful. Quite the contrary. Most evenings someone’s crying or whining. My point is that family life seems to have been lost or tossed aside in this modern world, and it’s worth fighting for. It’s worth it, to be home with the children in a meaningful way.
So the next time you’re tempted to say yes to another commitment, maybe pause a moment to reflect. Will this bring joy to your lives? Or will it result in more running?
One beautiful thing you might consider doing this Lent is signing up for a silent retreat.
As we’re now in the middle of Lent, and most of us are trying to step it up a notch, I want to strongly encourage all of you to sign up for a silent retreat this year.
You all know how important it is to step back in silence from time-to-time to be with God. I’m sure I don’t need to convince you. The hardest part, however, is actually going. Of course Satan hates silent retreats. He’ll do anything to prevent you from spending time with God. In fact, retreat masters will often tell you to expect all kinds of obstacles to appear, especially at the last minute.
Let me give you an example. Two years ago I was signed up to attend a private silent retreat with a small group of mothers, but just hours before the retreat was to begin, our Retreat Master was forced to cancel. So we were left wondering if we should still go, without a Retreat Master? Well, we decided yes. After all, what harm could come from spending time alone with God for a weekend, even if it wasn’t directed? And I am so glad we did! For God always provides, and He sent an excellent priest at the last minute to replace the previous one. We had a Shepherd and the Sacraments.
In any case, you all need to go on retreat, or into the desert, if you like. And since I can’t ever get enough of Cardinal Sarah, I’ll leave you with a quotation from his book The Power of Silence.”
It is vitally important to withdraw to the desert in order to combat the dictatorship of a world filled with idols that gorge themselves on technology and material goods, a world dominated and manipulated by the media, a world that flees God by taking refuge in noise.“
Now I grew up in the public school system, and I only knew one family that homeschooled. And let me tell you, they were weird. Yes, they were the epitome of homeschooling weirdness. You know the type, they dressed funny and kept to themselves on a farm.
So naturally I assumed that all homeschooling families were weird, until I went to graduate school. It was there, in my very first class on philosophy, that I sat next to a man who was witty and smart and didn’t dress like a ninny. I was shocked to learn that he was homeschooled, all through high school no less.
A few years later I found myself married and settled in a strange, new city. I didn’t know anyone, and I was lonely. But a kind, homeschool mom of 7 invited me over to her home. In fact, she’d let me come over to her home any time to just hang out, and I was so thankful. Later, she invited my husband and I to join their weekly rosary group, which we did.
It was at this time that we started rethinking homeschoolers. For here was a group of six families, all homeschoolers, that found time to pray together every week. They took the faith seriously. They were all active in their parishes. Their children were kind to my children. They themselves were fun to be around and have discussions with. It was a true oasis–a monastery in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
It wasn’t long, and we were hooked, and as you know, we homeschool.
And Now For a Rant
Yeah, we homeschool. We homeschool like Greek Spartans. Except that instead of training our boys to become hardened warriors for the State, we train them to become masculine warriors for Christ. Instead of instructing our girls to become tenacious women, we instruct them to become virtuous heroines for our King.
There’s an old Spartan saying that goes like this, “Come back with your shield or on it.” This meant that you better be victorious in that battle or don’t bother coming back. I appreciate this maxim. Certainly it’s brutal, but I’m tired of mediocrity, and I’m tired of settling for less.
Let me give you an example. 13 years ago, when my husband and I first moved out to western North Dakota, we walked into the local Cathedral and were astounded. I naively didn’t realize that cathedrals could be built so ugly. I had just spent 6 years studying art history and traveling all around Italy and Greece and had never seen anything so…boxy, so bare, so disordered, so…ugly. I looked at the stained glass windows. I couldn’t figure out what they meant. I looked for the tabernacle. It was nowhere to be seen.
The worst part is, I felt bad. Everyone around me, including the priests, were trying to tell me that it was beautiful. I even had one priest give me a booklet on the stained glass windows, which attempted to explained them. He insisted that I read it.
And I tried. Honestly, I tried. But let’s get real and call a spade a spade. That building is ugly, and the whole point of stained glass windows is to tell a story to the illiterate, and those windows fail.
Which leads me to homeschooling. I’m tired of apologizing for homeschooling. Look, all around me I see Mass attendance declining and Catholic schools closing. But guess what isn’t declining or closing? Catholic homeschools. We’re on the rise. In fact, our Catholic coop is so big that we have waiting lists to get in. And most of our families are young families. And they’re having babies.
You want to know the advantages of homeschooling?
We don’t give a damn about sports. Yes, they’re good, and yes, we like playing them, but get real. I’m tired of all the emphasis on sports.
We’re serious about our academics. I have a 6-year-old that can tell you all 46 books of the Old Testament. My 8-year-old can recite The Charge of the Light Brigade. My 10-year-olds can decline nouns in Latin. My 12-year-old can write a 2 page essay on whatever. Yes, there are schools out there that get it too, but so do we.
Christ comes first, and we mean it. We’re not just paying lip service here. It’s all about Him. We begin our day with Him, we attempt to walk all day with Him, and we end our day with Him. Prayer permeates everything we do.
Our children have to help out.Of course homeschooling isn’t perfect. In fact, I’m still trying to figure out a way to take Sick Days. And I’d really like to get myself a Lunch Lady and a Janitor. I guess the children will just have to help out and grow in virtue.
We get thrown under the bus all the time, and it forces us to be sharp. Shoot, even our bishop throws us under the bus! (Click HERE for that one.) How many times have I heard, “If you would just send us your kids to our school, it would be so much better.” Yes, it would be, and thank you for the compliment, but there’s a reason why our children would improve the atmosphere. It’s because they’ve been taught at home.
Now I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I know some of you will misunderstand me, so I’ll say it anyway. I am glad that diocesan, Catholic schools exist. They are a good thing. I’m just tired of pretending that homeschooling isn’t a good thing too.
To all you homeschoolers out there, take heart! Keep homeschoolin’ it like a Spartan. Or better yet, as Dr. Taylor Marshall says, “Be the Maccabee.” And if you don’t know what that means, go read both books of Maccabees. Or, if you’re pressed for time, just read my favorite, 2 Maccabees 7.
When I was a little girl, I used to imagine the perfect bedroom. It was atop a high, high tower, naturally in a castle, built with beautiful gray stones. My room had a tall ceiling and large, airy windows, with white muslin curtains flowing in the breeze. My bed was certainly canopied with the same said cloth. All was peaceful; all was beautiful.
Alas, I have grown up, and to my dismay, I do not live in a castle. But I have not given up my hope of a peaceful, beautiful bedroom. One wants a quiet place to retreat to after all.
Today I’ll look at our master bedroom, which may give you an idea or two for your own bedroom. Also, if you have any good ideas, please be sure to post them below. I am always looking for ways to simplify.
There are a few things I’ll point out about our room first:
In order to achieve a quiet atmosphere, I’ve limited the amount of objects sitting out. You’ll notice that each night stand has a lamp, with my side also featuring a clock and my Bible. (My Bible is the only reading material in the room. This is intentional.) The other dresser has a picture of my family, a few flowers, and a little perfume bottle that my mother gave me.
I’ve also limited the number of objects on the walls. You’ll notice in the photos below that I’ve got a picture of our wedding ceremony, a picture of the Sacred Hearts, and a crucifix. Nothing else.
There is no mirror anywhere to be found either, not even a tall looking-glass. There used to be one attached to the dresser, but I got rid of it, and in our old house, I kept a tall looking-glass behind the closet door, but I decided I didn’t want it anymore. Yes, there is a mirror above the sink in my bathroom, and I suppose it’s necessary, as I don’t want to look completely disheveled all the time, but in the end, it is better for me to not walk by mirrors all day long.
Lastly, you will not find a TV in this room. Nope. We wanted an atmosphere of simplicity and peace.
So here we go. If you’re walking down the hall, here’s the first glimpse of our room that you’ll see:
Notice the wooden rocking chair? That’s my time-out chair. It’s one of the best things about our bedroom. I have a place to go, when it’s loud and chaotic in the rest of the house. Truly, I am very thankful for this little spot. Above it is a photo from our wedding and off to the side you’ll see this hanging on our wall:
I intentionally put the crucifix on that wall because I can see it from both the rocking chair and from our bed.
Here is another shot of our room when walking in the door. The only obnoxious thing is the big, ugly fan. I wish I didn’t need it, but I do. Every afternoon I lie down for about twenty minutes and must turn it on, to drown out noise from the rest of the house. I have heard about white noise machines and have wondered if I should look into them? We’ll see.
The opposite wall looks thus:
You might be able to see the holy card of Jesus to the left of the dresser. Next to Him is a drawing (also of Jesus) that my daughter made for me. I hid those two little pictures there on purpose. It’s my little spot where I sometimes kneel to say prayers.
The door on the left is our bathroom.
There isn’t anything special in here. For example, you won’t find tons of towels. I’ve already mentioned elsewhere that my husband and I each have two. You also won’t find a scale, though, either. About ten years ago I got rid of that Mood-Wrecker.
And the closet? I think I’ll do a separate post on clothes later on. I’ll just leave you with one last photo.
This is my little bird that perches on my windowsill. It was my Grandma Martha’s. I think she’s rather pretty. She brings joy to my heart. I find that she often changes locations, though. My children have a habit of sneaking in my bedroom and flying her around the room to land somewhere else.
If you’re looking for a really good video on fasting, look no further! Dr. Taylor Marshall and Timothy Gordon knock it outta da park HERE. The history of the tradition of fasting is fascinating, but my husband and I were really inspired by what these gentlemen are doing.
Seriously, watch it tonight with your spouse. Again, it’s HERE.
Anyone need of a good laugh? If you have any amount of children, you’ll be able to relate to and appreciate Jim Gaffigan’s hilarious snippets about parenting in this book, which was published back in 2013. I read it aloud back then to my husband on a road trip, and we laughed uncontrollably at times. Six years later, it’s still funny.
This book was written when all five of his children were under the age of 8 or 9, which makes for some romping hilarity as he details outings in restaurants, parks, and vacations. Seriously, we can all relate. What makes the book even funnier, however, is that he and his wife cram their family into a two-bedroom apartment in the middle of New York City, where they have to navigate five flights of stairs just to get anywhere. They don’t even own a car. Imagine that.
In any case, if you’re feeling down about the ridiculously cold weather, go read his book for fun. (Do know, however, that at times he does throw his family under the bus. He’s not perfect. And certainly stay away from his TV shows. They’re downright terrible.) Incidentally, his second book, Food: A Love Story, is also good, too.
Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy
Now this book is just terrible. I mean, it’s really bad. It’s the worst book I’ve read all year. It’s the worst book I’ve read in the last ten years. For any fan of Anne of Green Gables, just stay away from it, and here’s why:
McCoy has sexualized it, and that’s downright despicable. For example, she’s got Marilla at age 13 tripping on her cloak and somehow falling on John Blythe’s chest. Or staring at his wet lips and bulging arm muscles, etc. etc. Puke.
McCoy gives Marilla a twentieth-century mindset. For example, Marilla is concerned about politics and women’s voting rights and reversing male/female courting traditions. Blah, blah, blah.
In fact, the book is very much concerned about showing what’s going on in Canada politically, which is not what one expects, if one’s used to reading L.M. Montgomery.
She’s got Matthew Cuthbert courting and galavanting around with Johanna Andrews, in spite of what L.M. Montgomery explicitly wrote about him in Anne of Green Gables. For example, look at the following dialogue between Anne and Matthew below, which you can find on page 140 in Montgomery’s excellent novel.
“Did you ever go courting, Matthew?” [From Anne]
“Well now, no, I dunno’s I ever did,” said Matthew, who had certainly never thought of such a thing in his whole existence.”
Clearly McCoy didn’t read Anne of Green Gables very closely, or she wouldn’t have him chasing after Johanna Andrews!
All that said, maybe the second half of the book straightens everything out. For you see, it was so terribly written that I couldn’t, could not, finish it. So if any of you want to borrow my copy, send me an email. You can have it.
Now this is a phenomenal book. It’s about an Englishman, Mr. Philias Fogg, in the 1870s who decides to take a bet, traveling around the world in 80 days.
A friend of mine recommended this book, saying that her children particularly enjoyed listening to it, via audio book. So, I checked it out from our library’s audio section, and we loved it so much, that I had to buy a written copy too. Then my husband got hooked, and he added it to his audio collection for his drives to and from work.
I’m telling you, this book is well done. I love the characters, the plot, everything. And you know a book is really good if all ages can enjoy it. I will warn you, though, that the first chapter or two may seem a little dry, but keep going. You’ll be rewarded.
And if you prefer listening via audio, be sure to get the version with Jim Dale narrating. His voice changes and accents are truly remarkable.
For those of you without children, you probably won’t be interested, and I’ll see you next time. For those of you with children, here we go.
Does it seem like an oxymoron to anyone else, to put the three words Christ-Like, Minimalism, and Toys in the same sentence? Uh, yeah. Because it is.
Nevertheless, as Chesterton reminds us, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”* So, we have too many toys. Let’s look at the situation and see what we can do.
It’s Complicated (i.e. An Excuse)
First of all, we need to acknowledge that this is a complicated situation. I can think of four reasons why this is so.
We practically live in the Arctic Circle, therefore we need some toys, lest we die of boredom while we’re trapped in our houses for ten months of the year.
We homeschool, therefore we need some educational toys.
We don’t own a traditional TV, therefore we need some board games and the like.
Our extended families are generous, and we do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
That said, we need to learn detachment, and less is always better. Nobody wants their children to be greedy or have an attitude of entitlement. So in our household, we have a simple rule:
If something comes in, then something goes out.
Let me illustrate that. If Grandma makes a quilt for my son, then another blanket in our house goes out. If my little girl gets a doll for her birthday, then she must give one of her previous dolls away. (Or she may give the new doll away too.) If a new game comes in the house, then an old, unused game must be given away. Ect, ect.
In order to do this, one must have already purged to a point where no more is needed to give away. For example, you must determine how many of each kind of toy your child actually “needs.” If Suzy has 15 dolls, then that’s likely too many. Find a number that hurts just a little and go with it. Then when Aunt Sally gives her a new one, she must choose.
In our house, we decided two dolls per girl. This has worked well, and the girls get it. But even two dolls per girl gets to be a lot. We have four girls after all!
So just what do we keep?
It depends on what you call “toys.” There are really two big categories:
Educational books, supplies, and games
Toys that tend to be age and/or gender specific
Educational Supplies & Things
This first category has such things as books, puzzles, circuits, art supplies, coloring books, play-do, and games. These things are all great to have on hand. But again, one doesn’t need hordes and hordes of them. In fact, you’ll go crazy if you don’t limit the amount of puzzles or coloring books you own.
And there are ways to cut back too. In our house, we don’t have markers or watercolor paints. I detest them. So they’re just gone. We do have, however, a small container for crayons and a small container for colored pencils. And these containers are located where everyone can access them.
Fortunately I have a closet in what we call our “Homeschool Room” where we keep most of these things. And that’s just it, everything must have a place. If it doesn’t have a place, then likely you should just get rid of it, or something else, so that it does have a place. This is so important because then your children know where things go and can put things away properly.
Back to Toys
This second category I will break down into Boy Toys and Girls Toys. But first I’ll just say that we really have a preference for toys that can be manipulated, like legos. (Although one can have too many legos, as we learned last year. Click HERE for that one.) These kinds of toys are far more likely to get used in our household, so these are the ones that have survived our many purges over the years.
So, I took an inventory of what we own, and I’m embarrassed. It’s a lot. Nevertheless, here you go.
trains and wooden train tracks
nerf guns (I hate them, but my husband loves them)
a marble run
a couple trucks, tractors, and balls
dolls, a few doll clothes, doll chair, 2 doll beds
my old barbie dolls
some fake food
some paper dolls that they made on their own.
And that’s it. Well, actually, the girls have one stuffed bear and two stuffed bunnies.
What have I gotten rid of over the years?
We have gotten rid of a lot of toys over the years, and the children have never missed them. It’s funny how that works. For example, we got rid of all our electronic toys a few years ago. These were annoying contraptions that required batteries. One was a leapfrog device, another was an alphabet computer thing, another was a talking Elmo stuffed animal, etc., ect. Good Riddance.
But there are many other things that have been tossed too. I mentioned earlier that we don’t have markers or watercolors, but I also got rid of construction paper. I hated the mess. Instead each child gets their own spiral bound sketchbook. This way they have paper, which is thicker than normal paper, and it stays in their notebook, unless they tear it out.
Now of course, if I have a child that is interested in making something particular that requires a certain material, I will purchase that, if it’s reasonable. For example, my eldest daughter took an interest in learning calligraphy, so I did buy her 6 calligraphy markers and calligraphy paper, which she keeps in a special place.
A few other things we’ve gotten rid of are stuffed animals, except the three mentioned above, and an entire box of army guys and trucks. These things were just never played with. Of course if your children aren’t playing with certain toys, get rid of them.
We’ve also tried to cut back on Big Plastic Toys. For example, we used to have a big kitchen set, and I hated the amount of space it took up. While it did occasionally get used, it wasn’t generally for its purpose. Rather, the boys used it to make forts because it made for a nice, tall wall. We got rid of it.
We used to have a racing car track. Gone. We also had a big, plastic basketball hoop. Gone. Plastic barn and silo. Gone. And then there are the baby things that I hated because they took up too much space. High chair. Gone. Baby Swing. Nope. Extra baby gate. Nada. Nursing pillow. Don’t need. In fact, babies need a lot less than most people think!
We still have too much. I never even mentioned that outside things – ice skates, rollerblades, balls and bats, ping pong table, bikes, and wagons. Seriously, have you ever taken an inventory of every single toy you own? It’s an eye-opener. It might be a worthwhile activity, if you’re trying to determine what stays and what goes.
I don’t claim to have all the answers. I do know that for our family, and for my sanity, less is always better. We’re always trying to cut back, but then also, not to take so much in. Anybody else have a few thoughts or ideas?
*It comes from Chesterton’s book What’s Wrong with the World. Click HERE for a great little article on it from the American Chesterton Society.