Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Said to Me...

Michael: "Mommy, I love you."

Me: "Michael, I love you, too."

Michael: "I love you because you look like a big ball."


Michael: "Mommy, if it was raining chicken nuggets, would you let me go outside?"

Me: (silence. I am still thinking that one over.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More Interesting Quotes...

"You don't have to pursue that which you can attract."

"When your life is in order, peace follows naturally."

~Rev. A.R. Bernard.

Monday, September 28, 2009

It's Sticking With Me

From a talk that Grant and I attended on Friday night,

"The greatest act of holiness you can perform as a parent is when your child asks for your attention, you put aside whatever it is that you are doing and give that child your attention."

Read This

I've not read another post that captures the dreariness that sometimes accompanies the vocation of motherhood quite like it. Read it. Then read it again.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Farewell Old Face... Hope to see you soon.

(Photo by Michael K. Steele)
Pregnancy has a way of mangling my face. And sure enough, the inevitable has begun again. So, I am pretty sure that I am going to put the kibosh on all photos (of me, anyway) until I can be photographed holding my sweet baby daughter.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Primitive Torture Devices

Author's Note:
Welcome.  You have Googled "Primitive Torture" and I want to know WHY??  I wrote this silly little post a long time ago and it generates SO MUCH traffic to this blog that I am baffled.  Leave me a note.  Why, oh why are you researching "Primitive Torture."  It seems so scary to me.

It is no secret that I have been feeling more than a little frumpy lately. Have I told you about my last doctor's appointment? Well, suffice it to say, I have gained more than my fair share of weight for this pregnancy and I still have about 3 months to go. I need a haircut, my nose is expanding, and my pants only fit when I wear them backwards.... don't ask.

So today, when I was trying to gussy myself up, I decided to go through my grandma's old jewelry to see if there was anything in there that might improve my visual status. In my collection of her treasures, I found a great pair of old emerald (looking) clip-on earrings. They were straight out of the 70's and they looked like just what I needed. Green is my happy color, by the way. I clipped those babies on and set off to tackle the day.

About an hour after I left, I felt the ache start to kick in. The clip-ons were starting to really pinch my ears. I didn't care. They looked great and I'd already received a compliment on them. I tried to ignore the pain. I found myself getting unnecessarily impatient with the kids. I looked down at one point and realized that I was going, like, 20 miles-per-hour over the speed limit. The pain had become too much. I pulled off the offending earrings and felt my happiness start to return. Those suckers hurt - and they were ruining my day!

And I started to think about all of the things that we (women) do in the name of fashion that are wildly uncomfortable, if not downright torture. Clip-on earrings aside, anyone remember nylons? Those sweaty, sticky, constricting pieces of synthetic fabric that I used to wear everywhere. They held in the lumps, they smoothed the bumps, and they left me hot and sweating like I was in my own personal hell. What about stilettos? I could go on and on. Eyebrow tweezing... bikini waxing... low riser jeans... thong underwear!!! Why?! Why!

And yet, complete comfort looks slovenly. I have no real desire for total comfort - I just want to preemptively reject any future fashion statement that has me barking at my children. And for now, I will stick to my grandma's circa-1980's bead necklaces. They are a lot more friendly.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Confessions of a Slob

Isn't it funny how something so seemingly insignificant can trigger a memory so profound?

Here's some background. Never in my wildest imagination would I have ever thought that I would be a stay-at-home mother. I had so many preconceived notions of stay-at-home mothers. They were dowdy. They were boring. All they thought about were children and housekeeping. This wasn't for me, no way. I was going to have a life. I was going to be interesting. I wasn't good at housekeeping and I didn't want to be - I was better than that.

Fast forward to our first year of marriage, I commuted and worked and baked a baby. And once our sweet son arrived and it came time to make the decision to return to work or not - I reluctantly decided to stay at home with this little stranger - but I had no plan, no goals, and no vision. Exhaustion had clouded my view so profoundly that it guided all of my decisions. Basically, I was too tired to return to work, so I didn't.

And I became that person I feared most - uninspired, boring, and exhausted. I learned to embrace motherhood, but I did not embrace the care of the household. The mess was a source of comfort. It meant that I didn't have to housekeep. It meant that I still had a hold on my precious individuality.

Luckily, my identity crisis didn't last long. The Catholic Church crept quietly into my life and started to permeate all of the cracks that had appeared in my life. Soon, I was transfixed, transported and uplifted by all of the new ideas that were offered by our catechism classes. The fog started to roll back and I found myself awake for the first time in months. And I will never forget the day that a friend explained to me the idea that motherhood and married life are a vocation unto themelves. That they should be pursued with the same vigor as any education or career path.

I had some major work to do.

So with the help of prayer and faith and good friends and family, I have made our marriage, these children, and the care of this house my personal mission. And ironically, I feel liberated. I feel like I am home. And I think I have done a fairly good job. There are lots of things I think I do quite well, including keeping the house neat and pretty and (mostly) clean.

This brings me back to Grant. A few days ago, he stumbled upon a small corner of our bedroom that goes hidden for the most part. It is a small parcel of our home where I throw my crap: damp towels, worn pajamas, not-quite-dirty clothes. I go through it periodically, but there is always a pile there. And Grant says to me, "When are you going to clean up this pile here?" And I said, "You leave my pile alone. It is mine. I need my pile."

He looked at me with true confusion, "Why do you still need that pile?"

Why indeed? I can clean it up - I just don't want to. Is it some remnant of my life as a slob? Does it represent some sort of silent rebellion that I haven't acknowledged?

I don't know. But I keep hearing the words, "Why do you still need that pile?" And now, I too, am wondering why.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reason #7562 Why I Love My Husband

....because tonight when I decided that instead of just feeding my family cold ham and cheese sandwiches for dinner I would toast them in the George Foreman grill instead - he walked in and said, "Yummm! Croque Monsieurs!"

He can even make a stupid ham sandwich sound fancy. Love it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How the Mighty Fall

After a couple of weeks of unparalleled organization and harmony in our little household - I sit before you tonight a bit frenzied and harried after completely falling off the domestic wagon.

I won't sell anyone in our family out - but there is only one person who caused me to fall. (Just to be clear, that person is not my husband.) But his antics today sent my sweet little peace-and-order streak crashing like a house of cards.

So, as I sit here pouring a bag of mini-chocolate chips into my mouth, with the school uniforms still in the washer, and the dropped morsels of dinner still under the dinner table - I will tell you that I deserve this little "me" party right now and the rest can wait until the morning. Perhaps a good night sleep will cure whatever ailed the guilty party today and we can start over tomorrow.

Until then, it's tv and chocolate chips. Life is good.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Cute Maternity Shirt

So I have this really cute maternity top that my mom sent me a couple of months ago. It is one of those things I probably would have never have bought for myself but I really love it. It is made of the softest cotton, black, with ruching on the side, and it is completely see-through. I typically wear it with a colored tank top underneath and something dressy on the bottom. I guess what I am trying to say is that it is not just a run-of-the-mill tee shirt, it's cute.

This afternoon while the kids were doing homework, I threw in a load of whites into the washing machine. As I did this, I realized the tank top I was wearing under my cute maternity top was white and could use washing so I slipped it off, popped it in the washer, and put my top (don't forget the see-through part) back on. I mean, hey, we were alone in the house, right? Nobody here would even notice. I set about doing the rest of the dinner-homework-laundry shuffle. The kids went outside to play once they were done.

About an hour later, when it was time to collect everyone I leaned my head outside to tell the kids to come in. I saw the mother of a neighbor pass by, someone I don't see often, but really like. I waved and ran out to the street to say hello. We had a short and friendly conversation - I could tell she was distracted - she was looking everywhere but at me. I let her go and came inside with the kids.

And then I remembered: I was standing outside in a bra and a see-through shirt, completely oblivious.

I am losing it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The award for the most overused word of the year goes to...


(I hereby resolve not to use this word unless I am indeed amazed by something - like a flying saucer or a cure for cancer. A yummy salad is not 'amazing.' Rant over.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Not Tonight

This is the time of day that I have been designating for use of the internet. The kids are snug in their beds, my sweet husband is in the basement, the tv is off and all is peace and quiet. Usually before I write on my own little blog, I check out my usual haunts, blogs that have spoken to me in one way or the other over the years. I am sure that I have linked to all of them from time to time. Tonight, everyone else on my elite list of blog-sites has said everything that I might possibly say. I would take the time to link to the posts, but I don't have any energy for that. Suffice it to say, I have nothing left to say.

My only wish is for you to have a lovely evening. I am about to embark on one myself -

Plus, I got a new book.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sage Advice

Do you know what I am talking about if I say that sometimes domestic peace is palpable? I mean, sometimes when I walk into a house that is particularly peaceful and orderly there is a feeling I get. It makes my shoulders relax. It makes me want to stop talking so loud and just soak it in. More often than not, these are Christ-centered homes - families who are striving in holiness. All I can say is that it is working.

Today, in our house, amid the crush of homework Ben discovered that he had left a critical piece of work at school - and fell apart upon the discovery. I wish I could say that my initial reaction was one of rationality and peace, but since disoganization is one of Ben's signatures - I was terrifically irritated. So after going back and forth with him, I finally got ahold of another parent of a child in Ben's class and she agreed to photocopy the work in question so Ben could get it done. We ran across town - grabbed the paper - ran home to wolf down dinner - and finally began homework much too late. He finished it because I baled him out.

So, later this evening I had to run to a neighbor's house. Immediately upon entering, I got that feeling. Her house was so quiet, it smelled like warm and wholesome food, and her many children were sitting at the kitchen table finishing up a board game. My neighbor is a veteran homeschooler as well. When I finally adjusted my harried voice to the pitch of her home, I explained my evening to her. "That kid is never going to learn," I said. "He is a bright kid but organization is what is going to stand between him and success." Quietly, my neighbor said to me, "You know, in my experience, I have never had to reteach something that my kids have had to learn on their own. Sometimes natural consequences have the biggest impact."

I let the silence and the weight of her statement hit me for a minute. Natural consequences.

She's right.

God bless her.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I Am Most Creative When I Am Procrastinating

And right now I am procrastinating reading Jane Austen.

Where will I gather my inspiration when I give it up and admit that it is boring?

My poor blog will never see me again once I get a new book.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Make New Friends...

Make new friends, but keep the old.
One is silver, the other... blue and green camoflauge.

In my life, I have been very, very lucky in love. Each and every chapter of my personal history has a cast of characters who have been loyal, interesting, and loving. Some of these relationships have faded into history, some have ended abruptly and for a reason, and some have endured the tests of time and challenge. Today, one of my most cherished relationships ended - and I owe it to myself to pay homage to my loyal comrade: my blue and green camoflauge flip flops.

The story starts a long time ago. I was heavily pregnant with my daughter when I played host to my aunt and her son, my cousin. My aunt (you must understand this part of the story in order to comprehend the next) is the single most generous person I have ever met. She would literally give you the shirt off her back. While she was at my house she gave me a large can of professional quality hairspray, two bracelets off her wrist, brought all of the kids gifts and purchased all of our meals while she stayed. We had a nice week and before long, they were gone. When I went into her room after she left to change the sheets and tidy up, I found that she had left a pair of black flip flops under the bed. I slipped them on my feet and our relationship began.

We had a good thing going on for a while, me and those black flip flops. We went everywhere together. At first I felt so guilty for keeping them, I even went online to order my own pair and send the originals to their rightful owner. But, when I discovered that they cost more than $50 (they were flip flops, mind you) I justified keeping them by figuring that my aunt would probably just give them to me if she knew how much I loved them. Hey, she gave me her hairspray, right? Every time I wore those shoes I loved them more, but like anything that is not really yours, I felt a pinge of guilt when I wore them. When I looked at them, I wondered if they were missed by their owner. I didn't really care. They were soft and delicious on my tired feet.

Soon after I gave birth to my daughter, I paid a trip home to visit my family. Of course, I brought with me my ill-gotten shoes. They would be the perfect for travelling. I wore them boldly, brashly in front of my family always hoping that nobody would notice. On the last day of my trip, my aunt pointed to my feet and declared, "ARE THOSE MY SHOES?" I admitted it and painfully, heartbreakingly parted with my - her shoes. Yes, she took them back.

My heart was broken. My feet suffered. I had to wear my nice shoes on the trip home and I had no idea how I was going to proceed. When I got home there was a white grocery bag on my doorstep with a note, "You're going to love these." Inside were a new pair of blue and green camoflauged flip flops - and as if sent by heaven by way of my girlfriend - a new relationship began. But this time it was for real - these babies were mine.

It was love from the first try-on. These shoes feel like walking on marshmallows on top of pillows on top of clouds. They feel like going barefoot but better. They have never stretched out no matter how often I've worn them and I have worn them a lot. But unlike the fancy black flip flops my aunt reclaimed, these suckers aren't pretty. I have had to endure scorn and public ridicule for my choice in footwear. People with more fashion and more vanity that I have called me out. "Get some new shoes!" they scoff. Not until the soles of my feet are dragging on the ground.

And so my flip flops have gone everywhere with me. I have worn them elegantly with a sundress or functionally with socks under my jeans. They have hiked in the Shenandoah, sunned in the beaches of North Carolina and comforted me every step of my journey of life. To say that I treasure these shoes is to understate: they have become a part of me.

Lately my beloveds have shown signs of wear and I have feared for their demise. I have gone to various department stores to try and replace them, but to no avail. After a day or so of suffering through discomfort, I dig out my camo shoes and our relationship endures another day. But this weekend, the final straw. The places where they are ripped have started to drag on the ground causing me to lose my balance and trip - and when it comes to my own well-being, not to mention the well-being of my precious unborn child - well, the decision was made. The time has unfortunately come.

It was only apropos that it was drizzly and grey this morning when we set out for the shopping mall to find replacement shoes. We battled the rain and finally got to the destination where I had been assured that I would find a comparable replacement. I walked in tentatively, feeling a bit like I was perusing eHarmony after the death of my spouse. Slowly but surely I began to try on shoes and finally stumbled on a sweet pair of silver Mary Janes that gave me that same feeling of ahhhhh that lovers past have offered. My feet melted into them. I think this is the start of a wonderful relationship.

The sun was out when we left the shopping center. The rays glinted off the silver and especially sparkled when touched by the leftover rain from this morning's shower. Goodbye old friends, I thought. Goodbye.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Soul Food

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My son Michael wants to be a chef when he grows up. Last year it was been pretty obsessive actually. He talked about it and planned for it. He assigned each of the other kids various functions around his imagined restaurant. He picked out certain dishes that he would like to serve. He was pretty stuck on the idea of blueberry pie for a while until we actually made blueberry pie and he practically spit it out. That won't be featured on his menu. This year I have noticed that maybe he hasn't been too enthusiastic about being a chef. Sure, he still wears his Chef Michael apron and tries to help me around the kitchen but I can tell that maybe he has reconsidered a bit. This week, my suspicions have been confirmed. When I asked him if he still wants to be a chef when he grows up he said yes, but that he'd also like to be a firefighter.

Typically, I would feel sort of sad that he doesn't want to be chef anymore. Like the time when instead of saying "helicocker," Ben corrected himself and pointed out a perfectly pronounced "helicopter." But this week I am happy because I have had time to sit down and talk with Michael about the things that are on his mind. School started this week which means half of my children are out of the house for the majority of the day. I have spent most of the week pushing little ones on the swings, playing outside in the sandbox, and talking about the little things that come into their little minds. And even though my life has gloriously slowed down, but body has slowed as well. I am moving a little slower these days. Getting out of a chair takes a little bit more effort.

On Thursday, we performed our usual little-kid activities. We went on a walk in the morning and to the playground in the midday for lunch. I packed food and water for the little ones but I didn't think to pack anything for myself. The kids played and ate happily and we left just in time to make one stop at home to use the restroom, drop off our picnic gear, grab the car keys and run to grab the big kids from school. We walked in the door and each of us went our separate ways in order to get back out the door in time. I didn't notice what anyone was doing until we were walking out the door and Michael handed me a plate with a ham sandwich on it. He said, "Mommy, I made you a sandwich because I saw that you didn't have a chance to eat. I put extra mayonnaise on it because I know you like it."

And for about the millionth time this week, the waterworks started. I sat with my beautiful ham sandwich and cried for all the incredible blessings of my life. I cried with gratitude for my precious son. I cried for how fortunate I am to be surrounded by all of these beautiful children and how individual and unique each of them are - and for the individual lessons that they have taught me. I cried because I was starving and I really, really like mayonnaise.

So, I don't know if Michael will ever become a chef. It doesn't really matter. What does matter is the fact that I am able to sit and talk with him about all of the options that are available to him throughout the rest of his life. It matters that I be present to him, and have a willing and able ear to lend him during the major turning points of his life. But what I do know is that if indeed he does become a chef, nothing he will prepare will ever be as lovely as that sandwich.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Keep it Real

Today I had an experience that was so mindblowingly irritating that just thinking about it sends shockwaves of frustration through my wildly pregnant body. I would tell you about it, but that would mean telling you who it was, and I just can't find it in myself to do that. You see, I am painfully afraid of hurting someone's feelings.

Don't worry. It wasn't you. Ten-thousand bucks says it wasn't anyone you've ever even met or heard of before and I shouldn't be so afraid to reveal little things about people if it means telling a good story, but I am. And I think that is what stands in the way of my being an effective writer. Sure, the stuff I say might get a little guffaw here and there - but when it is a whole lot of I's and not a whole lot of why's my stories might delve into the tedious.

What good is exposition if it doesn't really expose anything? Sure, I can make things up here and there that might parallel reality, but the effect tends to be lackluster compared to the rawness of the truth. If you don't get to know me any better after investing the time to read my posts, you have wasted your time. If I said something like, "I tend to have a humorous outlook on life because growing up, my dad used to spray paint political messages on the side of his truck and drive us around town" you would tune me out - because that couldn't have really happened, could it?

So I sit at a crossroads between keeping-it-real and becoming a fiction writer. The latter of which I have absolutely no interest in. I come here seeking reflection and revelation. And just to be clear: no spray paint has ever touched the side of my dad's truck. And that, my dears, is the truth.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Quest for Cool

I absolutely despise having to purchase birthday gifts for the friends of my children. It is not because I don't want to be generous, and it is not because I have anything in particular against gift-giving, but typically the types of gifts I enjoy giving are not the types of gifts that children like receiving. Today I found myself in the typical minefield of the toy aisle of Target - torn between the art supplies that I want to buy and the flashy new toys that the kids have seen on a commercial. Whether it was the bliss that this cooler weather has brought to my demeanor, or the warm fuzzies that I am experiencing from being able to spend quality time with my littlest children (school started on Monday), today I caved and bought the Bakugan that my 5-year old wanted to buy. Not only did I buy one for his friend but I bought one for him so he could play along. An uncharacteristically "cool" gift from the Steele kids. I justified it by telling myself that the little kids would just basically toss them around and soon forget about them - and the big kids wouldn't be interested in them anyway. They've never had any Bakugan, the wouldn't care about it, right?

Here's the thing: I don't want to buy cool gifts. (I just realized how stupid that statement was considering that I was shopping at the Target. What did I expect?) That stems from the fact that I have no real interest in my children being cool. I want them to think outside of the Pokemon, fight the Clone Wars. But more than that, I don't want them to feel like they need to do what every one else is doing in order to have validation. Yet everytime I dig in my heels and really own what I espouse, a little something inside of me imagines my despondent kids pushing one of these things around the neighborhood -

while the rest of the kids are lighting off bottle rockets and riding around on motorcycles. I feel sort of bad for them - but if having an unwavering faith, a working knowledge of literature and art, and the ability to hold intellegent conversation is wrong I don't want to be right. I just hope they don't want to be right, either.

So Michael brought home his Bakugan and just as I thought, he tossed it around for a while and moved along to something else. I sighed a little bit of relief and went to gather my big kids from school. Upon seeing Michael's toy, they screeeamed with delight and said "Michael, let me show you how to play this. All the kids in school play Bakugan at recess!" Then Josh ran up to me and hugged my legs tightly and said, "Mommy, you're the coolest."


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

On the Power of Suggestion and Comfortable Shoes

So if you are reading this (and you are) you probably know by now that I am pregnant. And if I have been less than attentive to this blog in the past several months, it is because I haven't wanted to talk about being pregnant. And while the topic is paramount inside my own mind, I don't want to count down the days (95 to be exact), I don't want to talk about how cute I look (I don't), and I don't want to answer the question "So, is this it?" (I don't know.)

But if you construe this as negative, it is really not. I am thrilled to be welcoming another child into this household. I recognize that God has bestowed a tremendous gift on our family and I am a gracious and willing recipient. I am confident that I have a strong and healthy body that will accomodate our desire to bring children into this world - that is, until someone suggests that I can't - and then it all falls to pieces.

You see, my confidence in my abilities rests almost exclusively in the hands of those around me. I am a sucker for a spontaneous compliment, however, the seed of doubt proves to be a formidable opponent for me. So, I do my best to keep the doubters at bay by making sure I look presentable when I go out - you know, brush my teeth, wipe the makeup off from underneath my eyes, put on nice shoes. That way, the doubters won't be tempted to doubt. They'll think, "She can do this!" And then, so will I.

So last week I had an appointment at the birth-control pusher Ob/Gyn's office and found myself without a babysitter and needing to bring all 4 children to my prenatal appointment. This would be the lion's den of discomfort for me: six-months pregnant, trying to keep 4 small children quiet in a place of business, and having a visual stare-off with the Doctor when I try to answer her with confidence, "No. I don't plan on tying my tubes at the end of this pregnancy." I decided to head it off before it could start - I dressed everyone up in their Sunday best, put on my cutest sundress and donned my 4-inch espadrille wedges. Nobody better dare say anything negative to me: we look fabulous.

I was feeling tentatively confident by the time that they called my name to be seen. The nurse walked me and my ducklings back to the scale to face facts. She read me the number and the net increase over the past month. The kids were quiet, my backbone strengthening, and then she said it, "Well, you're doing great girl. And with all these kids - I can't believe you're still walking around in tall ol' shoes." I looked down at my feet, slowly sinking into drying concrete, and had the sensation that I couldn't take one more step. Her mere suggestion that my shoes looked uncomfortable struck me lame in the middle of the hallway leading to the examination room. I realized that I needed to get ahold of myself and hobbled on to finish the appointment.

Upon driving home, I had to give myself a reality check. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, way down deep, in the places that are available to only me - I truly believe that I am a worthy and able candidate for the job that I have undertaken. Who cares if the clerk in the grocery store shakes her head when my 2-year old won't stop crying in line? WE are happy - and I have to believe that God is happy, too. And that is really what matters, right? But, if I did take anything away from my little crisis, I realized the nurse was right: My life is better when I wear comfortable shoes.
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