Wednesday, December 30, 2009

super cuts

In all the hours I spent on the piano bench in the practice room poring over scores learning repertoire and developing dexterity and finger independence by technical exercises, I never envisioned putting these skills to use cutting other people's hair.  I can't even fix my own hair. This does not bode well for my lass.

For a long while now, though, I've been cutting the lads' hair, but this morning my beloved took a seat in the stylist chair (sans booster).  I was kinda nervous, since there's a big difference between a young lad's home haircut and one on a grown man, but I am humbled to say it came out alright (if I do say so myself) with lots of coaching from my beloved as to how the professionals do it.

When my elder lad was a baby, we trimmed his bangs a couple of times, and my beloved even gave him a haircut or two.  Then it grew and grew, and the lad simply wasn't keen on the whole hair-cutting business.  Figuring it was just hair, after all, and not worth a battle just yet, we let it grow out.  Then enough was enough.  One Good Friday I took some scissors and started to trim some off the back while he sat on the back porch at my mother-in-law's house planting some seeds in a pot or something.

"What are you doing, Mama?" he asked me.

"Just trimming," I replied.  But I was pretty hesitant...

My mother-in-law (herself the mother of three boys) told me at the time, "Eventually it'll be no big deal."

"Eventually?!  There isn't going to be an eventually.  This is a one-time deal.  We're going to the barber shop next time." I told her.  I had no intention of repeating this exercise.  Silly me.

When it became apparent that sitting in the barber's chair was not going to happen anytime soon, I checked out some books from the library to learn some techniques, and now I'm pretty well-practiced with scissors (clippers are another story).  We have our routine down: both boys get their hair wet via a dunk in the tub (they hate the spray bottle).  Then they take turns in the chair with the booster seat that we bring into the bathroom and they both watch a video on our little DVD player.  Works pretty well (most of the time).

In thinking about all the skills I have cultivated as a mother since the time my first lad was born, some make more sense than others.  This hair-cutting business is not one of the skills I thought I would develop.  But I have out of necessity, and it's one I'm comfortable making use of when necessary.  I don't plan to be their stylist the rest of their lives, but for now it works for us (just so long as they have a good video to watch).

As for me, I slipped out yesterday to the salon and returned home with my hair cut and coiffed (but not colored, despite a few gray hairs that are making themselves known).  The outing did Mama a world of good, but not quite so much as returning home to the joyous shouts of my bambini saying "Mama, you look pretty!"

God love them.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

ode to the clementine

Dear little clementines, how we do love thee.
Your orange peel is protective
yet yielding to little fingers seeking to enjoy your sweetness.
(They call you "clemenTIMES".)
'Til now we had not known the delights of the little cuties.
We're so glad we do.

Monday, December 28, 2009

favorite Christmas books

We benefit hugely from a longstanding tradition in my beloved's family at this time of year: our children receive books as gifts every year from my beloved's parents and grandparents (among others; my sister gave them books this year as well).  Each book is selected with great attention to detail both with regard to the story and how it relates to the child for whom it is intended.  The opening of the Christmas books is one of my favorite parts of the Christmas festivities.  I love to go back and look at the inscriptions in each one year after year, as these books are ways of remembering our bambini at particular stages in their lives and the things that captured their fancies at the those times.  They're also ways of marking our journey as a young family.

For example, the year we were expecting our second lad, we received Little One, We Knew You'd Come by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Jackie Morris.  With beautiful imagery both literary and visual, this book captures the profound joy and hopeful expectation of not only a couple expecting a baby, but the world awaiting its savior.  The interactions depicted between Mary and Joseph and the two of them and the newborn Jesus are tender and intimate, creating a sense of quiet wonder coexisting with abundant joy.

When a shepherd boy goes in search of the lost sheep in his care, he finds much more than he was expecting.  The boy (and the lamb missing its mother the sheep) finds Mary, Joseph, and newborn Jesus in the stable.  Something inside him recognizes the immensity hidden within the humble couple and their baby, and he longs to be a part of it.  The warmth of Raúl Colón's illustrations evokes a sense of wonder and peace.

"After the star had set, after the angels had roosted, after the shepherds had hurried back to their sheep, there was one person still awake in the dark stable."   Thus begins Geraldine McCaughrean's Father and Son: A Nativity Story.  Joseph sits awake in the stable after everyone else is asleep, wondering how he can ever care for, teach, admonish, instruct, and joke with the one who formed the world and all its contents.   This is a book filled with emotions that will resonate immediately with parents both seasoned and those just starting out.

Kate DiCamillo's Great Joy is a visually arresting book (with illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline) with a profoundly moving story centering on a little girl living in a busy city and the homeless organ grinder on the street corner she watches from her window.  She's getting ready for her Christmas program, but she can't stop thinking about this sad man and his little monkey, especially after seeing them sleeping on the street corner in the snow.  Moved with compassion, she is compelled to reach out to him.  The result is pure joy.

 In Saint Frances Celebrates Christmas, Mary Caswell Walsh tells the story of the first nativity scene in an easygoing manner perfect for young children.  Saint Francis gathers people and animals together for a wondrous effect.  This Christmas we received The Song of Francis and Jingle the Christmas Clown by Tomie de Paola, which I eagerly await reading with my bambini. 

Cynthia Rylant's Silver Packages is a poignant story of an Appalachian town awaiting the yearly Christmas train.  A wealthy man once helped by the people of the town stands on the caboose tossing Christmas presents to the children standing in the snow clad in threadbare clothing.  One little boy learns a profound lesson about receiving, then giving back.

Our list of favorites would not be complete without a couple more of Tomie de Paola's books, including The Legend of the Poinsettia and The Story of the Three Wise Kings, and Merry Christmas, Curious George.

Snuggled up with my bambini reading these books makes for some of my most favorite times.  I hope it adds to their joy and understanding of the reason we celebrate Christmas.  I know it adds to mine.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

chocolate in good conscience

I am pretty much addicted to this chocolate peanut butter granola.  My selective four-and-a-half year old lad is, too.  It's a healthy snack with a touch of chocolaty-peanut-buttery goodness -- offering protein, endorphins, fiber, and a touch of sweetness.  Fabulous!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

great expectations

When I was a novice music director planning the first Christmas liturgies of my service, I selected Marty Haugen's ebullient "Awake, Awake, and Greet the New Morn" as the opening song of the Christmas Day liturgy.*

"Awake, awake, and greet the new morn,
For angels herald its dawning,
Sing out your joy, for now he is born,
Behold! the Child of our longing.
Come as a baby weak and poor,
To bring all hearts together,
He opens wide the heav'n-ly door
And lives now inside us for ever."

Festive, yes, and fitting, sure -- but not "O Come, All Ye Faithful" or "Joy to the World" or some other such bulwark of the Christmas carol repertoire as some might have been expecting.  I was known for introducing a lot of new music to the parish, and Christmas was no exception.

Each of us has our own set of expectations when it comes to such things as major holidays like Christmas.  They are built on tradition, the memories of our childhood, the hopes we have for how we'd like to celebrate in the future, and (at least) what we think the people we plan to celebrate with expect of the holidays.  But what happens when it all turns out differently?

The final two weeks of Advent passed in a blur for our family.  Our lad who seemed so fragile was for good reason.  He was diagnosed with pneumonia, then a week later turned up with an allergic reaction to the antibiotic prescribed to treat the pneumonia.  Before that latter revelation, we were contending with breathing treatments and medicine and such.  This left little time or energy left for fully entering into the Christmas mystery -- at least, in the way I thought I should have.

With Christmas Eve came a blizzard -- an anomaly for our region of the country.  Its arrival meant no family coming over to spend Christmas Eve with us or us going to visit other family on Christmas Day as we had planned, treacherous travel conditions for those who did venture this way, and no outing to Mass -- the centerpiece of our entire Christmas celebration.

Now the weather conditions are improving, and family is on the way to celebrate with us.  May our tidings be festive, joyful, and grateful for the blessings of family, the restoration of good health for our young lad, and most of all for the gift of redemption that comes with the arrival of the Christ child.

Christ enters into our reality knowing full well what it is, and wanting to be a part of it.  Our desire to be still and listen and make every little detail perfect is itself a gift from God -- a stirring of our devotion and faith.  But he knows our particular circumstances -- chaotic and stressful and exhausting though they may be -- and embraces us and them.  Even when we can't come to him, he comes to us.

I don't remember if we got to this fourth verse of the carol that Christmas morning with the obscure music (there *were* other, more familiar selections that morning), but it certainly seems fitting this year:

"Rejoice, rejoice, take heart in the night,
Though dark the winter and cheerless,
The rising sun shall crown you with light,
Be strong and loving and fearless;
Love be our song and love our prayer,
And love, our endless story,
May God fill ev'ry day we share,
And bring us at last into glory."

*In our Catholic tradition, there are several Masses celebrating Christmas beginning on Christmas Eve, including the vigil Mass on Christmas Eve, Mass at Midnight, and Mass during the Day on Christmas Day.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Advent goodness

I am woefully behind getting up any Advent decorations, but we're still trying to observe a hopeful and expectant Advent.  We made St. Nicholas Day a centerpiece of the early days of the season.  This weekend we'll be trimming our Christmas tree and decorating our house (if our lad feels up to it), fitting as we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent called "Gaudete Sunday" or the "joyful" Sunday, rejoicing as Christmas draws ever closer.   And for the third year in a row, we're enjoying The Very First Noel, an excellent animated video about the Three Kings' journey to Bethlehem.

The most important preparations are those that we make in our own hearts to receive our King of Kings at Christmas.


The same sweet lad who was just a few days ago wooing me with his little sonnet of Mama love has fallen ill with a fever, junky sounding cough, and upset stomach.  The past couple of days he's been saying he needs me to snuggle him, which I am always happy to do, especially when he is as obviously miserable as he is.  Who wouldn't want their mother at such a time?

Now that Daddy is home for the weekend things are a little more manageable, but yesterday was a different story...

While the ailing lad needs Mama to hold him, his older brother also wants me to play trucks with him, and the baby girl has set her sites on climbing the stairs on her own.  After that she decided that Mama-holding-business looked pretty good and wanted plenty of it for herself (when she wasn't trying to rearrange her elder brother's careful set-up of animal figurines and trucks).  What's a solo-flyin' Mama to do?

As I scurried around preparing what might pass as "lunch" amidst the feverish lad's plaintive pleas for me to hold him, the elder lad was (thankfully) quizzing me on how to spell "construction site" for him to label the truck drawing he'd done at school this week.  The lass was making her request for sustenance known as well; Mama barely managed to get everyone something to eat. 

At times like this, it's all about triage.  Who is in the greatest need at this very moment?  As I've written before, multitasking is an art form I practice daily to master.   When it comes to the immediate and intense needs of these three souls, Mama desperately wants to meet them all.  But I'm only one person.  How can I?

One idea is to pile up and read together.  We did that for a while.  We fudged a little on the TV time, all watching a Planet Earth episode on oceans, Dinosaur Train, and Curious George.  We bundled up and went for a drive; the sleep that had eluded the ailing lad during our story hour came shortly after backing out of the driveway, and his brother and sister fell asleep themselves.  (I had packed some dark chocolate in case things worked out that way.  Mama needed the endorphins.) 

Help arrived shortly after we got home in the loving hands of my mom, dad, and sister.  Everyone's spirits were buoyed when Daddy arrived home with pizza.

The two healthier siblings did what they could to console and care for their brother, though by the end of the day with only brief rolling siestas for anyone, patience was in short supply.  The poor lad didn't mean to be fussy; he simply couldn't help it.  We've all been there.

He's still sick today, but his spirits are improved.  Here's hoping the extra TLC will be just what he needs to get over what's ailing him.

Lord, I pray for guidance in caring for these children, for their physical, mental, and spiritual health, for my younger lad's speedy and complete recovery, and for continued health for my other two children.  I don't know how "mothers of many" balance these precarious situations.  I guess they just do the best they can with what they have at the moment.  That's what I tried to do yesterday.  It wasn't the first time and I'm sure it won't be the last.  I pray that God will make up the difference between what I'm able to provide and what my children need.

Friday, December 11, 2009

favorite authors: Tomie de Paola

One of our very favorite authors is Tomie de Paola.  "Prolific" is one way of describing his output, but "wonderful" and "delightful" are probably more descriptive (if somewhat more subjective).  He's penned and illustrated several books of a religious nature, among them one on St. Patrick, a few on the Blessed Virgin Mary, and several about Jesus, as well as those about ordinary people answering the call to everyday sanctity.  Some of our favorites among these are The Lady of Guadalupe, The Clown of God, and Christopher the Holy Giant.  He also has written some based on legend (such as The Legend of the Poinsettia), and some endearing stories drawn from his own childhood.  Of these we've really liked The Art Lesson and The Baby Sister.  Then there are fun ones that answer burning questions like those about popcorn and clouds in the aptly-titled The Popcorn Book and The Cloud Book respectively.

These days we're enjoying Jingle the Christmas Clown, Pages of Music (written by Tony Johnston and illustrated by de Paola), and Tomie's Little Christmas Pageant, perfect timing too as our elder lad just appeared in his first Christmas program at his preschool. Mama wasn't prepared for the strong reaction of wonder and pride seeing her lad in his element on stage dressed as a Wise Man in an orange robe and crown.  Who knew?

I remember reading Nana Upstairs Nana Downstairs as a child (older than my own bambini), though at the time de Paola's name didn't stick with me.  When I checked it out not all that long ago to see if it might be one my bambini would like now (I decided to wait until they're a little older to read it to them), I could barely make it through the book without tears welling in my eyes thinking of reading this book with my parents and also of my own grandmothers, one living and one no longer living.

De Paola's simple, honest prose and his charming illustrations endear his books to parents and children alike.  It's no wonder he's an enduring favorite, not just at our house, but around the world.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

the heart of the home

You know that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where someone makes reference to the husband being the head of the household but the wife being the neck?

I've run across this phrase "heart of the home" a lot lately.  Its particular context applies to the lady of the household, the wife and mother who tends to the souls entrusted to her -- her husband's and children's.  Part of this soul-tending business involves the temporal care of the bodies the souls inhabit and the environment the bodies live in, but there's a deeper meaning here. 

The heart of the home is where those who live in that home can find love, care, respect, encouragement, nourishment, devotion, understanding, strength, refuge from the outside world's pressures and confusions, and liberal doses of humor and accountability.   She is, for lack of more delicate terms, where the rubber meets the road.  She is in the world but not of it, aware of what the world might be trying to foist upon her loved ones and ready to refute whatever is not of God.

Between the neck and the heart, I'd rather be the heart.   I pray for the grace to be just such a pillar for the people God has placed closest in my midst.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I'll live for days on this...

From the way-back of the Bambini Ride I hear my younger lad spontaneously say
"I.  love.  Ma.  Ma.
"I love Mama!
"I.  love.  YOU."

Bless you, dear child.  Your mama loves you, too.

favorite illustrators: Chris Raschka

We've read several books illustrated by Chris Raschka, my favorite among them being The Hello, Goodbye Window,which won the Caldecott medal. It's the charming story of a girl at her grandparents' house, and for us it cultivates memories of the love we feel and fun we have when we visit our parents (our bambini's grandparents) and grandparents.

Now we've found another fun one: his retelling of Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.  The prose he employs lends itself well to reading aloud; it's a pleasure for both the one reading and the one(s) listening.  Come to find out, Raschka has several other books with a musical theme.  I'll be searching the library card catalog for those...

(dating myself again.  Do they even keep an actual card catalog at the library anymore?)

I digress.  Peter and the Wolf is a cornerstone of the children's musical lexicon (I'm always looking for an excuse to use that word "lexicon."  It's so choice.).  How neat to have it in this fresh visual form as well.  Now I must find my recording of Leonard Bernstein narrating the piece...

Monday, December 07, 2009

St. Nicholas Day

Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of Saint Nicholas, patron saint of (among others) children, brides, and sailors, who serves as a sort of historical basis for our modern day Santa Claus. He was actually a saint born in the third century who became Bishop of Myra in what is modern day Turkey, perhaps best known for the example of charity he gave by providing the dowries for a family of young ladies too poor to wed otherwise.    

Celebrating this feast day is a significant part of our Advent observance, as it places a premium on the consideration of the needy at this otherwise extravagant (at least, in the worldly sense) time of year.  Every year since our elder lads' first Christmas, we select children our own children's ages from our parish church's angel tree to buy Christmas gifts for.  Last week we went shopping, and the lads helped select things they thought "their boys" would like, such as trucks or blocks or puzzles, as well as some sorely-needed things like hats, mittens, hoodies, and pajamas.  They also helped choose gifts for a girl our lass's age, like diaper supplies, some soft blocks, and jammies.  It wasn't easy at first to choose some fun-looking toys to give to someone else we'll likely never meet, but the thought of other children without such things resonated with the lads, and they soon were thinking of ways to show even greater generosity.

This "Saint Nicholas shopping" is an opportunity to discuss our responsibility to those who cannot meet their own basic needs, a responsibility we feel keenly.  The need for almsgiving knows no season, but Advent is an especially ideal time to answer that need with joy, and to help our children live the virtues of charity, generosity, and kindness. 

St. Nicholas Day isn't meant to be a mini-Christmas morning, but it *is* a day to celebrate the beautiful children in our lives.  Ours awoke to encounter a few little surprises throughout the day.  Some families leave chocolate coins, clementines, walnuts, or other yummy treats in their stockings.  Seeing as how our children don't have stockings (Mama wants to make those in her spare time, so they may be waiting a while.), I drew some on paper sacks for the lads' treat bags.  They were very understanding.

We have a few books about Saint Nicholas that we read each year.  One we particularly like is Santa, Are You For Real?  by Harold Myra (strange coincidence, the author's last name and the city of St. Nicholas's ministerial service).  It's a book my beloved's parents read to him and his brothers as a child, and seeks to answer the question head on in a way that keeps the focus on Christ and the magic of the legend alive.

Another is Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Julie Stiegemeyer, which despite its title is actually a fictional story.  This book's strength lies in its personification of the key players in the whole gold-in-the-stocking story.

As we journey forward toward Christmas, we hope to carry the spirit of Saint Nicholas with us, keeping in mind his devotion to Christ especially in children and the poor and needy.  Considering Christ's humble birth and His reassurance that whatever we do for the least of His people we do for Him, we know we can only fully experience His joy by also embracing His cross and His mission of love and charity.

Monday, November 30, 2009

just so we're clear

Lads are ascending the stairs, the younger one before the elder... 

younger lad: "are you a monster?"

elder lad: "no, I am not."

younger lad: "are you my brother?"

elder lad: "yes, I am."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

back on the bench

A few weeks ago, the music director for the Catholic parish to which we belonged before moving to bigger digs in a different area of town to accommodate our growing family asked me to substitute for the organist at one of this weekend's Masses.  I agreed with some trepidation, because I just can't "wing it" like I maybe could have a few years ago when I was playing the piano all the time.  Practice time is limited at best.  It cannot be my highest priority.  And besides that, to just "wing it" at Mass is simply disrespectful in my mind and therefore unacceptable.  Christ and His people deserve better.

Still, a trained, seasoned musician like I am should've been able to realize that something was amok *and solve the problem* sooner than I did when I sat down to play this morning.  The piano in this church is situated with its soundboard facing a brick half wall -- not the most ideal, acoustically-speaking.  As I played the first notes of the opening hymn, I tried my best to project the sound as I had been trained.  Try as I might, it sounded as though I were playing in a sock.  Having had only a couple sips of coffee this morning, I thought this was owing to the piano's facing the wall and continued to play as heavily as I could with a disproportionately delicate sound emanating from the piano.  It was only a little while later (after a few more fuzzy songs) that I realized the middle pedal was stuck down, and once I dislodged it, things were much different.  It would not surprise me if people in the back were surprised to hear a piano suddenly playing at all halfway through Mass, as I suspect I wasn't all that audible up til then.

These substitution outings are not easy undertakings for me -- or my family.  There are some logistical aspects of them that are larger than just me.  When I was about 15 or so, I broke my wrist Rollerblading.  Several weeks into my recovery, I boldly told my mother that I was ready to Rollerblade again and that if I got hurt again I'd just have to deal with it.  She was quick to point out that I wasn't the only one having to deal with it -- the entire family was affected.   In some respects, today's outing was similar.  Instead of going to the parish we now call home and celebrating the First Sunday of Advent with our present parish family, we returned to the one we'd left a little over a year ago.  My father came (as would have my mother and sister, had they not been indisposed), and so did my beloved's parents.   It was a later Mass than we usually attend, which spelled a set back in the lunch & siesta routine we try hard to maintain for our bambini's collective benefit.

But I can honestly say it was worth it.  Looking out across the congregation, I caught my younger lad's eye.  He smiled and waved at me.  Seeing his sweet face, and then those of the rest of my family gathered there to support me, I was filled with a sense of gratitude for the season of life in which I now find myself.  I was so happy to see him run up to me after Mass, and hear him thinking back through our outing this morning as he settled in for bed tonight: "You play the pwano.  You not break it.  Daddy not play the pwano.  We stand up.  We kneel..." 

I was honored to be asked to play today, and though I may not have given the cleanest performance, I gave the best one I could given the parameters within which I work these days.  I wanted my children to see me using the gift God has given me in His service.  That's an important example I hope they internalize.

It was a fitting beginning of Advent, the season in which we prepare the way of the Lord, awaiting His coming with hopeful expectation, readying our hearts and minds for God's ultimate gift to humanity.   Stuck pedals notwithstanding, these four weeks of Advent are our opportunity to lay the gifts God has given us at His feet.  His Grace will make them perfect.

Friday, November 27, 2009

how does that work?

I grew up with a family that had two boys (the younger of these two is my age), a girl, and then another boy.  Our fathers have been friends since high school.  Our families have spent many a Thanksgiving, Easter, and "family birthday" together. 

The elder lads in that dear family seemed to have an insatiable need to take things apart, figure out how they worked or were assembled, and then put them back together again.  I never really identified with this need, at least not the intensity with which it consumed them, but now I see it in my own lads.

My elder lad just took all the wheels off one of his favorite trucks with a screwdriver he found in our Go To drawer.  Then he put them all back on -- in the right places and everything.

I may not fully identify with the need to understand the complexities of some item's construction, but as the mother of these charming lads, I make it my mission to figure out acceptable ways for them to satisfy their curiosity.

Those lads I grew up with are as close as I've come to having brothers  (and their sister is, for all practical purposes, my sister too) until I gained two when I married my beloved.  Seeing my two lads in action brings back lots of memories of these longtime friends.  

They'd be so proud of my screwdriver-wielding lad.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

keen observation

Our lads are dirt magnets.  They love the stuff.  They'll dig for extended periods of time whenever the opportunity presents itself.

In the absence of dirt, a mixture of flour, wheat germ, baking soda, salt, and crushed up almonds and rolled oats will do the trick.  This I learned today while baking chocolate chip cookies with the lads after the elder one got home from preschool.  (Sneaky, no?)  The younger lad was only too happy to crush up brown sugar clumps with the side of a measuring cup.  He was happily in his "wrecker crane" element.  His elder brother very contentedly and intently scooped and stirred and corralled the dry mixture, finally saying "Mom, look!  I made a road!  It's a construction zone!"

Which is very nearly just what he says when he has a pile of dirt and a shovel outside...

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Pianists are their own orchestra.  They can create an entire range of sound -- not just melody, but harmony along with it.  Most pianists I know (this one included) tend to be pretty independent.  I have my theories of personality characterization based on one's instrument, which I won't get into now, but I was thinking about independence today as my elder lad and I selected some bagels at the grocery store.  He and I are bagel aficionados.  They're pretty much all I could keep down when I was gestating him, so it's little surprise he likes them so much.

In an effort to manage my bambini well at the grocery store, it's only been in the last few months that I've allowed my elder lad out of the shopping cart.  He walks alongside now or hitches a ride on the outside.   He likes to retrieve the items on our shopping list (and make some suggestions for things purposely left off: "Mom!  Oreos!"  "Mom!  Donuts!").  Really he does a pretty good job overall of staying with me and enduring the shopping experience.  Today he was especially helpful *and* patient, God love him.  When we got to the bagels near the end of our trip, he said "I'll get the cinnamon raisin!".  He picked up a tissue and a paper sack and loaded it up with his favorites.  At that moment -- as at so many others of late -- I was struck by his confidence and capability.

From starting preschool this year to being the oldest of three children, he's had to learn to do some things for himself that he would probably otherwise rather let Mom and Dad do.  He hasn't been in a hurry to be 'big", maybe because his siblings have followed closely behind him in arrival.  The philosophies on fostering children's independence vary, but one that seems to ring true in our family is that independence must be taken on one's own -- not forced upon someone.  From sleep to dressing oneself to toilet learning to navigating the grocery store outside the confines of the shopping cart, it comes in good time.

Before I was married, I lived on my own for a good seven or eight years.  I even bought my own house.  I was prepared well for this independent living by my parents, who helped me learn how to manage for myself without thrusting me out into the deep water unattended.  Such carefully-formed independence is something I have witnessed in the beautiful women of my extended family throughout my life, from my Grannie to her daughters (my aunts) to their daughters (my cousins), and of course from my father and mother. For these examples, I am ever grateful. 

Now that I'm married, I'm dependent on my beloved for many things: love and prayers, temporal care (seeing as how I don't bring home a paycheck these days), and a friendship which helps me grow closer to Christ.  Sometimes it's very difficult for me allow my beloved to take care of me or take care of things that I am capable of and willing to do for myself, however grateful I am for his devotion and care.  But when I allow him to minister to me as Christ would, I see Christ in him. 

Sometimes, in typical pianist fashion, I'd rather just do things myself.  But in a family, we depend on each other to create harmony -- a truly melodious sound.

Our elder lad is far from being independent in the sense of being able to take care of all his temporal and spiritual needs.  He's not quite four and a half going on eighteen (the age at which one can take the test to earn a commercial driver's license to drive a Mack truck).   With God's grace and guidance, I pray we will help him (and his siblings) gradually gain the independence he will need to be the person God calls him to be.  In so doing, I pray we will also show him how we are dependent upon each other and ultimately Christ to be our true selves, ever seeking eternity.

coffee fiend

I hardly ever turn down coffee.  Especially this.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

something to look forward to

Elder lad meanders out to the kitchen where I'm cleaning up dinner and whispers conspiratorially in my ear: "You can ride in my Mack truck when you're 51."

To which I respond in equally hushed tones, "Thank you.  I'll look forward to that.  Where will we go?"

(shrugs his shoulders nonchalantly)  "Anywhere: uptown, downtown..."

picky eaters

You'd think Mary Ann Hoberman might know something about picky eaters from her book The Seven Silly Eaters.   Each of the seven children will only eat one specific thing, but none of them eat the same thing: milk heated to a certain temperature, homemade applesauce, fresh squeezed pink lemonade, oatmeal, eggs prepared two different ways... 

Sounds like our house.

The nine-month-old lass seems to be the most adventurous eater thus far.  She's interested in everything, including -- to our great astonishment given her brothers before her -- vegetables.   On the advice of our pediatrician, I've never been in a rush to introduce foods to the babes (we've waited to introduce them -- one at a time -- until their six month birthdays at least).  "I'll have what you're having," she seems to say.  She's got the right attitude, I think, and I'm trying to honor it by offering her what I'm eating (with reasonable precautions taken, obviously).

One of our favorite book series features Charlie and Lola, a British brother and sister duo, by Lauren Child.  I think it started as a television series in Britain and is now on an American channel that we don't receive, but we've checked the videos out from our library.  Our elder lad's favorite among the many stories we now know well is I Will Not Ever Never Eat A Tomato.  Lola rattles off a laundry list of foods she will not eat.  Charlie proves himself a master at marketing.  I won't spoil the ending, but you see where this is going....

I've tried to follow the adage that little people (specifically babies and toddlers) will eat what they need, and to consider their nutritional intake on a weekly basis rather than daily. But I'm also resorting to some more covert maneuvers, adding pureed vegetables, beans, and legumes to foods the lads like (such as chocolate chip cookies) a la The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious.  This is tricky business, though, because as much as I can I try to cook *with* my children, which leaves little room for sneakiness.  I'm up front with the ingredients I'm adding in, usually saying something like "this will make it more healthy, but you won't necessarily taste it." 

All this food fussiness can incite much frustration.  But honestly, they get it from their mother.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

one hit wonders

This will date me somewhat, but when I was probably what would now be called a "tween", I heard the song "I Saw Him Standing There" by Tiffany.  Remember her?  Redhead?

Anyhow.  She didn't write it.  I didn't know that.  It's -- of course -- a Beatles song.   (My parents were quick to point this out.)  I couldn't procure the record album (yes -- LP) quickly enough, and I probably came close to wearing it out.

(My parents probably remember this better than I do, as I have blocked out many of those embarrassing adolescent memories.)

On a recent trip to the library, my elder lad rifled through the CDs and found one with fun dinosaur graphics on the jewel case cover and the words "dinosaur sing along" in the title.  It's as cheesy as it sounds.  The lads' favorite track on the CD is "Walk The Dinosaur."  Because I just don't think I can honor repeated requests for playing this particular rendition without having a conniption, I have sought out the original (or a reasonable facsimile) and am giving careful consideration to offering it as an alternative  -- and discreetly returning the dinosaur sing along to the nearest library's drop box.  Seeing the lads gleefully dancing around and singing along far supersedes any visceral reaction I may be inclined to have in response to the song's umpteenth repetition.

Whatever became of Tiffany anyway?

Monday, November 09, 2009


We find ourselves once again in the throes of The Sniffles.  Once it hits our family, we're pretty much in for a long run with it.  Once anyone's nose starts running, I start taking zinc and vitamin C in an effort to bolster my own immunity.  I did that, but I still ended up sick.   So it goes.

Always on the lookout for holistic and natural remedies for that which ails us, I gleaned a lot of good ideas from  It's a must-bookmark for nursing mamas like me, and the remedies suggested can also be used for children and anyone else looking for relief as naturally as possible. The site is a treasure trove of information for nursing mamas and those who might be nursing mamas and those who love and live with nursing mamas.

As it turns out, the elder lad has been diagnosed with some allergies (hardly surprising, given his genetics and the part of the country we inhabit), and the baby girl just cut her fourth tooth.   These revelations are reassuring to a mama wondering if she needs to be sanitizing every door handle and drawer pull (probably not a bad idea anyway).

Thankfully, we are on the mend.   And really, ours have been such slight sufferings in comparison with those who suffer greatly on an ongoing basis.  We offer these small sufferings for our own and each other's sanctification, as well as that of those for whom no one else is praying. 

When taking care of little ones (sniffly or not, and particularly while I too am ailing), I often think of the line from Rachel Field's Prayer for a Child:

"Bless the hands that never tire
In their loving care of me."

This is a powerful reminder to me of how my treatment of my bambini can reflect (or, God forbid, obscure) the love Christ has for each of them.

May the sufferings we experience bring us closer to Christ, ever more aware of our dependence upon Him, knowing that grace and blessings flow freely from such loving hands.

Friday, November 06, 2009

pancake brecky

After a busy week with several of us under the weather, this morning I decided to make pancakes for breakfast.  I make them with whole wheat flour, wheat germ, lots of cinnamon for blood sugar stability, and flax seed meal.  Here's the full flap jack on our favorite pancake "brecky".   Reminds me of a couple of favorite pancake-themed books of ours:

Pancakes, Pancakes! by Eric Carle (one of our favorites), in which the boy who craves pancakes gains a true appreciation for the origins of his food after tracking down each of the ingredients from its source, and

Curious George Makes Pancakes George using a super-sized pancake griddle + blueberry smiley faces + too much syrup + a dunk tank = one tasty, endearing adventure for our favorite little monkey.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

gender equality

Breakfast table discussion:

Younger lad (age two and a half), speaking of his nine-month-old sister: "when she get bigger, she drive a trash truck like me."

And why not?

Monday, November 02, 2009

a hopeful requiem

When I was a little girl, my grandmother and I would make Jell-o and custard for my grandfather.  She was about five foot two, and he was something like six foot four.  When I'd sleep over at their house, my grandpa would serve me Total cereal with Oreos on the side.  There were many nights I spent in a little inflatable boat next to my grandmother's couch (where she slept) on her houseboat.  She had some curious little scissors for cutting parsley for tabouli, and an irrepressible spirit.

My grandmother died when I was seven years old.  She didn't live to meet my beloved or my bambini, or to attend the piano recitals I gave in college, or to read this blog.  Somehow, though, I think she sees it all and knows probably better than I do how it all fits together to make the person I'm called to be. 

There's a picture from my infancy of my grandfather holding me while he plays bridge.  The expression on my face would seem to indicate my disdain for the cards he'd been dealt.  A few years later, he watched me ride a bicycle from the back of Wal-Mart (maybe it was TG&Y) to the front -- sure I couldn't do it, so he said  (I think I was five or so), but probably not surprised when I did.  My grandfather saw to it that I had my first set of golf clubs when I showed an interest in playing -- not just driving the golf cart when he played.  He died when I was fifteen.  I drove his car for a while after I turned sixteen (and after we aired it out really well, though it still retained a certain humidor ambiance).   I wonder what he would have said to my beloved upon meeting him for the first time or learning of our marriage plans.  I have no doubt he'd have been beaming with pride at our wedding.  I'm sure he was.  I just couldn't see him. 

Sometimes I catch a whiff of tobacco or spot a Jell-o box in the grocery store and think of them.  There are countless other memory triggers that bring them to mind.  Then it's like they're right here with me.

My Chicago grandfather recorded the telephone conversation he and Grannie and my father (their son) had when I was born.  My dad and I made many trips to be with him during the illness that ended his life too soon when I was five.  These trips and many afterward allowed me to forge the deep connection I have with my family members who live so far away.  There are times when I catch a glimpse of him in my father.  Grannie sees it, too.  And my lads love some of the funny little songs my dad's dad cooked up in jest, as was his inclination.  They spring to my mind at the most opportune times and serve to bring some levity to a situation (sometimes sorely needed if sleep has been in short order that day).

I heard my Aunt Robin's laughter emanating from my sister last week.  When I said to my mom, "she sounded like Aunt Robin just then!", my mom nodded her head emphatically in agreement.  "I know!" she said.  

And then there is my college friend Jake, who passed away nearly two years ago after a ten year battle with cancer.  Many of the quirky little phrases and mannerisms I sometimes employ come from him.  He stood backstage along with another close friend of mine at my junior piano recital hearing (given for the piano faculty to determine my readiness -- or not -- to perform the recital as planned), came to visit me when I worked for the orchestra, and taught me much about appreciating friends, the gift of the present moment, how to make popcorn on the stove, and the importance of laughter. 

I think about these family members and friends who have departed this life, as well as those of people close to me who surely miss and think of their dearly departed as much as I do.  To have lost them in this life is cause for sadness and grief.  To think of them now beyond the reach of pain or struggle and able to watch over us from above gives me even greater hope and peace.  Sometimes it seems their presence is palpable.  It is in the sights, sounds, and smells that summon up their memories.  I hope and trust I will see them again one day. 

On the liturgical calendar, today is All Souls Day.  We honor our dearly departed loved ones today, praying for God's mercy upon their souls, and for their eternal happiness with Him in heaven. 

So for these dear ones and those I haven't mentioned here, I pray
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, 
rest in peace.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

our family Litany of Saints

My least favorite, overly-secularized holiday behind us, we celebrate with hope and joy the feast of All Saints Day.  In our Christian tradition, this day serves as one to honor the saints -- that is, those who are in heaven -- both those given the title of "saint" on Earth and those known to God alone.  

We can think of the saints as friends outside of this life. They may not be living in the sense that we can see and touch them, but they *are* living.   And more importantly, they can pray for us.  Thus, we ask their intercession and trust that they include us in their prayers to God the Father.

As a liturgical musician, one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my service has been the musical praying of the Litany of the Saints, asking for God's mercy for our sinfulness and seeking the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, her husband St. Joseph, and a host of holy men and women named saints, prophets, patriarchs, and martyrs.

Some saints by circumstances of their lives or virtue of their particular accomplishments have been named patron saints of certain groups of people, places, or life events. 

For our family we have crafted our own litany of saints.  Whether by virtue of their status as patrons of particular people in our family or attributes one or several of us possess (or hope to), we seek their prayers:

*Mary our mother, Queen of Peace
*Good Saint Joseph, patron of (among others) fathers, husbands, protectors; "a righteous man" (Matthew 1:18)
*St. Monica, patron of wives
*St. Nicholas of Myra, patron of (among others) children
*St. Gerard Majella, patron of expectant mothers
*St. Catherine of Siena
*St. Gianna Beretta Molla
*St. John Bosco, patron of (among others) boys, students, and young people
*St. James (the brother of John)
*St. Francis de Sales, patron of (among others) writers and educators
*John Paul the Great (his cause for canonization is underway, but not yet complete; still we trust he can offer his prayers for us)
*holy saints and angels
pray for us

Just as we ask for the prayers of and even advice from loved ones here on Earth, so we do of the saints in heaven.  We hope to emulate their particular qualities of holiness in our quest for everday sanctity.  God willing, we will one day be counted among them in heaven.

Friday, October 30, 2009

glory days

Owing to our ... shall we say *eclectic* taste in music, we have a queue ranging from Johannes Brahms to Dan Zanes, Justin Roberts, The Steve Miller Band to Bela Fleck.  One of the lads' all time most favorite songs is Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen.  The "concerts" the lads give singing this song and playing their "kitars" (translation: guitars) are the stuff of my fondest memories.

I have long tried to infuse our days with music, but as I have disclosed before, I am *not* a music teacher. I'm more of a practitioner.  This morning we took in a fantastic musical program presented at a local library.  It was just what I had been hoping to find for the bambini: quality musicianship made fun, age-appropriate, and accessible.  

We might be described as "heavy library users".   My library card is often nearly maxed out with children's books (and when it is, I use my beloved's, though I'm thinking about setting a rule for myself that I can't check out more books than I can reasonably fit in one bag on my shoulder with my lass in the ring sling). We frequent programs the library system offers such as today's music class and weekly storytimes.  We read together throughout the day, especially at siesta time after lunch and at bedtime.   Seeking out books to read to and with my bambini has become an ongoing quest that I relish.

One gem presently checked out on my card is Amy Schwartz's A Glorious Day.  It traces a day in the lives of four families with young children living in a small apartment building in an urban setting.  I like it because it's a realistic portrayal of the doings and antics of small children, from their selective eating habits to their natural curiosity compelling them to do such things as putting peas in their orange juice or stuffing sticks down a storm drain (it's this latter thing that has captured the fancy of our four-year-old).  Seeing the children engage in these things gives us ample opportunity to discuss with our bambini what's a good idea and what's not, and to reinforce our own house rules.   It's a way for our bambini to compare and contrast their own daily experiences with those of other children (imaginary though they may be).  The interaction between one boy and his mother who spend most of the morning playing trains surely resonates with most parents who have invested their time similarly, as will many of the moments captured in simple drawings and unassuming text.

Other Amy Schwartz books we've liked include Bea and Mr. Jones, The Boys' Team, and The Purple Coat.  

Back in the Bambini Ride, we were jammin' to The Boss as we drove to husband's parents' house later this afternoon.  My four-year-old elder lad asked me what "glory days" meant.  "The best days," I answered.

"Today is a glory day," he said.  "And tomorrow."

Music to my ears.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


The lads were chomping at the bit to play outside this cool morning after Mass.  Too anxious to get out there to eat anything (they *had* eaten before church), they donned some autumnal attire suitable for pushing trucks and such around the yard (including a colorful array of hats and hand coverings) and went out.  My beloved and I stayed inside at the kitchen table overlooking the yard with our breakfast casserole and the wee lass, and set some breakfast cookies out on the porch for the lads.  Then this scene unfolded...

Elder lad (at the window cracked open to allow two-way communication beyond banging and gesturing): "Good morning, sir.  May I take your order?"

My beloved: "yes.  Coffee, please."

Elder lad: "OK.  Grande decaf mocha?"

My beloved: "I think that's what your mother would order."

Elder lad goes off, retrieves a cup full of dirt, reappears and says, "OK.  That'll be five dollars."

Where does he come up with this stuff?

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Every evening our family bedtime routine concludes with prayers followed by blessings.  Mine to each of my bambini goes something like this:

"God bless you, babe. May Jesus always live in your heart.  I hope you sleep well and have sweet dreams.  May the angels protect you and peace be with you.  I love you.  G'nite."

This is based in part on a blessing my dad would give -- and still gives -- to me at the end of the day when I was a child (or, now, when we depart each other's company; he'll also bless our bambini).  

My beloved gives his own blessings to the bambini.  It's a poignant, tender way of ending the day in peace.

Even more poignant are the spontaneous blessings our bambini now give to us and to each other.  To have them make the sign of the cross on our foreheads or even simply say "God bless you" to each other and to us is one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my motherhood.  Such times are infused with grace and peace, the very hallmarks of Christ's presence among and within us.  I live for such moments.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I can easily think of 85 things that need to get done around here at any given time (I *might* be exaggerating, but only slightly.  Hyperbole is one of my favorite literary devices.).  The question is, where do I begin?  In an attempt to accomplish as much as I can, I try to have several things going at once: start the washer so it can be going while I'm unloading the dishwasher or cooking or diapering someone.  Open several tabs in my Internet browser so I can shuffle among them while one page is loading.  Stick something in the microwave while I'm dishing up something else.  You get the idea.

Oftentimes this multitasking goes on in the midst of my discussing the fleet of real-life Mack trucks my four-year-old lad dreams of driving some day while stepping around the contents of my plastic food storage drawer now emptied by my nine-month-old lass and fielding requests for play dough, drinkable yogurt, or Goldfish.*

*This is what it's all about.

The movie Cheaper By The Dozen with Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy was one of my childhood favorites.  It's the story of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, pioneers in the study of efficiency, and their twelve children.  Naturally, I try to integrate the best of their efficiency principles into my time management approach (such as it is).  In some respects, though, that approach can be summed up in one word: triage.

There's something to be said for scheduling various domestic tasks for specific days and/or times, and I do try to do that.  But in a household with young children, the best laid plans have to remain flexible.  The balancing act between handling domestic tasks and being present to my bambini is an art, I realize.  The bambini will be little for only a brief season in our family life, while the housework will always be here.  It *does* need to get done, and they need to learn the importance of helping to maintain our home as a way of showing gratitude for the blessing from God that it is.  They often do help me with the laundry and cleaning.  We use non-toxic cleaners whenever possible (like vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda) for our health and that of our environment. 

Still, the days of early childhood are ones meant to be spent playing, laughing, learning, and loving.  We can do that while taking care of domestic duties for a while, but when my two year old says "I just want to swing", like he so often does these days, I want to be able to take him to the playground and let him do just that.  Before long, he and his siblings will be into other things.

Until further notice, please address all correspondence to my laundry room.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009

hand me downs

My elder lad has outgrown his shoes and pants -- the ones I bought several sizes too big a year or two ago just so we could maximize the wear he'd get out of them.  Fortunately, he has a younger brother who can wear a lot of the things the elder lad has outgrown.  This has financial and logistical advantages, though I think there are some emotional costs for everyone involved.  The elder lad is in some respects excited to be growing up and getting bigger, and also seems to like picking out some new things for himself to wear.   He's pretty good about letting go of many of the things he's outgrown so that his brother can wear them now and seems to like hearing stories about how he wore certain things when he was his brother's (or even his baby sister's) age.  On the other hand, there is some internal struggle with seeing his brother wearing something like what was his favorite hoodie or pajamas.  He understands the need, but it's still difficult.

Likewise, my younger lad seems to enjoy donning some of the togs with fun graphics or colors that he's seen his brother wearing, but some things he flat out rejects.  He too has gotten to choose some new things for himself, like the firefighter boots he just got a few days ago and hasn't wanted to take off, but he also struggles seeing his brother get new things, things that maybe he (the younger lad) doesn't need and therefore doesn't get something akin to. 

It's funny how there are some articles of clothing that serve as tangible tokens of a particular child at a particular point in his or her life -- what they liked to do or what developmental milestones they were mastering at the time, or what else might have been going on in our family life at the time.  In some instances, seeing another of my children in the same article of clothing has been jarring, simply because of the associations I have.  One such example is a bright orange hoodie my elder lad has now outgrown.  We could barely get that thing off of him last winter; he wore it all. the. time.  My younger lad refuses to wear it now.  I think he may have the same association I have about the hoodie: that's his brother's -- not his. 

We are trying to cultivate a deep sense of consideration for each other within our family and also for those around us who may not be as fortunate as we are to be able to afford such things as new clothes and shoes and what not.  Our children's needs do not always coincide, so meeting them as they arise may mean that one gets something new (or new to them) and another doesn't at the same time.  While it's fun and sometimes necessary to get new things, it's far more important to meet the needs of our family members and for those whose basic needs would otherwise go unmet -- not just temporal but spiritual and emotional as well.

I can only hope to instill in our bambini a concern for the less fortunate and for each other in the family, confident that each one will be tended according to his or her need. The value each of us has in the family comes from our being unique and irreplaceable creatures of God, due all the respect, love, and care by virtue of that status as His children. 

I know my younger lad will bring his own moxie to the clothes he's been handed down, as will my lass.  I pray for the grace to help all three of them clothe themselves in Christ.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

grandparents' day

Today is my grandmother's birthday.  I wish I could've celebrated it with her in person. 

We spent part of the day with my husband's parents, who live nearby and are taking some vacation for fall break.  Watching the interaction between our bambini and both sets of their grandparents illuminates entirely different sides of them (adults and children, that is) and, in the case of my own parents, conjures up memories of my own childhood and the tender care they took of me. 

In my own life I have been richly blessed by the relationships I have and have had with my grandparents.  My birthday Grannie is the only one of them still living, but my grandparents-in-law live nearby and are as dear to me as my own.

Thinking about the examples of faith and lives well-lived our grandparents (mine, my husband's, and our bambini's) give us, I am keenly aware of what an incredible blessing it is to know them and have time to spend with them.  Words cannot contain my gratitude.

Monday, October 12, 2009

shoes optional

We went to the shoe store today.  This is no minor undertaking for us.  I'd much rather order shoes online (and likely will still do so), but I thought it important to have the lads' feet measured for sizes.  When we got to the shoe store, I began the unloading process -- a bit like one of those puzzles that has nine spaces but eight squares, and you have to move one into an empty spot to get another free and eventually get it arranged just so.  So it goes for a solo adult unloading the bambini in a parking lot along a busy street.  I digress...

... I come to unload my wee lass and notice she only has one shoe on.  I find the other one and stick it not on her foot but in the pocket of my sling, thinking I'll put it back on her foot inside (of course I forget to and only realize she's wearing one shoe to the shoe store when we get back to the Bambini Ride having bought no shoes).  This calls to mind a trip last week to pick up my elder lad from preschool only to find my two and a half year old younger lad has socks on but no shoes.  I had taken the sneakers he had vetoed out of the car and intended to bring along his boots, but got distracted during that boarding process and left the boots at home.  So here we are at school with two shoeless children (the lass didn't have shoes on either, but this was less of an issue since I sling her).   I carried them both in to retrieve our preschooler.  That morning the elder lad had wanted to wear the sneakers that were at his school in his "just in case" change of clothes bag, so when I got there to pick him up after school he wanted to change into those.  Handy, since the younger lad had no shoes.  By the time we got back to the car, he was wearing his older brother's sneakers -- the ones he'd been wearing at school all day.  Nevermind that they're two sizes too big *and* have been worn all day already.

I hope he'll forgive me for that someday.

Epilogue: having accomplished the sole objective of making it possible for the younger lad to walk himself to the Bambini Ride, he was promptly relieved of his brother's shoes and reunited with his own upon our arrival home.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

it's in the bag

Growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and close-knit extended family in Chicago.  I always packed too much stuff.  Grannie would chide, "I have a washing machine."  "We know you're traveling."  "We have stores here if you need such things as toothpaste."  "You don't need to pack so much."  Thanks in part to her ... coaching, shall we say, over time I was able to pare down my luggage to one carry-on suitcase for a two-week visit.

This tendency to pack a bunch of stuff spilled over into the bag/purse/backpack I'd carry every day.  From the time I was a wee lass I loved to carry purses, filled with such essentials as lip gloss and little pads of paper and sweet-smelling ink pens.  In college I'd always have the piano repertoire I'd been assigned for the semester photocopied and spiral bound into one easy-to-carry edition in case I had a few minutes to get into the practice room, along with my calendar, cell phone, the requisite lip gloss, and all the materials I'd need for class.

The trend has continued into the present day, when I always have a diaper bag with me as well as something in which to lug all my mama stuff (ID, cell phone, camera for those spontaneous moments, lip gloss, iPod... you get the idea.) and my mobile apothecary of homeopathic remedies for sneezes and sniffles; teething; bonks and bruises; and motion sickness.  Since I usually sling my eight month old daughter when my bambini and I are out somewhere, I try to not to load myself down like a pack mule with a heavy purse or bag.

Try as I might, though, I end up with a tote bag filled with who knows what -- baby shoes, my calendar, one (or four) books that I just might have a minute to skim, maybe something chocolate... before long, I can barely lift the thing.

What would Grannie say about this?  If memory serves, her purse is pretty well-stocked.   But she's pretty discriminating as to what constitutes something essential, and I think she limits herself to purses that don't lend themselves to taking on more than they should...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

oh my. look at the time.

I consider myself a fairly decent manager of time.  Or at least, I try to be.    With three children age four and under, though, the passage of my time is not something I can fully control.  By experience, I have acquired a certain sense of time budgeting that allows for the requisite meeting of temporal needs like feeding, diapering, and dressing of my bambini with a certain time in mind as my deadline for starting what I call our "boarding process" if we are to go somewhere.  This involves buckling the three of them in their car seats and loading what might be too much stuff to cart along with us to our destination.  Chance favors the prepared person, I have to believe, so I have more than enough diapering supplies (for those who wear them) and changes of clothes (for those who have graduated from diapers, myself included) stashed just in case.  I also like to have on hand amusements like books or soft toys (bearing in mind the risk of such things becoming flying projectiles in the -- God forbid -- event of a collision), and even drinking water and snacks.  I try to anticipate the needs that might arise seemingly out of nowhere and be able to meet them wherever we are.  I might overdo a little in this regard, but again I say, I'd rather be overprepared than under.  To accomplish this logistical feat, I try to do as much preparation in advance as possible.

But in reality, I am fully aware that my best-laid plans are simply those -- plans -- and that they can be altered in the blink of an eye.  And I have humbly come to realize that if we have to be somewhere or have something accomplished by a certain time, that I have to stay focused on getting everyone ready and not let myself get distracted by the proverbial something shiny, even if I think I've got time to spare.  I don't.

Then comes the end of the day, when the baby monitor hums with the sonorous sounds of three sleeping children.  I have a long list of things I need and want to do in that brief time between when they are asleep and when I need to be asleep myself:  dishes, laundry, tidying, sending and answering e-mail, conversing with my beloved, maybe having something chocolate.... Before I know it, it's way later than I intended to still be awake.  Case in point: the time I'm taking to write this post.  My sleep deficit is significant; the need to construct this thought wins out at the moment.

The here and now is all we have.  Making the most of it is a lifelong challenge, I think.  I can only hope to set my priorities and stick to them: to be attuned to the voice of God, to be the person He calls me to be for the people He places in my midst, to not squander the gift of time I've been given with these precious people, to draw out the radiant smiles of those I love... and to somehow work chocolate (preferably dark) into that equation whenever possible.

Sometimes, though, I could swear that time just... evaporated.

Friday, October 02, 2009

someone to watch over me

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Guardian Angels.   The time I spent as director of liturgy and music fostered within me a deep love of the Church's liturgical calendar, and it's something I strive to incorporate into my daily life -- the feasts of Christ's life and that of his mother Mary's, the lives of the saints, and the seasons of the Church year.   Today's Gospel reading makes direct reference to the guardian angels:

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”
-- Mt 18:10

 I've always had a sort-of latent belief in my guardian angel.  I mean to be more purposeful in this belief because, after all, our faith teaches us that "[b]eside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life."   Attributed to St. Basil; the Catechism of the Catholic Church #336. 

As a wife and mother, I recognize my guardian angel and those of my husband and children to be some of my greatest allies and helpers in the daily care of my loved ones.  I can't take credit for this realization; it came by way of a podcast I like to listen to hosted by a deacon of the Catholic church and his friend, a Catholic wife & mother (who happens to be a friend of one of my favorite bloggers, the Pioneer Woman, but I digress).  If only I can manage to call them to mind upon my waking in the morning (easier said than done, depending on how well everyone has slept -- this simply means I must continue to practice and pray) and enlist their protection of us all.  I know their protection is there regardless of my asking for it; my realizing this and believing in its actuality requires a deeper faith and surrender on my part. 

As part of my faith formation, my parents taught me about my guardian angel.  Since I've become a parent, we've had some conversations about the tangible help our angels can be to us in caring for our bambini.

My mom likes to tell me of a conversation she and my dad had with a longtime close family friend about the name of someone's guardian angel being the first name that comes to mind when you think of said person's angel.  I think my mom said something about not knowing her angel's name, to which our friend had a prompt and sure response: "Clare."

My mom didn't quibble with him. 

Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God's love entrusts me here: 
Ever this day be at my side, 
to light and guard, to rule and guide.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

my former life

Before marriage and motherhood, I spent a lot of time perched on a piano bench.  It was a favorite spot of mine from the time I was a wee lass, so much so that I majored in piano in college at the encouragement of my aunt Robin (an encouragement that took on an added dimension of poignancy when she died of breast cancer at the age of 37 when I was a junior in college preparing for my recital).

Determined *not* to be a piano teacher, I instead set out to be an arts administrator.  I landed an internship in the development (i.e. fundraising) offices at Lyric Opera of Chicago the summer after Aunt Robin died. Promotional writing for special events was a primary focus of my internship, and it led to my first job out of college as a PR lackey for the local (now defunct but resuscitated under new leadership and an inventive business model) professional orchestra.  Here I learned a lot about mass media (even embarking upon a master's degree in this field), marketing, and graphic design, and put a ridiculous number of miles on my little car ferrying musicians (and signage and props and even a beer keg for a season wrap party) around the region.  I was very fortunate to have several articles published in the monthly magazine of the performing arts center where the orchestra gave two of its concert series, something which led to future publishing opportunities and a keener interest in writing and communications.

When the orchestra met its unfortunate demise, I went to work as the director of music and liturgy for a local Catholic parish whose pastor had been stationed at my home parish when I was in middle school.  It was an honor to serve in this capacity, and a natural outlet for my musical training.  I had begun playing at Mass when I was a teenager and had done so throughout college. This stint coincided with one writing a monthly column for the diocesan newspaper.

Then I met my husband at an event for Catholic young adults.  Within a year of our meeting we were married, and soon thereafter our first child was on the way.  I left my post at the parish to devote myself to full-time mothering and home-tending.  Every once in a while I would substitute for a pianist at one of the local Catholic parishes.  Now with three small children, it's been a while since I played at Mass.  God willing, I'll be back on my piano bench perch sometime soon, for it is there that I am most sure to be utilizing the particular talents He has given me that I have cultivated through years of practice and study.

For now, though, I am cultivating other talents and striving for everyday sanctity by loving and caring for the ones He has placed in my midst, tending to their souls, praying for the Grace to reflect the Lord's love and light at every moment. It's my honor to do so, and I'm so grateful for the multitude of blessings bestowed upon me by living out this particular vocation to which God calls me -- one I pray I will share hand in hand with my beloved for length of days.

looking through the eyes of Love

When I was in high school, my favorite stuff to play on the piano consisted of music from movies, Broadway shows, and Top 40 pop music. I was also captivated by figure skating, so it should come as no surprise that the movie Ice Castles would be one of my favorites. I of course *had* to learn the theme song "Through the Eyes of Love", not so much because of the lyrics but more because of the image I could construct of myself figure skating as I played....

More often than not, upon his return home at the end of a long day, my husband will say "Sweetheart, you look great." God love him. More often than not, when he does offer this compliment, my first inward response is "yeah, right." God help me. At such times, I see myself as tired, disheveled, overheated, frazzled, the minimal make-up I managed to apply in two minutes now melting and pointless... anything but beautiful. He probably sees these same things, too, but they don't keep him from saying such kind words.

I pray to see myself as my husband sees me. In these moments especially, he reflects the love I know Christ has for me. My husband is here to help me get to heaven (and vice versa), so whether or not I really merit such a compliment, I can trust that Christ is offering His love through my husband. Ultimately, it is for Christ I am living this life, and all manner of grace flows from the One who calls me to serve Him as my husband's wife and the mother of these children. I love Him best by loving the ones closest to me the best I can, and it's when I do that that I look the prettiest (figure skating finery notwithstanding).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Life's Work

Opus: WORK; especially: a musical composition or set of compositions usually numbered in the order of its issue.

Vita: life, way of life

When encouraged to start a blog, I always answered that I couldn't think of a suitable name for it -- one that would reflect what I would blog about: the goings-on of a family devoted to the pursuit of heaven. But tonight it came to me: I'll be writing about my life's work...  as a classically-trained pianist, the musical moniker seems only fitting.
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