31 December 2014

12 for 2014

Feeling so, so grateful to Dwija for hosting this linkup and giving me a reason to look back through this year's photos... all of the "there's no way he was that small a year ago" moments, the "how did I forget that?"s, the happy and sad and words-fail-me times. I don't think there's ever been a year that I honestly wanted to re-live, and 2014 definitely does not break that streak, but there were so many good things about this year, so many blessings.

January was pretty. Snow, clear skies for the few hours that the sun was visible, relatively warm weather... I don't think it ever got too far below 0. We loved our unusually warm winter, and sure wouldn't complain about a repeat in 2015.

By mid-February, even in the mildest winter most people are ready to be done with the snow and dark. I'm not really one to keep track of milestones, fill out baby books, etc, but pretty much the only thing I took pictures of this past February was Little Bear learning to eat with a fork, so I'm going to guess that that was (at least one of) the most notable parts of the month.

The sun comes back in a hurry in March! Little Bear loved our afternoon at the ice park, looking at sculptures by artists from around the world and playing on many elaborate ice slides in the kiddie park. It was a particularly warm afternoon—in the upper 40s, if I remember right—made even warmer for me courtesy of some extra progesterone: on March 15, we learned that I was expecting #2!

Lent, Holy Week, Easter baking: I spent a lot of April in the kitchen. This was the first year that I attempted Jidáše (Judas Rolls) for Spy Wednesday, my family's traditional Italian Easter bread, and dying eggs with natural dyes, and they all turned out surprisingly well. We had a beautiful Easter, but just a few days later learned that our little one no longer had a heartbeat. Alexandra Reece was miscarried on Saturday, April 26. 

As I grew physically able to return to regular activity, we spent many May afternoons at the boat launch near our apartment. Little Bear loved throwing rocks into the river, and only got his feet wet a couple of times. 

The ground had finally thawed enough by early June for us to bury Alex; our pastor said a funeral Mass for her and blessed the gravesite. We spent the month of June apartment-hunting, as it finally registered that "our landlords are selling" meant "we need a new place to live."

On July 3, we signed a lease on an amazing apartment: The upper level of a duplex, we have a fireplace, deck, garage, high ceilings, and trees as far as we can see in every direction! We made our first attempt at camping with Little Bear in early July at Paxson Lake, three and a half hours from town; by 2 am we had dragged our sleeping pads and quilt into my parents' already-at-capacity cabin and were curled up under the table, but we have high hopes for next time.

With a fireplace came the tantalizing promise of lower heating bills. Matt spent much of August splitting and stacking three cords of wood, and while at 2 years old Little Bear wasn't actually all that helpful, he was certainly enthusiastic about it! The wood-cutting is paying off: although we cringe at the monthly heating oil invoices, longtime Alaskan homeowners tell us that we're using remarkably little oil.

"Fall lasted nine days this year," Matt has been saying lately, but looking at September photos I can't believe that it was quite that short. Maybe two weeks. The thermometer jumped around for a while, giving us a mix of beautiful golden days and chilly "I'm refusing to believe I just saw a snowflake" mornings before giving us an undeniable centimeter or two of snow on September 30.

October... warm fires in the fireplace, squash of every shape and size appearing around the kitchen, lots more snow taking up residence in our yard for the next many months, and the wonderful news that I was expecting again! Matt finally triumphed over the grouse he'd been hunting since late August, bringing home one which quickly found its way into a pie.

In early November, I received the wonderful gift of hearing and seeing our newest little one's heartbeat on an ultrasound. Now I'm impatient for the 20-week ultrasound to get here so I can see little "Kit" again! Matt, Little Bear and I spent the last two weeks of November visiting his family in Pennsylvania, as well as my siblings in Ohio and several friends in the area. Little Bear loved visiting Grandmom and Grandpop, and frequently asks to go back.

Baby Kit's odd dislike for sugar made early December quite disappointing: no cookies, fruitcake, or candy for me! Getting farther away from the first trimester has helped, but Kit still lets me know if I have too many sweets. Somehow, despite my inability to eat them, we wound up with the most varieties of Christmas cookies since we've been married, along with fruitcake and Christstollen. I'm totally not going to remember saying this next year, but I am not allowed to compare Christmas 2015 (with a 6 month old) to this Christmas' baking!

And it's still the Christmas season until Epiphany, so Merry Christmas! And happy new year. Praying that 2015 is filled with blessings, for our family and for all of you!

29 December 2014

Merry Christmas Season!

In a wonderful Christmas present from the university, Matt has almost the full 12 days of Christmas off from work! So we've been having a very enjoyable, mostly relaxing, Christmas season: building castles and making pretend pots of soup with Little Bear, cooking fun meals together, taking advantage of the mid-20s weather to haul wood, go sledding, and spend Saturday moose hunting. (Saturday was actually a little colder, -10 in town, -25 down in the flats where Matt was hunting. Matt says he was plenty warm enough, but having his eyelashes freeze together got annoying.)

Christmas Eve, the plan was to follow the Italian tradition of a feast of fish dishes; the number of dishes seems to vary based on region, anywhere from seven to thirteen. We were aiming for five this first time, as an ambitious-but-achievable number, but then I felt sick all afternoon and Matt wound up cooking an abbreviated version of the planned feast: cod, linguine with scallops, and steamed vegetables. We should have followed a recipe for the cod... we found one that sounds pretty good for next Christmas Eve.

Christmas was nice: peaceful in the morning, exciting in the afternoon. Little Bear took a while to warm up to the idea of looking in his stocking before Mass, but he did want to see the baby Jesus in the manger (and made a point of fixing the blanket that I'd set the baby on top of instead of underneath). During the homily, our pastor brought Little Bear up to look at the baby Jesus in the big nativity scene (a perk or peril of sitting at the very front!) After Mass, he helped Matt cook eggs and sausage to accompany our traditional German Christstollen. After opening gifts at home and somehow convincing Little Bear to nap, we spent the rest of the day at my parents' house for dinner, more gift-exchanging, and lots of fun with Little Bear's aunts and uncles.

Saturday's moose hunt was a little chilly but otherwise uneventful. Snow had fallen just hours before, so the tracks everywhere made it clear that the area they were hunting was full of moose, but they hadn't seen a single one by the time it began to get dark and they had to turn back.

Other than that, it's really been pretty calm and peaceful around here, with the slight exception of this noon. Matt and Little Bear played together at home this morning while I ran to the grocery store and gas station. On the way home I passed our mailman, so I decided to stop and check for mail... I pulled onto the plowed-smooth area next to our street's mailboxes, and discovered that the plow had pushed snow out past the edge of the pavement: the jeep sank right in and slid several feet into the ditch.

Living in Fairbanks is so great. In the time it took for Matt to bundle Little Bear up and walk the quarter of a mile from our house to the mailboxes, three different guys stopped and asked if they could help. The first ran home to get his towing chains, and Matt got there just in time to help direct us as the other guy used his truck to pull me out of the ditch.

So yeah, other than that, quiet and peaceful! Little Bear has discovered sledding, and loves to have me pull him up the driveway, aim the sled correctly, and then let him fly down to where Matt is waiting to catch him. So far since Christmas we've made several of our favorite meals, including the lasagna I first made for Matt not long after we started dating, as well as his delicious chicken Provençal. It's so nice to have both of us home and in the kitchen together! 

Hopefully the rest of the week runs smoothly; I keep thinking that we have this wide-open quiet nothing-happening week, and then I catch sight of the calendar and realize that, oops, there are things happening that I can't forget about! Making supper for Father tomorrow, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day (which is a holy day of obligation!), and it seems like there was something else...? I don't remember. It doesn't matter tonight.

Blessed octave of Christmas!

23 December 2014

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their savior; come to save us, O Lord our God!

The last of the O Antiphons! Tomorrow night we will celebrate the coming of Christ in the flesh, the birth of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem more than two millennia ago. Little Bear has been "shushing" me all day as I keep starting to sing the titular verse of O Come O Come Emmanuel, but I'm cheerfully annoying my son and continuing to sing because I'm so excited. The night of the nativity is almost here! 

King, lawgiver, expected-of-nations, savior: tonight's Antiphon sums up the themes of many of the previous Antiphons, presenting a clear and mighty image of the One whose coming we await. As we hurry through these last hours of probably-too-many Christmas preparations, try to find a few moments here and there to remember the most important kind of Christmas preparation: that within your heart.

We pray that everyone has a safe, happy, and blessed Christmas! 

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice, rejoice; Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

22 December 2014

O Rex Gentium

(Recycled from 2012)

O King of the nations, only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

In stonemasonry, the block at the apex of an arch is called the keystone. An arch cannot support itself without the keystone; the pressure the keystone exerts holds the arch in place and allows it to bear weight. Truly, Christ is our keystone: He is the head, the Church His mystical body. He gives us life, holding us in existence. With God, we are strong ("I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Phil 4:13); without Him, we crumble back to the dust from whence we came.

Only in Christ, the king of all nations, can all nations of the world be brought together in peace; the "arch of man," the coming together of all humanity, cannot hold together or bear weight without Him.

O come, desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease
And fill the world with heaven's peace.
Rejoice, rejoice; Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

21 December 2014

O Oriens (and o, so behind...)

Happy Fourth Sunday of Advent! Everything just gets so crazy as we get closer and closer to Christmas, and unsurprisingly, blogging tends to be the first thing to fall through the cracks. The past couple of days we've been coming and going, having friends over and visiting family, baking and cleaning and preparing... Friday night we were able to meet and have dinner with our newly-ordained bishop at my family's house, which was wonderful. Yesterday Matt and a good friend went out in the woods to cut our Christmas tree, and I'm pretty sure they found the nicest, most even black spruce I've ever seen. 

And over the past couple of days I've made cutout cookies, toffee bars, chex mix, a second batch of fruitcake... All of Little Bear's nap time has been put to good use in the kitchen instead of writing. But today's kitchen list requires his help: Matt wants to make peanut butter kiss cookies with Little Bear, and I'm hoping to finally get the cutout cookies iced. So I figured I could justify sitting down for at least a few minutes here!

So I missed Friday and Saturday's O Antiphons: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse) and O Clavis David (O Key of David). Today we have O Oriens, or O Rising Dawn.

(NOT recycled from two years ago, because that one didn't make sense without the post from the previous day.)

O dawn of the east, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

The concept of the sun rising in the east and the inherent symbolism of Christ, the Son, coming from the east didn't make a whole lot of sense to me until I went to college in Ohio; we're so far north here that the sun doesn't rise in the east and set in the west. In the summer it kind of goes around in a circle, and in the winter it rises in the south and sets in the south a couple of hours later. So in Ohio, seeing the sun rise in pretty much the same place every morning a) was weird, but b) made this imagery make a lot more sense.

There's no way it is just a coincidence that today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and today's Antiphon is all about light, dawn, enlightenment, etc. Here, the sun rose at 11:00 am and will set at 2:38 pm. Enlighten those who sit in darkness. The imagery is particularly poignant given the very literal interpretation just outside the window; we know all about physical darkness, and are eagerly, impatiently, awaiting the light's return. Going so long with so little visual light makes it easier, I think, to understand the idea of the darlness within our souls when we lack Christ. We need light. The dark Alaskan winters can literally make people crazy. And Alaskans are chronically Vitamin D deficient because we get so little sun exposure from September through April. Without seeing the sun, being in the light, our mental and even physical health starts to deteriorate. 

In the same way, we are not spiritually healthy without the Light of Christ. When our souls are in darkness, we cannot even see to find our way back to Him without the grace He gives us, especially through absolution in the sacrament of Confession, enlightening us from the darkness and from the shadow of death.

O come Thou Dayspring from on high
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death'd dark shadow put to flight.
Rejoice, rejoice; Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

18 December 2014

O Adonai

(Recycled/expanded from two years ago, because I want to try to post about all of the O Antiphons again this year but am too tired/stressed/busy to be original. Sorry!)

O Lord and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: come, and redeem us with outstretched arms.

I don't think this has struck me in past years, but today, that very last part of the Antiphon has really caught my attention. "...come and redeem us with outstretched arms." What an image those words evoke! Two different "types" of outstretched arms come to mind as I read that: a priest or bishop stretching out his arms to give a blessing, and a parent opening their arms to embrace a child. In His great gift of redemption, God reaches out to us in both ways. He showers us with grace and blessings, and draws us to Himself.

Today's verse from the hymn is a bit less exact a transliteration of the Antiphon than yesterday's was, but the sense is still there: come, mighty ruler and lawgiver, majestic beyond our comprehension! Come, lord who spoke through fire and cloud, at once ruler and ransomer of your people.

O come, O come Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height
In ancient times didst give the law
In could and majesty and awe.
Rejoice, rejoice; Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

17 December 2014

O Sapientia

(Recycled from two years ago, because I want to try to post about all of the O Antiphons again this year but am too tired/stressed/busy to be original. Sorry!)

O Wisdom, who came forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly; come, and teach us the way of prudence.

It's December 17! We begin the final stretch of Advent this evening with the O Antiphons. Each antiphon invokes one of the Scriptural attributes of Christ, referring to Isaiah's prophecy of the Messiah. By praying them in English, we miss the acrostic hidden in the Antiphons: read backwards, the first letters of the titles in Latin form the phrase "ero cras," or "I will be with you tomorrow." (The Antiphons begin tonight and end on December 23, as we celebrate Christ's birth the night of the 24).

For several centuries, the Church of England began their O Antiphons on December 16, adding an Antiphon invoking Our Lady: O Virgo virginum, or O Virgin of virgins. The acrostic then read "vero cras," or "truly, tomorrow." This practice, however, was not adopted by other Christians.

The Advent hymn "O Come O Come Emmanuel" is actually a musical setting of the O Antiphons. Include them in your prayer this evening by singing the verse:

O come, thou Wisdom from on high
Who orderst all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show
And teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice, rejoice; Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.

(Out of respect for a former schola director, I feel compelled to point out that we "dreadful American congregations" have an unfortunate tendency to add a comma after "Emmanuel" in that last line. Note the meaning of the text; we aren't telling Emmanuel to rejoice--we're telling Israel to! It doesn't make any grammatical sense to put a break there.)

Whoa, Advent

The O Antiphons start today. Today. I have baked exactly zero Christmas cookies. Same with the fudge, the breads... No gifts are wrapped, and there's still a stack of Christmas cards sitting in my purse because I haven't managed to make it to the post office recently. I did finally get my act together yesterday afternoon and candy 10 cups of nuts, but that's the only thing I've accomplished. Last year, I'm pretty sure I'd begun baking mini loaves of festive breads to give as gifts and sticking them in the freezer the week before Advent began... I feel woefully behind.

But I probably shouldn't be comparing myself to last year, when I had a 1.5 year old who took 2+ hour naps and there was no one else asking anything of me. If I look back to our first Advent married instead, I was spending every possible moment curled up on the couch feeling miserable, and I don't think I managed any candied anything, or fruitcake, or stollen, and probably not more than one variety of cookie. As far as my pregnant Advents go, I'm doing pretty well here.

But really, it's time to start making some progress in ye olde kitchen.

Because I like schedules maybe a little bit too much, I actually went through and wrote down every single thing I'm planning to make, each on its own day so maybe hopefully they'll all actually happen. But now my schedule is all mussed, because I kind of want to add two things to the list and there aren't any more days... I know, not the biggest problem in the world; I'm just trying to be realistic about what I can accomplish in a day, with the baby stealing all of my energy. Getting groceries and putting them away this morning still has me tuckered out. The Christmas season is just beginning on December 25; maybe I'll push a couple more things off to the week after Christmas Day.

My list of "I totally can't accomplish all this before Christmas Eve":
- toffee bars
- shortbread
- spritz cookies
- fudge 
- Christstollen
- lefse 
- chex mix
- peanut butter kiss cookies (Matt and Little Bear will hopefully be making these some evening, because Kit still hates the smell of peanut butter)
- maybe some basic cutout cookies for Little Bear to decorate? Is he not old enough for that to be worth it? He's been having a lot of fun looking at the cookie cutters, but I'm not sure I'm up for that kind of chaos.
- also all of the local gift-wrapping and gift-giving and Christmas decorating...

There's definitely a difference, I've discovered this year, between the acclaimed prayerful intentional "celebrating Advent as Advent" and "decorating for Advent and then blinking and it's practically Christmas." Oops.

What's left on your list?

14 December 2014

Seven Quick Takes: A Feast-Filled Week

Late, late, I know. Lazy blogger, or actually using Little Bear's naps productively this week? Maybe a little of both.

I have two freelance projects going right now, one that has to be sent in by Sunday night and one with a fuzzier free-floating deadline that I can't make any progress on until other people finish and give me their pieces of the puzzle, so I'm trying to work on the first while being hazily aware that time is passing on the second. And encountering writers block like crazy, because we're halfway through Advent and pretty much nothing is done around the house... nothing wrapped, no cookies or candy started; I finally finished Christmas cards last night. And for some unfathomable reason, the fireplace can burn for hours without raising the temperature more than a degree or two, so I'm spending way too much time babysitting the fire. At least my fruitcake is done! I borrowed my 13-year-old sister for the morning on Tuesday, and in between doing her schoolwork she kept Little Bear's fingers out of the mixer so I could turn these out:

Mmm. No red 40 lake in here; none of us like the sticky-sweet colorful candied fruits, so this year's fruitcake is full of flame raisins, golden raisins, currants, apricots, and pineapple!

I heard about Emily Oster's book Expecting Better when it first came out last summer, and remember telling myself, "That sounds great. I'm definitely going to look for it next time I'm pregnant." And then of course I forgot, and it's only recently reoccurred to me as I'm finally beginning to feel like eating food again. Post-Christmas-shopping December wasn't the best time to remember... Maybe I can look into it after we get a ways into the new year and have recovered from Christmas. I love the idea, though, that Oster has actually read the scientific studies and parsed out what they really say about what is and isn't safe during pregnancy, allowing women to make their own decisions based on facts instead of leaving them at the mercy of Dr. Google and sweeping generalizations and all of the wildly conflicting advice you get from old wives' tales and well-intentioned strangers. I'm looking forward to eventually reading through her data.

And now it's Sunday afternoon... oops. I'll try to finish these up quickly while Little Bear naps.

I finished and submitted that freelance project yesterday—hooray! I hate having writing projects come down to the last minute.

We've reached the time of year when wars about Santa, the "you're ruining their childhood" moms vs the "you're lying to your kids" moms, spring up all over the internet. I'm not about to add to it, because I honestly think that both camps are a little bit silly... But "what are we going to do about Santa?" is a legitimate question that parents (particularly those whose kids are just becoming old enough for it to matter) have to figure out. I highly recommend Cam's recent post on The Santa Debate: Delving into the Whys. We're handling Santa pretty much the same way they are; it makes a lot of sense to Matt and I. But like Cam says, it's completely up to the parents of each individual family how they want to do Santa. Matt and I both were told that Santa was real as little kids, and I certainly don't think that other parents are doing something wrong if they choose to do that with their kids!

Matt's out at the rifle range with my dad and brother this afternoon, taking advantage of our beautiful sunny almost-30-degree weather. It's supposed to slide back into the mid-20s, low-20s, teens as the week goes on, so I'm so glad that he's getting out today! I'm definitely setting out Little Bear's snowpants for when I bring him over to Grandma's house after his nap, so that he can get some good running around outside time as well.

I think I originally intended to talk more about all of the feast days crammed into the past week, considering the title I gave this post, so let's run through those quick. What a week! The Immaculate Conception, patroness of the United States (and of our parish), on Monday; St Juan Diego on Tuesday; Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas and one of the Marian titles we have a particular devotion to, on Friday; St Lucy yesterday; and today is Gaudete Sunday!

Monday we had a white cake with blueberries scattered throughout—the Marian colors seemed appropriate, and it was a recipe Matt had been asking for. Mexican food on both Tuesday and Friday, along with lots of stories about OL Guadalupe. And Little Bear has been so, so eager to light the pink candle ever since I set up our Advent wreath, so today he was very excited: we talked about the pink candle, and hope and joy and rejoicing, and when he saw that Mama was wearing pink today he wanted to too. We sat right up front at Mass, and he could see that the pink candle on the parish's Advent wreath was lit; he couldn't sit still when we got home until we lit our pink candle, too.

I didn't forget about St Lucy, but her feast day gets its own take, because:

I made St Lucy buns for the first time! They were a lot easier than I'd thought they would be, and we've all been enjoying them! I used this recipe from Simply Recipes, which I'm not going to copy out here because she has a bunch of really helpful step-by-step photos interspersed with her recipe. Yes, saffron is awfully expensive, which is one reason I've never made these before... But all of the Spice Island spices have been 50-60% off here recently, so I was finally able to justify it. :-) I made slightly shorter snakes than the recipe says to, so we wound up with 18 instead of 12. Because they were smaller, I rotated the pans after 4 minutes and checked them for doneness at 8; I think I let both pans go about one minute longer, but I'm not quite sure and our oven has been finicky lately, so check them a little bit earlier than you think you have to.

Have a lovely, not too stressful, third week of Advent! Join the fun at This Ain't The Lyceum.

05 December 2014

Seven Quick Takes: Vacation Edition

Somehow, between lingering first trimester awfulness and trying to catch up from being gone for two weeks and it suddenly being December and Advent (how did that happen??), I completely ran out of time/energy to post this week. Again. Seven Quick Takes to the rescue! Let's see if I can manage to break down our trip into seven parts, and knock SQT and the vacation recap out together.

A friend from Matt's work picked us up at 11:30 pm to drive us to the airport on November 15. As we stepped outside, the sky was covered in the biggest, brightest, most colorful display of the Aurora borealis that I can remember ever seeing. All the way to the airport, the lights danced and changed overhead, and even as our plane was ascending we could see the ribbons of light covering the sky on both sides of the plane. It was incredible.

Photos from newsminer.com.

Between the flights and drive (and trying to navigate Philadelphia traffic in the dark during rush hour—we are never living in a big city again!) we'd been traveling for about 16 hours by the time we reached Matt's parents' house. Little Bear did a great job of sleeping on both flights, so he was happy when we arrived. Because we Skype with them every week, he was comfortable with Matt's parents right away—and very excited to follow their cat around everywhere! It was so nice to spend time with his family again; it'd been two years since we last saw them. And as my morning/all day sickness got substantially worse shortly after we arrived, I was very grateful for Little Bear's desire to play with his grandparents and their happiness to spend time with him. I'm afraid I wasn't a wonderful guest, often winding up needing to go lay down.

We made the roughly five hour trip out to Ohio on Wednesday to see the three of my siblings currently at Franciscan. They were all very busy, but schedules worked out just right that apart from Little Bear's nap we were able to spend time with at least one of them at almost any given time. On Thursday morning, the sister who is in grad school had us over along with the sister who's a freshman. After morning classes got out, my brother was also able to meet the rest of us for lunch at the lower campus coffee shop/café. Little Bear was excited to see them all, and has since started adding the three of them to his list of "please bless"s at prayer time without prompting from us. We also had a chance to stop by and visit my boss in public relations, which was great, and when he found out that Matt works in video conferencing he arranged for him to meet Franciscan's head of video conferencing; Matt spent about a half hour talking with him that afternoon while Little Bear napped. And I was so glad that we were able to visit one of my household sisters who still lives in town, along with her sons! Little Bear had trouble sharing with the other boys, but when we were ready to go decided all on his own to give them hugs. As we were heading out Friday morning, we ran up to campus one last time so I could catch my Latin professor during her office hours. We weren't in town for even 48 hours, but it was so nice to be able to visit.

I have to say, for being a pro-life school and all of the talk about openness to life that goes on there, it was frustrating that I could only find one changing table on the entire campus, in the chapel... I do realize it's a university, but a lot of the professors have big families, and alumni come visit with their families frequently, and they make many of their events open to the public. Would it be so hard to put one changing table in the bathroom of the student center or the coffee shop?

Following the cat around everywhere remained a favorite activity of Little Bear's the entire trip. It took us a while to teach him her name, but once he got it, we frequently heard "Molly! Molly!" and an occasional "Molly, come here right now!" as he learned that cats just don't listen when you call them. She was surprisingly patient with all of his attention, though, and he did a pretty good job of being gentle when he petted her. Wherever Molly was, Little Bear was pretty sure he needed to be there too.

We made a whirlwind trip to Baltimore and back the Monday-Tuesday before Thanksgiving. On Monday morning we walked around by the water and visited the national aquarium with Matt's good friend from college, my matron-of-honor, and their two sons. We spent the day/night with them, enjoying the warm weather and the chance to catch up after so long; we hadn't seen each other since I was pregnant with Little Bear! 

The next day we met my other best friend and her family at an indoor playground just north of Baltimore. We'd last seen each other shortly after Matt and I became engaged, I think, but it might have been slightly before... It'd been way too long! Little Bear and her daughter had a lot of fun playing in a kid-sized village and on the play equipment and bouncy slide/ball pit, but not together... They each happily played with their fathers and pretty much ignored each other while us moms sat and talked.

Matt, his dad, and I took Little Bear to the zoo one afternoon. I think the adults enjoyed looking at most of the animals more than he did, but he loved the ducks: there was a little observation deck built next to a creek, and dispensers with corn and seeds that you could feed the ducks. Matt got a handful of corn, and Little Bear quickly learned that if he threw a bunch of pieces at once the whole crowd of ducks would swarm after them. We did so many other fun things with his family... An early Christmas gift exchange, so that we could actually be present to open gifts; talking and reading and cooking together; spending time with his brother's family. Matt's mother hosted Thanksgiving dinner, and I helped with part of the food prep; baby was being particularly uncooperative on "Thanksgiving Eve" and Thanksgiving, so unfortunately I wasn't as much help in the kitchen as I'd have liked. Our last night in town, Matt went over to his brother's house for a few hours while I watched the movie Moms Night Out with Matt's mom, my sister-in-law, and Matt's grandmothers. And Little Bear loved all of the story-reading, picture-coloring, train-watching, puzzle-assembling, and running around that he got to do with Grandmom and Grandpop!

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, our last day with Matt's family, was our niece's baptism. Matt and I were honored to be her godparents, and we were so glad that we could be there for her baptism! 

My baby unfortunately doesn't seem to like the smell of chrism... usually I love smelling it on newly-baptized babies, but it (like pretty much every other sweet scent these days) wound up making me feel sick. Baby had better get over that by this summer!

(Eight takes today, just because :-)
We drove back to Philadelphia right after the reception, going to an evening Mass, returning our rental car, and checking into a hotel with a shuttle to the airport. After making plans to get up at 3:30 to catch the 4am shuttle, we went to sleep. Well, Matt and Little Bear did. I lay awake, dozing occasionally, unable to sleep, worrying about flights, until I finally got up at 1:30 to check my phone in the hopes of finding a confirmation email that our first flight would be on time. Instead, I found a message that our flight had been bumped from 6:30 to 9. Our second flight was supposed to leave Chicago at 9:30. I spent the next hour and a half on the phone with the airlines, and got us all moved onto a 6am flight on a different airline. Woke Matt and Little Bear, threw everything together, ran downstairs to check out, and barely caught the 3:30 shuttle.

We made all of our connections fine after that, despite spending eight hours on the plane from Chicago to Anchorage (supposed-to-be-6.5 hour flight + technical difficulties + strong headwinds). Little Bear was as well-behaved as you could expect a two year old to be, trapped on a plane for so long. Matt had thankfully taken this past Monday off work as well; I don't know how he would have functioned at the office after that trip, or how I would have managed to unpack and go shopping and survive that first day at home with Little Bear by myself. I'm so glad we went! But now I'm so glad to be home.

Linking up with everyone else at This Ain't The Lyceum, the new home of the Seven Quick Takes party!

02 December 2014

People, Look East

I'm so sorry for disappearing there for a whole 2+ weeks... We've been traveling, and I don't like telling the internet when we are away from home because who knows who might find out and decide to take advantage of an empty house, you know? But we're home now, and I'll have stories and photos from our wonderful trip soon. Today, though, because my brain is all fuzzy from flying and not sleeping and trying to adjust to the four-timezone shift, I'm just going to throw out a handful of Advent links.

Four weeks until Christmas, y'all! Advent is definitely one of my favorite liturgical seasons. What are your favorite resources or traditions for the Advent season?

Some new finds and old favorites:

AdventReflections.com – FREE daily Advent reflections emailed to you from Fr. Robert Barron, available in English or Spanish.

Magnificat Advent Companion – I loved going through this last year, and am definitely looking forward to using it again! Scripture readings, prayers, and meditations for each day of Advent. The print edition is sold out, unfortunately, but e-editions are available for Kindle, Nook, or Kobo for 99 cents, or on the iOS App Store for $1.99.

Prepare Him Room: Advent Family Devotions – Amy Welborn's new devotional booklet, available for Kindle for just 99 cents. (You don't have to have a Kindle to read Kindle books; there's a free app you can download to your phone/tablet/computer.) It looks like a print edition was also put out by Creative Communications, but in my admittedly brief perusal I couldn't find a way to buy one; perhaps they're only available in bulk to parishes?

Our Favorite Family Read-Alouds for Advent – Kendra at Catholic All Year has a great list of picture books and short chapter books that kids and parents will both enjoy as we prepare for Christmas.

Melissa & Doug Nativity Set – I've been looking for a kid-safe nativity set that wouldn't completely break the bank since Little Bear's first Advent, and just hadn't been satisfied with the more cartoon-ified versions I'd seen so far. I had no idea Melissa & Doug made one, but we discovered this at a toy store in Matt's parents' town last week, and I was so happy! Little Bear still spends more time taking the roof off than anything else, but he did sit through the nativity story last night and seemed to understand which people in the book corresponded to the wooden people I kept pointing to... we still have a few weeks for him to figure it out.