Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ode to vegetables (and a veggie cookbook too)

We’re not vegetarians, but a quick glance on our shelf or in our fridge and you might think that we are. In the past year and a half, Michael and I have come to the conclusion that meat should be a “sometimes” food for our family, which means that vegetables, grains, and legumes take an honored place in our pantry! We usually only buy and prepare some type of poultry, fish, pork or beef/buffalo dish about once a week, and we decided to take this low-meat approach for a variety of reasons:

*Simplicity: An interesting fact: the monastic Rule of St. Benedict calls for a vegetarian diet unless otherwise dictated for health reasons. Ever heard of those cookbooks “From a Monastery Kitchen”? They’re all vegetarian.

*Solidarity: There are so many in the world who either aren’t able to afford to eat meat. There are also those who usually eat only simple vegetarian food and live quite healthy lives. We try to think of them as we plan our weekly meals.

*Ecological justice: The practice of raising grain-fed, factory-farmed animals for consumption in our country results in huge quantities of (apparently) cheap meat and poultry that meet the “average American” demand for everyday meals with generous portions of meat or poultry. Much has been written about this elsewhere, so I will simply note that the low cost of purchasing such meat doesn’t accurately represent the high environmental and social cost of producing it. We find it much more in keeping with our call to be stewards of the gifts of creation to spend our resources to support farms that raise grass-fed meats and poultry. Local farms like Cibola, Mt Vernon Farm, or Polyface Farms, make appearances at roadside stands and farmer’s markets. Even though this entails a sacrificial expenditure of more money than we would otherwise spend for meat, we decided that it is ap appropriate use of our resources, especially because we purchase meat so infrequently.

*Health: The challenge of creating vegetarian meals requires a bit of creativity and forethought, but it’s worth the effort because it encourages us to eat larger portions of vegetables and legumes thanks to their starring role as the “main dish”. We definitely aren’t vegans, though –we eat a good deal of eggs, cheese, yoghurt, and milk, both to boost our protein intake, and because they’re just so darn good! :)

Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone has been my companion in the kitchen in this adventure of mainly-vegetarian cooking. It is by far my favorite cookbook on the shelf, the one I turn to for everything from broccoli to baking. Her recipes are simple yet interesting enough to provide a good variety, healthy but not annoyingly “low-fat” (they don’t call for reduced-fat cheese or egg substitutes, for example), and well-proportioned (I don’t have to adjust the salt/seasoning/oil amounts as I do with many other recipes). Because we cook from scratch almost all of our meals, we do have a relatively well-stocked pantry, but even considering this I think it is a great compliment to her cookbook to say that rarely do I have to make special trips to the grocery store for ingredients that I will only use once. She also makes suggestions for seasonal eating, which we try to do as much as possible by preparing what we can buy at the market or grow in our garden, now that it is flourishing thanks to Michael’s hard work.

No, I am not on a secret mission from Deborah to get all of my blog readers to run out and purchase her cookbook, although I did email her to thank her for her great work on this cookbook. I just wanted to share because I think the key to great vegetarian cooking is often getting an inspiration and a jump-start from some excellent cookbooks, and I have used quite a few vegetarian cookbooks that have recipes that are much too complicated to use on an everyday basis, and made me think that cooking mainly vegetarian meals would be too difficult. I now know better, thanks to VCFE!

Here’s one of my favorite "main dish" recipes from the book, although I must admit it is hard to choose just one.

Green Lentils with Wine-Glazed Vegetables, Spinach,
and Garlic-Rubbed Croutons
Serves 4-6

1 ½ cups green lentils, sorted and rinsed
Salt and freshly milled pepper
1 bay leaf
2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, cut into ½ inch dice
1 large carrot, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 celery rib, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 garlic clove, mashed or put through a press
1 T. tomato paste
2/3 cup dry red wine
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 T. butter or extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp chopped parsley or tarragon

Put the lentils in a saucepan with 3 cups water, 1 tsp salt, and the bay leaf. Bring to a boul, then lower the heat to a lively simmer and cook until the lentils are tender but still hold a little texture, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the onion, carrot, and celery, season with ½ teaspoon salt, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste, cook for 1 minute more, and then add the wine. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the liquid is syrupy and the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the mustard and add the cooked lentils along with their broth. Simmer until the sauce is mostly reduced, then stir in the butter and season with pepper.

Just before serving, steam or saute a large bunch of spinach. Pile the lentils into a flat serving dish, surround them with the greens, or stir the greens into them, and serve with thin Garlic Rubbed Croutons (slice baguette/other bread 1/4 inch thick, brush with olive oil or butter, place on baking pan and bake at 375 until crisp and golden, and rub with halved clove of garlic when they emerge from oven)

Buen provecho!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Along the road of motherhood

The warm weather and blue sunny skies seem like they’re here to stay, the flowers on the trees have been replaced by green leaves, but the wind is still a bit cool–it’s May, which means graduation season! We’ve been to three graduations in the past three weeks: my classmates’ from the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and family, my sister’s at Mason, and Michael’s sister at UVA. (Many congratulations are in order!) Other “May milestones” that have been added to the mix are my first “baby-out-of-the-womb” Mother’s Day as well as Gabriel’s 9 month birthday on May 17. All these piled together have inspired me to reflect a bit on the contrasts between my academic life and my life as a mother.

The graduation I attended at the John Paul II Institute “should have been” my graduation, had I continued along the traditional Master’s in Theology program path. I took a year off after Gabriel was born and will be returning to finish in the Fall semester, so I will be studying with a whole new group of fellow students. The dear folks who were graduating were my classmates during my first year of the program, people who have become the kind of friends who just “get” where I’m coming from, who I don’t have to explain myself to in moments of joy or crisis. As I was sitting there during the Graduation Mass, I did not in any way regret that I missed out on “our” second year together–instead I was realizing how much harder these last nine months have been for me than any other nine academic months I’ve ever had.

In general, I found academia to be quite “easy”–in that starting around 6th grade I pretty much understood what needed to get done and did it, and that continued the same way for the next nine-odd years of my academic career. Yes, it required some amount of suffering, self-discipline, and sacrifice, but in the end, all of that was for the benefit of my own growth in knowledge and skill. At certain points along the way–6th grade, 8th grade, 12th grade, college–I was rewarded and applauded for all of my hard work by graduation ceremonies, robes that made all my striving seem to have come to some kind of official culmination, speakers who shared wise (or not so wise) words about the meaning of it all and exhorted us onwards and upwards, awards, and gatherings of friends and family who commended me for my efforts. Not to mention all those handy lines that accumulated on my resume so that the whole world would recognize all those hours of studying, thinking, and reading.

Motherhood, on the other hand, is something I am doing without that secure feeling that I already know the rules of the game, and without knowing how things will turn out in the end if I work as hard as I should. I have some ideas about how things theoretically should go with mothering, based on my reflections on my faith, what seems intuitively right, and what seems to have worked for others. But there’s a great big cloud of unknowns surrounding all of this, because the results of my efforts are not as clear as getting a good grade on a test, and do not come as quickly. This is difficult for me, as someone who has a record of giving up on things that do not come quite as easily to me as academics. I’d like to hope that motherhood is shaping my personality for the better in this area, since I don’t think I’ll be giving up on it any time soon.

Mothering, while certainly a vocation that has filled my life with an underlying joy and peace, has also filled my life with so many little sacrifices and sufferings that are completely for the good of another. Yes, I have been doing some things here and there for the good of others much throughout all my life, but it’s been sporadic at best, limited to volunteer commitments or spontaneous goodwill towards friends and family. Motherhood, on the other hand, has put this cute (and sometimes not so cute) little person right smack down in front of me, 24-7, and much of the time I’m the only one who can provide what he needs in terms of survival, emotional support, recreation, and mobility. If I don’t do it, no one else will. In a sense, the structure of motherhood creates sacrifices that are more readily, and hopefully, more charitably made because the need is so immediate and so compelling. And for the most part, no one throws a robe around your shoulders and commends you at an official ceremony for all your hard work and dedication to furthering goodness in the world. Talk about a perfect recipe for holiness! (In all fairness, I do have to say that my husband, as well as friends and family, give me a good amount of encouragement along the way–little thank you’s and pick me ups that keep me going in the day to day life of mommyhood. I think what I’m reflecting on here is more the world at large’s recognition of the accomplishments of motherhood.)

I been pondering what a graduation speaker might say to me after these nine months of mothering Gabriel. I decided that writing a graduation speech free of cliche and worn-out sayings is task that I don’t have time for at the moment, and besides, I don’t think nine months after having my first child qualifies me as any sort of distinguished expert, even in giving advice to myself! So I’ve gone another route, in the spirit of one of the graduation speakers at UVA who went through a list of thought provoking statistics. Here are my own, roughly calculated, mommy statistics. In the past nine months, I have:

...changed (& washed & dried) 1,500 diapers
...nursed Gabriel for 700 hours
...walked 270 miles with baby G in the sling or stroller
...put Gabriel in and out of his carseat: 250 times
...watched Gabriel fall asleep: 1,000 times
...run after squirrels to amuse Gabriel: 60 times
...laughed at Gabriel laughing, smiling, or doing something adorable: so many times
...reflected in joy and awe with Michael, “I can’t believe we have a son!”: countless times

Here's to many more!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Where Gabriel (and Michael) took me for Mother's Day...

...well, we did take a little hike to Cunningham Falls too, beyond the Visitor's Center.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Attempt at Geddes

The cherry tree in front of our house has dumped approximately 2 tons of blossoms on our front porch. Gabriel wasn't entirely thrilled to be sitting in them... although this appears to be a little giggle, it's actually the beginning of a shriek! I was discovering pink blossoms in Gabriel's diaper all afternoon....!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Nature baby

Here's Daddy and son on our first adventure in the woods with the hiking backpack. Hopefully there will be some more before he's too big to ride on our backs!

Monday, April 23, 2007

The 411 on Gabriel

My little son is not so little any more. Every once in a while I look at his face and he’s got a little I’m-a-little-boy-just-ready-to-get-into-wonderful-amounts-of-trouble kind of grin, and I marvel at how much he has grown is such a short time. Here’s a photo of him standing at our coffee table. He has gone through several “playing” phases already though he’s only 8 months old. First I noticed him looking at the mobile toys, then swatting aimlessly at them, then grabbing them, and all of a sudden one day he pulled the whole mobile over, so into the closet it went. Next he loved containers and shiny objects, no matter what the type (those are still pretty amusing, actually), and now he has moved on to anything he can pull himself up onto. This includes the dishwasher and dryer doors, chairs, the toilet, his diaper pail, the coffee table, the sofa, the piano bench, and even my pant legs when I am attempting to cook dinner! We spend a lot of time “toddling” around the house together, him holding onto my hands and leading us where he wants to go–usually towards an electric outlet, power cord, or wherever Daddy is. In the past week he has started “conversing” with people... he says “ba”, waits, then I say “ba”, he laughs, says “ba-ba”, waits, I say “ba-ba”.... so far no sounds connected to objects/people as far as I can tell, but I’m just waiting for his first word to be “brown bear, brown bear” after his favorite Eric Carle book. He now has a little training potty, mostly just so he can be used to its presence. He sits on it (fully clothed and diapered) and we read books...I figured it would just be a getting-used-to-it kind of thing for now. He also has a full-blown case of separation anxiety almost any time he is away from me and I am still in sight. If I’m not in sight, he can play happily for a while with whoever is interacting with him. But if I appear, he becomes Mr. I’m-so-pathetic-and-needy-I-want-Mommy-right-now-eeeeee! Hopefully it’s just a phase...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Why such things should not exist

Regarding the VA Tech gunman:

"Several Korean youths who knew Cho Seung Hui from his high school days said he was a fan of violent video games, particularly Counterstrike, a hugely popular online game published by Microsoft, in which players join terrorism or counterterrorism groups and try to shoot each other using all types of guns." The Washington Post, April 17

I know video games are not the root cause of the tragic turn to evil that this young guy made, but surely allowed for a certain amount of desensitization to violence.

Can't say much more. It's all too sad. Many prayers for the Tech community and those who have lost loved ones.

Good friends, good times

Michael, Gabriel, and I just spent the weekend up at Deep Creek Lake in MD with the other couples who are part of the Teams of Our Lady movement. (Just a short note of description: this is a Catholic organization dedicated to fostering the spirituality of married couples and their families, that originated in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in France in the 1940s, hence the Teams of "Our Lady" name. It consists of monthly group meetings with the other couples, where we do prayer, sharing, and a book study on Catholic or marital topics of interest. During the rest of the month each couple commits to a variety of "endeavors" like praying together and with the children, reading Scripture daily, and meeting together at least once a month for an official "sit down" to discuss the state of the marriage, any issues that might need to be addressed, etc. It's a great thing and has helped Michael and I a lot as we have begun our married life together!)

This weekend was our yearly "retreat" together. I put this in quotes because it was not your traditional meditative, silent, long-walks-in-the-woods, type retreat. We went with seven couples and eight children under the age of two, because most of these babies have never been away overnight from Mom and Dad and weren't ready to start that quite yet, but we still wanted to try to "get away". We were housed in a beautiful lake house free, thanks to the generosity of our "mentor couple" in Teams, and I think we really did "retreat" a bit! I think we all went with very low expectations of how much we would actually be able to do, other than just hang around together. The kids were bumping around the living room during the talks, there were babies crying intermittently, but for the most part, we were able to do our group discussions, activities, and even allow each couple a little bit of alone time without their children. Meals were chaotic, the weather was a bit gloomy, and Mass involved synthesizer "smooth jazz" as prelude music, but it was a good weekend despite all that. Mostly I feel blessed to be a part of such an awesome group of young couples who feel like my new extended family.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

In the age of the IPOD

Any thoughts from my humble blog readers on these two articles? The first seems like a search for authenticity, though it might be a bit...overboard? Love the shout out to Santiago de Compostela, though!

Some of you may have seen the second in Sunday's Washington Post Magazine, about violinist Joshua Bell playing in the Metro. (It even hit European newspapers secondhand on Monday!) Michael found parallels between this and people's ability to disregard God (who is Beauty himself) in the midst of everyday busy-ness.

Belgians Hail the Middle Ages

Pearls Before Breakfast

Monday, April 09, 2007

Christ is Risen! Happy Easter!

I know, I know, the blogging has been sparse. There have been other projects afoot and Baby G is increasingly time-consuming... no more typing away at the keyboard while we nurse! After he ripped a couple keys off the laptop, computer time became an "only when he's sleeping" activity.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Baby Swim Debacle

(This is a repeat from my other private blog, but it was such an experience I thought I'd share.)

So. It is now approximately two hours since The Baby Swim Debacle, and Gabriel is passed out upstairs, hopefully recovering and forgetting the awfulness that was Baby Swim. Let's just say that the first thing I did after he fell asleep was call Fairfax County Parks and Rec and withdraw from the class. I think my $75.o0 is much better spent on day-passes to the pool when we can go ourselves. Why, you ask? Well, I had a sinking feeling when we entered the women's locker room and all the morning swim high schoolers were still in there getting dressed. Thus it was very crowded, and the loud chatter was echoing through the locker room, and there was really not much room for changing a baby. On top of that, there was not one but many hairdryers going. Let's just say if I am upstairs drying my hair and Michael is holding Gabriel downstairs and I turn on the hairdryer, he freaks. So the uber-hairdryerness in the locker room was already stressing him out so he didn't want me to put him down to put the swim diaper on him. So I did that as fast as I could and headed out to the pool. It seemed quieter in there; he cheered up. We wandered slowly into the water. Things were okay. He seemed tentative, but interested, especially when we got a little floating duckie to play with. But then the class started. Our instructor: a large, loud, older, bearded man in a big black wetsuit, who wanted us to sing Old-Macdonald-esque songs over the crying of many of the class participants. Um, nothing against beards, but who thinks that a huge guy in a black shiny wetsuit singing nursery songs and waving his arms over his head is not going to freak out little babies?? Then, on top of all that, right next to the baby swim class a granny Water Aerobics class started up, complete with instructor with microphone and bouncy rock music for the ladies. At this point, I think Gabriel started to get unhappy about all the echoing noise and so the new experience of the water was just not cool any more; he disintegrated. Many of the other babies were doing this too; their parents were just smiling and bouncing through the water. I was slightly unsettled by this. I've been responsive to Gabriel's cries throughout his life for every other reason; why should I not respond when he is a bit scared and overwhelmed during his first pool experience? So we got out of the water. Lesson learned... I think the baby swim thing will be something I check out in a library book and go through at our own pace, slowly, minus most of the noise and the scary instructor.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Time enough

A second basic teresian [St. Teresa of Avila] principle is that growth in prayer does not depend on a person’s immediate situation. We tend to suppose that if only we could find an ideal community, be it marital or religious or clerical, if only we could locate in another setting, if only we had a different superior or set of associates, if only we had more money (or less), we would skyrocket in prayer. Not so, says the foundress, for ‘the time is always propitious for God to grant His great favours to those who truly serve him’.”

“While St. Teresa was well acquainted with methods of meditation and wished her young nuns to be instructed in them, she emphatically insisted that the primary need for beginners is not to find the ideal method but to do God’s will from moment to moment throughout the day.”

~Fr. T. Dubay, The Fire Within

Bedtime for Gabriel has the potential to be an enjoyable parenting interlude–splashing in the bath, putting on his pj’s, reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, nursing him peacefully off to sleep, and then slipping downstairs for some evening quiet time. Bedtime also has the potential to be somewhat agonizing. If bath time ends in tears for whatever reason, putting on baby’s pj’s seems more like medieval torture than dressing. If he’s so upset from putting on his pj’s, reading a book just prolongs the agony, so we go straight to nursing, even though he’s a bit hyper. Sometimes this brings on the blessed calm of baby sleep; sometimes it doesn’t. Last night we nursed, read books, nursed, crawled around on the floor, sang songs, nursed, watched cars out the window, nursed again, watched the cars a little bit more, and finally nursed to sleep. That whole process took about two hours, I think. I couldn’t really bear to look at the clock and think about the precious “me time” that seemed to be slipping away.

Tonight Gabriel fell asleep in my arms while I was sitting on the floor in his bedroom, surrounded by the books I was attempting (not very successfully) to get him to read and all the little stuffed animals he found much more interesting than the books. I was far from the laptop and all the enticing blogs I love to read and all the library books I’m browsing through. Usually this would drive me, a perpetually-doing-or-thinking-something type of person, pretty crazy. But sitting there in the dim light, looking down upon Gabriel’s peaceful sleeping face, it occurred to me that pretty soon I wouldn’t be able to hold him in my arms as he goes to sleep–he’s already getting so big. There is time enough, I reflected, for books and blogs and to-do’s; Gabriel’s baby days are here only for a relatively short moment and I really ought to appreciate them more.

Time enough. The life of a new mom is supposedly turned-upside-down-and-inside-out crazy; I admit I have lamented this often, particularly regarding my inability to find quiet time to meditate and pray, as I have adjusted to being on call for all the needs of another little person 24-7. I brought this up to Michael (again) after a particularly difficult couple of days, and he reminded me (again) of the quotes above from Fire Within. To me, they suggest that God always provides the time we need to grow close to Him in prayer; he always provides exactly those blessings and joys, as well as those crosses and the struggles, that we need to grow in intimacy with Him. All that remains for us is to embrace them and seek His will in them. Although I think I already grasped this intellectually, it is an entirely new perspective with which to orient my heart’s response to the events of my day-to-day life.

A few examples: I find it particularly difficult to drag myself out of my warm bed to walk the halls with Gabriel when he’s fidgety and doesn’t want to sleep; rather than just gritting my teeth and bearing it, it occurred to me that perhaps someone needed some prayers right then and God was using my little wiggler to get me up and praying. So the other night we prayed the Joyful mysteries of the Rosary as we roamed through the quiet house. Another struggle I’ve been facing is going to Mass on Sundays: it is no longer the quiet, insight-filled hour that it used to be pre-baby. But I realized that God designed this whole motherhood thing and so He probably would be quite happy with me offering my mere presence with Gabriel (distracted though it may be) as my worship in the liturgy. The funny thing is when I did this and stopped worrying about what I was or was not “getting out of” Mass, I found that God allowed the whole experience to actually become much more peaceful and prayerful.

I think for much of my life I’ve been in a hurry to finish whatever it is I’m doing so I can go on to the next thing. The near future has always distracted me from immersing myself in the present moment; such preoccupation impoverishes everything, whether it be work, study, recreation, or time spent with others. I once glanced through a book called The Sacrament of the Present Moment–the title is all I remember now, but even that is significant. If I am able to live in each moment as though it were an outward sign of God, of His presence, and His will, there will certainly be time enough.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The blog lives!

After a brief hiatus to finish up my translation work, I'm back... to celebrate my return here's ten things (in no particular order) which made this mother smile in February and the beginning of March:

1. Gabriel is now sans leg casts (although he is sporting some spiffy orthopedic shoes for a while) and his feet and legs look much straighter, perfect for all the standing and walking(!) he's doing while hanging onto our hands.

2. Yummy homemade Italian bread made by Michael, our baker-in-residence extraordinaire.

3. SIX snow days in a row = SIX days of Michael being home to play with Gabriel and I.

4. A surprise trip to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, engineered by Michael. We had lunch there and I got to take some quiet time to pray while he played with Gabriel. Thanks, Daddy! :)

5. A new "day-plan" that is helping me order my days here at home... more on this as I get at least a few weeks into it!

6. A sunny 60-degree Friday that allowed baby G and I to head to the park for a walk, where we made friends with a nice Korean woman and her little dog. Gabriel got to pet (and shriek gleefully at) a doggie for the first time, and I think I helped make this particular lady feel a little bit less lonely for a little while.

7. Finding out Fr. Hudgins, our Parochial Vicar, has a website with all of his homilies online! They're really enthusiastic and inspirational... Check them out if you get a chance.

8. Several weekday lunch dates with family...it's nice to be close enough for spontaneous get-togethers.

9. Gabriel smacking his lips like a toothless old man (although he does have one sharp little tooth now) and going "buh buh buh buh..."

10. A Prarie Home Companion and the Thistle & Shamrock Show on NPR.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Eat your heart out, Wahoos

Our son's first UVA gear experience... all those VT folks must be jealous that the cutest baby in town is rooting for the 'Hoos!

PS~ I'm currently working on doing a translation for one of my profs at the Institute...takes up most of my writing time, so look for more in depth blogging at the end of February! I'll try to stick some photos up every once in a while, though.

Monday, February 05, 2007

It's 9:35!!

Gabriel and one of his most beloved objects. Why does he love the alarm clock so, you ask? It's all about the SHINY numbers. Anything that either glows or reflects light and he becomes entranced and reaches, zombie-like, towards the SHIIINNNYYY...

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Poor baby

Gabriel has had a case of "metatarsus adductus", basically feet that curve inwards a little bit too much, to match his little bowed baby legs, ever since he came out of the womb. We've been going to physical therapy to try to stretch them out, but we finally had to just bite the bullet and put his feet and legs in casts for a few weeks to straighten them out. At first Gabriel thought his casts were fun new toys--he seemed to be elated when we came home, laughing and bouncing and playing. He was less excited about them when bathtime came and they didn't come off, but he slept okay so I don't think he was too upset by them. That was Monday. Tuesday it was my turn bathe him and the darn things can't get wet....and they did. A lot. Oops. So we had to pull them off. He loved this and spent the rest of the evening clinging to his feet and gurgling happily. Then we had to go back Wednesday morning to get them put on again. Lots of hysterical crying this time as he lost his legs' freedom for the second time. He was onto our schemes and lots of kicking and screaming ensued. I felt so sad. Hard to explain to a baby temporary discomfort for long-term good. But there was hope--a little guy in the office with us who was about 18 months old was there to get a cast off his arm. He was happy, talking to his mom, playing with the toys in the office, until the cast had to come off. He wasn't afraid of the scissors they cut it off with...nope, he was sad that the cast was gone. He just kept staring at his arm and turning it back and forth, whimpering and looking around forlornly until the nurse gave him the empty shell of the cast back, at which point he immediately became completely happy. So there's hope for Gabriel. He's already figured out how to kick wildly with the casts during diaper changes and I think my forearms are actually bruised from it. I'll post a photo when I snap one tomorrow.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Of squirrels and snacks

If you happen over our way any time in the near future and see squirrels lying scattered about the courtyard with bloated stomachs and a look of dazed satisfaction in their little beady eyes, it's our fault. Yesterday we provided the fixings for a scavenger's feast: a whole bag of Buttered Caramel Toffee and Almond Popcorn, open on our porch. I think we were hoping to get rid of it in a more...um...environmentally friendy way than sending to the landfill in a plastic bag. And maybe we were curious to see just exactly what the neighborhood squirrels would do after having to pick at the meager remains of our neighbor's birdfeeder for most of the winter. Well, the squirrels disposed of the whole bag in less than 12 hours, and this morning we awoke to find them cleaning up the last crumbs off the porch and munching them down as though they hadn't just eaten half a pound of the stuff already. Not much later I was sitting on the couch nursing Gabriel before church when another squirrel bounced onto the porch, sniffed around, then jumped to the windowsill and stood on its hind legs, with front paws up against the window. He just stared at me. I think he was silently pleading for more. More popcorn, that is-- I tried Soy and Flaxseed Cluster Cereal from Trader Joe's, which I couldn't stand, but it sat untouched on the railing of the porch for a week until the rain washed it away. Guess the squirrels have a soft spot for junk food too.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Long time, no blog

Here I am again, back in the saddle for a little post on the old blog. Typical excuse, I know, but we really did have a busy couple of weeks. After the Christmas holiday and finally getting the new house in quasi-order, I decided I needed to actually do some house chores. Bathrooms, laundry, and vacuuming. Which I learned takes about a week to actually complete, with breaks for nursing, baby naps, walks outside so Gabriel can get a change of scenery and not become Mr. Uber-Fuss, and meal preparation, with Gabriel grabbing at all the fun and interesting things I am chopping and sometimes hitting the jackpot and getting to gnaw on some of it (like the apple above). Seriously, if we lived in a house with more than two bathrooms right now, I would make some of them off-limits. I don't mind cleaning them--actually it's rather satisfying, especially cleaning the mirrors--but it is just so tricky to entertain/hold/pacify Gabriel while contorting myself into all sorts of strange positions to, say, bend over and scrub the tub, that it is sometimes a daunting task that gets put off again and again!

The next week was filled with lots of "Christmas gifts" to give--we gave "coupons" for lunch dates, movie afternoons with popcorn and cider, etc. And I discovered once again that one "little" activity can take an entire day when it is interspersed with Gabriel, even if it is a fun one. This week I had the blessed experience of going to the dentist for three days in a row for a cleaning, and then two days of cavity filling, one day without a local anesthetic and the next day with--except the dentist didn't wait for it to kick in before drilling, despite my comment that I could still pretty much feel everything. After going through labor without meds I thought I could handle anything, but for some reason this cavity drilling was just awful. To top it all off, my mouth went totally numb as he was finishing up and stayed that way for four hours! Oh well. My mom got a chance to bond with Gabriel in the waiting room of the dentist's office for three days in a row, in any case, and I think Gabriel enjoyed the change in cartaker for a little while. Be back soon!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Sitting...! (Almost)

Gabriel spent some time playing while quasi-sitting today. He would sit for a few minutes and then lurch forward onto his stomach, at which point he would flail his arms and legs wildly trying to scoot towards his toys and grunting. No luck yet...I'll keep you posted!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Be still and know

A talk I heard at a Catholic “Mothers Group” a few months ago has been slowly filtering through my brain until it was drawn to the surface again by a comment Michael made to me the other night. Gabriel has been getting increasingly wiggly when we sit down to have dinner, and rather than sit calmly on our laps and play with a toy, he insists on standing precariously on our legs (a feat for which he still needs support), leaning over the table, and burrowing his face into the toy/napkin/shiny object with which he is currently enthralled. Not only does this make it impossible for the person holding him to eat, it also has the pleasant effect of forcing out any lingering burps and spit-ups which might be floating around in his stomach. Suffice it to say, meals of late have not been the peaceful, idyllic family moments one might hope they would be. Reflecting on Gabriel’s behavior, Michael commented that we’re going to have to figure out a way to teach Gabriel to be still, to be silent, to contemplate, in age-appropriate ways, of course, and not necessarily at dinnertime, but certainly in the context of prayer time and church visits.

All this brought back to me a quote the speaker at the Mothers Group shared with us from Josef Pieper’s Leisure, The Basis of Culture: "The greatest menace to our capacity for contemplation is the incessant fabrication of tawdry empty stimuli which kill the receptivity of the soul." Since the topic was the music and media that we expose our children to, he commented that he himself did not own a television, as he wished to keep his family away from the empty stimuli that it provides. Perhaps inevitably a mother asked, “What about VeggieTales? Or educational TV? That’s okay, right?” The speaker replied that although VeggieTales may have a moral message, and Christian content which is good, the vehicle for this content is still “tawdry, empty stimuli”–in other words, the method of delivery is also problematic. Full of loud sounds, raucous singing, quick scenes, silly humor, etc, VeggieTales is not quite designed to build a child’s capacity for contemplation; rather, it may contribute to the short-attention-span disease which plagues so many children today, which is not only detrimental to their ability to learn but also more importantly to their ability to pray and thus to relate to God.

His point certainly got me thinking. In the context of the talk, “contemplation” doesn’t mean floating-off-into-a-sea-of-mental-nothingness for relaxation purposes. It means consciously, lovingly, putting oneself into the presence of the God who gave and continues to give us life. This is, in effect, what prayer should be, which is basically a “dress rehearsal” for what heaven’s going to be all about. Eternal, joyful adoration of God along with the whole communion of saints and hopefully everyone we’ve loved here on earth. And the only way we can even begin to contemplate in such a manner is if the “receptivity” of our soul is fine-tuned. I can only imagine that one whose soul is “receptive” would, among other things, be able appreciate beauty in all its forms, particularly in the created world, would be highly sensitive to (and responsive to) the joys and sufferings of other people, and would be open to discerning God’s will for them through Scripture as well as the events of their lives.

It seems avoiding television may be one way to nurture Gabriel’s ability to contemplate and be still. (For us that is pretty much a no-brainer since we don’t have a TV.) I’ve spent time thinking more about other ways to do this, I’ve realized that teaching him this will require learning how to do it myself–to allow for silence in our day to day lives and resist the temptation to fill every moment with words, narration, music, movement, and other forms of stimulation. We’ve spent long moments looking at the squirrels scurrying through the courtyard, feeling the texture of different objects around the house, and quietly playing with toys. For myself I’ve tried to spend less time Googling and more time reading worthwhile books; less time talking and more time listening (in daily conversations and in prayer); less time adjusting things around the house and more time dwelling in it. It seems like a big jump from a rather everyday “secular” things to the much more profound matter of how our souls are formed and how we relate to God. But that’s the way life works–in reality, nothing is “secular” if that word is used to mean not pertaining to our relationship with God.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Ringing in the New Year

I have rounded a bend in the road of life, I think, marked by the nature of our New Year's celebration. Our New Year's celebration consisted of a dinner with family, a movie, and going to bed. I happened to look at the clock when we were turning in, and said "Oh, look, sweetie, it's midnight. Happy New Year!" I think Michael made a comment about the clock being five minutes fast, and that it was not yet in fact midnight, but I think I was falling asleep by that point so things are a bit fuzzy. The funny thing is that I didn't mind any of this one bit...I am either officially "old" or perhaps just the tired mommy of a baby who still wakes throught the night.