Pete’s newest word is “horsey.” He first used it two days ago to correctly identify a Fisher Price toy. Yesterday, he picked up a stuffed giraffe and said “Horsey!”

Jenny corrected him. “It’s not a horsey,” she said sweetly. “It’s a zebra.”

Later, I took the three little ones to the grocery store. Jenny brought a headband with reindeer antlers on top. She asked if she could bring the “binoculars” in the store.

Katie corrected her. “They’re not binoculars, Jenny. Binoculars are what you use when you go swimming.”

I sat there in silence pondering that one. After a minute, she said, “Oh, no. Those are goggles.” I’m really glad we cleared that one up.

Some days, I feel superfluous, much as Danielle Bean described earlier this month. Other days, well, zebras are spotted and deer are prized for their nice goggles, and I know I’ve got a long way to go with their education.

So, you’ll get a thousand words instead.

Bill keeps asking me when I’m going to post some photos. I’ve tried. Blogger is unable to complete my request. I see Blogger is able to do this for lots of other people, so I don’t know what gives. I DO know that Blogger couldn’t spell check my posts for about 2 weeks – a problem that went away as mysteriously as it came. Coincidentally, now that I can be assured that the most egregious of typos are spotted, I can’t share the blinding glare of over 2000 lights on a 7 foot tall tree.

Holy Innocents

Lully, Lullay, thou little tiny child.
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay thou little tiny child
Bye, bye, lully, lullay

O sisters, too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day;
This poor Youngling for whom we sing
Bye, bye lully, lullay

Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye lully, lullay.

Since Blogger isn’t letting me upload photos.

This is what the LORD says:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because her children are no more.”

Jeremiah 31:15

PT goals

Back in October, I wrote about two out of three PT goals for this year: one was to run the Army Ten Miler, the other was to run 250 miles in total. I never did write about the other one, and I really wasn’t sure I would actually accomplish it.

My third PT goal was to pass the Army PT test (also known as the APFT). There are three categories for the test: push-ups (for 2 minutes), sit-ups (for 2 minutes) and a two mile run. For each event you earn a score based on how many you do or how fast you are. You must get at least 60 points in each event for a minimum of 180 points to pass. Your gender and your age influence your score; I, a 35 year old female, am not expected to do as many push-ups as my husband, a 38 year old male, who is not expected to do as many push-ups as a 30 year old male.

I needed to do 15 push-ups and 42 sit-ups to pass. My run time had to be faster than 21 minutes and 42 seconds. Back in June was the first time I tested myself, and I had the run time down, no problem. But I could only do 2 (yes, TWO) push-ups and 18 sit-ups. By September, I was up to 8 push-ups and 31 sit-ups.

By the way, sit-ups are really hard, especially if you’ve had 5 babies. I’ve done crunches over the years, but hadn’t done full sit-ups since high school. When I first started working on this goal, I could not do a single one. Not a single one.

And push-ups? I have never been able to do those. My husband looks so beautiful doing them. Really. He can knock out the fifteen that I have to do without breaking a sweat. I think he does some ridiculous number like 60 when he takes the test. Sixty!

Sorry, I just got distracted there for a bit daydreaming about my husband’s rippling muscles.

Anyway…oh, yes, my push-ups are not nearly as pretty, and if my husband were counting them, I probably would only have earned 3 or 4 (there are strict rules about what actually counts as a push-up), but I did manage to wobble through 15 of them to get the minimum 60 points. I also did 42 sit-ups – disappointing since I’ve done more, but I’ll take the 60 points. And my run time was 18 minutes 48 seconds which earns the average score of 80 points for a grand total of 200. And so, I passed.

For this coming year, I think I’ll stick with the same goals: 250 total miles; some race, perhaps a 10k instead of 10 miles; and passing the APFT – maybe with 15 good push-ups. This seems like a downgrade – after all, shouldn’t I run more miles (currently, I’ve run 379 for the year), run a longer race, or improve my test score? I’m just being realistic. I’m not pregnant right now, but maybe soon, and if so, I don’t see me running a marathon.

The Carnival of Homeschooling – Anniversary Edition…

is looking for submissions.

Fortunately, they’ll take things that were written in the last few months. I had to go back a ways to the last time I blogged about homeschooling. We’ve been on a bit of a hiatus. I recently read an article about unschooling. In this past month, I can say that perhaps unschooling would work for my daughter, Katie. Katie nags me to death to give her work to do, to teach her to read, to give her projects. She can barely be convinced to take the weekends off. Yet, still, I say only perhaps unschooling might work for her. I’m sure that her love of learning a particular subject might wane should the work prove to be a bit tedious. And math, though I do really love math, is tedious.

Unlike Katie, my boys would be quite happy to ride bikes or scooters or skateboards or roller blades all morning long. In the afternoon, for a change of pace, they’ll play football or baseball or basketball. If pressed to sit at the table, they may be inspired to draw pictures of Batman or pirates or the characters from Star Wars. It is possible that a die-hard unschooler may say that I need to encourage their creativity and point them to a career in comic-book illustration or animated movie production. Alas, the dialogue between characters would be unintelligible. I know. Bill and I have puzzled over some of the speech bubbles on their drawings. It’s a bit mysterious, and that may make it interesting…or it just may make it completely worthless for entertainment.

In their teenage years, said Grace Llewellyn, author of The Teenage Liberation Handbook, unschooling kids can study biology with a textbook, in a community college or with software. Or they can befriend a doctor and brainstorm on books to read or projects to do. Or they can volunteer to work in a veterinarian’s office.

Or they just may never learn biology at all. If they get to choose what to study, naturally, their interests may not direct them to certain subjects. And I don’t think that’s a good thing. I have a hard enough time trusting that the classical education approach is enough. I believe it in my heart, but honestly derive much comfort from checking the blocks of education, from the memorization of facts and data, from the passing of tests and the writing of dissertations. Unschooling is not for everybody. It’s definitely not for me, and I think it’s probably not right for most.

Eat, drink and be merry (part 2)

It’s that time of year when many people worry about those holiday pounds. Eggnog, fig pudding, sugar plums – all these indulgences threaten our waistlines and can make what should be a fun time of year rather torturous. It’s tough going to a Christmas party and seeing a table laden with a large selection of delectable goodies and feel that you must refrain from having one of everything. Or maybe two of everything.

One pound is 3600 calories. In order to lose one pound in one week, you would have to eliminate 600 calories every day (with Sundays off for good behavior). A 3 oz portion of roast chicken breast is only 140 calories. You would need to not eat nearly 13 oz (more than 3/4 of a pound) of chicken every day for one week to lose that one pound. That’s quite a bit.

Or perhaps you could exercise instead. A person who weighs 140 pounds burns 160 calories walking for 30 minutes. You would need to walk for nearly 2 hours every day for a week to lose one pound. Or you could run at a 6 mph pace and only have to exercise for 43 minutes every day to accomplish the same goal.

All the women’s magazines right now are full of advice about avoiding all these extra calories. Drink lots of water before meals or before going to a party. Fill up on the raw veggies before facing the dessert table. Honestly, if you feel you have to do these tricks, it would be better if you just stayed home and locked the doors. Pull a Healthy Choice frozen dinner out of the freezer and go to town.

My best advice for avoiding weight gain this time of year: forget about it. Eat your heart out. Don’t count any calories from December 24th through January 1st. You can go on a diet or start an exercise regime beginning January 2nd. For now hide the scale, wear clothes with some extra give in the waistband and enjoy yourself.

Not convinced? Still worried about how hard it is to lose a few pounds? Don’t think you can manage an extra 2 hours of walking every day? Let’s look at things the other way.

Suppose you are completely happy with your weight right now. Congratulations. You are in the minority! Let’s pretend you are happy with your weight. You would need to add 600 calories to your daily diet to gain a pound this week. Eggnog is 190 calories for 1/2 cup. You would have to drink 3 servings every day – every day – to gain one pound. It’d be worth it, I tell you! Suppose you love Hershey Kisses. It takes 24 of them every day for a week to gain that pound. You could do it, but it’s a lot of chocolate. Granted, it’s not too tough to have one serving of eggnog and a few Christmas cookies every day. Add to that one or two Hershey Kisses every time you pass by the candy dish and there you are a pound or two heavier. But in the end, isn’t that better than carrot sticks and water and trying to ignore those Russian tea cake cookies that are calling you by name?

Soon the cookies will be gone and the stores will even stop stocking eggnog. It wouldn’t be a new year without a resolution to lose weight. And failing that, Lent isn’t too far away.

On the second day of Christmas…

…we buried our noses in books.

Bill is reading two Christmas presents at once. He’s flipping randomly between Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans and The Devil’s Sandbox: With the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry at War in Iraq. Occasionally, he will read an excerpt to me or tell me about a section he just finished. It gets pretty confusing if I’m not paying attention, and I find that I have to stop and think, “What devil are we talking about?”

Pretty scary stuff – both of them. Must be good reads, though, since he keeps hiding in the bathroom.

I’m just happy he’s home. Today is his last day off, but it’s only a three day work week followed by a three day weekend. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Eat, drink and be merry…

…for tomorrow you may be stoned to death.

Happy Feast of St. Stephen. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole martyrdom thing. There are some days I totally get it. Bad days…ones where a Calgon bath won’t take me where I want to go. Days where I’d just like to see a fiery chariot descend and whisk me off to a better place. But since I know I’m not good enough for that first-class ticket, I’d gladly accept martyrdom on one of those days.

Of course, like the quote on Amy Welborn‘s sidebar, “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick,” even on those bad days, I’d want martyrdom under the best of circumstances: after confession, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, a good rosary for a plenary indulgance. Perhaps just after the Hail, Holy Queen: Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of ChristBANG! Instantaneous death from a sniper I never knew was watching me. Is that too much to ask?

Most of the time, though, I recoil from the idea of martyrdom. Burning at the stake, drowning, having eyes plucked out…just not things I really want to embrace. It’s a good thing we aren’t all called for that level of sacrifice. It’s also a good thing, though, that the Feast of St. Stephen is now, just as we are satiated with the love and warmth of this Christmas season. It is good to be merry, but ever in our minds must we remember that following this babe in the manger is a difficult path.

May the joy of the Savior’s birth sustain us on the journey.

Christmas rehash

Heading up to PA to visit Bill’s family for just the day. Kids will get loads of presents and sugar and thus begins the hyper, too-excited to eat, sleep or think coherently phase that marks a truly good holiday season. Say three Hail Marys for a safe and happy trip – we’ll need it with I-95 traffic.

Since I don’t plan to blog much over the next few days, here’s something to chew on, should you happen to have some down time and are looking for something to read.

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been three years, but it has. Three years since the worst Christmas ever with Bill deployed to Kosovo and not due back for two more months. The day after, I wrote about what it was like and I like to dig it out every year to rehash the misery. It serves as a reminder of where I was, what I survived, and what other families are going through right now. If you’re in the mood for something upbeat…this might not be the thing right now. Come back in a few days. In the meantime, say a prayer for the troops overseas and for their families. God is listening.

A Deployment Christmas
December 26, 2003

I know many people will ask me how my Christmas was, so I thought I’d write it down. I want to remember it too. I’m sure by the time Bill comes home in mid to late February, I will have forgotten already how hard it was.

With Bill away, I debated for a long time about how to spend the holidays from Thanksgiving through the New Year. For many years now, my family has gone to Ohio for the week of Thanksgiving to be with my parents. My dad and mom helped me continue that tradition by driving me to and from their house. It wasn’t too bad to be there without him, because I’ve been to Ohio with the kids and not him many times. And this year we went a little wild and had lasagna for “Turkey Day”, so it didn’t even feel like Thanksgiving.

But Christmas couldn’t be disguised as another ordinary day. I decided to tone things down a bit: no outside lights, minimal interior decorations, and only a fraction of the ornaments on the tree. I held out hope until the very end for some home-baked cookies, and finally settled on pre-made store-bought dough. And since I consider chocolate chip cookies “everyday” cookies, not “Christmas” cookies, this was a tough thing to accept. There are many days left in the Christmas season, so I still hope to get a batch or two of real cookies made up.

For the past few years, I have hosted a small Christmas Eve gathering: my husband and children and his parents and brother and sister. The day is spent in final preparation for the birth of Christ. At last, the ornaments can go on the tree and carols can be played. I run to the store for fresh ingredients and to get a green wreath for the front door. The guests arrive as the food is cooking. The kids watch the sky for the first star – a sign of the birth! At last, the Savior is here! We bless the Christmas tree – a blessing which recalls the fall of man and the need for a savior. The baby Jesus is found and paraded and placed in the stable with his mother and father. We sing “Away in a Manager” and “Silent Night”. We read the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. I commend my in-laws for going along with all this pageantry with such good-nature.

This year, with no husband and a nursing infant, I couldn’t face all the stress of hosting and a moment of sagacity made me realize that I would have lots of work to do after the kids went to bed that night. My sister-in-law came over early in the day so I could get to the store, and she held the baby as she slept so I could unearth my nativity set from the mound of clutter. She also baked my not-so-Christmasy cookies, which saved me that hassle.

In the afternoon, my husband and I had a “date” on the computer with our web cameras. I couldn’t believe how empty the computer center was for Christmas Eve. We spent about an hour together. The kids came and went throughout that time. At one point I was swarmed with all four kids who were hamming it up for dad. I heard a jingle and realized that Bill had sent me an instant message – one that made me blush. And then another jingle – he was laughing that he could see me blushing. I guess it’s nice to know he hasn’t changed much in the last ten months.

After our date, my sister-in-law was gone and I started dinner while the three older kids took a bath. I wanted a nice dinner for Christmas Eve. I knew I couldn’t have everything I usually make, but thought I could swing something decent. I was wrong. The baby just wanted to nurse and be held, so she spent quite a bit of time screaming as I did some basic things. In the midst of this chaos, three-fifths of the Cincotta family stopped by to sing me a Christmas carol. My kids got out of the tub, and I didn’t have a free hand to get them dressed and didn’t have the energy to hassle them. Eventually, Fritz got himself dressed, Billy put on some underwear, but Katie remained completely nude…and we sat on the floor in front of the Christmas tree to listen to carols and eat our dinner. The baby would not let me put her down without her crying, so I either had to juggle her AND the food, or eat and listen to her cry.

After dinner, I called the children together to get the baby Jesus and take him to the nativity scene. In my mind I imagined angelic children singing “Silent Night” with their sweet voices as we presented the baby Jesus to his mother. I saw wide eyes glistening as I read from the Gospel of Luke, and heard innocent voices asking questions about the true meaning of Christmas. Instead my half-naked children were fighting over who got to carry the statue of Jesus, who got to lead the procession, and who stepped on whose foot first. When my 5 year old threw a temper tantrum because the 3 year old didn’t hand him the baby Jesus properly, I threw my own temper tantrum. I announced that Christmas was over and told them to get ready for bed. I put the baby in her pajamas and closed the door to the boys’ room so I didn’t have to hear them and sat on the couch and nursed the baby and cried. I cried because Bill was gone. I cried because my children weren’t interested in the story of Christmas. I cried because I had lost my temper.

I cried because I was crying.

As I emailed Bill earlier in the day, “I have everything I need/want…besides material possessions, I have a wonderful husband, (mostly) great kids, and most importantly, a loving God who is taking care of me. I have nothing to cry about.” I despise self-pity and self-induced misery. I hated that I felt lonely and sad.

After about a half hour in the bedroom, the kids got restless. I reminded Fritz that I was done for the day; the show was over. Worried, I suppose, that I might cancel all things Christmas (oh, like Santa and presents), he was interested in cooperating. I didn’t care. I was tired of trying to get the kids to conform to my mental images of a perfect Christmas Eve. I told him, “You don’t even know what Christmas is all about! I’m trying to teach you, and you don’t care!” He yelled back, “I DO know what Christmas is all about!” “What is Christmas all about?” I asked. “It’s the birth of Jesus,” he said. “But what does that mean?” I pressured him, still not willing to relent. He answered, “It means we can go to heaven.”

Wow. Did I teach him that?

Hark, now hear the angels sing,
a new king born today,
and man will live for evermore,
because of Christmas day.
Trumpets sound and angels sing,
listen to what they say,
that man will live for evermore,
because of Christmas Day.

So I relented. What else could I do? We blessed the Christmas tree. We sang “Silent Night” with my voice cracking from so much yelling. We read from the Gospel of Luke. There were no precocious questions, the kids couldn’t sit still, there were a few minor skirmishes, and Katie spent the whole time removing santa hat-fuls of ornaments from the tree and hiding them in another room.

Afterwards, the kids went off to bed. There was very little talk of Santa and presents. Billy said (for the millionth time in the last month) that he missed Daddy. I said I did too. He asked if I could catch daddy. I said I sure wish I could, and if I could I would give him lots of hugs and kisses and then I would grab Billy and Fritz and Katie and Jenny and we’d all give each other lots of kisses and hugs. He suggested I use a “cowboy rope”. I said, yes, a lasso. I’d lasso daddy and then tie us all up together and we’d never be apart ever again. The boys seemed to like that idea.

I tucked the kids in and sat on the couch to nurse the baby to sleep. It was quiet and peaceful. The phone rang. Bill had attended Midnight Mass and then went to his office and called me. We talked for quite a while. It was the first time in over six months that I was able to talk to him without also tending to our children. It was very pleasant. I didn’t want to get off the phone, but knew that he was sacrificing his sleep to talk with me. Of all the presents I got from him, this quiet conversation was the best. I didn’t even hear a single yawn the whole time.

After I said goodnight to him, I had a bit of work to do. I tackled the heap of dishes in the kitchen. I prepped breakfast for the next morning: a spinach and egg bake that I love but which I hadn’t had in months. I wrapped the last few presents, put everything under the tree, and filled the stockings. I hung the spider ornaments and hid the pickle. I ironed the kids’ clothes and had them all ready for church.

There were a few things which didn’t get done. I decided that none of the presents needed ribbons or bows. I decided that Jenny’s exersaucer did not need to be assembled that night. I decided that the box to the unassembled exersaucer did not need to be wrapped. In fact, I decided it didn’t even need a gift tag because it was very obvious to whom it belonged.

I munched on Santa’s cookies and grabbed a cup of eggnog. I planned to sit for a bit and look at the tree and listen to the cool Christmas CD my sister sent me, but as I walked into the living room, I heard the baby crying. It was just as well. As I headed up to bed with her, the clock said 11:45 pm. Best to go to sleep anyway.

The baby woke up again around 5 am to nurse. She was a bit restless and I couldn’t fall back asleep. I guess I was a bit excited and was eager to see if the kids would like their new things. Fritz woke up first around 5:40 am. We spent about an hour together before Katie got up. He was happy that Santa had come. He waited patiently for everyone else to awaken so he could get in the stockings, but couldn’t resist peeking and was thrilled to see Batman and Superman action figures popping up from his and Billy’s stockings. Billy finally woke up around 7 am. By then I had already started getting the girls dressed. Fritz got dressed quickly because he wanted to wear the new socks he found in his stocking. I brushed hair and tied neckties while the kids played with dinosaurs and ate chocolate. Katie found the magic markers in her stocking and quickly “dressed up” her white tights. At least she kept the marker away from her face (after church, she didn’t).

Somehow I managed to get everyone in the car and off to church in pretty good timing. We came in as Father Rich was intoning the generations from Abraham to Jesus which is before the processional hymn. We quickly found a seat. I allowed Katie to bring a few small stuffed animals and the boys to bring their Superman and Batman, although I told them I would take them away if they got too loud. They didn’t get too loud, but Katie did. She wanted their toys. They shared with her for a bit, but just at the consecration she asked for them again and was told no. Immediately she began a typical age 2 tantrum. Immediately I picked her up and hustled her (and Jenny) out of the room leaving my 5 year old and 3 year old alone! Great mom, huh? Fortunately, Katie was so very upset at being removed from church that she promised she would quiet down, and we were able to return after only a minute or two. As I got back to my row, I thanked the gentleman in the row behind me who had apparently been assuring Billy that his mother would return shortly.

The rest of the mass passed without much incident. The lady at the other end of my row helped me by putting the car seat up off the floor and taking Jenny. I let her keep the baby after communion too. Fritz asked why the lady was holding her. If I weren’t hushing him for talking during mass, I would have answered, “Because it is obvious to everyone nearby that I am in desperate need of help.”

And then I noticed Billy fussing with his tie. When I tied it before mass, I knew it would be a problem, but didn’t have time to fix it. The skinny part in the back was too short to fit through the tab on the back of the fat part in front. It took him an hour, but he finally noticed it and it really bothered him. He wanted me to fix it. I told him it would have to wait until we were home in just a few minutes. We stood for the final blessing, and he began a typical age 2 tantrum (except he’s nearly 4 now). As the choir began to sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, I started handing out coats. Billy wanted nothing to do with his. Fritz got his coat on. I zipped up Katie and got the baby from that very nice lady who held her for so long (Thank you God for charitable people!). As I buckled the baby into her car seat, another gentleman tried to help Billy with his coat. This only made him scream louder. I tried to go down the row to get to the aisle, but Billy intentionally blocked my path. I had to half drag/half kick him out of my way. I wanted to stop by the manger scene to pick up a piece of straw for Bill, but the noise was so loud that I decided to skip that part. I scooped him under my arm and carried the car seat with my free hand. Calling to my other two children and dodging people who didn’t seem to notice the flailing legs of the screaming kid, I made my way to the door. Sister Alice, laughing, patted me on the back and wished me a merry Christmas.

The nightmare continued. I somehow made it outside without Billy assaulting anyone. Fritz took off for the car and ran into and through the parking lot. And then, like a game of Frogger, decided to run back to me, tag up and head back for the car again. I caught him as he began his second run to the car, unmindful of the elderly man trying to back up right in front of him. I tried to yell at him but was distracted by Billy who was now upset because he was cold (he wouldn’t put on that coat while inside the church). I got the coat on him, but he continued to scream – now about how he needed gloves (it wasn’t that cold). I began trying to usher all the kids through the parking lot, and, fortunately, another kind man offered to carry the baby.

And this is why I avoid public places with the kids.

The rest of the morning was uneventful. We went home. We all calmed down. We opened presents. We ate breakfast. We called a few people and wished them a merry Christmas.

Bill sent me an email saying merry Christmas and that he wished he could be home. “But alas I am away, standing sentinel over a troubled land that knows not the joys of Christ or the wonders of Christmas.” And because we are so very fortunate to have this knowledge, we can rejoice. Even in our sorrow and through the pain of our separation, we can rejoice, and we can pray for those who know not the comforts of Christ.

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born

In the afternoon we went to Bill’s parents’ house. The kids behaved well – no tantrums. They got more toys from Nana and Grandpa and Aunt Margaret than from Mom and Dad and Santa. Margaret got the boys these cool Batman and Superman belts that talk. They say things that Batman or Superman would say. One phrase for Superman is “Emergency! The Earth needs my help! Let’s go!” I guess he’s supposed to be talking to one of the Superfriends.

We headed home early enough that it wasn’t a mad rush to get them off to bed. The house was a wreck. I didn’t even bring in the bags from the grandparents until today when I’d had a chance to move the other new toys around. Today was spent playing with toys and cleaning. There is a lot of organizing left to do. Now the toys are getting smaller and pieces are getting scattered to the four corners of every room. Fritz needs to learn to be responsible for his toys, but he also has to have a place to put them!

As I head off to bed tonight, I can’t help but wonder what it was like in Heaven before Christ was born. Did he turn to the Holy Spirit and say, “Emergency! The Earth needs my help! Let’s go!”??