Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas 2008

Our Christmas celebration varies a bit from year to year depending on Bear's work schedule. This year, Bear had to work both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, leaving the house at 5:30am and getting home at 8pm.
The kids and I met Bear after work on Christmas Eve, we had dinner at our favorite restaurant, then we went to the 8pm Mass at the Cathedral.
On Christmas morning, we woke the kids up at 4:30am so that we could open presents before Bear left for work. Since I had worked a few extra shifts at the hospital, we had a big Christmas! While the kids spent the morning playing with their new toys, I made some homemade cinnamon rolls using Pioneeer Woman's recipe (if ya'll haven't heard of her, check out her blog! It's in my links). This was my first attempt at such an endeavor, but they turned out yummy; the recipe is pretty fool-proof. My Dad's homemade fudge recipe didn't fare so well, but I was too tired to try again. Maybe tomorrow. Somewhere around 11am, Gem conked out on the couch, the other kids began drooping, and I seized the moment. We all napped until around 2pm. Then we went to visit my grandma and my stepmom. In the evening, I cooked a turkey dinner with all the trimmings for Bear to enjoy with us when he got off work.
Everytime I was tempted to whine about Bear having to work such long hours, I thought of all the women who didn't get to spend Christmas with their husbands this year. I especially thought of the men and women overseas. It helped me to remember to be grateful for what I have.

Bear playing Santa before work Juju's first Christmas Our traditional pajama shot Sunshine playing with her new mp3 player Superman saving the princesses Gem conked out Sunshine helping with the cinnamon rolls Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Advent/Christmas/Epiphany Traditions

This is one of my favorite times of year, so it just seemed appropriate to share some of our family's traditions.
Next to Easter, the time of time of year that brings us the most joy is Christmas.  As with Easter, our Christmas celebration is preceded by a period of preparation.  We call this Advent, during which we prepare to celebrate Christ's coming in three ways...His first Advent when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, His second Advent when He will come as King to set up His everlasting kingdom on earth, and His third Advent, when we consciously invite Him to come and dwell in our hearts.
Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas ( Nov. 29, 2008 ), and lasts through Christmas Eve. The liturgical color of purple is used, which is a color of expectation, penance, and sorrow. We recall the words of John the Baptist as he prepared the way for the Messiah...'Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. We examine ourselves as we look for His second coming with the questions 'Am I prepared to meet the Righteous Judge face to face? What changes do I need to make in my life?'  And despite the joy of looking forward to celebrating Christmas, we also remember that Christ was born to suffer and die for us.  We do not separate His Incarnation from His sacrifice. 

Catholics celebrate Christmas by attending Mass, either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  What better way to celebrate Christ's birthday than to gather round His table? One of my personal favorite times to attend Mass is the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve!  Our Christmas celebration lasts for twelve days and ends on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany.  On the Epiphany, we celebrate the three wise men finding and worshipping Jesus.

As with all of our other celebrations, there are many traditions that surround our celebration of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.  Some of these traditions have their origins in pagan customs, for which we are frequently criticized.  Our thought on this is that if God can take pagan sinners such as ourselves, transform us, and use us to bring Him honor and glory, then we also can we take customs that have origins in places besides Christianity, 'baptize' them, and use them to bring honor and glory to God.  For us they never mean anything else. These customs and traditions are useful for keeping our focus on Christ, strengthening our relationship with Him, and teaching spiritual truths to our children in a way that is meaningful to them. Here are some of our favorites...

The Advent Wreath
This is a custom that began in pre-Christian Germany, in which evergreen wreaths were gathered and lighted during the dark days of December as a sign of hope in the coming spring.  Today, Christians use these wreaths with candles during Advent as a symbol of our hope in Christ, the everlasting Light. The Advent wreath consists of four candles, three violet/purple and one rose-colored, that we light during our evening meal in the weeks leading up to Christmas, one the first week, two the second week, and so on.  The rose-colored candle is lit during the third week, as a sign of joy that Christmas is almost here.  The lighting of these candles are accompanied by prayers and/or Scripture readings.  In our family, we also include a white candle in the middle, white symbolizing joy and celebration, which we light on Christmas Eve and each of the twelve days of Christmas until Epiphany.

The Blessing of the Christmas Tree
We bless our Christmas tree, using Scripture readings (Ezekiel 17:22-23) and prayers.  For us, our tree becomes another symbol of Christ--the tender shoot that grew to become a majestic cedar and the Tree of Life.  As we turn the lights on our tree, we are reminded again that Jesus is the Light of the world. 
When we decorate our tree, I let the children do the majority of the decoration, and I leave the ornaments wherever they place them.  Even if there are two of the same color on the same branch. ;-)

The Jesse Tree
This is a lovely way to count down the days until Christmas! Beginning on the first Sunday of Advent, Bible passages are read daily, beginning in Genesis and taking us through salvation history up until Christ's birth. Each daily reading has a corresponding ornament, made from construction paper and laminated, with symbols drawn on them.  The ornament is hung on a small (12 inch) tree by the children after we've finished our reading. This provides them with a visual picture of our Lord's ancestry. 
To view the readings and ideas for creating your own Jesse Tree, click here.

The Creche
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with first building a creche (nativity scene) as part of Christmas celebration. We place a creche in our home at the beginning of Advent. However, the baby Jesus does not appear until Christmas Eve, and then the shepherd with his sheep moves over to worship him.  Also on Christmas Eve, we place the wise men at the edge of the table, and each day they move closer until Epiphany, when they finally make it to the baby Jesus to worship Him.

Our Christmas Chain
We make our sacrifices and our good works visible by creating a 'Christmas chain'. When any of us 'get caught' doing something for someone else, this is written on a strip of construction paper and taped together to make chain links. The chain is then wrapped around our Christmas tree.

St. Nicholas
We prefer to teach our children about the REAL St. Nicholas rather than the fat man with the flying reindeer who lives at the North Pole. The main reason is that we want to keep our Christmas celebration focused on Christ's birth. But also, we want to be truthful with them. St. Nicholas is a real live person. On earth, he served our Lord as a bishop in Myra (modern day Turkey), and he died on December 6, 343 A.D. Since we believe in eternal life in Christ, we believe that St. Nicholas is alive in heaven and praying for us! We celebrate his feast day on December 6 by surprising the children with treats in their stockings and reading stories about St. Nicholas' good deeds, which have inspired the modern day 'Santa Claus' traditions. By celebrating St. Nicholas in this way, we keep the fun of his traditions, we keep him in his proper context, and our Christmas celebration is centered on celebrating Christ's birth. To learn more about the real St. Nick, click here.

On the Epiphany, the kids make crowns of construction paper, glitter, jewels, and they wear silk shawls, robes, etc. to dress up like royalty.  The night before the Epiphany, they think of things that they would like to do for Jesus in the upcoming year.  These are written down or wrapped up as 'presents' which they place in front of the baby Jesus.
For our meal, we set the table fancy, as is fit for royalty!  We have an epiphany cake, in which a quarter is hidden.  The one who finds the piece with the quarter in it gets to be the 'high king or queen' and will get to carry the Christmas star for the procession.
Another tradition is the blessing the door facings.  As the royalty processes through the house singing a hymn (like 'We Three Kings'), the door facings are marked '20+C+M+B+08' with chalk and sprinkled with holy water.  The last two numbers change each year.  The C+M+B means 'Christus Mansionem Benedictat' (Christ bless this home.)   Also, although Scripture doesn't tell us how many magi there actually were or their names, from tradition, we get the number three and the names Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.
In some countries, the presents are opened on Epiphany rather than Christmas, in remembrance of the presents presented to Jesus.
Epiphany 200

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Kids' Visit With St. Nick

Santa made an appearance at our library story hour on December 9. The children enjoyed visiting with him.
Story hour Christmas party

It was Juju's first visit with Santa. He asked for new shoes.
Juju and Santa

Gem asked for a Barbie doll.
Gem and Santa

Caveman asked for a monster truck.
Caveman and Santa

Mojo asked for a robot.
Mojo and Santa

We teach our children that the real St. Nicholas is in heaven with Jesus, praying for all the little boys and girls on earth.  We tell them the stories of the kind deeds he performed on earth.  We know that all good gifts come from Jesus, but we also know that Jesus has St. Nicholas, mommy, daddy, and others who show love and kindness.  The children enjoy visiting with one of these helpers and are always eager to spill their Christmas wishes!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Juju 3 months old

Our Juju is now three months old! He is giggling, squealing, and has found his hands.
11-6-08 Photobucket Photobucket 3 months old

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Welcome, Juju!

Our family welcomed Juju into the outside world on August 18, 2008 at 1:32am. 8-18-08 094
For those of you who are interested in such details, here is the story of his birth...

Once again, I was "overdue" and anxious. I really wanted to give birth at home, and Deb had said that after 42 weeks, I would be transferred to the care of an obstetrician. Some of you may remember that Gem had to be coaxed out at 42 weeks. In fact, for my past 3 deliveries, my membranes had been ruptured by an OB to start the labor process. For some reason, my babies don't seem to want to come out on their own! Deb didn't want to resort to this, as it increases the risk of complications. But the natural methods we had tried--including Deb's 3-day induction regimen--had gotten us nowhere, and we were faced with the prospect of a hospital birth. So she decided to come to the house on Sunday evening (Monday was the 42 week mark), and if baby was low enough, she would break my water.

Sunday evening, we gave the children their "big sibling" presents, and Greg took the younger ones to my stepmom's house while Deb examined me. Baby's position and heart rate looked favorable, so when Greg returned, shortly before 7 pm, my water was broken.
2008-08-17 birth

While waiting for contractions to begin, Deb and NaDean left to go get some dinner. While they were gone, Greg, the older girls, and I went for a walk, praying a rosary as we walked. Then the older girls went to their room to do their teenaged-girl things. When Deb and NaDean returned from dinner, we sat around visiting, listening to music (everything from Rachmaninov to Cream, lol) and getting out the scrapbooks. It took awhile for things to get started, and I did a lot of walking around and squatting to try to move things along. I also took some homeopathic herbs every 5 minutes for thirty minutes. Eventually, I began to feel contractions that I knew were the real thing. When the contractions started becoming more regular and uncomfortable, I decided to try to lie down and rest for a bit. I didn't get to rest for very long. Around 11pm, contractions started getting serious. We filled our old claw-foot bathtub, and I labored in a candle-lit bath for awhile, before it became difficult to relax. At this point, Deb suggested that I might prefer the birthing stool, so I made my way to the bedroom. When I left the tub, I was 7cm dilated. Shortly after I got to the bedroom, I was dilated to 9 1/2 cm, with an anterior cervical lip. At this point, no position I could get in seemed comfortable. Deb assisted me in pushing around the cervix, but it seemed to be a long difficult process. We finally got past the cervix, and I was completely dilated, but pushing still seemed really difficult compared to my other deliveries. I think I pushed for at least 30 minutes. As long and painful as it was, I didn't feel anxious because Deb and NaDean were calm, patient, and encouraging. Such a far cry from the hospital personnel in my previous deliveries. The whole atmosphere was just different, being in the comfort of our bedroom with a low light, looking up and seeing the crucifix that was given to us by the priest at our wedding. And of course, Greg was right beside me, kissing me, running his fingers through my hair, supporting me, telling me how proud he was of me.
Eventually, Deb suggested squatting, and I did this with Greg sitting behind me and supporting my arms. That got the head out in just a few more pushes. The shoulders took a couple more pushes. And there was my baby. He was placed immediately in my arms, and for the first time ever, I got to discover the sex of my baby on my own. I can't tell you how exciting it was to peek underneath the blanket and to exclaim to Bear "it's a BOY!" Once again, the kids were right!
He latched on and began nursing right away.
2008-08-18 birth22008-08-18 birth4

Thanks to the patience and support of the midwives, I only had a small amount of tearing (needed 5 stitches) with much less discomfort afterward than my previous deliveries.

After the placenta was delivered, we woke the girls up to come meet their brother/cousin.
2008-08-18 birth82008-08-18 birth9 

Then we all watched Deb and NaDean examine him. He was perfect of course. He weighed 9 lbs 6 oz and was 22 1/2 inches long!

2008-08-18 birth52008-08-18 birth62008-08-18 birth72008-08-18 birth10   2008-08-18 birth3

After I rested awhile, I took a shower, gave Juju his first sponge bath, and then we both took a much-needed nap.
2008-08-18 birth112008-08-18 birth12 

Greg waited until daylight to get the little ones. They were so excited to see their new brother, especially Caveman! Well, Gem may just be the most "smitten" of them all. She kissed the baby about 500 times. When her older siblings try to hold him, she screams " Nonono! Mine!"
8-18-08 0768-18-08 0778-18-08 0808-18-08 082  

Many people have asked me why on earth I would want to have my baby at home with a midwife instead of in the hospital. There are so many differences between an OB's care and a midwife's care! The midwife really gets to know her clients and the experience is a much more personal, intimate, relaxed experience. I never had to wait for visits in an office full of people just to have her spend 10 minutes to listen to the baby's heart rate and ask if I had any questions. Instead, I just rang her doorbell and was seen right away. The kids played with a basket of toys that she keeps available, and they were included and involved in the visits. The midwife probably spent as much time with me during ONE visit than my OB did for all visits combined! When I voiced pregnancy discomforts to the OB, the best I got was a sympathetic pat and a "hang in there, it won't be much longer." The midwife actually had suggestions for things that would help ease the discomfort, things that would make make me think "this is my fifth baby, why has no one ever mentioned this before?"
A few days before Juju's birth, when I was having contractions that weren't all that strong but were regular, Deb and NaDean drove to my house in the middle of the night and camped out on my couch and recliner, just in case.
During the labor and delivery process, everything was focused on my comfort and easing the baby's passage into this world, rather than on “policy and procedure”. The midwives used low lights, soft voices, stayed in the background and allowed me to labor in my own way, and stepped up to offer a suggestion or help when needed. Baby never left my sight.
After delivery, the midwife insisted that I stay in bed/couch/recliner for a week, and NO housework, cooking, or lifting toddlers for 2 weeks. I thought that was a little overkill; in the past I had always been told to "take it easy for a few days." But she was right. I bled less and healed more quickly this time than with my previous deliveries.
She came back to my house to check on me and the baby the next day, and then we did the PKU and birth certificate stuff a few days later. For questions and concerns, she was always reachable on her cell phone.
All in all, this has been my best birth experience. If we have another baby, I would choose another homebirth with these ladies.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My Mother's Day Was Just Wonderful, Thank You

I worked last night (12 hour shifts) and was exhausted when I got home this morning. I did my best to stay awake during Mass, drove Gem around til she fell asleep afterward, and got to bed around 11:30am (the Sunday school teachers bring the older kids home for me after they finish up all their lessons.) Up at 4:30pm, still tired as all-get-out, got to play with the kids briefly and then had to rush off to work again at 5:30pm. It was Bear's weekend to work also, so I got to see him briefly today when he stopped by the hospital on the way home to bring me some food (thanks, honey!)

But this is not a whiney blog. Honest-to-goodness, I'm not whining.

I'm thinking of someone I know, whose precious little girl has been in the hospital for over a month now, and who has gotten devastating news that the doctors don't feel as though there's anything else they can do. She's been by her baby's side, missing her other two babies, missing her husband much of the time, and now they are faced with the heart-wrenching possibility of having to say goodbye to their dear little one.
I'm thinking of another dear mama I know whose little girl went to be with Jesus last year around this time and how her arms must ache right now.
I'm thinking of other women I know who would like nothing more than to wrestle with rambunctious kids in church, to get homemade cards and flower bouquets, and to hear little voices calling "mamamamamama!" But for reasons they can't understand, their arms remain empty.
I'm also thinking of those women I know who do it all on their own without a partner, never getting a break, never hearing the words "I'll bathe the kids" or "I'll bring you dinner, what would you like?" or "you're doing a good job, honey".

So, even though I did not have a Hallmark commercial kind of Mother's Day, it was beautiful to me nonetheless. I cherish the homemade drawing that the kids signed (or scribbled) their names to. I cherish the flowers placed lovingly in the vase on my table. I cherish the hugs and kisses I got before I left the house. I cherish the man who sent me the email telling me what a good job I am doing raising his children. I am thankful beyond words for all this madness.