30 November 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 9

We are one-fifth of the way through winter! Only four more months until the snow starts melting; just 22 days until we start gaining light instead of losing it! Yes, I'm feeling optimistic today, why do you ask? It may be -31 F outside, but gas is down to $3.69 per gallon! Little Bear was startled by my suddenly bursting into the Happy Days theme song as we passed the gas station on the way home.

Advent begins on Sunday! How are you observing the season this year? I must admit, before this year I hadn't really realized that Advent is a time for penitential preparation for Christmas. I'm not sure how that escaped me in the past--the liturgical color is purple, and we omit the Gloria--but I can't recall ever being told that penitence is just as important as joyful preparation during this season. It certainly makes sense: Why would we prepare externally for Christ's coming without preparing internally as well?

Observing Advent as its own liturgical season and not just a tailgate party, if you will, for Christmas is a bit of a paradigm shift, so I've been doing a lot of reading to figure out what we should do this year. I'm sure open to suggestions, but this is what we are thinking so far:

Confession: We already try to go to confession once a month, but I'm hoping to go every other week during Advent; it's so much easier to keep focused on God when my heart is right with Him! Many of the parishes in our area offer penance services during Advent, with reflections followed by many priests available for individual confession.

Prayer: Matt and I both grew up lighting an Advent Wreath, but with different prayer traditions; his family lit it during dinner, and mine lit it during a family rosary in the evening. We aren't allowed to burn candles at all in our current apartment, plan to at least have the wreath as the focal point on our table, and add the week's Collect to our evening prayers. We used an Advent booklet of reflections and Scripture passages last year but weren't terribly impressed, so we are still looking for some kind of reading to use this year.

Home: How does one decorate for Advent? With simplicity, I suppose, given that it is a penitential season. I have some purple linen scrapers over the ironing board, waiting to be hemmed into a table cloth. The Advent wreath, crèche, and nativity icon will be ensconced prominently on the highest shelf in the living room, and we will try to stick with Advent chant instead of Christmas music as long as we can.

Some people feel strongly about waiting until Christmas Eve to put up any Christmas decor at all; I'm not one of them. It seems contrary to the idea if Advent-as-preparatory-time to make the day before Christmas a crazy, stressful disaster. Maybe their decoration isn't stressful; I'm guaranteed at least one or two calamities in the process. If we had a full four weeks of Advent, I think we would start decorating on the fourth Sunday, but since we really only have three weeks this year, we are planning to start during the third week.

Have a great weekend! Find more quick takes at ConversionDiary.com.

28 November 2012

Car Repairs:The Saga Continues

It's almost funny.

So our jeep started telling us that it was about to explode on Saturday, right? And we took it in to the shop and borrowed a suburban from my parents, which also proceeded to die on us? Well, it gets better.

Things actually did seem to improve; I was able to start the tank Monday afternoon, unable to start it Tuesday morning, able to start it again Tuesday afternoon. The dealership got our jeep in, and it was only a three-digit repair, thank heaven! We brought it home last night.

This morning, Matt went out to leave for work and discovered that a neighbor had backed into the newly-fixed jeep, shattering the bumper and front left headlight.

The bad news: it's going back to the shop, and we don't know how long it'll be before we have it again. The good news: the person who backed into us was responsible and left a note so we could get his insurance information. Also, Allstate may be renting us a replacement vehicle, since it was someone else's fault, so hopefully we won't have to worry about temperamental 20+ year old engines not starting (It's been hanging around -25 F so far this week, and it's scary taking the baby to town at these temperatures not knowing if the car will start when we come back out of the grocery store).

26 November 2012

New week, new start?

Not so much.

We left off last week with our car at the dealership, waiting to find out if they could even get us in Monday and how bad the "immanent engine failure" was. (That sounds ridiculous). We borrowed an '89 suburban--known to friends and family as "the beast", "the battletank", "the millennium falcon", etc--from my parents to drive in the meantime.

This morning, the tank, which has never failed to start in all the years my family has owned it, growled, blinked impertinently at Matt, and shut off immediately every time he tried to turn it on.

First lesson of the week: vehicles don't like us.

While Matt was fighting with the Falcon, I was optimistically taking advantage of Little Bear's waking us up a half hour early to run 'round the house gathering up laundry and bundling the bedding into the washing machine.

I was so proud to have the main chore for the day already underway... until halfway through the spin cycle, when Little Bear blew out his diaper all over his clothes, his chair, the white blanket my great-grandmother made when I was a baby, etc.

Started another load of laundry. It was a bit sparse, so I ran 'round the house again hunting up things that could possibly bear washing, and finally found enough for a load. Five minutes later, Little Bear threw up all over me, himself, the quilt his grandmother made, etc.

Second lesson of the week: procrastination leads to fewer loads of laundry.

(That's clearly what I'm supposed to extrapolate here, right?)

24 November 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 8

It's Saturday again. So much so that it is Sunday where most of you are, in fact. But at least I'm posting, right? It has been a long week.

A very long week. It started with a trip to the doctor; Little Bear suddenly acquired an angry, peeling rash, which turned out to be either a fungal or bacterial infection... They weren't sure which, but gave us something to help with either, and it has mostly cleared up now.

Then water began dripping through the ceiling. Panicked that something would get stained and we wouldn't get our security deposit back, I moved all the furniture, spread plastic on the carpet, and called the landlord... who assured me that it was no big deal; he was just cleaning out the bathroom drain above us and "it must have flooded." No big deal? There is WATER coming through my CEILING...

More excitement: I have an excellent recipe for spiced cranberry relish, which I got from the proprietor of a little bookstore in downtown Steubenville, Ohio, that I make every Thanksgiving. As I was finishing ladling the relish into jars and wiping down the sides, I saw, to my horror, that there was a nasty moldy something in the bottom of one of my "clean" jars. Out came the relish back into the pot, to be boiled to death until I was satisfied that nothing bad could possibly still be lurking in it...

Today it was once again time to learn that even a heavy velvet floor-length skirt over leggings is no match for -25. So cold! I think feeling is coming back now...

Of course, one can only properly learn that lesson by being deprived of a nice, warm car in which to hide from the cold.

We had grand designs for this afternoon: picking up my sister, grocery shopping, the fabric store, confession, Mass. Halfway into town, the jeep began shuddering, and by the time we were on our way to the store the "check engine" light was blinking.

Why is it blinking? It doesn't usually blink.

I don't know; check the manual.

Um... It means immanent engine failure.


Now our vehicle is sitting at the dealership, waiting for Monday morning when they will hopefully be able to tell us what is wrong and whether we are getting a new transmission for Christmas instead of presents.

I hope your week was less stressful than ours here n the frozen northlands! At least it is warmer wherever you are, I expect. Have a good end of your Thanksgiving weekend, and I'll try to be on time next week!

21 November 2012

Our Storybook Life

I should have tackled National Novel Writing Month this year... all I would have needed to do is change some names and narrate all of the shenanigans life has been pulling recently! It has been quite the week already, and Thanksgiving isn't even here yet.

Once upon a time, there was a little family who lived in a little house way up north in the big snowy woods. Every day, Daddy Bear helped people talk to other people far, far away through a series of tubes, while Mommy Bear and Little Bear stayed home and kept house.

It was almost time for the Day of Thankfulness, a special day when the Bear family would join their friends and relatives and neighbors to thank God for all of His blessings in the past year, and to share a great feast. Now of course we thank God for His blessings every day, but the Day of Thankfulness only comes once a year, so Mommy Bear was all in a tizzy trying to make everything just so.

But nothing was working out the way she wanted it to, and the harder she worked, the worse things got! When Little Bear developed a fungal infection and water started dripping through the ceiling from the apartment above theirs in the same day, Mommy Bear threw up her hands, took off her apron, and closed her eyes.

Yep, that's where we were earlier... but that's why we can't stop reading a story in the middle. I'm sure there will be a happy ending eventually; let's flip to the end...

Mommy Bear looked around and realized how much she had to be thankful for: the ceiling was not dripping anymore, the medicine was helping Little Bear to get better, the house was clean, her food coming along. She thought of the story of Mary and Martha, and remembered that the most important thing she could bring to the Day of Thankfulness, more important than any material thing, was a grateful, peaceful soul.

Everything is going to be just fine. Life has calmed down a little, and for my part, I've stopped expecting more of myself than I can reasonably do with an infant. And yes, I know, it's not a novel... apparently I've been reading too many stories to Little Bear recently to be able to think in anything other than children's books! :-)

Have a blessed, peaceful Thanksgiving!

16 November 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 7

Little Bear and I did make it to adoration yesterday, and he was incredibly good: he was wide awake and happy, looking around at everything and everyone, but did not make a sound for nearly a half hour!

It's getting cold again... We've had decent (above 0F) temperatures all week, but this morning it was -25 when we drove in to town! Poor Little Bear doesn't understand why going outside hurts so much... I try to keep his face covered between the car and buildings, but he doesn't like that either.

It's long past time to start plugging the car in at night, but I still haven't found a good outdoor timer that won't break when we need it most. You can recognize a veteran Alaskan's vehicle by the extension cord hanging out of the grill: it connects to the engine block heater, oil pan heater, and the like which keep the engine warm enough to start without too much strain at cold temperatures, and warm enough to start at all once it hits -50.

Yes, it does hit -50 here. I should probably stop complaining about -25 before God decides to remind me what real cold feels like...

Meanwhile, Matt is enjoying balmy above-zero temperatures up in Barrow, the farthest-north settlement in the United States. He is 500 miles north of us, on the coast of the Arctic Ocean, and it's a good 30 degrees warmer. Why did I turn down the chance to go with him on this business trip? I don't know.

Today is the last day that the sun will rise in Barrow until Spring. (This might be why I didn't go.) Matt almost wishes that he could stay one more day, to experience a day when the sun literally does not rise.

My mother says to be careful what you wish for, especially in Barrow. Transportation in Bush Alaska is notoriously touch-and-go. I for one am certainly hoping to have my husband home tonight!

Have a good weekend! Don't forget to check out more Quick Takes at ConversionDiary.com .

15 November 2012

Let the Little Ones Come to Him

"You should go to adoration more often! But find a sitter; no one wants you to bring your baby."

I was so happy this morning to realize that I have the car on the day that our cathedral offers adoration. It's right on the way from the bank to the chiropractor... I was joyfully arranging my day in my head for no more than thirty seconds, though, before I remembered what someone had said to me the last time I mentioned how much I missed adoration. "No one wants you to bring your baby."

I'm torn. I know that she didn't intend to insult -- she wasn't implying that Little Bear in particular is a badly-behaved child who doesn't belong in church. She was expressing a feeling which I've found very common among churchgoers: that at church, if your children cannot be seen and not heard, they should not be seen at all. That babies make noise, and noise distracts others from prayer, thus babies are an unwanted distraction at church.

But what is that supposed to tell a new mother? That she shouldn't even bother to strive for holiness until all of the children are old enough to keep quiet and not distract her? That her desire to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament is selfish? How many of the women who peer balefully at the her, popping in to adoration with an infant, are the same ones who told her to "pray for more grace" when she sighed in despair over her own mental and spiritual exhaustion? Oh, they meant to say "pray, but not in our church."

Then were little children presented to him, that he should impose hands upon them and pray. And the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said to them: Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me: for the kingdom of heaven is for such.

Matthew 19:13-14

Now, there's clearly a difference between a mother kneeling and rocking a baby as he makes faint unhappy noises behind his pacifier, and a mother who ignores her child as he screams at the top of his lungs or crawls around getting in others' way. As parents, as parishioners, as human beings, we recognize the demands of common courtesy and step outside with a child who is becoming too great a disruption and needs to calm down.

But notice that Christ does not make such a distinction: He does not say, let the happy children come but forbid those noisy crying ones. He welcomes all of them, as He welcomes all of us. Surely no one could argue that it offends God to have a crying baby in church, when the baby is pure and innocent and the adults sitting there quietly are all sinners. If He wishes us to be in His presence, how much more must the presence of the innocent soul of the child please Him?

Having a child does affect the way the new parents participate in the life of the Church: a holy hour with an infant is impractical, unless the child falls asleep, but that does not preclude a briefer period of time before the Blessed Sacrament. We have to think more about where we sit now, positioning ourselves near an exit so that I can take Little Bear outside quickly if he gets upset, but that does not mean I don't bring him to church.

I think we will still try to make it to adoration today, for as long as Little Bear will keep quiet. Hopefully there will be a spot near the door, so that we can escape quickly when he is tired of being good. It will be good for me, too, to have such a good reminder that my mind should be on the one Who does want to see Little Bear and me there today.

13 November 2012

The Great Nap Experiments

Te Deum laudamus!

Two days in a row now, I've laid the sleepy Little Bear down with a pacifier, tiptoed around to the other side of the room, and stuck my head back over moments later to see him sound asleep. What progress!  I was getting so worn down by his refusal to nap unless I was holding him.  Now if only we could get this to carry over to bed time...  Last night was rough; he yelled and yelled until I got up to walk with him, immediately laying his head down and falling asleep as I moved, but waking again the moment I began to lay him back down.  He received a vaccine yesterday, though, so hopefully that (plus the teething) was the cause of our unusually fussy night.

Just in case anyone is concerned about him being on a bed and covered with a blanket (gasp of shock and horror!),  it is 20 degrees below zero today, and I was in the same room while he slept. 

09 November 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 6

Giving in and starting chiropractic appointments for my back a few weeks ago: Good idea. My back hasn't felt like this in years, and the hip problems plaguing me since early pregnancy have gotten much better.

Taking Little Bear with me to the chiropractor this morning: Bad idea. He screamed and screamed and screamed... and has continued to do so, with a few breaks, ever since. So maybe it wasn't the chiropractor's office that upset him; bringing a teething baby anywhere is just plumb foolish, though, anyway.

Splitting up Little Bear's four-month shots between the past Monday and next: Undecided. Good, because I don't like him having so many at once; bad, because if this week is any indication, we are going to have at least two days next week of screaming and throwing up following the vaccines. Poor child...

Working out and burning off the baby weight: Good idea. It feels so good to be back in a regular pattern of vigorous exercise, which I'm finally able to do as the chiropractor is helping to fix my hip problems.

Pulling muscles in the backs of both calves: Bad idea. Granted, this one wasn't intentional; I overdid it on the elliptical machine yesterday, and am walking like a bowlegged old pirate today... or sitting down, which sure hurts a lot less, but doesn't help Little Bear fall asleep.

Arranging to have a family portrait taken this evening by a friend who is a professional photographer: Good idea, I guess. It is, it really is -- he will do an excellent job, and we don't have a post-birth family portrait yet, and now I get to feel all smug and accomplished by having something crossed off my Christmas prep to-do list. I'm just nervous about getting Little Bear to cooperate, and having both of us looking nice when Matt and JR get to the house, and having dinner properly underway while still keeping baby happy and both of our nice clothes clean...

Stressing about things I have no control over: Bad idea. Really, we all know that already, but it's definitely an area I still need to work on. Life is just going to get crazier from now through the new year; I'm going to make an extra effort these next two months to not let all of the silly little worries get to me.

 That's all for today! Check out more Quick Takes at ConversionDiary.com!

07 November 2012

Technical Difficulties

It's been hard to write recently, mainly because the only time I am really sitting down with nothing else to do is when I'm feeding Little Bear, and it is hard to reach the computer around an eating/sleeping baby. Formerly, I could post from my phone; with the release of iOS 6, though, they broke mobile Safari compatibility with Blogger, so I've been stuck. This morning it finally occurred to me to check for a Blogger app... and here we are. I do feel a bit silly now.

Does anyone else have that problem? Finding themselves caught in the mindset of "this is how I do X, and now it doesn't work, so I guess I just can't do X"? It's not usually a problem I have with technology, but I do notice that tendency in other areas of my life. A big one is prayer: "I pray when I have the time; now the baby takes up most of my time, so I can't pray much." Most of us probably have that uncomfortable voice in the back of our minds from time to time, telling us that we ought to be praying more. I know I do. But so often I hush it with "I'm too busy; not enough time today, remind me later." Do I get around to it later? Not often enough.

These past few days, I've been thinking about how different Little Bear's childhood will be from my own. There isn't much I can do to get rid of all of the problems and bad influences out in the world, but I've realized that there is one very important thing I can do to prepare him: I can make our home a place of love and prayer, and try to set him an example by really putting God and His Church first, not just giving Him the leftover scraps of time at the end of the day.

It won't happen overnight, I know, but it'll be something to continue working at for the rest of our lives. As a first step, I'm trying to replace some of the time I waste online with time in prayer and spiritual reading, probably starting with the Confessions of St Augustine. That's right, I'm taking a break from Facebook and Twitter; not deleting my accounts yet, but not logging in every day either. We will see how it goes!

03 November 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 5

I know, it's Saturday. Better late than never?

"Black Friday is Coming" sneak peek ads began cropping up for some local retailers on November 1. Really? This is unacceptable.

Matt's mother sent Little Bear one of my favorite baby books, Pat the Bunny, and it arrived earlier this week. He has probably heard it twenty times by now... He seems content while we read it to him, but he refuses to pat the bunny: He balls up his hand into a fist, and pulls away from the book.

Speaking of Little Bear, he has been trying out a new nap schedule recently: He stubbornly stays awake all morning, naps straight from noon to 3 or 4, and then alternates cat naps and yelling because his gums hurt until bedtime. It's better than last week's "never taking any naps" scenario, but still not ideal. How do you teach a baby to take regular naps when he isn't tired?

I'm so happy to have recently discovered Frazz, a daily comic strip about a triathlete/songwriter/elementary school janitor.  It has been a very enjoyable read while I'm stuck sitting down feeding Little Bear.  Good *clean* humor, philosophy, insight, classic literature references... it's been quite a while since I've found something that makes me laugh and think (at the same time) as much as this comic strip.

The new Franciscan Way magazine showed up in our mailbox yesterday. I was flipping through it this afternoon, and the first line of one of the bios caught my eye. It sounded awfully familiar, but I couldn't understand why... until I reached the end of the piece and saw my name at the bottom! Oops; I'd forgotten all about writing it. It's so much more fun to see your name in print when you aren't expecting it!

Sweet potatoes cook more quickly than regular potatoes. I learned this the hard way while making dinner tonight: we wound up eating roasted sausage and potatoes sort of covered in mushed sweet potatoes, instead of having nice firm cubes of sweet potatoes with the other two. At least it was colorful!

It is officially bazaar season in Fairbanks! This weekend marked the start of a whirlwind of local bazaars: our parish, the Lutheran church across town, and the University Women's Association all hosted their bazaars this weekend, featuring an impressive array of items from hometown artists. I was disappointed that we couldn't make it to our parish's, but we've already made the hour-plus round trip several times this week and will be going again tomorrow, and Matt was working from home today (I didn't want to make the trip on potentially icy roads by myself with the baby).

01 November 2012

Communion of Saints

Happy Feast of All Saints! Don't forget that today is a holy day of obligation: all Catholics must attend Mass. If you haven't made it yet, many parishes will be holding Masses this evening.

Matt works quite late tonight, which is disappointing; I wanted to make a special meal to celebrate the feast day, but by the time he gets home, we will both be too tired and the baby will be on his way to bed. We had fun making a big deal out of Little Bear's nameday on Sunday, though, so we got one feast day celebration in this week. We were also able to attend Mass together this morning before Matt went to work, and we plan to pray a litany together tonight after he gets home.

For the month of November, our parish is displaying a number of relics for veneration, many borrowed from other local parishes. During his homily this morning, our pastor named some of the saints whose relics we are fortunate enough to have: There is a large reliquary with a number of Jesuits, a slightly smaller reliquary with a number of Franciscans, and quite a few individual reliquaries, including St. Nicholas, St. Therese of Liseux, and St. Gerard Majella, patron of expectant mothers.

Hearing St. Gerard's name, I only just managed to stifle a startled laugh. A year ago, I was working in the office of my parents' parish. Matt and I had only been married a couple of months, and while we were telling God that He could give us a child whenever He thought we were ready, if you had asked us our plans for the next year or two, "kids" would not have been on the list. So when I walked into my office one morning to find a relic of St. Gerard sitting on my desk, I was rather nonplussed. I texted Matt, flustered, and he tried to reassure me that someone must have just set it there because they didn't know where it belonged.

Less than a week later, the pregnancy test said +.

Isn't it something to experience the interaction of the communion of saints? As soon as we saw the result, any previous misgivings or hesitations were gone. We were both filled with joy and anticipation for something that the mere idea, just a week previous, had panicked me. I'm convinced that it was through St. Gerard that our hearts learned to look forward to God's plan, a new little boy, even more than we had looked forward to our own plans -- everything we thought we wanted sounds so empty now without Little Bear! We invoked St. Gerard's intercession numerous times after that throughout my pregnancy. His presence this month in our parish, full of children and growing families, seems most appropriate!