Saturday, November 30, 2013

Afternoon at the Park

After a week of colder weather we are back in the 60's today and I was all hyped up to get outside. So we drove down the street to the playground and it was so beautiful outside. Something about a warm breeze and sunshine just makes you fall in love with life all over again. I laid Carolina down on my jacket and she was so content to listen to all the noises and feel the sun and wind and she popped her little thumb right in her mouth and drifted off to sleep. It still amazes me to see her running her hand along the side of her face until she feels her thumb on her lips and then shoves it in before it can escape! Lenny never sucked his thumb and it really is just so adorable. He also never put himself to sleep and I am one happy mama when this sweet girl soothes herself and falls asleep on her own.

Soaking up the sun.

I love to sit and watch Lenny enjoying himself, as he tests his strength, agility, and speed, and makes all kind of discoveries. He absolutely loves nature and the outdoors so much. His favorite things to play with are sticks, acorns, leaves, rocks, feathers, and flowers. Pine cones and needles take the cake for being the most awesome discovery ever. He delights in seeing the leaves changing colors, and describing to me which trees are bare and which are not, telling me the colors of the leaves, and pointing out palms and pines. He also points out every flower he sees and will describe it to me, and tells me if it is a "picking flower" or not for picking. He loves to see pigeons and grackles. Every time someone walks by with a dog or we drive past a cow, he shouts it out to me with so much happiness you would think he had never seen one before.

One of his favorite things to do is play on the playground with Chris. He would sit and have Chris push him on the swing for hours if we let him. The smile on his face when he goes up really high or when Daddy does "underdoggy" and runs under the swing gets me every time. I live to see the pure wonder and pleasure he finds in little things.

Chris is standing nearby spotting Lenny while he climbs the handrails.

Lenny holding one of his treasures while we go for a lap on the walking trail.
Yes, that is an entire tree branch.
He also has a few large pieces of mulch and a rock tucked into the stroller seat.
Which is a light haul for him.

Days like this I am painfully aware of how little time we actually have with our children. Carolina seems like she came into this world just a few weeks ago, and yet she is coming up on 4 months soon. Lenny will be 3 years old before we know it and I want to remind myself that his 3rd birthday means we only have give or take 15 years left of him living with us. Life is always changing and I want to treasure the here and now, the joys that only a small child can give us. Yes, there are some extremely challenging parts of parenting a toddler and an infant, but those sacrifices and sufferings can only unite Chris and I that much more to each other and to the cross of Christ. I pray for clarity of mind that we may always see the big picture and live with joy in our hearts.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Advent Unplugged

Yeaaaahhhhhhhh... I'm pretty much addicted to my computer. It's so pathetic that I don't even have internet on my phone so all day long this is how it goes. Hmm, I wonder how many calories are in this banana. Open computer. Wait for it to come out of standby mode. Open Google Chrome. Wait anywhere between 1 and 6000 minutes for internet to actually connect. Find out a banana has about 105 calories. Check any or all of the following: Facebook, Blogger, Gmail, Etsy, Amazon, my bank account, credit card accounts, electric, bills, some of my favorite blogs (Carrots for MichaelmasMama Knows, Honeychild, or Teacher Tom), etc. etc. Realize I literally just wasted an ENTIRE HOUR of nap time. I am so blown. What's worse is that this happens like 100 times a day. Every time I want to check up on a dinner recipe or play some Pandora tunes I get sucked into the internet vortex.


Every once in a while, I tell myself, today I am going to really focus. I will be present with my children. I will work quickly and efficiently to get things done. I will spend time in prayer and reflection. And I try but I don't usually make a real effort. After a few hours I kind of get sidetracked and find myself distracted.

Advent is starting in just a few days here and I don't want to do what I usually do for Advent and Lent, which is come up with a plan about halfway through, take another week or so to really get a routine going, and then have a few days of solid practice before Christmas or Easter. No, no, no, dang it! I will be prepared this time, so I am writing a plan of action. Here we go:

Rule 1: NO COMPUTER while kids are awake. At all. Ever.

This is my main downfall and basically the only rule I need to follow. But there are those dinner recipes and emails and Facebook posts that I need to look at... So my ideas for following this rule are:

  • Print out dinner recipes (in a super tiny font with no pictures so I don't waste too much ink and paper) for the week so that I will have them out and no reason to get online.
  • If I am in desperate need of Pandora radio, I will turn it on and set my laptop in the other room so I can avoid looking at it when I am tempted or distracted. 
  • Check email, etc. only once a day. Before the kids wake up or after they go to bed. Not during nap because then I will spend all of nap time on the computer.

Unplugged? Check.

Now I need to go about "plugging in" to my real life. Kids. Husband. Home. Laundry. and more Laundry. Prayer. Spiritual Reading. and more Laundry (I use cloth diapers so this explains the excess of laundry.)

It's a love/hate relationship.

  • First thing in the morning I will write a to-do list. Immediately cross off about half of those things as they will never happen. And then get to work. My two main times to get things done are before breakfast and nap time, so I will try to divide things up and get them done as quickly as possible without getting distracted or beating myself up if  I don't finish.
  • I will save cleaning/reading/me-time for when the kids are asleep as much as possible.
  • When the kids are awake, I really need to be present with them. This is where I love the RIE concepts of "wants something" and "wants nothing" time. When I am dressing the kids, feeding them, changing diapers, etc. I will SLOW DOWN, pay attention, and include my child in the process (wants something time). When Lenny is playing, or Carolina is laying content on the floor, I will observe and enjoy them without thinking about dishes, hairstyles, Sprinkles cupcakes, or snow. I will give my children the quality time they need and deserve (wants nothing time).

More than being there when the kids are calm, I need to be 100% available for them when then are NOT calm. When Carolina is screaming because she has gas. (Haven't we all been there?) When Lenny is tired, angry, or hungry, or all kinds of crazy because I won't let him cut his tongue with the scissors. 


Is this really what you want to look like?
Because you're gonna have to wait until you move out to figure that one out on your own.

I need to let my children know that I am always there. Especially in the bad times, because when their emotions are exploding and changing and confusing they need some solid ground. Someone who says, you are not your behavior. I love you no matter what and the way you act will not change that. Someone who is strong and cannot be broken by a naked tantrum in the middle of the doctor's office or a box of cereal poured out on the grocery store floor. The only way to develop this relationship is by "plugging in" and being there during all the different situations that make up our lives.

My final goal is to make this a habit. To work at it and remind myself that looking at pictures of my family on Facebook really doesn't beat looking at them in real life!

Not just to unplug, but to plug in.

And just for fun, here are some Advent songs I put together... Can't figure out how to rearrange them so sorry if they are in a weird order! Because part of Advent is unplugging from Christmas!

Click the picture below to read more about "Advent Unplugged" by Haley from Carrots for Michaelmas.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Turning Holidays Back Into Holy Days

I envision my family having amazing, memorable holiday traditions that strengthen our unity and give us a deep and lasting fellowship that lasts our whole lives.

Basically trying for some form of the above picture.

And then I remember that we won't ever have a Pinterest-worthy Thanksgiving spread because I do not have the time to sew tiny little turkey finger puppets from felt while cooking a 7 course meal from greens and root vegetables grown from my cottage garden and several plump geese shot down from the clouds by my dear husband, followed by arranging sixteen real-life cornucopias as table centerpieces among generous autumnal bouquets picked from our flowerbeds and from the meadow of wildflowers growing by the creek. 


I seriously want to wear this finger puppet.
On just one select finger.
And then hold my hand up proudly and show Martha what I did!

I mostly hope that our family traditions give my kids better holiday memories than some of mine growing up. I happen to remember picking up broken Christmas ornaments from the floor and trying to put them back on the flipped tree with a face full of hot tears. The tree got thrown to the ground by my dad because I called my sister a little bitty word that starts with a b and ends with an itch. Or the birthday when that same sister's beautiful pink heart-shaped cake, with a big red number 4 right on top, got flipped upside-down. I always get awkwardly sentimental about those days, especially when listening to "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever" by Sufjan Stevens. I get especially reminiscent at the lyrics, "Our father yells, throwing the gifts in the wood stove."

I also think back to what seemed then to be "good times," the years when I got so many presents and hauled them up to my room and then spent the rest of the day in a powdered-sugar cloud of gift obsession and fell into a hazy stupor later that day, or the next day, when the high of new toys ended and I crashed, right into a heap of candy wrappers and trinkets and junk. Yes, I do remember getting some great gifts for Christmas or my birthday. But a lot of the stuff was just unsatisfying. And I think it has something to do with our materialization of Holidays, when (not to be trite) we forget the "reason for the season". When we put so much focus on the material things, we forego the true happiness we should enjoy at special moments in our lives. I want my own children to remember not the things they received, but the joy they had spending time together as a family. The traditions I want us to engage in over the years need to be ones that focus on God, our unity with Him, with the Trinity, and with each other, not in presents that incite in us the divisive tendencies of obsession, protection, and hoarding of the things that are mine, MINE, ALLLL MINE!

When a child sees a mountain of gifts under the tree, their expectations are set so high that they are guaranteed to be disappointed.

"I give you the Griswold family Christmas tree...
Lotta sap in here! Mmmm... Looks great! Little full, lotta sap."

Sometimes we just expect too much out of holidays.
We set ourselves up for failure because our focus is on the wrong thing.

I want to have strong Catholic traditions with my children that bring us together as a family and bring us closer to God, not just for Thanksgiving or Advent or Christmas, but throughout the year. I'm focusing on just those holidays right now, for the obvious reason that I will probably go on a psychotic rampage and drive myself to drinking if I worry about too much at one time. Oh yeah, and because Thanksgiving is sort of coming up this week.


I've seen you watching me, Ziegen Bock. 
Trying to lure me in during long cranky afternoons, sent from Satan in an attempt to claim my soul. 
But as long as I'm breastfeeding, you have no power over me!

When Carolina weans, we'll talk.

Let's start with the fact that Thanksgiving has become Black Friday's Eve. The shady space between Black Friday and December 1st is Advent/A Black Hole. From the 1st until mid-December is Christmas Eve Eve, followed by a week of Pre-Christmas, then Christmas Eve (Take 2), then for a few hours it is Christmas, and by 7:30 pm on Christmas Day it's time to start thinking about what kind of sparkly stuff you can buy to wear for that New Year's party you're throwing and if you can find a deal for a good Deejay on Groupon. (Seriously, can you? Then you could spend more money on some Asti Spumante. Love that stuff.)

I don't really know how to get to the rainbow-land of perfect family traditions, if there even is such a place. And I don't really even want to get there, because I'm pretty sure Martha Stewart lives there alone in a tiny burrow with a family of brown mice.


We know you're in there somewhere.

But I'm going to start by approaching each holiday prayerfully and calmly. Repeat after me: CALMLY. CALMLY. calmly. I want to put the focus not on the decorations, or the clothes, or the music, or the gifts... not even on the food (which, let's be honest, will be extremely difficult!), but on our faith and how each special celebration with family is an opportunity to give thanks, to give to others, and to connect with one another.

Step One is just to make sure we attend mass together on those days. Simple, easy, done. There's obviously more to it than that, and I will get it all figured out, maybe even sometime before my children grow up and leave me. I'm working on reigning in my Christmas enthusiasm and doing more Advent devotions this year. I plan on putting up the tree but leaving it bare until Christmas Eve, and I am definitely contemplating the idea of not feeding into all the Santa hype with Lenny. Maybe even separating the gifts from Christmas Day altogether. Chris is nowhere near being on board with that one so we'll see. And I plan on finding a way to drag our Christmas celebrations out all the way until the Epiphany so that one of our traditions can be reenacting "The Twelve Days of Christmas" because I am ALL about getting me some French hens and some dancing ladies. (Just kidding, that literally sounds like the worst tradition ever.) Or more realistically, so that we can fully appreciate the season the way the church intended it to be. I'll start there and see how it goes. Always room for improvement next year!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


I have become a crier. As I type these words, I can feel my teenage self rising up from the depths of my being and wrapping her hands around my neck so she can strangle me to death.

I never used to cry at anything. Ever. I mean sure, if I was angry or hurt I would cry. But at a movie? No way. As I got older I guess I grew out of that cynical shell and all of a sudden I am bawling watching this Reba video. Which involves the following screen shot I took while playing the video on youtube since apparently you can't watch this video directly on blogger.

Spoiler Alert: I just spoiled the plot of the video. Sorry.

True story. I cried at this video and when it happened I jumped out of my body, grabbed myself by the shoulders and began slapping myself about. What are you doing?!? Since then, and especially since having kids, I am a first-class crier. I cry at everything.

As much as I never wanted to tell that story to anyone, I have to admit that sometimes crying is the greatest relief in the world. Science still has no answer to why, exactly, we cry. And I guess you are thinking I've got some deep, heartfelt explanation for crying, but I ain't got nothin' either.

So a few weeks ago I was at mass with my family. And after I went up to receive communion, I held Lenny in my arms and watched the line of communicants as they came forward. Up comes this elderly woman who reminded me of my Nonna, with those thick-soled black orthopedic shoes and a slight limp, wearing a black lace veil. She can barely walk and yet when it's her turn to receive the Eucharist she gets down on her knees. And then Father Troy, God bless him, reaches out and grabs her hand, pulling her to her feet. He's pretty dang old himself and I'm sure that was difficult for him to do. She wasn't exactly thin. And I found myself with tears in my eyes watching this happen. I've become one of those weirdos who weeps during mass. Usually I'm just judging every. single. person.

Why is she wearing such a short skirt, I can see her whole entire butt hanging out...

Why would you even bother making the sign of the cross if you are doing it so disinterestedly, I mean what are you doing swatting a fly...

How can that guy even come up to get communion if he missed the whole first half of the mass...

Why are you chewing up the host like that, it's not a piece of gum...

Is that seriously a piece of gum in your mouth...

etc. etc. You get the idea. I'm basically a horrible person and I'm pretty sure the devil be tryna get at me err day at mass. Err day. I actually usually close my eyes after I get communion so I can just pray in peace and not get distracted. But this day I didn't. And when I saw this woman it gave me cause to think long and hard about our posture and how it is an integral part of our spiritual lives as Catholics.

People are always saying it doesn't matter how we present ourselves at church because God knows what's in our hearts and only He can judge us, yadda yadda yadda. Yet no one would deny that dressing up formally makes them act more professionally at work, or that dressing to the nines for a date makes them feel and act their best. Dressing up is a sign of respect for your boss, clients, girlfriend, etc. It shows the world that you are serious and committed. Not just the way that you dress, but the way that you present yourself. When you are talking with someone that you respect, you don't slouch, you don't check your phone, or chew with your mouth open, or show up late. You dress neatly. You pay close attention. You nod and listen. You make thoughtful conversation. And yet with God, many of us are so quick to just give so little. Just to show up to mass and let your mind wander and figure hey, I was there, I did my duty. If many of us acted towards our spouses the way we treat God, we'd have been served with divorce papers a looooooong time ago.

The mass is a moment for all of us when we are truly lifted into heaven and experiencing true worship among the angels and saints. If you actually believed you were in heaven would you really just swallow the body of our Lord like a dang jellybean and then wander back to your seat to go check the time on your phone? If we would remember the truth of what we experience in the mass, I know that all of us would be a lot more focused on that reality. The mass calls us to use all our senses and all our body in worship. This is why we sit attentively to listen, this is why we stand to affirm our faith, this is why we kneel in reverential prayer, and fold our hands, and sing and pray aloud. We are using our bodies to worship fully as God intends us to. The actions of our bodies serve to focus our minds on God.

And so to see this woman struggling to get down on her knees, to assume a posture with such intent, in order to receive the Lord, it struck a chord with me. Of course it is true that the person behind her with tattered jeans who didn't even stay for the end of mass may have been just as humble as this woman when receiving the Eucharist, or even more so than she was. But it is true that this woman chose to use her posture as a way to glorify the Lord and to focus her mind on the blessed sacrament. And all of us sinners can learn a lesson from this. We might not always be in the right frame of mind at mass. But our outward demeanor can have a profound affect on our inner disposition. When we intentionally and purposefully kneel and bow our heads, our crooked bodies help us get our heads straight.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Awesome Family Planning

If you're anything like me, you waver between literally wanting like, 20 kids, and looking at the ones you already have thinking, Dear God, our home will explode if we have another. 

Since we were married in June 2009, Chris and I have been practicing the Billings Ovulation Method of Natural Family Planning. Click here for a brief overview of how Billings works. We attended a short course offered on NFP by our church before marriage. Let me just tell you, 3 hours of instruction is not enough to get the success rates NFP boasts. Amazingly, with how little either of us really knew about charting, we managed not to get pregnant for over a year. After slowly getting lazier about charting and paying less attention to my fertility signs- surprise, surprise! We get pregnant with our oldest.

This came at what seemed like the worst time ever for a baby. We had just packed up all our belongings and driven halfway across the country from Maryland to Texas so Chris could start law school. By belongings, I mean one business suit, a few pairs of shoes, and a large collection of empty water bottles. (Ok, I am definitely exaggerating.) We had no furniture to speak of, and no money, so we figured we would sort of just levitate over the floor at night, kind of like we were sleeping on a bed in Wonder Woman's invisible plane.

Forgive the black eye, she's being used as a shovel in the mulch these days.
Also, if you are management at our apartment, just kidding. Lenny NEVER digs up the mulch.

By the grace of God, we were given a bed and other furniture by a friend of the family who had just moved to another city in Texas and had bought all new furnishings. We actually had a kitchen table! And a couch!! We even scored on two outdoor chairs!!! 

So a week after we moved and began settling into our new apartment, we are lounging around in the pool and Chris hands me a celebratory beer, just because we are so awesome. And I say, sure I'll have one, my period is only 8 days late hahahaha maybe I should get a pregnancy test jajajaja. (Yes, I did begin laughing in Spanish once we moved to Texas. I figured I could perfect the laugh first and learn the rest of the language later. Still working on that second part jaja.) 

I'm not lying folks, I was seriously joking with him and in no way did I actually have even the slightest thought that I could actually be pregnant. And then the next day I'm all, holy crap I haven't had my period in nine days holy crap holycrap crapcrapcrap. And OBVIOUSLY I am pregnant as I have ever only been four days late for my period, ever. But we still get the obligatory twenty-six different tests and then get super duper surprised when they say pregnant. 

We were over the moon. 
With fear. 

That night I began desperately searching for a job. And the following morning I began desperately searching for the toilet. And let's not even talk about how my sweet dear husband thought I was just getting sick for show. (After a few months of puking he kind of got the idea that I was not doing it just to prove that I was pregnant...) Let's just say God blessed us. After months of being so sick that I couldn't eat or even get off the couch, and getting so scared and stressed because not even McDonald's would hire me, I found a job at a child care, and the owner let me bring Lenny for free when he was born. There was no way we could have afforded our bills if I had gotten any other job and had to pay child care. 

As any parent knows, once a child comes into your life you would NEVER have it any other way. Lenny is my life and my joy and I am in awe that God chose me to be his mother and I will love him and protect him forever and never let anything bad happen to him and I will never let him go and he will be my baby forever. MINE FOREVER. And if you are trying to tell me that he will grow up and leave me one day then lalalalala I can't hear you...

By the skin of our teeth we made it through three years of law school. We used NFP successfully to avoid pregnancy after Lenny was born, and started trying to get pregnant again so that our second would be born after Chris's graduation. We had pretty bad timing on that one too, since Carolina was born two weeks after we moved to Houston, right as we were switching from Chris's school insurance to the health insurance at his new job. She came over two weeks early, one day before Chris's first day at work. It was scary and stressful and I wouldn't change a minute of it.

Chris is working for a judge for one year, and then we will have a period of anywhere from one to three months where he has no job before he starts work at a law firm downtown in Houston. So we are pinching every penny and would reaaaaaally like to avoid having another child before he starts the new job. Which means we would need to wait until at least February, giving us six months after Carolina's birth, during which we could apply LAM (Lactational Amenorrhea Method). This website explains LAM. 

What is the point of me saying all this? I think it's a sign that God has us perfectly set up to start using AFP instead of NFP. AFP, also known as Awesome Family Planning, is a term I started using after reading this post from Carrots for Michaelmas. AFP is also known as do whatever you want and take kids as God gives them to you. Which is something that I never ever ever in a million years would have thought was a good idea before my second child came along. My mom had eight of us and we were all pretty closely spaced, the first three all in three years, and then the rest of us straggling along just under 2 years apart. And every time I imagined that being my life, my mind just shut down in a panic. But now... I feel like I can do it! Yay me! Because kids are the greatest, GREATEST blessing. And I find myself thinking, how can I deny any of my children the right to be born? This is what I envision- Chris sitting at the fire, I at the piano, and our children gathered around, as we sing hymns from memory in perfect harmony. 

Either this, or total chaos. 

Since I basically already know that I won't be able to get pregnant until at least February because of LAM, especially considering I didn't get my cycle back after Lenny was born until he was 13 months old, I feel like God is setting us up with perfect timing. And if I don't get my cycle back until around 13 months again, the next two kids will be almost 2 years apart, which is about the same spacing I would try to achieve with NFP. Except without ANY of the hassle. 

Having kids kind of scares me. That's normal, right? Right?? But I love my two more than anything and I love being a mother. I used to want to be an important artist, to get my work out there and to pat myself on the back while people admire my technique and the meaning behind my work. But when it comes down to it, that will never happen. Not just because I'm honestly a terrible and lazy artist, but mainly because I found my true calling. The word "Mother" can't really do justice to the great undertaking God calls us to when he gives us his child to care for on this earth.