Last year was pretty huge. I was so tired, so completely spent at this year's beginning that I noticed year-in-review posts on other blogs, and just pulled the quilt up tighter around my ears and closed my eyes. I didn't have the energy--physical or spiritual--to revisit it all, even virtually. It was

I went through that year of many, many transitions kicking and screaming. Turns out I'm not a big fan of change. The reality is that I liked the baby years, loved them, really and never once wished them away. And yet, in the big giant year of transition, they were indeed being swept beyond my reach. I left my children for the first time. And then for the second. Someone turned four and there was no one younger than her around the table at dinner. But there was someone new at the table. And she came to be one of us. I gained a new role. The transition was absolutely unmistakeable.

Our culture is so youth oriented. For the most part it seems, no one really searches out ways to be older. We celebrate 21 in a big way. We mark midlife with black-themed birthday cards and bad jokes about being over the hill. I think I bought into that mentality a bit. And I think I know a big reason I was such easy prey.

I was so dang tired. The truth is that this wholehearted, all-in, very attached parenting style had depleted me to the equivalent of soil dust. Nothing rich was growing there. If this was what the mid-forties felt like, I could not imagine sixty.

But I have a four-year-old. And my most fervent prayer is to grow old healthy, and holy, and helpful. I want to be there for her. I want to see how the story unfolds. I want to get out of bed in the morning without my knees cracking so loudly it wakes my husband.

In the blur that was the new year, friends were choosing words for the year--just single words upon which to focus, meditate, seek wisdom. A word to live for the whole year. I couldn't wrap my brain around one. 

And then I could. Aimee said her word was renew. Renew.

That's it. That's the word. It's the word that says that this stage in life is not the beginning of the end. It's the beginning, instead, of something better, stronger, wiser, and yes--older. But older in the richest way. That's certainly being proven true in marriage. Did you know that the sweetest wine is grown from the oldest vineyards? Grapes grow best when the farmer works in harmony in with the earth, when he embraces the whole and considers that plant and the land around it as they were endowed by the Creator, with an eye towards preserving the quality for a long time. The goal of biodynamic farming is to be sustainable. When you grow grapes, you draw something from the soil and you have to replenish that. 

When we learned about biodynamic vineyards, one point that came home to me is that growing practices greatly influence how long the vineyards will continue to bear fruit. The vines where the practice is focused upon sustainable growth--where the big picture is considered and every element of farming is oriented towards ensuring health of the vines down deep and over time--are the vines that bear the sweetest fruit. At first, the explanation of biodynamic farming sounds a bit hokie. But then, you can literally taste and see that the fruit borne of the wisdom of old is of a superior quality.

This image works so well for me. The Bible is rich with imagery of vineyards. Clearly, God wants us to consider how to grow in a sustainable way in order to renew the face of the earth. I've never been more certain of that than I was this morning. I had written the above over the course of the last few weeks. I clicked over to visit Aimee in order to link to her in my post. When I did, I learned she's writing today about sustainable homeschooling. My jaw dropped and I smiled widely at God's thunk over my head. If ever I asked for a sign that I was on the right track, I got a clear answer at 7:00 AM on Tuesday January 29th while visiting Aimee's blog. It's a post that just might easily have catapulted to my favorite home education post ever this morning. There is wisdom there, my friends. Rich, rich wisdom. Get this: middle aged wisdom. Yep. There is wisdom and it's invaluable.

I look around at the friends with whom I've had babies and I am blessed to know that they've grown wise. How amazing! We all learned something during those hazy, intense, sleep-deprived years.

So, now I embrace renewal. I look to tend the vineyard of my soul, to be sure, but I am not going to neglect the rest of me any more. The big picture of renewal is one that encompasses physical health, spirtual growth, creative energy and enthusiasm, and an invigorated sense of hope and optimism for the future. I look to my home, to my homeschooling, to the relationships within these walls and to the people I love beyond these walls. Renewal. All of it is waiting to be made new again. 

What a different perspective than that of a withering towards an inevitable end. We can renew and renew and renew again, until our dying breath. God is generous that way.

I've talked a bit about stillness. About allowing Him to come in the silence.

Be still and know that I am God.

The last two weeks at Mass, an old familiar hymn has settled on my soul in a new way. I've listened to You Are Mine and heard the refrain of stillness. I will come to you in the silence. But I've also heard the rest. I heard the echoes of Isaiah 43:1

But now, thus says the LORD,

who created you, Jacob, and formed you, Israel:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name: you are mine.

There is nothing to fear. I am redeemed. 

And the promise of John 14:27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid

Transitions can be scary. Aging can be scary. Renewal, though? The sustainable model of growth that keeps us renewing until we reach heaven? That's peace.

Last year, was a hard year. It was exhausting. It was a compost year, I think. A year of creating very fertile ground for renewal. 



Yesterday, the painter found this picture. It made me smile and then, unexpectedly, cry (this may or may not have to do with lack of sleep and the influence of paint fumes). This picture was taken October 31, 1982. Homecoming, my senior year of high school.

It's Homecoming Week in our small town. My children don't go to the local high school, but Patrick is going to the dance with Hilary and Mary Beth is going with Hilary's younger brother, Jack (I know, too cute, right?). I told Hilary earlier this week that I remember the homecoming dance my senior year as the absolute best night of high school. 

I remember sitting with Mike late into the night and planning our future. Never mind that this night came after the world's rockiest high school "romance" (if it was even that). And never mind there were still plenty of tears yet to shed. In that moment of time, we were perfect. I don't really remember the details, but I do remember him saying something about a big family-- four kids sounded good to him. I also remember we planned to open a day care center and school, firmly rooted in Montessori. I detailed for him every nuance of educational philosophy and prepared environment. He was totally on board. We were going to change the world, beginning with the children.

So, that all worked out, right? We have our own little cottage school. (And exactly 26 years after that perfect date, we welcomed our ninth baby into the world.)

Sally Clarkson writes, "As a younger woman, I struggled with many of the scriptures referring to a woman's role in life. But the more I have lived, the more I have come to appreciate the beauty and wisdom of my God-given assignment. As a free-spirted person who generally thinks outside the box, I have found deep fulfillment and satisfaction in exercising my gifts, strengths,and personality to bless my family, neighbors, and friends from the strength of my home. Establishing my household as a place in which the greatness of God and a devotion to him is lived out each day has given me focus. Loving my children and nurturing their hearts and minds while training their characters and leading them to know the Lord and his purposes has satisfied my soul's need for purpose. The Mission of Motherhood,

I wish I could show you how my home looks this morning. The contractor who promised we'd do one room at a time has successfully put every single room on the main floor and my bedroom and bathroom out of commission at the same time. There is no shower available to anyone at this moment. No room is untouched by this process of transformation. Mike was up until 2:00 this morning re-wiring the bathroom. I'm bone tired. But these words--this one paragraph of Sally's-- is propelling me through this day.

Tonight, my teenagers and their friends will come here for brunch after the dance. I have a vision. It's not a business and a school and a few advanced degrees. It's a home and a handmade meal. And by golly, it's going to be warm and welcoming and beautiful. As I move about my space, putting things back in order (even bettter than before), I am so grateful for a soul overflowing with a sense of His purpose. I am grateful for a life of love lived in out in the strength of my home. I am ever so grateful for homecomings.


This post is part of 31 Days To Remind Myself of the Mission. I'd love to hear your thoughts about mission and vocation in the comment box. Find all the posts in the series here. And please, help yourself to a button if you want one for your blog. I'd love to read what you say there. 

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August Transition

This one is for my sister as she leaves her beautiful daughter at Tulane Univeresity, far, far from home.

Krysti, I remember well how hard it was for me to leave you to go to college. And I still sting with the pain of learning how angry you were with me for abandoning you. And, oh, how I remember the raw grief of a child leaving the home and the heart into which I invested so much. I pray you south and I pray you home again, the seat beside you painfully empty. And I pray the autumn, though certainly tinged with browns, will be richly hued with the joys of a new season.


August. It hangs in the air, doesn’t it? A long month — hot, heavy, humid. Summer is well-established, but the threat of fall lurks in the shortening evening shadows. For right now, it’s still summertime. We hang on to these last golden days of closely knit family time. Still, with every day, the change of autumn grows ever closer.

Perhaps this is the fall when your baby first gets on a bus to go to kindergarten. Maybe you are shopping for the perfect outfit to wear for the first day of middle school. (Is there such a thing as a perfect anything in middle school?) Is it the adventure of high school that is this year’s first? Or, are you swallowing hard against the lump that keeps rising as you gather all the necessities for a college dorm?

Much more than January, it is September that is most likely to bring change to the composition and the rhythm of a family. August is replete with drawing every last little bit out of the family as it is this summer, before running headlong into the family as it will be this fall. August is for counting blessings, taking stock and looking forward. August is all about laboring toward transition.

There is a moment or two (though for some it seems more like an eternity) just before a baby is born that is intense and painful. For many women, it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done. Very often, in the moment, a laboring mother will tell you that she can’t possibly do this task before her. A good midwife will remind the mother at that point that she is very close, indeed, to holding her baby. And so she is. The stage is called “transition” and it is marked most often by intensity and pain. It is followed by the sweetest joy a woman can know. And the pain? Remarkably, it disappears.

What the new mother doesn’t know is that “transition” will repeat itself throughout her baby’s childhood. There will be intensity and pain and then she will most definitely push her dear child into another world. What she doesn’t know is that, unlike that first transition, the ones that follow don’t end with a baby safely snuggled at her breast. With every subsequent transition in their life together, that baby will move further from her. That’s what is meant to be.

His world will expand to include new people, new places, new relationships. She wants those things for him. She wants him to reach and to grow, to learn and to love. Still, it hurts. And in the quiet of an August night, she acknowledges in a whispered prayer that she wishes it didn’t have to be. She wishes they could just breathe together in the warm quiet after the hard work of birth. She wishes she could hold his hand as he walks on tentative, toddling feet, both of them secure in her ability to keep him from falling. She wishes to soak up the pure delight of his being just a little longer. She has loved all the springs and all the summers with a joyful gratitude.

It’s August though, and nearly September. With a sigh and a prayer destined to be oft-repeated, she turns resolutely toward the autumn sun.

--reviving this one from the archives at the Catholic Herald today (they've reformatted the site there:-) as we work at home. I hope this message finds you well as I endeavor to take a little computer break and focus intentaly on home. It's Boot Camp week before our autumn rhythm moves into full swing. I'm posting this as a genuine reminder to myself.  We're working hard to prepare the environment for our studies and to establish excellent habits so that each member of this family can serve the others well in the coming term. 


Small Steps Together: Cocooning and Flying Free

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I have long loved early childhood. From the time I was very little, I have invested much thought and prayer into the mother of young children I feel called to be. Much to the chagrin of pretty much everyone except my husband, I even majored in early childhood in college. (Just an aside: I had enough nursing and anatomy/physiology credits to also be certified to teach health and PE. God had a plan. I grew up to educate children who, when asked to name their school, inform the general public that they attend the Foss Academy for the Athletically Inclined. But I digress.)



I have held tightly to the promise that it's never too late to have a happy childhood. And since mine was not childish or carefree, I've set out very deliberately to create for my children what I think I might have missed and to enjoy it alongside them. Deep in my heart, my fondest wish was to be the very good mother of young children. You might say that I've dedicated my adult  life to that task.

Not too long ago, I can't remember where, I read about a woman around my age who said that she was too busy with her grown kids and teenagers to mourn the fact that her babies were growing up and there would soon be no wee ones in her house. I'm not. I'm not too busy. There are still small children in my house and they slow me, still me. I still stay with them at night as they drift off to sleep. I still sit with them at the table as they eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, ever so slowly. I bathe them and brush their hair and braid it up before bed. I sit and rock and hold and read. I still thank God for them with every breath, much like I did the day they were born. I have plenty of time in the course of my day to be still and know that these are precious moments that will not be a part of my days in the not too distant future. 

In a way, I envy those women who blithely move along to the next stage of life and smile brightly and say, "There! That's finished. Wasn't it grand? Now what's next?" I'm not one of them. Perhaps I'm just not good at transitions. I sobbed at my high school graduation. I remember how reluctantly I traded my wedding gown for my "going away" clothes. I cried so hard when Michael left for college that I had to pull over because I couldn't see to drive. I held more tightly to each newborn than the one before. And this last one? I don't think I put her down at all for the first twelve weeks. My intimate relationships are deep and rooted and meaningful. When I live something, I feel it. 


I know it's time.

I know because my environment cries out that it is so. My house is full to overflowing with people. Several of them are more than twice the size they were when we moved in here. Some have left and come back and brought with them more of their own stuff. We are bursting at the seams. It is time to acknowledge that we are in a new season of life and to allow my house to reflect that.

And so. I cocoon. Somehow I know that this is intense, deeply personal business and at the end I will be the same and yet, forever different. I spin a silken thread tightly around my home. My cell phone goes dead. I don't recharge it. I don't touch my laptop. I don't carry the house phone with me. I don't leave for several days. It is time to conquer all those recesses of my home that I neglected while I held babies. It is time to let go.

We need space. We no longer need a co-sleeper. Or the sheets to go with it. We don't need a swing. I begin in the basement.

We don't need three neatly labeled boxes of beautiful thick, pink, cotton clothes -- 0-3 months, 6-9 months, 9-18 months. I carefully save the christening gown, the sweet baptism booties, the first dress Karoline wore to match Katie and Mary Beth. The rest I fold into giveaway bags.  Michael takes the baby "things" to the Salvation Army on Friday.The clothes remain until Saturday morning. The Children's Center truck is due to arrive at 8 AM. After I've finished with the clothes, I cannot  stay here in this basement on Friday. I've done what I know will be the most difficult task. I also know I'm nearly suffocating.  I need to go upstairs and get some air. 


I begin in Mike's office. This isn't really my mess or my stuff or even the stuff of children who haven't been carefully supervised. It is just the overflow of two busy adults who pile and stuff a bit too much. He doesn't use this room. It's a lovely room in the middle of the house with a bright window. I put a new sewing machine on the desk. I rearrange shelves, discarding things he no longer needs. I spend an hour or so carefully dusting his youth trophies and 25 years of sports paraphernalia. I think about this post and I know that we can (and should) share this space. I move some baskets in. My yarn, my knitting and sewing books, a few carefully folded lengths of fabric, holding place for a stash to come.

I stitch a few things in that room. And I am happy there. I am no longer knitting in my womb. But I am still creating. And it makes me happy. My arms are ever more often empty, but my hands are increasingly free for other pursuits. Still, a small voice whispers, knitting and sewing are nothing like the co-creation you've done for the last 22 years. I hush the voice. I have no idea where this is going. He is the Creator. He has written a beautiful pattern for my life. All He asks is that I knit according to His plan. Trust the pattern.


On Saturday morning, that truck comes. I can't even watch as they load my dear boxes. My stomach clenches and my eyes fill with tears. Things. They are only things. The girls who wore those things are safe in my arms. Another mother will be blessed to hold a sweet pink cotton bundle close and nuzzle her cheeks. I descend to the basement.

Here. Here is where I must force myself to cocoon. Here is where ten years of "put this carefully in the craft room" will come back to haunt me. They have tossed at will every single time. It never recovered from the great flooring shuffle. I do pretty well with the rest of the house, but I dislike coming down to the basement and Mike rarely comes down here. So, here is where the disorder has collected. The "craft room" is a jumble of stored clothes, curriculum, craft supplies, and 25 years of family photos. It is a mess.

I am humbled by the mess. Quite literally driven to my knees. But I have spun myself into this small space and here I will stay until I can emerge beautifully.

I have banished all outside interruptions, but I have brought with me the Audible version of this book. Good thing, too, because I will benefit greatly from the message within and, frankly, I will need to hear the narrator say "You are a good mom" as often as she does. 

I see the abandoned half-finished projects, the still shrinkwrapped books, the long lingering fabric and lace. Did I miss it? Did I miss the opportunity to do the meaningful things? To be the good mom I want to be? I am nearly crushed by the weight of the money I've spent on these things and the remanants of my poor stewardship.What was I doing when this mess was being made? To be sure some of the time was sadly wasted. It is easy to berate myself for time slipped through my fingers. Cocoons are really rather nasty things.


Determined, I clear out the clutter. I tell myself that life is not black and white. It's not all bad or all good.  I fold fabric and recognize that what I have here is the beginning of some new projects. I gather acorn caps and felt and label them and tuck them away for the fall. I make a very large stack of books to sell secondhand. I sort and sweep and remember. I see picture after picture of smiling children. I see, in those color images, time well spent. Time well filled.  Their mama always looks tired. I recognize in  those pictures that my children were happy--are happy. And I also recognize that it's been a little while now since I felt that tired. It is true that much of my time in the last twenty years, I have been filling well. I have been holding and rocking and nursing and coloring and listening and reading and giving and giving...I have been cherishing childhood. And it is a true that in a household this size, it is darn near impossible for every corner of the house to remain clean and every lesson to be carried out according to plan ,while caring well for babies and toddlers.  Messes happen.

The season just passed? The very long season? It was good and full and messy and cluttered. It was bursting-at-the-seams joyful in a way nothing ever will be again. It was also very hard work. Very, very hard work.There were utter failures and big mistakes. And there was a whole lot of good. 

This new season? I don't know yet. It's not nearly as cluttered. I have stayed in this cocoon until every corner of my home, every nook and every cranny, has been cleared of the clutter of the last season. Every poor choice, every undisciplined mess has been repurposed. Every single one. I can see my way clear to do the meaningful things. And the blessing is that there are still plenty of children in this house to do them with me.


As I sweep the room for the last time before considering this a job well done, I see a picture that has slid under a bookshelf. It is Mike and me at our wedding rehearsal. I stare long and hard at that girl. But I stare longer at him. He is still every bit as happy as he was that night. Happier, really. Really happier. These days in this cocoon, I have been brutally honest with myself. I've held myself accountable for every transgression. I have humbled myself before God and I have confessed my sins.  I look at his image and then back at mine and I realize something very important. Whatever my failings, I have consistently been a good wife. I wonder at the ease with which this recognition comes to me. I am certain that much of it is born of his frequent words of affirmation. I know it is so because he has told me it is so. But why is it so?


Ours is a gracious God. It is only by His grace that I am the wife I am. And it is by His grace that I have this sense of peace about the most important relationship in my life. These children willl grow in the safe home he and I have created together. And then they will fly. Mike and I? We will be us. Always us.

I carefully put away the very last picture, turn out the light, and climb the stairs.

I've cleared out the clutter, made peace with the past. I've learned a very valuable lesson that I'm long going to be pondering in my heart. It's time to fly free.








Small Steps focuses on humility this month. Would you share your thoughts with us, let us find you and walk with you? I'd be so grateful and so honored to have you as a companion. Please leave a link to your blog post below and then send your readers back here to see what others have said.You're welcome to post the Small Steps Together banner button also.

Balancing Academics with the Rest of Life


This is a question from 2007. It came from Kendra the Amazing of Preschoolers and Peace. She wanted me to do an online interview. I agreed and never got back to her. I'm really bad like that. I do apologize, Kendra, but I'd like to answer this particular question now, if I may.

How do you think moms can better maintain a balance between academic excellence and the nurturing of relationships with their children?  Are they mutually exclusive?

This has been very much on my mind in the past few weeks. When Patrick left suddenly for Florida, we had four days to prepare. Usually, I use high school to get my kids ready for school away from home in college. Academically, we do things like learning to write research papers, taking notes from a lecture, managing time, integrating book work with lecture work. They take classes at the community college and I'm right there at their elbows to ease them into it and teach as we go. And, usually, they have completed what I consider to be an academically rich curriculum before they leave. Also, I have learned that 13 to 14-year-old boys are very very hard to motivate. That school year is not so productive. After Michael, I learned not to freak out about it. They catch up when they figure out that they need it. No big deal.

Except when they figure out they need it four days before shipping off to what's supposed to be the "best school in Florida."

I can't tell you the sleep I missed worrying that our program was not going to fly under these conditions.

Our academic program has always been literature intensive. It's also delight-driven within limits. That is, my kids get choices about what to study within a certain parameter. Every once in awhile, I look at something known for its rigor (like The Well Trained Mind in its entirety or Tapestry of Grace or Robinson) and I think about how much I want that kind of excellence. I love school. I'm a total library person. I would have taken any one of those curricula as a child and absolutely loved it. But it doesn't suit my household.

Remember the priority thing? I'm one parent. There is another. He is brilliant. But he's not the bookish sort. He brings the rest of the world into our home. He orchestrates opportunities to pursue athletic excellence. He drives the late shift home from dance. He works late at night and so he likes to hang out and have a big pajama party on our bed in the morning, keeping everyone from the designated chores and school for the hour. He doesn't hesitate to whisk someone away on an airplane for some adventure, regardless of the lessons planned. And sometimes I {silently} question his wisdom.

I definitely worried about it when Patrick left. Hold that thought.

The other area of balance in our house is that of home management and child care. While, I definitely don't delegate it all out while I sit idly by, I definitely do enlist their help while I work alongside them. I don't think it can all get done any other way. While Patrick may have slacked about school when he was 14, he wasn't given the opportunity to give up kitchen duties and he wasn't allowed to be anything but kind to his younger siblings. His cooperation was to cruical to the family mission. He cooked. He cleaned. He gardened. He loved on babies and he might have even braided blond curls on occasion. Hold that thought.

I ordered Tapestry of Grace just before I left for Florida. Someone had been throwing up all week. Laundry and disinfecting were in high gear but academics were taking a backseat. In hindsight, I think the anxiety of going to Paddy's "perfect school" and meeting all his teachers and hearing how hard he was having to work to keep up made me grasp for the most intense, well laid out, well credentialed curriculum I could find. I wasn't going to get into the position ever again. When I got home, I was going to make sure we were all about reaching the maximum intellectual heights.

I found Patrick happy and well. Every coach, dorm supervisor, and trainer we talked to commented on how extraordinarily well he could handle the stuff of life. They told us how he is a leader among peers, a natural big brother type. When given three hour's notice before flying internationally, he can get his ducks in a row. His shirts are clean and his belts match his shoes. He knows where his equipment is and he knows how to get it all from Point A to Point B. He manages his money just fine; he gives himself and everyone else haircuts; he organized the bus to Church (and routinely brings a bunch of non-Catholics with him). He's homesick and it's obvious, but he has set about making the most of the real life opportunities in front of him.

Then we went to the school. Every single teacher sought us out to comment on how beautifully he's doing. I looked at the curriculum and saw holes all over the place (much to my chagrin). It's a beautiful building and they are good, well meaning people doing the best they can with a really odd situation. If he were home, frankly, it would be a better designed, better tailored program. But he's not home.

And he left home well prepared in the important places.

He knows where home is and he knows he's supported.

So, all the rowdy mornings, all those "daddy trips," all the baby love, the cooking and laundry--all of it has mattered just as much as academics. We had those things covered so well that it didn't matter that he had four days to prepare to leave.

And the academics? Apparently they were good enough to succeed. His geometry teacher wishes he were better at timed tests. I guess they can work on that.

I came home to that rigorous curriculum. I tried my level best to make it work. It doesn't in my house. The housekeeping suffered as I spent hours with my head in the Teacher's Manual and my kids spent too much time at the table. I used way too much ink printing worksheets. I was a crazed taskmaster, trying desperately to keep even one child from falling behind, since we're all supposed to be in the same place. It wasn't pretty. My first hint that it wasn't going to work was when I couldn't fit it into the CM Organizer. The one created by Simply Charlotte Mason? This new plan was anything but simple. Sure, it came with instructions to winnow to fit, but by the time I read it all to know where I wanted to winnow and then winnowed some more to make it appropriate for Catholic children, then added the stories of the heroes of the Church, it was all too complicated for me.

Serendipity works in my house. It's books that inspire us; it's relationships between the people reading the books and the people in the books. There is an emphasis on writing--my children seem to write before they walk. Baskets of books, art supplies in abundance, time to think and to write.  It's who we are. Yes, if there is a lack of balance, it's because we lean towards relationships. The academics happen and they flourish in an atsmosphere of relationships. Maybe that atmosphere makes up for what might be lacking in intellectual rigor. I'm good with that. I really am.