Saturday, December 30, 2006

A quiet moment

Sometimes I just wish I could hear his internal monologue as he discovers the world...

Friday, December 29, 2006

Christmas morning times 5

I’ve had more “Christmas morning” moments in the past couple weeks than I think I’ve had in the past few years. When I was younger Christmas morning was filled with the surprise and awe of awakening to the piles of gifts that had materialized under our tree overnight, as well as the gleeful anticipation of what could be hidden under that wrapping. That’s worn off over the years, although gifts are still fun, and I found myself this year with a new kind of “Christmas morning” feeling: awe and gratitude at all that has been given to me, in so many varied ways. I’ll just give the three big ones (keepin’ it Trinitarian, folks!): help moving into our new house, two families filled with joy and generosity, and of course our little son.

Word to the wise: when moving with an infant, ask for lots and lots of help, particularly if you are the primary caregiver to said infant and expect to get any packing done at all. I think I packed a total of three boxes all on my own...and that doesn’t count the help I got actually acquiring the boxes themselves. I don’t think I actually ever asked for help, but we were overwhelmed by it, and thanks to everyone who came, we actually made it out of our apartment on time. My mom came over and quite professionally packed up our entire kitchen, and my dad played Santa, surpising us a few days before Christmas by packing up our whole living room for us while we were out at Michael’s Advent Concert and YA commitment Mass. On top of all that, he came back to help us move furniture with the Uhaul, along with my father- and brother-in-law and a wonderful friend who I’ll name here as “Juan Mas”. My father-in-law recently commented to Michael that it takes humility to receive a gift. I think I learned a good dose of humility on that Wednesday that we moved...on top of taking care of a baby, I was also down and out with a bad cold. I’m so used to being in control, and I had to humbly admit that not only did I not need to control the situation, because other people were doing it for me, I had to even more humbly admit that I couldn’t control it even if I wanted to, and just had to receive the great gift of help that so many people were offering to our little family.

I won’t go on for too long about #2 and #3, as Gabriel is wiggling on my lap and I will never post this on the blog if I keep writing. I have to just note that coming home to two warm houses filled with good food, pretty decorations, and great company felt extra good considering the chaos that our own home was in. And last but certainly not least, little Gabriel. He’s quite the “infant” now, and no longer a “newborn”. He’s become Mr. Grabby, wanting to snatch anything that passes his line of vision and stuff it into his mouth. He also likes to talk quite a bit, particularly in church or in the Eucharistic Chapel. The other day as we walked into Mass at the St. Luke’s chapel, I asked if he could hold off on the charismatic prayer until after Mass was over. Fortunately/unfortunately he just couldn’t hold back his exuberance to see Jesus and babbled and talked during the whole Mass in that little echo-filled chapel!

Monday, December 11, 2006

The coolest Dad ever

Michael has a thing for yeast products. He created a sourdough starter (basically a lump of dough with lots of natural yeast used in place of the powdery dried yeast bought in the store) by fermenting organic flour on our balcony for a couple weeks last year. "It's fine," he assured me, "as long as the starter doesn't get any nasty red streaks in it." Not quite the most reassuring comment, but the starter has faithfully leavened many a loaf of delicious homemade bread for us.

This summer, after aquiring a couple oak barrels from Freecycle, Michael decided to expand the home economy from baking to brewing. His first batch of homemade beer was a success, gagued by a non-beer-drinking friend's comment upon tasting it: "This beer made me almost want to take another sip!" Tonight is the start of Michael's Homebrew #2. While he held Gabriel at dinner, he mused about what our son's friends would think in the years to come: "Hey Gabe, what did ya do last night?" "Oh, nothin' much, just brewed some beer with my dad..."

Blog O'Clock

I'm convinced Gabriel knows that I've been blogging at 3am. For the past two weeks, he has consistently woken at 3 or 4am and refused to go back to sleep with a simple nursing. And so here we are again, bouncing... bouncing.... bouncing... just like every other night. He'll fall asleep, mouth agape, in his sling, as I rock back and forth and type this with my one free hand. We'll keep swaying for another ten minutes or so, just to make sure he's in a deep sleep, and then it's back to bed for another couple hours (if I'm lucky!).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

All together now...

Dominic, Gabriel's two-month-younger cousin, accompanied him last night in an evening of overtired wailing after we had a nice dinner (Vegetarian Chili with Rutabagas and Butternut Squash, YUM!) with his parents and older brother. Two sad and tired (or possibly gassy?) babies does not for a pleasant household make. Particularly because two sad and tired babies make for two sad and tired mommies. We did experiment with the little guys, testing to see if they would startle each other into being happy again. We held their crying faces close together;"Look at your cousin...!" we hopefully pleaded. Dominic was fascinated and paused for a moment in his tirade, whereas Gabriel took one look at Dominic and shrieked even louder, causing Dominic to start up all over again.

Monday, December 04, 2006

In the swing of things

Life has been dealing us one lesson after the next in “letting go” these past few days. Around Thanksgiving we finally sold our condo after several months of having it on the market, so we have to let go of the little home we’ve made here, most regrettably the beautiful tile work Michael did on the backsplash in the kitchen. There are very few houses on the market around the holidays, but there were a couple that we really loved that had been on the market for months and months that we were sure we’d be able to get if we made an offer on them. Both were whisked away through various circumstances, just as I began to daydream about what color to paint the walls and where we would put the sofas. Somehow, I’ve been unusually okay with these circumstances. I’ve been disappointed each time we “lost” a house, but the words “foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests but the Son of Man has no where to rest his head” from Luke 9:58 keep coming back to me. And then of course it’s Advent, which reminds me that even the Holy Family faced a tough housing market on the night of Christ’s birth. I’ve prayed so much that God’s will be done regarding our housing situation, that I think I’m beginning to accept even the bumps in the road as part of His will, part of His way of conforming us to more and more to Christ. I also get the feeling that God gives us practice getting over small bumps so that we can trust Him to carry us over even the higher, more precarious peaks that we’ll certainly have to traverse in our lives.

Here’s Gabriel helping us house hunt. This is his first ride in a swing, in the tot lot of one of the developments where we were looking for a place to live.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Taste and See

I missed posting at Thanksgiving... so here’s a silly photo of my little boy with a ribbon from a box of chocolates on his head. :) Great for those embarrassing photo collages in high school, hm?

The blog’s been silent for the past couple weeks due to a string of recent baby events. Gabriel’s an early teether, which means for the past month he’s been a veritable fountain of drool and has needed bib changes practically every ten minutes. After a week of teething, he caught his first cold of the season, which led to a fever and some long-lasting sniffles whose only benefit is the fact that I can hear Gabriel breathing down the hall so I don’t need to peek in on the sleeping baby to “make sure he’s still breathing” as often! Now that he’s getting over his cold, we’re working on a new project following suggestions from Elizabeth Pantley’s No-Cry Sleep Solution. Our little “project” involves making sure baby takes at least three naps a day, that we have a “routine” for every day and for before bedtime, and that he learns to fall asleep once he’s in his bed. The whole goal is to get the little one to sleep a bit longer through the night. It’s been difficult at first...some days Gabriel has refused to go to sleep for two hours! But I think it’s working, or Gabriel is just changing on his own. Last night he slept from 8 to midnight, and then from midnight to 4am, which was really good for him. I’ll let you know when he goes a full five hours, which is supposedly the definition of “sleeping through the night”!

And it begins...Gabriel’s new thing this week has been grabbing things and putting them in his mouth–anything from cloth napkins to books. Watch out he comes!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A little thought for Election Week

“If we hope to correct our abuses of each other and of other races and of our land, and if our effort to correct these abuses is to be more than a political fad that will in the long run be only another form of abuse, then we are going to have to go far beyond public protest and political action. We are going to have to rebuild the substance and integrity of private life in this country. We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility that we have parceled out to the bureaus and the corporations and the specialists, and we are going to have to put those fragments back together again in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods. We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities. We need persons and households that do not have to wait upon organizations, but can make necessary changes in themselves, on their own.
* * *
For most of the history of this country our motto, implied or spoken, has been Think Big. I have come to believe that a better motto, and an essential one now, is Think Little. That implies the necessary change of thinking and feeling, and suggests the necessary work...The citizen who is willing to Think Little, and, accepting the discipline of that, to go ahead on his own, is already solving the problem. A man who is trying to live as a neighbor to his neighbors will have a lively and practical understanding of the work of peace and brotherhood, and let there be no mistake about it–he is doing that work. A couple who make a good marriage, and raise healthy, morally competent children, are serving the world’s future more directly and surely than any political leader, though they never utter a public word. A good farmer who is dealing with the problem of soil erosion on an acre of ground has a sounder grasp of that problem and cares more about it and is probably doing more to solve it than any bureaucrat who is talking about it in general. A man who is willing to undertake the discipline and difficulty of mending his own ways is worth more to the conservation movement than a hundred who are insisting merely that the government and the industries mend their ways.”
~Wendell Berry, “Think Little”

Thursday, November 09, 2006


We’ve had a string of “those days”–days of constant fussiness where the most I managed to get accomplished was getting dressed and making dinner. Then we had a couple of “those nights”–Gabriel wakes up at 4:00am happy as a lark, cooing and gurgling and ready to play. Fortunately, now that he has enough head control to sit up with my help, he seems to think we’re “playing” when I sit up and put him in my lap, even though my head keeps lolling to the side as I fall in and out of semi-wakefulness. While I sit with my son in our dark bedroom, I often find myself thinking about religious orders that wake at night to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or saints like John Vianney who survived for years on two or three hours of sleep a night–in his case he was in such demand by his parishioners, particularly in giving counsel in the confessional, that sleep came second to prayer when he was finally able to retire for the evening. My need for sleep may perhaps be one of the many guaranteed signs that sainthood still lies far beyond my grasp. For the past several days, sleep has won out over my semi-scheduled prayer times. Whenever Gabriel slept, I slept. I tried to fall asleep being mindful of God’s presence, remembering a comment from (I think) St. Therese of Lisiuex. She noted that because she often fell asleep during her scheduled devotional times, she would console herself with the thought that just as earthly parents love their children just as much asleep as awake, so too must our Heavenly Father love us just as much asleep as awake...!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Rambling thoughts

Probe me God, know my heart;
try me, know my concern.
See if my way is crooked,
then lead me in the ancient paths.
~Psalm 139:23-24

I think I am beginning to realize why it is so difficult for many people–myself included at times–to recognize God at work in the world and in our lives. I just spent the last few days reading the beginning of The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry. In his essay “A Native Hill” he points out how so many of the structures of our culture do violence to the land upon which we dwell. For example, he notes the difference between paths–the characteristic mode of travel of the American Indian–and the roads that came to be built by the European settlers. While a path is “a sort of ritual of familiarity...a form of contact with a known landscape” that does not plow through but instead folds itself into the contours of that which is already given, a road is “a resistance against the landscape”, showing “not only the necessity for movement, but haste.”

Today I spent at least and hour driving back and forth on an interstate. Even though I am not personally responsible for the creation of this interstate, and the violence that happened to the natural Virginia hills was not the result of my particular choice, the fact that I spend so much time in close contact with asphalt and green highway signs that spill past me at 65 miles per hour cannot be neutral. I move at the pace of a machine, rather than a human or even animal gait. I am traveling upon a resistance rather than an acceptance. A kind of structural non serviam to the natural rather than a fiat to the land as it was and is.

I don’t mean to say that roads cannot bring good–I only mean to point out the fact that we should not spent too much thoughtless time immersed in the structures of our culture without being mindful of their effect on our souls. I read once that the Amish reason for being against much of modern technology is not because of the intrinsic evil of progress, but because they believe that it will cause the disintegration of the family. The leaders of their communities evaluate each new measure of technological “progress” in terms of how it will affect the family and decide whether to permit it or avoid it. The book mentioned as an example central heating–the Amish felt that if all the rooms of a house were heated, rather than just the one large central room heated by a wood stove, a family would be driven to all corners of the house and spend less quality time together. Something I continue to give thought to, particularly when I feel more like Martha than Mary, unable to give myself over to the “one thing” that is necessary in this life.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Why I Love Saturdays

Weekends with nothing on the calendar used to mean waking up without an alarm, reading all of the interesting sections of the newspaper–everything minus Sports and Business– and staying in my PJ’s until I couldn’t stand another second of being cooped up inside, then getting dressed and going for a walk. Ever since pregnancy and baby happened, however, weekends have begun pretty much the same as every other day–wake up at 5:30 and wait (meaning visit the bathroom, nurse baby G, entertain him, pretend to sleep if he’s happy batting at his crunchy ladybug mobile, etc) until Michael’s alarm goes off at 6:30. Thankfully, I don’t mind the early Saturday wake-up. Michael and I have a plan to go to Mass at 8:30 a.m. and then head over to our local farmer’s market for our weekly purchase of fruit, eggs, meat, and milk. (We get our veggies each week as part of a Community Supported Agriculture deal with Potomac Vegetable Farms, so we don’t buy veggies at the market.) We’ve been going to the same farmer’s market every week since June–I even worked there briefly–and every week I love walking through the stalls and looking at all the colorful fresh flowers and veggies. Even though they’re pretty much the same stalls, every week the produce changes just a bit to reflect the change in the growing season. We’ve made friends with a couple of the vendors–the Wheatland Vegetable Farms owner, Susan Planck, and I have had conversations about midwifery and babywearing spurred on first by my pregnancy and then later by my sling. Michael has inquired from the fellow who sells goat yogurt about raising the critters and if he can find goat milk anywhere around here to purchase. Other interesting and fun characters include a young couple from PA who are about our age, starting up a small organic farm on land that’s been in their family for generations, the Hispanic family from the Northern Neck with the sweet little girl I made friends with while I worked there, and the friendly West Virginian Berkeley Springs Creamery grass-fed milk people. During the summer we stopped from time to time at Michael’s garden on the way home, and I would wander around looking at all of the plots in the community garden, checking out what people had done with their little squares of earth. By far my favorite was the guy who built a trellis-type structure that by the end of August was covered in climbing vines that grew mottled, bumpy gourds that looked like gigantic light green pickles handing straight down from the trellis roof! In any case, I don’t mind waking up early to spend Saturday mornings in the company of my husband and son and doing things that make me almost forget that we’re living here in commuter-crazy, status-driven NoVA.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The big wide world

Yesterday Gabriel’s cousin Dominic made his long-awaited entry into the outside world, and seems to be healthy and content! Praise God! We visited his happy mom and dad at the hospital and met the new little one, the fourth grandchild on Michael’s side. There are three little boys now...I’m having visions of even more rambunctious family gatherings in the not-to-distant future...!

Seeing Dominic made me realize how much Gabriel has grown in only 9 weeks. I don’t think I knew how new and scary the outside world must be for a newborn until I saw the contrast between the two of them. Dominic preferred to stay peacefully swaddled in his mother’s arms, peeking his eyes open only a couple times, and woke up only once with some big cries–it turned out to fill his diaper for one of the first times! Gabriel, on the other hand, has in the past two weeks all of a sudden begun to discover–and be truly delighted by– a lot of the outside world. He smiles constantly when new people talk especially to him, and has discovered many of the dangly toys we have on mobiles above his chair and changing table. He spend a whole 40 minutes the other day staring at, and grabbing, a purple butterfly toy while I made dinner! Usually I have to carry him the whole time which makes chopping stuff a rather complicated ordeal. When I do carry him in the sling, he now loves to “face out” towards the world– smelling what I’m cooking, watching us eat when he sits on our laps at the table, feeling how warm the laundry is as I fold it, watching Daddy play the piano, etc. The photo I included is of his first “facing out” ride in the sling.

Fr. Thomas Dubay, in his Prayer Primer, reflects that “if we are vibrantly alive to reality, we learn that there is no end to what can and should trigger awe, wonder, praise, thanksgiving, and love.” I began to learn a couple years ago in the midst of Wisconsin cornfields and expansive blue skies what it means to move from awe and wonder to praise, thanksgiving, and love. Sharing daily life with a baby who is awakening to the world around him reminds me that so much of what I experience should inspire wonder and lead me to thanksgiving and love–the citrusy-cilantro smell of the soup I made for dinner, the peace of the morning when Gabriel takes his first nap and I have time to pray and read, the forgiveness of my husband when I’ve been extra-difficult. More on wonder later, though, because it has been a growing theme in my life and my studies during the past couple years.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Fall in the Old Dominion

Ever since my second year in college, fall in Virginia has meant a trip out to the Graves Mountain Lodge Apple Harvest Festival in Syria, Virginia. After a short ramble down the tree-lined rural route 609, past a few old general stores and a family cabinet-making business, we spent a couple hours in the fall air eating apple butter and cornbread, listening to bluegrass, and watching local kids (and the occasional random adult) clogging. We hit the festival this year on a crisp-air, clear-sky fall day, and a couple hundred other people had the same idea. The traffic on the road leading into the parking lot was quite slow because of this, although when we got to the area where one of the employees of the Lodge was directing traffic, we discovered that really the traffic wasn’t so bad–this particular employee was just being rather casual about his traffic direction. He was half-smiling, half-shrugging as he pointed in a not-all-to-clear way which direction the cars should go to find parking, and seemed himself to be having a pretty laid back day considering the hundreds of cars and people he was theoretically responsible for directing. Michael commented that he really could have been much more efficient about the job he was doing, but then in the next breath commented that this is why it’s good for him to go to southern Virginia every once in a while–everything’s not always about efficiency, and sometimes we just need a little reminder. How true. We met up with some friends from college and meandered through the festival grounds, tossed the football, contemplated a rather large cow, and played with our babies in a grassy field beneath the red-and-gold foothills. Nothing “productive” got accomplished–and I think this is just what we always need towards the end of October, two months into the sometimes scattered craziness of a new school year.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Our daily constitutional

This afternoon as Gabriel and I were bumping along on our walk towards the park and the library, we made a surprising new friend. It wasn’t another one of the elderly ladies from our condo building who love to fuss and coo over the baby–instead it was a fat, black caterpillar, scooting perilously along the concrete sidewalk from one patch of grass to the next! Our friend was about two inches long, the thickness of my finger, and was sporting fluorescent green stripes in triangular patterns. To top off his flashy costume he had a firey orange spike at his tail end and munching mouthparts to match. I tried to scoop the caterpillar up on a leaf to show it to Gabriel–sure, he’s only 2 months old, but it’s never too early to start appreciating the wonder of God’s creation, right?

Our walks to the park are refreshing moments of peace in the middle of each day. Gabriel seems to want to go outside–the moment we step into the fresh air he becomes instantly happy, whether we’re walking in the stroller or in the sling. So happy, in fact, that he falls asleep almost every time we’re outside! A happy, calm baby of course makes for a happy, calm Mommy. On a rainy day a few weeks ago I tried to walk in the mall thinking that perhaps the movement of the stroller and the new environment would soothe him. I was quite wrong. Gabriel’s a smart little guy. All that rampant commercialism and filtered air kept him wide awake, looking around suspiciously, as though I were trying to fool him into thinking we were Outside. I think I’m glad he doesn’t like the mall–it will keep me away from it and the eyes-glazed-over “I didn’t know I needed all this stuff” feeling that I get from being there too long. Avoid the mall, he says, in his own baby way, and so I do for the most part. It’s just another way Gabriel seems to be instinctively teaching me a healthy rhythm for the life of babies and grown-ups alike–eat, nap, venture out, look, laugh, study, play, and repeat as needed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

An Incentive

In about three hours or so my son will celebrate his two month birthday–which makes me officially a mother (in womb and out) for about 11 months or so. The little guy is lying on the bed next to me at the moment blissfully ignorant of his looming two-month-old check-up, where he will be stuck (after much deliberation on my part) with a variety of needles for his first round vaccinations. I’ll talk more about him later--my main point right now is introducing this blog.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, a favorite theologian of mine, makes much of the mother’s smile. At birth an infant can see only about 6 to 8 inches, which happens to be the distance from the breast where he nurses to his mother’s face. All that encompasses the mother’s nurturing as well as the actual, physical smile itself are the child’s first indications that his existence, his very being, is good. To simplify much of Balthasar’s writings, essentially what this means is that a mother lays the first building blocks for the child’s realization that his existence is a good and great gift for which he cannot claim responsibility; a gift from others; a gift from an Other who is God. Only upon realizing this can the child properly respond with joyful gratitude, making a gift of himself to others and to God.

I must admit that when I learned this in my Master’s classes last year, this sounded really good in a romantic, oh-of-course-how-could-it-be-otherwise sort of way. But when I started really learning it–when my son was born–I realized what a hefty charge this is for mothers everywhere! To maintain a “smile”–not a superficial grin but a deeply ingrained sense of peace and joy–and to transmit this to my son can be difficult when one struggles through the challenges of every day, be they large or small. I’ve decided in pursuit of this mother’s smile I will record here those random moments that cause me to smile, to rejoice, or to give a quiet thanks to God, as writing them down will help me to remember them and perhaps provide a tiny source of amusement or joy for any of my readers! I admit many of these moments will probably have to do with my son considering that he’s the focus of most of my attention these days, but I will venture into other topics as they wander into my mind.