Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Oops, My Bad

I called and ordered pizza tonight. As usual, I asked for any specials and listened to him rattle off all the evening's deals. After that recitation, I was pleased to get a great price on 4 pizzas but when he confirmed the order he said to me, "And that is 4302?" "$43.02?!" I replied, obviously a bit flustered. "Why is it so much?" "Uh, ma'am," he answered, "that *is* your house number isn't it?"

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Christmas Letter

Well, I decided to go ahead and make the annual Christmas letter a post on my blog. It was an eventful year and this as good a place as any to recount all our adventures. Also, for anyone reading this blog who doesn't know us personally, this should fill you in a bit. So, here goes...

To Our Dear Friends and Family, Christmas, 2005

As many of you know, this has been quite an eventful year for us -- a year which has made us acutely aware of God's tremendous grace poured out and which has made us tremendously thankful for the blessings we have, which includes having all of you in our lives.The year got off to a smashing start when Fr. Joel totaled his little Saturn on the fender of a Cadillac. Nothing like starting off the year with a new car! The new year also found Betsy and Ruth in gymnastics, JT turning 8 years old and a family contingent joining in the annual Right to Life March in Washington DC -- an event which we are very pleased to say our eldest sons have chosen to participate in for the past several years. Of course, our hope and prayer is that each year will be the last as we anticipate a day when the murder of our children will once again be illegal and there will be nothing to protest.

The rest of the winter was fairly uneventful. In addition to the usual parade of doctor appointments, gymnastics classes, homeschool co-op and social engagements, a dear friend sent our live-in sitter Jessica to Driver's Education classes. That proved to be an education for all of us...

In April, on the heels of taking the top prize in a local public speaking contest, Fr. Joel was blessed to take his daughters to attend the Profession of Novice Ruth to the sisterhood at Life in Jesus. What a beautiful thing for a young woman to devote her life entirely to the service of Our King, and we were so glad our daughters got to witness her covenant evening.

May ushered in baseball season which featured Ben getting his first chance at catcher. What a dashing figure he cut in that chest plate and face mask! JT and Philip continued to improve in their skill and agility as well, and Mary and the girls are becoming quite the cheerleaders! In addition to the baseball season, May also brought the Septic Guys to our backyard with large trucks. Now, nothing gets a pile of boys more riled than having a backhoe tearing up their very own back yard! For several days, school was abandoned in place of the joy of sitting in the dining room and staring out the window. The backhoe operator claimed to be the best baby sitter in town -- always able to keep his charges in rapt attention! Even David sat in his bouncy seat on the table and gurgled with glee at every load of dirt scraped and transported in that big motorized bucket. The end result was even better -- a huge dirt patch, surely made just for their bikes!

June was the big month for us this year. On the evening of June 6th, There was a dispute with Philip about the treatment of his laundry which was duly returned to the dryer. This situation caused a delay in dinner, which resulted in the decision to take the whole family -- 8 kids, a Jessica and 2 parents -- to the library while the meatloaf finished cooking on low. We weathered a horrific storm in the safety of the library only to come home and find our house on fire and 13 fire trucks blocking our entrance to our road! Within minutes of arriving at the library, our roof had been struck by lightning, causing a fire in the attic. (Praise God it wasn't the meatloaf!) Although the fire department responded within minutes and confined the fire to the attic, the resulting smoke and water damage destroyed the entire upstairs, a good portion of the basement and the living room ceiling. We lost everything in the attic and everything belonging to JT, Ben, Philip, Miriam, John Michael and David (except for Philip's clothes which, you might remember, were still in the dryer..). We also lost use of the house for the rest of the year. But we had some great meatloaf to share with the generous folks who housed us for the next week!

We are taking the time to share some of the detail of that evening because we want to offer it as a testimony to God's hand over our lives. We don't believe a single circumstance to have been luck, but truly the provision of Our Lord to see us all safely through this. In a short time we found a temporary housing situation through the generosity of some friends in the CEC and moved what was left of our household about 10 miles south of our home. We anticipate being here for a couple more months and then returning to a fully renovated and remodeled home -- with a new kitchen/school room and 10 more feet of dining room! As we plan for the move back, we are constantly holding before us the vision God has for our family -- specifically to be open to His plan for growing our family -- both out of Mary's womb and out of the vast pool of orphans in the world. We anticipate a much larger family and, as these rooms represent the heart and soul of a family, the remodeled (and much larger!) kitchen and dining room are an important step in nurturing and growing the souls entrusted to our care -- both now and in the future.

The rest of the year has flown by quickly. The day of the fire, Mary met with her ENT who decided surgery was the best way to deal with her chronic sinus problems, and so she underwent surgery in August which went very well with terrific results. Somewhere in there, the 5 oldest children visited the eye doctor. Good thing too as he decided Philip and Miriam will need glasses within the next year, he found Ben to be slightly color-blind (thanks for the genes, Granddad!) and he immediately fitted Ruth with new purple spectacles which seem to have been a tremendous help to some of her gross motor difficulties. We also found a wonderful new craniofacial surgeon (truly an answer to many years of prayer on that one!) who plans to do a bone graft on the small hole left in Philip's hard palate. In preparation for that, Philip is in the process of acquiring a metal mouth (and the resulting bills for Mom and Dad from the orthodontist). We are very thankful for an orthodontist who is very experienced in treatment of cleft palate, and we are overjoyed to have Philip's new surgeon on our team as well.

Along the way, the children have found the time to pursue their passion -- horseback riding. Ben has chosen to step down off his horse to be replaced by John Michael who, at 2 years old, is proving to be a born cowboy. Betsy and JT also have a very natural "seat" (as we've been told is what you call it when they look pretty durn good on a horse) and Philip, Miriam and Ruth are doing fantastic as well -- meeting all kinds of therapeutic goals. There is a lot more trotting going on now that they have been at this for awhile and there has even been a canter or two along the way....

September brought us the gift of a much-needed two week vacation. We spent a week in Williamsburg taking in colonial history with Mary's parents and another blessed week in the Outer Banks taking in nothing but sun and waves. September also saw the waxing and waning of soccer season with JT moving up to the Under 10 league and making a good showing (one of his team's highest scoring players). Ben and Philip shared a coach and both played well. Ben enjoyed being one of the oldest players on his team and also a high scorer.

The Fall season brings most of our birthdays. After Philip turned 8 in July and David and John Michael celebrated 1 and 2 in August, Betsy's birthday kicked off the rest. She turned 4 in September, Miriam turned 10 in October, a week later Ben had his 8th birthday. Ruth will be 5 this month and after the celebration of Jesus' birthday JT will come around again for number 9.

So far, the winter has found us back to our routine and retreating from the usual hustle and bustle of activities. School is going very well considering that we are simply moving boxes and shelves around to find our books, but we anticipate a much more organized and effective set-up in our newly renovated home!

The birth of Our Saviour for the salvation of the world is the most wonderful time to be thankful for all of God's graces poured out on a fallen world. We hope that our story this year is a testimony to the world, of God's grace to keep us going when the things of the world should get us down. Thank you for your prayers, thank you for your generosity, thank you for your kind words, your babysitting, your dogsitting, your gifts, your smiles, your hugs, your floor space, your lawn-mowing and mulching. The list is endless. We will never be able to express enough thanks for the love showered upon us. It is truly through your prayers and support that our family has been sustained this year, and that the benevolent eye of the Father of all has rested upon us.

May you find the Lordship of Jesus Christ in your hearts this year as never before and may you be blessed as mightily -- and more -- as we have been.

God's Peace to you in the Christmas season,

Fr. Joel, Mary, Miriam, JT, Philip, Ben, Ruth, Betsy, John Michael and David

PS: For the first time ever we do not have any new family members to report in our Christmas letter. However, please pray with us as we do have a couple of situations under consideration. We are sad to say, also, that Jessica moved on after the fire to experience "real life". We miss you Jessica! Godspeed to you!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Turkey Bowl

For the first time in several years, we went to my family's Thanksgiving celebration. Usually we travel out to Ohio where the children enjoy having Grammy and Tata all to themselves for a long weekend (well, there was last year when all 5 of the sibs and their families were able to make it and that was wonderful too!). However, since the whole family will be here for Christmas and since we took a long vacation this year (two weeks - yeah!) we opted to stay home for Thanksgiving. I must say I had a fantastic day and so did everyone else once they got over their disappointment over losing the year's major road-trip. The day began with mass which was a nice break from the usual since it was a bit shorter (good for the children) and I actually had my husband in the pew to deal with all the "issues".

Our first stop after arriving at Mom's house was the soccer field where we played the annual family Turkey Bowl Soccer Game. Now I must say I was a bit apprehensive about this game since the last time we participated in one of these events. On that day, Peter and Reid got to be team captains and it was a painful process watching my children be picked over one by one - almost as painful as the fact that Beth and I were the very last ones chosen (which brought on bad flashbacks of way too many childhood memories). So you can imagine my relief when those children of mine voted Most Likely to Not Get Picked opted to stay at Muffy's house out of the cold and play. With that out of the way, I was overjoyed to be on the field with my boys (and my new mittens made for Heidi and me by Beth after our last sister outing). This time, we had the blessed occasion of Alden and my husband being chosen as team captains which meant that Beth and I were PICKED FIRST!! This had to be a first in our lives which of course needed to be celebrated with high fives and lots of whoops and hollers. It also meant that Heidi, ever the one to excel in athletics and to dominate social scenes, was picked LAST. Also a first for her - not accompanied by so much whooping and hollering but more like an embarrassed sulk onto the field. This deflated creature was the same one who had simply shrugged and smiled when I expressed my sadness over watching my children be picked over at the last game. An important lesson was learned I think...

Well, we played through wind, hail, rain, clouds and mud ( it seemed Sam's goal had more to do with acquiring mud stains on his pants than acquiring goals scored for his team) and in the end, we won 3-2. It was great to see Dad on the field. He was pretty pleased with himself that he still has a good foot on him. I got to play goalie and I also got to learn a valuable lesson - large, flowing skirts make great ball-stoppers. I was wearing my new (50 cent find at a yard sale) bright orange, extra long peasant skirt and found that if I stretched it out from side to side I could triple my width, and, thus the amount of goal protected from the opposite team. That skirt saved many a score...

The rest of the day was filled up with turkey and the usual array of snacks, pies and beverages. I had made sure the night before that it would be an eat-fest for JT who rarely gets more than a choice or two anywhere we go. The boys had a grand time playing with their cousins (spent most of the afternoon engaged in a game of Vanished Planet) and once we introduced SWAP! to the crowd that became a fast favorite. I can't remember the last time I was just relaxed and not exhausted for a holiday. There was no rushing around, I wasn't pregnant, nursing or exhausted from lack of sleep or a 10 hour drive with way too many children in one vehicle and way too many hours of Hank the Cowdog. I hadn't been arguing with my husband and my children were all very well-behaved and old enough to be basically self-sufficient (once we got past the turkey-cutting event). It was the best Thanksgiving I can remember in a long time...just calm, peaceful and truly thankful for all the blessings of the year...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

A Dream and a Death

Friday was an interesting day.... JT woke up and told me he hated to wake up because he had been dreaming that our painter, Mr. Bill, was painting the last wall of the last room and we were just about to move back into our house. Nice dream but not quite reality. Truth is, things are moving along nicely. The trusses are up over the garage and the roof sheeting replaced. All this is now being protected by a tarp so the whole roof still looks exactly like it looked immediately after the fire...

When we arrived at the site on Thursday, there were 3 very large men looking very pleased with themselves and they asked me what I thought about what they'd been doing. I looked at that tarp and teased them about not actually doing anything since it looked just the same. Well, they kept grinning right at me and then said, "Yeah, but did you notice anything?..." At which point I finally shifted my focus to the back wall of the house where they had spent the morning man-handling all the brick-work off the part of the house where the addition will go. Wow! What a lot of work and they were so pleased with themselves! I don't think we could have a better crew of guys working on this thing. We are pleased with them, too. In addition to this, many of the windows have been removed upstairs and they continue to gut it out and prepare for the painter to treat the trusses so they no longer smell like smoke. It is coming along, folks...

That evening I took Betsy in the car with me (she'd been voted most likely to keep the driver awake) and drove to Pennsylvania for the memorial service of my college roommate's husband. I can't imagine what it must feel like to be a 36 year old widow and my heart goes out to Sheri in her pain. I was glad to be able to be there for her and she was genuinely surprised to see me there, knowing something of the goings on around here. Sheri, we do love you and please, please know that our doors are always open to you!

Little Funny

I was driving the girls today somewhere and charging my cellphone on the car charger. The girls spent quite a while discussing what this might be before they actually bothered to ask. When I told them that my cell phone was charging, Betsy said, "Oh that's just like changing the batteries." I said "Yes, Betsy, that's exactly right." She must have sensed that I was a bit surprised and pleased with her answer when she responded with, "Mom you are so very proud of me, aren't you?"

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Keeping Sight of the Vision

Yesterday they put the trusses up for the attic. JT and I explored a little and realized that with the new trusses (the old stick structure wouldn't pass inspection and needed a sturdier frame) we will no longer be able to put anything useful into the attic. Nor will we be able to put the attic door back on with it opening in to the attic...not exactly a good start to the project but we move on. Today they got a bit of the sheeting onto the attic roof. It's actually starting to look like something now. The heating and air vents are in, along with a brand new furnace installed in the attic. How nice.

But, like most projects of this magnitude, we seem to be running out of money for what we really want to do before we've even begun. Our plans keep dwindling and dwindling down until we always get to the crux of our project - the kitchen/schoolroom and dining room. We can see the vision so clearly of how God wants to grow our family and we know that these areas of the house will be and should be central to the life of our family. They will be central to taking in more orphans and making them part of the family and they will be central to extending the love that our family shares with others outside the family in the form of hospitality. These two rooms have become a metaphor for God's call on our lives...bring them in, love them, pray for them, raise them up and keep the family as the center of their lives. Their bedrooms will come and go and shift as family members grow, are added and move on but the dining room table and the place of my service to my family - the kitchen - will remain the heartbeat of who we are and why we do what we do for the glory of God. This is the greater vision, without which we would have crumbled round about June 7th - (a day or so after the fire).

Monday, November 07, 2005

No Roof and a Kissing Worm

Today they tore the roof off the garage and poured concrete into the hole in the back yard. On Wednesday they plan to haul the new trusses up and have the attic completely reframed. The kids watched for a while from inside the trampoline and then decided to play in the dirt pile. Miriam found a rather amorous earthworm which, apparently, needed to be kissed by her.


Two year old John Michael was toddling around this evening wearing the sheep costume in preparation for his sisters' show. As he ran through the kitchen, the hood slipped over his eyes and he smacked into the refrigerator before falling onto the floor. He got up slowly and muttered, "Aw, sheep!"

Friday, November 04, 2005

A Day in the Life

JT spent 4 hours in the emergency room last night for a splint and an x-ray on his wrist so this morning I had to get up and find an orthopedist. I found one who then wanted the x-rays, a referral and an appt before 11:30 am. It only took three phone calls to the pediatrician and 4 phone calls to the hospital (after I finally found the number - the one listed in the phone book for the ER had been disconnected with no forwarding number!). Then 3 calls to the ortho and a gazillion calls to every friend in my acquaintance who might be able to watch at least 5 children on short notice. God bless the friend who called me for some entirely unrelated issue and ended up at our house 30 minutes later toting her own 3 children. All the while, of course, those 8 little bodies needed to be fed some breakfast, there was Math and Reading to accomplish just so we could say we did some school today and David followed me around whining and putting his little arms in the air at me.

My friend arrived here shortly after 11:00 which gave me about 20 minutes to race into town, find a parking spot for the big red van (normally a 20 minute procedure by itself), race into the hospital w/both my fastest and pokiest children, take an elevator to the ground floor, track down the films, race back to the van and get 5 miles up the road to the doctor. We didn't do it. We arrived at the doctor's office at 11:43 but they were gracious enough to see us anyway. That made it all worth it. It's amazing how soft I can become when doctors actually turn out to be nice people and their staff are accommodating and efficient. Turned out to be just a bad sprain - more good news as 6 weeks in a cast was a daunting notion for JT considering the amount of energy he stores in his body which needs to be released into some seriously physical activity at least 5 times a day.

We were out of there so quickly we made it to the optometrist in time to replace the frames of Ruthie's glasses which she broke last week falling out of the van in a far-off-thought moment. And since we were on a roll we ambled on up to the orthodontist a half hour early for Philip's appt to get his spacers placed in his mouth in preparation for the BRACES he gets next week. They actually saw us early, too - another doctor office with marks for good behavior. So we had an "o" doctor sort of morning - orthopedist, optometrist, orthodontist...

We made it home shortly after 1:00 and it was the least I could do to watch my friend's 3 boys while she had some alone time at the grocery store. The kids had a great time playing with their friends for that extra time except for Philip who, somewhere in there, forgot to be social enough to disengage from his activity in the basement and say good-bye. The good-byes over, we locked the front door and piled into the van to take JT to his friend's house (1/2 hour away and only about 2 minutes from the orthodontist but of course we couldn't coordinate the two efforts). Had the key in the ignition when Ben asked, "Mom, where is Philip?" Oh yeah, still in the basement being anti-social. This is why we do roll call every time we get in the van - I would have figured it out in another minute or so, honest. We retrieved Philip from the basement and tried again, dropped JT off only to have a car full of sulking children who didn't't get to go to a friend's house. We racked our brains on the way home for friends we could see (um, what about the 3 boys who spent the morning romping around our house with you?!) and decided to stop in our neighbors. I was willing to take 2 of her kids home with me but instead we ended up leaving Ben there for the night to go to a family bonfire. The number of pouting children left in the car was dwindling anyway...

With Daddy gone, I needed a nap and I needed one badly so I resorted to the Mom secret weapon - the DVD player. I turned on Three Musketeers, put David in his bed and lay on the sofa w/the blanket over my head. Of course, this meant nothing to John Michael who persisted in climbing in, on and over me throughout the duration of the movie. Somewhere in there JT got delivered home, I ordered a couple of pizzas and we switched to old Roy Rogers movies (gotta love Netflix!). The children got into bed by 9:50, I took 20 minutes to write this post and now I will retire to bed with my latest Michael O'brien novel (reading in bed is a rare treat for me) and a pint of Ben & Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk. And that's one day in the life of our family....

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

This is Why we Homeschool...

I've been driving by this billboard every week for about 6 months now and it really bugs me. It bugs me so much I stopped to take a picture of it today. For me, this image and slogan raise many questions which lead me to answers that are just downright depressing...

Where are this kid's parents?
Why is it the teenager's responsibility to get his friend to school?
What is that kid going to do once he gets on that bus?
What is that kid going to do once he gets to school?
Why does that kid hate going to school so much in the first place?
Is it really school that kid needs the most right now?

Now, I have to say I have since looked up the websites for the Ad Council and for OperationGraduation.com which are the sponsors of this billboard and they have some not-so-depressing answers to these questions. I was pleasantly surprised and genuinely impressed.

However, the whole thing has made me think through a question I seem to be getting a lot lately..."Why do you homeschool?" I can't even answer this question when I'm asked because the answer seems so complex to me - hard to put into one tidy little phrase that will please the casual - and usually only half-interested - questioner. But the key seems to be in my reaction to this billboard.

First of all we homeschool because we want our children to love learning - and to love learning as a family. It may seem a little pie in the sky but my true hope is that our children never get to the point where only a rope w/a noose on the end will entice them to learn. We have lots of folks here who struggle to learn. They cry, they whine, they panic but their victories are so sweet and we can celebrate them as a family when they come. And I will not give up on their battles, letting them slowly slip through the cracks of frustration, misunderstanding and lack of attention. Our children know that we are on their side and we are on their side to fight the good fight. No retreat, no surrender.

When our kids show up for school in the morning, they haven't just spent the past 3 hours waking before dawn, cramming homework into a backpack, standing at a bus stop with the neighborhood bullies (ok, bad childhood memories there...), riding that bus for 45 minutes and then scrambling to get settled into a classroom just in time to quietly listen to morning announcements read by the 2nd-grader of the day. Nope, not here. Here we get up , get dressed, eat breakfast and crack the books. I've just saved my children at least 2 or 3 wasted hours a day and let them sleep in to a much healthier timeframe for their growing little bodies.

Why doesn't that poor kid on the billboard want to go to school anymore? Because he's never baked a cuneiform tablet in his own oven, mummified a chicken or wrapped himself in a blanket, snuggled up next to his brother (with the appropriate fingers and toes in all the appropriate annoying spots of said brothers personal space, of course) and listened to his mom read Hank the Cowdog or Sugar Creek Gang novels. And because his math lesson and Spelling words aren't punctuated with a rousing game of Lewis and Clark Bingo nor does his math teacher throw chocolate chips at his head just for picking up his pencil and giving the first three problems a whirl.

Let's face it, homeschooling is a lifestyle and it looks so much more attractive to me than the one portrayed on that billboard. I was just discussing with a friend how difficult it would be to send my children to school - on them and me. I can't imagine rousing all those bodies out of bed, slapping together all those lunches, going to IEP meetings, volunteering in 6 different classrooms with a baby on my hip, working my day around the bus schedule and then working out homework for kids who would probably have lots of it because they weren't able to finish most of their work in class.

Our lifestyle is just so much more attractive to me. JT wants to learn how to bake bread. So he'll learn and we'll have fresh bread everyday and he'll have a new hobby - might keep him from picking on his brothers for an hour a week anyway. In the meantime he will have honed his math skills, exercised his executive functioning and gained some much-needed confidence. Maybe I'll have Ben read to his little sisters while I teach JT to bake bread and maybe I'll have Miriam help me teach JT since she learned how to do it last year. All that will work out just fine with Philip keeping an eye on John and David for me. School is a family affair here. I am a strong believer that the family who prays together stays together but I also feel there's something really special about a family culture which encompasses learning together as well.

Take Note!

Yesterday I spent an hour in the girls' room with a trash can and a front end loader preparing for Grammy to spend the night in there. When I was done, I sent Betsy on an errand for me and told her, "While you're up there, please take note of how neat and tidy your room is." Instead of trotting upstairs to do her job, she stood and looked at me with a quizzical expression. Finally she asked me, "Well, where is it?" "Where is what?" "My note."

No amount of explaining could get her to understand that the phrase "take note" is simply an expression not to be taken literally. At the end of all my explanations she finally went upstairs, seemingly satisfied. A few minutes later I found her at the top of the steps crying and wailing. "What is the matter?" "I don't want to write a note!" she wailed. "I just don't know how and I don't want to!"