Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Birth of David Dominic

As the birth of this new baby gets closer, I'm finding myself more nervous than previous times.  I suppose when you know what labor and birth entail and what to expect, you know more of what you're getting into.  I have found reading positive birth stories to be one of the most helpful tools in getting ready for a healthy, holy birth.  So much of the work of birth is in the mind and I'm finding the need to psyche myself up for this go-around.  So, I'm posting here the birth story I wrote for David.  I never wrote the stories for John Paul and Michael and I regret that.  Perhaps someday I'll write down what I can remember because I find it so awesome to have these memories in writing.  And hopefully, this will help me get in a positive birth frame of mind and maybe help out others, too.  And, yes, it's long :) 


At on May 9, 2009, David Dominic was born into the world into his father’s hands.  It has been eight weeks since that day and I know I need to put into writing the details and events of those beautiful hours before time and the phenomenon of ‘mother memory’ erases all the details that I so want to remember.  I had been feeling ready to have this baby for the previous two weeks or so, getting more and more restless and feeling more and more like labor was imminent.  It was different than my first two boys’ births in that I was not at all ready or expecting John Paul’s birth the night it happened and Michael’s birth occurred the exact night that I decided I was ready.  I’m not sure if the previous week or so would constitute prodromal labor but contractions were uncomfortable and would come in spurts but never really progressed or intensified.  Baby felt very low and I could tell my body was ready to go into labor and my mind was definitely ready.  Each day I would determine whether or not it would be a “good” day to have this baby…factors included but were not limited to whether it was a cool saint feast day, whether I liked the numbers of the dates, and whether the house was freshly cleaned and stocked with groceries.  I was struggling with not getting frustrated that this baby was not cooperating with my plans.  I know in my head that a baby will come when that baby and God decide that he or she is ready and that trying to rush things will not help anything, but when one is nine months pregnant and has been nesting like a wild woman for 3 months, rational thought and principle are easily questioned! 

I went to sleep that Friday night May 8 thinking again that tonight could be the night.  I remember at dinner that evening feeling more exhausted and ready than ever and again getting the house and my mind prepared for birth.  That day I had wrestled with the feeling that I would never have this baby and just plain felt miserable.  Brian and I went to bed around .  At around I awoke to a sharp contraction which is exactly what happened with my previous births.  I didn’t get up right away but lay in bed waiting to see if it really had been a contraction or if something else had startled me awake.  About 7 or 8 minutes later I had another.  I knew these felt different than my normal preparation contractions.  My first labor took about 10 hours and my second was an hour and a half from first contraction to holding Michael in my arms.  Because of this, I knew that once I was sure birth had begun I had to call our hour and a half away midwife right away so that she would have time to get here.  In fact, I had been praying and hoping for a slightly longer labor than Michael’s for that reason and in order to allow myself more time to really enter into the labor and treasure it more than I was able with the last.  So for me, there was no falling back asleep.  As each contraction came over me, I was beginning to let myself get excited that the time for birth had come and soon I would be holding this new little one in my arms. 

I woke up Brian after three or four contractions and told him I thought it was time.  We timed a few contractions at 4 to 7 minutes apart.  As I paced around the house with excited energy, I, of course, second-guessed myself as to whether I should call Jen.  The last thing I wanted to do was wake her up and especially start driving all the way out here if it was a false alarm.  I voiced this to Brian and he immediately told me to CALL.  He had seen me go into labor twice before and he could tell just by looking at me that it was time.  So we called and Jen left right away to get to our house.

After hanging up and knowing she was on her way, it was time to tackle my Labor List…yes, I had one.  The number one thing on the list was to move the sound machine, which was bought specifically for this purpose, to right in front of John Paul and Michael’s bedroom door.  I had wanted to labor and birth at night but knew that I would definitely prefer to have the boys stay asleep through it all, mainly so that I would be able to focus on labor.  Besides, how cool would it be to surprise them with a new brother or sister in the morning!  I wasn’t sure it would work, but thought the sound machine was worth a try.  With that done, Brian immediately set to task filling up our birth pool (a.k.a. children’s fishy swimming pool) with water.  During this time, labor was getting stronger and stronger.  In between contractions, Brian and I completed other tasks on The List…setting up the bed with old sheets and waterproof pads, getting out lots of towels, lighting candles, making orange juice, taking out some frozen zucchini bread for the midwife and her assistant, getting the camera ready, and light cleaning in the bathroom and kitchen. 

When everything on The List was done, the pool was about half way full and contractions were about two to three minutes apart and very intense.  Brian thoughtfully suggested that we pray a Rosary together.  I asked to pray the Joyful Mysteries due to the third Mystery being the Birth of Christ and I really wanted to focus on the joy of bringing another child into the world.  It felt right, though, I can also see the Sorrowful Mysteries also being a beautiful way to unite the suffering of labor to the Lord’s Passion, death and Resurrection.  Brian led since I didn’t feel I was able to keep track during the contractions and towards the end, I wasn’t able to even pray out loud during the contractions.  But I mumbled/mouthed the prayers as best I could while Brian prayed aloud.  It was truly a grace-filled, beautiful moment in our Marriage.  Labor and birth is something that transcends the purely natural world and our prayer together allowed us to remember that and offer all of it to our Lord through his most beautiful Mother.

Before and during the Rosary I had begun choosing to squat during contractions.  It definitely increased the pressure and intensity of each contraction but that was okay with me.  I knew that by getting in the position I was opening up my pelvis and working with the contraction and helping our little one to descend faster.  It was hard physically since it did intensify the contractions so much but knowing that it was shortening labor and allowing me to DO something made them (barely) manageable.  Shortly after we finished praying I was ready to get in the pool.  The heat felt really comforting at first and it was nice to be able to relax a little bit in between the contractions.  During contractions, while the hot water helped to handle the pain, I was feeling overheated so Brian helped by getting me cool washcloths to place on my forehead and neck.  THAT felt great!  I liked that in the water it was so easy to change positions…during what I now know was transition I found myself with arms and head down on the side of the pool (with a cold washcloth) and the rest of my body in the water.  One of the biggest comforts during this time was the ice cold orange juice with a straw that Brian brought to me in the pool.  It sounds silly, but it tasted SO good and helped give me a bit of energy to keep working.  It was around that time, maybe or so that Jen arrived.  I was definitely in transition at that point and I remember telling Brian to tell her as he showed her in to tell her I was beginning to feel ‘pushy’. 

I wasn’t in the mood for any small talk at that point and Jen could tell right away that I was close.  One of the hallmarks of a good midwife is that they are able to read the room and the laboring mother well and Jen was great at this.  When she arrived, she quietly came in, set up her supplies and equipment, whispering if she needed to talk, and was so respectful of the space and sacredness of the moment.  I could hear her and Brian whispering to each other, and for some reason, the murmur of the quiet voices were comforting to me.  It made me feel respected, yet taken care of.  Her assistant Emily arrived a few minutes later and volunteered to take the camera for us and get some shots, which I was incredibly grateful for. 

Transition and those moments and contractions right before pushing are agony.  That is the only way I know to describe it.  During those times, I was leaning and rocking in the water, keeping the crucifix we had placed on the nearby table in my mind.  I remember moaning “God, help me” and the precious name of Jesus over and over.  About two or three contractions after Jen arrived (or maybe it was more…time seems so elastic when you’re in labor), I told Jen I needed to push.  I remember the urge feeling gradually stronger with each contraction until finally, there is no way you can NOT push.  It is beyond your control because your entire body is pushing whether you want to or not.  I tried to put my hands down to support my perineum and avoid a tear but I found that awkward with the way my body decided to push.  I had thought I would try a hands and knees position but I ended up flipping during the agony of one of the contractions and leaning with my back against the pool wall.  It felt as though my entire body was being twisted like a wet washcloth inside of me and the pushing came without thought.  During my previous births, I remember the doctor telling me not to push when everything in my body was already pushing.  It’s like telling someone to hold it in when they have to vomit or use the bathroom…excuse the analogy.  You can’t.  Your body takes over and you are pushing.  It’s called the fetal ejection reflex and maybe I have an incredibly powerful one.  This birth, I had decided to trust that my body knew what it was doing.  Jen didn’t tell me to push or not push but go with what my body was doing.  I knew I did want to try not to tear as I had with my other births and a slower push would help with that but as I mentioned, it is uncontrollable and pretty useless to fight it.  There were no screams of “PUSH!” and no counting and I allowed my body to take over as it pushed with everything in me. 

During this time I felt like I was in another world.  It took concentration to associate with anything in the real world and my whole being was focused on the task of Having This Baby.  I think it was after that second pushing contraction that I could feel the baby’s head fill up inside of me and begin to crown.  It was then that Brian quickly jumped in the water to help catch the baby.  Another push quickly followed and the baby’s head was out.  The RELIEF that follows that is unbelievable.  In an instant Jen noticed a loose nuchal cord (the cord around his neck, very common and not usually a cause for concern) and flipped it off while the baby was still face down in Brian’s hands.  I had a few moments to breathe and take a very quick rest before the next contraction came and I felt sharp shoulders and the rest of my baby’s body slip out into the water and into Brian’s hands.  Our baby was born into a quiet, candlelit room into warm water and the first hands to touch our precious child were of the very people who helped create him.  Brian without a second delay carefully put the baby right onto my chest.  I was so tired but the relief and elation that simultaneously filled my heart was indescribable.  I got up the strength to cradle our little one and discovered that we had been blessed with another beautiful son!  What a beautiful, perfect gift that had grown inside of me!  I was thrilled and our new little boy promptly fell asleep right on my chest in the water…no crying, no bright lights and yelling, no being whisked away cold and afraid…just a beautiful, peaceful birth into his parent’s arms. 

We were able to stay like that for awhile as I rested and took in these awesome moments.  We allowed the cord to finish pumping blood into the baby and didn’t cut it until it had stopped pulsating.  Brian cut the cord as I was still holding our little one on my chest.  At this point I finally surrendered him into Brian’s arms so that I could get out of the pool and finish up the birthing process in our bed.  Jen and Emily helped me get out and get to the bed where I was able to quickly deliver the placenta in a few pushes.  I had torn a good bit but I chose to allow the tear to heal naturally rather than put in those painful stitches which make recovery so difficult.

Brian then brought the baby into me to nurse while Jen and Emily did cleanup and checked the placenta to make sure it was complete.  He latched on great and nursed right away for at least twenty minutes.  This was the only time he would nurse, however, for about 24 hours.  He was just so sleepy and no matter what we tried to do, he slept and had no interest in nursing.  He also had a good amount of mucous that he would cough every so often during that time which may have played a role in his desire to nurse.  Because he wasn’t nursing very often, he didn’t have his first bowel movement for at least 24 hours.  (ETA:  We now know this was also one of the signs of his Hirschsprung's Disease.)  Just when we were beginning to get worried that next day, he perked up and everything started working fine.  His temperature was also a bit low that first day.  It wasn’t worrisome but in order to keep him warm I kept him skin-to-skin with me under the blankets which was so much snugglier and less distressing than a plastic incubator.  I was so grateful not to be in a hospital.  Without a doubt, the lazy nursing and low temperature would have caused chaos and a lot of interventions with our delicate little baby which sometimes lead to even more interventions and problems.  We knew that we had the intelligence to keep an eye on things and we definitely would have gotten outside help if his vital signs had gotten worrisome, but we also knew that the standard procedures for those things in the hospital are often overkill and would have been traumatic for both me and baby. 

(And this is where you get to start seeing the pictures ;) 

At around John Paul and Michael woke up and Brian went into get them from their room.  I think they were a bit confused by Jen’s presence in the living room as they were cleaning out the birth pool but Brian directed them to the bedroom for a very “special surprise.”  The expressions on their faces when they first saw their new baby brother were priceless and I am so grateful we caught a bit of it on the camera.  They were first quite awe-stricken and that quickly turned into excitement that the baby we had been talking about for nine months had finally been born! 

John Paul’s first words after he had taken everything in were “Can I bless the baby?” which he did with his holy water from his bedroom.   

Michael was just enthralled and didn’t want to leave the baby’s side all day.  

Shortly after the boys awoke, Jen performed the newborn exam.  He weighed 6 pounds, 15 ounces, EXACTLY the same weights as both John Paul and Michael at birth!  Brian joked that I must have an internal sensor that knows just when the baby is ‘done’ or when my body just can’t take another ounce!  He was 19 inches long and his head was 14.5 inches around. 

Heartbeat was fine, he was nice and pink as soon as he came out and everything seemed strong and healthy.  Praise God! 

While Jen and Emily cleaned up (apparently, according to Jen, I am a VERY neat birther…no surprise there!) and then relaxed in the kitchen with some coffee and zucchini bread, we were able to spend some beautiful intimate moments as a family in our bed rejoicing in this new little member of our family.  We couldn’t get over how much he looked like his brothers when they were born!  We put off calling family and friends right away because the moment just seemed so special.  It was neat that we were the only ones in that early morning that knew our little one had made his entrance into the world.  Shortly after, Jen checked me to see how I was doing.  My bleeding was very minimal, I hadn’t felt at all lightheaded and I was feeling great besides the normal soreness and postpartum cramping.  This recovery has been great.  After about the first week or so I was feeling normal again, doing some normal chores and by week 6 could fit into my jeans and normal clothes.  The tear has healed for the most part, though it will probably take a bit more time to be ‘normal’ again.  Jen and Emily left at about and we spent the next few hours just enjoying these special moments.   

At around 10 we decided to make the calls and soon everyone knew about our new little boy.  We had yet to decide on a name and in fact, it would take us a full 5 days to finally settle on one!  A name is a very big deal to us and we wanted to make sure it was the right one for our baby.  We finally decided on the name David.  It was not a name I was particularly leaning toward but during prayer we received some very clear signs.  One night before the birth we were discussing names and Brian mentioned he liked David and I said I wasn’t a huge fan but we asked the Lord to show us.  The radio had been on and immediately the speaker on the radio (Christopher West) began talking about David the king of Israel and how it related to the Theology of the Body.  A few days later, again discussing names, I asked Brian why he liked the name David.  He replied that King David had been a “man after God’s own heart” according to the book of Acts.  A few minutes later we were putting John Paul to bed and he flipped open his Bible to a random page and asked why we never read that page.  It was an insert page about King David and how he was a man after God’s heart!  And for confirmation, on the way to his Baptism, I was again second-guessing the decision and I immediately looked over to the car next to us.  On their license plate were the letters DAV.  While it wasn’t the first name on my list, it was obviously the name the Lord wanted him to have and when I found out the name literally means “Beloved”, I liked it much more.  So we picked Dominic as a middle name and his name in Hebrew and Latin literally means “Beloved of the Lord.”  Other names we were considering included Dominic as first, Ignatius, Augustine, Raphael, as well as a few others.  Perhaps we’ll get to use some of those in the future.

I am so grateful and blessed that our precious David Dominic had such a beautiful birth.  While I prepared myself a great deal all throughout my pregnancy to experience a good birth, I know that it is ultimately a gift from God.  I can’t imagine choosing any other way than having our babies at home the way that we do.  Experiencing childbirth is one of the most empowering things I have ever gone through and each of my births has caused me to grow and become more the woman that God created me to be.  It's so beautiful when, circumstances and God willing, birth can be treated as the natural, beautiful, and normal yet incredibly life-changing event that it is – the way our perfect Creator designed it to be.  I thank God for giving me the gift of motherhood again and daring to entrust me with yet another of His precious sons. 

I pray that the birth of this new little blessing can be as amazing as David's but that whatever happens, I will be open to birth however the Lord has designed for this little one.  In all, it is a gift - the pregnancy, the pain, the agony of labor, the ecstasy, the child - an undeserved and incomprehensible gift.  Our God is so good.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Yarn Along 11/29/11 - Baby Cables!

Can I show you my new little cabled baby hat?  I love it and am so excited to see this new little bundle in it!  I so hope it fits!  I finished this the other night and then made some tiny matching mitts.  The mitts took only a little over an hour and then I was able to sit and stare at how cute and little they are...and Brian even gushed a bit, too ;)  The cabled earflap hat is from the pattern here using the 11-cable variation and the yarn is Knitpicks Superwash bare merino wool.  (Still have yet to find wool that is truly white...sigh.)  Debating whether to make a matching sweater and maybe even longies??

The boys and I are still reading Heidi.  We took a little hiatus as we had other Thanksgiving reading and projects going on so we're still early in the book.  John Paul really enjoys it.  Michael listens but gets a little restless with the long chapters and few pictures but he stays.  It is such a sweet read and I'm enjoying it as well.  I keep meaning to pick up some reading for myself but have yet to get around to it.  It would be good if I could do that before the birth to have some good rest in bed and nurse type of reading!

Hope you're having a wonderful day and check out the rest of Ginny's Yarn Along over here.

Monday, November 28, 2011


John Paul and Michael were having a discussion while crafting and this was the only part I heard...

John Paul:  "No, you can only be a mama if you're married.  You can be married and not have kids and then you're not a mama.  But you can't have a baby if you're not married.  Only Mary had a baby when she wasn't married and that was impossible."

Oh, how I love their innocence.  Dear God, please give me the words I need at the time they are needed to explain these things well.  And thank you for guarding their innocence thus far when they have so many examples around them of things that aren't in Your plan.  I'm still amazed that despite how bright they are (at least this unbiased mama thinks so!), they still have not figured out that having three sets of grandparents doesn't really add up.  I love that they have learned how things are supposed to be before learning the ways that deviate from God's original design.  I really think that is so important in forming a good conscience and understanding of the learn the rule before learning the exception.  But eventually, and probably soon, they will learn how things don't go as planned and I pray for the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit when that time comes that we may explain the things that we ourselves don't fully understand with love, mercy, and truth.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent Conspiracy - Love this!

Remember that thing about simplifying gift giving?  This video is awesome.  I'm not super familiar with the Advent Conspiracy movement but it sounds a lot like what many of us have been trying to do anyway.  And remember what I said about Food for the Poor?  A beautiful way to give.  Go there and look around and see how much more your money could be doing.  Clean water, food, a home, job resources, and you can even buy chickens for people :)  There are plenty of other worthy organizations as well.  We choose this for much of our Christmas giving because 97% of the revenue goes directly to the programs and services for the poorest of the poor and it is done in the name of Christ...that and it's fun to be able to buy a goat for someone for Christmas!  Ninety seven percent is a very impressive number when compared with other charities.

A blessed Advent and New Year to you!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Homemade and Crunchy Mama and Baby Postpartum Gift

And I have to say, I'm kinda proud of it.  I've been planning this for a while to give to two of my sisters who are due within weeks of me.  This is the kind of gift I would love to get so it was a lot of fun putting it together.  Much of it was inspired by a conglomeration of other creative internet people so I definitely didn't come up with this all by myself but I'm proud that I put it together for them and I think they really liked it.

It's sort of a homemade, crunchy kind of gift :)

 A Newborn Hat with a Touch of Lace
I love this pattern of Ginny's.  It is so simple and takes only an evening yet I think it makes such a beautiful little hat for a newborn.  I used organic cotton and decreased the cast on to 72 stitches since I was using thicker yarn.  And because I find most hats designed for newborns never fit my babies until they are several months old and I wanted my sisters to be able to use them on their little ones right away!

Herbal Healing Salve

The Herbal Healing Salve I put together using a bunch of different resources online.  In my slow cooker, I steeped calendula flowers, comfrey leaf, lavender (some from our own garden!), and peppermint in organic olive oil for a full day and then left it overnight.  Calendula and comfrey are known for their healing abilities.  Comfrey, especially, is good for healing tissue. 

The next day I strained the oil out squeezing as much as I could out of the was messy.  I used a mesh strainer and some pantyhose to help strain everything I could into a glass measuring cup.  There's probably a much better way to do that, but this worked okay.  I then used Elizabeth's measurements and melted one ounce of beeswax for every 8 ounces of oil, adding the diffusion (that's the right word, right?) once the beeswax had been melted in a tiny crockpot I picked up at a garage sale this summer.  Once it was all melted together I added just a few drops of lavender oil that contains some vitamin E.  I poured the liquid into two really fancy baby food jars and a larger jar (salsa, maybe?) for our family and let it cool until firm.  It smells really good! 

In the basket the salve is meant to be used for postpartum healing on the perineum or for cesarean incisions.  However, this salve can be used for baby bottoms, little boy cuts and scrapes and chapped skin.  Michael has already been using ours for a chapped chin. :)

Lavender and Witch Hazel Bottom Spray
So simple.  Simply combine witch hazel with a few drops of lavender essential oil in a spray bottle.  This can be used directly on the healing skin after birth or sprayed onto a postpartum pad or cloth diaper.  Spraying it on the pad or cloth, then freezing before use feels really nice to a postpartum perineum :)

Postpartum Herbal Bath Tea

For the bath tea, I used 3 c. calendula, 3 c. comfrey, 1 c. lavender, and about 1/4 c. each of shepherd's purse and witch hazel leaves.  Also helpful would be St. John's Wort or plantain but I didn't have those on hand.  I combined all of the herbs in a bowl and then put about a cup of the mixture into each package, using panty hose as my tea bag.  I got about eight out of my mix.

After birth, the tea package (the whole package...don't empty it!) can be steeped in a pot of hot water on the stove for about an hour.  Then add the newly made tea to a postpartum bath with some epsom salts to help soothe and heal.  I imagine this would be good in a sitz bath as well.

To finish the gift, I put all the different pieces of the gift into a basket from the dollar store, wrapped with some tissue paper, and tied on a St. Gerard medal (the patron saint of expectant mothers) to the tag. 

So, there you have it:  a homemade crunchy new mama and baby gift made with lots of love!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

We Wait in Joyful Hope - Our Advent Traditions

Advent is almost here!! 
I compiled this list as an email response to a friend asking for ideas on how to observe the season of Advent.  These are some of the ways our family has lived this season and I can say they have borne so much fruit for our family.  They have provided powerful memories and will, I pray, continue to do so as these traditions and what they signify become ingrained in our family's memory.  Hopefully, these ideas may be a help to someone else out there as well but please do not be overwhelmed by this list!  For most of these traditions, we simply added one or two each year to what we were already doing.  It was an organic process that began when we were first married and has grown and changed each year.  

If this is your first year trying to incorporate Advent traditions into your family, I recommend only choosing one or two and doing them as best you can, rather than trying to do everything at once and then getting overwhelmed and feeling like you've failed.  NONE of these things is a requirement to have a holy and properly observed Advent.  They are simply ways that we and many others have experienced the season more fully.  Always remember that the best way to live the liturgical life of the Church is WITH the Church in her Sacraments and liturgical life.  Read the daily readings, pray the Divine Office, get to Mass on Sundays and holy days and as much as you are able.  The rest is bonus.

Please feel free to comment or email with any questions.  I may take for granted that some things that I am used to may be completely new to others so I may not describe things as sufficiently as I should!

'New Year's Eve'
The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year in the Church.  As I once heard the liturgical year called, it is 'time redeemed'.  Real time.  So we have our own new year's eve party the Saturday night before that first Sunday of Advent.  For our little family, this means a fun appetizer dinner held on the floor in the living room, some music, and just time to relax and play.  And no, there is no staying up until midnight :) 

The Jesse Tree 
Every night we put an ornament on and read the corresponding Scripture.  The Jesse tree uses symbolic ornaments to represent the iconic figures, patriarchs, and prophets leading up to the Incarnation.  I love that it teaches salvation history in such a hands on way that the kids remember.  We've always used a small tabletop 'stick tree' that I picked up at a garage sale one year.  I like the idea of bare branches to signify the world before the Incarnation, though some people use their Christmas tree for a Jesse tree.  There are a bunch of different versions of the Jesse Tree if you search online and no 'right' way to do it.  I've toyed with different versions.  I've seen some that last 40 days and some that last 25.  The ornaments can be as simple as paper cutouts printed off the internet or as elaborate as one desires.  We used salt dough to form ours, but they are in sore need of some repair and replacement after several years of use!

The Advent Wreath
Probably one of the most well-known of Advent traditions, we use an Advent wreath at dinner each night and eat in the candlelight.  It's so powerful to see the room get brighter and brighter each week leading up to Christmas!  If you do leave them burning all through dinner, I recommend getting thicker candles.  The skinny little tapers that are sold as Advent candles run out by the third week or so!  Before dinner we pray a prayer (these can be found online or in the Magnificat) and sing a verse from O Come, O Come Emmanuel and light the appropriate number of candles for the week.  On Christmas Eve, the larger Christ candle is placed in the middle and all are lit!

The Advent Chain
The last few years, the boys have enjoyed making an Advent chain to count down the days until Christmas.  My sister gave me the idea of writing a prayer intention on each link in the chain so that as they are ripped off each day, a special prayer is prayed for that intention.  You could also have a work of mercy or Scripture reading to read on each link.

Straw in the Manger
We put the Nativity set out on the first day of Advent and when anyone in the family performs an act of love or sacrifice for baby Jesus, they can put a piece of straw in the manger (or in the stable) so that the Baby has a soft bed on Christmas morning.  I've heard of people doing the same thing using cotton balls as 'wool' to line the manger or yellow yarn to represent the straw.  Another good straw-like substitute is raffia cut down to size.

St. Nicholas Day (December 6)
We grew up with this tradition and it was such a fun way to observe this holy saint's day!  We put out the boys' shoes and they are surprised in the morning with treats inside.  I've simplified things for myself by just doing a Christmas or saint-themed book next to the shoe and a bag of chocolate coins inside (a la one of the stories of St. Nick).

The Immaculate Conception (December 8)
Because the Immaculate Conception is a Solemnity in the Church, we celebrate this day!  I don't have any specific traditions that we do except to make special treats or a dessert and maybe do some extra prayers or crafts in honor of Our Lady.  And, of course, we attend Mass as obligated :)

St. Lucy Day (December 13)
I've made St. Lucy bread the past few years and we eat it for breakfast by candlelight.  I don't have any girls to do the whole waking up the house with the wreath on the head thing, but I did bring the bread in myself for the boys one year and surprised them in their beds.  They loved it.  We also have (electric) candles in the windows that we turn on this day for the rest of the evenings of Advent and Christmas (other people turn their Christmas lights on this day but we don't usually have those kind).  Lucy means 'light' and her life was a witness to Christ, the true Light of the world. 

Extra acts of service, almsgiving, etc. 
This kind of changes every year depending on the opportunities available but it is an important part of the meaning of Advent.  Just like in Lent, we are to make an extra effort to perform works of mercy and help birth Christ into the world in our own daily lives.  This is something I find I need to be creative with because having several young children can limit the opportunities for the 'normal' ways of serving.  To be honest, it is also something I need to be working on more within our family.  We have tried to simplify gift-giving at Christmas and one of the ways we have done so is by donating gifts through Food for the Poor rather than buying grandparents and parents things they don't really need.  I highly, highly recommend it!  Another simple way is to partake in the food drives or giving trees that most parishes sponsor.   Gotta say I love when there are service opportunities that are already organized that we as a family can plug into! 

The Spirit of Advent
I think the biggest (and hardest) 'thing' we do for Advent is treat it as sort of a mini-Lent as the early Church and Eastern rites tend to do.  It's definitely a time for joyful hope and expectation but it is also a time for personal preparation and sacrifice to prepare ourselves not only for Christmas but for the Second Coming.  This is so often forgotten amid the preparations for Christmas (ourselves included!).  We wait in joyful hope.  Just as when a mother is anticipating birth, she prepares and gets things ready, we can still prepare for Christmas, but we must remember that just like that mother there is much that is difficult as we await that little one and we must also prepare our hearts and souls for the person (Person) who is coming. 

In our home, we try to have a very simple weekly menu and keep the house undecorated until the last few weeks.  When it works, we get our tree and decorate it on Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent.  Rather than spring and fall cleaning, we do Advent and Lent seems more appropriate during these times since I hate to do it and it's a good sacrifice!  And we do our best not to celebrate Christmas until it's actually Christmas.  It's really hard to do when you're surrounded by the culture that wants to party and celebrate everything beforehand and then come December 26, Christmas is over, even among many people of faith.  But it has been so worth it.  We try not to be too rigid and pharasaical about it because we know many people don't understand, but in our home, it has been very fruitful to do things this way.  It has made the actual celebration so much more meaningful for us!  Christmas begins when we go to the Christmas Eve vigil Mass and when home, we have a family turkey dinner with just our little family and (of course!) the long-awaited Christmas cookies afterwards.  We finally put on our favorite Christmas music and celebrate!  I love it.  And the treats and special food and music that come at Christmas we appreciate so much more.  It's a lot like Lent...when you have an awesome Lent, the celebration at Easter is so much more profound.  We've found the same thing with Advent so it's something we've tried to make happen more and more each year. 

The 12 Days of Christmas
And, of course, we celebrate all 12 days of Christmas with special days and things reserved just for these days of the year.  Some of it is specifically related to the liturgical year and our Faith.  A lot of it is just fun.  Game days, a trip to the children's museum, Ice Cream Dinner Night, a trip to a shrine etc.  And we try to get together and celebrate with other people as much as possible!  I'll do my best to post more on that later!

I'm pretty sure this year is going to be a bit different with a baby arriving sometime in the middle of Advent but I'm excited to have an Advent baby as well!  There will be some things that we don't get to do (and that's okay) but I have no doubt that the tradeoff of the birth of a new little one and having a newborn in the house will have it's own catechetical lessons and offer plenty of seasonally-appropriate spiritual growth as well, am I right?

May you all have a blessed and holy Advent no matter how you observe!

Monday, November 21, 2011

On a November Afternoon

Outside my window...
A sunny, crisp afternoon

Thankful for...
A few solid hours of sleep.  I haven't written much about the pregnancy insomnia that's finally crept in.  I'm thankful it took me until about the 8th month this time around.  I fall asleep relatively fine but wake in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep for the life of me.  I spend 2-3 hours awake when I'm desperate for sleep.  I have yet to figure out if there is a controllable cause or if it's just something to give in to.  Part of it is a very sore and uncomfortable back that makes rest difficult.  At any rate, last night I put a piece of plywood under my sheet and slept on that.  Yes, plywood. seemed to work.  While I still woke up a bunch, I was able to get back to sleep.  Sleep makes such a difference!

Thinking about...
Thanksgiving!  And Advent that comes up right behind.  I'll be posting a bit about some of the ways our family observes this beautiful season.  I love it and am so looking forward to it this year.

Schooling has been going well.  We don't do things fancy here.  There is plenty of crafting and building and creative learning but I don't really plan just seems to happen on its own.  John Paul still does his lessons in the morning.  And depending on how focused he is and what the lessons for the day entail, he is sometimes done by 10 a.m., sometimes lunch.  I need to focus more on some concentrated time with Michael during the afternoons.  It's kinda been usurped by the need to rest a bit during this third trimester. 
We have, however, finished a read together about the first Thanksgiving and will be talking and focusing on the meaning as we prepare for Thursday.

From the kitchen...
Pie crusts will be made today!  I'm in charge of an apple pie and a pumpkin cheesecake.  I volunteered one of my sisters who has NEVER made a pie (!) to get crazy and learn how to make a pumpkin pie.  So she'll be supplying the pumpkin pies for the feast.

A new little person.
And working on a little gift package for two of my sisters who are also due with little ones in the next month or so.  I'm hoping it comes together the way I'm envisioning.  I'll share about that soon :) 

Working on...
Slowly beginning the deep clean.  Starting with the upstairs.  Bathroom has a little bit more to go to be completed.

I am going...
Relatively few places this week.  Besides Thanksgiving and some grocery shopping, I get to lay low and do the home thing and that is just fine by me.

That my David will finally get back in his good sleep pattern that we enjoyed for a while.  I hate daylight savings time.  Hate it.  It's never really been too much of a struggle until this time.  I think he is finally getting back into a good sleep rhythm but the nap he needs so much is still being fought.

Still sort of reading Life of Christ by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.  I said it would be slow.  Thinking about taking out some of the fiction recommended to me in the comments of a post a few days ago.  I could use a good, enjoyable read right now.

For this baby and his or her safe and holy birth.  And that we can someday soon pay off our student loans.  They are a burden and it would be so nice to experience the freedom of getting rid of them once and for all.

The sound of the monitor as David is (hopefully) settling in for a nap.  The clink of Legos as Michael creates in the library.  The turning of pages as John Paul devours another book.

Around the house...
I'm pretty sure I've been talking about that a lot lately...

One of my favorite things...
Getting together at my mom's house to watch football and have pizza and wings :)  When we lived away, the times I felt most homesick were often Sunday afternoons and for some reason, the idea of football and pizza at my mom's is what sounded so comforting to me.  And I'm not much of a football fan (though I am definitely a wing fan).  Now I feel like I have to indulge in this little tradition at least once a year.  I asked a few weeks ago if we could do it and my mom happily obliged yesterday.  My one sister and family joined and it was such a nice night and had some really great, much-needed conversation.

A few plans for the rest of the week...
Enjoying having my husband off for an extra long weekend!!

A picture thought to share...
An oldie...a few hours after David's birth and the big boys meeting their new little brother...I can't believe I get to do this again :)  Thank you, God.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Day at 36 Weeks

I knew I shouldn't have posted that Green Smoothie thing.  I spent most of today horizontal on the couch.  Woke up this morning feeling okay and headed to a 7 a.m. chiropractor appointment (with my green smoothie in the car).  While there I started feeling dizzy, but my 'normal' pregnancy light-headed dizzy.  I got adjusted...which, by the way, is getting harder and less comfortable to do with this extremely low hanging belly.  But that low hanging belly also makes the visits necessary so that I can move.  I headed out and on the drive home broke into a cold sweat and nearly blacked out.  Not fun.  I just kept praying to my guardian angel begging to get me home safely.  I was close to pulling over but wasn't sure if that would make things any better and each time I was about to, I would get enough momentum to keep going.  I did make it home, thankfully, and spent most of today breathless and dizzy on the couch.  My seven year old took good care of me but man, it is hard to have an off day when you're a stay-at-home mom with little ones to look after!  I don't like at all being like this and am really hoping this is just my body needing a little break from this nesting craziness.

I do have to say the highlight of the day was when in a desperate moment for some quiet, I scrolled through Netflix to see what, if anything, I could let the boys watch in good conscience.  The Bells of St. Mary's allowed some very energetic little boys a few moments of quiet. However, I soon after realized that (of course) the most memorable part of the movie for these bundles of boy was the boxing lesson given by the nun to the little boy...and that, of course, was what the rest of the evening has entailed.  And now I watch my husband training the boys in how to box.  So much for that attempt to quiet things down...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

{pretty, happy, funny, real} - volume 3


 Because who said a changing table has to be ugly?  When we were first preparing for parenthood, we set up a dresser/changing table upstairs in the baby room because, after all, that's where it goes, right?  Soon after having John Paul we realized that the table pretty much never got used for actual changing.  Seriously, who wants to run upstairs just to change the baby?  And during the night, the baby has been in our room anyway and bleary-eyed 2 a.m. diaper changes happen on the bed half asleep.  So when Michael was born I made sure our changing station was downstairs.  This time around, I got an antique dresser off Craigslist for $30, cleaned it, and changed the handles around.  It's not exactly what I was hoping for but when thrifting, you have to be flexible, right?  This way of doing it makes SO much more sense with the way we live.  The top two drawers have diapers and covers.  The bottom 2 drawers hold the new baby's clothes, socks, hats, etc.  Because, again, who wants to run upstairs to get the baby a new onesie every time it's needed?  So much more practical and pretty this way, in my opinion :)


Sketching animals at the zoo.  In NOVEMBER.  This is Western New York so that is a very happy thing.


Of course, this adorable note has NOTHING to do with the fact that we had been talking the day before about how maybe just the two of us could go out some night and MAYBE got to Toys 'R Us with the money he has saved and MAYBE get the Nerf dart gun that he feel in love with at a friend's house.  Until the next day's note:

Bubble bursted...but hey, he wants to go to Panera so maybe I'll forgive him.  Well played, little man.


The current state of the upstairs bathroom.  It will get done before the baby arrives.  It will.  I'm trying not to look at this too much.  ...But how cool is it that we had JUST enough room to fit a vintage clawfoot tub where there was once a plastic, mildewed shower stall??  Answer:  Very.

Enjoy your day and have fun browsing the rest of the {phfr} posts over at Like Mother, Like Daughter!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Yarn Along 11/16/11 - Christmas Gifts and THE LIST

This Christmas, each of the boys is getting a hat and mitten set in 'their' color.  I kept it simple with a basic mitten pattern and rolled brim hat pattern.  I'm a simple girl and with the bright colors, I thought these gifts would be best kept without too much...that, and I'm a new knitter with a whole queue of awaiting knitting projects that I also want to tackle.  As you can see, John Paul's hat is currently in progress.  I'm so excited to see them on the boys and have them wear them to church!  I love that I will be giving them something handmade by mama this Christmas and I *hope* to be able to do that every year.  The baby, of course, will need a set, too.  I'm thinking I will wait and see whether this little one is a boy or girl before I do the official set and choose a color.  Although, I'm feeling the need to cast on a tiny earflap pixie-style hat in white or cream for the new one...

Oh, and reading.  Reading is supposed to be in here, can't say I've been reading all that much.  Unless you count The List.  You see, most women nest by oh, say, organizing a closet or washing baby clothes or baking some cookies.  Not this one.  I nest by gutting bathrooms and painting porches and repainting rooms.  Because it must. be. done. before baby arrives.  And this time it started before I had even confirmed I was pregnant with the official test.  As soon as I was pretty sure that I was growing a new little one, I decided that the playroom upstairs NEEDED to be painted because we were having another baby.  And it needed to be done that day.  By me.  Alone.  And I did it.  That list you see there?  Three pages long.  Much of it accomplished (yay!) by my hard-working and enabling attentive husband.  There was a list of home remodeling projects, seasonal chores, family/homekeeping organization, Christmas gifts, and, of course, things to actually, you know, have a baby.  There is still a good bit on the list and we have three or four weeks left.  Enough to plumb and finish the bathroom, repaint the nursery floor, paint the downstairs woodwork, reorganize the mudroom, and give each room in the house a much-needed deep clean.  Right?  Right.  There is a lot on there that we have surrendered and they will not get done due to expense and reprioritizing what we can actually realistically do.  I'm flexible like that ;) 

So, yeah, that's my latest reading.  I'm thinking, though, that I need someone to give me some good fiction ideas because it could come in handy on the many nights I'm up for hours with this drat pregnancy insomnia.  (Or someone could find me a magic cure and I could, oh say, SLEEP instead). 

Hope you're having a great day and check out the rest of Ginny's Yarn Along over HERE.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Life-Changing Green Smoothie

Approx. 1 c. blueberries (or other berry)
1 c. vanilla Greek yogurt 
(be sure to make it Greek...that stuff has anywhere from 22-25 grams of protein per cup which is awesome and makes up almost a third of your daily pregnancy protein requirement!)
Approx. 2 c. fresh organic spinach
1 banana

Blend the blueberries and yogurt (I use a hand blender) with a small bit of water to help.  Add in spinach and banana and blend until smooth.  There are endless possibilities to add in...I've sometimes added kale or ground flax seed for some extra nutrition.  This makes enough for me to have about 12 oz. and give the boys a small amount with their breakfast...or I save the rest for the next day :)  It's a simple recipe but it has made a world of difference for me.

Every pregnancy I have struggled with extreme low blood pressure (my midwife is shocked each time she takes it at how low it is), dizziness, and breathlessness.  I had come to accept this as 'just me' but this pregnancy I've been so blessed to find some solutions and these changes have made all the difference.  When I start the day with one of these green smoothies as well as some sublingual (liquid) B-12, I am a different person.  I can make it through the day without a nap.  I don't end up panting just from walking up the stairs.  I don't have to sit in the morning trying to catch my breath and feeling like my heart is beating out of my chest.  It's good.  And certainly all that spinach and protein has to be good for baby, too.

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