Saturday, December 31, 2011

War Horse--The Moviegoer

My parents dropped by on their way home from spending Christmas visiting my sister tonight. We lucked into free babysitting for two hours and took in the movie "War Horse." I thought the plot a more saccharin (and simultaneously less believable) rip off of "Black Beauty." I'd save your precious movie dollars and wait to rent this film at Blockbuster.

The funniest critique came from my husband in the parking lot. "My Faith has sort of ruined historical fiction for me right now. Modern writers make such horrible mistakes when they try to depict the past when people were better Catholics. Way was the Irish Catholic mother knitting during a time of great stress, instead of praying? Why did the grandfather talk about the spiritual significant of passenger pigeons to his sick and sad granddaughter? He was a good French Catholic farmer, he would have said something about Jesus in that moment. And where were all the siblings?? Everyone in 1914 rural Ireland was not an only child!"

He makes me laugh, that man!

Update: Wow, totally disagree with the New York Times flattering review of War Horse.

Happy 37th Birthday To Me!


Two of my pregnant, Catholic friends drove over an hour to hang out with me at my Birthday Tea! Can life get any sweeter?

Posted by Picasa

Oh it can, since my sick husband stayed up late painting my dining room pink in time for my Birthday Party. I love you, Jon!
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Hidden Power of a Carmelite!

A dear reader brought this great blog post to my attention today about a reflection from last years March for Life.

"During the speeches, my eyes fell on a Carmelite brother in a very rough and worn brown habit. He bore a beard and appeared recollected the entire time. I looked down and saw that he wore simple thong sandals and no socks. It was below freezing outside and there were his toes. Let me tell you, my toes were cold and I was wearing two pairs of socks. He had to have been suffering.

I understood in that moment that we can't win this fight with just speeches, t-shirts, and banners. That thin, bearded Carmelite brother was secretly and quietly overcoming the demonic principalities in our nation's capital. He was doing it through recollected silence and penance. He was the the true sign of contradiction against the culture of sex, the culture of excess, and the culture of death.

May God richly reward him, hear our prayers, and bring this national scourge to and end."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Today Everyone Is a Carmelite!

There was a special "buzz" in the air yesterday when I went shopping at Target. Maybe it's just because I just moved to a small town in the Bible Belt, but everyone was patient and smiling and the clerks actually still said "Merry Christmas!"

It was so cool because I realize that today--everyone is a Carmelite! Everyone is more conscious that they are doing their work "for Him" which is what "praying always" means.

When I was a kid, I had that thought "Why can't Christmas last all year!" And today, as a Carmelite, I just feel so happy for everyone. It's like "Hey, today you get a chance to taste that same exciting spiritual "buzz" in your daily life that my Johnny and I get to lap up all year!"

Happy Christmas everyone!!!!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Maccabeats - Purim Song

Taking the Bible Stories--Literally

I know we Catholics aren't involved in the debate "is the Bible literally true", yet the deeper I grow in Faith, the more I drink in Holy Scripture, the more I start to see these fantastic "tales" I grew up with as a Protestant start to factually happen in my own life.

Hammond & Queen Ester

If you haven't yet read the book of Ester yet, take a few minutes soon to check it out. After the Jews got kicked out of Jerusalem, some were taken to the Mesopotamia. A beautiful Jewish girl was kidnapped by the King and forced to endure a year long "beauty pageant" to win the heart of the king. Ester is so NOT into this early version of the Bachelor but guess who ends up being chosen to become Queen?

One of the king's henchmen, named Hammond, hates the Jews and comes up with a tricky plot to make sure that all the Jewish people are massacred on the same day. Ester's uncle comes to her and tells her that she must act to save her people. "God has placed you on the throne for this purpose," he says.

Queen Ester risks death to save the Jewish people. The Jews are saved and in a very specific "tables are turned" event, Hammond is hung on the same gallows he built to kill Queen Ester's uncle.

Fast forward thousand and thousands of years to September 2009. My husband and I are sitting in his childhood living room in Upstate New York waiting to bury his father.

Jon's father had cancer, and died very suddenly 12 weeks after his first diagnosis. We got the unexpected news on a Saturday, left a hurried message on voice mail at Jon's work and frantically drove 12 hours to reach his hometown. On Monday, my husband spoke to his immediate superior (hereafter "Hammond") and was told "don't worry about missing work for your father's funeral. Take all week to stay there and help take care of your mother."

On Wednesday, Jon called to check in at work and got horrifying news. The main boss and all of his co-workers had no idea where he'd been for the past 48 hours. "Hammond" had refused to pass on any messages from Jon and had "allegedly" walked around the office saying "Where is Jon? This is so not like him to just disappear on us!"

My husband was horrified. We knew "Hammond" had been gunning for a replacement for Jon for sometime, but how could we have predicted this? It felt so awful to be both dressed in black, grieving the sudden death of a Father, and now have the possibility that Jon might be fired from his job solely because he tried to attend his father's funeral.

My husband's face was totally white. "What do we do?" he asked me. "Should we run home today?"

In this rare moment of clarity, I thought of the Bible Story of Queen Ester. "No", I said. "We're here. We are going to bury your father tomorrow. We're going to trust God to protect your job."

We got through that horrible week and Jon still had a job when we came home to Washington D.C.

One year later, Jon came home and told me that "Hammond" had been fired as a result of a really crazy situation. Hammond had tried to keep her firing secret from Jon for almost 3 months, but it all came out into to light. We were just stunned. It was such an obvious work of God.

Jon now has a new supervisor. While his workplace is not perfect, it's many, many times better.

Our God is trustworthy. Even when it seems like Evil has the upper hand, God will never ever abandon his people. I watched that video of the Maccabeats sing "the Purim" song (which is the traditional festival celebrating Queen Ester) with tears in my eyes this week. That story means so much to my heart.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cheap Christmas Party Ideas

Anyone have fun, easy, and cheap Christmas party ideas?

I'm hosting a Caroling Party for 10 people tomorrow night. I picked up a ham for dinner. I think I'm going to bake 2 pies and possibly some cookies. I need ideas for easy side dishes, appetizers, decorations, etc.

Thinks for letting me borrow your creativity!

Trials of Post-NICU Motherhood

Just a follow-up on my previous sonogram post.

So it was not that bad. They didn't get all the pictures they needed because the little squirt was in an odd position, but at this point I'm cheerfully thinking "the more the merrier" with non-invasive tests for Miss Clare Bear.

Here's the ironic part.

I got yelled at.

Yes, the ultra-sound technician was totally freaked out that they didn't catch Tessy's duodenal atresia during her 20 week ultrasound. Now, I did not think that it was totally weird to miss a speck of trouble in a tiny unborn baby's small intestine. But evidently there is some unstated rule that sonograms are 100% reliable in picking up potential birth defects. So the tech was mad and kept commenting on it through out our very long sonogram appointment.

Then she made a big conclusion that clearly I was at fault for the missed diagnosis. Obviously, it was awful that I brought all my distracting young kids into the previous ultrasound and disrupted the prior tech's concentration. That was the only reasonable explanation for why Tessy's condition went undiscovered.

a) Meanwhile, the tech is lecturing me while she and are are ALONE in the room, which is exactly how it went for 28 1/2 minutes during the last ultrasound with Tess. (I only bring my kids and my husband in at the end of a sonogram to see the youngest baby.)

b) Where does someone get off yelling at the Mom? Especially the Mom of a disabled kid?

c) (which I didn't realize until my husband noted it during our car ride home) this was the EXACT same tech who did Tessy's ultrasound!

Ahh! This conversation made me so mad! (Plus the tech's disclosure that there has been a perinatologist in the same building that I could have easily gotten a referral to see on week one of my pregnancy, instead suffering through weeks of nervousness to week 25).

During our ride home I was channeling my buddies St. James and St. John of Zebedee. "Can't Jesus just burn up that whole building with fire from heaven?" I asked my husband only half in jest. "Our HMO has been so mean to me for four straight pregnancies now AND they do abortions there."

My dear, Carmelite husband looks at me and says seriously "Abby, they ARE going to all end up on Fire. It's called Hell. And it lasts forever. If you don't have Jesus, it's impossible to be nice to a pregnant woman. Impossible! That's where our prayers for God's mercy are supposed to come in."

(I'm telling you, if I end up in heaven after all my "hair trigger temper tantrums" it's going to be solely because I've got the cheat sheet to Jesus' heart itself in my spouse!)

So in the end, I'm working on forgiving everyone in advance of this sweet daughter's birth, because chances are that not a lot of doctors, nurses and ultra sound techs are going to be super excited about kid number five entering into the world.

But that's fine. Because her Daddy, me and Jesus are firmly in her fan club. Our love counts more!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's a GIRL!

Pleased as punch to announce that

Miss Clare Jean Benjamin

is expected on March 22, 2012!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Joys of Catholic Motherhood

It's pretty crazy being the mother of the Benjamins at the indoor soccer field.

For the first hour of soccer practice on Wednesday all I hear is "ALEX! ALEX!!!" because my 7 year old son has his head in the clouds and is the only kid on his intense team NOT watching the ball.

For the second hour of soccer practice all I hear is the coach yelling "Hannah, Hannah! Way to go HANNAH!" because my 8 year old daughter is a killer defender and has her foot on literally every scoring attempt from the other side.

It's kinda nice to have both parenting experiences side by side.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thrown Back Into the Pile

(A follow-up post from a Post-NICU Mama)

In a gushing burst of love for little "mystery" Benjamin (my kid's nickname for their youngest sib) I scheduled a sonogram for this Thursday. I did it solely to let my husband see an early outline of his little one's face. This was a huge deal for me. I tried to explain to my husband all my conflicting emotions with my first pregnancy after a NICU baby. They are mostly not good.

I mean, I love this new kid. I prayed for him (or her). I'm okay with doing general routine maintenance during OB appointments--testing my sugar, etc.

But I'm so NOT cool with doing a sonogram.

It's like, the bloom is off of the rose.

Not only did I have a kid with a fatal birth defect who passed her sonogram--I had a kid who PASSED all her physicals with flying colors for the first SIX DAYS of life. I think I truly passed the 10 mark of pediatricians who all said that my Tess had simple reflux or simple jaundice, all while she was actually dying! (The worse thing for me was that she was under 48 hours of hospital observation from day 4 to day 6 and no one caught it.)

So this whole "sonogram" thing doesn't mean anything to me. I'm not going to believe it if we get an "all clear"--but the worse part, I don't think I'm going to believe it if we get the "all clear" during the next baby's first week of life, either.

The good news is that they don't think that my daughter's birth defect is genetic, which means we have no higher risk of having it again.

The bad news is that they are throwing me back into the pile! Seriously, I have no special tests or monitoring done with this next pregnancy. Which is hard because the technical odds of something going wrong might be the same as pre-Tess, but I'm not the same!

I am not the same Mom.

So, I don't know. Yesterday, I call the hospital where I gave birth to Tess and where I'm scheduled to give birth with baby mystery. I was hoping to get some insight into what screening tests after my new baby's birth to rule out any intestinal or heart trouble. The Pediatric Floor remembered me! Tess left a memorable impression. The bad news is they are not going to do anything. In fact, the perky nurse said "don't worry after any neo-natal testing because if there is a problem they'll catch it in the sonogram."

I said "But they didn't catch Tessy's problem in the sonogram!"

Dead silence on the other end of phone.

Yeah, no help or understanding from the medical establishment. There's no standard protocol As my husband said with forgiveness "Tessy's troubles weren't serious enough to go into automatic high alert status with the next baby, but we also can't go back into in easy, totally healthy baby section either. We're in the gray zone where no one knows what to do with us."

So it looks like it's just Jesus, Mary, and the Archangel Raphael who will be the ones keeping an extra sharp lookout on mystery Benjamin's pregnancy and his emotionally fragile Mama. Which worked perfectly for Baby Tessy's birth.

On the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I didn't celebrate with any cute teaching moments with my kids. Instead, I tried to more deeply inhale our Mommy's dear promise:

"Do not let anything afflict you, and do not be afraid of any illness or accident or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Is there anything else that you need?"

Sunday, December 11, 2011

How to Tell If You're A Really Great Sunday School Teacher

After a rough lesson on the Third Commandment---where my students were in open rebellion about the requirement to got to Mass every Sunday and one kid defiantly said, "I'm not even going to Mass on Christmas!", I started a game of "telephone" to lighten the mood.

I'm so glad one of the first messages to pass along in a whisper was "Going to Mass stinks!" Clearly, my lesson on the importance of "Honoring the Sabbath" made a wonderful impression! :-)

Why I Love My Husband, Part VIII

This past Friday we had the following conversation while Jon was on the commuter train.

Him: "So you picked up paint today and we'll be painting the living room tonight?"

Me: "No. I fled from the Lowe's in a panic. There were so many color options. I just didn't feel like I could commit to one."

Him: "I know it's really hard to choose. That's why I was secretly hoping you'd take the pressure off."

Me: "Really?"

Him: You can just pick one, and if it looks bad, we'll just paint over it with another color. Anything is going to better than the all white walls we currently have in the living room."

Me: "Well, there was this one shade that I was thinking about, but I'm still not sure what it's going to look like at night....."

Him: "As long as its not black, it can't be wrong!"

Me: "Okay, you've inspired me! I'll go back to Lowe's right now with the kids. We'll get the paint for you to work on tonight!"

(Why was that conversation so lovely? Because it wasn't until AFTER I hung up the phone that I remembered my husband is the one with the Masters of Fine Arts degree! Jon is so endlessly encouraging. Like Jesus, my husband is very meek and humble of heart!)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

How to Paint a Living Room with Small Children

So I asked all my friends on facebook for advice on how to paint a living room in small patches while having lots of young children in the house...


No one came up with my husband's suggestion--put them to work!
Posted by Picasa

Posted by Picasa

Daddy did the high parts

Posted by Picasa

Finished result!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why I Love My Husband Part VII

Because he scores his children's miniature golf game as seriously as if he were on a real putting green!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Go Say Congratulations

Two of my favorite Catholic bloggers are celebrating new life today.

Lauren from Magnify the Lord with Me just adopted a newborn daughter. Yeah!

Nicole from Sew Hormonal just found out she's pregnant again. Yahoo!

St Hannah, in heaven, pray for all of us infertile women to bear an excess "good fruit" in the form of finding many spiritual children to raise up in the knowledge of the Lord.

A Beautiful Post About Having Hope

All You Who Hope hit the nail on the head with this luminous post. Sometimes our worse suffering occurs just as God is granting a giant yes to our deepest prayers.

Don't ever think Jesus isn't listening to you!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sister Love

For all the hostile forces who think that there are already "to many people in the world" so no one should have more than two "replacement" kids per family

I'd like to say NO WAY!

My number 3 and number 4 are too precious for words! :-)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Does Your Monday Currently Suck?

Does your Monday currently suck? Are your kids sick and crabby with winter colds? Are there expensive plumbers currently visiting your house or are you trying to teach unmotivated children to learn how to read?

Yet did you get the Eucharist last Sunday? Do you know who is waiting to enter into your heart on Christmas Day?

If so, the world needs you. The world needs you to decorate your face with a beautiful smile to match the holy love lodged deep in your heart--despite all the agitation and turmoil around you.

Here's some proof. As I was researching acappella groups on You Tube I found a clip from my alma mater, Smith College (a college of all women). They are singing this depressing song about lost love INSIDE my old Protestant Church, Helen Hills Hills* Chapel.

The place where I went to pray and feel close to Jesus all of the time in the late 90s is now hosting the words in 2010:

"This is the way you left me,
I'm not pretending.
No hope, no love, no glory,
No Happy Ending.

This is the way that we love,
Like it's forever.
Then live the rest of our life,
But not together

The college dating scene without a concept of true love and sacramental marriage --truly SUCKS!

Lets cover all the petty grievances we have this Advent with out imperfect lives, children, spouses and ourselves this season with a smile. In the "big picture" we have it all! We know the One who truly, truly loves us.

There are a lot of people looking for Hope this Season. Lets give them a reason to come home to the Catholic Church for Christmas.

Smiffenpoofs - "Happy Ending" (Mika) - 2010

(No the double Hills Hills is not a typo. Turns out Helen Hills, Married a boy also named Hills, but when she left the money for the Smith College chapel she wanted it clear that her maiden name was included in the official chapel name. I always that this needless "double name" for my beloved chapel was a bit of a sign that feminism got a little carried away at my dear old college)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

One of the joys of moving to a small town


Free Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides at Christmas Time
Posted by Picasa

O Eve... do not grieve

"O Eve!
My mother, my daughter, life-giving Eve,
Do not be ashamed, do not grieve.
The former things have passed away,
Our God has brought us to a New Day.
See, I am with Child,
Through whom all will be reconciled.
O Eve! My sister, my friend,
We will rejoice together
Life without end."
— Sr. Columba Guare copyright© 2005 Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey

(ht The Anchoress)