Forty Ways Not To Lose Summer

Elizabeth Foss posted Forty Ways To Keep Summer From Slipping Away last week and I loved reading her summer goals.  For the last week or so, I've thought about how I want our summer to look, so I decided to follow her lead and write out my own Summer goals for our family and me. 

1.  Even though I can sleep in because school is out, I'll continue to rise at 5:00 am for my coffee and prayer time.  This really is the best time of my day.  A friend asked me recently how I get up so early and I told her not to be too impressed.  I'm wired for early mornings.  In college, when everyone arrived to the library for late night study sessions, I was usually packing my things to go home.  I'd much rather get up at 3 am than stay up until 3 am.  It's weird, I know.

2.  Continue to write every morning from 6 to 7 am.  Work on being detached when I'm interrupted by needy children.

3.  Continue to exercise three to four times a week.  Vary the routine with both exercise DVDs, walking, and running.  Involve the kids as much as possible.  (Side note:  I just started the Jillian Michael's videos.  Wow.)

4.  Read good books.  Our great books club is slated to read The Aeneid this Summer and I have to confess, I'm not at all excited about it.  I realize how uneducated that is to admit, but it's true.  I'm going to have to supplement my reading list with some other books I really want to tackle to keep myself motivated.

5.  Have the kids keep a list of all their Summer reading.  Maybe create a friendly competition and offer a date night with mom and dad to the winner?

6.  Take pictures with either my real camera or my iPhone everyday. 

7.  Take the kids to the swimming pool or the lake at least once a week or more.

8.  Prepare dinner on the grill as much as I can.

9.  Host several outdoor family movie nights.  (We hosted one last summer and invited our friends and it was so much fun.)

10.   Read a few picture books to my little kids everyday.

11.  Institute thirty minutes of required reading everyday.

12.  Blow bubbles and color with sidewalk chalk.

13.  Take a long weekend trip to Florida with my girlfriends.

14.  Teach an iPhone photography class to elementary and middle school students.

15.  Persevere on that writing project.  Don't listen to negative Nellies (also known as my thoughts).  Keep going.  Have confidence.

16.  Blog more.

17.  Hire a babysitter every week and leave the house for five hours by myself.  (This one I've already planned and organized and I'm so happy about it.)

18.  Help my kids make their summer bucket lists.  Try to help them fulfill their goals.

19.  Plan one on one dates with one of my six children once a week.

20.  Ensure everyone hits Confession at least once every two weeks.

21.  Invite kids over to my house and let them play in the hose.

22.  Try not to complain about my messy house.  Try not to get angry about it, either.

23.  Keep most of our time unstructured.

24.  Help John plan a weekend away for himself with one of his college friends.  Don't complain about his impending absence in the few days before he goes.

25.  Plan at least one date night a month and surprise John.

26.  Take the kids to baseball games.

27.  Build a fire and make s'mores outside.

28.  Take the kids berry and peach picking.

29.  Make fruit pies.

30.  Eat watermelon outside.

31.  Plan play dates with my girlfriends.  Let the kids run around like wild minions and come home dirty and worn out.

32.  Make art with my girls.

33.  Let the kids sleep in their tents outside.

34.  Make a day trip to the beach.

35.  Sit in the sun.

36. Go over the finer points of the birds and the bees with Patrick and Meaghan.  I'm not looking forward to this one, but it's necessary.  The older kids--all of a sudden--are in a new season.  WHAT THE HECK???

37.  Take the kids swimming and Deedo's and Papa's pool.

38.  Visit with my sister the Sister.

39.  Hire a swim instructor that will actually teach Christopher and Camille how to swim.  The swim instructor doesn't have to be "nice" but he or she must be effective. The last two years of swim lessons have been a waste.

40.  Go easy on myself.  Relax my standards.  Chill out.  Remind myself everyday the kids are going to be fine.

Anything I'm forgetting?  Share your ideas with me!  I'm all over it!

When Cutting Down A Christmas Tree Almost Causes A Divorce

Last year John and I almost divorced because the Christmas tree we cut down was too big.  OK, using the word "big" to describe that tree is an understatement.  The tree was so colossal, it almost didn't fit

in our yard

let alone in our



And OK, maybe the whole "we almost got a divorce" thing is also a bit dramatic,  but trust me when I tell you that tree was the cause of many fights.

I'll admit it:  I have a thing for lush, full Christmas trees.  I blame my mother, who also is Christmas tree obsessed.  When I was a kid, I remember by mom and dad taking us all to the lot to pick out a tree and every year they same conversation took place:

Dad:  What about this one?

Mom:  (aghast at his minute, spiny selection) No, it's much too small.  Plus, it's filled with holes.  Do you see them?

Dad:  What holes? (cue obligatory walk around tree to search for signs of "holes")

Mom:  (waving at some gaping vague spot on the tree)  It's a Charlie Brown tree.  Totally unsuitable.

It wasn't until my mother "stumbled" upon the sixteen footer section of the lot where the trees required special tractors to move them to customers' vehicles that she seemed happy to even consider purchasing a tree.

But the tree ordeal didn't end there because then the Colonel had to put on the lights.

Oh, the lights.

There were never enough on the tree, according to my mother.  I remember one year the tree my mom picked out was so full, when my dad finished stringing all the multicolored twinkles--after it had fallen over at least six times and he'd finally rigged it to three corners of the room--he was covered in sap.

He was also cussing.


I've inherited this familial need to own a BIG tree.  It's real and it runs deep.  As soon as I walk onto grounds of the Christmas farm we go to every year, I feel myself channeling Clark Griswold.  Greed overcomes me and all I can think is "ME WANT BIG AND BEAUTIFUL TREE."

My selection process goes like this:

1.  The tree can not be scrawny or overpriced.

2.  The tree must be selected in its natural habitat--the great outdoors--not in some garage or makeshift lot.

3.  The tree must smell like a Christmas tree is supposed to smell--emitting an

intoxicating scent of fir that reminds me why it's good to be alive.

4.  The tree must look how its supposed to look--tapered and full, without holes.

3.  The branches must be sturdy, lush, and thick.

As you can imagine finding one that fits this criterion is like finding

Camille at Khol'

s.  As a result, Picking The Perfect One is a process-- a long, painful process.

Last year was like every year before it, except I had just given birth to my sixth baby who was a mere 10 days old.  The temperature on the day we went to cut down was also in the teens, so what is usually an enjoyable experience was riddled with the onset of frostbite.

The funny thing was, both John and I had the idea to swing by Home Depot and grab a pre-cut tree from the lot.  With a new baby in the mix, we knew we needed to keep things simple and picking a pre-cut tree would be a step in the right direction.

But neither of us wanted to make the suggestion.

We felt like we were abandoning tradition, stomping on the memories we desired to make with our children.  So we pressed on, in all our insanity, and we (shall I say 'I'?) picked out a tree that was the absolute worst tree we've ever had.

(Many a year we've also had to wire our gigantic trees to walls to keep them from falling on children, so saying this tree was bad is


saying something.)

The tree itself had a c-shaped trunk, which made it practically impossible for John to cut it down.  What should have taken less than five minutes to accomplish, took him about forty-five.

In the frozen tundra.

While four rambunctious children wrestled each other to the ground and repeatedly asked for hot chocolate.

Did I mention he also didn't have a way to drag the monstrosity of a tree back the five miles  to the car?  Becasue he didn't.  He had to drag a tree triple his weight tree back to the van while wrangling wild kids as he went. (I took one for the team and went back to wait--in the heated vehicle--with the newborn and Camille.  I know, that's me.  Always thinking of others.)

When he finally arrived back to the van, John then had to load the beast, which presented a problem of its own.

Our fifteen passener is tall, so strapping the tree to the roof isn't really an option.  Even a person over six feet in height would have trouble hoisting a sucker that big and that heavy on top of our swagger wagon.  We usually take one of rows out of the van and load the tree in the back, but even with the removed seating the tree didn't fit.

One of the employees finally came over and helped John finagle a way to fit the tree over the top of the seats.  They had to carefully maneuver it so it wouldn't hit the kids in the head or stick them in the eye with pine needles.  The entire drive home the kids complained about being poked in the face by pine.

The situation worsened from there.

Once we finally arrived home and unloaded the tree (which took an enormous amount of time and energy because again...we had brought Big Bertha home) and John put it in the stand, I complained that the tree was tilted to one side.

"It's crooked," I said.  "You need to fix it."

So John went out and bought a new stand.  He then went through the arduous task of taking the gigantic tree down from the first stand and putting it up again in another stand.

Except the tree trunk was so fat, it didn't fit in the stand we purchased.  It didn't fit in the two other stands we purchased after that, either.

Cue a marital discussion about stupid stands.

Cue a marital disccsuion that may have involved cursing about the stupid stands.

Cue marital discussions about selecting ridiculously large and way-too-fat Christmas trees.

Cue threats to throw the Christmas tree out if I didn't get over the fact the tree was going to be tilted and weird looking.

I eventually bit the bullet and accepted the tree would remain crooked.  I also had to admit that the tree was entirely too big and that I did indeed have a tree problem.  I may have even promised to tone it down a bit next year.

Last year's tree in all it's Christmas glory.  It was a sight...and so fat I couldn't get it in the frame.

Fast forward to this past weekend.

We returned to our beloved Christmas tree farm and once there, I texted my mom, dad, and my sister, Sarah, this picture.  Note Sarah's remarks, please.

But no one--neither my mom, dad or my sister, Sarah-- believed my small tree claims.  In fact, my dad--who thought we had selected the tree directly behind us--wrote:   

So when we got home, I sent them another picture as proof of our small tree.  And my self-restraint.  I'm patting myself on the back as I type.

Wise guys:

Ha, ha.

They're hilarious.

In any case, I have learned my lesson. I realize now it's possible to have a pretty tree without having a


tree.  I also realize that Advent preparations free of marital discord are highly prized.

It's been peaceful around here, actually...

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some lights to string up outside.

May this year you select the Christmas tree of your dreams!

This years tree.  

See?  Normal. 

Micellaneous Hodge Podge (AKA: My Kids Make Us Look Bad)

1.  My mom took Meaghan and Mary for a special weekend recently and the girls regaled her with all

kinds of factoids. I present to you a few text exchanges between myself and my mother.

(My mother's texts are grey and mine are in blue.):

Just to summarize, according to my daughters, I'm a two ton heifer and John's a drunk.

2.  After a morning of misbehavior from Camille, I told her she was not going to be able to attend a tea party my mom had planned.  Camille, devastated by this turn of event, ran to John.

John:  Is there anything she can do to earn back the tea?

Me:  Yes, obey me right away for the rest of the day.

Camille:  Ok, I'll do that except....if what you say is weird.  Then, forget it.

Tea party with all the girls

Fancy pinkie finger

3.  Another confidence boost from Camille, right before Mass on Sunday morning--

Me:  How do I look?

Camille:  Ummm...yeah...I like your lipstick.

4.  Last Friday, I was running on the treadmill when Mary burst into my room, yelling that

Christopher had been stung by a bee. I raced down to the field and found both Christopher and Camille in hysterics because sure enough, yellow jackets had not only stung them both, but they were still stinging them.  I went into panic mode and tried to swat the bees off the kids without getting stung myself.  But the bees were persistent so I finally just screamed at everyone to run into the house.  

We hightailed it up the hill but some of the bees followed us and as I climbed the stairs one of them stung me on the back of the leg.  I screamed and grabbed at my yoga pants and pulled on them so hard, I ripped a hole right down the seam.  When the kids heard me yell, they started crying even louder and if someone had overseen the entire event, they would have thought we were crazy.

I was scared because I know how dangerous bee stings can be, so when we finally made it into the house, I gave everyone Benadryll, had them strip down, and I put ice on their stings.  Unfortunately, as some of them took of their clothes, few more bees flew out of the clothing folds and into the house.

All five kids started screaming and crying louder and bolted up the stairs out of harms way.  I took a shoe and got busy killing the now very angry yellow jackets.  Once they were all dead, the kids descended the stairs and I let them all turn on the television because...

it was stressful.

For the rest of the morning, I felt so bad for the three of them because they were definitely traumatized but as the afternoon wore on, more facts started emerging regarding how the bees started stinging the kids in the first place.

Christopher decided it would be a great idea to take a large stick and swat at the hive of yellow jackets in order to "fight" the enemy.

Bad idea as we all know who won that war.

Topher pointing to John where the bees were

5.  John and I are going to Mexico this weekend.

Yes, you read that right.

Mexico.  Without kids.

Ask me if I'm excited?  I'm promising not to be too obnoxious on Instagram.  I may fail, though.

Unedited.  Somewhere over the rainbow.  On a map, it's labeled MEXICO!!!!

6.  About a month ago, I started running (though jogging would be a more appropriate term because I'm slow.  I will not be breaking any time records, I assure you.  My goal is just to move my feet up and down in a quick like fashion.)

Anyway, on Monday morning last week, I woke up with a swollen and bruised ankle.  I hadn't done anything to injure myself, so I wasn't sure what was causing the swollen bruising around the ankle.    I took the day off from running because I didn't want it to get worse, but when I tried to run on it again the next day, my foot became even more swollen and purple. Duh.

I made an appointment to see the doctor and she took one look at it and said, "Your veins have collapsed in your feet and legs from having babies.  When you run, the blood isn't able to circulate properly back up to your heart, so you need to wear compression socks and get a new pair of running shoes.  You may eventually need to wear compression socks all the time."

Blame the old lady legs on the kids.

Of course.

Everything is always their fault.

7.  The month of October has been SO BUSY!!!  I can't believe it's almost over.  I love this time of year, but our lives have been so crazy, I don't feel like we've enjoyed it like we usually do.  I've been contemplating abandoning the blog because...time.  But then I always come back. 

I'm sorry.

Catch you on the flip side.

Is it just me or do you love these marshmallow candies too?

Puke, Thoughts On Creativity, Parenting Laughs And All The Other Things

The puke fest

at my house last week reminded me of a time when Meaghan and Patrick were just babies and John and I were parenting novices.  The kids caught some nasty stomach flu, complete with vomit and diarrhea, which they generously shared with us.  Though we had violent chills and vomiting, that wasn't the worst part.  The worst part was that John and I both got sick

at the same time

, so neither of us was available for zone defense. 

Picture this scene:  an 11 month old and a 22 month old with so much energy they would have chased their tails if they had one and John and me, lethargic, achy, and spending serious amounts of time kneeling in front of the porcelain gods.

We lived states away from any immediate family so we couldn't call on them for back up and whatever we had was so infectious, we didn't want to share our germs with the few people who actually liked us.  So we spent the day puking, trying to sleep (impossible!), and reclining on the couch(also impossible!) while throwing crackers and sip cups at the munchkins.  At one point, after begging them for the one millionth time to quit fighting over the same toy car, John made an executive decision to load them in the car.  We were so desperate to have them restrained and quiet, each of us grabbed a pip squeak and buckled them into their safety harnesses.  For the next few hours, John, who was feverish and pukey, drove us around the entire city of Baton Rouge.

The creative geniuses at Hallmark lead America to believe the only way to demonstrate love is with flowers and chocolates.

Not so.

True love is when John and I were equally sick,  but John chose to be my chauffeur in a gas guzzling SUV, so I wouldn't have to chase my lovely, but extremely hyperactive kids.





I've been slowly making my way through the book

Imagine: How Creativity Works

  and in it, the author discusses how important it is to have a relaxed state of mind in order to have creative insights.  When we work at our jobs or on a project, our attention is directed outward, "towards the details of the problem we are trying to solve."  Scientists, however, have discovered that this hyper focused concentration actually prevents the type of creative thinking that leads to ingenious ideas.  A clenched state of mind is not better when it comes to making creative connections.

(Doesn't this seem like an obvious point?  But in America our lives are set up around 8 hour work days, with jobs which require a lot of focused attention and little time for free thinking.)

Lehrer quotes a scientist who says,

"...many insights happen during warm showers,...For many people, it's the most relaxing part of the day."

He goes on to explain,

"It's not until we're being massaged by warm water, unable to check our e-mail, that we're finally able to hear the quiet voices in the backs of our heads telling us about the insight.  The answers have been there all along--we just weren't listening."

(Perhaps because we didn't have


to listen?)

I've been thinking about this point a lot--the idea that a clenched state of mind inhibits creativity--especially as it pertains to my own desire to write and be creative.  Right now, my daily life is structured so that there is very little time to relax in a way that promotes creativity.  When the kids are home from school, we hit the books hard.  When we finish school, the kids may have time to go off and engage in refreshing activities, but I often have to continue working--making dinner, doing laundry, cleaning, etc.

I do think I'm pretty savvy about carving out time for things I like to do, but much of my week is still devoted to labor.  I attack one task and then another all day long so when it comes time to actually sit and create something, I often feel spent.  I'm on empty.

(When I went to the Catholic Writer's Conference in August, it took a full two days of quiet and rest before I had any thoughtful ideas about articles to write for the professional sites to which I submit my work.)

Of course, a consistent prayer life is key to the creative life for me

, but I also know that feeling refreshed and rejuvenated so that I can actually engage in the creative process is equally important.

I've also noticed that I don't have my best writing ideas when I'm in the shower but when I'm driving. We live in the country and when I'm driving, it's impossible not to notice my beautiful surroundings.

  I often bring my camera with me in the car because I love the way the corn fields look and how they change according to the seasons.  The kids are contained, I have the radio set to music I love, and my mind can wander in a way that it can't when I'm at home educating kids and washing dishes.

It's not unusual for whole articles or blog posts to literally appear before my eyes while I'm careening down the road in my fifteen passenger.  I really need to keep a tape recorder or some other cool technological device to speak into so I can record my thoughts and not forget the ideas. 

All this to say, if you have a heart for creativity and desire to foster it in yourself and in your children, you have to lead a life with down time--and probably lots of it.  Boredom (or even just unstructured thinking time--read:  time in shower) leads to great art as well.


Speaking of creativity, my friend Rhonda just launched an awesome new website called

Real Housekeeping

A multi-contributor blog, Real Housekeeping is a place where Betty Crocker meets Pinterest Fail; practical articles coexist with humorous personal essays. Rhonda had a lot of success during the first week.

Congrats, Rhonda!

If you are a struggling homemaker, I definitely encourage you to check out this site--there is a lot of encouragement for the overburdened mama.  Also, if you would like to contribute an article, shoot Rhonda an email because she's looking for more great ideas! 


Besides baby Jesus, Edward is quite possibly the easiest baby to have ever lived. 

Have you ever heard of cradle cap of the eyebrows?  Me, neither.  But he has it.

He loves to sit in his swing and play with his hands and as long as he is in the same room with people, he's content.  Seriously, they don't make babies any better than this little guy.  God knew what kind of baby I needed and Edward fits the bill.

I love this kid (and the way his soft head smells).


  Hey, guess what?  We got more snow last week and last night and...moving on...


I'm out of ideas for keeping littles busy when there is two feet of snow on the ground and I'm busy with school, but in a moment of desperation yesterday, I had the ingenious idea to allow Christopher and Camille to rip up pieces of construction paper and glue them onto paper.   This kept them both busy for at least an hour, which in dog years is


  I wished I had discovered earlier Camille's ardent passion for using scissors to cut up paper because after she finished ripping and pasting, she cut paper into the trash can for another hour.

 Y'all, I'm a




 Get your tissues out if you plan to watch this short video about the life of Zion Isaiah Blick, a little boy who born Jan. 11, 2014 and died a short ten days later.  His parents, Robbyn and Josh Blick, knew Zion would not live long because he was diagnosed with Trisomy 18 while Robbyn was pregnant.

The whole time I watched the video, I thought, "This is what it means to value all life; This is what it means to be Catholic."

This family's faith is inspiring...and then some.



Our Sunday Visitor Daily Take


On a totally different note, my sister sent me this video and I cried I laughed so hard.  The comedian discusses things that shouldn't really be that impossible, like leaving the house,


you have kids and then


!  The easiest things become




My friend, Rose, is training for a half marathon and invited me to train with her.  Last year, right after I first discovered I was pregnant,

I ran my first 5 K ever.

One of the greatest thing I learned from that experience was how helpful it is to have a fitness goal.

(I know, I know. 

I just went off on how much I abhor goals and resolutions right now

.  I promise, nothing about that sentiment has changed.)  Howe



I know if I don't have a plan/goal/incentive, I'm not going to exercise because I'm just not motivated enough.  (I don't really like working up a sweat all that much.)

But I have a friend who wants to train and I have a plan, so I think I'm going to give it a shot.

To be honest, I'm not sure I'm going to have enough time to get in shape to actually run the marathon.  I've been following a program for 3 weeks and I'm


out of shape.

(John and I were both lamenting how hard it is to get back in shape after so much time off.  We're not in our 20's anymore, Toto.  Gone are the days of hopping on a machine and in a week being 5 pounds lighter and physically able to tackle increased work outs.  We're getting old.  Too bad, so sad.)

Nonetheless, I've resolved to try anyway and I feel so much better already.  I'm taking baby steps and if that enables me to run 13 miles (I KNOW, CRAZY!!!) by May, then great.  If not, I'll keep trying.

If you are still reading this and your eyes haven't glazed over from boredom, you deserve some kind of prize.  :)