Monday, May 22, 2017

Random Thoughts on a Monday Morning

I had this thought this morning while at Mass with my husband: it's a good thing--a very, very good thing--when you marry someone who makes you a better person.
At our wedding in 1980. He'll say he's the one who "married up";
but it's really the other way around.

I wouldn't have even been at 8:30 Mass this morning at our new parish in VA if I didn't have a husband who, without ever nagging me or intending to induce guilt, pushes me to be a better person.  "I think I might try out a weekday Mass here," he said, without even suggesting that I go with him; and then he proceeded to begin the process of getting ready.  He would be a daily communicant if his airline job allowed it; but whenever he's not flying a trip, it's been his practice to try to get to Mass every morning (although we've been so busy getting settled in the new house that this beloved routine has been interrupted).  I, on the other hand, have the freedom to choose to get up and go to Mass any day of the week I wish...but I usually don't, when he's not home.  Except, of course, on Sundays and holy days.

That's a hard thing to admit here in the Catholic blogosphere, where there are so many people I've "met" (not IRL, but Internet-style) who--like my husband--have inspired me to be a better person and grow in my Faith.

It's not that I'm a big sleeper-inner (that's a word, right?), or anything like that.  In fact, I've always been a rather early riser.  I've always loved being up in the wee hours, before the rest of the house awakes and things get noisy and busy.  Even as a kid, I can remember setting my alarm for 5:30 so I could beat the rush and get my shower in before the rest of my family began to stir, and then as a bonus, I might even be able to squeeze in a little reading time after getting dressed for school.  I am a morning person because I have a selfish love of peace and quiet, of the sense of having the house all to myself (an introvert's dream scenario!).

So without my much-better-than-I and much-closer-to-God husband and the exceptional example he has set for his wife and his boys, I would have been at home this morning, in my jammies, on my third cup of coffee, puttering around my house (maybe working on this blog post), missing out on the opportunity to receive the graces I desperately need but often miss due to my unwillingness to break away from my quiet, cozy little nest.  I wonder if there is a 12-step program to help extreme homebodies like me to get out the door more easily.  I'll have to look into that.

I guess I'm not the only one, though.  I found this post on Instagram.  It's from @carolyn_svellerella (Carolyn Svellinger, who blogs at Svellerella).  I thought it was so profoundly beautiful.

Wow, right?

Anyhoo, as I was saying before I went off on that tangent: because of my husband's quiet example of piety, I was sitting in the pew next to him this morning.  And I was so happy to be there.  I needed to be there.

Here's another random thought I had today: I love learning about new saints--especially female saints who were married women.  (Proof that sainthood is attainable for us all; not just for those who live behind the doors of a convent or monastery, but also for those of us who are in the world and trying with all our might not to be of the world.)

On the way to Mass, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed (a new favorite pastime of mine, obviously) and saw a post from @printableprayers (also known as @kendra_tierney, who blogs at Catholic All Year).  I find truth and beauty from Catholic 'grammers almost every day, which is why I much prefer this form of social media to Facebook!  Anyway, first there was this quote from St. Rita of Cascia, whose feast day is today: "There is nothing impossible to God."  And then there was a synopsis of the life of this powerful saint who is the patroness of impossible causes.

I knew a little bit about her already, but now I know so much more.  At Mass today, the priest also spoke about St. Rita during his homily, and I found myself feeling as if I'd been introduced to a new friend.  I will be invoking St. Rita on the daily, I can assure you.  Because the older I get, the more I realize that a mother's list of intentions for her children does not grow shorter once they've flown the nest and started grown-up lives of their own.  No indeed, it does not; it grows ever longer.  So I want to "meet" and learn about as many saints as I can, and then I need to remember that they are willing to intercede on my behalf if I just remember to ask for their help.

Which leads to another thought I've had a lot lately: "Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems." 
Proof that I was once the mother of darling little boys: here I am at the Mother-Son Dance
at their school in 1992 (when I was in the early stages of pregnancy with son #5).
Adages only become adages because there is truth to them, and there is a whole lot of truth in that old saying.  So many problems can be fixed with a kiss and a Band-Aid when your children are little and living under your roof, sheltered under your wing.  It gets more complicated when their boo-boos aren't as easily fixable.  Watching them fly from the nest, one after the other, to begin their own adult lives is one of the most satisfying things (You've done your job well!  Your child is ready to be independent!) and yet one of the most painful things (How can I let my baby go?  How can I shield him from all the hardships he's sure to face?) your mother's heart will ever have to endure.  And seeing those children who will always be your precious babies struggle through the normal difficulties of adulthood--career challenges, financial worries, risky pregnancies, sick babies of their own--can be brutal at times, even though you remind yourself that you and your husband faced similar difficulties and you got through them.

Without faith, how does anyone get through anything?

Here's a little addendum to that aforementioned adage, another thought I've been having a lot lately: Big kids, big joys!!
Grown sons #2, 3, and 4--our VA neighbors--celebrating a belated Mother's Day
with me yesterday.  (Talk about big joys: these wonderful men are three of mine.)
Yes, it's sad when your nest empties out--especially if you're like me and the only job you've ever wanted since as long as you can remember is to be a MOTHER.  Different bloggers I follow have been writing lately about the tears they're shedding as their oldest children graduate from high school and prepare to go off to college.  Oh, how I can relate!  (In fact, I remember blogging about those bittersweet emotions years ago, when our youngest boy was about to graduate from high school.  I've dusted off that old post from my archives, about facing the end of an era, if you're interested in reading it.)

But guess what?  Your grown-and-gone children sometimes give you even more children.  Our four oldest boys have married and given us four daughters, which we never had before, and our lives have been enriched immeasurably by these sweet girls.  They love our boys, which is the most important thing; but how lucky are we that they love us, too?

And then there are the grandchildren.  If you're reading this and your children are all still young and living under your roof, know this: there is a joy beyond description awaiting you when your children become parents.  My father-in-law used to say, "If I'd known how fun grandchildren were, I would have had them first."  They are the greatest blessing imaginable.  Just when you think the best part of your life is over and all you're doing is getting OLD , they come along and breathe new life into you. They make you feel young again.  They are heaven on earth.
I have lots more thoughts pinging around inside my head, but I think I'll close on that note before the day is gone and I've gotten nothing productive accomplished.  (Although a day that begins with Mass can never be thought of as a day without accomplishment, am I right?)

Have a great week, dear readers!

Monday, May 15, 2017

My Sunday Best: Mother's Day 2017 Edition

I thought I'd join up with Rosie today to celebrate Mother's Day with y'all.  That's right, I say "y'all" now--because I'm a Southerner, have you heard?
(I know I'm a day late, but that's the way I seem to roll these days.  And better late than never, so they say.) 

Not that my Mother's Day Mass outfit was really anything to write home (or blog) about, mind you.  But it was a good excuse to post something here, and better yet, to link up with some other fine ladies.  And maybe to talk about some other stuff, too, besides my $15 Sam's Club shift and $16.99 TJ Maxx cardigan.
I almost returned this dress right after I bought it, because I thought that the modern geometric print was a tad too bold for me, that the hem was a couple of inches too short, and that in general it fit just a wee bit too tightly.  Meaning that it wasn't about too sizes too big, which is my favorite fit when it comes to dresses.  (I am always happiest in loose-fitting garments--layers upon layers of them.)

This wrinkle-free polyester dress has short sleeves and can be worn alone, but I like it best paired with a 3/4-sleeve cardi (as they call them in fashion circles).  Because like I said before: layers.

Those flowers I'm holding were a little Mother's Day remembrance from my husband, and I think they made a nice accessory to my outfit.

This past week we've been in our old hometown in upstate NY, taking care of our Oyster Haven VRBO house.  We have our first renters of the season, who came for a graduation celebration. So my husband and I attended the 7:30 Mass yesterday morning at his old parish church, the one where we were married in 1980.  It is such a magnificent church; it looks like a cathedral, truly.  I wish I'd thought to take pictures, but I didn't know that I was going to blog until we got home from Mass.  Luckily I had this photo (taken on our wedding day) stored on my computer, to give you an idea of the beauty and grandeur of this church.
Before the final blessing, the pastor invited all the mothers in the congregation to come up and gather around the altar for a special Mother's Day blessing, and then he passed out little gifts.  It was very sweet.
Each of the moms in attendance got this touching little packet.
Once we were back home (at my husband's childhood home by the lake, where we've been staying for the week), I got to work on the dishes I had promised to make for the Mother's Day brunch hosted by one of my sisters and her hubby.  I'd already made a chocolate brownie bundt cake--using a boxed chocolate cake mix and a boxed brownie mix, and covered in chocolate ganache--a few days earlier, and it had been frozen to preserve its freshness and then thawed the night before.  I thought it was going to be SO delish, and if it was a winner, I had planned share the recipe here at the blog.  But it was just sort of "meh."  I mean, it was good, don't get me wrong, because it was chocolate cake; but it was not nearly as out-of-the-ordinary as I thought it was going to be.

Aside from the cake, I was on fruit and vegetable duty.  I always love putting together fruit and veggie platters, because although they require minimal effort they're so colorful and pretty.

And they make you feel better about eating chocolate cake.
You might want to try this awesome fruit dip recipe: equal parts softened cream cheese
and marshmallow Fluff.  It's always a hit.

Does anyone EVER serve raw veggies with anything other than Ranch dip?  (Well, I don't.)
My baby sister put on quite a spread, as she always does.  Four kinds of quiche, eggs, bacon, sausage, French toast casserole, deli platters, donuts, pastries, coffee, mimosas...

I ate so much at brunch that I couldn't eat any dinner.  (Although I did eat a another slice of that ordinary-but-still-yummy chocolate cake...)

It was so wonderful to spend Mother's Day with my mom and my two sisters (along with their families), and also my sisters' mothers-in-law.  That's a whole lot of top notch mothers right there.
My mom.  Isn't she the prettiest 81-year-old you've ever seen?

Sister Act!  (And bonus: Whoopi Goldberg is nowhere in sight!)
The hostess of this shindig was my blond sister on the left.
My mother, front and center, is rocking her trademark bright yellow and black, a color combo she pulls off better than anyone I know.  The two ladies flanking her are looking pretty snazzy, too.  I don't know if it's a generational thing or what, but women of a certain age have an aura of glamour about them that we younger gals, raised in a more casual world (one without white gloves, hats, and nylon stockings) don't seem to possess.  One of them said that if she'd known she was going to get her picture taken, she would have dressed better.  And look at those three--they all look sensational.

My beautiful mom is doing so much better these days.  In the months since my dad passed away, she has faced a slew of health issues--not to mention a staggering mountain of grief over losing not only her partner of 60 years, but her home and her independence.  However, it is uplifting to see that she is getting stronger and seems happier and more like her old self, and she is adjusting to life in her assisted living home with grace and determination.  All she wants from us kids for gifts these days are pictures of her family to decorate the cozy corner room that has become her new home.

So instead of flowers, I had a photo enlargement made for her.  Because who wouldn't be cheered up looking at those five handsome boys of mine?  (Rhetorical question, obviously!!)
I hope you had the beautiful Mother's Day you deserve, all you moms out there; because just as it says on the cards the priest distributed as we ladies stood around the altar after Mass, "a family's greatest treasure is a mother of faith."

Now head on over to Rosie's post.  (That's where I'm going now!)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

House Tour: Part II

So, after giving you Part I of the house tour (and I'm referring to our new house in VA, where we recently moved to be closer to some of our kids and grandkids...since we were much, much too far away from everyone in NH), I thought it was time for the second installment.  It would make sense to show you the kitchen/family room space now, after having shown you the front entrance and the living room and dining room.  That would be the next logical step.  I mean, you can see through to the kitchen and family room areas from the front door and both of the front rooms, since this house has a fairly "open concept" vibe to it.  But I haven't remembered to take photos of those rooms when they're cleaned up and picked up and ready for show; so that will have to wait.  Instead of giving you a tour of the rest of the first floor today, I'm going to take you upstairs and show you the two guest rooms and save the rest of the ground floor for another day.

That's right, moms of young'uns: someday you will have bedrooms in your house that sit empty most of the time and don't really belong to any of your kids anymore, because they will be all grown up and have houses of their own.

You'll blink once or twice, and suddenly your kids will not look like this anymore.
They will not all be shorter than you are and dependent on you for their every need.  They will not be pulling on the hem of your skirt and looking up at you with their arms raised, begging to be picked up. They will no longer call you "Mommy."  (Actually, mine still do that sometimes, so scratch that last part.)

[Sniff.]  Moving on.

As I was saying, you will have empty bedrooms and you will call them "guest rooms," meanwhile hoping that the most frequent guests who will use them will be your grown-up children and their families.

There are four bedrooms upstairs in our new house: the master suite (which is ridiculously large; it's a little embarrassing, to tell you the truth) and three more normal-sized rooms, one of which we have turned into an office.  That leaves two small-ish guest bedrooms--which is the perfect number for us to have, since two of our five sons do not and most likely will never live in VA.

I am thinking of one of these bedrooms as our baby's room.  He's the only one who isn't married yet.  And he's the one who made it hardest for us to pull the trigger and sell our old house, for several reasons: that was the only house in which he'd ever lived, for one thing; and he will be stationed in Germany for about another year-and-a-half, and in a perfect world it would have been nice to be able to wait until he moved back to the States and could spend a bit more time in his childhood home before having to say goodbye to it.

So although this new bedroom is about a third of the size of the big one he used to share with two older brothers growing up in NH, I have tried to make it feel as much like "his" as possible.  First of all, the full-sized mattress is his--although it used to be on the bottom of a metal bunk bed.  (Son #4 used to sleep in the twin-sized bed that was on the top bunk.)  His bed looks a whole lot fancier now, since we put the mattress on a new metal platform bed and topped it with a new bedspread--both of which were bought to make our NH house show better when we decided to sell it.  But when our son comes home, his ratty old Notre Dame puff will come out of storage to replace this bedspread, and that will hopefully make the bed seem comfortingly familiar.
The bedside storage tables in this room were built by my husband, and in the old house they were in our master bedroom. Since this photo was taken, I have filled the shelves of both of them up with books.  Because I have been trying like crazy to figure out where we're going to store all of our books--our many, many books--in the new house, after having to give up the built-ins on either side of both fireplaces in our old house.  (Also my talented husband's handiwork, and so hard to leave behind.  [Sniff.]  Moving on!)

I've hung up the "school days" photo collages that I made for our baby and his two old roommates when they graduated from eighth grade, because nothing says "home" like a whole lot of family pictures. 
The Pack 'n Play and mobile were added for grandchildren and have already come in handy for napping and sleepovers.

On the dresser are some of our youngest son's high school football mementos and a little framed picture of him as a toddler that always sat on the shelf in his room.
This bedroom is not nearly as "all boy" and sporty as the old room in NH; but I think it's going to work out just fine.  (We'll get a chance to put that theory to the test when our son comes home on leave this summer!)

The other guest bedroom is a tad bigger.  In it are the two twin beds (on prettier frames now, with prettier bedspreads) that belonged to our two oldest boys, and in between them is the bedside table that my husband built for them more than 25 years ago.
One wall is adorned with the two oldest boys' eighth grade photo collages.  Since this picture was taken, I have removed the decorative storage bins in the small shelf to the right of the dresser and replaced them with BOOKS. 
Because to quote fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson--
Well said, TJ.  Well said.

As you probably noticed, we also keep a port-a-crib (the old-fashioned one we had for our boys, back before the days of Pack 'n Plays) in this room, at the ready for grandkids' naps and sleepovers.

Hanging on a wall that I can see every time I pass by this bedroom is a cherished piece of artwork given to us by one of our daughters-in-law, who is a friend of the artist responsible for this beautiful image of Pope Saint JPII.
I am pleased with the way these guest rooms turned out.  I didn't even have to paint them--they appeared to be freshly painted by the former owners, and I like the soft blue and yellow hues they chose.  So for now, no painting.

I know my decorating style is not super inspiring.  Joanna Gaines I am not!  But I do love the process of feathering a nest.  As difficult as it was to move away from our old house and all the memories we'd made there (26 years' worth), I am actually thoroughly enjoying figuring out how to make this new place work for us.  I like the challenge of turning it from a house into a home, where our boys and their growing broods can create brand new memories with us.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Heart of a Lion

My dad's name was Leon, but to his friends he was "Lee."  And to his "grandthings" he was "BIGFOOT." Always.  He insisted on that.  (If you were lucky enough to know my father, you know that he was a character.)

Dad passed away on November 25, 2016, one day shy of his 82nd birthday and about five months after celebrating his 60th wedding anniversary with the love of his life.
Mom and Dad on one of their early dates at the Naval Academy in 1955.
The end seemed to come quickly and suddenly, and it took our breath away.  But Dad's death was not really unexpected; just a month and a half before, we had gotten the tragic news that after years of blood disorders, frequent trips to the hematologist, and regular transfusions at the cancer center, he had full-blown leukemia.  Without treatment, he had maybe 3-6 months to live; but there was a slim chance that chemotherapy might buy him a year or two.  He chose the chemotherapy route, because as hard as his life had become over the past few years, dealing with so much pain and illness, he had one goal and one goal only: to stay alive as long as possible so that he could take care of my mother.  That was what he prayed for daily.  That was what he was living for.

We had known for some time that Dad was failing.  His family care doctor had told my sister this quite a while ago, and advised us not to nag him about things like his nightly vodka tonics or his excessive salt intake.  We knew that he felt lousy most of the time, but we didn't know this because he complained about it. Trying to find out what was going on with him health-wise was like pulling teeth.  He was almost heroically stoic when it came to his own aches and pains.  (Poor circulation ultimately led to multiple surgeries and the amputation of eight of his ten toes, but he never once felt sorry for himself or asked, "Why me?") And he wanted to be independent.  Thinking about him now, I believe he would have died much, much sooner if he hadn't been so stubborn and loved my mother so much.

To say that my dad loved my mother fiercely is an understatement.  They met when they were kids (she was 19, he was 20) and were married within a year of their first date, a blind date arranged by a buddy at the Naval Academy.  He knew she was the one for him almost from the very beginning and never had eyes for anyone else.  Right from the start, he told her he wanted to be a dad (and by age 28, he was the father of five).  It was the only role he ever wanted to have, our mother has told us; he lost his father to suicide when he was six, and he spent the rest of his life making sure his own children had what he didn't.

About a year before he died, my four siblings and I staged an intervention.  Mom had fallen and broken a hip already.  Dad was getting increasingly feeble, and it had become the norm for him to call his children in the middle of the night because she'd fallen out of bed (yet again!) and he couldn't lift her.  It wasn't safe at home anymore, we said; it was time for an assisted living situation.  But my dad dug his heels in and said they were staying in their house.  Period.  He agreed to a couple of hours of daily in-home aid, but otherwise he insisted that he would take care of Mom himself.
Dad visiting Mom at the rehab center last year, sporting a Band-Aid on his
forehead...because he had started to fall occasionally, too.
So he did, by golly; he did.  He did all the grocery shopping.  He brought her breakfast and lunch to her on a tray every day, and he heated up frozen dinners for the two of them every night.  He sat with his best girl after dinner and watched "NCIS" or "Blue Bloods" or "The O'Reilly Factor," and then he followed her back to their room and made sure that she got safely tucked into bed.  He took her to her appointments when we didn't even think he should be driving anymore.  I should have known the end was near in October, when he let me drive him to the hospital every day for his first (and ultimately, last) round of chemo treatments.  It was so unlike Dad to relinquish control like that.  After he died, I was so thankful that he was spared the indignity of having his driver's license taken away from him; for Dad, that would have been the last straw, the final assault on his manhood.  Because even though he was failing, and he knew it, he had the heart of a lion and he still wanted to roar. 

So often I am reminded of Dad, by little things that happen in the course of an average day.  Like today, for instance.  You see, it's garbage day here in our new VA hometown.  And garbage day makes me remember Dad with a fondness that, unfortunately, I didn't always feel back when he was alive.  (If any of my siblings are reading this post, you probably know where I'm going with this!)

Dad absolutely loved his job with the NY State Lottery, and if health issues hadn't forced his "early" retirement at 74, he would have happily worked until he was on his deathbed.  So after he no longer had the stimulation provided by work, I think he just needed to have other jobs to do around the house, jobs that only HE could perform properly.  (We're pretty sure he had OCD, although it was never diagnosed.  But that's a subject for another time.)  And garbage, for some bizarre reason, was of monumental importance to him.  He had specific methods for tying the plastic bags, loading them into the big cans, placing the cans just so at the curb--and in spite of the fact that all of his past-middle-aged children had been successfully disposing of garbage at our own homes for decades, none of us could be trusted to do it right.  We used to joke that of course we couldn't help, because we didn't have our PhD's in garbage.

Even when the end was near for Dad, trying to get him to let you help with the garbage was brutal.  He would follow you around, barking instructions, inching painfully along with his walker while holding a tall kitchen garbage bag into which you were supposed to empty each of the small trash cans located throughout the house.  Trying to convince him that you could take care of this task on your own was futile.  I remember saying, "Dad, please sit and rest and let me do this for you. And even if I do the unthinkable and miss one can this time, it's no big deal.  The garbage man comes every week!"  He could really frustrate you with his inability to give up control.

Now I see that my father was just trying to do what he could still do, for as long as he could do it, when so much of his strength and vitality had been cruelly stolen from him.  Now when I remember his stubborn refusal to let me take out the trash by myself, without him supervising me every step of the way (to the point of even watching from the door to make sure that I parked the cans in exactly the right spot at the end of the driveway), I realize that I shouldn't have gotten so annoyed with him.  I should have been proud that he still wanted to roar a bit, that his lion's heart had not been completely beaten down by illness.

Knowing that I enjoyed doing artwork and creating homemade gifts, Dad once asked me to paint something special for him.  An incurable Anglophile, he wanted me to make a coat of arms and incorporate a picture of a lion's head and the words "Coeur de Leon." The phrase "Coeur de Lion" is often associated with Richard I of England, the 12th-Century Crusader-King who is known as "Richard Couer de Lion" or "Richard the Lionhearted."  In French, "Coeur de Lion" means "heart of a lion," and the way the French word "lion" is pronounced sounds very similar to my dad's name.  So...get it?   Dad was always a sucker for a good pun (the cornier, the better).

So here's what I made for him, as a gift for Christmas 2002.  It's mine now and hangs on the wall of one of the guest bedrooms in our new house.
My father was a complicated man, flawed--as we all are--and sometimes hard to understand.  He was even hurtful at times, without meaning to be; but at heart he was as good and strong and moral and brave and loving as they come.  And never in his life did he demonstrate just how incredible he really was until his final days, about which I must write when I can bring myself to do it.

When I look at this painting, I think of my lionhearted dad and the way he roared through life for as long as he could...but then when he knew his death was imminent, gave himself over to God with the meekness and gentleness of a lamb. Even though it meant he had to do the unthinkable and leave my mother.

It is my fervent prayer that I've inherited even the tiniest piece of the heart of Leon, my father.