Merry Christmas at last!

Merry Christmas finally from all of us here at Crazyland! My friend Leah gave me a funny note today that said, “Better late than later!” So while I drink my coffee and ponder whether to say I’m sick of being too tired to blog, or tired of being too sick to blog, I’ll begin.

We finished a busy month of redoing the basement suite just in time to decorate for Christmas. I tried really hard to fight my scatterbrained last-minute ways and do stuff ahead of time, so my tip of the season is this: pre-stuff the stockings a few days ahead and put them in a giant Tupperware tub so no tiny visitors (children move or other) will get into them.

It sure was awesome to not be filling the stockings in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve! Instead, I could just lay them on the kids’ beds (which we do to buy a little time in the morning) and head off to midnight Mass with my husband and the baby, while the kids slept with Grandma and Auntie Karen.

It was beautiful. Our parish florist always does an amazing job, and our choir is phenomenal. All the light and warmth in the darkness of night brings home the beauty of the Christmas message. Happily on the incense didn’t set off the fire alarms–until Christmas-day Mass the next day that is! Needless to say my 3 year old son was in his glory at the back of the church when the firemen came to check it out. He was still wearing his red fireman costume (to avoid a pre-Mass meltdown…plus…it’s red! Super Christmassy!).

Nice costume, buddy! Fist pump!

Best. Christmas. Ever.

But back to midnight Mass. When we got home around 3am (there was a celebration with treats after the Mass) we found out that the kids had already woken up, opened, partially consumed, and played with the contents of their stockings, and had gone back to sleep! Rascals! And they look so innocent…

Christmas Day was lovely. We had James’ mom and sister as well as my brother spending the day with us. “Gezellig” (cozy), as they say in Dutch, and everyone enjoyed spoiling each other a bit. My big surprise was opera tickets for La Boheme from my husband! 🙂 Date night, here we come!

I discovered that it’s really easy to cook a whole chicken in my Instant Pot (just add a cup of water or sauce and your flavourings…we put lemon, herbs, garlic and butter), and we made potatoes, yams with cinnamon and maple syrup, and Brussels sprouts, which apparently contain excellent health benefits, even if you only look at them! 😉 I can’t quite remember where I read that…

All was good until after pumpkin pie, when I totally crashed and fell asleep early. My Christmas duties were complete…so my body figured it was the perfect time to get the stomach flu that night! 😦 No fun. Thank goodness our relatives and James were still home the next day to hold the fort, because I could not move. All I really wanted for Christmas was a nap and a massage, but this was quite the price to pay…watch what you wish for!

As I lay there with a churning stomach, headache and sore muscles, I contemplated the Incarnation…how incredibly generous it was of God to enter our world as a tiny, vulnerable baby, unable to move or protect Himself from suffering. He could have remained aloof in the golden warmth of Heaven, safe from our sufferings, not subject to weakness, but chose instead to enter into our frail human existence to show us His love.

I will never comprehend the depths of His generosity!

Well, that’s about it for now! Normal life sure feels good after you’ve been sick. A breath of cold air when you can stand upright again is a real treat.

God bless you all, and best wishes for a beautiful 2019!!

Decluttering and making a house a home: a family effort!

It is a blessing to have someone on your life who loves you enough to kindly tell you how you could do better…some one who loves you enough–as you already are–to help you grow even better. My big stepsister Dymphny is like that. Totally accepting, yet boldly courageous in proclaiming the truth with love.

She flew down to help me reorganize my home, because we have been fortunate enough to be able to rent the suite below us, and now have the whole house! Instead of 3 bedrooms for 9 people, we have 5 and a den, besides an extra little kitchen and bathroom. One of the most exciting parts is the large living room, which will be our new homeschool room, instead of the tiny, narrow dining room we’ve used for school till now.

Things have been rather quiet on my blog because they’ve been so packed here! The kids and I, with some help from Grandpa, my brother and my lovely landlord Joe, repainted the downstairs…transforming the pale, depressing, hospital-gown green suite into cute Bubblegum Pink bedrooms, a Thai Teal bedroom, and a English Daisy yellow schoolroom! 🙂

Everybody helped…

It was quite the fun project…home renovation and interior decorating 101! My 12 year daughter became an overnight IKEA expert and made a massive list of everything we needed to make our new space beautiful. Since I never usually buy many new things for our home, the list was huge, and we had a rather epic expedition involving a 5 hour shop and a U-Haul. Happily my sister and brother were there to help!

Of course my productivity manager came along as well…

We survived!! IKEA soft ice cream was a definite must in our way out the door.

But besides buying new things to make our space lovely…we had an even more important job to do: purging everything unnecessary, ugly, extra, etc, that was currently making our home cluttered, chaotic and well, rather resembling a ramshackle thrift store instead of a beautiful, intentional space. No more!

My daughter’s new bedroom

This is where having a loving big sister with an objective eye for crap came in so handy. She wasn’t going to let me hang on to anything that didn’t make my life better. Rather, she helped me dig out the precious things hiding under the clutter so I can display and enjoy them instead of having them tucked away and forgotten, like the fancy tea pot I bought for my birthday on my last IKEA trip last Advent…and still haven’t used, less than a month till my next birthday!

It’s a gift to have someone affirm that you’re better than some kind of recycling bin, and that you don’t need to hold on to everything that comes your way. Sometimes when trying to sort stuff alone it’s hard to cut the invisible strings of guilt that make you keep stuff for “one day” or because it’s from “so and so”…or because getting rid of stuff feels wasteful.

Sorting books

The minimalist mom Allie Casazza says that whatever takes up your space, takes up your time. You don’t need to lose time shuffling around odds and ends you don’t need. I’ve done this for years. And what’s really wasteful is harming your relationships because of unnecessary stress….not being able to find things, arriving late, not wanting to have people over because of mess, etc.

It’s so freeing to let go. Chuck those old shampoo bottles and extra creams into the recycling. Take pictures of all those kids drawings and then let them go. Let someone else enjoy those books and clothes you don’t need. Live with a lighter heart and be able to find things. A clear beautiful space is so calming. A study quoted on a Gretchen Rubin’s podcast Happier found that women’s cortisol levels, indicative of stress, were directly related to the amount of clutter in her home. No wonder I’ve been on edge!

I was so grateful to have Big Brothers to pick up our porch full of donations, and Half Price Rubbish Removal to come the next day. Seeing what we don’t need has opened our eyes to see how we could enjoy our home even better. Having space to do so more peacefully and enjoying the presence of family, including our IKEA expert building expert Opa, has been the best gift so far this season!

Thanksgiving: on gratitude and perfectionism

Perfectionism is a happiness trap. It blocks happiness because it prevents us from accepting things as they are.

I can’t be happy because I’m not good enough yet. Once I’m better at everything I’ll let myself be happy. Until then I don’t deserve to be.

This is such a dangerous lie. We can’t be grateful for our lives if we don’t believe we should be happy. If we don’t accept ourselves, we can’t accept our reality either. We will be like drops of water trying to strain against the river’s flow–always frustrated.

A huge part of gratitude is acceptance: I accept my life, all that is good and bad, all that is challenging and beautiful, and I am grateful for it. I receive it and give thanks. I am comfortable in my own skin.

Yes, Mum, I tried to eat a Christmas decoration I found under the bookshelf. Don’t I look lovely?

My friend Monique reminded me of all this. I was fussing a bit about my lack of Thanksgiving plans, as my husband and daughter are on a special father-daughter trip out of town. I told her I’d probably just come home from church and put on my pjs, make a dinner the kids actually like (butter chicken, rice and naan bread), have homemade pumpkin pie and watch a bedtime movie together. I worried it maybe wasn’t good enough. Not the big family dinner of the movies…and then she reminded me of what Thanksgiving is all about: gratitude.

Maybe you should just be grateful you don’t have to cook a huge meal the kids don’t really like. Maybe you can be grateful for getting to just have a relaxing holiday instead of doing tons of work.

And it’s true…it was fine. We had a busy day on Saturday with ballet, then having friends for pizza and a movie. Then Sunday was packed with Mass, socializing over lunch, First Communion and Confirmation classes until mid afternoon. By then I was ready for down-time and so were the kids. So the worry was for nothing. I’m grateful for how the day went.

So my Thanksgiving take-home is this: let go a little of your ideas about how things should be in the perfect world. Embrace your imperfect life. Accept your imperfect self. Be grateful for all the people who love you anyway. Love them back. Focus on the good. Don’t wait to be happy. Happiness is accepting your now.

Gratitude (in thanks for a hard-working husband)

Quarter-end crunch

and you’re working round the clock

like a donkey round the threshing mill–

sacrifice in each step.

Working like your dad,

but long hours away instead of long weeks at camp.

At home,

we celebrate our eldest daughter’s 12th birthday–

a dozen years of parenthood–

building a life together bit by bit.

I think of the early days of motherhood,

pregnancy and giving birth for the first time,

and those inexpressibly precious baby snuggles.

Remembering I rejoice

and celebrate having made it thus far.

The day, says my classy and clever friend Laura,

calls for champagne.

And although it takes two,

often moms get all the credit

for building their children’s bodies,

knitting them together in their wombs.

But I think of you, honey

working away in the office each day

so I can order in groceries–

paying for each apple, cake and curry I prepare.

And I realize our children’s cells

are built upon your sacrifice.

They are nourished by your love,

strengthened by your resolve,

encouraged by your perseverance

to believe that anything is possible.

So thank you…for working so hard

so I can be with our little ones

and celebrate with them

all the mess and glory

of being alive.

Some long days…

Some long days the baby cries

and the toddler screams

and the 5 year old seems to have

ants in his pants

and a megaphone around his neck.

Some long days

the toddler won’t nap

and the phone rings five times

during the quiet-time movie

and it seems nothing can wait

for you to just chill out and relax

for just an hour…even half an hour!

Some long days

the boys fill your kettle with pencil crayons

and draw on the bathroom door

and the baby wakes up

as soon as you begin the math lesson

and everyone moans and groans

and forgets how to round to the nearest ten.

Some long days you hit dinner time

with a sense of desperation…

“How long till bed?!”

and sing along to “The Muppets” soundtrack

in an attempt to feel that you’ve got

“Everything that I need, right in front of me.”

Some long days

the smartest thing you do

is have a glass of wine with dinner

and veto everything but laughter

as you listen to stories from the Vinyl Cafe

with the kids

who delight in the one

when Dave gets trapped in a sewer

after dropping down his keys

and gets mistaken for a monster by a little boy.

Some long days

the greatest relief is the feeling of your toddler

drooling on your shoulder

as you rock him to sleep early, to prevent any more fits.

Success! The little beast is quiet…

and you can actually read the others

“The Never-Ending Story” about Atreyu and Bastian,

the luck dragon Falcor and the childlike Empress,

until their eyes close and their breath gets deep and even.

Despite all the chaos,

all they’ll probably remember about today is

listening to stories with you

and falling asleep on the warmth of your lap.

Some long days

when the hours drag on,

remember you’re not alone

and try to end them with a smile…

Just keep picturing diving into bed

and sinking into the sweet relief of sleep!

Some long days, mamas,

you gotta keep your eye on the prize!

Mothers aren’t victims—they are warriors!

I get a lot of comments walking about with 7 kids. They’re usually not very original. “Oh, you’ve got your hands full!” “You must be busy!” “How do you do it, aren’t you tired?” “Do you have help?” etc. But one comment that stood out as a pleasant surprise was by a fellow mom who got on the bus after us one day. She had black spiky hair and tattoos and one young toddler in her stroller. I wasn’t sure what she’d think of me, taking up a quarter of the bus with my crew.

All yours?

Yeah.

You’re a warrior!

I have to say this really made my day. Yeah! A warrior is someone strong and brave, who is willing to make sacrifices for what they believe in. A warrior is to be admired, not pitied. Instead of thinking I was either crazy or some kind of poor victim, she honoured my decision to have children as an intentional life choice, and gave me a verbal thumbs up.

Moms are soldiers for love, fighting the battle against selfishness, affirming that life is worth living, that love is more precious that personal comfort, that heroes exist, that love is unconditional, that life is beautiful.

To pity a mother is disempowering and belittling. It acknowledges only the difficulty of her task while failing to see its sublime importance for society. Motherhood is the make or break place for people’s futures. The world 20 years from now depends on the mothers of today. This isn’t to put more pressure on mom’s who already always worry about doing enough. It’s to cheer them on, and say, “Hey, all these sacrifices are worth it! You truly make the world a better place!” A world without mothers would be cold and empty, literally and figuratively.

But we forget this. Sometimes at the end of a long day of caring for kids, worn out from all the giving, a mom can feel inadequate, and only focus on the things that went wrong, the things that didn’t get done, or how incredibly hard it was to do what was done. But finding a challenging job hard doesn’t mean you’re bad at it. Think of a soldier in the trenches, fighting all day to keep his ground, surrounded by chaotic noise, inching forward through the mud. If at the end of the day he is messy and exhausted, it’s because he has done his duty…and fought bravely without giving up. He should be, if he had the energy, happy and proud. It’s the same with a mom. If at night you’re tired from caring and feeding and cleaning your troops and your shirt is covered in milk the baby spat up, know you’re doing it right.

Perhaps the only medals you’ll receive are stickers the toddler decorated you with but you’re not in it for the glory. You arrive at the end of the day empty, but not because you’re poor or worthless, but because you’ve spent yourself so generously, and have given so much. Someone once said that the only things you truly keep are the ones you give away…so also in this irony of self-giving you find yourself, stronger and braver and more generous than you were before this adventure began.

But hopefully by having a better appreciation for the dignity of your task, you will also realize the importance of taking care of yourself as well. No one would think of telling a firefighter or a police officer to wear a dirty uniform and skip breakfast in order to focus more on saving people, for they need to be alert and properly equipped for their jobs. So do we! So hop in the shower, make your favourite meals, go for sanity dates with your mom buddies, and keep doing an awesome job bringing up the future citizens of the world.

On fighting discouragement

The other day I was reading a little book of Lenten meditations by Pope emeritus Benedict about the true meaning of fasting. He describes how Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fighting the temptations he was offered…to the world’s power, to enslavement to the physical world (bread), and to spiritual pride. It made me think…what temptations do I need to fight to be more free? And I don’t just mean the temptations to scarf boxes of chocolates…but deeper things.

Are we tempted by discouragement? By anger? By sulking and blame? These are the kinds of demons we can fight off during Lent, so as to become more happy and free. So how about instead of giving up something we like, or maybe as well as that, taking up arms to fight harder against what we don’t like…what drags us down and brings misery and isolation.

It is amazing how these demons of discouragement prey on our weakness. We recently watched the excellent movie “A Man For All Seasons” as a family. What struck me most this time, because I have seen it before, was what great destruction came through a weak man. Richie Rich, poor and soft man, is corrupted by bribery and the lure of wealth and power. He becomes a powerful man externally, but inside is still incredibly weak and can no longer follow his conscience when tempted, and ends up perjuring himself. St. Thomas Moore is killed because of Rich’s lies in court. It is very sad to see how Rich destroys himself and others…perhaps after certain point he no longer believed it would be possible to reform. It is so important to be both humble enough to receive mercy and forgiveness and strong enough to persevere in the truth when times are tough.

So why do we fail, make mistakes, commit sins? Many times out of weakness. Why do we yell when tired? Weakness. Why do we slam drawers when too hungry? Weakness. Why do we fall into discouragement when the house is exploding with mess and the floor seems a distant memory? Weakness. But if there is one thing we must always hang onto despite our weakness, it is hope, and the knowledge that we are loved. Discouragement comes when we look only at ourselves and all our failures, all at once. Then the amount we need to change and then improve becomes utterly overwhelming.

Can you imagine a baby looking ahead and envisioning all the things they would have to do and learn as one giant, looming to do list? Learn to walk, run, jump, speak thousands of words, dress themselves, read, write, learn sports, to cook, get a job, change careers, etc. It’s exhausting to think about all at once. But why aren’t babies stressed like the rest of us? Because they live in the moment and in trust: “Mommy and Daddy are here and they will teach me.”

What we adults have to do is spend less time looking at ourselves and more time looking at God, who is perfect love, who is infinite mercy, who is glorious king and wise and loving Father. It is he who will give us the strength and grace to improve. It is he who will teach us. Of course it won’t be all at once, but a little bit at a time, each day hanging on to hope despite our failures. Babies are so delighted with life…it would serve us well as adults to spend more time marvelling at the beauty of life as well, practising gratitude and making a point of savouring the good little memories each day provides.

Ultimately, Lent is about learning to love better, and we have opportunities to do so every moment of each day. St Josemaria said to be a true friend is to honour the image of God in others…”as you do to the least one of my brothers so you do unto me.” No matter how long our to-do list, we can always afford time for a smile. May God give us all the strength to love well, and the hope to grow each day, seeing self-knowledge as an opportunity to improve, rather than a cause for discouragement.

Why obligers need a deep interior life…and why it’s so hard for them to take time for it. 

You may have read some of my past posts about happiness author Gretchen Rubin’s theories about the four tendencies people have with regard to habit formation and meeting inner and outer expectations. As a quick review, the four types are: 

  1. Upholders (meet inner and outer expectations)
  2. Questioners (meet inner but question outer expectations)
  3. Obligers (meet outer but resist inner expectations)
  4. Rebels (resist both inner and outer expectations)

I’m an obliger, so I’m writing from my personal experience. Obligers have a keen sense of others needs, and tend to focus primarily on them. It always feels more virtuous to be doing something for someone else rather than ourselves. We have a hard time doing stuff that’s “just for me.”  


Obligers need to reflect to make good decisions about their priorities and needs, but struggle to take that time. Often they push themselves to remain in busy activities for others instead…even when that inner voice is screaming, “No!” Instead of stalling for time so they can calmly quietly decide what to, they try to silence that inner voice of resistance and force a guilt-induced “Yes, of course!” This can lead to them getting burned out and resentful–punishing those they love most with grumpiness–a bad pattern!

So if you’re someoe who falls into this, resist the temptation to say “yes” right away…make some good easy lines to use:

“Let me just check my calendar and get back to you.”
“Sounds interesting. I’ll talk about it with my spouse and let you know.”
“Thank you for the invite. I’d love to come but I’ll just have to see what my week is looking like before I commit.”

And then pray about it. Consult your calendar. Consult your gut…and listen to it! That quiet time in which to make decisions is essential. Helping your inner life to flourish can bring such strength. Taking things to prayerful refection can help you discern which things are really the most important and necessary, and also which are actually your responsibility. This is key because obligers can struggle with boundaries and often feel responsible for the perceived needs of others, even other adults. 

My Dad told me the other day something very simple but which stuck me like lightning:

“Other people’s stuff is not your responsibility.”  Really!??! Wow!!

How freeing this is! It is such a beautiful thing to just focus on the task at hand–to totally concentrate on what you’re doing, whether it’s grating carrots, writing or folding the laundry. For there is something really beautiful about just doing one thing and not thinking about anything else. Airplane mode! Just cruising without all the beeps and bells intruding from the internet. 

Alternatively, can you imagine if God was the way we are, getting so distracted by every possible thing going on all around the world? He would be completely insane because he knows everything. And yet somehow, living in the eternal present, aware of past, present and future, He is still able to simply exist. He is able to live fully and totally present in each moment. 

What a gift it is when we have a little taste of this! But to find it we have to be intentional, and block out all the noise and distractions around us,  to focus on what really matters. We need to have the humility to acknowledge that all we really need to do is take care of our tiny corner of the world. If we don’t, no one else will. And actually no one should. 

To need to be rescued is ultimately disempowering. 

Remember this. Give people the fishing rod, not the fish. Otherwise you imply they couldn’t have done it themselves, which is actually depressing. We all want to be able to take care of ourselves. And with the grace of God, and perhaps a little help (but not rescuing!) from friends, we can. 

So, Obligers, it’s so awesome that you are sensitive to the needs of others, but pack up your super-hero capes and martyr badges and stop being so afraid to say no. The world will not fall apart if you set a few much needed boundaries and focus on taking care of your own needs and duties, your own personal mission, before deciding how much you can help others with theirs. Perhaps in what the women from the podcast Project Love call  this “brave act of self-love” you will give others the freedom to do the same, and more people can find the peace that comes from simply doing what they need to do, without getting tangled in guilty knots when they can’t do everything else! 😉

PS This rare sighting of the ‘creatura materna’ without countless offspring was captured by my friend Rachel Lalonde on an awesome 4 hour moms only coffee date and walk! Also… I highly recommend the podcast on boundaries mentioned above! So awesome…especially for women who tend to feel the need to always put others first, even to the point of neglecting themselves:

 The art of saying No and setting healthy boundaries