Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

Sporting rockin’ ashes & my favorite apron

As a child, one of my favorite “holidays” was Ash Wednesday.  Not only did we get to have a half day at school – but the entire day was named after me as well!  I had to laugh this morning when Michael fell under the same childish impression.  He wondered why is this day named after his mama?  Is there going to be some sort of party, like last night with the special desserts?

Speaking of Michael, I was quite impressed with him at mass today.  He was remarkably calm and even seemed to be soaking in some key phrases throughout the service.  “What is pity?” he asked after the first reading.  Then he nearly jumped out of the pew when he heard Father mention “video games” during the homily.  That sure caught his attention!  Today was a far cry from the typical whining and squirming that attending mass generally provokes.  I think the novelty of receiving ashes (the one time of year a four year old actually participates in the communion line) and spending time with daddy midday improved Michael’s behavior.  Although I wondered where my real child went, the peaceful mass experience was such a lovely gift.  I hope this is a positive behavioral shift instead of an anomaly.

The rest of my day was less peaceful.  Ryan and I learned of a financial hiccup that will inevitably increase our stress levels.  I’m having a difficult time getting a handle on household chores this week.  And fasting is hard to do!  I’ve come to realize that I am super-out-of-practice in the fasting department.  Previous Lenten seasons have given me a pass for pregnancy, nursing or health issues – and I’ve finally run out of excuses.  But at least I ate the really dark chocolate (you know, it’s slightly more palatable than bitter) when I finally caved to my sweet tooth this evening.  That’s got to count for something, right?

I’ll let you know how it goes on my voluntary Lenten sacrifice (making a schedule and sticking to it).  Right now, eh…  I need to put a plan on paper.  Did I already mention I’m having a hard time organizing my life right now?

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An Extrovert Writing an Introverted Blog

writingSince my reentry into the blogosphere, I stumbled upon the Sheenazing Blogger Awards and it’s got me thinking.  Where does this blog fit in?

When it began, I assumed my posts would lean toward humorous stories of motherhood or life in a dorm.  Turns out daily life has been rather uneventful – and I seem to be more inspired when I have a deep interior thought.  Or when I attempt to join forces with 7 Quick Takes.  It just doesn’t feel natural yet.  I am being stretched and pulled in an unexpected way.

Since I am also relying on moments of inspiration, it has been rather difficult to maintain posting on a regular basis.  I am an extrovert writing an introverted blog.  What kind of craziness is that?

It reminds me of an introverted friend who used to come over to spend time with my husband and me in our little apartment.  He didn’t need us to entertain him.  He was perfectly content to sit on the couch, involved in his own quiet activity, while my husband and I worked on our individual projects.  He called it “introvert bonding” – when people socialize without being social.  For an extrovert, I found it a pleasant change of pace not having to entertain.

I guess this blog is also a change of pace – a forum where I can express my introverted side.  It also explains the occasional breaks in posting: my extroverted and introverted sides have to vie for attention.  You can see which side usually wins.

7 Quick Takes (vol. 4)

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This blog is back from a rather long hiatus!  I’m not sure why it’s taken two months to sit down and hash out my thoughts.  There was Advent, Christmas and post-Christmas chaos to be sure.  I was reintroduced to the FlyLady, which inspired me to focus maximum time/energy on providing a tidier home, if not an updated blog.  Honestly, however, I think I was under a serious mental block.  My last post spoke about trying to follow God’s will – and it took me nearly all this time to finish a task set before me in early December.  Now I am able to think freely again.  What a relief.

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What sort of task would hang over my head for months at a time? C’mon, admit it.  You want to know.  I think the prompting started with this blog – and wanting to share the story of my unborn children.  I felt compelled to introduce them into random conversations and public forums.  Throughout December I spoke of them to anyone who happened to ask about the size of my family.  Then I decided to include their names on the signature of our annual Christmas card.  If I was already telling perfect strangers about the hidden details of our family size, why not be open with the rest of our friends and family too?

As it often happens with promptings of the Holy Spirit, human plans go awry.  I ordered the cards early, but they arrived late – at the onset of holiday festivities.  They sat untouched until the New Year, waiting for an explanatory newsletter to join them.  For several weeks I wasn’t in the appropriate frame of mind to write the letter.  Then January drew to a close and embarrassment outweighed procrastination.  I cranked out the letter, stuffed the envelopes, and shoved the whole lot into a mailbox.  Too late to turn back now.

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It takes me forever to express my thoughts in words.  What made me think blogging would be an easy hobby to keep up with?!  Journaling seems to speed my pen along at warp speed.  But people on the other end of a computer might notice the grammatical and spelling errors – not to mention my crazy interior thoughts.  I should have foreseen the timing problem, as writing college papers also required an inordinate amount of time and energy. C’est la vie.  I still desire to finish this post!

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 Our family took a ski vacation last weekend.  Ryan used to ski in high school and has always wanted to share this sport with Michael and me.  So we gathered random gear from family, packed up the car and headed north to the “mountains”.  It turned out to be a super fun challenge.  I got the hang of skiing during my first afternoon (despite some unexpected adventures on the more advanced blue slopes).  Ryan used a harness to guide Michael, allowing him to gain experience on the real slopes from the start.  He also seemed to take to the sport quickly.  We closed our second day on the bunny hill so Michael could try skiing without the harness (his favorite part of the trip).  It was amazing to watch our son glide down the hill with confidence and ease.  I have a feeling that skiing will be a cherished family activity in the years to come.

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 Photos from our weekend:

Ryan and Michael

Daddy and Michael

Michael and mama

Michael and Mama

A very tired boy

A very tired boy

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 Ever heard of Cake Wrecks?  Go there.  Laugh.  You know you want to.

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Another fun website for your Friday Saturday night: Downton Abbey Facebook.  Episode 4 spoiler alert for Downton fans.  But seriously, if you haven’t already gone online to hunt down the rest of season 3 before it’s USA air time, can you really call yourself a fan?!  Just sayin…  This episode can also be legitimately found at Masterpiece (for a limited time).

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Pondering the Little Way

st_james_seat_of_wisdom

Apparently it’s a lot more difficult to write about the nitty-gritty of following the Little Way than I originally anticipated.  It has taken two weeks of wallowing in the knowledge of my inadequacies and a 24 hour retreat with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist to shove me back in the blogosphere.  But I coming bearing deep thoughts!

You know you need to go on retreat when you are pouting the entire three hour drive there, hypothetically speaking, of course.

In all seriousness, I think I hit another low at the end of November.  It all ties back to my childbearing struggles – and the grief process that ebbs and flows over time.  On the surface, I am generally fine.  But I’ve come to realize that certain distractions (TV for one) cause my underlying sadness to fester and eventually spill over, with bitterness threatening to overwhelm me.  I tell myself that God has handed me enough suffering – I shouldn’t have to delve deeper into my spiritual life, I shouldn’t have to give up the few remaining pleasures within my grasp.

It’s never satisfying though, to distract my cares away.

So I went on retreat, where I was constantly surrounded by all the things I yearn for and do not possess: esteem in the eyes of the (Catholic) world, an obvious talent, friendliness, thin body, pregnant belly, babies.  There was no private place I could go to hide and cry out my frustration and woes.  I had to sit before the Lord, acutely aware of my insignificance.

As the retreat drew to a close, I couldn’t pin-point any significant moments.  The talks were good, it was nice to go to mass alone, I tolerated my 4am holy hour.  But nothing seemed earth-shattering.  I didn’t even feel refreshed – mostly just tired and worn out from lack of sleep.  I was prepared to return home to my regularly scheduled life.

Then God informed me that I needed to speak about the Litany of Mary I received at the beginning of retreat (we all drew one at random), Mary Seat of Wisdom.  Totally fine, easy-peasy.  From the moment I read the litany I knew that it related back to a charismatic college retreat when I asked the Holy Spirit for the gift of wisdom.  It would take about 30 seconds to share my blurb, all nice and pithy.  Heck, I even looked up the church’s definition of wisdom – to order one’s life according to God’s will.  Done.

Uh, no, God pressed upon me.  You have got to delve a lot deeper than that today.

Crap.  The last thing I wanted to do was pour out my heart to 170 women about the real reason God asked me to ponder wisdom and the ordering of my life to His will.  I follow God in all the big ways – but it’s those little ways that I fail each day.  I don’t want to suffer more.  I don’t want to seek out further mortification.  I certainly don’t want to admit to all these women that despite the fact that I’ve had four miscarriages in less than two years, the real tragedy is how stingy and distracted I am in my daily life.  How much TV consumes my quiet moments.  It’s embarrassing to admit to struggling with such a dumb vice.

The good news is that I submitted to God’s request.  I choked on my tears in front of all those women.  I spoke of my children.  I admitted to the stupid ways I ignore God’s will.  And I opened myself up to those painful conversations that occur afterwards, when another woman shares her suffering with me.

A short while later it occurred to me that all feelings of anxiety and disappointment were gone.  In fact, a new kind of peace was quickly taking over the vulnerable parts of my heart.  I felt light and joyful – and I wanted to know more about the women I met on this retreat.  I knew that when I returned home my regularly scheduled life wasn’t going to cut it anymore.

So, here I am – pondering instead of vegging out.  My life hasn’t been miraculously scrubbed of all temptations and vices.  However, I think I am finally dipping my toe into the scary waters of following God’s promptings, even in the stupid little stuff.  Especially in those little ways – and isn’t that the point of this whole blog anyhow?

7 Quick Takes (vol. 3)

It’s been a hectic week around here.  Thought I’d share some of the fun we’ve been having.

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Saturday was devoted to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd training.  This month’s class was focused on presenting The Prophecies during Advent season.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel. – Isaiah 7:14

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel. – Micah 5:1

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh: a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel. – Numbers 24:17

We spent nearly five hours pondering these three verses, attempting to describe the exact moments of presentation – not to mention determine our direct and indirect aims for the children who will receive them.

A particular pattern has arisen during my monthly catechetical training.  At first, I find the required level of detail tedious during our discussions.  Just go ahead and tell me the exact words you want on the album page!  However, my brain eventually rises from the fog of everyday life and snaps to attention.  And I have suddenly returned to my undergrad theology shoes.  Diving into the underlying Montessori philosophy and psychology stirs up a desire to know more.  I always thought a bachelor’s degree was the end of my education, but now I am not so sure.

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Recipe for a relaxing Sunday: chocolate, babies and rest.  With Ryan working on another app deadline, Michael and I took the opportunity to snuggle our favorite baby friends and indulge in my most-favorite brand of dark chocolate.  It is an amazing conglomeration of cocoa products, cane sugar and vanilla.  Apparently I didn’t just stop at the good stuff though.  My food journal (more on that another day) holds me accountable for cookie dough, pudding and milkshake consumption as well.  Which leads me to the next point…

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As of Monday, I am back on the healthy-eating wagon.  An appropriately-timed appointment led to my healthy lifestyle “prescription.”  Remember that wonderful doctor I’ve mentioned before?  He also happens to own a holistic practice that heavily encourages good diet and stress-free lifestyles.  His philosophy is not to require perfection, but to encourage following a reasonable baseline.  Basically, what is the least amount of effort one can commit to that continuously yields results?

It was quite humbling to sit before this man and admit that my will-power is basically non-existant.  I keep making excuses for my bad eating habits, justifying myself the pleasure because I have suffered so much in other ways.  And yet, my unhealthy habits directly correlate with the cause of my suffering.  Endometriosis causes fertility issues – and endometriosis worsens when eating sugar, grains and alcohol.  I can’t afford to eat these products, but I haven’t trained myself to say no to them either.  So, we made a plan of attack I will actually commit to following (pitiful though the effort may seem to my perfectionist eyes).  In two weeks, reevaluation of progress occurs.  Here’s to crossing my fingers and hoping the least painful option works!

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We checked out a ton of new library books on Tuesday.  This one is Michael’s favorite over the last couple of days.  Doesn’t everyone love a good high-diving horse story?  One of my favorite childhood movies featured a girl determined to soar through the sky on her trusty stead.  Reading about Atlantic City also saddened me to think about hurricane Sandy’s devastation of the historic town, especially the boardwalk.  A piece of history is no longer with us.  My heart aches to think of the loss.

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Inspiration took over on Wednesday, and I’ve been cooking up a storm ever since.  For some reason, knowing that I can have one utterly unhealthy dessert each day gives me the motivation to cook Paleo for the rest of my meals.  I also really, really wanted to make strawberry cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.  So yummy!  Thus far we have been partaking in recipes such as:

  • Cajun sweet potato fries
  • Turkey meatloaf
  • Strawberry shortcakes
  • Tomato basil soup
  • Cauliflower pizza crust

My go-to cookbook has been Make It Paleo by Bill Staley and Hayley Mason.  Every recipe includes a gorgeous photo (hence my inspiration) and tastes awesome.  The authors also strove to keep their recipes simple with minimal ingredients – which means I tend to have most items already stocked.  The only challenge for me is time management.  Late dinners have been butting up against Michael’s bedtime, and that makes for a slap-happy child at the dinner table.  He seems to enjoy the food as much as his parents, between all the wiggling.

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Thursdays are gymnastics days!  A friend of mine hooked us up with the local gymnastics club this fall, and it’s one of the best activities we have invested in for Michael.  He’s definitely not on par with the gal in the above photo – but he learned how to “stick the landing” today.  It was exciting.  The kid has been doing great, especially since I threw him in the four-year-old class with no previous experience.

Week 1 was all about balance beams.  Michael had an intense expression of concentration that first day.  He had never touched a balance beam in his life, but he jumped right in, wobbles and all.  I couldn’t tell if he was having fun until his eye accidentally caught mine and a huge grin invaded his face.  “This is so fun!” he exclaimed before resuming his serious attitude.

Week 2 focused on bars.  I couldn’t believe how brave my little boy can be.  One of the stations required him to jump from a three-foot high mat and grab onto a bar located higher than his head.  It was like an extra-long monkey bar, with his feet dangling above the ground.  After initial help from his coach, he didn’t even hesitate to jump alone on the second round.

This week introduced trampolines.  Few things are sweeter than watching a child bounce with total abandon.  They are so joyful.  Michael is not coordinated enough to do more than travel up and down, but I can envision his potential.  The poise gymnastics naturally facilitates will help him in future athletic endeavors.

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Thanksgiving approaches, so I share with you Michael’s thoughts on the subject.  My favorite is his gratitude for dinner every night.  I’ve been working hard to provide good meals this week (and wash all the dishes by hand, as we have no dishwasher in our tiny apartment).  It’s really nice to be appreciated.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Where Has October Gone?

It’s true, I’ve been slacking in posting since late September.  But in my defense, it’s been a hectic month around here – and not in the typical Halloween-is-just-around-the-corner fashion.  It all started on the Feast of St. Therese…

I discovered I was pregnant, which was both a source of joy and concern for me.  My first pregnancy four years ago with Michael was uneventful (until labor, when he became breech and I had an unexpected c-section).  Since Michael’s birth, however, I haven’t had such good luck with subsequent pregnancies.  The last two years have been spent working with multiple doctors and going through the gauntlet of testing to address my health issues.  A part of me hoped that St. Therese would be linchpin, the “one thing” that would ensure the health of this pregnancy.

But I didn’t have a lot of time to ponder these deep thoughts, because our little family was traveling to Denver in two days.  Packing took precedence!  Ryan had a business conference in the Mile High City, so Michael and I were tagging along to visit friends who also lived in the area.  The week in Denver was wonderful and ended far too quickly.  I couldn’t help chastizing Ryan for failing to book us an extra day to visit after his conference ended.  Little did I realize that the timing was already perfect for our flight home.

Here’s where my story takes a turn and hindsight allows me to see God’s plan working throughout our Denver trip.  During the week, I had a lot of private emotional ups and downs regarding my pregnancy.  One moment I was full of hope for our tiny child, the next I was convinced that another miscarriage was in progress.  I knew her name was Maria Teresa, but I couldn’t tell you why.  I also felt tired and worn out, but wasn’t sure if I was experiencing normal pregnancy symptoms or something worse.  During this time, I felt like I couldn’t really talk about my pregnancy because so much was unknown.  I didn’t want to raise anyone’s hopes just to turn around and give them sad news a week later.

I also had a profound talk with my friend during our visit.  So much had changed since we last saw each other in June.  In August she went through an ectopic pregnancy, and she shared her experience with me.  She told me about catechizing the hospital surgeon to ensure Catholic ethics would be followed during her surgery.  She kept a scrapbook of mementos from her child’s short life.  The hospital even gave her a death certificate and the remains of her child to be buried.  I had no idea that she was laying out a plan for me in the days to come.

We flew out of Denver early Sunday morning.  Sleep did not come easily the night before and my body just didn’t feel right.  The next day, Oct 8th, I had an onset of severe abdominal pain.  Ryan rushed me to the hospital and ultrasound testing showed an ectopic pregnancy.  I was in total shock.  How likely is it that two friends experience the same rare pregnancy complication within weeks of each other?  What are the odds that those two friends, who live a thousand miles apart, will visit each other and discuss this very phenomenon days before it happens again?

The craziness was just beginning.  Once Ryan and I knew the situation, we sent out prayer requests to friends and family.  We anticipated a Catholic medical ethics chat with my doctor and surgery later that evening.  What we didn’t expect was the push-back from our families about me losing part of a fallopian tube.  I also began to wonder if this surgery could be expanded to include some diagnostic work for my other reproductive issues.  If I was going under the knife once, might as well make it worth my time!

My doctor was amazing.  He was willing to respect our Catholic views concerning the ectopic pregnancy, but he also wanted to make the most of my surgery.  We decided to postpone surgery until the following day when a full laproscopic team would be available.  He expected to find some other underlying issues and wanted to treat them, not just diagnose them.

During the night, things began to change again.  I realized that I was no longer in pain and didn’t need the heavy duty meds.  A second blood test confirmed that my hCG levels were decreasing and the baby was passing naturally.  This was  a blessing because it took away the necessity to remove my fallopian tube, and gave my family more peace about the surgery.  I also got the sense that Maria Teresa volunteered for the job – the child who presented a situation that would potentially fix my overall reproductive health.  The sad truth was, until that moment, I was not open to having diagnostic surgery.  I was in denial that my body really needed it.

Surgery lasted for over two hours on Tuesday night.  Ryan said that my doctor looked quite pleased with his work when he emerged from the operating room.  Diagnostic work showed that I had endometriosis covering about 30% of my uterus/abdomen and adhesions on my ovary and c-section scar.  Turns out that endometriosis causes ectopic pregnancies.  If I didn’t fix this problem, the likelihood of future ectopic pregnancies was high.

The next two weeks were spent healing from surgery, trying not to jump back into physical activity too quickly.  I woke up from the hazy world of prescription meds around Oct 15th and wondered where the month had gone!  I also discovered that Oct 15th was not only Teresa of Avila’s feast day (patron for our Maria Teresa), but also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.  It felt like an extra blessing from God to have those special days align.

Unfortunately, the drama was not quite finished.  I had a second bout of abdominal pain and ER visiting a few days ago, Oct 28th.  Another ultrasound showed blood pooling in my abdomen.  Doctors aren’t sure if this is due to complications from surgery or my cycle trying to get back into the swing of things.  I’ve spent the last couple of days resting, sleeping, and being so thankful that my mother can take Michael for a few days when crazy health issues crop up.

When I ponder the last thirty days, it amazes me how many blessings have cushioned our hardships.  Friends and family have been a wonderful support – feeding us, caring for Michael, helping me maintain house and home.  Most significantly, I am at peace about the loss of Maria Teresa.  She came into our lives with a very clear purpose.  Her sacrifice will enable our family to grow, and one day our suffering will be turned into joy.  She brought us hope.

Mental Inbox

Is it any wonder that I can’t produce coherent thoughts tonight? There are plenty of topics to entice, but I can’t seem to gather them into a thoughtfully worded post. The temptation to veg out in front of a mind-numbing TV show is growing greater by the minute.

A spark is growing, however. Over the last couple of days I’ve found myself noticing life around me, wondering where I can discover fodder for my new blog. Little seeds are planting themselves in the back of my mind. If only I could clear out the mental cobwebs via the physical materials overflowing my inbox! Alas, the required energy eludes me.

On a silver-lining note – at least I created a legitimate reason to install Instagram on my phone.