Thursday, May 31, 2012

Five Years Ago Today....

We had our own visitation with Maria Elizabeth!  Oh Baby!  By the way, all of the fans of the blog have my daughter to thank for its creation. Miss Mimi was our hardest kid yet (she easily beat Tess of  NICU fame) and the only way I stayed sane during her rough start was to start writing a blog. Good things come out of tough times. Thanks be to God!


Today is the Feast of the Visitation! My daughter, Maria Elizabeth, was born on this feast day! Last week, I saw a stain glass window that had St Joseph pictured in the Visitation. I'd never seen a picture of him there--most of the paintings focus solely on the glorious meeting of St Elizabeth and Our Lady. But this article states that it was highly likely that St. Joseph took Mary to Elizabeth's home and then picked her up 3 months later. As my Johnny said "Of course, he'd take care of his girl! I'd never let you do a long trip alone!"


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cake Boss Birthday

I convinced a church friend to teach my birthday girl how to make decorations for her own birthday cake. Here's the future baker in action. So happy!
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Why I love West Virginia

because you can find a deer head inside someone's kitchen! We spent five years living just 30 minutes south in Rockville, MD and I never saw a deer's head in any room decor. I like that WV's a little unexpected.
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Mimi --My Birthday Party Watercolor

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Why I Homeschool....

I handed my daughter a $1.99 Carolya watercolor set and some posterboard for her 5th Birthday. She immediately asked "Where's my easel, Mom?" I started laughing. A desk used to be good enough for me in kindergarten. Thankfully, I figured out that a dining room chair can work as an easel in a pinch. Then she had to have a separate chair for her paints. Everything was just so, just like the "real" artists. I love that there are no artifical/useless constraints in our house. You don't have to paint at your desk. Our school work is more like living a real life--you paint how you want to paint--and the results are wonderful!
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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Throwing Out NFP

My husband and I had a little "kitchen summit" meeting after a pregnancy test came up negative on Saturday. I had some signs of pregnancy, and I never really know when Aunt Flo is going to reappear after childbirth. Twice, I've conceived a new baby while nursing a nine month old older sibling without having a period first. Currently, my newborn is ten weeks old and failing to breastfeeding in a normal pattern due to colic.

I surprised myself by being a little sad that the wash of blue sailed over the blank space without coalescing into that all import blue line.

I've read six million blog posts extolling the virtues of Natural Family Planning (NFP), so I want to share the thought process of one, insignificant Catholic family--who decided not to use contraception, of course, but also decided not to use NFP either.

Our Catechism talks about things that are not allowed in fertility planning, contraception, IVF, artificial insemination, etc. There isn't a real deep discussion of the flip decision --when to be open to life. This is a really important spiritual concept. The entire salvation of our human race happened because one person said "YES" to conceiving Our Lord at a time when pregnancy wasn't exactly the best fit on her personal life timetable. I'm not trying to irresponsible with my fallopian tubes, but there is this sense that my husband and I share, that good things happen when we trust God.

Our hearts have been shaped by leaving the sin of contraception, an unplanned contraceptive "accident", a miscarriage, secondary infertility, and a sick infant who almost died in the NICU. We're blessed by these trials. We're not the same people who flippantly talked about babies belonging in our late 30s after we're done settling into marriage and seeing the world.

Our humility in regard recognizing that God controls our fertility and not us, is hard won. We know that babies are gifts. The best ones are often unplanned. Babies might not stay in your womb or your arms as long as you want. I'll be damned if I'm going to answer this question "When am I ready to care for another child?" in the same way at age 37, that I did at age 28. I'm a different woman. I'm a different mother.

The Catechism talks about decisions regarding "responsible parenthood." Jon and I broke that down into three categories during our kitchen summit: financial standing, physical health and emotional health.

First, the financial facts. My husband and I are blessed to be Carmelites. We expect poverty. Its actually a spiritual blessing to have more mouths to feed with the same amount of money. My husband is blessed with work currently. We can afford to feed and clothe another baby. We home-school, so additional education expenses aren't a problem.

In deciding to be open to life right now, we decided to not worry about catostrophic events in the future. My husband might lose his job in this horrible economy--and if that happens, I might be too afraid to get pregnant until he finds another--but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. I won't turn down a new baby because of some future "what ifs".. what if he loses his job, what if this kid needs braces, what if we're forced to pay the full cost of 6 college educations, etc.

The same goes for my physical health. For now, my health is good. My fifth c-section was my easiest one. We're going to double check with experts to make sure that my uterus is healthy and healed. Everything in our experience is pointing that I've received extra grace to heal well from surgery, so there is nothing to say I can't heal similarly from a sixth. I'm not going to stop having babies based on some abstract number. I'm going to keep being open to babies until I get some sort of firm direction (in prayer or in my doctor's office) to stop.

Then there is my mental health. I think there is some sort of social pressure which says that having babies "to close together" is too hard on a Mom. There is some sort of deep seated fear I'm going to turn into one of those psycho Moms who drown the kids in the bathtub. It's so weird for me, because I have anxiety issues and post-partum depression in my past. So its not like I'm randomly walking around going "Hey, six kids under age 10--no problemo!"

I guess where I am, is that I really, truly trust God. I know that he's got me firmly by the hand. I know in the marrow of my bones that the grace he hands out to all Mothers is real. I just feel like, if he's got me through Five, there's no reason to not trust him to get me through Six.

Once again, I've got humility. Things might change. If I get cancer and I need to go on dangerous drugs, Jon and I will need to practice abstinence. If my anxiety issues get out of hand, then we'll revisit the issue. On the other hand, if I get to 43 without a new baby, we might revisit our old friend, NFP again. This time to try to become pregnant, not avoid it.

However, I'm not going to be afraid to have another baby because I'm convinced that it might ruin my physical health, drive me to the insane asylum, or drive us into the poor house. God has too good of a track record with us to fall for those old tricks.

Which leads me to the real issue for the Benjamins not to have another baby 10 weeks after childbirth--its embarrassing. My parents will hate it. His mother will hate it. People are church will raise their eyebrows. Strangers in Wal-Mart will say "are they all yours?" with even greater inflection.

Vanity is a pretty stupid reason to say no to God. Even for me. And I'm very, very vain.

So I'm saying YES. Or more accurately, I'm a little overwhelmed with caring for colic girl right now so my response is more like "Well, maybe a new baby..."

So Hard, But So Cute!

Nothing like watching Baby Abigail (aka "colic girl" ) fall asleep! This outfit is a "hand me up" for NICU premie Baby Fiona. It made me laugh that her Mom is giving Abigail clothes that teeny Baby Fiona is never going to get big enough to wear this Summer. Still, six pounds is super exciting for micropremies.  We love the nurses who fatten up those sweet NICU premies! God bless them!
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Bedroom Make-over

My famous Target Find, The "love is" checklist
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Bedroom Make Over

Mom! Her crown is broken off because I put her downtown during "Biker Night" because I was peeved that someone smashed a 800 pound marble statue of Our Lady at St. Joseph Church. She got a little injured during her heoric stand, some of her crown got broken and Jesus' arm got cut off. Somehow her distressed condition sort of makes me love her more. I feel my Carmelite crown is missing pieces on most days.

The drawing is from the first ever Hail Mary I ever said while a tourist at Notre Dame in Paris. That prayer kicked off my whole vocation to marriage. I met my husband 3 weeks later. I love having such a  dramatic time to Mommy Mary.

I'm excited to have votile candles at the ready for all of your prayer intentions.
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Bedroom Make-over

My potted palm!
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Bedroom Make Over Part 2

Babies: welcomed but not overwhelmed by their presence
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Bedroom Make-over Part 3

My husband trying to get shelves up without any proper tools such as a drill or a level. It's tough to be a poor Carmelite, honey!
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Bedroom Make over Part 4

Right after we moved out her crib, Tess shows up with a big bucket of toys. She was like "thanks for cleaning up guys. The room looks great now! I'm moving back in" Jon joked it was like a preview of her trying to move home after college.
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Paradise Is At Our Fingertips

The brilliant theologian I get to call "husband" has a new saying: "Paradise is at our fingertips." He's on a mission to get more joy into our family. He's convinced that a few tweaks are all we need to get peace, and joy and all that good stuff promised by the Holy Spirit.

We're five days away from our 11th Anniversary. I've been reading too many romance novels, and this overdose made me worried: exactly how were we supposed to keep "romance alive" with all these babies in the house. It's not just tiring to have a newborn with colic. It's hard to even imagine having "date night" in the foreseeable future. Its difficult to trust even my best church friends to babysit if I know there's a 85% chance my daughter could spend the next two hours turning purple with rage because her beloved Mother is missing. (I nicknamed her Miss Chilipepper for a reason! Nevertheless, I'm going to attempt this during the afternoon of June 4).

Also, as a faithful Catholic, I can't lull myself with the slogan "this lack of romance in our marriage is just a season." Sure, Baby Abigail will grow out of colic. But I'm hoping to have other kids. Maybe sooner, than later. So far our track record is 3 out of 5 with colic/painful infant reflux. "May the odds be ever in your favor" is a slogan that doesn't really apply to us having easy babies who will peaceful sleep through three courses at a French cafe.

On Memorial Day, I was sitting on the couch having gloomy thoughts about the State of Our Marriage after Morning Prayer. I shared these with my husband. I told him, "I miss you. I feel like all we do 24/7 is care for our babies. There's no space for us a couple. If we do reconnect at the of the day, I'm either exhausted or we spend our few precious moments having deep business conversations about the family finances." He said "Lets pray about it". Oh yea of little faith. Three years into Carmel and I do these prayers with such little hope that they will be heard and answered.

Six hours later, we painted our bedroom! A lovely apricot color I'd picked out during my pregnancy nesting phase five months ago but somehow never found time to get the actual "low-vapor" paint onto our walls. The paint transformed the space. Our tiny bedroom (the size of some people's walk in closets) went from drab to lovely!

We moved out all the furniture to paint, and we refused to move much back in. I based our bedroom on a Carmelite "cell." I've got a bed, a rocking chair, a lamp, and two tiny side tables. There are no clothes in the closet or a chest of drawers. I even moved out my writing desk and donated that item to my daughter's room.

Inspired, I went to the grocery store and bought a potted palm for $19.95. My nine year old complained bitterly about holding on the way home, while the minivan door was swung open. She said "This is my anniversary gift to you. I'm miserable!!!" (Ah, I love age 9. It's like a preview of age 13). I got a lamp at TJ Max and new pjs for both spouses. (Finally, PJ bottoms for him that don't have blue paint on them. I also realized that the only item of clothing I enjoy shopping for right now is new nightgowns. I've got a 10 week post-partum stomach "poof" and bags under my eyes, but man---do I like to look smashing while nursing at 3 AM).

Then I came home with shelves from Target. My husband spent a lot of effort, and considerable prayers to St. Joseph to hang them. Now we have Our Lady of Mount Carmel smiling down from our bedroom wall. I put a mason jar of Queen Anne's lace by the phone and a candle. We lit a candle in our bedroom last night. I was taking a shower last night to wash off all the yucky pollen from my eyes, and I felt like I bought my first apartment. "There's a burning candle, in my bedroom," I said to myself with glee. It was so adult. So obviously anti-child proof.

The best part of the bedroom make-over was the fact that we removed Tessy's crib.  Sorry Dr Sears. For the first time, we are not co-sleeping with a newborn and we do NOT have a crib in our room. I wasn't sure my toddler was actually going to accept the fact that's she now moved upstairs. (We'd tried this before Baby Abigail's birth and teething caused a reversion.) So I made her crib mattress into a trundle bed. So easy!

It's such a psychological difference to have Baby Abigail and Toddler Tess join us as "guests" to our Master Bedroom. Abigail's in a little portable bassinet. I pull her out into the dining room when I want time alone with Jon. I roll her back in at night. Tess has a trundle bed, if she insists on spending the night with us. Yet there is no baby stuff in here. No giant crib. I have no idea how long I can keep Abigail in a bassinet, but for this month life is wonderful.

Now my bedroom is so lovely and wonderful. I reclaimed the term "romance" from those twisted romance novels. To me, romance is listening. I listen to God. I listen to my spouse. I'm a child of Mary's whose love affair started at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. And it's okay if I can't predict where my marriage is going to be at year 12, much less year 22--because Jesus (the true lover of my soul) is a romantic guy who is full of wonderful surprises.

More Thoughts on Anxiety, Part 2

Two themes I'm working on this year is discernment of spirits and the virtue of humility.

First, God is always encouraging. I love that quote from St Pete "Encourage each others while it is still today." St Pete is a super sanguine like me. Some artist portray him as this stern guy with a big list on who gets into the Pearly Gates--sort of like a more frightening version of Santa Claus. But he's not. St Pete is a cheerleader. Every word in his letters is encouraging, hopeful. You can do this! You can make it to heaven, too! Don't give up!

My bff St Teresa of Avila is another cheerleader for God. I picture her throwing her arm around me after a particularly difficult prayer session and saying "Yes, my dear, you do have the focus of a gnat. I started off as a gnat in prayer too. Just keep going! Things are going to get easier in prayer if you don't give up!"

Right now, my thoughts about my vocation as a wife and mother are a mess. I've got about two virtues thoughts for every six dozen evil ones. If my soul was a garden, you couldn't even tell what God planted in their most of the time, because the evil weeds are choking the light.

To fight anxiety, it's a constant weeding process. Toss out the bad thoughts, encourage the good ones.

Second, I've got a real problem with perfectionism. It's not enough the I'm caring for a newborn. I'm supposed to be caring for a newborn AND making sure there is a "real" dinner in the house AND the seven people I dearly love always have clean shirts.

Heaven forbid if a toddler suddenly teaches herself how to unlock a locked screen door, escape outside, and be returned by a neighbor while I'm comatose the morning after I return home from a c-section. (Yes, my Tess this March. Thank you guardian angels). I will miss the fact that toddler are notorious trouble-finders in every household at almost any time. Instead, I'll focus on the idea that I'm a neglectful mother, totally undeserving of five children and its a certainty that I'm going to completely fail each and everyone one of them.

I'm not good at practicing this yet, but in "theory" I'm finding that true humility is the antidote to perfectionism. Perfectionism is actually a form of hidden spiritual pride. I expect myself to meet certain goals 100% of the time. In contrast, a Carmelite monk named Brother Lawrence was an expert at humility. Whenever he screwed up, he said "Look God, see what a mess I am without you? Come over here and straighten me out." He didn't let any sin or mistake separate himself from God. Instead, he used his sins as a spring board to get closer to God.

I don't like having all of these "issues" and cracks, especially when I see it negatively impacting my family. But I DO LIKE how everything keeps pushing me further up Mount Carmel, and closer to my Lord.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Fighting Anxiety

(Someone I love has anxiety this week, so I thought I'd invite you all into the joint conversation)

Anxiety attacks are like an old sport's injury. On an average day, its unnoticeable. Add a weekend of strenuous hiking, and your bum ankle makes you hobble for weeks. As Catholics, we are constantly running a spiritual marathon. We're going to have more anxiety attacks, than the secular "civilians" around us, because God is always pushing our frail, imperfect bodies to be more like Him. There's a reason the words "protect us Lord, from all anxiety" ends every Mass. We need that prayer. After mortal sin, anxiety attacks are the Devil's favorite weapon to get us off track from our vocation.

For me, it's helpful to use a multi-layered healing plan whenever anxiety attacks surface.

First, its recognition. I need to know when my anxiety levels are peaking above normal. Honestly, its really hard to be a Mother. A constant level of paranoia is necessary when parenting a toddler. Sometimes it's hard to know when I'm appropriately "concerned" about my children and when I'm being unreasonably anxious.

If I feel myself slipping, I need to get out of my head. My thoughts are really destructive. I can try to pray about it at this point, but even more helpful is to talk to someone else. Just verbalizing my thoughts helps me sometimes. For me the best person to talk to is my husband. He's solidly in my corner. He's been down this road before. He usually can be a valuable outside "check" to the swirling thoughts in my head.

Now sometimes, my anxiety is so bad we get into a fight. (By fight I mean, my husband gently tells me things are not so black and I vehemently start shouting "Yes they are. You have no idea what I'm really talking about! You don't get me!") That's a hard place to be, because the last thing I want to start thinking about during an anxiety attack is that I'm also a crappy wife in addition to being a crappy mother.

When I'm beyond taking advice from my husband, I'm thrown back on my horrible ability to "self-soothe".  At this point, I've got to get really strict with myself. I start talking to myself in the third person and act like a personal trainer.

Step One: Rest. Take a break from the daily routine and focus on getting my anxiety injury healed.
Step Two: Be Gentle! The Devil likes to be harsh--pointing out all my fatal flaws and shortcomings. In response to him, I need to make sure that all my interior self-talk is extra gentle.
Step Three: Get an exercise buddy. I'll send out emails to some friends to ask for prayers to heal my anxiety.
Step Four: Resistance training. I've got to get out my affirmations. To counter-act all the negative self-talk, I've got to get some healthy positive self-talk. A therapist once talk me that all anxiety can be defeated with one of two tactics. Either I'm "over selling the likelihood of something terrible happening" or I'm under-estimating the possibility of my own ability to cope." So saying things like "I can't do this, but God can" or "whatever happens, God will take care of me" is very helpful.
Step Five: Patience. Some attacks are worse than other. Some take longer to heal.
Step Six: Know when to ask for professional help.  I really benefit from checking in with a professional therapist after my babies are born. For me, therapy isn't a thousand hours spent on the couch going over my childhood trust issues. I check in with a therapist on staff with my HMO. I do "cognative behavior therapy" --which is very focused, goal oriented stuff. After a few sessions, I feel better without meds and then I get to stop going to therapy. (In fact my most recent therapy appointment after getting worn down from Baby Abigail's colic lasted only 15 minutes. A new therapist confirmed that I didn't have post-partum depression. This secular therapist actually told me to a) not listen to my own mother, b) start praying the rosary and c) lean on my church friends for more help with childcare. Then she gave me her phone number to call in case I "started slipping." That kind of expert outside opinion (especially when it meshes so clearly with my own Carmelite spirituality) is so validating. I think my husband and I both felt better for my getting screened for anxiety and depression. I sort of compared it to getting a pro-active mammogram.

Know that I'll be praying for anyone who suffers from anxiety issue. An injured mama can still mother well! God heals all of our broken wings!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend 2012

Camping with an nine week old newborn, it can be done!
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Memorial Day Weekend 2012

Camping at Harper's Ferry, WV
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Part 3

How we bribe our kids to learn American History. We promise treats on all of our field trips!
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Part 2

I love this picture! Proof of how 10 years of marriage can change a man. When I married my husband, he had no interest in American History. Now, he's even more facinated then me at these historical reenactments.
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How a History Buff Spends Her Memorial Day Weekend--Part 1

We had an important 150 Anniversary of a Civil War battle in nearby Harper's Ferry, WV today. This smiling civil war reenactor is a home-school grad who picked us out as fellow home-schoolers immediately.
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Proof I Am Crazy

I took a nine week old newborn "tent" camping and lived to tell the tale!
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Wednesday, May 23, 2012


It's a source of mystery to my why my five year old can drop her popsicle and scream "Mom, Help Me" as if she were dying, and yet....
she can cause the toilet to overflow into a massive flood--
which travels out the door,
 down our hall,
and drip through the floor boards,
causing it to "rain" in my basement laundry room

and all I get is a soft, squeeky "Mommy, there's a problem here."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


The new medicine I picked up on Monday is working!!!! I have a totally different baby in my house today. She eats. She sleeps. She looks around --interested in the world around her. She isn't red. She isn't crying hysterically. She isn't even a light sleeper now--she sleeps "like a baby!" I can't believe how tense I was over the past two months, until suddenly the knot in the pit of my stomach is gone.

Thanks for the prayers!

True Charity

There are church friends who bring you a new baby meal.

Then there are church friends who throw your five year old a birthday party at their house because your newborn has colic.

My Maria has TWO birthday parties at other people's homes this month. We went to the first "butterfly" birthday party today. Darling! Next week, she's having a "cake boss" birthday. I commissioned a new acquaintance at church to bake a birthday cake for my Maria. Out of the blue she said "So your little girl loves to bake? Does she want to come here and I'll help her make fondant hearts and butterflies for her birthday cake?" I said "Can I bring gift bags for all of your children and call it her fifth birthday party?"

If you're wondering what to get a Mom of multiple kids who already has lots of baby clothes--throw a birthday party for the new baby's older sibling. True heaven on earth!

Why I Bring My Babies To Mass

So Grandma can say "I remember when he was crawling under the pews!" and we can all get tears in our eyes at how quickly life passes at her Grandson's First Communion.
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Prayer Request

Bonnie E. from Learning To Be a Newlywed is in labor this morning. She's a post-NICU Mom. Please say a prayer for her to have a safe and calm delivery.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Missing the Mark

On the way home from my son's First Communion, we passed a sign advertising a sermon at the Independent Baptist Church: "What Kind of Women Change the World?"

I got so sad.

There is only one woman who changed the world, Mary.

The rest of us women are only influential to the degree that we model our Mom's virtues and seek out her advice.

My Mom. Your Mom. Their Mom. So many good, loving Christians who don't know what a powerful friend they have in Mary, the Mother of God.

This May, let us love Mommy Mary double to make up for all of our siblings in Christ who don't know how to send her a Mother's Day card with each Hail Mary.

More Thoughts on Hospitality

(for JoAnn, et all)

I'm starting to think that hospitality is not so much about "doing tasks" (aka Martha Stewart) but more about clearing a physical and metaphysical place for community to happen inside. Community bonds don't just "happen". The bonds between church members, family and friends are encouraged to grow when they have the right conditions of time and of space.

My First Communion Party was totally stripped down. I literally cleaned my house for 25 minutes at 10:30 PM. The only thing I could offer in the way of hospitality was a shell of a "house". Yet that space was enough. Two families had a place to go after an important religious experience.

There's a lot of negativity about throwing parties, especially for First Communion. Some people believe it detracts from the main event, etc. For me, I thought a simple party highlighted the importance of this day for my son. We got him a new blue blazer as a symbol of the importance of the Eucharist.  He's a young man now. He's privileged to eat God. He needs to dress in a blazer and tie now when he attends Mass. In the same way, we didn't just go home and eat donuts as usual after Sunday Mass. We had a party! With new friends from church! We anticipated the delights of the heavenly banquet after celebrating the summit of Christian life, the Eucharist. Now its time to go play some basketball!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

For JoAnn

How to throw a First Communion Party while caring for a colicky baby. Low key entertaining at its best. Supermarket cake + ruffles potato chips and donated sandwhiches.  (I even made the guests blow up the party balloons themselves when they arrived!) Also note that my son is out of his church clothes in record speed.
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Alex's First Communion Class

I love that each boy stands a little straighter after their First Holy Communion. They are now real men of Faith.
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Alex's First Communion

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Why I Love My Husband

Amazed that my husband took his son on a father/son hike in the Appalachian Mountains for a First Communion Retreat today. Even more amazed that he quoted "Uphill" by Christina Rossetti during their hike and used it as a metaphor for the Christian journey. So blessed to be married almost eleven years to this man!

by: Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
    OES the road wind up-hill all the way?
    Yes, to the very end.
    Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
    From morn to night, my friend.
    But is there for the night a resting-place?
    A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
    May not the darkness hide it from my face?
    You cannot miss that inn.
    Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
    Those who have gone before.
    Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
    They will not keep you standing at that door.
    Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
    Of labour you shall find the sum.
    Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
    Yea, beds for all who come.

How Can You Afford To Have Five Kids?

My husband came up with a creative answer  to this common question this weekend.

Hannah is my hobby.
Alex is my Lexis.
Maria is my bigger house.
Tess is my regular golf weekend with the boys.
Abigail is my fishing boat.

Due to the cross of infertility, not every American family can have five kids. However, its sort of a misnomer to believe that nobody but Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie can afford to have five kids.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Cures for Colic

In the past two weeks, I've read 600 articles about how to cure colic. Seems that I'm blessed with a kid where nothing works. (Or more accurately, where no technique works reliably all the time).

Here's what does work--taking care of Mom so that she can withstand the stress of hearing colic crying bouts for 4 to 5 hours a day.

Here are the things that I've used to so far to distract myself

-emailing friends
-having real tea parties with an adorable 5 year old
-making sarcastic jokes with my 9 year old
-reading the entire four part series of Nora Robert's "The Bride Quartet"
-watching Celebrity Apprentice on Hulu
-making out with my husband (which never fails to lift my mood but also runs the risk of creating another colicky Benjamin soon. LOL!)
-and my new favorite trick--going strawberry picking! Who cares if the baby wails unfailing next to you while there is blue sky above you and fresh strawberries to pick.

I feel bad about the constant distraction, however. I can't really picture my role model Mommy Mary eagerly turning the pages of a romance novel while breastfeeding the infant Jesus. Wouldn't she just supposed to stare lovingly at the baby's head the while time? Even when Jesus turned as red as chilipepper from constant crying?

WHY don't the artists paint Jesus as a real baby anytime in those glorious Middle Age oil paintings? Dude, any mother can look sweetly at her child when he's fed, clean, and happy. It's takes a REAL daughter of Mary to look lovingly at a baby who is covered in poop, screaming red with rage, and likes to bite hard during the latch on process.

I'm a fraud. I feel like a "real" Carmelite would just jump into this suffering experience and not waste one precious drop of spiritual insight from this cross.

On The Eve of My Son's First Communion

My son's First Communion experience is proving so different from my daughter's path. Hannah was physically pained by being denied First Communion. We had this long count-down to her First Communion day starting at age 4. Since we went to a large church, Hannah was part of an official class of 40 kids. There were First Communion retreats and practices. I had some confidence she had some appreciation for the magnitude of this sacrament.

Two years later, Alex's experience is totally different. We moved to a small country parish. There are only three  boys receiving First Communion this weekend. The parish has no recognized "prep" program, it's entirely reliant on the parents. Our family just had a new baby added to the mix, so we didn't spend a whole year carefully going over the St. Joseph children's catechism. It was more "catch as catch can" over the diner table.

Unlike his older sister, Alex has shown zero enthusiasm for this Sacrament.

As an overly scrupulous convert, I'm tempted to worry that my son isn't prepared to receive his First Communion. Sure he knows his stuff. Yet he's not showing perfect reverence and awe. There's no silence and awe when we do Adoration together.

There was a moment, however, that I was reminded about how much seven year olds NEED the Eucharist, even if they can't perfectly sit through an hour Mass yet. Last night, my son started slamming car doors in jealousy after his older sister won a medal in her soccer championship and he did not. I disciplined him. Then I hugged him. He started to cry. I hugged him again. And I told him that Jesus really understood his hurt. (My son had played the best soccer game ever in three seasons, but it wasn't enough for his team to win a medal. because they came in 3rd place instead of 2nd). I told my son to let his big sister have her moment, because the rest of the weekend was going to all be about him and his First Communion. I said, Jesus knew it was hard to be kind after a painful soccer loss, but that was exactly why he was coming into  his heart through the Eucharist.  I told my son to "hold on because help was on the way."

I don't know if my son is going to "get it" when Sunday's First Communion comes. But that is okay. I didn't really "get it" when my First Communion happened at age 27. I trust that the grace from the Eucharist is real. I believe Jesus pours himself equally into little girls who delight in bowing their heads inside fresh white veils, and little boys who are openly annoyed st their itchy blue blazers.

Pope Pius the X, pray for us. Thank you for letting young children receive Holy Communion. They need strength for the Christian journey just like adults.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Amazing Video for a Blah Home School Day! RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms

"Our Chair" by Chris Sedlmeyer (a poem about the Little Flower)

“Our Chair”

Simple wood, woven seat
Simple wood
woven seat
worn light on one side
on the right, where she slid in to sit and write
and slid back out again
to sleep at night.
Silent chair
If you could speak
Would she chide us for the trinkets that we keep
Our pedestals and plaques
Scraps of paper
Bits of cloth
And all the framed odds and ends
Of a saint held in awe?
Humble chair
Wooden legs
That bore the weight of her Little Way
You would know better than I
What she would say.
How she longed to be a hidden heart,
Just another anonymous nun
Asleep in her father’s arms.
Not a saint in a shrine
But a name unheard of
Just a woman of simple acts of trust
Made holy only by her Savior’s love.

by Chris Sedlmeyer

read the whole post here. 

How Many Times Have You Listened to Crummy Songs on the Radio?

Time to step up and help a Catholic song writer record a new cd. Colleen Nixon is 70 % towards her kickstart goal. Help her seal the deal! Deadline is May 25!

ht: More Like Mary, More Like Me (her daughter Hannah is the star in Colleen's music video!)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Anniversary Ideas?

(Do not read, Benjamin!)

Imagine you have a husband that you love, an 11th anniversary coming up on June 2nd, guilt about not really celebrating the all important 10th anniversary well because you were in the midst of a painful moving process, next to no money AND a Chilipepper newborn who either has colic/infant reflux/extreme sensitivity which makes her cry for 6 to 8 hours a day.....

What would you do to celebrate a wedding anniversary?

Don't say "nothing", because even though I know my husband and Mr. Jesus would totally let me off the hook--part of me really wants to make this day special. I'm a historian and I get a real kick out of reflecting on the journey we've taken together.

I'm not sure I can do much with food, because either my newborn is great, or she's not. I can't really tell in advance if I'm going to have energy to cook real food for dinner or if its corn dogs in the microwave again.

So I'm thinking about creating some sort of "project" that would document to my husband and my kids what things we've truly accomplished in our marriage. Something that I could work on in the spare time while Miss Chilipepper is asleep. I'm picturing making little collages with photos of each year we've been together. Then taping it to 11 candles.

That way even if we're stuck eating take-out on our anniversary due to whatever emergency can happen with 5 kids under 10, we'll at least have a pretty centerpiece to look at during our dinner.

Does anyone else have other ideas?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Witness of Christian Hospitality

(For Little Joann's Amusement)

I'm not a natural hostess. I suffer with social phobia and my house is always messy. Yet I'm training myself how to be a good hostess because I'm finding the virtue of hospitality is central to living the Christian Life.

"I was a stranger and you welcomed me."

Lessons from the Field

1. It's a gift if anyone at all comes to your party

 We live in a world where everyone is rushed and busy. One of my kids had a birthday party where no one came. We had the party decorations out. The perfect cake was made. The craft supplies were neatly placed on the table. I had sent my husband away with all the younger siblings. After 75 minutes, no one was there. My daughter didn't have a good concept of time, so she kept asking me "when will my friends get here?" There was this moment, when I was actually trying not to cry in front of her. It was so painful to host a party and have no one show up.

Then one of her friends and her mother showed up.  We were SO happy. We chatted. We played. We ate tons of cake. It was a while before they figure out that they were "it". I mouthed a giant "THANK YOU" to the Mom. The two ladies left happy and uplifted. Then I went into my bedroom, reread that verse where God throws a wedding party and no one comes, so he invited the lame from the roadside, and I truly cried this time.

Crazy as it sounds, that party failure experience has really made me better as a hostess. I know it is a gift if anyone comes to your party. I don't take rejection personally. And I also make sure to GO to people's parties. People I don't know well. There are so many times that I have to say no because of my family obligations (like I'm super pregnant and can't drive), that if there is anyway I can say "yes", I do.  In my heart, I know that the saddest feeling is to have a party where no one is there--so I just give the gift of myself.

2. There is something intimate about having people over to your house

If you have a friendship that you are trying to work on at church, invite the family over to your house. If someone drops something off, invite them in. We do too much of our socialization at neutral sites, like parks or Starbucks coffee houses. But as soon as someone comes to your house, they feel like they "know you." The window treatments (or lack there of!) you've got on your windows, the type of table you chose in your kitchen (or inherited from your Mother) that all says something intangible about you. I can have an in depth conversation at a Carmel meeting with someone for three years, but they still know me less than if they spent three minutes inside my house.

3. Be Persistent

People will say no. Keep asking. But also know, if someone never comes to your house--that's a sign. Don't worry that they like hate you personally, but just know that don't really have space in their life for friendship, so don't get your heart broken over their inattentiveness.( I think this is especially important since a lot of times Catholic families have super dynamic stuff going in their lives like post-NICU babies or kids newly diagnosed with autism. So truly you can't take rejection of your cute party invitees personally).

4. Invite the whole family

Sometimes I like to do "Moms Only Teas". Which is probably selfish, but I just enjoying being able to carry on a long conversation without chasing after a toddler occasionally and I assume other Moms do too. But other than my selfish teas, any time we invite someone over, we invite the whole family. Catholic families are so cool because sometimes they are huge! It is a delight. One six invited over, makes an instant party! Usually I know the Mom and kids, more than the husband. I love getting to know the "Dads".

 I think that large families  (or smaller families with lots of tiny kids) rarely get invited over because its such seen as such a burden to host them. Nothing is farther from the truth. Large families are self-entertaining, content with hot dogs, AND the guests will take care of entertaining your kids. A calm Catholic middle school kid will go lead a game of hide and seek outside entertaining all of your own little ones for hours.

5. Invite a Priest to your house.

Priests are also incredibly busy--so snag them early. Invite over a seminarian (who always needs a home cooked meal) or a newly ordained priest. They have more time and more excitement. And my dear priests, I wish you would schedule more home visits. Invite YOURSELF over to our homes. That's how you get to know us and how we get to know you!

6. Fuss, but not too much.

When you do a little prep work (pull out the nice china hiding in your cabinet, buy flowers at the grocery store) you immediately put the guest at ease. I remember a priest was very worried about imposing when he came to follow up on a religious conversation with coffee at our house. The fact that I had set a nice table, put him at ease. He was expected. He was wanted. All of this effort would have gone to waste if he hadn't shown up.

At the same time, don't be fake! If you have a colicky baby, do not straighten up the living room before the nice lady comes with a hot meal for you. She's bringing you dinner because you have a new baby. You can open the door with a smile and invite her to sit at a messy breakfast table. (which I did this week and had a delightful one conversation).

Ridiculous "over fussing" makes you grumpy. It makes women "hate to entertain."

Tag. You're it Joann. (You can just write some comments b/c I think your so gifted in this area, but right now you're busy entertaining a newborn son)

The Spiritual Canticle

You considered
that one hair fluttering at my neck;
you gazed at it upon my neck
and it captivated you;
and one of my eyes wounded you.

When you looked at me
your eyes imprinted your grace in me;
for this you loved me ardently;
and thus my eyes deserved
to adore what they beheld in you.

(Stanza 31 and 32, St. John of the Cross)