Multitude Monday

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After spending an entire week focused on infertility, my brain has been having trouble grinding into gear, casting about for topics for the coming week—and in particular, a topic to anchor my Monday morning gratitude post. Do I focus on the conference we attended this weekend? On visits with friends and family? On the bizarre waking nightmare I experienced crossing the Missouri River, and can’t seem to shake off? On the choir that has become so central to our faith journey?

Late on a Sunday night, on the verge of sleep, I remember the afternoon I spent skipping through photo files to choose pictures to print and scrapbook. It was a job I hadn’t done in months, and the number of folders full of pictures was a little overwhelming. About halfway through the task, I overloaded with the sweetness, the simple, ordinary beauty of the moments captured—but most of all, the sheer volume of them. Wow, I thought. I really do have an amazing life!

The memory of that moment came flooding back to me, and I realized that it’s not about an eloquent monologue tying it all together. It’s about the moments themselves:

A bounty of adorable little girl clothes, given to us by a good friend

Alex to Julianna, as she comes upstairs for bath, still dressed in her pretty new clothes: “Hi, Miss Pretty!”

Alex’s adorable, infectious giggle, which soon spreads to all three children

Gradually building connections with other area DS families

A great conference weekend, full of ideas and networking to help us get Julianna talking and get a support group up and running in our own town

A chance for the kids to play with cousin, aunt and friends while we were concentrating on Down syndrome issues

The fact that the coats we left at my sister’s house can migrate home with my parents in only a week

Dinner at Denny’s, which inspires its own moments of cuteness

Julianna and Daddy at Denny's Alex coloring at Denny's Nicholas coloring at Denny's

My sister’s suggestion for Julianna’s schooling, which cleared a long-standing haze of confusion

Fog-frosted trees in the darkness

Sunshine and melting snow before the next round moves in

A big home project to structure the time we expect to spend snowed in this week

And yes, the contemporary group, full of devout, devoted people called to share their gifts in the service of God and their fellow worshipers:

OLL Contemporary Group OLL Contemporary Group 

My husband’s hands on the piano

OLL Contemporary Group

The opportunity and the responsibility of leadership, challenging me not to stagnate in my faith

OLL Contemporary Group

Reconnection with a past choir member, who gets to join us for Julianna’s family birthday dinner–who can resist this kind of adorability? (Yes, she’s fascinated by facial hair)

Julianna with Brother Albert Haugen

Unposed, unplanned Kodak moments

Julianna's birthday

Sunday Snippets, and Gratitude

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Normally I wouldn’t combine posts like this, but I’m planning several days on the topic of infertility starting Monday, and I don’t want to neglect my newfound commitment to searching for the gratitude moments in life. So I’m going to combine that into my Sunday Snippets post today.

Welcome to all those coming from Ruth’s Catholic roundup. Posts for this week include:

The aforementioned re-commitment to searching for thankfulness in every moment, and another post, in which I can’t decide whether I have a stand-up-comic or a saint in training. Why don’t you check it out and give me your opinion? 🙂

Gratitudes for this week:

Homemade pizza, in preparation as I type on a Saturday afternoon

Hope, even if it did turn out to be misplaced

14 1/2 months without a hospital stay…and counting

A quiet retreat to my room to work, and the Heavenly artwork displayed on the wall via an open window, a sunny afternoon, and a shiny book cover lying on the bed:


Twentyish pages of a manuscript churned out despite snow days

Honey bears and play dates and homemade soup

Nicholas’s exploding vocabulary: “baby” and “mama” and “dada” and “wa-wa” and “peeeeeee” (please) and a couple others that are escaping my brain right now

Oh yes, sledding…as in this:

And this:

(that's Alex right in the foreground)

And this:

(J's glasses left at home to avoid loss of property)

And this:

(Not so thrilled, but awfully cute in his pink and black boots, which his big sister never wore...)

Not to mention the fact that we live in such luxury that cold and snow gives us an opportunity for recreation, instead of threatening our continued existence…

Did I mention thank you for homemade pizza?

Here And Now

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“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
-Henry David Thoreau

There are times in life when every word I read seems to be a message from Heaven hammering home a single point. The last two weeks or so have been one of those times. At first, it was just a hint here or there, whispering “joy in the moment.” But although I recognized the squirm in my belly, indicating that this message was looking for a home, I was too busy focused on my family, which looked more or less like this, to pay attention:

Since Christmas, it’s been nothing but sickness and interrupted nights and snow days, and the associated hits to my productivity. I have been gripey and complaining in increasing negativity, in defiance of Heavenly messages. So God upped the ante, until every blog post and news story and every word out of my husband’s mouth pounded at the message of celebrating the moment and the need to stop worshiping at the altar of productivity. And then, I went through the last six months’ pictures, sending $40 of developing to Target in preparation for a new round of scrapbooking, and I realized: Holy cow. Look at those moments! I had forgotten. My life is made of joy.

Living in the moment. Celebration, a blogger said, is how we live in the present. Me, I live in a world of multitasking, the antithesis of living in the moment. My brain is always skipping ahead, wrestling with writing issues, or wallowing in past experiences, comforting myself through the painful slowness of my goals with the thought that someday, the kids’ll all be in school and I’ll be able, like Thoreau, to go to the woods. I can hear Yoda saying, “This one, long have I watched. All her life has she looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never her mind on where she was.”

Here and now. This moment is all I have; the future, as the green guy said, is always in motion. (Wise little alien that he was.) It’s foolish to pin my hopes on an ideal world that in all likelihood will never materialize. I will always have sick kids and snow days, doctor appointments and IEP meetings, school pickup and dinner to make, that will prevent me from retreating for weeks to a woodland paradise. But then, without them, life would be empty. Where would I learn about suffering and joy, beauty and pain, and the way they are all inextricably linked together?

So today I recommit to the count of a thousand gifts: sparkling moments sprinkled in among the gray winter of discontent. Today I commit to learning that elusive skill of living here, living now, of sucking the marrow out of life and celebrating the present.

-Perfect Snowflakes: One drifting down to rest on spidery crystal legs on the rubber strip below the window of the truck. One on the head of one perfect little girl (sorry the focus isn’t terrific–you try getting this girl to stand still long enough to have her picture taken!)

-The way the energy level of the house changes when Alex comes home from school, an immediate electrification of the air, an instantaneous alchemy of completion.

-The warbling giggle of my almost-22-month-old as said big brother chases him around the house roaring, and Julianna sits off to the side giggling uncontrollably at the rank silliness of the menfolk.

-A DQ Chocolate Extreme blizzard, shared with my girl

-Wonderful teachers for my children

-Choir members who build a community around us

-A few stolen moments by the river, watching the ice grind itself into perfect circles as it spins around the bends on its way to warmer weather:

-Gratitudes that are not meant for public consumption

-The chance to submit a manuscript

-The chance to make a difference by working at the diocesan level, and by teaching NFP

-The privilege of the writing gift, which I must remember is just that, a gift, and less important than my ordinary, humdrum life

-The structure that limits my writing time, which makes me focus and produce instead of wallowing and wasting time. (At least, not wasting as much time.)

-Grandmothers who have lived long enough to be known and loved by their great-grandchildren

What do you have to be grateful for today?

Confessions of an Advent Zombie

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Zombie

Image via Wikipedia

It seems ironic to me that in this season of Advent—the Advent I’ve spent two years preparing for, the one in which I’m doing four radio interviews, four periodical interviews, countless blog entries, and five book signings to help families move toward a less crazed, more relaxing, and holy Advent season—that in this season, it is me who is feeling stressed, crazed, and utterly unable to find the peace and holy hush I have been so relentlessly advocating.

I made a mistake in Advent calendar scheduling this year.  It goes like this:

  • At the end of Week 1, I sandwiched our day trip between two cookie baking days.
  • The second cookie baking day was compacted into the afternoon, because we had choir in the morning, meaning 3 hours at church on the heels of a long (napless) day and a short night.
  • We followed it up with three days in a row of more late nights and virtually no naps.
  • In the meantime, I spent the days tearing through a really big writing assignment while simultaneously preparing for a really important presentation to the priests of the diocese. (When the Bishop invites you, you don’t say, “I’m sorry, this is a busy week, can we try a different one”?)

The net result is that by the time we got the house clean, ten short minutes before the first guest arrived for the choir party on Friday night, we were all spent. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. And apparently one recovery day is not enough, after a week like this. Sunday morning overflowed with bullying and threats and privileges revoked and all manner of disciplinary action. Church was a five-way wrestling match, and we all know wrestling matches at church do not foster spiritual growth. In fact, as I wrestled kids into coats and stumbled toward the church doors, everything seemed a little hazy. Somehow, in the past few weeks, I’ve become a spiritual zombie.

My inner critic is having a heyday. If you can’t even keep yourself from short-circuiting during Advent, then everything you’ve written is a big sham. Of course, it’s been coming on longer than Advent; I’ve been living and breathing Advent—the business end—for six months. And I know that’s a big part of the problem.

But it’s also the 20-month-old who doesn’t understand that he can’t eat his dinner till we pray, whose howls of outrage can unhinge me quicker than any other sound in the world (including all those Christmas songs I hate). It’s feeling rushed to get dinner on the table in time to eat before music students arrive…life, in other words.

Yet I believe in the project, because in other years, in other times, it has done for me what I tout on a daily basis. And this year, even amid my own spiritual desolation, I see it on Alex’s face.

Lessons are done now until January. And the crazy week is past. So perhaps by the time we light the last purple candle, I will have regained my equilibrium. I can hope, at least. And in the meantime, I can turn my mind toward the blessings I’ve been overlooking:

 …chubby hands, more munchable than the cookies they cut…

How can you resist the cute factor?

My little one, who takes the cheese factor to a whole new level when he sees a camera…

 Having lots of help to decorate the cookies (I really loathe this job. Yes, I’m weird. But I like my gingerbread plain, thank you very much. Icing=blech!)

…For hayrides through remote, beautiful winter woods…

…for rows of trees marching over the rolling hills…

…for tranquil hills wreathed in mist and cloaked in silence…

….for running children…

…for the magic of watching children transfixed by beauty…

…and of an Advent wreath in the darkness.

The beauty is there. I just have to figure out how to slow down and live in the present.

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Counting to a thousand with Ann.

Confessions of a High School Misfit

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RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER

Misfits

I have a dirty little secret to share. Brace yourself. Are you ready?

I was not popular in high school.

Yes, it’s shocking, I know.

Often when I’m out and about, this little fantasy plays out in my mind. Kind of an embarrassing one to admit, for someone who likes to think of herself as an independent-minded woman with her priorities in order. In this fantasy, I’m walking through the Mall when someone from my past—someone who spent high school ignoring, looking down on, or (in the case of the guys I liked) choosing someone else—suddenly appears in my path, and I dazzle said person with my wittiness, my accomplishments, or my general put-together-ness.

Right.

I would imagine that everyone, regardless of their place in the teenage pecking order, felt the same way I did about high school—insecure, full of angst, and always a step behind. Those people from my past with whom I have connected (however distantly) on Facebook appear to have lives that look a lot like mine: kids, mortgages, deadlines, hobbies, events to look forward to…why should I be stuck on the need to prove my worth? Isn’t that a little juvenile? Why should I expect that if I came face to face with my past, it would involve anything but a friendly “how-are-you-do-you-remember” moment?

Maybe it’s ego. Maybe it’s an innate lack of self-confidence. Or maybe, as usual, I’m overanalyzing. I’ll bet everyone has these fantasies.

No, your eyes do not deceive: that's one ski glove and one teal leather-palmed glove from Target. And if I knew where the mates are, I would happily wear a matched pair.

Maybe the fantasies even come true, once in a while. But I’m pretty sure that would not be the case for me. I may be eighteen years older but I’m no more a put-together woman than I was a put-together teenage girl. As evidenced by the fashionable gloves I wear these days:

But at least these days, I’m comfortable enough to share it with the entire universe via blog post. 😉

Ahem.

(Maybe I need to be less of a cheapskate. Then again, they do the job.)

In high school, grownups used to say, “These are the best years of your life.” Even at the time, I thought, Are you people freaking crazy? If this is the best time of my life, I might as well shoot myself now and get it over with.

In college, I was surrounded by people whose musical geek factor rivaled my own. I loved studying music, and classmates whose talents I respected also respected mine. But even then I didn’t quite fit in; I was a morning person and not the drinking type. So although I had one very good friend, and a small circle of close acquaintances, I still felt like a misfit.

How can you resist the cute factor?

In fact, it wasn’t until I met Christian in the choir at Newman that I found my home and my purpose in life. Nine years after that, when I felt life stirring within my body for the first time, it raised the bar for perfect moments. Parenthood and married life raises the bar again and again—and life keeps meeting it.

Those grownups who said these were the best years of my life—they were wrong. When I talk to my middle school and junior high and high school students, I parrot a different message: This isn’t it. Life keeps getting better.

For little boys in Easter hats
   and chubby hands pressing down on cookie cutters
      and a little girl who has decided she loves Mommy after all

For hugs and kisses from small ones
   and choir members who lift me up
      and blog friends
and the chance to make a difference through the written word

For stories that keep me up at night
   and brand new baby nieces with cheeks I could chew on all day
      and too much to do and so much to see and not knowing how it’s all going to end

For Christmas lights and childish excitement
   and Alex belting “On That Holy Mountain,” fighting with me for the octavo while I sing a duet with the man who taught me a new meaning for the word “home”

For frosty mornings spend inside
   and brisk walks with my little one, who is no longer a baby

For progress in toilet training, if not in speech

I am thankful today.

Little Graces

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It’s been a weekend (and a week) of little graces, none of which lend themselves to lengthy prose, so I’ll just list them here today.

…a 4-year-old friend, whose display of bicycle prowess led Alex to ask us if he could drop the training wheels…

…and ask Daddy to let go

…a Friday night date with my firstborn: ice cream and the percussion ensemble, where one of the performers showed such enthusiasm and obvious joy in his playing that it carried me along for the ride

…a busy weekend selling books at church

…singing the psalm

…followed by an evening of horseplay and pajama hugs, unnaturally extended by that stupid temporal tradition called “falling back.”

…a beautiful, shirt-sleeves Sunday afternoon, rounded out by play time in the cul de sac with Grandma and Grandpa

…and, wrapping up the weekend, the chance to go to a concert with my husband on Sunday night.

Small things, all, but they fill the heart on a Monday morning of what promises to be yet another crazy week.

The Weekend In Gratitude

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You know how you take the weekends and you cram them full of stuff, expecting to accomplish a ton, only to end the weekend in frustration because virtually nothing got done?

This should have been one of those weekends…but it wasn’t.

There was Beauty and the  Beast on our friends’ front lawn, with popcorn and a deep dark sky full of stars, and Julianna sitting on Daddy’s lap mesmerized and screaming with delight at the movie, and Nicholas flinging himself backward in my arms to point at the darkened, twinkling sky.

Saturday was Suburbia Meets the Farm, which can only full be shared in pictures:

Julianna, as I expected, took to the tractor like oil to water. When it cam roaring toward us, she attached herself to my neck so tightly that I actually had to pry her loose so I could breathe. Hugs from my girl are not nearly frequent enough, so scared or no, that was its own little blessing.

And then there were the boys, trekking off to learn about field corn with Grandma…

And at last the combine came roaring up to dump its load and pick up small riders.

It was a busy day, far too busy for us to spend the proper amount of time to properly appreciate the smell of harvest, that half-sweet tang of yellow grains mixing with the slow smell of fermenting stalks. Far too busy to sit beneath the maple tree back at the house and enjoy the cool shade and the soft quiet of wind whispering in the maple leaves. But while we were occupied with roaring monsters and grandparents, Christian played golf in the quiet and got his best score ever.

And then we drove back home to have hot dogs and s’mores cooked in the fire pit, and a backyard campout adventure for the big boys. I sat and scrapbooked on Saturday night at our big desk, listening to the rise and fall of their voices below the window as Alex interrogated Christian on something or another.

And then on Sunday, it was NFP class and making Alex’s family page for school and a family photo shoot and novels group.

Not a perfect weekend. There were arguments and kids misbehaving and all the usual, but on the whole, a good weekend. And on the days when the irritations and frustrations seem most troublesome, that’s the most important time to be grateful.

holy experience