Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me!


Today, I turn 33 at exactly 10:31 PM on New Years Eve. I'm hoping to head into the city and catch the Hopper Exhibit at the National Gallery as my birthday treat.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Greetings in China

For a hilarious look at Christmas decorations in China check out this post from Jen Ambrose. I enjoyed the neon purple Christmas tree and multiple Santas sliding down in "sleds" versus "sleighs."

(Jen Ambrose is a Catholic ex-pat from Pittsburg who is currently living in China with her husband and young son. Her blog is interesting reading for those who want an inside look of the challenges of practicing the faith in China. Our Pope has asked us to pray for Asia to come to know Jesus Christ during the month of December.)

Christmas 2007

This year we tried out a number of new Christmas Traditions. Here's a list of things I'd do again:

-We burned the last of our advent candles down while saying a family rosary on Christmas Eve. In the morning I traded the purple & pink candles for fresh white candles.

-The kids & I made cupcakes for Jesus' birthday and blew up balloons.

-I sang at Midnight Mass. Jon stayed home with the kids and watched Mass with our beloved Pope.

-In the morning we opened only the stockings. Then we got dressed for church.

-We attended Christmas Morning Mass, instead of Christmas Eve. What a happy difference.

-We opened presents after we got home for church.

-I got the large shrimp tray. Thank goodness because I ended skipping cooking the main meal. (Or duck a'la orange is happily frozen for New Years Day.)

Things I didn't get done, but wish I did:

-Family Picture Christmas Cards

-Baking Christmas Cookies

-Finished Maria's needlepoint stocking before she learns how to read (this year she had to use her Dad's stocking)

-Praying the Antiphons all seven nights, not just for five.

Things I never want to do again:

-Go to five stores looking for the right size of rechargable batteries

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy Birthday Jesus

For those of you who didn't receive our traditional Target Foto Card this year, (that would be everyone!)


The girls as we left for Christmas Mass, where Hannah got to talk to my choir's 16 year old harpist, play her harp, and hold the baby Jesus during Father's homily.

Daddy & Maria. (Unfortunately, of the 900 photos we snapped before Mass, none of Alex are post worthy. Little boys & chocolate filled St. Nicholas stockings do not mix!)



After Mass, there was the long awaited Butterscotch! Hannah's on the phone thanking Grandpa Rupp the giver of the "it gift" this Christmas.


At 12 PM, It was time to open presents. Daddy finally got new shoes! Snake skin shoes I found on sale at Macy's was my gift to Jon. I wish I could post the PERFECT romantic gift my husband got me. He designed these darling "free sounding board" coupons which I can redeem for "one free session of uninterrupted listening. Once the coupon is redeemed for services, the listener must drop everything he is doing. He may not tend to the children, eat or prepare food, channel serf, answer the telephone or clean, unless you, the recipient directs otherwise. This session will last as long as the recipient designates." Can you tell what I most desire as a stay-at-home mom? Not more help with laundry or food prep. No, it would be more uninterrupted adult conversation with my best friend!

After three years of endless Thomas the Train Sets & Barbie Doll Birthday gifts, Mom finally helps unwrap a gift she wants to play with!
Baby's First Christmas

And to all a good night!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas



I'm singing at the Midnight Mass tonight and headed for Christmas Mass at 10 AM tomorrow. In case, I don't get to my blog tomorrow, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! May the miracle of the incarnation permeate our hearts anew this Christmas.

This image by Bernardino Luini is one display at our our own National Gallery of Art. Baby Jesus is holding a carnation. In the Middle Ages this flower was a symbol of Christ's cruxifiction. Thus, the art is showing in this painting that Christ is freely consenting to his ultimate end even as a young child. (For more information on this and other religious images, check out the NGA website at www.nga.gov.)

Blessed are the Meek, for They Shall Inherit the Earth

(It seems odd to post on Christmas Eve the joyous return of our steam vacuum cleaner, but I am a housewife. My path to holiness is a humble one, indeed.)

Last Christmas, my mother-in-law, the fastidious cleaner who was raised by hotel managers, answered my husband’s wish list by sending us a Bissell Pro-Heat Steam Cleaner. It was an unusual Christmas gift, much less one for a son.

Anyone who has attempted to raise many young children with an elderly dog in a small apartment with wall-to-wall beige carpeting can understand our wish. With every knocked over cup of coffee, every mud splatter or unmentionable “accident” our large apartment deposit was on the line. I’d banned the grape juice and enforced the “no shoes in the house rule.” Banning tea, coffee and grape jelly in the beige carpeted dining room seemed cruel. I spent hours spot cleaning with Resolve carpet cleaner. We rented vacuums from Safeway that cost over $100 per use. When were we just going to bite the bullet and shell out $250 for a Steam Cleaner? That’s when Grandma Benjamin decided to come to the rescue.

Within days I, the ever skeptical one who enjoys frivolous Christmas presents like books, was an enthusiastic convert. What a pleasure it is to clean when one has the right tools! Suddenly, spilled drinks weren’t such a big deal. It was much easier to keep perspective & practice meekness when the messy spills disappeared in seconds.

Over a year, the Bissell steam cleaner took quite a beating. In September, it was reduced to working only through the hand-held attachment. With our guests from Australia arriving in October, we decided to drop it off for a tune-up in mid-September. We chose a small, family-owned hardware store to do the repairs. Walking into the “Walters Appliance Store” feels like revisiting a hardware store in the 1950s.

“The man scowled at me when I dropped of the order,” Jon said when he returned. “That’s odd, the female clerk is always so friendly,” I answered. “Hum.” We shrugged our shoulders at the inconsistency that describes the pseudo-Southern hospitality of our new home and went on with the daily tasks of the day.

And so, gentle readers. My precious steam-cleaner vacuum cleaner sat and sat and sat in this quaint repair shop. In mid-October, 3 1/2 weeks after delivery, my husband happened to call. “We’re waiting on a part to be delivered, we never promised it would be done before six weeks” was the curt answer. “Oh well, no clean floors for the visiting 18 month old” we sighed.

I called two days before my folks came for Thanksgiving. “We just got in a big part order from Bissell, unfortunately the part you need is on back order. The company will ship it straight out in three to four days.” “Oh well, no clean carpets for Thanksgiving, maybe by the St. Nicholas party” I said.

On December 4, I called again. “Is our steam-cleaner fixed yet?” I asked hopefully. Instead of the nice clerks, I happened upon the surly one. What transpired next during our strained conversation can only be described as “provoking circumstances.”

I hung up the phone feeling so low. I was a girl who once commanded armies by phone (figuratively of course.) As a lawyer, my phone calls could produce results. Now I was a frazzled housewife who couldn’t even get the vacuum repairman to acknowledge that thirteen weeks was quote “a long time” to wait for an ordered part to appear.

“I can still write a letter!” I thought angrily. As I nursed the baby, I composed all sorts of fiery language. My letter of complaint to the boss was going to be expertly worded, subtly crafted. It was going to get me noticed and get the job done, by Jove! Somewhere in the midst of this imaginary tirade with computer screen, I remembered I wanted the vacuum quickly for the sole reason of entertaining neighbors on St. Nicholas’ Feast Day. Somehow, evasive threats of legal action didn’t fit into the spirit of my plan.

Christian charity demanded that I forgive the repair guy. But I wasn’t going to be a sissy and let such behavior go. I drafted a second imaginary letter telling the guy that I was forgiving him in the spirit of Christmas, but he better appreciate it! At that point, I realized the whole letter writing campaign was fruitless.

I felt sad. I was just a woman, who through no fault of her own was without a steam cleaner and without means to hire a visit from Stanley Steam-Cleaner. I’d clean and decorate the apartment to the best of my abilities. The mud tracks could be hidden with throw rugs. The coffee stains under the dining room table had remained through three sets of house guests and would just have to remain for three more.

“I just want to have the rugs clean by Christmas. I want the house clean & looking shiny for baby Jesus.” That was my soft, resigned prayer after the anger over the Appliance Store had disappeared.

Last week “call the Appliance Store” slipped off the “must do list.” It got displaced by choir practice, Adoration and the massive hunt for rechargeable D batteries. “I guess the steam cleaner won’t appear by Christmas” I thought.

So it was a clear shock when at 10:30 Christmas Eve, we got a message on the answering machine. “This is Elvis from Walters. You’re steam cleaner is ready for pick-up.” I called back immediately; the clerk had no record of my repair being finished in the computer. “Ah figures,” I thought. I braced myself for more disappointment. After the clerks fact-checking mission he returned. “Your vacuum is finished. It’s under warranty, so there is no charge.”

Finished! No Charge? Jon and I did the happy dance.

While the men in my house went to pick up the vacuum cleaner, I started cleaning the floors of toys and debris. (I want it on record that I’m so trained as a mother of a young son that when I found the two fist-size rocks and a large stick in my hall closet, I recognized these as precious playthings and swept AROUND them.)

What are the chances that this task would wait for three months and suddenly be finished Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve. So that Christmas Morning my family can sit on clean carpet to open their presents. So my baby can learn to crawl without dirt sticking to her knees. So that my husband’s mold allergy attacks can subside. So that my son & I can renew our commitment to potty training with new vigor.

The “second year of the Steam-Cleaner for Christmas,” as this humble miracle is now called at my house, has taught me something else. You can get what you pray for. If your asking for the right things for the right reasons, you get what you need when you need it.
That’s a lesson in faith that our material needs will be met to carry over in 2008 as we face massive car repairs, Hannah’s Catholic school tuition, and a hundred other unexpected crisis for a family of five.

And the second lesson, is that it should be easy to practice “meekness”. If we have access to the amazing power of saintly intercession, it should be easier for me to keep my temper. After all, we access to an unimaginable power and aid. It will be easier to practice meekness in the future if I remember that I have St. Nicholas on my side to insure that my families’ holy feasts will be celebrate with clean floors to match our clean hearts.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Prayer Request

The class notes in my winter edition of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly listed the happy news of Maria's birth and the sad news that a '98 graduate Roselle Hoffmaster died on Sept. 21, 2007 while serving as a surgeon and U.S. Army captain in Iraq.

Roselle died of noncombat-related injuries in Kirkuk just two weeks after beginning service in Iraq. Roselle volunteered to start her tour of duty earlier than required in order to spare few doctors in her medical corps who were parents of young children. She is the 90th female solider to die in Iraq since the war began and the first from my women's college. She leaves behind her husband and her parents.

Please pray for the peaceful repose of Dr. Hoffmaster's soul and for her family to find comfort and peace during this first Christmas season without her.

Belated Birthday Greetings

Tuesday, December 18, was the 300th birthday of composer Charles Wesley. This Christmas when you sign Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, take a moment to pray for this merry soul.

Charles Wesley was a prolific song writer. There is something like over 1000 hymns in total. Some of the best known are "O for a thousand tongues to sing" & "Christ the Lord is Born Today". His works are still sung, not only in the Methodist hymnals (his brother, John Wesley was the founder of the Methodists, a reform movement of the Church of England & the Protestant faith of my childhood) but also Catholic ones. I get a little happy shiver up my spine every time we sing one of his hymns during Mass.

I heard an interesting commentary on NPR last week. One expert claimed Wesley's popularity was attributed to how he used the first person singer. For example, in Hark! The Herald Angels, the lyrics read "born that we no more may die" rather than the more distant "born that man no more may die. 'These are heart-to-head songs," the expert stated. They explain deep mystical truths to ordinary people, not those trained in seminaries or colleges. Because the songs are so powerful and theologically accurate, they have been adopted by various Christian churchs and are still sung today.

1.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new born King,
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with th' angelic host proclaim,
"Christ is born in Bethlehem!"
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new born King!"

2.
Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
late in time behold him come,
offspring of a virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail th' incarnate Deity,
pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new born King!"

3.
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new born King!"

Oh, and while we are on the subject of singing. I'm singing as a cantor for the first time this Sunday. I came home to tell Jon and immediately got cold feet. "I can't believe I volunteered for this! There was just a long pause when our choir director pleaded for volunteers. Our choir is so small. The two regular cantors are already singing on Monday and Tuesday. I just felt like I had to do my part." Oh well, have to break the ice sometime. For my sake, be extra forgiving if your cantor wavers her voice during the Psalm on Dec 23rd or if the Christmas offertory hymn isn't quite in tune.

For all you St. Francis de Sales Fans

Josh, from the Shady Characters has an insightful commentary and
inspiring quote from this beloved Saint.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Signs that your husband has hijacked the Netflix Queue

In the middle of my four weeks of carefully chosen "Christmas Classic Movies" to share with the kids these three telling films arrived in the mailbox today,

Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai

Lost In Space: Platinum Edition

Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack

"Which of these are appropriate for Christmas Day viewing?" I asked with eyebrows raised. "Godzilla is a Christmas classic!" the cradle Catholic answers without a trace of irony. "I waited all year for that movie to come on TV when I was a kid."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Soothing Rituals

As the eldest of the Rupp bunch, I’m the first, and so far only one, to launch my socially anxious mother into contact with a new son and new grandchildren. My sweet husband usually holds his own with his mother-in-law. We’ve had some spectacular failures, however, with the initial grandchildren- grandmother Christmas greeting over the years.

A sample failure was the first trip home after we moved to Wisconsin. My mother brought a My Little Pony for Hannah to play with in the baggage terminal. Hannah didn’t care and kept crying. “She doesn’t remember me at all!” my Mom wailed. (Hannah had last seen her eight weeks ago.) “Mom, she’s crying because she’s 20 months old, it’s two hours past her bedtime and she has been stuck on a plane for four hours. Her ears are probably hurting,” was my exasperated response. I don’t remember how that particular conflict resolved itself. Hannah either finally picked up her cast-off pony or my Mom suddenly remembered a remedy for sore ears. I know for certain, that the ruffled feelings did not become soothed by any patience, humility and meekness on my part.

This year, I’ve become more committed to my role as a homemaker. This afternoon, I found to my complete surprise, that skills I’m working on daily to ease my husband’s homecoming from work, also lay an instinctive foundation for comforting all guests.

My parents called today with a ten-minute notice of their entrance. I did a spot clean of toys on the living room floor. I made sure that Christmas cards the kids had made for their grandparents were within easy reach. I put myself and my three year old into fresh clothes. I picked up the pile of clean clothes sitting in the kids’ hallway and tossed it onto my bed.

When my parents arrived, everyone was lined up to give kisses. Then I passed the baby off to my Mom to hold while I made coffee in the sweet hand-me-down English set my sister had scored for me during my uncle’s recent move.

Nothing spectacular, Nothing dramatic. Still, I’m shocked over the power of a simple ritual of drinking coffee had on relaxing my mother. She was holding her youngest grandchild and thus had an important role to fulfill. She didn’t have to feel awkward about not “helping” or “being a bother.” I could talk to her easily while I prepared the coffee and set out the plates. My Dad was busy being entertained by the older kids by the latest changes to their bedroom. When the coffee was ready, we all had a chance to formally gather in the living room, munch on the cookies my parents brought from the Methodist Ladies Annual Christmas Cookie Walk and reconnect. This simple, simple “Christmas Tea” was the most peaceful initial greeting we’ve all ever experienced.

I’m a real “Johnny Come Lately” to the world of home making and mothering. It still touches me profoundly to see what a difference that “a big family full of children” can have in extended family gatherings. Having lots of children mean that guests can easily find a “hand hold” to grab onto when they enter. Some adults love to coo at babies. Some adults like to hold conversations with the big children. Some adults love to have an excuse to pour the tea or set out the plates. Some adults will just happily converse with the parents who are so thirsty for adult conversation, whether it be about a pending snow storm or the play-off potentials for the Redskins.

I grew up in a world where I always worried about being a “bother” as a child. I once tracked in slush in my snow boats and caused my paternal grandmother to have to spot clean her white carpets on Christmas Eve. My maternal grandmother always warned me not to spill my cherry cokes on her green velvet chairs. When I committed to becoming open to life, I worried about “inflicting” to many needy grandchildren on my parents & too many messy nieces & nephews on my two siblings. I’m so please to witness first hand what grace, ease and wonder my children add to our family gatherings. Despite all the anti-child hype out there, the truth remains that large families are comfortable families to visit.

A Reed Shaken In the Wind

Last week, I slipped into pervasive sadness. On Monday night, I messed up on my meekness pledge. On Tuesday, we were out of gas money, so no trip to rosary group. The baby was fussy at nights with her teething pain; my three-year-old needed hourly changes of his Thomas the Train underwear. By Wednesday, I entertained such thoughts as “Next week, I get two five day weekends with Jon! Oh, but what does it matter? On January 2, I’ll be back to this same drudgery.” Not Depression with a “capital D” thank goodness, but a sore, weary spirit nevertheless.

I’ve struggled with these bouts of drudgery & depression before. Yet this time was different. This time, I didn’t have the fantasy of thinking, “just hang in there a few more months and then I’ll get a copy-writing job” or “things will get easier when the baby is weaned.” For the first time, in the middle of an “I can’t BELIEVE this is my life” freak-out, there wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to be. I didn’t want to return to working outside the home. I don’t want Maria to be our youngest child. I know the daily tasks of cleaning sheets, neatening the train toys, stirring the chicken dumplings are vital for my husband, my children, the Catholic Church and the world in general. The collective weight of performing these tasks day in and day out for the next two decades, just suddenly seemed “not fun.”

So I was grouchy. I was touchy. I was not feeling well and giving God a piece of my mind. “I’m doing every thing that you asked of me. Why is this still so hard?”

Thankfully Tuesday’s Advent Bible Study brought an answer. A snip of Sunday’s Gospel reading stuck in my mind. By Saturday, I’d reconciled to sufficiently to make a good confession and received some of the sweetest advice I ever heard from a new priest.
By Sunday’s homily I was primed to hear the words of John the Baptist in a new way.

“What did you go out in the desert to see? A reed swayed in the wind?” Matthew 11:2-11

That image of “a reed swayed in the wind” really hit me. What did I expect when I quit work to stay home and raise my Catholic saplings? My answer is cliché. When I finally reconciled to remaining a full-time mother, Hannah was 2 & Alex was 1, I imagined leading a happy, bustling family of six kids. I thought I’d return to my favorite job as a camp counselor. I’d get to whip the kids from activity to activity, sing silly songs in the car, chop up carrot-sticks into zip-lock bags and whisk the stroller out for long outings. The days would be busy with zoo trips and dentist appointments. Occasionally, I deal with the drama of broken laundry machines or sick dogs. (Camp life was always filled with daily dramas.) Briskness, Orderliness, Efficiency. I wanted to be a woman who “got things done.”

Now, my days with a small child and two, slightly older ones, are anything but brisk & efficient. I transfer the laundry painfully with one hand while jiggling a 19-pound fussy baby on my hip. If I take a catnap at 10 AM after a painful night with Maria, I’ll awake to find all 9 bananas that I’ve just brought home from Safeway have a single bite taken out of them. The Teriyaki chicken gets burned because if I let one throwing offence by the three year old go without an immediate redirection to the naughty chair, I’ll soon be taking the four year old to urgent care after a sharp object hits her face. Etcetera, Etcetera, and So Forth.

“What did you got out into the wildness to see?” Jesus asks me.

If I left the working world, a world of fake glory and brisk to-do lists, what did I expect to find? I should expect to my mothering work to operate the same way as my former law office. My new work is humble. It is plain. It has far more in common with the humble Sisters of Charity in Calcutta than with the CEO of Microsoft. “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is not helpful reading at this point in my life. Thankfully, mediation on the Holy Scripture isn’t just helpful, it’s hopeful.

I feel so comforted that the mighty John the Baptist, the babe who leapt in his mother’s womb at the presence of Jesus, still struggled with doubts when locked up in a prison cell. His human frailty gives me hope. “John had doubts about Jesus,” my homilist intoned on Sunday. “But he had the wisdom to go directly to Jesus to get those doubts resolved.” Like John, last week I struggled with human doubts. Yet I do not wish to remain “a reed shaken in the wind.” I will strive to keep my faith strong & steady even when life’s circumstances seem too rough or simply too monotonous.

Monday, December 17, 2007

New Virtue to Add to the Wishlist

Clearly I need to add “obtain the virtue of temperance” to my 2008 New Years Resolutions.

It’s December 17, and all 24 bits of chocolate in both kids’ Advent calendars have been eaten. I only had the stamina to enforce the “one day, one chocolate” rule for the first two weeks.

Sadly, this is an improvement from last year. On November 28, 2006, Mom & Dad ate the entire Harry & David chocolate Advent calendars that a loving grandmother had sent for her grandchildren with the sad rationalization “this chocolate is too good to be wasted on the young.”

This year, at least the kids got to eat their own chocolate!

Whatever Challenges I Face As A Mother, At Least There is No Angry Bull Attempting to Gore My Children

“There’s this passage about Dolly that reminds me of you, let me read it out loud to you,” Jon called out to me on Sunday afternoon. Anna Karenin is not usually a novel a wife wants her husband to she her in, but this passage about Dolly (Kitty’s sister & the mother of six children) made me laugh so hard my tummy ripples woke our baby. The season is summer rather than winter, but Dolly's experiences are similar to mine this Advent. If, like me, you are finding Christmas a shock now that you are responsible for creating the warm religious memories for your family that you were simply handed as a girl, this passage is for you!

“The first days Dolly found life in the country very difficult. She used to stay in the country as a child and the impression she had retained was of the country as a place of refuge from all the trials of town; that life there, if not luxurious (and Dolly was easily reconciled to that), was cheap and comfortable; that there was plenty of everything, everything was cheap and easy to get, and children were happy. But now, coming to the country as mistress of the house, she was that it was all utterly unlike what she had fancied.

The day after their arrival it poured in torrents, and in the night the rain came through in the corridor and the nursery, so that the children’s beds had to be carried into the drawing room. There was no kitchen-maid to be found. Of the nine cows, according to the dairymaid, some were about to calve, others had just calved for the first time, some were old, and the rest hard-uddered, so there was scarcely enough butter or milk even for the children. There were no eggs. It was impossible to get any fowls and they were obliged to boil and roast tough, old, purplish roosters. No women to scrub the floors- they were all out in the potato-fields. Driving was out of the question because one of the horses was restive and bolted in the shafts. There was no place where they could bathe; the whole of the river-bank was trampled by the cattle and open to the road; even walks were impossible, for the cattle strayed into the garden through a gap in the hedge, and there was one terrible bull who bellowed and might therefore be expected to gore somebody. There were no proper cupboards for their clothes; such as there were would not shut at all, or else burst open when anyone passed. There were no pots or pans, no copper in wash-house, and not even an ironing board in the maids’ room.

At first, instead of finding peace and rest, Dolly was driven to despair by what, from here point of view, were dreadful calamities. She bustled about and did her utmost, but, feeling the hopelessness of the situation, had every minute to struggle with the tears that kept starting to her eyes.. .

The position seemed hopeless. But in the Oblonskys’ household, just as in all families, there was one inconspicuous yet most important and useful person- Matriona Filimonvovna. She soothed her mistress, assured her that it would “right itself” and set to work herself without hurry or fuss.

She had immediately made friends with the bailiff’s wife, and one the very first day she drank tea with her and the bailiff under the acacias, and talked things over. Soon a sort of club was established under the acacias, consisting of the bailiff’s wife, the village elder, and a clerk from the office; and there it was that the difficulties of existence were gradually smoothed away, so that within a week everything had in fact righted itself. The roof was mended, a kitchen-maid-a crony of the village elder’s- was found, the cows began to give milk, the garden hedge was stopped up with stakes, the carpenter made a mangle, hooks were put into the cupboards, and they ceased to burst open when not meant to, and an ironing-board covered with army cloth lay across the arm of a chair and the chest of drawers, and a smell of flat-irons soon pervaded the maids’ room.

“There, you see! And you were quite in despair”, said Matriona Filimonovna, pointing to the ironing-board.” (pg 281-282).

May whatever minor domestic crisis your family is currently experiencing this Advent "right itself" and leave you free to experience the full Peace of Christ during Christ's Mass.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Changes

I spent the feast day of our beloved St. John of the Cross waiting for 2 1/2 hours in line at the Rockville Social Security Office with a 4 year old, a 3 year old and 6 month old. It actually wasn’t a bad way to spend a feast day. I’d printed out my SSA form, neatly gathered my plethora of identification types, and packed a picnic lunch to share with Daddy at his office. “You’re going to the Social Security Office with the kids!” my husband exclaimed.

“It’s only open Monday through Friday 9 AM to 4 PM, what else am I supposed to do? We’ll be fine.” I optimistically thought my foresight in packing two Spiderman water bottles would carry day. After all, they must have some sort of “speed window” for people with quick form processing requests, right?

Instead, it was yet another lesson that we do not live in sweet Madison, Wisconsin anymore. Oh how lucky I am to have a husband who prays for me!

I showed up at our suburban SSA center and it was like entering the portals of Ellis Island. At least ninety people were in the waiting area, thirty with numbers higher than the one listed on my ticket. During the next two and half hours, my kids made three sets of sibling friends whose parents hailed from countries I couldn’t guess. Their languages were sounds I’d never heard before.

Even though we couldn’t understand each other, we each spoke fluent “parentese”. The aunt, I’m guessing was from Armenia, was startled that my 3 year old ran out the office door & onto the sidewalk before I had a chance to catch him. (I was sitting a row behind Alex talking to blind SSA recipient and couldn’t get myself past him & the family who also didn’t understand English & so missed my urgent “Excuse me, EXCUSE ME” as I frantically attempted to reach my son). Alex’s escapade at 105 minutes into the session officially labeled me “as a woman who has her hands full” in several different languages. From that moment on, I had nothing but help. An Armenian boy shared his wind-up beetle. A stranger offered to rock the baby’s car seat. Hannah sat quietly in her seat. All so that I could hold a squirming three year old on my hip while talking to the harried man at the SSA staff member so that I could change my last name!

After 6 1/2 years of marriage, I finally took my husband's last name as my own. I'd converted to his religion. I'd born him three children. The new name thing, however? It was a long time coming.

I was one of those girls who had a lot of angst about the whole dropping your name once you were married. The receiving mail addressed as Mrs. Jon W. Benjamin freaked me out. (The attorneys I clerked for in Madison, both did groundbreaking legal work to insure that women had the right to retain their maiden name after their marriage. I did far too much thinking about this issue months before meeting my husband.)

After much flip-flopping, Jon & I decided to go the hyphen route. I kept my maiden name on my driver’s license and attorney license, but was “Benjamin-Rupp” everywhere else for a whole year. (Poor Jon’s master’s thesis is still titled under that name). After a year, while we were coming up with names for Hannah, we both confessed that we hated the hyphen. I could never remember if the photos at Walgreens were filed under “B” or “R.” Since my husband’s last name is a common first name, he was always being called “Mr. Rupp” during business meetings. We couldn’t imagine saddling our kids with that messy conglomerate of a name. So we happily decided that we’d give Hannah her Daddy’s last name and both go back to our respective original names.

When I was practicing law, I enjoyed having dual identities as “Attorney Rupp” & “Mama Benjamin.” I found it comforting after harrowing domestic violence restraining order hearings that an angry husband couldn’t easily find the home phone number of his wife’s attorney. My legal name at the end of court documents matched the name on the diplomas on the wall. It all seemed comfortable and reassuringly progressive.

By year three of stay-at-home motherhood, it’s all gotten rather ridiculous. I’m the mother of the Benjamin kids, but my contact sheet at Mother’s Rosary Group says “Abby Rupp.” The attorney registration box is marked “retired” in all three states that hold my bar. The last straw occured at Maria's six month check-up. A nurse got all confused because my daughter’s medical file has the name on her birth certificate, Maria Benjamin, but her insurance card, which was given at birth says “Baby Rupp”, I got tired of all the necessary explanations. Suddenly, holding onto my maiden name didn’t seem so hip & progressive anymore. It seemed weird, and distant and unneccessarily complicated.

I want to share the same last name as my children and my husband, because we all belong to each other. I love my husband & we conceived these children out of that love. Hopefully, I’ll be back in the hospital delivery room same day. This time my bracelet with say “Mama Benjamin” and Jon’s bracelet will say “Daddy Benjamin.” The Siblings visiting name tags will read “Benjamin”. A newborn bracelet with the triple sealed alarm tag that still manages to regularly fall off from a thin ankle without triggering the tamper-proof hospital alarm will read “Baby Benjamin.” On that day, the fact that I traded a familar childhood name for a beloved adulthood name won’t seem hard. It will seem just right

Thursday, December 13, 2007

In Need of Our Help

"God's sign is simplicity. God's sign is the baby. God's sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby- defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child."

Pope Benedict XVI, homily, Midnight Mass, 2006

Bethlehem

Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, means "hose of bread". Many ancient commentators interpret this as prefiquring the Eucharist. Jesus came to earth in the "house of bread," and come to us in the form of Living Breat, every time we receive him under the form of bread and wine in the Blessed Sacrament.

From "How to Celebrate Christmas as a Catholic," Our Sunday Visitor.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On The Bookshelf- Karen Santorum

During this season, while we contemplate the mystery of our Savior’s birth and ultimate death by crucifixion, keep in mind your friends and family that experience this painful connection of birth & death through the loss of a child to miscarriage, stillbirth or SIDS.

For a sensitive, honest description of this heartache check out “Letters to Gabriel” by Karen Santorum. Mother Theresa wrote the forward to this pro-life story. Gabriel Santorum was the son of Rick Santorum, the US Senator from Pennsylvania. While his father was fighting with President Clinton to ban the partial birth-abortion procedure, his mother realized that their fourth child was critical ill with defective kidneys. Gabriel Santorum received cutting-edge inter-utreo surgery, but ultimately died two hours after his birth. His mother’s letters to her son written throughout her pregnancy reflect the incredible grace she received from the Catholic sacraments. It’s a sad read of course, but a ultimately life affirming and uplifting.

Here’s a sampling of her heart-felt prose:
“Some people do not recognize the depth of a parent’s loss. They can’t imagine how such a small person whom a parent had so little time with could leave such a huge void. They want parents to quickly get over their child’s death and put it behind them. I find it so strange that at times it’s as if some people measure a parent’s pain on a graph according to what they think the intensity should be. And according to these people’s calculations, the grief experience with the loss of a twenty-week preemie is less than at forty weeks which is less than losing a six-month-old infant, and so on, and the older a child gets, the worse it is!

How outrageous. Because the truth is that the death of a child-no matter what age- is always a profound loss. My friend Nadine summed it up so perfectly. She said, “On a scale of 1-10 losing a child, at any age, is always a 10!”
Tuesday, December 10, 199 pgs 11-113.

One of the most important things that we can do to combat the culture of death and easy access towards abortions is to take the time to grieve the loss of the smallest members of our Catholic community.

This Advent season, take some time to say a prayer for someone who is hurting either a parent who is missing a child, a widow who is missing, or a child whose parent is stationed in Iraq.

Celebrity Interviews I'd Like to See

“Barbara Walters hates celebrity interviews now” my husband interjected during our post-Heroes TV channel flipping.

“What?” With the exception of two hours of Chuck and Heroes on Monday night, my husband doesn’t even catch the weather report on TV, let alone “Entertainment Tonight.” “Where did you hear that?” I stumbled in reply.

“It was all over Yahoo news today. Barbara Walters thinks celebrity interviews have become too boring. She’s not going to do anymore.”

If I could call Ms. Barbara, here’s what I’d tell her: “Babs, it’s not that celebrity interviews are inherently boring. You & your network are just choosing the wrong celebrities. Here’s who would be fascinating to interview, the pope, the sisters of charity, the elderly ladies who hold court with baskets of biscuits and fried chicken to the cafeteria of the National Shrine, my four year old daughter, Hannah, just to name a few. These people are filled with wisdom, and joy and practical insights about life. There is no way you'd define conversation with them as "boring.”

If Tim Russert invited some nuns, some elderly church matrons and my four year old, “Face the Nation” could become riveting. “What is the biggest problem facing Americans today?” Those folks would have some interesting answers.

Whose insights would you like to learn more about this Advent season?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Can I spend a moment gushing about how much I LOVE living in Washington D.C.? For today's holy day of obligation, I'm taking my family to Mass on the patronal day of the patronal church of the United States, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Celebrating the conception of our Blessed Mother in a beautiful shrine, gaining an indulgence, finishing my religious shopping at the church store, AND eating a yumming lunch. This puts "one stop Christmas shopping" in a whole new light.

(Of course, Mass might be horribly crowded and my newborn is in full colic mode today. More things to "offer up" to Christ just as our Holy Father advises in his latest encyclical.)

Also, here is some interesting facts on why the US Catholic Bishops chose to put our country under the protection of the Immaculate Conception.

"Catholic life in the United States stands under the protection of the Immaculate Conception. To guide the development of the Church in this country, our bishops long ao chose Mary Immaculate as national patron. Our Beginnings are unique. The United States represents the only fully industrialized nation without a pre-Englightenment culture. This nation was born at the end of the eighteenth century, a time when men prized the ability of human reason alone to shape the political order. The Founding Fathers may not have been overly hostile to religion, but they chose to separate religious institutions and practices from the running of the nation. The Founding Fathers however did not envisage that unaided human reason can lead people astry, especially in ethical quesitons. Pope Benedict XVI warns agains the isolation and dependencies that crop up inexplicably when social and political liberties are promoted for their own sake. The Pope foresees anarchy. The Immaculate Conception shines forth in a world that no longer can procure its basic happiness." (Magnificat, pg. 23).

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Modern Day Prayers for the Christians in Bethlehem

"This is not how Mary and Joseph came into Bethlehem, but this is how you enter now. You wait at a wall. It’s a daunting concrete barricade, three stories high, thorned with razor wire. Standing beside it, you feel as if you're at the base of a dam. Israeli soldiers armed with assault rifles examine your papers. They search your vehicle. No Israeli civilian, by military order, is allowed in. And few Bethlehem residents are permitted out- the reason the wall exists here, according to the Israeli government, is to keep terrorists away from Jerusalem.

Bethlehem and Jerusalem are only six miles apart, though in the compressed and fractious geography of the region, this places them in different realms. It can take a month for a postcard to go from one city to the other. Bethlehem is in the West Bank, on land taken by Israel during the Six Day War of 1967. It's a Palestinian city: the majority of its 35,000 residents are Muslim. In 1900, more than 90 percent of the city was Christian. Today Bethlehem is only about 1/3 Christian. . .

The truth is that Bethlehem, the "little town" venerated during Christmas, is one of the most contentious places on Earth. . .

The Church of the Nativity is almost hidden. . . The interior of the church, cool and dark, is as spare as the outside; four rows of columns in an open nave lead to the main altar. There are no pews, just a collection of cheap folding chairs. But beneath the altar, down a set of worn limestone steps, is a small cave. In the rural areas of Bethlehem, today as it was 2,000 years ago, grottoes are used as livestock pens. Mangers are carved out of rock. Here, in the bull's-eye of this volatile place, ringed by Jewish settlements, imprisoned within a wall, encircled by refugee camps, hidden amid a forest of minarets, tucked below the floor of an ancient church, is a silver star. This, it's believed, is where Jesus was born." National Geographic, Dec 2007, pg 64-65.

If you get a chance, this month's National Geographic contains a vivid and concise outline of the pressures that our fellow Christians face in modern day Bethlehem. Please keep the direct descendents of the world's first Christians in your thoughts as you pray for peace in the Middle East this Christmas.

Happy Saint Nicholas Day

We had a double party for our beloved Saints' feast day today. Maria from Ordinary Time came for a visit with Paul & Lucy. Lucy, at 13 months, was so adorable wiggling in that precious bottom-scooch of hers, waving her jingle bell necklace and finding dropped candy canes to munch. The quote of the day comes from Maria's description of her daughter talent for finding the sweet spots in life. (I'm paraphrasing badly) "She can find happiness the way an experienced traveler finds the best seat on a train."

We made a Jesus craft suggested by Alice from Cottage Blessings. (I love raiding this blog for feast day teas and craft ideas). We made a simple baby Jesus in "swaddling clothes". The goal is that everytime one of the kids does something good from now until Christmas they get to add a piece of straw to the manger scene "to make baby Jesus more comfortable."

What I didn't expect was our manager project would be such a hit with Paul's imaginary horse, Mike. "Mike going to eat this!" he giggled happily as he left our house loaded down with straw, manager, candy canes, jingle bell necklace and of course, Baby Jesus. The pleasure was all ours Paul!

This afternoon we invited all the neighborhood kids in our apartment building to a Christmas tea. I hope this becomes an annual tradition. I so much prefer to host kids parties then to send wilted cheese balls to all of our neighbors this time of year.

Let It Snow

Yesterday was our first winter snowfall. In true city kid fashion, we started making "snow angels" with only a fine dusting of snow on the bike path. The snow storm surprised us by dumping a respectable 6 inches. Lots of fun in the snow. Today, of course, the sun peaked out and rivers of snow flooded our roadways. So much for feeling like we were back in Madison!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sunshine of the Family

"Yes, the wife and mother is the radiant sun of the family. She is this sun by her gererosity and gift of self, by her unfailing readiness, by her watchful and prudent delicacy in all matter which can add joy to the lives of her husband and her children. she spread around her light and her warmth." Pope Pius XII.

"Unfailing readiness" doesn't quite describe my mothering at this stage in my life. This advent my wish list is more full of heavenly virtues and lighter on things which can be bought at Target. I'm working hard to make the paths Jesus travels to my heart a little more straight, so I can spread more sunshine in my home with far less effort.

Growing the Virtue of Meekness

Et Tu Jen has another great post on this issue.

Here's my comment:

Inspiring words from my Advent bible study tonight on this issue. "Produce good fruit as the evidence of your repentance." Matthew, 4: 8, the reading for this coming Sunday.

"Consider that God wants to fill you up with honey, but if you are already full of vinegar where will you put the honey? What was in the vessel must be emptied out; the vessel itself must be washed out and made clean and scoured; hard work though it may be, so that if be made fit for something else, whatever it may be." St. Augustine

Pot scrubbing is one of my least favorite kitchen tasks. I'll be scrubbing with more reflection this advent knowing that I'm also working on cleansing my heart of anger, arrogence, and selfishness- making my interior more receptive to the sweet honey of the Eucharist on Christmas Day.

Prayer Before A Manger Scene

This prayer from “The Magnificat Advent Companion”, by Father Peter John Cameron, O.P., is the latest “must do” addition to my family’s Christmas traditions.

I’ve always had nativity sets about during Advent. This is the first prayer that connected me to them on such an emotional level. Thank you to St. Francis of Assisi for sending this prayer my way.

“No one, whether shepherd or wise man, can approach God here below except by kneeling before the manger at Bethlehem and adoring him hidden in the weakness of a newborn child.” (CCC 563).

Lord Jesus, as I kneel before you manger in adoration, let my first Christmas word be: thank you. Thank you, Gift of the Father, for coming to save me from my sins.

Without you I do not know even how to be human. The characteristics of your human body express the divine person of God’s Son. And in that wondrous expression, Lord you reveal me to myself. Thank you for that saving revelation in your sacred humanity. As the Christmas liturgy proclaims, “in Christ man restores to man the gift of everlasting life.” Thank you for coming as one like myself to save me from myself.

You come as a baby because babies are irresistible and adorable. You come as a baby because you want our first impression of God incarnate to be that of one who does not judge. How I long to be united with you in every way. May I never be attracted to the allurements and charms of the world. May I love you always, at every moment, with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. May the tenderness, the dependency, and the mercy that you reveal in your infancy become the hallmarks of my life.

Newborn Savior, the very silence of your incarnation proclaims that the answer to the misery, the strife, and the meaninglessness of life cannot be found within us. You alone are the Answer. As I kneel before you, eternal King, I surrender to you all my selfishness, self-absorption, self-indulgence, self-righteousness, self-assertion, and self-exaltation. Even as I adore you on this night of your birth, rid me of the nagging desire to be adored.

Word become flesh, you make your dwelling among us. Yet you do not live your life for yourself, but for us. And you enable us to live in you all that you yourself lived. Help me to embrace this truth with all my mind and heart. Come and live your life in me. Empty me of my willfulness, my petulance, my hardness, my cynicism, my contemptuousness. Fill me with your truth, your strength, your fortitude, your purity, your gentleness, your generosity, your wisdom, your heart and your grace.

O Emmanuel, may the assurance of your unfailing Presence be for me the source of unending peace. May I never fear my weakness, my inadequacy, or my imperfection. Rather, as I gaze with faith, hope and love upon your incarnate littleness, may I love my own littleness, for God is with us. Endow my life with a holy wonder that leads me ever more deeply into the Mystery of Redemption and the meaning of my vocation and destiny.

Longed-for Messiah, your servant Saint Leo the Great well wrote that in the very act of reverencing the birth of our Savior, we are also celebrating our own new birth. From this night on may my life be a dedicated life of faith marked by holy reliance, receptivity, and resoluteness. May I make my life a total gift of self. May my humble worship of the nativity manifest how much I seek the father’s kingdom and his way of holiness. The beauty of your holy face bears the promise that your Father will provide for us in all things This Christmas I renew my trust in God’s goodness, compassion, and providence. I long for the day when you will teach us to pray “Our Father.”

May your Presence, Prince of Peace, bless the world with peace, the poor with care and prosperity, the despairing with hope and confidence, the grieving with comfort and gladness, the oppressed with freedom and deliverance, the suffering with solace and relief. Loving Jesus, you are the only real joy of every human heart. I place my trust in you.

Oh divine Fruit of Mary’s womb, may I love you in union with the holy Mother of God. May my life be filled with the obedience of Saint Joseph and the missionary fervor of the shepherds so that the witness of my life may shine like the start that leads the Magi to your manger. I ask all this with great confidence in your holy name. Amen.” (page 45-47)

Happy Festival of Lights

When I got married, I brought the tradition of celebrating a Christian version of passover to my husband. ( I first attended a Jewish passover in college and loved it. Two years later, my Methodist church started a hosting passover feast on Good Thursday & I was hooked. Learning more about the jewish roots of our faith makes things "click" with me).

My kids have learned so much about the story of Moses through our passover, that I decided to add Chanukah and Purium festivals this year. This website is a great, kid-friendly introduction to all the major Jewish festivals. We'll be playing the dreidel game with peanuts as "gelt" today.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Help of the Holy Innocents

On December 23, 2002, Jon and I started crying in a genetic counselor's office at Ohio State University Hospital. We started out the day happy to have an extra day off work. We packed snacks to munch on during the two-hour car trip to Columbus.

We'd already gone through the shock of hearing that Cystic Fibrosis was in the family gene pool. (Jon's Dad casually mentioned having a nephew who died at age five during a Thanksgiving visit. I was five months pregnant with our first child and promptly burst into tears, convinced my fascination with an autobiography l read on the subject at age 8 was a foreshadowing of things to come. I was right, sort of. My husband and I are both carriers of the CF gene. His is the most severe form, mine is a mild form that is rarely active. My ob-gyn had done her homework. She said our babies risked a mild to moderate form of CF. The referral to OSU was a formality, we were told.)

So we started out the car trip, happy. We talked about asking for advice on how to tell our children they were at risk for having CF positive babies. We decided to spring for CF test when they got married. We told ourselves we could handle saying rosaries by the sickbeds of any future grandchildren. "Whistling in the dark" is the name for our conversation.

Then came the devastating news from the genetic counselor. "No, your baby has the 1/4 chance of having a fatal disease, not your grandchildren." Then to ease the burden on my stricken face, "Don't worry. This is the only baby who will have that risk. For all the other babies, we'll do an amino, if the fetus is CF positive, we'll take care of it. Sorry that we didn't catch this one until it was too late [the sixth month.]"

I was a brand new Catholic, and I hung so fiercely to the label that I'd just checked of on my religious preference form.

"I'm Catholic," I said. "I can't do an abortion." I repeated that same sentence for a mind-numbing amount of time. I watched my husband fall apart. I cried into fist after fist of tissues. I argued my way out of a same-day amino by saying "I don't want to worry about miscarriage on Christmas. Let me go home, now." I felt scared. I felt alone. There was all this intense medical pressure to do a test which would only tell us a basic hands up or hands down CF result a mere two weeks before my due date.

"I'm Catholic, I'm Catholic, I'm Catholic" I stuttered, until they let me go home.

I knew in their mind "Catholic" meant "crazy as a loon about medically necessary procedures." I didn't care. It got me out of that suffocating environment. Because the whole Catholic church has been solidly pro-life for all these centuries repeating the phrase "I can't because I'm Catholic" means that doctors will eventually realize that they single-handedly can't "reason" with you. Eventually, they will save their breath to cool their porridge.

Because I was Catholic, I had a chance to get out of that room without an amnio. Because my husband is an expert in patient advocacy, we found our way to the hospital library. The information we read gave us hope. The average lifespan of a CF patients is age 18, we read. “Well, at least that isn’t age five, we said.” [I’ve since discovered its currently up to age 36].

Jon and I left the hospital library. We were dazed and ended up missing our freeway entrance. After a few wrong turns we gave up and decided to eat lunch at a Bob Evens Restaurant. I cried again, this time into paper napkins instead of Kleenex.

Then, I grabbed his hand over mashed potatoes and a pot roast sandwich. "Even if it ends up just being us in the room at the nursing home. . . even if none of our children live to adulthood, it would be worth it. We're not raising kids to get something back from them. We won't be hoping for companionship in our old age, or for them to make us look good by graduating from college with lots of awards. We're just raising kids for themselves alone, for whatever life God has planned."

Those were the words that I shared with my husband. That was our "mashed potato pledge." This is where our unconditional love of our children began. I count that moment as one of the sweetest in my marriage.

It's taken me a long time (like 3 years) to forgive the genetic counselor we had at OSU. Now, I pray for her, for the ob who said women can’t have more than three c-sections, and for all the medical professionals caught up in the anti-life sentiments which currently plague a healing profession.

Our memories of that day are still fresh. When my husband's employer wanted to add the Association of Genetic Counselors as a client, my husband did his research. He looked at their policies and talked to our priest. Then he told his boss that he would have to quit his job if they demanded that he do any advertising work for this association because it conflicted with his beliefs as a Catholic. He said this even though I was six months pregnant with Maria, and our savings would have barely covered one month’s rent. (This is a Dad story I’ll proudly share with Alex some day.)

So far all three of my children have tested negative for CF. I worry about every baby from the first positive pregnancy test until the results of the newborn blood test heel-stick tests come back. According to a New York Times newspaper article, 90 % of all babies who are dignosed as positive for CF through an amnio in the United States are aborted.

I picked up a brochure on this subject from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops at my new parish today. The bishops stress that priests and pastors can help support family. Catholics have a right to know that "early induction of labor performed simply for the reason that the child has a lethal anomaly is direct abortion." They suggest that rather than saying, "only you know what is best for your family", Priests should share some of these statements:

“Every life is created by God and has a purpose.

God has chosen you to be the mother of this special child.

God will give you every grace you need.

Name your baby, talk to your baby, and love your baby like any mother would.

God hears your pain. He loves you and calls you, and all of his children, to embrace the sanctity of human life form conception to natural death. He will never leave your side.

No matter how long your baby lives, he will be your child for all eternity.

Create wonderful memories of this special time while he is still alive and protected in your womb.

Remember that God can and does perform miracles. Don't be afraid to ask, and don't be afraid to hope.

These special babies bring with them many spiritual gifts and graces."

Holy Innocents, protect all children from harm. Encourage our priests and laity to speak out strongly in favor of the dignity of human life.

The full text of "Peter's Story" by Mary Kellett is available here.