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.
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