Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Another Tess Moment

I used to wish for my babies to grow up and do great things for the Catholic Church...

..... until I had Miss Tess.

We went to my hometown for Strawberry Festival two weeks ago and I ran into the father of one of my friends from high school.

There was a moment when Mr. Bush looked at Tess intensely and said "Wow, you would have never known that Baby was ever sick..."

Tons of people say those same words to me, but his look and the intensity of his voice was somehow different. I mentioned his statement to my Mom a few hours later.

And I found out that Mr. Bush is sick himself... with a rare form of cancer. Cancer so rare and so deadly that he gets on a plane once a month to get special treatment at Boston Hospital.

I'm amazed at my daughter. She's a loud witness to the wonder of God's love, before she's able to say a word.

"Contribute to the Needs of Holy Ones"


My daughter's dear friend, Sister Peace, is only a couple of hundred dollars short for her plane ticket to Spain for World Youth Day. She's taking 27 girls from her mission in Brooklyn, New York to meet our Holy Father. Can you help out with a gift of $3, $5 or $10 dollars?

Sister Peace will also be traveling with her girls to Lourdes, Fatima, and Avila. Pick your favorite place and ask her to say a prayer for your specific prayer intention. Get a beloved spouse of Christ to pray for you personally! Even better than paying to light a candle at your local church!

I'm working on getting a pay pal donation button attached to this post. Check back soon. If it doesn't work (I'm such a helpless Luddite) shot me an email at abigail.b.benjamin@gmail.com. I've got her address, so you can send a check and your specific prayer intention the old fashion way.

I'm going to see her in person on Friday! So nice for my buddy Jesus to set up a dinner date with his wife during such a stressful, "I've got no time for prayer, I'm losing my temper and falling into sin constantly" week for me. It's true that He likes to dine with sinners!


Wednesday, June 29th at 4 PM.

Home inspection went AWESOME.

I specifically picked the most "anal retentive" home inspector that I could find. This was a guy who my realtor said she "hated" because he makes "deals fall apart."

I was expecting to meet a dweeby guy with tape around his glasses.

Instead, I meet this huge, joyful guy with the love of Christ pouring out of him. This guy has done over 6,000 home inspections. He's so positive, so knowledgeable. He basically taught my husband how to care for our home in less than 2 hours. I haven't run into this much knowledge+love+positive energy since Bunny left the NICU.

(Did I tell you that he's one of eight siblings? Yeah! Mr. Tim is going to stay on our Christmas card list forever.)

So slight hiccup (of course!)

The boiler didn't "fire up" during the inspection. Which could mean either

a) major problem with the furnace or

b) minor problem.

We don't care because we can afford to buy a new furnace before winter, but the bank does. We can't get our money until the furnace is fixed. (Under the USDA loan terms we can't get a "discount" for a broken furnace, everything major needs to be working in the home to make it "habitable" before we get the funds.)

So will I have a new home on June 29th? Or will it be many more weeks of living out of a suitcase at my single brother's house with 4 small children? Only God knows, but He is good!

Patience obtains all things

Sad news: Jon ran into my neighbor of five years yesterday and told her that we are moving. She almost started crying. Her rent went up to $2500 this month for her 3 bedroom. She's over 70 and doesn't know what she is going to do next year. She doesn't think she can get a mortgage because of her age. Please keep our neighbor, Miss "P" in your prayers.

Patience obtains all things.....

Really my dear bff St. Teresa of Avila? Can't there be an EASIER way to get what I want from God? Specially worded prayers, sit-ups, wearing a hair shirt, praying in the middle of an icy waterfall like the Tibetan monks?

Does it really have to be "practicing patience"....

Happy 4th Birthday Maria!


Time sure flies when we're having fun!
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(For all of you new mothers out there, this is my "colic baby." Mimi was on anti-reflux meds for 8 months. We had to give her oral meds ever 4 hours. Colic "messes" with the formation of a baby's natural sleep patterns. Maria basically didn't sleep at all for 18 months. Just want to reassure you, not matter how problematic your baby's infancy stage is "this too shall pass." I have JOY in the morning. Maria is a natural housekeeper, my easiest home-school student, a huge comic AND has those delightful ginger red corkscrew curls that turn the heads of everyone we meet!)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Childhood Cancer

One of the most intimate moments of being a NICU parent was sharing the elevator with strangers.

Children's Hospital in D.C. arranges all their specialties by floors. The second floor is surgery, the third floor is "cardiac", the sixth floor was the NICU.

So when people exited a specific floor, you knew exactly what the basic diagnosis was for their kid. It was like a giant neon sign that violated all medical privacy laws.

Cancer was on the fourth floor.

I can't tell you how often those cancer kids "fooled me."

I would stumble out of my teeny daughter's room, emotionally exhausted by hanging out with a silent, listless baby with ounces upon ounces of ugly green stuff being yanked continuously out of her stomach and head to the elevator.

I'd smile at the normal looking four year old, the one who demanded that her relaxed Dad with a tan and flip flops find her starfish sunglasses to wear for her doctor's appointment. "How sweet," I'd think and relax in the normal exchange of smiles from across the elevator.

Then Dad and daughter would get off calmly on the Cancer floor.

My heart would start doing flip flops.

How do you help when a child has cancer?

I thought this story about a Catholic family who lost a 10 year old son who loved to skateboard was pretty profound.

"For an hour, one Sunday morning last May, the Parks and Recreations board quietly opened the gates to the ‘almost public’ skatepark — allowing Johnny to skate on last time before chemo started. Only now can I understand what a beautiful gift the Board gave our family that day. It’s amazing that when a small town with a heart the size o Texas, told a small boy ‘Yes” — how much impact that one word, for one hour, had on our family — never knowing it would be Johnny’s last time to skate.
It’s the little things in life that make a difference — just saying the word ‘yes’ can change a life, a community, a family and has left us with a lifetime of memories that we will never forget — watching Johnny skate the empty park all to himself, with a big smile on his face and his friends and family cheering him on. "

I LOVE the "YES" part.

Makes me want to say a big YES to more God moments in my own life!

More childhood cancer stories from the New York Times here.

God bless your dear soul Johnny Ramono. Roll forever.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Why I Love My Husband!


...because he draws things like this to explain science concepts to my children. (Jon drawing a map of the solar system in the parking lot last year for our science class.)

AND he writes stuff like this on facebook about me!

"Thanks everyone for all of the Happy Birthdays! It was by far, the best birthday yet! My all-time best birthday present was from my wife: She broke apart, and carried to the dumpster our 12ft couch monstrosity, while I was at work! True LOVE! 39 is so good—every year with you Abby gets better and better!"

Sorry, ladies-but I know that I'm married to the best husband on Planet Earth!*

*St Joseph is already in heaven, so he doesn't officially count in this contest!

Another Sad Thing about Moving

We're moving farther away from my little son's grave.
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Five years, and I still don't have a stone for him. Maybe we can afford one someday soon. At least my poverty is giving me a chance to really think about the best Scripture passage to assign him!

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I can't tell you how healing having this place is for my soul. And how important it is for my children to have a specific place to pray for their brother. They don't remember me being pregnant anymore, but they remember coming here.

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It's actually pretty fun to visit brother Francisco's "special play group." (My son is buried in a special children's section of the cemetery reserved for infants who died under one year. At first, I thought I was the only one who buried a miscarriage, but I found another family who buried 2 miscarried siblings.) I love that they have such calm memories of praying in a cemetery. I wish I was so comfortable with act of "praying for the dead" when I was a kid.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Girl.... Still doing her work!

St. Therese of Lisieux's relics are touring the Holy Land this week!

Rich Girl, Poor Girl

Father Dan pulled out an interesting bit from this article for his facebook page today

"A key summarizing quote: "But you can do much more for the poor by getting married and remaining faithful to your spouse. Have the courage to use old-fashioned words such as chaste and honorable. Put on a tie. Turn off the trashy reality TV shows. Sit down to dinner every night with your family. Stop using expletives as exclamation marks. Go to church or synagogue."

Here's my quote from the same article

"A Christian who hopes to follow the teachings of Jesus needs to reckon with a singular fact about American poverty: Its deepest and most debilitating deficits are moral, not financial; the most serious deprivations are cultural, not economic. Many people living at the bottom of American society have cell phones, flat-screen TVs, and some of the other goodies of consumer culture. But their lives are a mess."

Here's my insight from 4 years as a public employee working in the impoverished area of Appalachia.

Umm.. why the HECK are we just picking on the poor for having lives that are a mess?

Because I personally feel like many Americans in the middle and upper classes also have lives that are a complete mess.

Today I read in shock about one of the saddest burials ever when a rich Catholic lady refused to have Last Rites or a Funeral Mass. It doesn't matter how many millions you have in the bank or how many rooms (42!) you have in your posh apartment in New York City. If you die alone in a hospital room, without your family, without a priest, and without your FAITH-- then you are a poor, poor girl.

Please, go out and sparkle with love and self-forgetfulness in your marriages tonight. Your light is needed. Know that practically all of America is (rich and poor alike) are spiritually starving at the gates of Heaven.

Blessed Mother, pray for us. Pray for Huguette M. Clark.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I just wrote goodbye letters to 12 beloved Catholic priests and Religious Sisters. I can't believe we are leaving the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. in a few weeks. I feel like I'm leaving a body part behind, it's so painful.

On the plus side, as I wrote my goodbye letter to the five priests and 2 deacons I have assigned at my City Parish Church alone, I thought "it's going to be kind of cool to just have ONE spiritual father at my new country church."

At St. Joseph's church in Martinsburg, West Virginia there is just one priest who will preach at every Mass and hear every confession. After the move, there will be no "cherry picking" in line for your favorite confessor or zipping down to the Basilica when we want to get confession done in a flash on a weekday.

It feels sort of good. I'm ready to grow up spiritually.

Happy 39th Birthday Jon!


I'm ridiculously in love with this man! Happy 11 Birthdays together and counting Mr. B!
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My Week

My life is just a tad too exciting these days!

Currently, I am a) buying my first house in a different state, b) packing up the apartment I've lived in for the past five years without movers, c) finishing up my kids portfolio for their home school review, d) coddling a teething baby and e) celebrating my beloved husband's 39 birthday, our 10the wedding anniversary and my daughter's 4 birthday (all in the same week.)

All of these projects are complicated by the fact that we don't have much money.

So when you try to buy a house without any money, you have to pass this crazy house inspection AND a special USDA loan appraisal. Which means that I can't really bond with the house we currently bid on until the last two conditions are meant.

(I'm doing GREAT at calmly being patient while my whole life is turned upside...ah, not really).

If you've got a prayer request, please pass it along. Johnny and I are doing LOTS of sweat equity for God these next two weeks. Happy to pray for you as I pack.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I'm a home-schooler newly in love....

with Carolyn Pratt!

Oh my goodness. After FIVE years of struggling to adore Marie Montessori and Charlotte Mason--feeling more, and more like a lonely, nerdy, educational theory freak--Miss Carolyn Pratt walks into my world.

Here's a sample of her "yumminess"

"At the forefront of the kindergarten and early childhood movement
was Teachers College. Pratt reflected on class one day when
the instructor commanded everyone to “dance like butterflies.”

You taught children to dance like butterflies,

when you knew they would much rather
roar like lions,

because lions are hard to
discipline and butterflies aren’t.

All activity in the Kindergarten
must be quiet, unexciting.

All of it was designed to prepare children
for the long years of discipline ahead.

Kindergarten got them ready
to be bamboozled by the first grade (pg 15).

Have you ever read anything MORE inspiring?

Can NOT believe that my poverty has forced me to open my own "Sacred Heart Academy" in my own home. Three years into my grand experiment I find that I most closely resemble this Manhattan gem "City and Country School". Yeah, it costs a mere $29,000 a year and has an incredibly impossible admission standard. But my kids get the same education (+ better b/c they get to also celebrate their Catholic faith) merely by sharing my same last name.


These are the unexpected gifts poverty can hand you!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Finding a New Family in Christ

This weekend I experienced a form rejection from my Mom. It was one of those things where everything is confusion and chaos, weird third party messages, strangely worded emails and odd gaps in phone conversation. It ended with me and my deliciously chunky teething Baby Tess getting booted from grandma's home to make room for my brother's younger "porch party" crowd.

One of the hard things about dealing with my Mom's social anxiety (read "or any mental illness") is her objections to social situations often don't make "sense." This weekend was an important one, the first time my brother brought his serious girlfriend home for our town's annual "Strawberry Festival."

I LOVE my brother's girlfriend, Jenna. She's a solid Christian and the best thing since sliced bread for my brother. Jenna has babysat my kids and helped me shop for a new house. The way she wordlessly hands my brother her sunglasses simply because he's squinting while driving us melts my heart.

So when my Dad announced that we Benjamins had to stay in a hotel this weekend because there wasn't room in the house for both us and "my brother's friends", my brother let out a long sigh. There was technically more than enough space in a five bedroom house. My brother starting reviewing potential room arrangements when I just let out a sigh of my own.

Maybe it was being so tired from the move, but I just felt too exhausted to stand up for "my rights" anymore.

"Let's just roll with the punches, this week," I thought.

My Dad made us reservations at a hotel that I never heard of before. From his description, I assumed we'd be in a run down motel in the center of my small town. I pictured the type of place that had seen better days in 1941.

So I was shocked, this past Friday, when I walked into a sweet, new Bed and Breakfast straight out of New England. It was lovely restored by a History Major with Gibson Girl like flair. The bedrooms were amazing. I couldn't wait to show the flouncy details to my girly 8 and 4 year old daughters.

Fast forward to 11 PM that night.

Jon and I were in HELL.

We had four over-tired, over-stimulated children who refused to sleep. Three kids wrestled, kicked and whined in one bed. For two hours, Jon had played constant referee, while I sat on the floor with an irritable Baby Tess. The only thing that calmed me down during this awful episode was looking at the beautiful window treatments and thinking "At least we never go on vacation, because spending a lot of money to be this miserable in such a beautiful place would really, really suck".

In the middle of this experience it was hard not to mentally whine "I wish at least SOME of the kids could have spent the night with grandma--familiar beds usually mean easier time getting to sleep..."

Eventually my older kids went to bed.

Around midnight, my husband and I crawled into our bed with baby Tess. There was absolutely nothing romantic about sleeping in a Gibson Girl room near my 10th wedding anniversary with my best friend because our Baby Number Four spent the ENTIRE night awake, crawling on either my or my husband's face.

Then my older kids then woke us up at 6 AM. God bless the inn keeper who made us an early coffee at 6:30 and then funny mickey mouse pancakes for the kids at 7 AM.

I stumbled through Saturday exhausted. I missed most of the famous five hour Strawberry Parade. First Tess needed a nap. Then my older children crashed. We skipped out of "party-graw" a series of fun music acts on Main Street in order to drive the kids to sleep on curly country roads.

At 9 PM we tried to gently transfer three sleeping kids to our rooms at the B & B and failed. Maria woke up at the foot of the stairs and burst into tears. Baby Tess and Alex soon followed. Jon and I briefly nodded to the innkeeper couple as we shepherded our crabby sheep up the stairs and into their pajamas.

I left the bedroom 10 minutes later to grab another bottle for Baby Tess. I was so tired, and disoriented that it took me a few moments to register what the concerned innkeeper was saying in plain English.

She wanted to send her husband to Walmart to buy some Tylenol for our teething baby.

"Oh she's fine. We're really all fine. It's just a long day," I said with a wave of my hand.

But the innkeeper didn't go. She said "We noticed that the little one was taking off her sandals and saying that her feet hurt. She could use some pain reliever too, can't she? Can't we get anything for you and Jon? I'll bring you up some wine as soon as your finished in there."

I sat there completely speechless in the hallway of a B & B. "Oh my goodness, she WANTS to help us..." I thought.

It's like a shocking thing for me. Because I'm so used to doing everything alone, without help, trying to take up as little space as possible as the Mother of this big, noisy family who I often wrongly assume is a major irritant to the whole, entire world.

So I let the innkeeper's husband go to Walmart. The innkeeper left me a tray with one bottle of Pedicare and two glasses of red wine. "Tylenol for the Baby and Tylenol for Mommy and Daddy" she said with a smile.

Then she waited in the sitting room with her husband and the opened bottle of red wine. After the kids went down (A full day of Carnival rides are an expensive, but effective sleep aid) my husband and I joined them. Baby Tess slept comfortably on Jon's chest. We drank our wine and got to share the story of Tessy's amazing NICU experience with an understanding former nurse from Cleveland Clinic. (Our innkeepers surprising past job).

I was praying over all this strange coincidences in front of the Blessed Sacrament on Sunday. The innkeeper was asking us at Sunday morning breakfast "will Grandma be watching Tess during church so you guys can pray?" Her kindness brought tears to my eyes.

No, I don't have anyone to watch Baby Tess during church. It's just me, praying over her noisy, cute head.

It's just my husband and me on our own, sitting alone the church pew, trying to raise up these four precious babies for the Lord. We're not alone technically,--but we are ALONE. And the thing that I wanted to shout out to the world is that "its okay." You are never really alone, if you're a member of the household of God. God will send you Mothers and Sisters and Brothers who are fashioned after his own heart to shelter and comfort and support you, no matter what.

All Quiet on the Home Front...

our offer got accepted! Waiting for the home inspection results. . . .

(if you want to see pictures you have to email me at abigail.b.benjamin (at) gmail. com or befriend me on facebook because blogger doesn't play nicely with zillow!)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Our Walk to Church

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Immediately after the bus drops us off, Mimi has to make an imaginary call to Grandma.
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My son stops to look at something strange!
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We always sing "Do Re Me" when we cross this crosswalk because it looks so much like piano keys.
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Thanks to all the pesticides on lawns in the City, this is now an exotic flower to my children!
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Meeting one of Baby Tessy's many admirers.
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