Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Slow Blogging Ahead

Happy Fourth of July Weekend everyone!

(I'll be off-line for a while during the move.)


It's official, we own a house!!!

Thank you St. Joseph!

West Wing - Why are we changing maps?

My brother works on Capital Hill and has the complete collection of "The West Wing". I popped one in the DVD player yesterday and was taken aback by how much my three years in Carmel have completely transformed my outlook on my former fav TV show.

a) These guys are interrupted ALL of the time. (I mean, I'm a Mama of 4--I thought my life was constant interruptions) It's all "you've got to get that that meeting now", or "we need you to start working on those briefing points STAT". No character has time for time to reflect or even usually complete a full thought on a detailed policy question on the show.

b) EVERYONE is presumed to be super smart. The policy wonks, the secretaries, even the guy whose job it is to "hold the Presidents" jacket. Intelligence trumps all other human character values. Its so exhausting to watch most of the characters spending a huge amount of time engaged in random "witty banter" that proves how smart they are.

c) Everyone seems completely surprised and annoyed that events do not go smoothly as planned.

d) Every tries to get out of "demeaning" jobs. Instead of this idea that as a public servant it is an honor to preform any of the tasks the President needs completed, not matter how small, the characters spend their time shuffling off "demeaning", boring jobs that are supposedly beneath their IQ to complete.

A slice of our noisy, chaotic post-modern world at its finest.

Today Is....

The Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul!

The 60th Anniversary of the Priestly Ordination of Pope Benedict!

The day I close on my new house!

Hurrah for all three celebrations. Hoping to get my 4 kids to Adoration to give thanks today.

Who You Calling Sick?


Proof that we attended Joey T.'s birthday party last week!

(Baby Tess and Baby Joey were patients at Children's National Hospital at the same time last Fall).



The American History Major took her 3 daughters to the American Girl's store which just opened in Washington D.C.
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Notice the Lego store strategically located nearby (to help little brothers who are in culture shock from all that pink!)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Standing up to Bullies

Oooo! I'm in a weakened state from being at 90 days into our surprise move. House closing is happening this week! Yes! Meanwhile, the devil is on the prowl. I fell into depression after a scathing attack on my mothering skills. But like all things that happened this month, it was really good for me.

I finally, finally started to put myself in the place of these bullies--guess what. Not everyone has my and my children's best interest at heart. Which means (surprise, surprise for the incredibly vain Abigail Benjamin)I do not have to drink in everyone's "helpful" suggestions for my Holy Vocation of Motherhood.

Discernment of Spirits--I'm trying to better separate the wheat from the shaft.

The next day, God immediately gave me three totally different encounters to test my working theory. (He's all about experiential learning, that Father of ours!)

Example One:

A Safeway employee becomes (in my mind) overly concerned about my four year old's safety while she stands in a shopping cart and demands to be taken out. I'm on a critical mission to find Benedryll for my six year old son who is suffering from "clown's ear" (red, swollen to 4 times its natural size) after a spider bite. I tell 4 year old to "wait a moment" and tell the Safeway employee "she's fine right now". I return to my search for the hidden Benedryll. The employee gently takes my four year old out of the cart and puts her on the floor. I'm annoyed inside, but I make a genuine effort to smile at the employee. She smiles back and we mutually coo over my 4 babies.

Take way lesson: When people have my kid's best interest at heart it shows.

Example Two:

I put all three of my kids on folding chairs by the grocery store doors and immediately start feeding my son Benedryll after checkout. A Father shows up and we have a heartfelt exchange about the beauty of children. It's so beautiful that even my 8 year old remarks "Mom, no one ever talks to us like that!" We exchanged "God Bless you" at the end. It was a beautiful moment.

Take away lesson: Some people love me and my kids! What a gift!

Example Three:

I make a judgement call to leave Tess strapped into the cart with her 8 year old sister while I carried in some bulky, awkward to carry items to our car. (This unfamiliar grocery store didn't allow you to take the grocery carts into the parking lot) As I came back, I heard a woman loudly say "Who would do that? Who leaves their baby alone in a cart like that?"

"Hello!" I called out in a firm and friendly way. In that one word I said "I heard exactly what you said. I'm here and I've got the situation under control."

The lady who spoke left without turning around. Her companion stopped to give me a long, evil look. I could see that she was very poor and very stressed. I nodded my head to her. Finally, she started to move away. I notice after they leave that neither lady had demonstrated any concern for my children, the only purpose of that comment was to pour contempt onto me.

Take away lesson three: Stand up to bullies.

When we got everyone loaded into the car, I noticed something REALLY cool. I wasn't stressed. I wasn't yelling at my kids.

I really think that probably 70% of my problem "losing my temper" with my kids is a direct result of my own vanity. I want them to behave 100% of the time so that "I don't get into trouble" with distant family members and random strangers.

I told Jesus at Mass yesterday that I'm not sure if I can always be as holy in my interaction with bullies. But I am willing to risk a greater "lack of charity" with total strangers (and be seen publicly as the not-so-good Christian Mom) if it meant that I could be more charitable, more kind and more patient with my own dear kids.

Inspiring Home Education Piece

I'm moving into a new school district and need to prepare a "letter of intent" to the School Superintendent. I'm researching a lot about "inquiry based" learning which is a fancy educational term for my husband's and my basic approach called "teaching college in first grade". (I let my kids pick what history & science subjects they are interested in just like they are picking a class out of a college catalog and then design our studies around their interests for the year.) This article on using the Socratic Method to teach math in third grade was super cool.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bl Elizabeth of the Trinity

"Darling little sister, you must cross out the word "discouragement" from your dictionary of love; the more you feel your weakness, your difficulty in recollecting yourself, and the more hidden your Master seems, the more you must rejoice, for then you are giving to Him, and, when one loves, isn't it better to give than to receive?"
(The Complete Works, Vol 2., pg 305).

Attending a Very Special 1st Birthday Party

In the middle of June 2010, Joey's godmother attending my baby shower for Tess. Joey was currently hooked up to some serious heart/lung machines at Children's National Hospital. I'd been praying for little Joey for over a week. I remember patting her knee and saying "He's got a good name. Any son who is named after Saint Joseph has a powerful protector and is going to be fine."

Three months later, Tess landed in Children's National Hospital at six days old. Our buddy Joey was downstairs for a repeat tour on the Cardiac wing.

I remember Joey's Mama, Kate, so tenderly insisting that we meet up, giving us the grand tour of the hospital and introducing us to her family of five in Joey's hospital room. That brief time with the Trammas at such a needy, scary time was so special. I remember Pat urging me to eat a meatball sandwich and pretty Bella showing off her twirls. It was like proof that you can still have a sweet family life inside a sterile hospital room.

But the big rock star of the room was Mr Joey T himself.

He was three months old and happy, with these awesome pudgy cheeks.

I had no idea that sick heart babies could grow pudgy cheeks.
My own little Tess was silent and listless in a NICU room upstairs and she wasn't allowed to eat. Her digestive system was completely broken. Seeing Joey smiles gave me great HOPE.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Prayer Request for My Little Sis

My sister just started a swank job with the State Department in Senegal, Africa this June. Guess which country engaged in semi-serious Constitutional protests on Thursday.

Read a news report here: Senegal's president chips away at country's democratic record

Jesus, I trust in you!

Our Experiences with Begging for the Eucharist During a Hospital Stay

My buddy Jen blogged about receiving the Eucharist for the first time out of a church.

I just wanted to share a funny story from Tessy's hospital stay.

Baby Tess spent 3 days in the PICU wing of a Catholic hospital from day 4 to day 7 after her birth. She had jaundice and needed to "bake" under those funny tanning bed like lamps. Jon and I had 72 hours without sleep and it was very confusing because Tess kept giving the doctors super weird test results. (Poor thing actually had jaundice as a result of a fatal digestive tract defect but no one had discovered it yet.)

At 7 AM Sunday morning, I was a weeping mess. At 5 AM, doctors said my baby could get discharged at noon if she didn't throw up anymore. Twenty minutes later my sweet newborn vomited all over everything and earned herself at least 24 hours more of hospitalization for observation.

My husband stepped in. He wisely decided that his wife needed the Eucharist. He asked the nurse to page someone from the Chaplains office. They sent up the Protestant Chaplain.

The lovely lady prayed for Tess and gave us some lovely words of encouragement.

Then my husband cut to the chase, "We're Catholics. Today is Sunday. We need the Eucharist."

The Chaplain explained "But I'm the Protestant Chaplain. I don't believe in that."

My husband spoke with this very firm, clear and yet still gentle voice. "But we do. All you have to do bring the Eucharist to us. We're the ones who eat it."

(Yes, we eventually got to receive the Body and Blood twice in the hospital on the very day that Tess got diagnosed with a fatal condition and transferred to Children's National Hospital in D.C. God bless the Eucharistic ministers who help Jesus make house calls!)

My friend had a baby!

Go coo over the latest addition to the Conversion Diary clan!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

This Bald Baby

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Often stops traffic!

Lego Exhibit


I think this might become my favorite picture of my son for all time. He's so in his element!
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"I've got my hands full!"

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Lunch date at Holy Cross Hospital with Sister Kathy (Nun responsible for Baby Tessy's emergency NICU baptism and probably the most important person who saved her life)

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Sister Kathy and our Bunny

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Sister Kathy, Me and Tess in Front of the Blessed Sacrament in the hospital chapel where I prayed for the doctors to figure out why Tess was so sick. Had no idea at the time that her "wonky" blood gas count were a result of a fatal birth defect in her small intestine--but Jesus did!

I'm kicking myself because I forgot to snap a picture of our visit to the PICU. Pat T. this one is for you! You tell me that the 16 inch plastic tube in Bunny's heart was NOTHING. Yes, according to Dr. Kanter at Children's. Yet this PICU hospital staff was WEEPING when the recounted Tessy's ordeal 8 months later. She freaked them OUT! My baby is a walking miracle. Thank you Jesus!

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Healing garden at Holy Cross

Why I love my husband


Who won't?
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How to Surive a Move

Hang out often with a bunch of Sisters

Sister Peace
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Sister Andrea

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Father Sass
He greet me "Hello my persecuted Christians!" when he saw me thanks to our dramatic boot from Montgomery County. I joked back "you didn't think you'd see such dramatic suffering for the Faith outside of your native Poland, did you!"

10th Wedding Anniversary Trip

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First camping trip in 8 years with a family of 6.
Harper's Ferry, West Virginia
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For those of you who wonder

How you camp with a nine month old....

Yeah, it's a little nutty to put a pop-up crib in our tent. But fun!
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Easiest Birthday Party Ever!


Mimi turned 4 right before our move. She wanted a "heart birthday" All of the Valentine's Day items at Oriental Trader were on sale. We got tons of fun party supplies, including adorable "Jesus is in my heart" stickers. Hope to recycle this easy party idea for another summer treat in the new house.
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No False Advertising


I went to the cemetary where our little son is buried to pray with him on Memorial Day. While looking around I found this--the coolest gravestone ever! Don't you get a wonderful sense of this Catholic Mama? She seems so fun. I love the way the kids had the rosary placed around her hand. I told my husband "I love this stone, especially the way the rosary is placed."

Jon said "I'll make sure that you'll have one just like it!"

Then I told him seriously, "you'd better wait and see. First I have to start LIVING that life before I die. Otherwise I'll be buried under false advertising!"
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Don't Bubble Wrap Our Dear Jesus!


This image tickled my funny bone during the move. I had to wrap my crucifix in bubble wrap and that seemed so wrong. I thought of Prince William's famous quote about serving in the English Armed Forces "I don't want to be wrapped in cotton wool!" Our Jesus would say to his followers "I didn't come to earth to be wrapped in bubble wrap!"

Don't they look good together?


My brother and his new steady. Pray for them!
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How to Offer It Up

For N.

"Could you do a post on "suffering" and offering it up...How to recognize suffering as a penance and not complain about to offer it up and see it as a spiritual work, if that makes any sense....

Take for instance...the other day I couldn't get up off the couch. I complained, called my dh home early (only 1/2 hour), I felt awful...but then it cleared and I remembed then that I could have offered it up....

Should I have done my daily tasks? I wasnt dying? I really think i'm weak in this area and could use some good advice..... xxoo I know you have so much free time!"

I'm writing this from my working understanding as a new Carmelite, without access to my Catechism since it's currently packed in deep freeze in a storage locker--so please jump in anyone (hint,hint... Little Bubble or Joy Behind the Cross) and correct any mistakes.

Basically, St. John of the Cross is asking us to take both the good things as gifts from the Lord AND the bad things. So imagine the sweetest best consolation (or happy feeling) that you ever had during prayer or Holy Mass. That was a gift! And the cool thing is that it wasn't just for you--your insight, your close feeling to God is a gift that is meant to be shared with the world.

Sort of like if I give the special chocolate donut box to the kid who first helps me carrying in the groceries from the Min-van, it's really a happy gift meant to be shared eventually with all of my kids.

So lesson one is -share your joy with others. St. Peter tells us "be ready to tell everyone for the reason for your hope."

Lesson two is --share your pain with others. Jesus said "who ever picks up his cross and follows me." It is 100% certain that we are going to have hard, nasty stuff to deal with in our lives. We are going to have bad Mondays. Our crosses are not the same or "equal". My baby spent 3 weeks in the NICU. Bonnie's baby spent 2 or 3 months. Baby Ella just got home after 8 1/2 months. My friend's Tharen, Kate and Maria all have babies with lingering medical issues after their dramatic rescues at Children's National Hospital. And yet all of us would tell you that we had "light" crosses because we personally know about precious little babies NICU babies who didn't live to come home to be rocked in their specially planned nurseries.

Our crosses are hand-picked just to help us with our personal little sins, shortcomings and natural weakness. Other students might not find phonic lessons unbearable. My little Hannah bean shouted "DEATH, DEATH!" every time I pulled out the yellow covered "100 Easy Lessons to Teach Your Child to Read." Now for 2 1/2 years, I tried to find easier, happy phonics lessons for my kid and some months we skipped phonics all together. As a result, my home-school student learned every subject BUT reading.

Finally, I figured out that my saguine tempered child needed the practice of doing a little hard work each morning "For Jesus." I didn't care about results. I wanted her to work on the virtue of fortitude. Her penance was doing 15 minutes of a "boring, hated" reading work each day. My penance was listening to "DEATH, mother, this is DEATH" many times in my ear. We both hung in WAY past our natural inclination to give up--and guess what--now my kid is happily reading "real, big kid books." Does she really understand yet that it was the time spent in the hated yellow book that got her there? No. But I do.

Why is this relevant? Because my hated yellow book is actually "wasting time" sitting on the phone for long periods of time talking mean people about "dumb" red tape issues.

Guess what God has asked me to do a lot in the past year?

First there was my kid's insurance billing from the NICU which after 8 months is still pretty much snarled. (I got through that one by saying "this is as much a part of being the mother of a sick kid as sitting inside the NICU and also about thinking about all the Moms who have to do the same thing while their kid is still sick Or buried in a grave yard somewhere.) Then there is all the people and institutions you have to call to set up services in a new house. Then this week, it was trying to get my car repairs to fall under our newly purchased optional warranty.

I tell God this is stupid. I tell God that this aggrevation makes me sin. I tell him that I rather be doing ANYTHING other than the tasks that I've most recently been assigned. Guess what? He sends me MORE.

He sends me more of the tasks that I hate because they are good for my soul. Just like a good cross country coach sends you to do an extra set of hill sprints when your legs are totally jelly during the hottest day of the year. You don't thank your hard nosed cross country coach during practice. You thank them on race day, when you find yourself effortlessly getting up the steep incline of Cardiac Hill and you earn a Varsity Jersey for the first time.

So little mantras that help me when I'm suffering.

"I hate this, but I'm going to stop complaining about it for the next 15 minutes."
"I'm going to suck this up for 10 minutes in honor of a blogging buddy who is having a rougher time than me."
"I'm going to offer this up for a specific prayer request."
"A Sister in Africa has it worse than me!"
"When my daughter goes through the same problem in 25 years, I'm going to be able to give her wise counsel on this issue."
"When I get cancer at age 80, I'm going to be glad that I coped with some rough days earlier in my life."

Anyone else have other ones?

(PS always, always be gentle with yourself. Did you feel guilty the day AFTER you complained? That is progress! Every little bit helps. The road to heaven is made of a million small steps to God)

Then and Now

In packing, I found an old post card I had hanging in my law office:

"Where, after all do universal human rights being? In small places close to home-so close and so small they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world." (Eleanor Roosevelt, from a speech to the United Nations, 1958.)

Whew. Quite a mouthful.

Contrast that with my new favorite quote from my new heroine, St. Tess of Avila

"Go cheerfully about whatever service you are ordered to do."

Time to Pitch It

I have an overdue library book that I checked out as a high school student in 1991

I accidentally took it to college with me in the Fall of 1993

It's made every single move with me since then...

every time I see it again I think (Oh, I've got to get that book returned to the library the next time I get home)

I always forget about it...

until the next move.

Sometime as a newlywed I was determined to MAIL it home with a long note of contrition. That never happened.

So now I'm determined to throw the book away and just mail a check to the library with a note asking to pay a fine and clear up my account. Can I throw it away now? Or do I need the library's permission?

Oh title of the book I picked up at age 15 "When All You Ever Wanted Isn't Enough" by the same Jewish rabbi who wrote "Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People."

I think (mostly because I have this funny book problem) Jon and I joke about the title "Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?" all the time. A little inside humor from two Carmelites in love.

We'll say the title in our most serious NPR voice: "Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

I'll make a funny grimace and say "Who is saying that their Good?"

Jon will make a funny face and say "Who is saying that things are Bad?"

(Get it? Why are you calling yourself good, because God alone is Holy. Only the Virgin Mary was made with a special pure and sinless heart. Also, St. John of the Cross explains that so called "bad things" like having a baby in the NICU or having a father die 12 weeks after his first cancer diagnosis are mostly great, great blessings in disguise).

Pauline Books and Media

Do you live anywhere near Old Town Alexandria, Virginia?

The next time you are taking a stroll check out an exceptionally fantastic Catholic bookstore

1025 King Street
Alexandria, VA22314

The Pauline Sisters are an order of nuns who's entire purpose is to help us Catholics select yummy spiritual reading material. (And yes, they sell the ICS publications there). I've never been in a religious bookstore like it--clarity and peace. I feel inspired, not overwhelmed. I find great finds and I never have any trouble staying within my budget (Since I'm both a gluttonous bookworm and exceptionally poor Carmelite is an usual occurrence.)

It's like each sales clerk spends all day praying about my personal "overhwlemed and indecisiveness about spiritual reading choice" problem, or something.....

They totally live up to there founder's hope.

"In the words of Bessed James Alberione, founder of the Daughters of St. Paul,

“Do not aim at having simply bookstores,
but rather centers
from which emanate
the light of truth
and the morality of the Church.”

The Pauline Sisters have other bookstores around the country.

It looks like you can order online. Oh what is that I see, a 40% off Summer Sale? (I love supporting the Nuns. It's like they already understand that some of us have lots of little feet that happened to outgrew each and every Target sandal in June)

Don't cheat yourself, however. Don't place an order online without at least first calling to chat with my friend, Sister Andrew (or another equally helpful Pauline Sister) and getting some reading suggestions from a religious sister who was born to be a friendly Christian librarian.

Do You Love Reading Abigail's Alcove?

Man, you should read the REAL stuff!

For truly deep insights into Carmelite Spirituality, a mere $10 will get you a yearly subscription to the Carmel Clarion "a Catholic publication produced by the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order, Washington Province, with a Main Office in Washington D.C."

I LOVE the Clarion!

For more information on how to order the Clarion, click here. (They will even send it internationally!)

If you are reading a writing by a Carmelite Saint (St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Terese of L., St Edith Stein) please go get your book. This second... I'm waiting. Flip your book over. Is there a cute little Institute of Carmel Studies (ICS) cross on the back?

If not, put the book down!

RUN, run to the ICS website and order the official translation from the Carmelites. If you ever had trouble understanding St. Teresa of Avila or St. John of the Cross, I can almost guarantee that you read a bad translation of their works from the original Spanish. The official Carmelite translators are masters of their craft. The translations are so clear and so poetic, insights just leap off the page and into your heart.

Prices are ridiculously cheap. ICS gives huge discounts if you order in bulk.

So really, there is NO EXCUSE.

Please everyone raise your right hand and repeat after me

As a faithful Abigail's Alcove reader, I promise NEVER to buy a Carmelite book without first seeing if the all important ICS logo is on the back cover. I want to support the humble friars who spend years in dusty Spanish convent weeping with joy to touch the actual handwriting of St. Teresa of Avila herself (or ______fill in the blank with appropriate saint). . .

. . .In fact, I will never ever read some nasty untrue, overly purged translations of beloved Catholic saints which actually print the Holy Name of God and Jesus Christ in all small letters like this "god" and "jesus christ" as (ahem!) provided by Barnes and Noble and the like...

(Okay that last bit of the reading pledge is my own personal pet peeve)

But seriously, GOOD TRANSLATIONS of holy written matter greatly. Plus, the Carmelite Friars need our love and support.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Oh How Intimately He Loves Us

You can not imagine how intimately God loves us! Truly! I'm only a smitten fifteen year old in love, pre-engaged to my Jesus with a $100 pre-engagement ring and boastfully wearing his Varsity letterman jacket into class. Believe me in my Carmel meetings, I hear true spiritual union is SO much more than the thin tin ring that I'm currently wearing. But I've got to shout out that my "pre-engagement" love affair is AWESOME.

Completely true story of what happened to me today.

My parents are coming to town this week as professional tour guides. I did not get invited to visit them on "family day". I did not get invited to go on their special Friday night boat cruise on the Potomac River. I was hurt by that omission but I told Jesus that I wasn't going to complain about it for his sake.

When I told my husband about my parent's upcoming plans I purposely kept my voice very calm and bored when I mentioned "the boat cruise". I bit my lip and did not comment on the situation.

Hours later, when we were inspired to celebrate Father's Day taking Jon aboard one of those ridiculously fun double decker tour buses around the city--a ticket taker did something that surprised me. I told the truth that my Mimi was above age 4 and should pay the child fare (rather than getting a free ride for kids under age 3.) The ticket guy REFUSED to take my money. He let her on for free. Then he pushed a special button on his ticket machine and gave us ....

a free family pass for a boat ride!

My whole family of 6 got a free one hour ride down the Potomac River! It was awesome. All of my kids were basically on a boat for the first time in their lives and loved it! I couldn't believe how different the City I've lived in for the past 5 years appeared from the water. Everything was so peaceful and green!

I told Jon, "I can't believe God gave us a free riverboat cruise! I purposely didn't tell you, but was pouting out my bottom lip that I didn't get invited by my parents this week and instead Jesus hands me a personal ticket for free."

My husband's jaw dropped open and he said "I was upset that we were missing your parent's special cruise and yet I purposely didn't tell YOU!"

So there you go! Easy to forgive your parents on Father's Day when our Father in Heaven grants such lavish gifts based on the hidden desires of our hearts!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Our Engagement Story

For Betty.

I met my husband in Madison, Wisconsin during my final semester of law school in January, 2000. Since I knew I was heading out of town, I classified our relationship as "fun" and "short term" from the start. My husband himself was waiting start graduate school in Upstate New York in the Fall. Since Jon was leaving Madison as well, I made my first job decision completely independent of him. I choose a new job 500 miles away.

Then came my graduation in May.

I didn't want to leave my boyfriend.

So I paid $2,500 in late fees to take the Illinois Bar in July (instead of studying for practically free in my native West Virginia) just so I'd have an excuse to stick Madison for the summer.

Finally, it was time to say goodbye in August.

Then my boyfriend helped me find a rental home at my new job in Ohio, tied my futon on his red Jeep, and moved me in. He even left me his beloved dog, Sarah, for my protection because he didn't completely trust my new neighborhood.

I remember Sarah and I both pressing our nose against the glass door of my new house, watching Jon drive away in his new red Jeep, off to start his first week of graduate school ten hours away. We'd never, ever discussed our future together and as far as I knew, Jon was still a completely commitment phobic boy who shopped at Urban Outfitter. "At least I know he's coming back," I thought rubbing Sarah's tummy. "He left his dog with me."

Five days later, Jon came down for a weekend visit. I cooked him an enormous eggplant boat dinner. He was hours late from traffic and the egg plant got all burnt and rubbery. After dinner we were kissing when Jon suddenly shot up and said "I'm going to get you that lock down for your garage." Oddest non sequitur I've ever encountered. He was insistent, "No this is REALLY going to bother me. I won't be able to sleep tonight unless that task is done. I'm going out to Kroger to get you one right now."

My boyfriend left for ONE HOUR. I had no idea where he went because the grocery store (Kroger's) was right up my street. "He must have gotten lost," I thought back in the era before easy cell-phone connections.

In boredom, I moved into my living room and started reading a new collection of short stories. In my story, a girlfriend got a surprise proposal-- "that's so unrealistic," I murmurred. Every girl must have some idea that her boy is at least thinking about marriage.

More than one hour later, Jon comes in breathless into my living room. " Did you get lost," I asked?

"No I got an Orange Soda, and Your Lock" he called as he rushed into my bathroom. "He's acting so weird," I thought and went back to my book.

The next thing I knew, Jon was on one knee saying "Will you marry me?" with a bubble gum ring in his hand.

I said YES.

And we kissed.

And then Jon told me how he'd been thinking about getting me a ring during all the ten hour trip to my house but hadn't seen anything on the road. In desperation he fled my house but he still couldn't find anything late at night in a strange, new town. Just as he was about to return to my house empty handed, he saw "a choir of angels singing" over a bubble gum ring machine at Krogers. He spent 2 dollars in Kroger's trying to find just exactly the right plastic ring for me.

I keep my plastic bubble gum ring in an honored place in my jewelery box.

Life With My New Roommate....

God Bless my younger, twenty-something brother who has graciously agreed to share living quarters for a month with his Old Fogy Sister and her family of six as we wait impatiently for our closing date on the new house.

Here's a little taste of life in our new digs....

"MOM!" Hannah shouts up from the basement stairs, "Alex spelled root beer all over Uncle Tad's carpet."

I fall into the sin of rash judgement and mumble loudly all down the basement stairs, "How could this accident happen? I told you all NO FOOD downstairs! Who brought a root beer downstairs? How did you guys even FIND root beer in this house? I certainly never bought you any soda pop recently!"

I get to the basement and discover....

That my son had accidentally kicked over a REAL beer which my brother left on the floor in the basement TV room.

Hmmm... can't fault my son. Can't fault my legally above the drinking age brother.... Thank heavens for my trusty steam-cleaner.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Urgent Prayer Request

Please pray for my dear Carmelite friend, Jennifer Higdon. She lost 3 nieces yesterday in a tragic car accident.

Here is the report from our Carmelite prayer group:

"Please pray for Jennifer Higdon’s brother-in-law and his wife, Jimmy and Jenny Higdon. Three of their daughters, Danielle and Jenelle Pippins (twin eight year olds) and Savannah (age 11) were killed tragically in a car accident yesterday in Florida.

May the Angels lead them into Paradise.
May the Martyrs receive them at their coming and take them to Jerusalem , the Holy City .
May the Choirs of the Angels receive them, and may they, with the once poor Lazarus, have rest everlasting.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Please pray for their surviving siblings, five of them, as they grieve this unimaginable loss. Also pray for strength for Jimmy and Jenny that the Lord will embrace them in this time of darkness. O God, you give us the blessing of children to cherish, and in your wisdom and love you sometimes call them home to you before us. You entrusted them to us and we now entrust them to your care and love. Please listen to our humble prayer: grant that someday we may be reunited in glory in Your Presence."

Added later: Please also pray for the girl's grandmother, Diane, who was critically injured in the same accident.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Home-schooling--Feeling Lost Again

I don't know what God will have us do next year for school for my 9, 6 and 4 year old. I'm making plans for home-schooling. I'm assuming that where we're going. But it's really weird to lack some firm ideas anymore.

I feel like we sort of got 'boxed' into home-schooling by God. Home-schooling was NOT anything that I wanted or felt comfortable doing before I leaped into the deep end.

Jon & I went to public school and assumed our kids would too. Because we lived in a cheap rental with rather distressed families around us in a D.C. suburb, we sort of flipped out when we thought about putting our little five year old on the bus with the kids she wasn't allowed play with unchaperoned on the playground with. Public school was out. And Catholic school was out also because a) it was completely expensive (I laughed out loud when I read the meager multiple sibling deductions from my parish), b) I thought it had got infected with with crummy academic ideas from the nearby "hot" public schools (expensive wipe boards do NOT replace real science labs) and c) I saw a lot of things that made me concerned about the "Catholicness" of the instruction.

So three years ago, I officially started "homeschooling."

It was awesome. It was great. Everything went totally "swimmingly." I nicknamed my home-school "the Sacred Heart Academy", bought everyone Catholic uniforms and had a grand time marching out on field trips all over the D.C. area.

Until this year, when we sort of had the "youngest sister in the NICU hand grenade" thrown into the mix.

The truth is, I pretty much lost most of our Fall Semester.

In January, I throw my unschooling theory out into the wind and adopted a "reading bootcamp" for my struggling to read independently second grader. I found out that my kid is flawed in her approach to homework and I'm flawed in my approach to teaching. I had a knock out inner brawl to get some fortitude in my heart.

The amazing part, is that now my girl is really starting to enjoy books. And I'm more humbled as a teacher. I don't think I'm the "bee's knees" at teaching anymore. But I do think that there is not a single person who is going to take MORE time to iron out each of my quirky children's reading challenges and do it in a more prayerful way, than me, their Mom.

That's the story. After this weird year, I'm humbled and I'm strengthened. I really don't know what will happen next.

Now that there is a good Catholic school in our new parish, and we'll probably have some tuition money to spend, will Hannah transition to St. Joesph's? Am I home-schooling all my kids until they can learn how to read in 3rd grade? Was this just a three year process to help both Mother and Daughter fix their hearts for heaven? Or are we riding this home-schooling wave all the way to High School like we planned?

Never ever a dull moment as a Catholic Mama!

Jesus, I trust in you.

For Dawn, Abigail's New House

I don't have any personal pictures yet of our new place, this is from the seller's website. Not shown is the basement, which is "part-way" finished. There is a fourth bedroom, a family room and the beginning of a bathroom.

(Sorry, I took down the video because it had our address listed on the top)

Anyone have ideas for how to decorate a double girl's bedroom with sloping roof? Cheap and pretty backyard fence ideas? How about cooking for six in an extremely small kitchen? (I've only got one counter and not much room to add an island because of the swinging door from the fridge).

Time Is Crawling By.....

10 days into a 30 day stay in a foreign house...

expect lots of posts soon.

Or maybe not!

I might have accidentally packed my "blogging brain" in a currently missing box just like I've packed up the rest of my life!

Friday, June 10, 2011

We Have a New House!

Bank has come back with the final appraisal, everything is A OK! We are GO for launch!

Just to give God the credit here is a brief time line of the Benjamin house hunt.

2001 Abby & Jon wed

2003 Abby & Jon have first kid

2004 Abby quits her job (she was the larger breadwinner and only source of health insurance) while pregnant with second kid

2004 Abby and Jon open their own business. It fails.

Fall 2005- Winter 2006 Abby and Jon move 3 times, to 3 different states trying to find a job for Jon with enough income to support a family.

Feb 2006 move into current 2 bedroom apartment in a Maryland Suburb of Washington D.C.

2008 First House Hunting search. Epic failure!

2010 Second House Hunting search. Repeat failure.

Summer 2010 Abby cries in Target, says to God "all I want is to be the happy Mom with a house and a minivan. Why did you give me an eye for beauty when all I can afford to buy is total ugliness!"

Summer 2010, Abby and Jon decide to post-pone house hunt until six months after Baby Tess arrives

August 30, 2010 Tess arrives. Spends 3 weeks in Children's National Hospital. Her hospital bills threaten to wipe out our entire house hunting fund and threaten to mess up our only recently reestablished good credit reports.

Winter 2010, Abby and Jon decide that God must want them to rent "for the foreseeable future" Turn down chance to move to 3 bedroom in same apartment complex because it's a 3rd floor walk-up.

Middle of Lent 2011, Abby get's surprise call from apartment office. They refuse to allow us to resign lease in current apartment because we have "too many kids." Complete shock.

Lent 2011 Can't find an affordable 3 bedroom in our neighborhood. Run into problems with moving into special "low income" apartment building near our church

Lent 2011 Decide to table apartment hunt for remaining 2 weeks of Lent. Want to focus on preparing for Easter.

Easter Day find prefect house rental within 2 miles. Jon says "we can't afford to turn on the heat if we pay that amount of rent per month." Abby considers issuing parkas for all children to wear on the inside during winter. Go on line, find affordable places to BUY in a small town 50 minutes away.

Late April Discover we qualify for a special federal home loan with near miracle terms.

May 9, 2010 Put offer in on first gleaming house. Offer falls apart within 48 hours.
(Abby cries!)

May 15, 2010 Find second house in better neighborhood. Get lots of back-up houses nearby.

May 16, 2010. Discover house has a cracked foundation. 99% of our 12 back-up houses already have contracts on them. (Abby cries again).

May 18, 2010 Put offer in on third choice home, which just came on the market on May 13th.

May 20, 2010 Offer accepted.

House passes Home inspection.

June 10, 2010 Bank passes special loan appraisal. The Benjamin's have a new home. Closing date is scheduled for June 29, 2011.

Thank you St. Joseph!

Guess Which Talk I Plan On Attending?

I'm hoping to attend my first ever home-school conference tomorrow. The contrast BETWEEN these two talks where just too funny.

Option A

Controlling the Chaos: Managing
Housework and Schoolwork

Having trouble balancing schoolwork, caring for babies, and housework? The key to getting it all done, while remaining serene and confident, is to simplify. Clutterfree rooms, regular household routines, an orderly curriculum, and straightforward discipline really work.

or Option B

Discovering God in the Pots and Pans

This talk is a reminder from a Carmelite
that changing diapers and ecstatic prayer
are not mutually exclusive. There are not
“two ways” of holiness and “two heavens” to
attain–one for the contemplative and one for
the active. All are called to deep prayer, even
when being faithful to the daily duties of our
state in life seems to belie that reality.

Please excuse me while I jump up on my internet soap box for a moment. PEOPLE! There are snake oil salesman the pedal "quick" spiritual fixes. Avoid them! You can't eat one simple pill to lose weight. You can't adapt one simple domestic routine that will effortlessly combine home-schooling, home-making and deep spiritual development.

I have no doubt that Home-schooling Mom of Option A has great intentions. I'm sure she has a much smoother house hold routine, with many more children, than me a lowly, frazzled Carmelite.

I'd like to tell her, "Sister your helpful advice doesn't really help me. Do you know what really made my home-schooling a challenge this year. ..

One, I had a baby that almost croaked in the NICU.

And two, I got a surprise eviction for having "too many kids" that left me with only 60 days to find new living quarters for my family in a far away town."

Both of the curve balls came directly from Jesus himself. The preventative cure of a "clutter free" room was not going to really help me survive either crisis. And while having a steady household routine helped my family, getting the energy to do the laundry when my whole world was falling apart wasn't a matter of following an established routine. It was a supernatural effect of living a life of Grace.

I feel so strongly that generalize "advice" giving is generally so useless.

Our families are as beautiful and unique as snowflakes. Making them "work" is not a one size fits all solution.

Yes, we can share techniques about how best to take bubble gum out of satin church dresses, which Karate teacher is the most fun, and which piano books contain Roman Catholic hymns.

We can't not, however, take the Cross out of Homeschooling- or Catholic home life in general.

There will be days that the laundry doesn't get done. (Hopefully one reason is that you are saying a rosary beside a sick neighbor's kid in Children's Hospital) And there will be days when we must force ourselves do laundry on laundry day, even when we're sick with the stomach flu ourselves.

But the only way to know with certainty HOW to manage the overwhelming task of home-maker, wife, teacher, daughter, sibling, and friend is to regularly talk with God, the One who made us in his image.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Schools Out For Summer!

Passed my home-school review today!

Jesus even throw me a curve ball. The reviewer we've had for the past 3 1/2 years had a family emergency this morning. So I had to explain my thinnest ever portfolio to a total stranger. (Hannah's reading struggles, Tessy's teething issues and our emergency housing hunt each took a huge bites of time from our Spring semester).

We still passed!

We still got to see the angelic Mrs. Lee afterwards to give her our gift and take some treasured photos.

I felt Jesus himself was saying "Don't worry about the new home-schooling rules in West Virginia. It's ME who takes care of your kid's home-school reviews, not Mrs. Lee."


The big buzz word at my last Carmelite Meeting was


Do you feel Jesus "romancing" your soul?

He is!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What is your Apostolate?

What special talents do each of you share for the glory of the Church?

I got mine: "Cheerful Conversation."

I used to think that my talent was sort of pathetic. Instead of starting up friendships in church social halls, I'd troll the "help needed" parts of my church bulletin. I worked in soup kitchens, on the purificator committee, and my favorite mistake (for a girl who regularly reverses numbers and is math challenged) as an anti-predatory lending attorney for the poor.

I got trapped into thinking that doing something for Jesus needed to be something "hard" and "important."

Then I spent some massive time hanging around the NICU this fall.

My God given, innate talent at "cheerful conversation" is NOT a small, useless art after all.

This humble little apostolate is keeping me sane during this challenging transition of waiting 4 weeks to move into a new community.

Anyone else want to share their prayer journey on this topic?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hidden Treasures

I'm preparing for my role as a first-time house owner by hanging out for 3 weeks in the ranch house my grandmother, Mrs. Jean McCormick Gableman, moved into in 1951.* My grandma spent the first 8 years of her marriage living in boarding homes during WWII while my grandpa fought over seas, and then in small apartments due to the housing shortage during Washington D.C.'s explosive growth after the war. Moving into her first house, the same one she lived in until she died at age 83, was an extremely big deal for Grandma Jean.

I love feeling close to her memory this month. Yesterday, I chatted with three of her old neighbors. In a time of constant change, it's surreal to chat with 90 year olds who coo over my new Baby Tess and remember what my own eyes looked like as a baby.

I'm also finding hidden treasures of Grandma Jean all over her house. Here's a story from her Congressional Club Cookbook of 1975.

"Being Congressional woman, the organizers of the Club decided that they would like to have their club incorporated by and Act of Congress. Accordingly, Congressman Julius Kahn of California, husband of one of the Club's Vice Presidents, introduced a bill for that purpose on May 20, 1908. However, Congress John Sharp Williams, husband of another one of the Club's Vice-Presidents, opposed all women's clubs in general and he proceeded to filibuster...

As Congress was preparing to adjourn the following day, there was no time to lose. Accordingly, Mrs. Williams rose to the occasion. Looking her prettiest, she arrived in the House corridor and sent her card in to her husband. When he came out of the Senate chamber, Mrs. Williams announced that she had come to lunch with him. Gallant Southern gentleman that he was, Mr. Williams took her to dine, and Congressman Kahn's resolution passes while they were gone."

That story totally tickled my funny bone!

* this is the house that my mother moved into at age 5 and is currently home to my younger brother who works on Capital Hill.

Back Online


My dear husband is the BEST. I thought I was going to be off-line for a full four weeks and was taking the unplugged challenge bravely. My dear husband knows what a sacrifice that is for a blogger, so his first order of business was to figure out how to get my brother's wireless modem working with our family's old school PC.

He's a miracle worker!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Light Blogging Ahead

I'm leaving my old apartment tonight and moving into my brother's place. Hopefully, we'll be in the new house by July 1st. Happy Summer everyone!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Why I'm Glad I'm Catholic

Because when my 8 year old daughter looks at me with hurt amazement that in a house full of packing chaos I do not know where a miniature piece to her doll house is currently resting I can say calmly "I have no idea dear, go ask your OTHER Mother, Mommy Mary."

Thanks for having my back Mom!

Woman Beaten by Her Laundry Pile

Miss Abigail graciously admitted defeat by her laundry pile at 1:35 PM.

"I hung on until the end," she said emphatically "I didn't want to admit it was over until it was over. Yet despite my best efforts, we will have to complete our move with piles of dirty laundry in various clothes hampers."

Miss Abigail modestly concedes "I fought a good fight." She didn't let 3 weeks of Spring mud, bed wetting due to unusually terrible allergies, and extreme teething drool get her down. "I wanted to get my laundry pile down to almost nothing before my move"

"Yet our camping trip pushed me over the edge," Miss Abigail stated. "You can have paper plates, you can have paper cups, but you can't go on a camping trip with paper clothes."

At this point, things look pretty hopeless for Miss Abigail. "I've realized that as a Mother of four, my laundry pile might outlast me, even until death...." Miss Abigail said with a sigh. "I'll have to remember to leave extra money for laundry soap in my Will for the Executor of my Estate. Thank heavens I have 3 girls to carry on my fight against smells and grime on the Benjamin family clothes long after I'm gone."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Because Only Danya Gets to Interrupt My Pre-Anniversary Party Plans...

Danya tagged me in a meme for my favorite Scripture passage:

John 7:37: "Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water."

It's my favorite passage because it sums up what I most want to become as a Carmelite-- to posses a believing heart that can water myself, my husband, my children and the strangers I pass on the street with a "river of living water."

Hope I deserve to get that printed on my tomb stone!

I'm tagging Kaitlin, Lauren, and JoAnn.

My 10th Wedding Anniversary!

10 years ago tomorrow a beautiful, double Carmelite marriage was started on June 2, 2001.

I love you honey, more than words can say. Hope I get to live a long time to prove my love for you in deeds.


(Jon and I on Valentine's Day, 2011)

(I got married back when we had old school wedding photographs, not digital ones (and even if I could figure out how to scan them into my computer all my picture frames are currently packed in a storage locker) so I don't have any of our gorgeous wedding photos to show online. You'll have to use your imagination)

During this anniversary season, instead of the relatively boring traditional anniversary gift of "tin" my husband

a) bought me a new silver mini van
b) bought me my first ever house AND
c) bought me a 9 person tent!

We're off to go camping tomorrow as a family of six for the first time since Miss Hannah Lynn was 3 months old. SO exciting!

Why I Love My Husband

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Because this was a hard year. And rather than fighting, I just fell in love with him even more!