Day N/A, Week 26/27

While traveling, I brought along a few workbooks – a minimal amount of school: mainly grammar and math. Math is just one subject you can’t cover quickly, at least not with my kids. Either they do it, or they don’t. And they can manage to take a long time to do it. At one point, one of my kids said, “What kind of a vacation is this?” I received crossed arms, a hostile stare, and a flat-out refusal to work. Is it any surprise that he spent the next hour in a chair in a time out? We moved on to the day’s events with his schoolwork undone. The next day, a not-so-busy day, he had twice as much work to do, and he sat working while his siblings played outside.

It amazes me how unreasonable children can be, even past the so-called “age of reason.” I explained at the beginning of our trip that we need to do math so that we can be done with school by the end of May. Everybody agrees that the sooner we are done with school, the happier we’ll be. Unfortunately, my idea of “done with school” is finishing the workbooks and textbooks, and their idea of finishing school is just a matter of stopping the work.

It’s not that I’m tied to the curriculum and feel we must plug along and check every single block. Believe me, I have disregarded more than a few things. Music appreciation is sandwiched in car rides with little comment or discussion about composers, music style, or instruments used. And the soundtrack to The Blues Brothers counts as classical music, right? If my 7 year old knows how to scat, this counts as culture, right, right?

Even though I don’t make my kids memorize every answer in the Baltimore Catechism or learn the names of the artists of all the fine art we sometimes observe, math is one subject I really don’t want to skimp on. Correction: we fail to do the speed drills, and perhaps my boys could use a bit more flashcard work to come up with their answers to “8+2” or “8×6” more quickly. Perhaps. I’m not convinced this is truly necessary, though. Time will tell.

One friend, an experienced homeschool mom, told me she always does the speed drills, but only has her girls do half the problems on the worksheet. A non-homeschooling friend and former teacher of 5th grade also suggested only doing some of the math problems on the worksheet if it was taking too long. Honestly, the mere idea of only doing a fraction of the problems has me gasping for air and doubled over in mental anguish. I just can’t do it.

Looking back at my report cards from when I was my boys’ ages (my mom kept them!), I had glowing reports about my reading skills. I learned to read before kindergarten and took off from there. I loved it and devoted many hours of my childhood to devouring fiction. If my mom made me “play” outside, I took a book with me. I had reading and writing down.

But arithmetic? Naw, my skills lay elsewhere, or so my teachers thought. It just didn’t come easily to me, apparently. I don’t actually remember having trouble, except maybe with speed drills (Ha! Is this why I don’t make my kids do them?), but I guess when compared to my reading, where I was many grade levels ahead, I seemed rather dense. But despite my supposed stupidity, of which I was blissfully unaware, I remember in the 5th grade being placed in the “smart kid” math class. And that was that. I was smart in math, and nobody could tell me otherwise. In middle school, I was missing one math class a week to spend an hour talking about higher mathematical concepts like infinity, and in high school, I was doing my homework assignment for the next day during class time. Somehow this not-so-good-in-math-but-boy-does-she-read-well kid managed to get college credit for Calculus I and II with her AP test scores. Go figure.

And so I’m not willing to skip half the work, just because my kids struggle a bit. I’m not willing to accept their suggestion that they “just aren’t good in math” when it takes them a long time to do a problem. I have seen that it sometimes takes ten or fifteen times with me walking them through every single step of the problem before it gets easier for them. It just seems to me that doing half the problems means it would take me twice as long to convey a concept, no?

Many of our subjects begin to wind down as we get into these last six weeks of school. I could breeze through the rest of our history lessons in two weeks, probably. The same goes for science and grammar. I don’t care if they don’t finish their handwriting workbooks. And another trip to the National Gallery of Art will count as completing art for the year. But math? We’ve got five and a half weeks of math to go. And finish it, we will!

Sacramental Saturdays

Last Saturday, my niece, Morgan, made her First Holy Communion. I missed most of the Mass, since little Pete was temporarily demonically possessed. He would be nice and quiet outside the building, but as soon as I went into the chapel, he would begin to wail. He didn’t seem to suffer nearly as much the next day when we went to church.

Here is Jenny before the Mass. She seems so calm, huh?

She, too, had issues that morning. And then I left her in the pew with my parents while I dealt with devil-boy.

This is how she spent the rest of Mass after I left her. I was relieved.

This is Katie snuggling with her Uncle Glenn.

The only person in this photo I know is Morgan who is on the end closest to the camera.

I love these group shots. The kids all look so lovely.

Here are my parents, my sister, Barbara, my brother-in-law, Bill, and Morgan. Even though half the people in the photo are looking at the other camera person, I think it’s a nice shot of them.

I have no photos of my Dad’s Easter Vigil Mass. As luck would have it, I turned on my camera, lined up for a shot as they were beginning the confirmation portion, and tried to zoom in. The camera went dead. I looked at my sister, Beth, and mouthed that my batteries were dead. “Mine, too,” she mouthed back. Oh, well. It freed me to pay attention to the prayers and blessings of the ceremony, I suppose.

I did enjoy this Mass. I was worried – I had forgotten to bring tissue. I’m one of those emotional crybabies. As soon as I saw my Dad’s name in the program, I started to well up. I concentrated on following along in the missal and the program, which was great, since those running the show didn’t seem to know what they were doing. I was so distracted by trying to guess what would happen next that I completely forgot about crying! In defense of my parents’ church, I will say that their church building is under renovation and they were in a rented hall with limited access prior to the Mass. They also don’t have a pastor right now, since the last one died recently (may his soul rest in peace). Their lack of rehearsal showed, but it wasn’t really their fault. It kept me from having mascara running down my face, and that’s all that really matters, right?

Thankfully, the three youngest were left at home. Fritz and Billy weren’t too happy about being there, and did a lot of complaining. Is the attitude thing normal for an 8 – 9 year old boy? It was late, especially since we had only been in the central time zone for about 48 hours. But they’ve managed to stay up to midnight for special events like New Year’s Eve with no trouble. Fritz was so sulky that I told him if he didn’t shape up, he wouldn’t go to Communion, and if he didn’t go to Communion, he had to return to Mass the next morning to try again. I really thought I’d have a few more years before I had to deal with this.


Road Trips and Road Kill

On one of the rural highways of Northern Alabama, I saw a dead animal on the side of the road. I didn’t get a good look and wasn’t sure that what I thought I saw was really what it was. But within the hour, I saw another one. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a live armadillo, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that I wouldn’t readily identify a dead one, but that’s definitely what it was. Armadillo road kill.

And I started laughing. Poor thing, really, I don’t normally find dead animals funny. But this dead animal brought back a fourteen year old memory, and I had to resist the urge to call my husband at work and tell him, “I didn’t do it!”

In January of 1993, the end of my winter break during my senior year of college coincided with Bill’s graduation from the Armor Officer Basic Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I wanted to go, and since Fort Knox was an hour or so closer to my home in Ohio than my college on the eastern border of Pennsylvania was, my mom drove me and all my luggage down there the day before the ceremony. We would drive to his parents’ house in Pennsylvania afterward, and he would take me back to school in time for the spring session.

Bill had not packed a thing. And he had four or five months worth of stuff in his little Bachelor Officer’s Quarters. And he’s not one noted for his ability to throw things away: junk mail can sit for a year on his desk if he’s left to his own devices. In all fairness, he is much improved over the last decade, and there was very little junk mail here by the time I got home on Tuesday, but at the time, he was awful.

And I wasn’t much better. I had packed “lightly” for my 5 weeks or so at home from college and probably only had 3 or 4 hundred pounds of junk to haul back. It was really only those necessary items a girl can’t be without for a month. I left the other semi-load of stuff in my dorm room.

Oh, Bill drove a 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. In dark gray. And the taillights weren’t working. This photo is not Bill’s car. This car is in nice condition, and the owner is asking nearly $20k for it. Six years ago, we sold Bill’s Trans Am for about a tenth of that (maybe).

After his graduation ceremony at something like 6 am, I set to work packing his stuff while he headed to the U-Haul dealer to see about a roof carrier for our luggage. That was our plan, and it would have worked nicely. Except that Trans Ams have a sloping roof and won’t hold a roof luggage carrier. And the frame on a Trans Am is not strong enough to pull even a small trailer. So everything would have to go inside the car.

On his way back to tell me this, some part of the engine cooling system went kablooey. And so I spent the day packing his stuff, while he spent the day fixing the car.

And we had it in our head that he had to clear his quarters by the end of the day. I don’t know if this was true or not. Looking back, it probably wasn’t. But at the time, we really thought that we had to leave.

When Bill finally got back with the repaired car, it was afternoon. We started cramming stuff in the trunk, in the back seat, in the back window. Every nook and cranny was filled. There was no airspace in the car. It was so full, in fact, that the driver could not get out without first handing stuff between the seat and the door over to the passenger. And then the passenger had to wait for the driver to get out in order to dump all of that stuff plus the stuff that rested on top of and around him/her onto the driver’s seat.

And did I mention that the taillights didn’t work?

It was late by the time we left on our 12 hour journey. We ate dinner on post and headed out. We were tired, having been up since the early morning. We drove for many hours, but then exhaustion took over. We began swapping drivers every hour, sometimes every half hour. It was awful.

Why didn’t we stop? We should have pulled into a rest stop for an hour or more, I guess, but we didn’t think it was safe (as if driving while exhausted was!). We should have gone to a Motel 6, but there were two reasons we didn’t. First of all, we were too poor. Secondly, as laughable as it seems now, I would have been mortified to check into a motel with him. We had been dating for three years, but we weren’t married. It was one thing to “crash at his place” for the night before his graduation – a typical college mentality. But to get a room at a motel with him? I naively thought that a motel clerk would be scandalized and might think me a harlot. The shame! The horror!

So, on we drove in the dark with no taillights and little traffic to keep us company in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. Ah, those crazy days of our youth! I honestly don’t know how I survived past my 25th birthday.

It was my turn to drive, and Bill was passed out under a pile of stuff next to me when some thing suddenly appeared on the road. I had never in my life hit an animal with a car, but there was no time to react, and I nailed the poor thing. Bill claims it was the animal’s death shriek that awoke him; I don’t know how he could differentiate between its cry and mine. He asked me what happened.

“I hit an armadillo!” I sobbed. His response:

“How long have I been asleep and what direction are you driving?!?!?”

I had never seen an armadillo, but I had also never seen a possum either. I didn’t know that both these rodents seem to like crossing roads at the same time that cars drive on them. I also didn’t know that possums are rather ubiquitous throughout the U.S., but armadillos are generally only found in the Southeast. Since then, I have seen plenty of dead possums on the roadways and narrowly avoided hitting plenty more. But not until this week had I ever seen an armadillo, dead or alive.

And so, as my kids were asking me why I thought a dead armadillo was so funny, all I could choke out was that it looked an awful lot like a possum.


I knew that it would be tough for me to go 15 hours or so in the car without another driver, so I scheduled a night in Hanceville, Alabama. It was only 3 1/2 hours from my sister’s home, and perhaps it may have been wiser to travel another few hours before stopping, but Hanceville is the home of the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament built by Mother Angelica, and I wanted to see it.

The EWTN website has limited information and only a few small pictures, so I was unprepared for the glorious beauty that awaited me. This photo is from their website and photography is not permitted inside for the average visitor. This morning I found this site with an online tour and great information about the architecture and building of the shrine.

Fortunately for me, The Kitchen Madonna graciously kept an eye on my children as they played in the piazza so that I could have ten minutes of quiet prayer. I glanced at my watch and realized it was just turning 3 pm, so I did the Divine Mercy Chaplet. It was so very peaceful and such a pleasant pause in my wonderful, family-packed vacation. I was completely unaware of the tragedy that had occurred earlier in the day in Blacksburg, Virginia and offer that time of prayer to the victims and their families.

Here, Jenny is walking toward the Castle San Miguel which houses the gift shop.

My time at the shrine was brief due to the age of my travel partners, but I’ve learned over the years not to put my life on hold while I wait for them to grow up. All told, I probably only spent an hour on the shrine’s property, but like a nibble of some delicious new food, I am not left with disappointment but rather with anticipation for some future journey with more time and older people. I recommend a trip to the shrine or at least a detour in your other plans to spend some soul-refreshing moments here.

And when you get here, you will need a place to sleep. I stayed at one of the guest houses recommended by EWTN’s website: the Saint Michael Guesthouse. It would be impossible for me to say enough nice things about this place. I called Jeanette, the manager, to alert her to my imminent arrival (having dropped the dog off at a local vet who boarded her for the night) and to get specific directions, and she informed me the door was open and the key was on the table. Indeed it was, and had she not been getting trash ready for the local pickup the next morning, I would not have met this lovely lady. The invoice on the table instructed me to leave the payment and the key there before checking out.

I have stayed at a wide range of motels, hotels, rented cabins, time share condos, American B&Bs and European pensions in my life, and this house was the most comfortable and pleasant place in which I have spent the night. The generous front porch had two rockers from which you could enjoy the country breezes. In the rear was a deck shaded by trees and glimpses of the shrine farm just beyond. The house is modern with all new appliances and fixtures and is filled with new, comfortable and nice furniture – not bargain basement leftovers or roadside rescues as many rental homes seem to have – and is decorated with plenty of religious art.

The generous, country, eat-in kitchen was fully stocked with utensils for the grill on the back deck, pots, pans, bowls, a full-sized coffee maker (Krups) and more than enough plates, glasses, coffee mugs, and flatware to service a large family. There were even salad dressing and other condiments in refrigerator, coffee, sugar and creamer in the cupboard and a huge, chocolate bar for us to share as our dessert. The bathrooms had shampoo, conditioner and body wash – not trial sizes, but regular sizes left for anyone to use.

They may call themselves a guest “house,” but really this place is a guest “home.” I felt as if someone had said, “Here, stay at my place for the night,” and cleared out their most personal possessions only. It was not impersonal or generic in any way but in all ways was warm, inviting and friendly. Without a doubt, if I ever have an excuse to travel through northern Alabama, I will stay here again.

Belated birthday fun

It’s taken more than a decade for him to figure it out, but finally it seems that my husband understands it takes so very little to make me extra happy with him. A sweet email, an inexpensive bouquet of flowers, an occasional extravagant gift because I “deserve all that and more” and I smile for days (or weeks or more). In fact, the memory of last year’s birthday surprises still makes me all glowy.

This year, not only was my birthday on Holy Saturday but we were also at my parent’s house. Even though there were birthday greetings and cake and singing on Easter Sunday, it’s not the same. I was content, but Bill felt that a bit more hoopla was in order.

Now, normally, my husband is much like Cris‘ husband and is much more comfortable with power tools and lawnmowers than kitchen utensils and mixers. I can not ever imagine him having a conversation with any woman – not even his mother or his sister – about lotion preferences. Nonetheless, there is a softer side to Bill, and he will, on occasion, really impress me with his hidden talents.

And so I returned home after 10 pm last night and on the kitchen table was a wrapped birthday present, a small lily, and a homemade birthday cake which he decorated all by himself. I could not but be amazed at the lengths this guy will still go to make me happy.

Pete saw the cake on the stove this morning. I relocated it to the washing machine for its own safety but put it back on the stove later as I emptied and loaded the machine. The little devil is pretty quick with a chair and was digging in within minutes. The cake went back on the washing machine behind a closed door, but the second I opened it to rotate laundry, he flew to the chair and began hauling it over! Persistence is a family trait.

All morning long, I told myself to take a picture, but the camera was in the car. I eventually did get a picture, but only after Pete had had his way with it.


Safe. Sound.

Buried by laundry, email and voice mail. Must hit the grocery store, unpack the car, and wash the 1.4 million dead bug guts off the windshield and hood.

Had a great trip. Very happy to be home.