Holy Week and Easter

Holy Week is my favorite time of year. The kids surprised me by saying that it was theirs too.

First of all, I need to get something off my chest. I hate blessed palms! They look like swords, they splinter into tiny fragments, and they’re BLESSED! Whose idea was it to give my kids a fragile toy/weapon IN MASS that cannot be thrown in the trash? (Insert emoji of a frazzled mom with hair standing on end–brandishing a blessed palm.)

This Holy Week we were able to attend a new version of Tenebrae, which might be my favorite liturgy, at the Shrine. This one was not arranged around the seven sayings from the Cross, but it was lovely. It’s not everywhere that you can find Tenebrae!

Holy Thursday is everyone’s favorite meal of the year.20170413_174332.jpg It’s part Seder Meal, to remind us of what Jesus and the Apostles were doing at the Last Supper–lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, charoseth (an apple dish meant to recall the mud used to make bricks in Egypt). But because St. Thomas Aquinas warns that it’s a mortal sin to perform the rituals of the Jews as though the Messiah hadn’t come . . . we throw in a little bacon-wrapped asparagus. We call them Spargel-speck-schpears, in honor of our Austrian roots. The kids get to drink “wine” (cranberry juice) out of real wine glasses and we use the best china. We serve baklava for dessert, in honor of our Waldstein and Thompson roots. We figure the apostles might have picked up a sweet like that at the market. We try to invite a special guest to join us each year.

Then on Good Friday, we fast on Hot Cross Buns. 20170414_1150220.jpgEven though the Hot Cross Buns taste delicious, by the end of the day, you are longing for something else–anything else. I always dreaded Good Friday and couldn’t wait for it to end. The Hot Cross Buns for me represent, “This is a special and beautiful day.” However, John and I are no longer able to metabolize a day of straight carbs, so we fast on boiled eggs as well.

Before the Trehorae, the three hours from 12-3 when Christ hung on the Cross, we tried to do some cleaning and basic home repair. This need had become urgent the day before, when the littlest boys (the “Muppets”) had discovered a huge box of toys that we had never unpacked after the move. They didn’t realize that there were three such boxes–until a more literate brother came along and read the labels on all three “Toys” boxes. On Holy Thursday our house gradually became strewn with old toys and costumes that had been peacefully resting inside a sealed box since we left Wyoming. Mags and I did a purge that resulted in a black garbage bag of stuff to go to St. Vincent de Paul.20170415_133259.jpg

Thomas came up with an ingenious device to actually pick up Legos.20170415_133352.jpg

Rrrrrrrroooop. Back to the Triduum. We went to Good Friday services. I had been telling the little boys about how the priests lay down on their faces at the beginning of the service, but I didn’t know how they would see it with the crowd. Well, we were coming in late to the church, so we had front row seats . . .

We always make Lamb Cakes for Easter. 20170415_073821.jpg 20170415_0740090.jpgWhen the girls were little, we didn’t give them candy in their Easter baskets, just a Lamb Cake (it wasn’t for them to eat alone, but to share with the family, and it amounted to much less sugar). In recent years we’ve made one banana chocolate-chip lamb with whipped cream frosting, and one carrot cake lamb with cream cheese frosting. As you can see, this year we ended up with one good lamb and one evil one. I guess the evil one is actually a goat.







Marietta was singing with the choir at all Triduum liturgies. John took the big four with him to the Easter vigil. Here they are at MIDNIGHT when they returned. They all said it was exquisitely beautiful. Even Thomas: “Exquisitely.” (Or words to that effect.)20170415_232927.jpg

I didn’t see the Easter Vigil Mass, but I know what I think is exquisitely beautiful!





All week–and really all Lent–we had been wondering what would make our Easter special in Green Bay.

20170416_075508.jpg 20170416_082738.jpg When I asked the kids what they wanted to do for our first Easter here, the answers invariably involved importing the Susankas. Mags asked for Susankas in place of an Easter basket. No one could imagine an Easter tradition to top the massive Easter brunch at the Susankas’, to which all our friends came and contributed delectable treats, and the massive, two-tiered Easter egg hunt that the Tonkowiches organized in the Susankas’ backyard, with big kids hiding eggs for little kids, and Tonk hiding eggs for big kids. I was at a loss as to anything that would compare.

One big difference between Green Bay and anywhere else we’ve ever lived is that most people who are in Green Bay are from Green Bay–for generations. Their grandparents or great-grandparents came over on one of the boats of Dutch or Belgian immigrants in the 1850s. They have a huge extended family here to spend their holidays with. In Lander (and Gaming) nearly all our friends, like us, had come to the place as strangers. We had to be each other’s extended family.

At the Good Friday I was suddenly struck by the thought that we should invite a Venezuelan family for Easter Sunday.  They were political refugees fleeing the communist dictatorship that has gained ascendancy in Venezuela. They came to Green Bay just about the time that we did. John had met the husband but the rest of us did not know them. They have daughters ages 12, 9, and 5.

Their acceptance of the invitation threw our Easter preparations into high gear. 20170416_132035.jpg 20170416_132555.jpg 20170416_1325440.jpg 20170416_132814.jpg 20170416_132005.jpg 20170416_132521.jpgWe would need to make Easter baskets for their girls, and organize a real egg hunt according to what the Susankas and Tonks had taught us. We had to introduce them to American Easter customs. John and I went out to buy candy (Walmart was sold out of jelly beans??) and presents to pad the Easter baskets. We had a reason to prepare a luxuriant Easter spread, comparable to the Susankas’ but on a smaller, two-family scale.

Well, our guests became great friends of ours that Easter Sunday.

Our kids and theirs all hit it off wonderfully, especially Mags and Barbara. I’m not typing the parents’ names because they are in the immigration system, where things can be quite delicate and capricious. In the old country they were architects and the children of physicians, but here they are cheerfully surviving on janitorial and gardening work. We found that we could talk to them for hours–and we did! They turned our Easter Sunday into a celebration, complete with egg hunt:

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And the celebration continues, as we have gotten together with them several times a week since Easter day.



Lent . . . and Easter

This is what Lent looks like.20170302_133455.jpg







Miriam Therese spent the first three days of Lent wandering the house bawling desperately, “COOKIE?!”20170302_133456.jpg We laughed at her . . . but it was a nervous laugh, because we knew that this was exactly what we looked like on the inside. Especially me, shocked at the prospect of having to fast in earnest after more than a decade of being exempt for nursing or pregnancy.

Between birthdays (whose idea was it to have a bunch of babies during Lent?),20170402_173154.jpg

name days, visits from friends, visits to family, legitimate feast days, the ubiquitous Sundays, and our native weakness, we once again managed to weather Lent without doing penance for more than a couple of days at a time. This always happens to us. Ever since I abandoned the custom that I was raised to (of maintaining Lenten penance throughout the weekends and suspending it only for St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s days)–for strictly theological reasons, mind you–I haven’t managed to keep a Lenten resolution much at all. Enter the custom of Easter resolutions (more on that later).

But I would consider this Lent more successful than any I can remember. John and I are highly effective people who like to look for measurable signs of progress, a habit not very well suited to Lent. If I can measure my growth in humility, I probably just blew it. And Sarah Susanka, without a doubt one of the wisest women I know, used to warn that if you harbor even the slightest hope of losing weight through Lenten fasts, you will surely grow in size and diminish in sanctity. And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

But I’m pleased with this Lent because of two tiny victories.
1. Just when I realized that I wasn’t capable of denying myself sweets for more than two days at a time, Marietta read me a quote from a saint that went something like this: “Anyone who gets up from a meal without doing some small penance, eats like a pagan.”

Now, I have no wish to analyze the culinary habits of pagans, but the aphorism gave me a new idea. I just tried to say “no” to myself on the spot, whenever the desire for treats or comforts or conveniences came up. I couldn’t always do it, but I also didn’t require myself to stick to my denial with the perseverance of St. Lawrence. I considered every small denial a victory and I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended Lent having done more penance than in the previous years when I staunchly tried to Give Up Sweets. Baby steps, as John would say. Or the motto of our homeschool: “Aliquid melius quam nihil.”

2. We finally figured out the secret to Stations of the Cross with the whole family. You’ll never guess. While you’re trying, I’ll tell you the history of Stations of the Cross in our family.
When the girls were small we lived in Austria where the local parish did Stations in German. We wanted our girls to be familiar with this custom so we hung up station numbers around our apartment. When Fr. John Sheehan came to visit us once during Lent, he asked why there was a number “2 ” on the bathroom door. After hearing the reason, he always remembered to excuse himself “to visit the second station.”

We’ve hung up stations every year in our home, but as more and more boys joined us it became more and more of a circus. But this year when John was away from home one Friday evening I hit upon a strategy that transformed Stations of the Cross. I did Stations in our home with three of my boys and it was the most prayerful Via Crucis I can remember.

The secret?

Processional crosses, baby.20170331_195142.jpg20170331_200437.jpg

Each boy had a large processional cross in one hand and an LED candle in the other. It transformed them into angels.20170331_200454.jpg

When we shared the secret with our whole family, the littlest guys (the “Muppets”) had to have altar server gowns. Fortunately John had just discarded a bunch of undershirts.

20170331_195432.jpg 20170331_195626.jpgStay tuned for . . . Holy Week!

A busy Green Bay Christmas

wp-image-1713738013jpg.jpgJohn is not a fan of glorious princessy raiment. When the weekly father-daughter showdown rolls around, and he must once again go head to head with the Princess at the back of the church, he finds that Sunday finery gives Resi an unfair advantage. Such was even more the case at midnight Mass, where she sported one of her THREE Christmas gowns.wp-image-599550231jpg.jpg

John objects to Sunday dresses on the grounds that they are too “slippery.” He spent Midnight Mass at the back of the church, “wrestling a fish.” A large, loud, fish, which chirped like a bird and was determined to wriggle out of his arms.

The rest of us spent Midnight Mass admiring the altar servers. The boys requested the office of serving at Midnight Mass, and we rearranged our Christmas plans around them.wp-image-290946272jpg.jpg The fact that Midnight Mass was actually at 8:30 made it just a little more feasible, and a little less painful, for the whole family. I think it may be the first time in our married lives that we have attempted Midnight Mass with all the children. It wasn’t too bad. The boys didn’t fall asleep on the altar and Resi didn’t fall asleep until we were in the car on the way home. And then she screamed for an hour in her crib before she could go to sleep for the night. But it seemed like a small price to pay.wp-image-609682783jpg.jpg

Midnight Mass was only the second of FOUR Christmas Masses that John and Marietta attended. Marietta sang with the Cathedral choir at the 4pm Christmas Eve Mass; the whole family attended Midnight Mass at Sts. Peter and Paul; John, Ginger, and the girls attended Christmas morning Mass with the Bishop at the Cathedral; and then John and Marietta headed out to the Carmelite Monastery where our friend Fr. Girotti was saying the Mass of Christmas day. At the first of these Masses, Fr. Dorner asked facetiously, “How many of you are going to four Masses?” John realized that the question was rhetorical just in time to avoid raising his hand.

wp-image-1876293724jpg.jpgOther events of our first Green Bay Christmas included an expedition to cut down our own Christmas tree that resulted in . . . the most perfect tree any of us had ever seen! John took the big four with him, and the differences of opinion were so great that Marietta started praying to St. Jude for a tree they could all agree on.  The saints came through with the finest tree of all time.

Our one regret was that we took the tree down too early. We left it up until mid-January. But the custom around here seems to be to leave Christmas decorations up until Lent.wp-image-1534223122jpg.jpg Not a few of our neighbors still have the Christmas decorations bedecking their homes and we can see in the front windows that some living rooms still boast a Christmas tree. We regret discarding the perfect tree so early; we’ll know better next year.

We loved having Ginger visit over Christmas, but we didn’t love the fact that she got sick almost immediately upon arrival and didn’t feel better until she was just about ready to depart. But it didn’t stop us from putting her to work helping us paint the ground floor.

I saw a paint color on the walls of a furniture store that really captivated me. I called the store to find out the color. John, who took the message, told me the color name was “SW6226.” What? No “Twilight Sky”? No “Ocean Mist”? Yeah, there was some poetic name too but how is John supposed to remember something  like that? It turns out the color was called, “Languid Blue.” I wasn’t sure I liked that until I remembered the Psalm, “The barren wife bears seven sons, and the mother of many languishes.” (It being as great a miracle for a mother of many to sit and relax as it is for a barren wife to bear seven sons.) We were on our way to Mass when we exchanged this information about the paint color. Guess what the Psalm reading was.

But I wasn’t prepared to open a large birthday present from John and to find inside paint rollers.wp-image-1142805535jpg.jpg wp-image-381519284jpg.jpg wp-image-1490485900jpg.jpg I thought it was a joke at first. We had just watched a comedy sketch in which Santa Claus gets banished to the couch by Mrs. Claus for giving presents like a paint brush and a gift card to Home Depot, “because you’ve been wanting me to paint the kitchen, and now you can!” But then I saw the two cans of Languid Blue and it kind of took my breath away.

John doesn’t let any grass grow under his feet once he has an idea. He almost immediately started painting. The first strokes made us all panic a little: on top of our Robin’s Egg blue walls it looked like Pencil Lead Gray. wp-image-2031455420jpg.jpgFortunately my brother Micky had shown us an optical illusion on his last visit here. It was a chess board in shadow, and the white squares could look black based on what was around them.

Now that our entire ground-floor has been painted with Languid Blue, it looks unmistakably blue, and very soothing. I think I’ll just languish here admiring it.

Other highlights of our Christmas were visiting a nursing home and visiting our old Latin professor, who is now our near neighbor in Milwaukee.wp-image-28147026jpg.jpg Fr. Reginald Foster spontaneously treated us all to pizza . . . and treated me to his magnum opus, his Latin teaching method newly published as a hefty tome!

Our boys’ school, the St. John Paul II, had the ingenious plan to mount an Epiphany pageant rather than a Christmas pageant. It was the most beautiful and prayerful Christmas program I’d ever seen, and others who have seen many more agreed with me. The program featured Latin hymns, a recital of a passage from one of John Chrysostom’s Christmas homilies, and a lesson in contemplative prayer. wp-image-177614067jpg.jpgWe are the proud parents of two Wise Men.

We’re also the proud parents of two men who are perhaps not so wise. But there’s always room for improvement.wp-image-1272717283jpg.jpgwp-image-1864764237jpg.jpg



“UP YOU!”–and other things you can say if you’re a princess

Yes, when our dainty maid wants to be picked up, she marches up to one of us and, says brashly, “UP YOU!”wp-image-54050689jpg.jpg

Once we get over our shock at her language (every time), we take time to meditate on the linguistic questions she raises. Is she simply formulating an answer to the (unspoken) question “Shall I pick you up?” by reversing the key words to indicate response? Or is she cutting to the essence of the action with her words, in a manner reminiscent of German structures. What do we need with all these subjunctives and circumlocutions, when “Up you!” pretty much sums it up.wp-image-493746891jpg.jpg

Her other favorite command is “Lap. Book.” ‘Nuff said.wp-image-58845579jpg.jpg wp-image-211450004jpg.jpg

People have always commented on how verbal Resi is, but recently she’s experienced a language explosion. I took her to Mass a week ago and she started hollering, “NURSE! NURSE!” I tried to play dumb until Joseph turned around and said in a stage whisper, “SHE WANTS TO NURSE.” I don’t know where she even learned that term because I don’t use it with her (although it could have been worse). So that was our tip that it was time to wean her.

Although weaning starts out with a lot of angry baby, it quickly results in a more cheerful girl most of the day. And so with the Res. She sings “Alleluia” all day long, interspersed with bursts of “BOB the builder: Can he fix it?”wp-image-163121338jpg.jpg wp-image-123478911jpg.jpg wp-image-1489960462jpg.jpg

This morning John went to get her out of bed. As he took each of her arms out of her schlafsack (the wearable blanket in which she sleeps), he said, “One. Two.”  She answered, “Three. Four.”

When she sees one of her subjects eating something good, she comes over and opens her mouth like a baby bird. If we don’t catch on quickly enough, she progressively places her open mouth closer and closer to the food she desires:wp-image-358046784jpg.jpg wp-image-739263528jpg.jpg

Rich in friends (The Great East Coast Tour, part 2)

Although the object of our Great East Coast Tour was seeing my grandmother–and we were so blessed to see so many aunts, uncles, and cousins into the bargain–we are Mortensens. We couldn’t stop at visiting six households of relatives. We had to throw in another eight households of friends too! We never stayed a single night in a hotel, we were so rich in hospitable friends.

We also called the trip “The Tour of Four Godchildren.” John and I saw four of our godchildren, and three of our children saw their godparents.

We started the trip by staying with some new friends in Milwaukee, the Twettens. We had met Dave Twetten, a philosophy professor at Marquette, during the summer, but his wife had been away at the time. For this visit, Cindy Twetten had changed her travel plans in order to host us. She is a Latin teacher and a fellow student of Fr. Reginald Foster. Their kids, Notre Dame graduates, came to dinner and the conversation lasted until late in the night.

We stayed the next night with Kyle and Erin Washut in Pittsburgh. Grace Washut is our god-daughter, and Kyle and Erin are Tino’s “parents.” wpid-wp-image-1692806136jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-1385812268jpg.jpgWe had actually seen the Washuts just recently when they stayed with us on their way to their new home in Pittsburgh. Kyle is attending Byzantine seminary and hoping to be ordained a Byzantine priest in the future. The last time we had seen them they had been on their way to a new life with only what belongings could fit in their car, along with four children. They hadn’t seen the home they were moving to. It’s beautiful! It’s a huge, gorgeously appointed rectory full of lovely antiques. We were so happy to find them so beautifully settled.

In New Jersey we snuck off to a park one evening to see the Coccias. Aileen and Mario Coccia, then with four children, became our next door neighbors in Austria in 2003. Just a few months after we moved to Wyoming, John suggested Mario for the position of admissions director at WCC. However, we had not seen them since they moved back to New Jersey in 2010. In that time Aileen has obtained a Masters in Great Books from St. John’s College, their two daughters have graduated from TAC, and Aileen single-handedly started a classical high school, Sedes Sapientiae.wpid-wp-image-1756463288jpg.jpg I knew that starting a school takes 300% of a person’s time, so I wasn’t sure we’d get to see them in the middle of a school term. But Mario, Aileen, and GianCarlo met us at a park, and after the kids had played for two hours we went for some (awesome) pizza. Many happy memories.

On the morning of Magdalena’s birthday, October 19, we left New Jersey and headed to New Hampshire where we were staying with our dear friends the Thompsons. We had seen them four years before at James and Augusta Thompson’s wedding in California. But nothing beats seeing friends in their home habitat. Ruth and Jay are our Joseph’s godparents, and Peter Thompson is our godson.wpid-wp-image-1889183337jpg.jpg We dressed them alike so that we could always spot our respective spiritual progeny.

The Thompsons were not only generous enough to host our (now much larger) family, and have a birthday party for Magdalena, but Ruth even invited over all the other dear friends I had hoped to see while in the area.

Magdalena got to meet her faithful pen-pal, Christina St. Pierre, whose birthday was the day after Magdalena’s. wpid-wp-image-1743398766jpg.jpgMags and Christina have written each other just about once a week since Christina’s older sister, Teresa (“Teaspoon”) graduated from Wyoming Catholic College.wpid-wp-image-177274085jpg.jpg


We didn’t see Marietta for four days as she reconnected with her very first best friend, Regina Thompson. I found myself grateful for technology for almost the first time, because it has allowed these girls to stay in touch and maintain a truly lovely friendship. Here Marietta is enjoying baked beans and brown bread–a great favorite of hers, which we couldn’t leave New England without sampling.




We drove out to visit the USS Constitution on a rainy Boston day. Everyone was enthralled and we were only sorry we hadn’t longer to explore.wpid-wp-image-557388230jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-1021770938jpg.jpg

But we were on our way to an even greater appointment. We got to see Tom and Lovelace Howard.wpid-wp-image-1408632195jpg.jpg Although it had been more than 10 years since we had seen each other, Lovelace emails me faithfully after every Christmas letter and baby announcement. Another reason to be grateful for technology. I told our friends that it seemed very incongruous to meet the Howards in the food court of a mall–but it was a stroke of genius. It was a rainy day, and the food court had a small play place where the boys could romp. The girls got smoothies and the parents got to catch up.

Ruth also invited over Germaine Milligan and about 6/14 of her kids, as well as wpid-wp-image-853589249jpg.jpgClare Metilly, who brought our godson Paul to meet us. We hadn’t seen him since he was a tiny guy.

On our way out of New England, Paul and Clare Metilly invited us to brunch at their beautiful home in Massachusetts. In seventeen years, the Metilly style of gracious entertaining had hardly changed at all. There were now just so many more Metillys to enjoy it with.

The last stop on our trip was Cleveland, where we stayed with Fr. Mike and Debbie Lee and family. Another stately and spacious Byzantine rectory. More intellectual conversation with peers for Marietta and Mags. Some very memorable video games for Joseph, Thomas and Zeke. And Debbie, Fr. Michael, and John and I just talked and talked. Debbie teaches at Lyceum classical high school, which is run by our old friend Luke Macik, and which Aileen Coccia’s school is modeled after. We attended Fr. Michael’s Byzantine liturgy in the morning (Joseph’s opinion is that Byzantine is the best liturgy) and then swung by Lyceum to greet Luke and see the amazing things he’s doing. Marietta got to hug her old friend from first grade, Sasha Macik, after watching her do a Euclid prop.

Then we drove back to Wisconsin. It was great to sleep in our own beds, but what a gift to see so many dear friends after so long! We’ve enjoyed such a great life–and it just keeps going!


The Great East Coast Tour

October 26, 2016.

We’ve just returned from a most wonderful road trip. My father’s mother turns 99 at Christmas, and, while we realized that a road trip at that time would be difficult, our new proximity to New Jersey in Green Bay spurred a two-week trip in October. In typical Mortensen fashion, we tried to cram as many friends and family into this visit as we possibly could . . . and it was stupendous!

Aunt Suzy gave us the use of Auntie Mir’s house, which brought back so many memories. The only other time I had visited New Jersey in the autumn was October of my freshman year in college, when I took the train from South Bend and spent the week with my grandparents. I stayed with Mir-Mir at her house and we had a wonderful time. She sent me back with a huge plastic jar filled with chocolate chip cookies that she had made. I ate them on the train.

Aunt Suzy had stocked the house full of wonderful food for us. She and Uncle Joe came down for our first day. Uncle Joe enthralled the boys with his fish stories and his landscaping. After we said goodbye, Aunt Suzy came down to the beach to see us one more time.wpid-wp-image-224668447jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-2075687522jpg.jpg








Our last visit to New Jersey was in 2007, for Nana’s 90th birthday. Joseph was a baby back then. So my relatives had never met most of our children!wpid-wp-image-473185080jpg.jpg

That rock star is my 99-year-old grandmother! She’s doing wonderfully well and never stopped smiling.wpid-wp-image-173390581jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-237850673jpg.jpg













Miriam Therese was the star of the show. Everyone celebrated her being named after such a most beloved aunt. When Aunt Pam (who we were unable to see, due to recent surgery) called to ask Aunt Patty what baby Miriam was like, Aunt Patty said, “She’s like Miriam! Feisty and independent.”








Norah flew in with Rosario for the visit. Rosario bundled into our packed, cluttered van with a bunch of loud cousins she had not seen for half her lifetime–and she was totally unfazed.wpid-wp-image-1939204343jpg.jpg

Terry took his two kids, Will and Niamh, out of school to spend time with us. Cousins are a wonderful thing.wpid-wp-image-2125835263jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-1270154652jpg.jpg











We were blessed with phenomenal weather. I had not even packed swimsuits, because I had so many memories of the Jersey shore being too frigid for swimming in June. Who would have believed that the ocean would be warm enough in October? There were record-breaking highs in the 80s, which allowed us to spend two days at the beach.



Thomas tried to understand the Trinity.







While we were in New Jersey, Magdalena turned twelve. Aunt Patty had a party for her with a delicious Boston Cream pie. wpid-wp-image-440161099jpg.jpg

On the way home we stayed at Dave and Fiona’s in Bethlehem, PA. Aislinn and Peter were there and fell into lively talk with their first-cousins-once-removed. As we were leaving I remembered that Fiona’s birthday had to be imminent (also a memory from my college freshman year trip)–and it turned out it was that very day.

We were sorry to miss Dierdre and Molly, especially since Molly stayed with us two summers in Wyoming. But since we were driving through Pittsburgh on our way home, Fiona gave us their phone numbers. They were both able to get away for lunch and we were able to see them for about  an hour. Cousins are a wonderful thing!

Although the trip as I have recounted it so far would have been more than enough wonderful for the next decade . . . it’s not all that there was to it. Along with oodles of relatives whom we hadn’t seen in four, seven, or nine years . . .  we also saw scads of old friends whom we hadn’t seen in four, eight, or eleven years. Stay tuned for the next post!


Our boys go to school

A few months ago, Green Bay’s bishop asked John to give a talk to a group of businessmen about classical liberal arts education. Bishop Ricken was the founder of Wyoming Catholic College when he was bishop of Cheyenne, and now as bishop of Green Bay he has just founded a classical Catholic grade school. Just to make sure that we were all saying things along the same lines, John and I went to visit the classical school.

St. John Paul II classical school had been up and running for little more than a month when we visited. But it wowed me. The first thing we noticed was that, even after being in Green Bay for only three months, we knew most of the families whose kids were at the school. We know all three teachers, and we know Miss Carol Ricken, the bishop’s sister and the school principal, very well.

The third and fourth grade are in the same classroom–about 20 students in all–and they were learning Latina Christiana, IEW, All About Spelling and Singapore Math. All the stuff I’d like my boys to have. They’re studying the Middle Ages for history this year, and they have done so many fun hands-on projects–make an illuminated manuscript, build a castle that your teacher can’t breach(!) But most beautiful of all, instead of discipline they are using the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist virtue program. (More on that later.)

Well, we asked ourselves then if we wanted to put our boys in school (the school includes pre-K, 1st-2nd, and 3rd-4th with plans to grow a grade each year). We were about to leave on the Great East Coast tour (the account of which is on its way, faithful readers!) and it didn’t seem like the right time. Maybe next year.

When we came back from the big trip, we tried a new schedule in order to get to everything we wanted in our kids’ educations. The next week we tried another schedule. They each worked for a couple of days . . . the schedules, not the boys.

Well, actually, the boys too.wpid-wp-image-1528467084jpg.jpg

Meanwhile the classical school had parent teacher conferences and we heard from all our friends about what a moving experience it had been. Parent-teacher conferences! The conferences had nothing to do with academics and everything to do with character. Our friends said, “After eight weeks the teachers had seen right into my daughter’s virtues and vices.”
“The teacher said, ‘This is what we’re praying for for your child, and you can pray for this for him too.'”

So we called up Miss Ricken and took the boys over to spend a day. I was sure that my “Whatever it is, I’m against it” guy, Joseph Gerard, would come home griping about school because it was something new. But he hopped into the car at the end of the day and said, “School was great. Can I go here?”

The boys just finished their second week of school and they are thriving. The school is new enough and small enough that we haven’t had to worry about most of the heartaches that come with school. Because the kids are mostly homeschoolers, it’s okay for a fourth grader to play with a first grader; no one is going to make fun of Thomas for carrying a lunch bag that says “Maggie”; homeschoolers don’t form cliques and they let you like what you like.

These two weeks have been a balm on my soul. We were driven to put the boys in school by the fact that we were wearing ourselves out in the battle to do math every day, and it felt as though everything else was falling by the wayside.

Now I’m the one who helps Joseph with his homework in the evening and I feel like I’m finally getting to homeschool him. He has a TON of homework, because he has to catch up on the first quarter. (Normally the students would have about half an hour.) But he willingly works with me instead of fighting me, because we’re in this together. He’s zealous to please Mrs. Smith, so all it takes is a reminder (or twelve) and once more unto the breach he goes. He only threw himself on the floor growling once, and then he picked himself up quickly, looking a little embarrassed, and applied himself to his homework bravely.

It took some time for John to be okay with the thought of boys in school. School was such a miserable waste of time for him until his mom started homeschooling that enrolling our boys struck him as a failure. After the first week of zany driving until all hours (trying to buy uniforms and school supplies and do homework and get boys to school on time), John was freaking out and saying, “We have to simplify our lives! What can we cancel?!!”

Then they asked us to cover Joseph’s school books with brown paper and that was the last straw. John once had a job covering books with contact paper. But yesterday the stress of the last two weeks became too great for him and he swore that  never again would he cover another textbook. Good thing I was a Catholic school girl; I’ve got dozens of textbook covers in me. Bring them on.

wpid-wp-image-816494193jpg.jpgThe virtues program is amazing. Each student in Thomas’s class has a “virtue partner” to watch in order to be able to report about growth in virtues. It channels the tattling instinct into praise and encouragement, and it means that if you’re trying hard to be good you don’t have to ruin it all by bragging to get noticed.

God was looking out for us on the day the JPII school decided to focus on the Middle Ages. Joseph would suffer any amount of handwriting and Latin declensions for the joy of doing Medieval history every day. One day last week he said to me with some consternation, “Nobody in my class . . . ”

[Here it comes, I thought. Now is when I hear about how he’s made to feel left out. Or now is when I hear about the way the other kids are giving scandal to my sweet boy. I braced myself.]

” Nobody in my class . . . seems to know what a siege tower is for. I think I know the most about castles of anyone in my class.”


The next day he announced, “Mama, I think I know more about castles than my teacher. That’s because you gave me such a great education.”

Here’s to great educations!

Deer Hunter’s Widows

At the children’s consignment store, the clerk handed me this flyer and said, “Don’t forget we’re having a deer hunter’s widow’s sale November 19.”wpid-wp-image-1127788182jpg.jpg

Thinking it was a charitable event to help out some ladies who had experienced a tragedy, I asked how many widows were involved.

“No widows,” the clerk answered uncertainly. “Just toys and clothes.”

“Oh. So . . . no guns or crossbows either?”

Looking even more weirded out. “No–just toys and clothes.”

It took a man with almost two doctorates to help me understand what a Deer Hunter’s Widows’ sale is.

You see, in Wisconsin deer season runs from the Saturday before Thanksgiving to the Sunday after Thankgiving.

If you ask me, it’s a bummer of a way to ruin both the Thanksgiving holiday, and any chances of getting a deer. Who’s going to get a deer if the whole state is out for only one week?

But nobody asked me. Apparently, the women left at home console themselves with retail therapy. The odds favor the bargain hunters.

All Hallows’ Eve in Catholic Disneyland

I owe you a couple of posts about our Great East Coast Tour this October. They’re on the way!

But in the meantime, I wanted to post some photos from our Halloween/All Saints’ Weekend.

We had only returned from our travels a few days before. Friday, October 28, we hosted Teams of Our Lady at our house.

Saturday was a packed day. We started with an all-family Self-defense course taught by another Catholic family. Both parents have lots of martial arts experience, and the dad is a Sheriff’s deputy. He’s a big, football-player-shaped guy, who dazzled us all by pinning his skinny 10-year-old son to the floor . . . and showing us how the little boy could dislodge him.

From self-defense class, we drove out into the country to the property of another Catholic family we’ve met. They had invited us to go on a hay ride. The kids rode ATVs, the moms chatted, the pre-schoolers marveled at a “Hungry Hungry Hippos” game. And a great time was had by all.

Then we drove back into Green Bay . . . and John drove the girls in the opposite direction to attend a barn dance! That was October 29. Also, my dad’s birthday.

Sunday we attended an All Saints party . . . with 100 of Green Bay’s Catholic kids, dressed up as the communion of saints. wpid-wp-image-608253776jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-281045967jpg.jpg








It was quite the festival, with all kinds of activities for every age. Here’s Resi at the Joan of Arc attraction:wpid-wp-image-587626987jpg.jpg








And Paul (dressed as St. Michael) couldn’t get enough of the “Peter Says” game:

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There were Jello “candles” for the kids to carry in procession. Paul mistook them for drinks.wpid-wp-image-2079626878jpg.jpg

Mags ran the “Pin the Lily on St. Joseph” game. Tino spent most of his time in the musical chairs game. Thomas made Kateri Takewitha paper bag puppets and sacrifice beads.

Here is St. Michael cavorting with St. Agnes and St. George.wpid-wp-image-589487121jpg.jpg


For the third or fourth time someone told us, “Welcome to Catholic Disneyland!”

We’ve found it.


Catholic Disneyland is Green Bay.

Halloween could hardly hold a Jello candle to that All Saints blowout. But the little boys love any reason to dress up as knights. They’ve been wearing knights costumes for five days straight.wpid-wp-image-582280403jpg.jpg

Joseph put together his own costume as one of the Black Riders from the Lord of the Rings. Mags *made* her own costume, using an actual sewing machine. She’s one of those . . . characters . . . from that one story . . .wpid-wp-image-1120780938jpg.jpg








Marietta was a secret agent.wpid-wp-image-370650025jpg.jpg

One neighbor brought us the most exquisitely decorated cookies.wpid-wp-image-1637335559jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-572306931jpg.jpg









Another neighbor gave us six pumpkins and the tools to carve them.

wpid-wp-image-209196130jpg.jpgAnd our boys served at All Saints and All Souls mass.

Dona eis requiem, Domine.


Father Reginald and the “Cousin-Friends”

Over the weekend of October 1, we made a happy visit to St. Louis for the long-awaited ordination of John’s college roommate, Ryan Stephen Ignatius  Reginald Wolford, OP. We also stayed with my cousins Sheila and Ryan, whom we hadn’t seen in probably four years . . . and we got to meet their darling Brendan and Maggie, whom we hadn’t seen in their whole lives.

Fr. Reginald was the first of John’s college friends that I met, a day or two after our engagement. He later came to study at ITI when John was a professor . . . so, “Let this be a lesson to you, ” I would instruct our college students. “Be nice to your college roommate, because you never know when he’ll be grading your graduate school papers.”wpid-wp-image-1560462446jpg.jpg

Fr. Reginald joined us on our first visit to Prague. He came to visit us in Wyoming. He’s a whole lot of fun and we are so happy for him. At his ordination and first Mass, he seemed wonderfully calm and full of peace. After the ordination Mass there were a few hours before the festive dinner that Fr. Reginald’s parents were hosting. We later learned that Fr. Reg had spent those first few hours as a priest hearing confessions at a local parish. Wow.

The trip to St. Louis gave us the opportunity to stay with my cousin Sheila and her husband Ryan, and to meet some “cousin-friends.” Sheila was a trauma pediatrician, so I didn’t even need to scout out an ER before leaving all my children with her and Ryan.

Little Brendan was heroic in the face of swarms of cousins he had never met invading his territory. He even dubbed us his “cousin-friends.”wpid-wp-image-687285410jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-1141632643jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-297739863jpg.jpg

Out of the mouths of babes . . . John and I spent much of the weekend marveling at how much fun it is for *us* to have “cousin-friends.”

And Sheila took me back to my childhood by putting together “nests” a la Grandma Donovan, baking Aunt Mary’s pumpkin bread (which is still the best in the world) and her famous chocolate cake. The recipe for “Rocks” that was hanging on the wall of my grandparents’ kitchen all the time I was growing up, is now framed in Sheila’s kitchen. But the best part of our visit was getting to know my little cousin Sheila and her husband as grown-ups . . . and they’re just our kind of people!