Monday, August 31, 2009

Family: What a Week finally got better

As I mentioned earlier, last week was a heckuva week

One of the things that has been preying on my mind was my overall health .... I haven't had a physical in I'm not sure how many years and never had a mammogram.  Last Tuesday, I not only got a physical ... with all the blood work, ekg and specimen taking imaginable ... I also had my first mammogram.

I hadn't heard on the test results, but I did hear on the mammogram:  I had to go back today for more detailed xrays!

Well, I got a clean, no problem response after my xrays (seems I just had some dense tissue).  I thought it great that the technician showed the xrays right away to the radiologist to see if anything further needed doing -- and it DIDN'T!  30 minutes or so after arriving back home, I got a call from my GP's office:  I passed all tests and am "marvelously healthy" except for the need to up my vitamin D intake (to the tune of 500% more per day!).  Cool huh?

Blogs: Crafty Crow's got me again ...

I love checking out the crafts that Cassi at Crafty Crow pulls together ... there are always really fun and beautiful things to get the creative juices flowing.  On Mondays, she always has a giveaway ... and today's is really great -- readers can win a $75 gift certificate to CWD, a kids' clothing catalog.  I love CWD stuff and even if I don't win the gift certificate, may have to do some early Christmas shopping.

Check out her blog and join the contest ... even if you don't win, I'm betting you'll find some cool things to do with your kids.

Family: what a week!

This has been one of those weeks that will live in infamy! 
  • Tuesday -- I spent the day with a physical, lab work and a mammogram (my first, so I have to go back today for a more detailed one, yuck!)
  • Tuesday evening -- I found out that one of my brothers had died that morning; I spent much of the week trying to figure out a way to get back to California for the funeral ... but I just couldn't do it financially or emotionally or logistically (with no one to look after the littles anyway). My brother's wake was last night with a burial this morning ... prayers for the repose of his soul and prayers more especially for the family he leaves behind.
  • Thursday -- my 18 yod went off for college; we miss her and know she's doing the right thing, but we have lost the benefit of an older child who knows how to cook, clean, cuddle and read the little ones while I'm busy with another.  Kotch although you are directionally challenged (they were heading to the beach yesterday and ended up in the Everglades!) we are very proud of you and love you very much.
  • Sunday morning we were so sad to see our dear friends leave ... at 5:16 they pulled out for the next stop on their journey, but we will miss them so much.  Guess we're heading to Colorado next summer to get our friends-n-family "fix" .
It was truly a blessing to have our Colorado friends for a short time.  They rolled in on Thursday and stayed till Sunday o-dark:30.  Just a very relaxing visit with folks who are more family than just friends.  I've known the mom online for years and then when we moved to Colorado back in 2006, the families became very tight ... too many similarities to be ignored, I guess!

Here are some more pix of our frolicking together ....
We love you guys and pray for a safe conclusion to your journey!  Next summer, Casa Colorado?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Family: 4Real IRL!

We have the distinct pleasure of knowing MaryM very well ... so well in fact that when they headed east we got them to commit to a 3-night stay at the "farm".

We love this family ... my boys love Mary's son, my daughter loves Mary's daughter, and dh and I love Mary and her dh ... couldn't ask for better than that. They were dear friends to us in Denver (altho I knew her much longer on 4real, just not-IRL) and are still dear to us.

We all play together so nicely!

Yesterday, we had an added treat of hosting Ruth's family for their first visit out here (they live almost an hour away but had to come in for a doc appointment and took advantage of their proximity to us) and a chance to meet MaryM IRL.

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Just a wonderful visit with lovely ladies (and other kids that wouldn't let us photograph them!).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Family: college-bound Kotch!

Oh, the bags are packed ...
she's ready to go ....
Yep, our very own Kotch left this morning at 5:30 a.m. to fly out of Washington-Reagan down to Florida to begin her adventures as a college freshman.

As String Bean expresses so well, we'll all miss her. LegoManiac was in tears last night, saying "y'know how sometimes you get mad and say you can't wait till someone leaves ... well, I don't want her to leave." Bam-bam got up at 4:30 to make sure he was awake to say goodbye, then went promptly back to bed.
Yes, we will all miss her. But we all know it's her time to fly the nest and be whatever God would like her to be.
And we are so proud of her ...
Many prayers go with her as she heads out ...
It's interesting that she left today as it's the feast of St. Monica (322-387). St. Monica is famous for having prayed YEARS for her wayward son ... a "hot mess" of a young man who would finally hear the call and become St. Augustine of Hippo (those were some powerful prayers from his mama!). Charlotte, over at Waltzing Matilda, posted the parents' prayer to St. Monica:

St. Monica, patron of Christian parents, we entrust to your protection the children whose names you can read in our hearts. Pray for them that they may be granted strength to combat weakness, victory over temptation, guidance to resolve their doubts and success in all their undertakings. May they enjoy good health of mind and body, see beauty and worth in all created things and serve the Lord with firm faith, joyful hope and enduring love. Amen.
God bless, you Kotch!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Family: RIP Pete!

Please send up a prayer or two for my brother and his family ... he died this morning and the grief his wife and daughters are feeling must be horrendous. Please pray that he is at peace and that his wife and girls are comforted ...

Eternal rest grant unto him oh Lord,

and may the perpetual light shine upon him,

may his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed

rest in peace!

Amen ....

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Homeschool: motto for 2009-10 year

Many of my IRL and online home-educating friends choose an annual motto that will shape their school year, something pithy that helps frame what they will accomplish beyond the texts, field trips and projects.

I was going to use a the motto John XXIII used throughout his life, using it as his episcopal motto: "obedience and peace".

But then I came across this quote from St. Josemaria Escriva (founder of Opus Dei):

Don't say: 'That person gets on my nerves.' Think: 'That person sanctifies me.'

-- St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, #174

The motto that I'm having tattooed on my arm (so I NEVER forget this one) is:

Encourage and teach with patience. (2Tim 4:2)
This quote is one that Bishop Loverde (Diocese of Arlington, VA) has used for many years ... and he lives by it everytime I see him.

Aren't those quotes both just perfect for mulling over throughout this next school year?
I will be creating ways to make the first quote really resonate with the kiddoes over the next few weeks, particularly as we get into outside activities that bring them into contact with others who may not think or act the way we want them to act. But, I think this quote is applicable within our home too ... if not more so ... and the second one is something that I always need to remember.

I'll keep you posted as to what we do with these!

Where should we go today?

The FIRST annual Diocese of Arlington (Virginia) Catholic Heritage Festival !

Even though the skies looked doubtful, many from all over the Diocese gathered at Bull Run Regional Park to enjoy Mass with the good Bishop Paul Loverde and his fellow priests, deacons and seminarians helping out!After Mass, there were vendors to visit. All were Catholics who were either selling their wares or just offering information, advice and prayers for those stopping by. We particularly enjoyed this vendor as for the "price" of a Hail Mary for our priests, we could get a free bottle of water -- on a 85+ day, the water was much appreciated ... and String Bean and I walked a few feet and then said our prayer so we wouldn't forget.Besides vendors selling things, there were lots of groups selling ethnic foods and entertaining the crowd with their countries' dances. The diversity of the Catholic community here in Virginia ... the Eritreans, El Salvadorans, Bolivians, Irish, Koreans, Vietnamese, French, Italians, Mexicans, and many more others ... joined together to celebrate our Catholicity! As Bishop Loverde mentioned in his sermon, the diversity of each is enfolded in the unity of our commonality of faith. What a fantastic day ... and thanks to the intercessory prayers of Our Lady (today is the feast of the Queenship of Mary) ... the stormy weather held off until just about an hour-and-a-half before closing.Thanks to all those who were involved in the preparations and execution of this marvelous festival. We can't wait to go next year ... and try the Indian food we missed ... and the Bolivian dancers ... and do some shopping ...
So where did you go today?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review: Meet John XXIII: Joyful Pope and Father to All

Here’s a question for you: what do you know about Blessed Pope John XXIII? Honestly, do you know more than that he was an Italian-born peasant, from a large multi-generational home, and that he “opened wide the windows of the Church”, calling for the Ecumenical council known through time as “Vatican II”?

Well, honestly, I didn’t. All I knew about Blessed John were the above facts. I didn’t know anything about the man as a son, brother, uncle or great uncle. I didn’t know anything about the parish priest, school teacher, or Archbishop in a Communist-held country. I simply didn’t know John XXIII!

But, thanks to Patricia Treece’s recent biography, Meet John XXIII: Joyful Pope and Father to All, I now know much more about this man and am currently searching for a copy of his Journal of a Soul, his autobiography, so I can read more of his own writings. This man was so much more than just the good pope … so much more than the man who called the controversial Vatican II … so much more than the peasant pope.

Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli, born November 25, 1881 in a small Italian village named Sotto il Monte (under the mountain), was just one in a household made up of aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and cousins (numbering as many as 32 relatives) in the large stucco shareholder’s house. Roncalli was born into a house that was poor financially but amazingly rich in Catholicism, familial devotion and good-will toward all. One of the most telling quotes, from his Lettere written much later in life: I have forgotten much of what I have learned from books, but I recall still, blessedly, all I learned from my parents and elders. (pg. 3)

Through his parish priest and relatives, the young Roncalli was sent to seminary and then on to Rome for further studies. Since he was the oldest son in a large and financially-strapped family, this was a major sacrifice for his family. Roncalli knew this and continuously tried to help his family. For instance, when his next oldest brother was called up for military service, Angelo left seminary for a time to serve in his brother’s place. This military service would help him later when he worked as a chaplain in military hospitals.

After ordination, Roncalli went to Rome for further studies – canon law, Church history and a PhD in theology. The learned man never forgot the people though and was often called on as mediator, teacher, and counselor for workers, students, seminarians and the Church hierarchy. No matter how much he was wined, dined and praised, his writings – quoted throughout Treece’s book – show a humility only exceeded by his love for God and His Church. Throughout all the laudatory examples, Roncalli always gives credit to God’s graces.

His rise within the Church was not always welcome. At one point, Pope Pius XI “exiled” (the term Treece uses) the man to Bulgaria – a country led by the Communist party, with interreligious fighting between the Orthodox Eastern Rite Catholics, and the only Roman Catholics were refuges from Turkey and Macedonia (and the lowest of the low to the Bulgarians). During his ten-year sojourn in Bulgaria, the good Archbishop worked toward peace among the Christians, attempted to build a relationship between the Orthodox to bring them back to Rome, and succeeded with secular and religious alike to show Christ’s charity to all.

Not once during this entire extremely difficult and lonely ten-year assignment, did Roncalli complain openly or try to get a different posting. Pope Pius XI noticed and, when announcing Roncalli’s new assignment, said We want to give Bishop Roncalli a special sign of esteem and trust because, by not asking anything for himself, he has enlightened us a great deal.” (pg 78) The future Pope was living his self-imposed motto: Obedientia et Pax (obedience and peace).

The new assignment? He was named apostolic delegate to Greece and Turkey – an assignment that fit well with Roncalli’s love of Church history but one also fraught with difficulties (for example, Turkey was culturally and politically Muslim). As with every other position, Roncalli brought charity and love to every conflict and challenge that arose. Roncalli’s time as apostolic delegate spanned the war years – a very tough time to be based in Greece and Turkey -- including visits to war hospitals as the only avaiable chaplain!

In 1944, Pope Pius XII named Roncalli the papal nuncio of France, based in war-ravaged Paris. At this point, France was filled with anti-clericalism so Roncalli’s expertise and bringing sparring parties together was much needed. In 1953, Pius XII moved Roncalli to Venice, giving him the red hat of cardinal with the appointment as Cardianl Patriarch of Venice.

It was from this position that the 77-year-old Roncalli was elected Pope John XXIII after Pius XII’s death in 1958. He died five years later after battling a very painful stomach cancer for years, a battle that he offered up for His Church.

Now, these are the bare facts of Roncalli’s life. Treece does a fabulous job of peeling back the onion-skins of his life and showing the many deeper graces of this beatified man’s life. With quotes from Roncalli’s own letters and journals, comments from staff members and interviews with his many relatives, Treece paints a life of sanctity. She spends only a bit of time on the papal years; using the story of Roncalli’s life as the foundation for his later work, work that brought the Catholic Church to the notice of both secular and religious leaders throughout the world.

I very highly recommend this biography for high school readers and above. This book is particularly appropriate for reading during this Year of the Priest – anyone looking for a model of what a priest should and can be, need look no further than Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli.

* - * - *
This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Meet John XXIII: Joyful Pope and Father to All and to purchase your own copy of this soon-to-be thriller classic.

Treece, Patricia – Meet John XXIII: Joyful Pope and Father to All – Servant Books (Cincinnati, OH). 2008. ISBN: 9780867-167290 (paperback, 208pgs)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Shopping: new opportunity! now open for business!

If you'll notice on my side-bar, I've added a new link to a site, powered by The Catholic Company, that takes back the domain name "" as it should be run. Seems that for a while, some nefarious folks were running the domain with some rather inappropriate, slanderous and generally yucky-ness!
Now, is a brand new site for purchasing rosaries of all types ... and other Catholic items too. This is also a great site for understanding the prayerful devotion of saying the Rosary. There are videos and books and chaplets, too.
Check it out ... I think you'll have fun!

Prayer: 85,000 Memorares please

Our favorite priest was here for dinner last night and mentioned a prayer request: one of the priests in the Arlington Diocese has made a promise to the Blessed Mother to obtain 85,000 Memorares if she goes to her Son and asks that this priest is able to build an orphanage/school down in the Ivory Coast ...

would you help this rather good man attain his goal of 85,000 Memorares said for this intention?

The Memorare to Our Lady
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.

Our Lady is an amazing advocate for all our needs. May God grant this good and humble priest his request.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Feast Day: Who knew?

We have a couple of lefties in this house: dh, me, Brikhead and BamBam are all lefties, which must be a record: over 57% in one house! It makes it hard for homeschooling as the right-handers reverse everything I do (which is fine unless we do things like the Sign of the Cross, some letters of the alphabet, etc.) while the young lefty reversing whatever the righties do ... it can get a bit messy around here!
So, lefties unite (at least for today!).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Farm: Mad dogs, Englishmen and my dh

We've been living here at Hilltop Farm now for six weeks and the theme for the last week or so has been ....

At twelve noon the natives swoon, and no further work is done -
But Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

(song by Noel Coward, 1932)

But, Mr. Coward forgot my dh in that description.
You see, my dh is a school teacher and August is rapidly coming to a close and so, even though "it's one of those rules that the biggest fools obey, because the sun is much too sultry and one must avoid its ultry-violet ray" there is my dh in the front yard fighting the battle between the vinca and the liriope ... taming the much overgrown azaleas ... mulching the magnolia ... separating the pebbles from the topsoil so we can minimize the pebble areas and reap the harvest of the now-aerated dirt ... puttering in and amidst the natural beauty of this place.
Yes, dh is out in the 90+ (with humidity, more like 100) degree weather fixing the "farm" so that he can finish before the school year starts (or at least be at a reasonable stopping point).

Well, dh may be like the Englishmen and the mad dogs, but what am I?
I am out there too ... screeing gravel, spreading mulch, planning the garden produce and (most importantly) thoroughly enjoying the time with dh while the kiddoes are in the a/c playing! Only String Bean joins us occasionally. But that's ok ... because if it was good enough for Coward to sing about, it's good enough for us to do!
[I promise pictures soon of the work we will have done by the time dh goes back to teaching. we are whipping this long-neglected spot into shape!]

It's the most wonderful time of the year ...

No, not Christmas ... although that is my favorite time of the year.

No, it's sitting-down-and-planning time for St. Athanasius Academy, now resident at Hilltop Farm.

All summer long (and even further back for some things), I've been planning the home-learning adventures for Lego Maniac (10), String Bean (9) and BamBam (6). I haven't commited anything to paper yet as I always wait till just before we start ... primarily because I get so excited about the stuff we're going to do that I can't wait to start, so this gets me "pumped up"!

I will start the actual putting-it-in-writing over the next two weeks for a proposed start date of August 31st. I'll be posting my plans and ideas and books over the next couple of weeks, but I did want to mention a suggestion for those of you who have not yet "put it in writing", either.

If you scroll down my left-side bar, you'll see an ad for Michele Quigley's planners (and other cool home-learning tools). I don't get a kick-back for this ad, but I am blessed to know Michele and her family-owned company, Family Centered Learning! FCL is aptly named -- all of Michele's products (including the free, Charlotte Mason-inspired but Catholic curriculum co-authored with Kathryn Faulkner, Mater Amabilis) are there to help the Catholic homeschooler become more family-centered through use of their products. With 10 children of her own, Michele knows the value of a dollar and tries to keep her product costs minimal while providing a beneficial product. Check out her site and you'll see freebies abound ... tips and techniques and menu-planners and liturgical calendar ideas and more.

The family always comes first for Michele and her products are a shining example of that!

Don't be fooled by others with similar names ... Michele and Family-Centered Learning are amazing and are unique.

If you haven't bought a Catholic planner for the school year, yet ... head on over to FCL and order one for you and all the women in your life ... and the men ... and the students too! The planners are exactly what hs moms (dads and kids, too) need to keep track of school while also catering to the spiritual needs of the whole family with the day's readings, saints and other Catholic information all ready for you and yours to celebrate!

And check back here next week for our plans for the coming months ... there might be some ideas and suggestions that will help you and yours on your own learning adventures!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Books: Guess who's coming to town?

One of my all-time favorite writer/illustrators is Jan Brett. I love the way she illustrates to weave "extra stories" into the borders of her stories ... and the base story is so exceptional that it's like getting two (or more) stories for the time of one! The pre-reading little ones get some great pictures to gaze at while mom reads aloud. Not a bad thing at'all!

I love too that she always has lots of beautiful "hand-knit" items in her drawings and stories ... I even designed a hat and stocking for a new-born based on her book, The Hat.

And guess what? She's coming to Fredericksburg, Va on her Fall 2009 book tour which includes the 20th anniversary of one of our favorite stories -- The Mitten! F'burg is less than 30 minutes away and I KNOW my kids will be thrilled to go meet her in person ... at least, String Bean will definitely come with me ...

So, the tour date is booked on the Google Calendar ... I'm going to do a Jan Brett study (with helps from here) to coincide with the event ... and we're good to go! Yippppppeeee!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Go on ... have some fun with you and yours ...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Homeschool: getting ready ...

How do you make two boys thrilled about school starting up in three weeks?

Head to a never-entered thrift store (aka, junk shop) down at the county seat and buy two beautiful desks.

BamBam loves his old style school-desk ... all wood and metal and virtually untip-able (a good thing for BamBam) and unbreakable.

Lego Maniac got a "big kid" desk that will carry him through high school! It's sturdy and tough and looks nice. Give him dad's old laptop and he's "sitting pretty".

As you can see, we're still working on their rooms ... but they're getting there! And while we're working on finishing them, at least they have their own study spaces that are as different as they are.

And the best part? I found a great thrift shop for house stuff ... lots of old, sturdy furniture, housewares and other fun things where the store is owned by a lovely family and not too far from home. I can't wait to take dh with me next time (Kotch went this time and we had a blast!) so we can spend ... I mean "save" ... lots of money.

And for those of you who might have THOUGHT we'd ever forget our sweet String Bean ... here's the desk dh and I built for her this past week ... right into a cool alcove in her room with a window looking out on trees ... she loves it (but hates the fact that we had to spackle and paint ... let the paint dry ... paint again ... etc). The sign on the back of the chair says "wet paint" and she was none too happy having to write that one.

Dh will allow her to "load it up" on Monday so I'm sure she'll be room-bound for a week or so while she makes it her own space! And yes, her room is pale pink ... which is perfect for our String Bean. Kotch doesn't like it much, but since she leaves for college at the end of August, it'll be just fine!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Family: the problem with older sisters ...

... is that they bring these home for their younger siblings, but forget that their mom loves these too!

Oh well, she did bring me Liam the Lambto add to my collection of lambs from different wool-producing countries. He's gotten to be good buddies with the one from New Zealand!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Review: Spiritual Freedom

When I think of “freedom”, I think of the Fourth of July … and American democracy vs Eastern Bloc socialism … and the famous covers painted by Norman Rockwell. I don’t, however, think of the gift of freedom openly offered by God to all those created in His image: to every single one of us.

That is, I never thought of total freedom until I read Fr. Dave Pivonka’s latest book, Spiritual Freedom - God's Life-Changing Gift . To be honest, one of the only reasons I even picked up this book is because Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn wrote the foreword (and I’m a BIG fan of the good Cardinal who we knew during our sojourn in Austria, including his confirming Brikhead while we were there). I figured I give the book a chance since the good Cardinal could recommend it.

After reading this lovely volume, I find I would recommend it to anyone even if the good Cardinal hadn’t written the foreword!

Fr. Pivonka, a T.O.R. and a former chaplain for the Franciscan University Austrian program (where my favorite nephew knew him and was impressed with his preaching), writes an amazing book that leads the reader through exactly what God’s gift to us is and how we can each attain this gift.

With wit and truth and his love of God, Fr. Pivonka defines true freedom and its blessings:

  • freedom from our past sins by remembering that God loves us because we are His creation

  • freedom from control because only God is truly and completely in control

  • freedom from worrying about what we’ve done in the past and accepting it and letting God heal us

  • freedom from assuming that we are only human and thus can never be sanctified – we have Jesus’s sacrifice of dying on the cross for every one of us

  • freedom from worrying about suffering -- once we turn it over as a sacrifice (and not, as society would have us believe, a bad thing to be avoided) we can embrace the graces we receive when we turn the pain over to God

  • freedom to ask the Holy Spirit to “ride” with us in everything

  • freedom to hope in the Lord and allow God’s strong arm to wrap us in peace

True and total freedom is the freedom to be fully God’s creation, what we were meant to be before the Fall.

But don't take my word for this; read the book! Fr. Pivonka peppers his work with anecdotes from times in his own life when he has seen true freedom at work. These anecdotes are great stories – some sad, some humorous, some serious – but all told with an eye to further elucidating total freedom. These anecdotes are told in a style where I felt as if Fr. Pivonka was speaking right to me. The last anecdote, about a girl named Hannah, was so beautifully told it not only brought tears to my eyes, but grace and hope to my heart that God is so good to each of us!

What an amazing gift God has given to us all – the gift of freedom. But, Fr. Pivonka (quoting Pope John Paul the Great) quickly points out that “freedom is wounded by sin” so we need to look for “the liberator: Christ” and not try and do it all ourselves. So, the paradox is that freedom means turning to God, really turning to God – and thereby getting true and maximum freedom.

Pretty cool, eh? I definitely recommend this for high school readers and older, especially for those who may be caught up in our secular world and need to be reminded just what true and total freedom really is and not just the Fourth of July kind of freedom.

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This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Spiritual Freedom - God's Life-Changing Gift and learn how to be truly free.

Pivonka, Father Dave T.O.R. – Spiritual Freedom - God's Life-Changing Gift – Servant Books (Cincinnati, OH); 2008. Paperback, 146 pages. ISBN: 978-0-86716-860-0