Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Remembering Christmas Magic with Nine Kids

As I clean and get ready for our adult children to come home from university and work in the city, it is nice to remember the magic of Christmases when they were little. In fact the scent of magic is still in the air, especially as our 3 and soon to be five grandbabies join our family! When you live with nine children, even the most crusty curmudgeon cannot resist the magic of Christmas.

It was still dark outside, way too early for my husband and I; we had worked to set up on Christmas Eve till 2:00 am. Although we couldn’t even pry our eyes open, we were smiling with contentment as we lay in bed, listening to the excited whispers and giggles of our three youngest children. They made their way down the front stairs whispering in awe because one of the older kids had intertwined multi-coloured lights around the banister, transforming the dark staircase into a magical pathway to the tree.
First, the trio ducked into the formal living room to see the presents for the first time and special candy canes on the tree. In our old farm-house, our bedroom was right above the kitchen and we had left the kitchen back stairs door open. Suddenly another excited gasp of surprise escaped their lips as they gazed in wonder around the transformed kitchen.
A gingerbread house, created at night when the littlest kids were sleeping, sat in the centre of the table with a fruit bowl, dishes of candies, nuts and, best of all, sugar cereal! The whole room was edged with coloured lights and Christmas towels, tablecloth,napkins, pot holders with bright red ribbons on all the door handles.
One year a friend at Madonna House, Martha, asked Alison what her favorite thing about Christmas was and she said,
“The pineapple!”.
Her answer shocked Martha but I was simply pleased. I understood that children notice and appreciate the small things. No detail escapes them. Without much extra cash during the year, they still to this day treasure every detail, ornament and treat that was and still is part of Christmas.
When a few of the oldest kids were in their mid to late teens, friends would ask to come over and set up with us. They would cart presents downstairs, arrange them, help fill 11 stockings and hang lights. They were intrigued by our large family with all the hustle and bustle and activity. It was never boring at our house The teens craved the joy and excitement of creating magic for younger children who did not receive many frills during the rest of the year. I think they also craved the sense of stability, of a family grounded in the old-fashioned values of mutual love and respect.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Sock and Laundry Humour

To Pair or Not to Pair That is the Question  
When all the kids were at home, I had 154 stinky socks to wash every week, at the bare minimum and socks
disappeared into mountains of laundry. I could never find them all.
Do you have any idea where 154 socks can hide every week? I had to look between sheets, under Chesterfields and chairs, behind closet doors, inside wet boots, in school bags, under toy baskets, inside of pant legs and even, if I was lucky, in one of eleven dirty clothes baskets and still I could not find them all.
had to pair all the socks!
Or Did I?
That was the brilliant, out of the box sort of question I asked myself one day.
New solution:
Buy lots of black socks in every size. Surely some semblance of a pair of socks would be easier to find.
That was the new plan.
I simply tossed the black socks into a wicker basket with a three-foot circumference and a height of two and a half feet and hoped for the best.
However, I had managed to overlook one important fact. I had six daughters. Little girls don’t like black socks. They like pink socks. To make matters worse my mother bought cute socks with frills and bows and patterns that the girls really needed and loved.
None of them were the same! So although I used the toss and throw method of pairing, some mornings found us frantically searching for some appearance of a pair.
At times I had to literally toss the newly discovered pair over the upstairs railing. One of my kids, who already had their coat and school bag on their back, would catch them in mid-air. They quickly pulled on their socks, stuffed their feet into boots or shoes and flew out the door, barely making the school bus.
People joke about washing machines eating socks. Rationally, I know that this is a silly answer to my dilemma, but the more I think about it, the better I like the whimsical answer. I could kill myself trying to control everyone’s sock habits but really, life is much, more interesting if we relax a bit and joke about our failings and foibles.
It seems lots of people have sock problems, not just large families. So, I present sock jokes for your humourous enjoyment  
                                                                                             


Friday, 12 December 2014

Tender Tidings Winter 2014

The Tender Tidings Winter 2014 Magazine is now available for free  http://catholicap.com/2014/12/tender-tidings-winter-2014-now-available/
I am part of Tender Tidings Magazine, a FREE parenting publication, which is now available for your enjoyment! Just click on the flipbook to explore. PDF is also available from flipbook.
  • THE SLEEP ISSUE:  tips for getting more sleep, the science of safe co-sleeping, sleep stories from intentional, Catholic parents
  • Dr. Greg answers tough questions from real parents, including one about preschool tantrums
  • What can the Holy Family teach us about parenting?
  • Make a king cake for Epiphany
My article is Musical Beds.
My husband often lamented that our house should be called the house of musical beds because it seemed everybody changed places so many times, he was never sure who would end up where by the morning.
Bedtime in a family of eleven is not an easy mission not if you want to nurture each child and meet their emotional and spiritual needs. Bedtime took hours every night for decades at our house because it included storytime, sharing, prayers and back rubs.
I did anything and everything to make sure bedtime was as peaceful and as loving as possible. Happy, secure kids fall asleep quicker, sleep through the night (occasionally) and don’t wake up as early (sometimes). So to execute my outrageous mission, I hung quilts over windows in the summer and used fans in bedrooms to create white noise. This tactic blocked out any household noise that could disturb a younger child who needed more sleep. If someone was sick or couldn’t fall asleep. I would always lay down beside them. Soon another couple of bodies would sneak in, sandwiching me between them. When I was sure that everyone was in a deep sleep, I moved in comical slow motion, careful not to wake anyone up.
Another strategy that helped soothe kids to sleep was to tuck them in beside an older sibling who was reading in bed. Any
 fears or loneliness disappeared with the older sibling’s comforting presence.
My husband often lamented that our house should be called the house of musical beds because it seemed everybody changed places so many times, he was never sure who would end up where by the morning.
If there was a new baby in the house , he or she transformed bedtime into a something magical. Kids couldn’t wait to climb under the covers because I would wrap the baby up tightly in a soft blanket and gently place the newborn beside them. I can still see my children’s’ delight as they gazed at the baby and the content, satisfied expression on their faces as they fell asleep cuddled beside them.  During those months, no one clamored for mum or a teddy bear because they had a teddy baby.
“As parents, we must trust our nurturing instincts as we ease our children to sleep. Although it takes sacrifice and maturity, we can learn to shut out advice that is contrary to our innate parenting instincts and enjoy the “teddy baby” moments that result.”
I’m always amazed at how differently Canadians and Americans handle children’s sleep than the rest of the world!

Monday, 8 December 2014

Laughing, Loving, and Crying Through 36 Years of Marriage: 10 Years & Then Some

My husband and I answered 5 questions about marriage for Karee Santos on her blog, Can We Cana? A Community to Support Catholic Marriages. This post was part of a series.
Today we welcome Michael and Melanie Jean Juneau to the series How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some. Michael and Melanie live on a small family farm in Canada, where they raised their nine kids. I know Melanie from her excellent work at the Association of Catholic Women Bloggers and through her prolific writing. Today Michael and Melanie explain how suffering doesn’t have to crush a marriage, instead it can lead to great joy!

1. How many years have you been married and how many kids do you have?


We have been married for 36 years, and we are still in love. Surprisingly, we really have become one, deeply in tune with each other’s spirits. Our tangible joy is inexplicable through secular eyes because from all outward appearances our life together has been a tough journey including poverty, nine kids, overwhelming chores on a small family farm and clinical depression.
One priest gently consoled us by explaining we have lived through “trials by fire.” Another friend, not given to dramatics, once pointed out to my adult children,“You do not realize it, but your parents have suffered deeply.” I have a running joke on the typical marriage vow about for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. I say, “Well, we’ve seen worse, poorer and sickness and we are more than ready for better, richer and health.” Then I dissolve into gales of laughter.

2. Name 3 things that have helped you to stay married this long.

The first key we discovered was found by accessing the power in the Sacrament of Marriage. The grace available in the Sacrament of Marriage is not some esoteric theology — no, it is real and it is powerful. The power available in the sacrament is what kept us together through the rough years. Andwe both understood, beyond a doubt, that God had brought us together. We never questioned this basic call from God, our vocation together, even during the dark years.
My second key is a wicked sense of humor. When we could laugh at our foibles and not take ourselves too seriously, problems suddenly shrank and we gained perspective once again. Over-dramatizing conflict is deadly. This is simply a bit of cognitive therapy, taking a step away from each conflict and looking at the big picture, through the eyes of God.
Surprisingly, my third key to the longevity of out marriage is suffering. Suffering was a gift that unified us because it stripped away false pride and forced us to our knees in prayer. Honest prayer led both of us to self- knowledge, humility and compassion for  each other. When I asked a priest what my life would have been like if I had not suffered, if I had married a well-off dentist, had 1.25 kids and lived in an efficient, modern house, he put on a phony, pious face, put his hands together in prayer, and said in a high, mocking voice, ”Oh, you would be a nice Christian lady, praising the Lord.” What he meant by that amusing bit of acting was I would be shallow, without depth and strength. Well, when I see the results of a bit of suffering in our marriage, I say bring it on!

3. What role has your faith played in your marriage?

The only reason we got married and stayed married is our faith. We are a brother and a sister in Christ, fellow children of God who seek His will together. We have always been on the same page, sensing the next level of growth in our spiritual walk  and changing at the same pace. This has been a pure gift from God.  A growth in maturity, in my faith, healed our marriage. When I quit demanding love from my husband, quit trying to control him, he was set free to love me in freedom and in truth, in the power of the Spirit of God. When I let go and surrendered to God, He blessed me with more than I could ever have asked for in our marriage.

4. What advice would you give people who are dating and considering marriage?

Do you find yourself waiting secretly for your knight in shining armor to whisk you off your feet so you can live happily ever after? Or for a wonderful woman to lift off your depression and sense of aimlessness? Although we laugh at such ridiculous fantasies as the stuff of naïve, lovesick teenagers, we all must face the deep temptation within ourselves to seek out a future partner to fulfill all of our needs. We have been brainwashed by Hollywood’s romantic movies.
If you want to get married, seek the face of God, trust Him and He will drop someone in your path because marriage is just as much a vocation and a calling as Holy OrdersMy husband asked God to find him a wife and then forgot all about it as he dedicated a year to Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario, Canada. Then he spent another year at his local parish where he lived in the residence with an ill priest. Travelling across Canada, stopping in to see a friend who was a parish worker, he read a note on the door explaining that Steve had taken his youth group on a picnic. Michael came over to my house to wait because I lived with Steve’s fiance. As soon as Michael saw me, he KNEW I was the one. Michael swears by this method for finding a bride.

 5. What advice would you give newlyweds?

Society does not prepare people for a Christian marriage. You have to actively seek out help and advice. Read insightful books, go to conferences, retreats, confession, make sure you pray, seek spiritual direction and counselling to help you mature and grow together as one in Christ. As a newlywed, I wish someone had explained to me that in marriage, partners irritate each other by pulling out each other’s darkness, bringing their wounds to the surface. Once I understood this spiritual dynamic, I quit blaming Michael and pointing out his faults. The truth is, counter to what secular society would lead us to believe, only God can meet our core need for love.
Countless marriages end up in divorce because people have embraced the crazy notion that the man or woman of their dreams will completely satisfy and fulfill them. This is a lie. Before I understood this reality, I spent years as a pitiful, innocent victim, crying my eyes out over my plight married to an insensitive man.
Once I focused on myself rather than Michael, the Spirit of God could finally deal with my own sinfulness and need for healing. If I had thrown up my hands and divorced Michael, chances are the second fellow would have turned out exactly the same. My sinfulness triggered my husband’s sinfulness. Period. I had to stop blaming and pointing out Michael’s failings if I wanted a great marriage. Instead of pointing out the grain of sand in his eye, I had to allow God to show me the log of faults in my own eye. God designed us so that only His love will fill the desperate desires of our hearts. Once I understood this truth, I could allow real love, respectful love to grow between Michael and myself without making crushing demands on the poor guy to fulfill the role of God in my life.

6. What advice would you give new parents or couples who are trying to have children?

First and foremost, if you want  to get pregnant, relax and trust in God and His timing. Numerous stories are told of anxious couples, desperate for a baby, who finally give up, adopt and then when they are relaxed, they conceive. My problem was the opposite, I could conceive days before ovulation. Yet  the answer to both problems is the same — Natural Family Planning teaches people how to understand their fertility cycles in order to conceive or not.
We read a homily by Pope John Paul II  whose main premise was that letting go of control and trusting in God was not some abstract principle but a day-to-day practical call that included the surrender of our fertility by not using contraception. Although we could not imagine how large our family would become, his words continued to resonate within both of us. Guilt lifted off and a sense of purpose took its place. Many small experiences kept reinforcing the truth: God calls each of our children into being with our cooperation. We stumbled blindly at times but then a burst of clarity would shine light on our purpose as we lived out our pro-life mission.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Children Are NOT a Distraction

Children are not a distraction from more important work.
They are the most important workC.S. Lewis
They are the most important workC.S. Lewis

Friday, 21 November 2014

Human Love Will Never Be Enough

As Christians we are often surprised to discover that we are not as Christian as we suppose. Many attitudes from secular society lurk deep in our minds and hearts. Our attitudes to love and friendship are no exception.
Do you find yourself waiting secretly for your knight in shining armour to whisk you off your feet so you can live happily ever after?
Or for a wonderful woman to lift off your depression and sense of aimlessness?
Although we laugh at such ridiculous fantasies as the stuff of naïve, lovesick teenagers, we all must face the deep temptation within ourselves to ask our partner to fulfill all of our needs.
Most of us are not conscious of this tendency which propels us to seek out our soul mate, someone to complete us and make us whole. The stark truth is that nothing outside of ourselves will ever fill that hollow place within us, not money, not cars, nor beautiful homes, nor relaxing vacations. Nothing outside of ourselves can complete us.
Depending on someone else to complete or make you happy just doesn’t work.
When someone puts unrealistic demands on us, even if we love them and desperately want to fill their emptiness, we will always fail. A natural instinct of survival is to pull back. If we force ourselves to comply, we become suffering victims, scapegoats, resentful and bitter.
You cannot save anybody who passively expects you to fulfill the role of savior. Period. The most loving thing is an AA kind of response to addictive behavior, and let them fall down. Then, there is hope that they will face themselves, take themselves on and begin that inner journey.
I will leave you with this image. One partner is at the bottom of a well, sitting passively. The other partner is leaning down the well as far as they can, dangling a rope in front of their beloved. Only problem is that this particular loved one has vaseline on their hands.
Only God can save any of us. Only Christ can save us from ourselves, from wounding each other, and only the Holy Spirit, living deep in our souls, can satisfy our hearts craving for love.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Celebrating Individuality Not Conformity

Grace was a unique child with amazing concentration. While four-year-old little boys were struggling to print or draw, my second youngest daughter would cover sheets of paper with tiny intricate drawings at 18 months old. Once she drew at least fifty tiny “eyes” while she stood on a chair and leaned over a piece of paper, for half an hour. We bought her a chalkboard for Christmas, just before she turned two. Grace was so oblivious to everything but her art that she kept drawing her little designs off the chalkboard in a line on the wall and kept going around the corner. We laughed so hard at that example of her quiet passion.
How did this toddler fall asleep?
Why by cutting tiny triangles out of magazines until she passed out, child proof plastic scissors still in her hand. I’d gently remove the scissors and cover her with a baby quilt. Once a week I’d sweep up a whole overflowing dustpan of tiny triangles! When I called Grace to help around the house when she was a little older, she’d be so absorbed in a craft or art work that she would not even hear me.
When Grace was a newborn, her hair was thick, black and stood straight up on end. Her eyes were huge and very dark brown. Actually, Grace was comical looking because her eyes literally popped out in a constant look of surprise. Those eyes seemed to study everyone and everything. Her hair became brown with gorgeous blond highlights that looked like she had streaked her hair but she still has those big, brown eyes that study everything. One day at a store, she caught a glimpse of a girl and thought,
“Wow, does she ever have huge eyes!”
A second later, Gracie realized that she was looking at her own reflection.
My daughter really marched to her own tune as a child. I am grateful that our lack of extra cash gave her the freedom and opportunity to discover and develop her talents on her own. We did not force her to join team sports or go to brownies; we let her enjoy what she loved to do, read and draw. As a result , she is a philosophy/religious studies major and a gifted artist who still wears a tiny smile of contentment as she draws and paints.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Those Bothersome Bugs

Once again the school had sent notes home about another outbreak of head lice but of course I was confident that we had never had and never would get lice. Over the phone, the school secretary asked me to check Rachel’s head. Since she was in morning kindergarten, Rachel had missed the head check that afternoon. It seems that lice epidemics thrive in the younger grades and slowly spread through the entire school.
I laughed and said, “I just washed her hair last night; I really don’t think she has any but I’ll check anyway.”
I called Rachel over to a bright window, parted her hair and peered closely at her scalp. Her head was literally crawling with bugs! After screaming shrilly, I picked up the phone again only to hear the secretary say,
“I guess that is a ‘yes’, Mrs. Juneau.”
I was mortified; Rachel’s head was covered and another daughter saw a bug crawling on her forehead in a mirror at school!! I get itchy just remembering Lice Week. Of course, the school assured me that lice like clean hair but that did not reassure me at all. In the end, all Rachel’s siblings had at least a couple of nits. No one could return to school until they were completely lice and nit free.
Do you have any idea the work that faced us?
In those days health nurses and doctors told us to wash all bedding, favourite stuffed animals, throw pillows, afghans, towels, combs, hair brushes and hair accessories, hats, mitts, scarves, sweaters, clothes, pyjamas and house coats and finally both sets of snowsuits (the good set and the farm set). In addition, it was necessary to vacuum Chesterfields, chairs, rugs and anything touched by a head of hair. Those directions amounted to almost 60 loads of laundry! I filled a bathtub almost to the ceiling with stuff I had to wash. I solemnly swear, I do not exaggerate but that was not the hardest job in the next few days.
I had to wash ten heads of hair with awful smelling shampoo, then comb out every nit with vinegar and a special fine-tooted steal comb. Are you familiar with the saying, ‘oh quit nit -picking’? Well, it takes on a whole new meaning after you’ve tried to pull every sticky nit off single strands of hair on eleven heads.
So what does a slightly paranoid, overwhelmed mother do? She arranges everyone according to age and size to simultaneously check each others’ head. At least that helped with the more obvious eggs.
However, I was given a wonderful gift. A couple of my kids became expert nit pickers. The best nit pickers were the detail oriented offspring, who were slightly obsessive-compulsive; I grew to treasure that particular weakness during the next couple of weeks because one overlooked nit could explode into hundreds of offspring in a matter of days. Now that could cause a nightmare!
I wished I could say that this episode was the one and only “Battle of the Bugs” our family endured but kindergarten classes are notorious hotbeds for lice; the kids are always head to head examining something utterly fascinating with friends.
At least the next time lice hopped on a Juneau head we were battle ready.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Curiosity, Entertainment and Learning

Walt Disney was a refreshing  philosopher who expressed wonderful wisdom with a touch of whimsy.
  • I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.
  • When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do


    =
    I suppose my formula might be: dream, diversify and never miss an angle

    Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

I do not make films primarily for children. I make them for the child in all of us, whether we be six or sixty

All you’ve got to do is own up to your ignorance honestly, and you’ll find people who are eager to fill your head with information.

The American child is a highly intelligent human being characteristically sensitive, humorous, open-minded, eager to learn, and has a strong sense of excitement, energy, and healthy curiosity about the world in which he lives. Lucky indeed is the grown-up who manages to carry these same characteristics into adult life. It usually makes for a happy and successful individual.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

IMPRESSIONS OF JOY: Paintings of Fanny Brate

Fanny Brate (Swedish, 1861 – 1940) was a Swedish Impressionist who in 1880, at the age of eighteen was accepted at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts. She was forced to give up painting after her marriage but became a patron of the arts instead.
She captured the joyful playfulness of childhood which transcends every time period.





Saturday, 25 October 2014

A Loveable, Annoying Pet

Shadow was the most quirky, amusing and utterly annoying pet we have ever owned. A drooling, big black lab mix with overgrown feet and an overgrown personality, Shadow was an integral part of my children’s lives for 13 years.
This dog grew up with cats.They could cuddle up beside him or lay on top of him and he barely raised an eyebrow. He tossed mice and fish around like a cat and sometimes he played more like a cat than a dog.
Shadow could not stand to be left out of any activity.Thus the name Shadow . This carnivore snuck up and snatched what ever the kids were picking from the garden and eat it- corn on the cob, green beans, strawberries, raspberries…Every week, we collected day old bread, distributed to families in need and of course fed our own family. Any extra went to the pigs. This jealous dog would  dash in to the pigs’ feeding trough, grab a bun or long french loaf and dart away as the pigs charged after him. In a perfect doggy way, he would bury the stolen treasure. Then Shadow would sit, with his back to his stash and guard it. The funniest scene would be in the winter when the french loaf was only half buried, Shadow seemed confident that his bread was invisible. He sat and pretended that he was innocently looking around and enjoying the scenery and not guarding illegal, stolen goods.
Although Shadow had webbed feet and loved to swim, he was reluctant to get wet.The only way to persuade him to swim in the lake and cool off was to cast a bobber with a fishing rod and reel it in as fast as possible. At least once every 20 casts, Shadow would manage to snap up the fishing bobber. It was hilarious because he would keep diving in after that stupid bobber till he was ready to drop.
Our dog’s curiosity caused many mishaps. One night when a porcupine shot 30-40 quills into his face and nose, Shadow could only sleep with his face hanging over the top step in the hall. It took hours of patiently sneaking up while he dozed and pulling the quills out one at a time. We tried to restrain this monstrous beast many times, but he always shook us off .
Then there were the few times, a skunk sprayed him at close range and he rolled the stench into the kitchen floor. Have you ever smelled fresh, Strong, skunk spray? Our eyes teared, heads ached and our lungs burned. The entire house REEKED for days after!!! I even tried washing the floor and Shadow with tomato juice. What did work was liquid Tide.
Shadow hated thunder storms.If he was alone in the house he would jump through  glass windows and doors or scratch frantically at screen windows or doors smashing, ripping, and destroying wood, frames, what ever prevented him from escaping.
In 13 years this rampage happened TOO many times and after every incident, Michael would yell
“That’s it!! This dog has to go!!”
Our older “kids” would shake their heads, smile and say,
“Dad, really, Shadow is part of the family and you just can’t get rid of a family member, no matter how poorly they act.”
Michael, would then glare at the miscreant, and demand,
” Go lay down, you bad dog.”
Suitably chastised, Shadow would slink away and keep a low profile for a few days….but only a few days.