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On the Fly

The summer if 3/4 done and this morning we are finally on our way to our Family Camp in Quebec. Every year, for one week, about ten families go the the Dominus Vobiscum camp near the town of St. Gabriel in Quebec for 7 days with family and friends. It is also an opportunity for us to talk more with other parents, learning from them and sharing the knowledge we have ourselves. We celebrate Holy Mass everyday and are able to take this wonderful time for vacation without taking a “break” from our faith — it is such a blessing to have this camp!

So as I type this, most of my family members are in the tan van. We are about 17 minutes past the time we should have left….hence, the rush. (Just been told by my husband, patient man that he is, that I must get in the van already.)

Please do not let the higher gas prices stop you from spending time with your family. It is absolutely possible to still be able to enjoy and have a meaningful time this summer — and you should! This road trip will take us about 9 hours to complete — say a prayer for my husband and I, will you? There will be whining, of that I am certain. But there will be more moments of chatting and thinking and laughing. There will be some pushing and shoving in the back seat, but that’s where the peanut gallery is too — you kind of expect that to happen, after all. But always, we will be with each other: for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in short trips and in long ones, till the need to go to the bathroom do we part (albeit momentarily).

Enjoy the rest of the summer. It’ll be gone too quickly before you know it.

My children have recently discovered the game of badminton. Thanks to a sale at Canadian Tire, we are now the owners of a badminton/volleyball set that originally came with four rackets. The set is now down to three sound ones and a fourth that is – sadly – quite broken. (This broken racket found itself accidentally whacked against the unsuspecting face of a seven year-old girl during a particularly exciting game.) Such is the way of the world in this big family of ours.I am typing out this entry on a picnic table in the shade of tree and the light of a sun that is not yet ready to set. The fifth boy (a.k.a. the baby & 8th kid) is sitting in his stroller behind me, entertaining himself with the toes on his very chubby foot.

There is a son sitting on the grass a few feet away from me, laying a claim to sheer boredom as he concentrates on trying to dig a hole in the ground with a stubby stick. The four oldest are playing badminton – three with proper rackets while one is — as far as I can tell — like a court jester of sorts. Don’t ask me how that works because I honestly don’t know. It must be working for them somehow because they are keeping score and there is a certain air of competitiveness about them. The two other girls are kind of walking about here and there, not trying too hard to stay out of trouble.

(The game in front of me is evolving. The court jester is now playing at being referee, picker-up of the birdie and the human badminton net. I have to say it looks far more exciting than a regular game and perhaps this should be further explored as a possible alternative to playing this game……….or not.)

How else could I have spent this afternoon of good weather better, I wonder? I sit here breathing in the good, clean air as a breeze makes the tree branches sway gently. I have seen countless number of airplanes in the sky off to some far off place. Would I have a more fulfilling afternoon in Europe or Africa? Would I have more exciting adventures in Asia or the Carribean? Would I have more important things to do if I were working in an office, rushing to meet deadlines, meeting with important people and making way more money than I do now which is – well…..nothing really?

Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (or the Jesuits). My alma mater is the Ateneo de Manila University which the Jesuits founded and run to this day. The Jesuits live out their vocation “for the greater glory of God” – ad majorem Dei gloriam. These are words that call to me, not only because of my Jesuit education but, because of the very clarity of its purpose and the love it professes for my Father in heaven.

What does my most spectacularly ordinary afternoon have to do with all this? At first glance, it would seem as if we spent a day of lazy pleasure outdoors for wont of something better to do. The truth could not be farther from this. This is an afternoon spent doing the kind of “work” I as a mother am so privileged to be doing — and it is for the greater glory of God. Humanly speaking, what do I stand to gain by this afternoon: a nice pile of dirty clothes, most of which will likely have grass stains; a passel of sun-kissed and breathless children who all very badly need a bath; a whole lot of “stuff” that need to be loaded in the tan van and then unloaded by a very tired and unenthusiastic crew at home.

Kid #8, Boy #5

Kid #8, Boy #5

In fact, all I have to do is to look at each child and see the very real proof of divine Providence at work. This is important work, indeed! Learning about each other and about life without even realizing it is a tremendous gift. This afternoon, my children and I spent several glorious hours of being together as a family of unique individuals. We looked around at the beauty of the garden we were in a wished that my husband was with us. The children played volleyball, badminton and soccer with great enthusiasm and – sometimes – one or two bruised egos. I asked each child to take a turn in pushing their baby brother’s stroller around the garden path and the requests were not always met with a smile. But walk around the garden path they did, pushing their baby brother’s stroller dutifully. In this short afternoon, we’ve dealt with happy shouts of victory and not so happy shouts of protests; badminton birdies stuck in a tree and a soccer ball gone AWOL for a brief moment in a dense cluster of trees; sullen looks of disappointment at not getting what one wanted — and a quiet realization that being the grump of the group just isn’t fun.

Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or one who is working full time and then having to rush home to get dinner on the table, know that you are where you are because what you do and who you are makes every bit of difference to those who are around you. You are where you are for a reason – not because of fate or destiny or random luck.
Do you ever wish you were off somewhere else doing something more exciting than whatever it is you’re doing? Don’t. Be where you are because it is where you are needed and where you belong. Do what you do for love and for the greater glory of God.

Every now and then, for the past 34 days, I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about next on this blog. I hemmed and hawed and sat on my mental fence…..and waited. I waited for that elusive and unpredictable friend that is Inspiration to come and sweep me away to flights of creative expression. It hasn’t happened. Yet. And since it hasn’t happened (yet), I feel compelled to make myself write.

Yup, that’s right: I am plunging into the icy cold waters of writing without waiting for warmer, more inviting temperatures in which to wallow. I will not wait for that bright flash of inspiration because it may come when I happen to blink or am otherwise occupied with other things. Life goes on, whether I am googly-eyed and rapturous about this and that or I am mentally kicking myself in the head for managing to snag a spot in traffic behind the slowest driver on the road. Life does not stop to consider my lack of wonderment or awe. It moves along at the pace of ordinary time; neither slower nor faster.

I realized this morning that in waiting for what I would deem a “perfect moment”, I was missing out on the “now moments” that where always taking place. The truth is that my life (and I suspect most people’s lives) consists in way more imperfect “now moments” than THE “perfect moment”. We have twenty-four hours in a day, 60 minutes in each hour. There is only so much a person can do within this time frame of life. I stand to lose a great deal of opportunities for conversation and friendship and love if I do nothing while I wait for the ideal moment – if there is even one.

When I left for Spain to go to Torreciudad more than a month ago, I did not know what to expect. Were there going to be fireworks going off in my soul, transporting me to another spiritual dimension? Was I going to feel time stop as if the world was suspended in motion? Were copious tears going to flow from my eyes, rendering me a sobbing mess of saltiness and pathos? Well, I was moved to tears during the first benediction at the shrine, but thankfully I was not this way for long. But how can one help but be moved, after all, at the genuine beauty of this place of prayer and faith that is Torreciudad?

And the world did not stop revolving. Each day that passed seemed to stretch at first, but quickly filled up with many, many moments I am so grateful for now: quick, stolen moments to greet our Lord at the tabernacle; small, fervent kisses on a cross as I told my Father in heaven that I was putting my life in His hands; precious time spent in conversation with my God. What a luxury! I reveled in the richness of these extraordinarily ordinary moments with God, Our Lady of Torreciudad and those who were with me.

What does Torreciudad have to do with the “perfect moment”? The chance to go came at – humanly speaking – the wrong time. I was still a nursing mom with eight children and our family budget did not include any money set aside for “extraordinary travel to places of interest”. Should I have waited, then, for a better time to go? Perhaps another chance would come my way when I had more money, extra money, more time, extra time……I really don’t know. In my heart, my instantaneous and heartfelt response to the invitation was, “Yes, please!!!” So I went, and I am richer for it in so many ways I cannot even begin to tell you.

At Torreciudad, I realized that as beautiful the whole place is, my own place was with my family back home. I often thought of and brought to my prayers my very generous husband and each of our eight children. I recalled with a slight pang the two souls that would have been born into our family had they not gone straight to heaven after just several weeks in my womb. I remembered with fondness and affection each friend (or at least as many friends as my poor memory could recall….) and his or her particular intention or need. In this beautiful home of Our Lady of Torreciudad, I was strongly drawn home to where God had placed me. I could see that my ordinary life, filled with ordinary and less-than-perfect moments was part of the greater and whole picture of Life. My life means something; what I do matters.

Which brings me back to the past 34 days I’ve spent trying to find the perfect moment to post an “awesome” entry on this blog. It’s never going to happen – the “perfect moment” I mean for that “awesome blog”. There is this time I spend writing, which I must consider important enough so as not to brush off as unnecessary. I do not know exactly who will read what I write, but if it helps even that one person who may or may not have meant to land on my blog – then it will have been worth it. If I write with the conviction that I am communicating with other souls, then my ordinary post becomes something extraordinary in its purpose.

And that is definitely something worth spending time my time on.

The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is. (C.S. Lewis)

To Spain and Back

On Wednesday, June 4th, I set off on a spiritual journey to a home that I’d never been:  the shrine of Our Lady of Torreciudad in Spain. Santuario de Torreciudad

It was clear from the get-go that this was no ordinary trip.  It certainly was not a vacation or a holiday jaunt to some quaint European village.  With my husband’s full support and encouragement, I gave each of my children tight, tight hugs and motherly kisses and reminded them to be good especially to each other and their dad.  I had cooked enough food for two armies and knew that — at the very least — they would not go hungry while I was away.  It was hardest to part, albeit temporarily, from my then nine-month old baby.  I knew he would be fine.  My husband assured me he would be fine and certainly he was a man of great experience with babies.  (You’d have to be after eight, you know.) So I found myself walking away, pulling on two suitcases beside me and willing myself not to break into tears at the airport.  (I so do not like good-byes at airports……) My pilgrimage had begun.

The thing with pilgrimages is that the element of some sacrifice is necessary.  No, no….I’m not talking about anything gory.  A pilgrim is one who takes a journey to a sacred place for religious reasons, according to the Oxford American online dictionary.  We’re not talking eat-all-you-can buffets at all-inclusive resorts where the party doesn’t end when the sun rises.  A pilgrimage concerns the soul and things of the spiritual life.  But while we are alive and our body and soul are still united, it is very easy for things that attract and relate to the senses to overwhelm the spirit, making it take a backseat to all the wonderful things that give us loads of pleasure.  For those who go on a pilgrimage, we need to be aware of this and make an effort to really be attuned to what our soul needs and is asking for.  So when I talk about sacrifice I mean the little things that maybe don’t seem like such a big deal but do go a long way into raising the level of our spiritual awareness because we’ve made the effort to deny ourselves a little bit of comfort or pleasure.

Why am I telling you all this?  Well, my whole trip lasted from June 4th to the 14th, but my pilgrimage really started way before I even left my home for the airport.  I had cooked like a fiend the weekend before I left.  Our refrigerator was bursting with so much food.  I spent the better part of the night before I left packing, trying to make sure I did not look some tourist who’s just looking for some souvenir trinkets.  A friend had told me, as a bit of advice, that Europeans tend to dress elegantly — and I took it to heart, of course!  (Ladies, listen up:  Pilgrimage does not equal sloppy dressing.) I managed to send off some emails and toyed with idea of posting an entry on my blog — which didn’t happen in the end because by then I was so tired and just wanted to snuggle up to this little baby in my arms that I was not going to be with for the next ten days.  When I finally sat down to wait for my flight to board passengers, I was tired, wired (read: over-caffeinated) and just anxious to get the ball rolling so I could come back home already.  I had to remind myself of why I was on this trip to begin with.

It was not for sight-seeing or shopping, although these happened to be a small part of my experience.  It was not for wont of something to do because I had many things to do at home.  It was not for the thrill of something exciting, although I was certainly tickled pink to be going.  It was not a trip made on a whim with some extra money stashed away — neither existed.  It was not to get away from my family because I was tired of them — I was tired but loved being with them.  I could think of several reasons why I shouldn’t go given my circumstances.  But a pilgrimage is never convenient, never very neat, tidy and oh-so-pretty.  It doesn’t make sense to go on one if you do not believe in matters of a spiritual nature because it lacks appeal for those whose purpose is pleasure.

It did, however, make sense to someone like me who does believe that our souls need a lot of tender loving care.  I felt myself called by my Father to a journey that would help change my life forever:  as a wife and a mother, as a friend, as a neighbour.  I went to Spain — to Torreciudad — to claim without merit what was being freely given to me:  a stronger faith, a more fervent hope and the love of my Father in my heart and soul.

Nuestra Senora de TorreciudadAnd so my pilgrimage to Torreciudad has ended, but the bigger one that we are constantly on while on earth goes on.  Life continues for us here:  the family survived my absence with flying colours, thanks to my extremely capable and super husband and children.  It is as normal as normal ever gets in our family.  But there is a glimmer of something that wasn’t there before, or perhaps just needed some encouragement.  I find that I can take refuge, during slightly trying or even very trying times, in a little place inside of me where my mother, Our Lady of Torreciudad, has taken up residence.

Over the next few weeks, I will tell you stories of my experiences during my trip and hope that you too are encouraged to take care of your own spiritual needs, not just on special occasions but everyday.  Finally, know that I prayed for you, dear reader of my blog, whether you are known to me or not.  I prayed to my sweet Mother in heaven and to my Father that you would hopefully get something helpful — something good — from having read what I post on my blog.  And if there was nothing of use this time — well, I still prayed for you.  And prayer is the currency of hope.

The fashion world should have been on red alert yesterday.  Ever so quietly, but with great hope and promise, a different kind of fashion show took place at the Rose Garden Theatre of Brampton.  Why was it so quiet?  Well, we’re talking here about a revolution of minds and hearts that needs to start small but sure.  There was none of the glitter and pomp and hoopla that go with the kind of fashion shows that are sponsored by fashion industry bigwigs and feature skinny models wearing clingy, revealing, expensive or artsy clothes that the average person couldn’t afford or would even want to be caught dead in.

No, no, no.  This fashion show in Brampton was on a strict budget and put together by ladies who called on friends and family to help them do what seemed a daunting but very much relevant project:  to showcase stylish clothes for young girls and women that would reflect their true sense of dignity and femininity.  This event — billed as a “Mother and Daughter Fashion Show” — was earnest, honest and sincere.  The best part for me was the fact that the models that showed off the outfits were real women:  mothers and their daughters (the women of the future!).  With a big smile of admiration (okay, so it was probably more goofy than anything….), I watched these women who had 2 or 3 or more kids walk down the runway in outfits I really liked.  They didn’t make me feel uncomfortable or awkward or huge.  Rather, I saw them all as possibilities:  for wearing around while running errands, for going on a picnic, for going on a date with my husband.

The truth is that clothes-shopping has become a chore.  To look for clothes and not be able to find ones that fit is one thing.  But to go into one store after another and not be able to find clothes that I can wear without unnecessarily showing off body parts that should be off limits to others’ eyes can be an exercise is near futility and frustration.  Let’s face it:  a lot of the current fashion available these days are either too clingy, too darn small, too low cut, too sheer — too revealing.

So am I embarrassed about my body?  No, and let us be clear about what the real issue is here.  When I wear clothes, I am not only trying to protect my body from the elements, I am also trying to present myself with dignity and do so with great respect for those who will happen to (whether they mean to or not) rest their eyes on me.  I love my body — it being the only one I’ve got — but I do not have to wear tight-fitting clothes that are barely on me to let the world know that I value this part of me.

We need more designers that are not just creating clothes “for the sake of art” or for pure profit.  We need designers that give due consideration to the women who will be purchasing and wearing their clothes.  These real women may not have children yet or may have 10.  They may be tall or short, slightly overweight or very overweight.  They may be on the go from one errand to another or they may be working from 9 to 5 before rushing on home to get dinner on the table for the family.  They may be a little tired or they may be a lot tired.  They may look in the mirror once in the day or not at all.  They may wear make-up or they may not.  Regardless — these are the real women and most of them (us!!) face the challenge of wanting to look good in their clothes and still maintain that feminine mystique that is so much a part of each individual woman.

I had Daughters #1 and 2 with me at the fashion show.  The thirteen-year old was thrilled — she loves beautiful clothes.  The seven year-old was very observant and tried not to fidget around too much.  She said afterwards how much she liked this polka-dot dress with a poodle skirt, and I had to agree with her as it was a nice outfit.  I enjoyed myself seeing how the audience was a mix of teen-aged girls, pre-teens, mothers and a sprinkling of more mature women (read: grandmothers — one of whom is a good friend and whose daughter-in-law and two granddaughters modelled at the show).  We need events like this in order for women to come together and help each other discover that there are possibilities out there and all is not lost.  We need to encourage each other and bring more women to events like this.

We need to tell our daughters and nieces and other young girls about the kind of beauty that comes from within and does not depend on one’s physical attributes or the comments of other people.  We need to encourage our girls to like what they see in the mirror without wanting a tummy tuck, a face lift, pouty lips or a dress that’s barely there.  We need to teach them how to be real women by showing them how we do it ourselves.

Be on the look out for designers that create clothes that are both stylish and dignified, keeping in mind that this does not mean drab, dull and shapeless.  We don’t want to look like a piece of meat on display; neither do we want to look like a sack of potatoes.  Voice your opinion of bad women’s fashion to the stores that carry them.  Your views will be heard by a store manager (make sure you ask for one) who will match your face with lost sales for the store.   Do check out this young and stylish designer, Christa Taylor, whose designs are modest but modern.

Finally, as the fashion show’s guest speaker, Shaylin Aarssen of TRENDS, very aptly pointed out in her well-composed speech, the minute we put on our clothes, we are on a runway.   Our clothes reflect a lot about ourselves and we need to be mindful of that.  Putting the effort to dressing well makes a difference in our way of working and dealing with people.  We feel more confident and more efficient — and that certainly makes for a happier and classier woman all around.

If you’ve cared to look for something new on this blog for the past two and a half weeks — I must apologize for not having posted anything at all. I didn’t fall off the face of the earth. I’m still here and am just finding my way back to blogging after being immersed in one adventure after another these past few weeks. I’m telling you the truth: Indiana Jones has NOTHING on mothers and the things we do!

Five days into T-TRAININGThis little girl you see in this picture is Daughter #3 who has been undergoing a most rigorous and intensive program of self-discipline involving the body and the will with our assistance and encouragement. Simply put, she has been toilet-training….or at least she is now mostly toilet-trained. At first, it seemed as if she was training us rather than we training her. Barely three days into the process of toilet-training, our family left for a road trip to Ottawa, about five hours away by car. It would have been so much easier to just put a diaper on her — but we resisted the temptation. It is three weeks since we started and she is — for the most part — disciplined enough during the day to make those very necessary trips to the bathroom when the need arises. This is quite a milestone for her and we are all very happy about it!

Our thirteen-year old daughter (Daughter #1) has also recently reached a milestone of a very different nature — a spiritual one. A new soldier of ChristOn May 7th, together with about 60 or so other young teens, she received the Sacrament of Confirmation at our parish. This is the final rite of initiation to the Catholic church. (The photo shows my daughter with our energetic parish priest, Fr. Vid.) I watched from the back of the church, holding onto the hand of a fidgety three-year old who had just been to the bathroom. Suddenly, my mind seemed to hurtle back in time nearly nine years ago to the day I watched this same child fall in line with other 5 year-olds on the first day of kindergarten. I had cried then, albeit briefly, feeling the poignancy of the moment. The same feelings came back, as I witnessed my daughter’s maturity over the years and thanked God for the immense privilege of having been blessed with her and her siblings.

Within these past weeks, our middle daughter (Daughter #2) also celebrated a milestone — she turned seven years old! This little girl, whom we prayed for and asked God to bless us with, was all of seven years old last May 1st. What a wondrous age seven is! She is now able to read quite a bit and loves to write up little notes for different members of the family. She has several friends, but I think her siblings are numbered among the best. She is a burst of sunshine and boundless energy, and is quite precious to us.

Each child in our family is allowed to invite friends to a bigger party to celebrate the birthday only on his or her 7th and 13th birthdays. (You can imagine how nutty it would be if we did this for every single child on every single birthday……not to mention expensive…..) So this seven-year old girl will be having a proper garden tea party with some very special girl friends who will be asked to come in their very best party dress. That will happen as soon as our party planner (a.k.a. Mom) gets her act together and organizes the whole thing.

In the meantime, we did celebrate her birthday with our family’s traditional “birthday cake” (chocolate cake with fudgy filling and whipped cream frosting), followed by the opening of presents. Here is part of the gang of siblings posing with the the traditional birthday cake (baked from scratch by Daughter #1, frosted with love by Mom):

(Note the general sense of gaiety and celebration made somewhat surreal by the presence of a grenade — just plastic, folks…..– in the hand of our impish three year-old daughter. The birthday girl is wearing the Dora the Explorer shirt. The boys are Sons #4 — left side — and #3 — right side.)

Of course, before this image was captured, there was a bit of thrilling action caught by my husband (a.k.a. The Cool Photographer), as you can see below: (Note his determined look and the toy pizza slice this little infant wonder is clutching in his left hand as he makes a grab with his right hand for the birthday cake his sister hasn’t even cut into!)

In between celebrations and training programs, I managed to give a talk at the “Mom You’re Incredible” event in Ottawa last May 3rd, got together with some very good and much-missed friends, went on a road trip with the family, did a bit of demo-cooking, went here, there and feel like I’ve been everywhere!

There are no better adventures I know than the ones you find within life with the family.

My Better Half

February 16, 2003My heart is 39 years old today. No, it’s not my birthday, and the man in the photo is not a burglar. That is my husband, Michael, and today is his birthday. The photo was taken by a friend of his on February 16, 2003, which happened to be one of the coldest days of that year (at least according to a news account then).

I think back to the first day we met and all the days in between until today — and I am so grateful for the man that he is. We were completely in love when we got married and promptly had three kids within three years. We moved to Canada in 1999 with four kids (the oldest 5 years at the time) and with another one on the way. We stayed in 3 different rentals before we finally bought our very first home. We have had eight children in the fourteen years we’ve been married. He has worked hard at different jobs, is a very professional and extremely good photographer (I’d say it even if I wasn’t married to him…..) and he continues to give 100% at his job everyday. We’ve laughed a lot, fought some, prayed together and hold our marriage vows sacred. Ours has been an amazing adventure together!

I understand what people mean when they identify one’s spouse as their better half. It makes so much sense, at least for us it does. Mike is my better half; he completes the unfinished parts of my life like no one else can and ever will. He is the patient half of our marriage; the strong but silent type. He shares my dreams and gives me courage to carry on when I cannot see past disappointments and failures. He knows when to listen and he knows when not to listen too much. He knows how to apologize and — more importantly for me — he knows how to forgive. He knows how to love.

My heart belongs to this wonderful man and his belongs to me! And today, my heart is 39 years old and still beating strong, faithful and true. Happy birthday, dear heart.