Monday, November 24, 2014

A Little Bit of Summer on a Winterish Sunday

There is this really great place in St. Paul, the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.  (And it is free, with a really low suggested donation!) We usually go there in the warmer weather for the zoo part, but in the cool months we like to go see the plants.

We have only gone there once each past winter, but decided to go at least once a month after our early Sunday Mass this winter, just to keep ourselves sane during the long, freezing, barren winter.
These flowers smelled wonderful.
It is so refreshing to sit on a bench and just smell plants, to be with plants, to feel the humidity of plant life.
These koi were in one of the gardens.
They have five or so separate green houses with a sunken flower garden, more rainforest type plants, a spice room, a fern room, and one other more Japanese themed. We also ventured over to the rain forest house in the zoo and saw the fish and animals there.

Then we braved the cold, wet day and went around to a few other zoo exhibits before some children could not handle the outing any longer. I think we should probably go back more than once a month just to be with green things.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Seven Quick Takes, Friday, November 21

1. This week my mind has been largely elsewhere, thinking and praying for peace in St. Louis where I grew up, and praying for all of those in Buffalo, NY where we lived for four years. Both the places and the people in those places have my affection. It is hard to see suffering and to only be able to stay here in Minnesota and pray for them.

2. You know my first snow storm in Buffalo was a pretty big one. We maybe got 12 inches in the North towns, but the South towns got close to 24". It happened about 5 days before Christmas, and I-90 (our route to visit relatives) was closed for a day due to the snowfall. I ended up going into work the day of the storm and being ignorant of snow driving decided to drive on the right side of the road rather than the less deep left side of the road. I got stuck. I was six months pregnant, barely ever had driven in deep snow conditions, and stuck. I saw a man shoveling his driveway a few houses down, and being the good neighbor Buffalonian that he was, he got my car unstuck. He showed me how to put on the gas and rock the car back and forth until you get it out. And I know that is the kind of stuff going on in Buffalo this week. People are helping each other.
Our yard before the spring thaw last year. These poor snowmen were frozen all winter and then went the way of Frosty.
3. I also know what it is like to have 4+ feet of snow melt from your yard in a short amount of time. That happened to us last spring, and we had a minor basement flood. It turns out that it is a good idea to shovel snow away from all around the level surfaces, especially patios that go right up to your foundation. This is much more easily done when you get your snow in 2-8" layers over the course of a winter than in 48 hours. So, I will continue to pray as the snow in Buffalo melts this weekend.

A snow angel the size of a five year old girl. :)
4. Speaking of snow, we have a little ourselves. But could someone please explain to me why we are down in the single digits already? Yesterday when I was out with G, it was 9°F. It is only November. We are supposed to hit the 30s this weekend, but then look at Thanksgiving:
iPad screenshot, woot!
I am pretty sure that people should not have settled here. I might need to squeeze in a rereading of Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter along with my Jane Austen, so I can realize that we have it a lot better than they did.

5. Another snow question, do you think we can convince our elderly neighbors to let us build a snowman on their rock? Wouldn't that be awesome?

6. Do you think it is time to potty train when the two year old hears me mention the word and then tries to drag me to the bathroom yelling, "POTTY TRAIN! POTTY TRAIN!"? I am not sure if it is worth it five weeks before a long visit with family. Maybe it is. Maybe I should just let her do it before she loses the desire. I have never potty trained without a younger baby around, so maybe it will be a breeze. Plus, she takes a good long afternoon nap, so it would just be in the mornings that I would be doing it alone. hmmm...

7. Last of all, for some reason, my giveaway only has two entrants right now... Don't be shy, enter the giveaway, even if you don't have a girl of your own, I bet you know a girl who would love Christmas with Bernadette, and I bet you would enjoy the Advent features of the Magnificat Advent Companion App. :)

Linking up with Kelly who is filling in for Jen at Conversion Diary.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

GIVEAWAY: Magnificat Advent Companion App and Christmas With Bernadette

Advent is coming and the Catholic world is full of great suggestions of how to prepare for Christmas. I have been given the opportunity to review a book for children, Christmas With Bernadette, and the Magnificat Advent Companion App. One is a sweet story of a young girl and her family throughout Advent, and the other is a beautiful spiritual resource designed to enrich your spiritual life this Advent.

Christmas With Bernadette

Christmas with Bernadette is the second volume in the delightful children’s book series authored by Emily Ortega and illustrated by Meg Whalen. I reviewed the first book of the series, I’m Bernadette, earlier this year.

Bernadette is a spunky first grader in a Catholic elementary school. She is the oldest in her family with two younger brothers and a baby on the way. It is refreshing to read children’s literature about a loving but not perfect Catholic family. Bernadette has the typical struggles of an oldest sister with her two younger brothers who are set on destroying things and share none of her interests. And of course there is school and remembering her items for the Christmas party.

Christmas With Bernadette is a great story for showing children the traditional Catholic way of preparing for Christmas with a full season of Advent. We follow Bernadette and her family from the beginning of Advent through Christmas day, with tales of the Advent wreath, helping Mama in the kitchen, Daddy solving the problem of figuring out Christmas presents, and wondering when that baby is going to be born and if it will be a sister this time.

The book itself is 106 pages long with easy to follow chapters. A child ready for simple chapter books would be able to read it alone. My pre-reader daughters, a five year old and four year old, really enjoyed listening to the story, which took us about a week reading aloud one or two chapters a day.

Advent is the perfect time of year for children to read this story. (I am planning on sending it to my nieces for St. Nicholas Day, so that they can follow along with Bernadette during Advent.) I doubt that there are many other children’s chapter books that contain the liturgical year, a growing Catholic family, and a likeable, believable, and kind main character. If you know of any young Catholic readers or almost readers, Christmas With Bernadette would make a great gift this year for Advent or for Christmas.

The Magnificat Advent Companion App/eBook

I had the print copy of the Magnificat Advent Companion last year, and used it along with the daily readings to prepare for Christmas. This year, I have had a chance to preview the Advent App, which features much more than the print copy. In the app there is the daily Advent Meditation, but there are also prayers for the morning, evening, and night, the daily Mass readings and prayers (including the Order of the Mass), and a whole slew of other Advent features. There are recordings of Advent chants, an Advent penance service, the Advent stations, prayers for the “O” antiphons, and even blessings for your Advent wreath and Christmas tree.

Furthermore, the app is very simple and intuitive with the same format as the print Magnificat on the screen. One can easily switch from one screen to another. And there is a calendar feature to allow one to choose the day, though the current date is automatically chosen. The prayers on the app run through Christmas day.

With this app on my iPad (I still have a lame phone), I have all the liturgical resources I need for this Advent. I am pretty excited to use the meditations for my personal prayer time and the other prayers for our family Advent practices.

I will be conducting a giveaway of both items ending on Wednesday, November 26. There will two winners, one for each item.

If you wish to simply purchase them, they are both very reasonably priced. Christmas With Bernadette is available for less than $8 here, and the Magnificat Advent Companion App is available for only $0.99.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, November 17, 2014

12 Week Update: Jane Austen and Pregnancy

It has been 5 weeks since our first trimester ultrasound, and now is our traditional time for announcing pregnancies. But you are all so lucky that we went ahead and did it early, because I love having lots of people praying for a healthy baby.

In the past five weeks I have had lots of pregnancy symptoms, but have been fortunate enough to not throw up, so that is cool.

Today I ventured out in the cold (13°F here in MN), but thankfully sunny day, with the three girls for the 12 week visit. It was the normal "tell me about your previous pregnancies" questions and normal how are things going with this one. He also seemed to think it was possible that the flutters I have been feeling are actually the baby. And we finally at the end of the appointment got to hear loud and clear the baby's heartbeat on the Doppler. That is all I really cared about today. I did not even mind having six vials of blood drawn out of my arm. And G impressed the nurse by telling her that her birthday was on the Ides of March. It was an all around good appointment. I even let the kids have suckers afterwards. And to make things better I had leftover pizza for lunch, and felt some uterine flutters while driving home. 

And now I will prove to you that I am officially showing; I am pretty sure this counts. I am even isolating my transverse abdominal here, so yeah. Every baby deserves online bump pictures.
Our bedroom walls are not this bright, I promise.
And since I found rereading C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy to be a struggle for my pregnancy brain, I am officially rereading the Complete Works of Jane Austen. M seems to remember my pregnancies better than I do, and tells me that I do this every pregnancy. Good old Jane. Maybe I will pick up on more of her virtue ethics this time around.

This 1930s complete volume and my down comforter make the perfect combination for winter reading. I just need a cup of hot tea.

P.S. I am justifying rereading my favorite books by explaining that I am listening to audiobooks during my treadmill workouts, so I am getting through new literature. (And by new I mean classics that I have not read yet.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Renewed in the Spirit

Just a reminder: Blessed is She is selling a beautiful Advent journal. It is not too late to order yours! We hope to have all orders in by November 15 to get them shipped in time.

And now for something more reflective than normal from the devotion I wrote for today:


Just as the lepers received physical healing through the Holy Spirit, we have received spiritual healing. Saint Paul tells us of our own sickness, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, . . . but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” We have been cleansed in our Baptism, not through our own merits, but through the mercy of God...

Read the rest along with the daily readings at Blessed is She.

Monday, November 10, 2014

It Was Like Christmas Morning Over Here...

I managed to wake up before the kids this morning. I willed myself out of bed to wish M off to an early start for the day and see if the snow forecast had been accurate. After looking out the window, it was clear that the weather man had been right. A white layer of powder covered everything, and it was still coming down.

I sighed, trying to brace myself once again for six months of cold, snowy weather (please, let that be an exaggeration), and got dressed. I shuffled in my slippers to the kitchen, and started to get my coffee brewing. M and I greeted each other, and he hurried to get out the door.

I had about 30 minutes of blissful morning quiet over my coffee and breakfast before the first little feet came plodding from the bedrooms. "Mommy," a sweet little girl voice said, "May L and I get up and play?" I told her that they might, and that they would need to get dressed soon. "I looked out the window and saw white!" she exclaimed before running back to her room. I could here them both standing at the window, giddy about the fresh snow, making plans for playing.

Once G and L were dressed and eating breakfast, anticipating snow play after our morning school time, I went to get up two year old F. She first asked about her grandfather who had left just two mornings before after a visit. I got her dressed and as soon as she walked into the living room, she saw the snow out the front window. She went to the window and stood there for about five minutes, staring and saying to herself, "Snow....snow....snow..."

School was more of a struggle than I had planned, but we managed anyway. And they were all excited to bundle up in their snow gear and head outside. Their mother, on the other hand, has been a bit of a wimp about the cold, and decided to stay inside and do a few chores.

As I peaked from time to time out the window to make sure everything was okay, I discovered that my children are perfectly okay with cold weather. They also taught me that the slide on our swing set is good for winter use as well. There is nothing like a snow suit to pad the landing after flying down a wet, snowy slide. They threw themselves on the ground in glee making snow angels. They ate handfuls of snow. They slid down the little hill that ends at the neighbor's garage. They had a good 20 minutes before it started to sleet, and that was too cold and wet for them.

Maybe if we stay get above 10°F most days this Winter, the kids can actually play outside everyday. I don't think they will tire of the snow anytime soon. Further, once we get their super warm water proof mitten in the mail, I would guess that they will stay out even longer.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Seven Quick Takes: Friday, November 7

1. My (philosopher) husband just called, and I asked him if I should write quick takes today. His response?

"There are no Quick Takes; Only the Mind."

2. Two years ago right now I was in labor with this one (the one that looks 2, not that other one):

A realistic depiction of a child: frizzy hair and food on her face.
Now she eats corn dogs. I have never had all of my out-of-womb children over the age of two. Does that make sense?

3. For her birthday, I decided to replace the long destroyed toy stroller cover. I sewed it in about 90 minutes last night. No, I am not opening an Etsy shop, though I know you all really want hand made, badly machine stitched, toy stroller covers. I am pretty pleased with the result, and so is F. We let her open two presents first thing because she would have just about lost it if she could not find her stroller all day. She is happiest about having a buckle.

NOT for sale. I love this fabric pattern.
4. F and I finished weaning this week. We were down to naps and bedtimes and well, being pregnant makes barely nursing not very nice at all. So, we decided it was time to be done. Two years is the longest I have ever nursed a baby (17 and 19 months for G and L). She seems cool with it, and we make sure to be cuddly before bed during our old nursing time. And for the record, I have now been pregnant and/or nursing for 6 1/3 years straight.

Things I made in this picture (all recycled from previous years): St. Joan's armor/vest, St. Gemma's cloak, St. Lucy's skirt.
5. Here is our All Saints picture. I did not have time to take one before the evening Mass we went to, so we only have a poorly lit, after party, past bedtime, high on sugar photos.

6. When I got home from the grocery store last Saturday, the children spent about 10 minutes pretending to be cows and pushing around gallon milk jugs before I decided that the milk should probably be put away. Who would have thought milk could be so much fun?

F is getting so big.
7. So, did I just prove that there actually are quick takes and not just the mind? I don't know. But you philosophers out there can debate that amongst yourselves. I am going to go have some snickers bars now... (fun size)

Linking up again with Jen at Conversion Diary.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Working Vs. Staying at Home: The Decisions American Women Face

G hard at work at my desk years ago when I took her to work with me.
There was an outrage on Facebook last Saturday about President Obama’s statement about stay at home parents:
 “Sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”
In context, he was talking about having tax payer funded preschool so as to allow parents to not have to choose between a job and having children. And while perhaps he did not mean to reject entirely the idea that parents should stay at home with their children, he pretty clearly stated that he thinks that working is the best choice for everyone.

I understand that when a parent makes the choice to leave a career and stay at home with children, she is making a life-long financial sacrifice. She is losing the chance for career advancement. But the choice between a career and staying home is much more complicated than the issue of money.

I personally began to think about the choice between stay at home parenting and having a competitive career when I was in high school. A young woman thinking about college, adulthood, and discerning religious life considers all the possibilities. At my highly competitive, all girls Catholic high school, the issue of working and raising children often came up. A motivated, intelligent young woman does not know if and when she will get married, but she does know that she is expected to go to college and choose a career. My personal goal at the time was to become a sports journalist. When I applied to colleges, I planned on being a communications major. I even got into a pretty good local school known for its journalism program, Webster University. It was five minutes from my house, and I was offered a nearly complete tuition scholarship. I could have succeeded academically there, and I could have made my way into the world of journalism. But when it came down to it, and I imagined life as a journalist, I realized that it would not be compatible with my dream of family life. I could not be the beat writer of the St. Louis Cardinals and be the type of mother that I wanted to be. I had no idea if I would get married and have children, but I hoped that I would. I made a choice to move away from a lucrative career back when I was 17, not when I decided to stay at home with my children.

By the time I got my financial aid package from Franciscan University, I was already wavering on whether to go into journalism. I could have chosen a lucrative career path, but went instead with the college that I thought would best form my character. I started off as a communications major, switched immediately to undeclared, and within three semesters had switched to theology and philosophy and was participating in the Great Books program. I am so glad that I made these choices.

My college experience formed me into the person I am now; I am not sure what I would be like without this experience. I learned to value virtue, family, and religion above material wealth and worldly success. I learned to discern what God had planned for me, and it was made pretty clear halfway through college that I would marry the man I was dating. While I focused on that, I always thought that, if for some reason I am unable to have children, I would pursue a doctorate. However, within a month of marriage, I was already on track to be a stay at home mom.

It was not easy to be a stay at home mom, even with my 12 hour a week, bring the baby along part time job, on my husband’s meager graduate student income. But we knew that it was important for our family for me to be at home. During my first years of marriage and parenting, I had close female friends who were all making economic sacrifices to stay at home with their children. Some of them had part time positions that they could work from home, and some of them had free grandparent childcare. I lived in the subculture of college educated, single income, stay at home moms. If anything, it reinforced my choice. My pro-life Catholic friends all valued spending time raising their children more than their careers.

When we moved to St. Paul, Minnesota to advance my husband’s career (we moved for his tenure-track academic job), I became friends with a number of moms who had Ph.D.’s. Most of my husband’s departmental colleagues who have young children at home have all made the choice to have one parent at home with the children, whether it be the mother or the father. In philosophy, the decision of who stays at home is often based on who has the tenure-track job. All of the academic parents who stay at home also adjunct classes and write. I have spent many a play date with these Ph.D. moms discussing the life and career that they had thought they would have until they met their husbands in graduate school. They are fully aware that by staying at home they are setting aside chances at a successful career in philosophy, but they realize that their children will only be young for so long and that it is important for them to raise them.

I am not claiming that it would be wrong for both parents to work and have their children taken care of by someone else. I think that having a thriving career is a good thing and that many women are meant to have competitive and lucrative careers. I am so thankful for my doctor, who is a mother of six, and who delivers my babies and looks into my children’s ears. I am thankful to my mother for keeping her nursing career going while my father pursued a new career path. Both of them had a strong presence in the lives of their four children. I am sure there are many mother journalists who are happy in their lives and jobs and have growing families. I really think that we cannot make a sweeping judgment about what is best for “Americans.” Every family makes a decision about what is best for their family.

And some families decide that a parent spending the weekdays with his or her children is more important than how much money they make later in life. Couples decide that, yes, they can make ends meet with a single income, and they go for it. It is not an easy decision to make, and career advances are sacrificed. But if anything is worth sacrificing income for, the care of a human being is. The life and formation of a human being is far more important than the salary one brings home. The salary provides the material needs, the parent at home provides so much more. The working parent, hopefully, finds fulfillment in work and home life.

Other families have both parents working. Some arrange schedules to have one parent at home at all times. Others have grandparents who can help with the childcare. Others hire childcare. I do not think that it means that these parents value or love their children any less than those who are able to stay a home. I have spoken to working parents who wish that they could stay at home, but they cannot make that sacrifice.

For a mother or a potential mother in a society that values so highly education and then “doing something with that,” the tension between work and family is always there. Feminism has brought this upon mothers. But no mother who stays at home should be made to feel that their choice was not worth it. Because, while children change ones life forever, human lives will always be more valuable than worldly success.

Originally published in full at Truth and Charity...

Monday, November 3, 2014

What I am Eating...and what I wish I could survive on...

This wine I wished I had drunk, but the spaghetti carbonara I did eat last week. I really hope I can eat it this week...(it was that good...)
Today has been the queasiest of all days so far. I even came close to vomiting twice. Usually some sort of protein helps me overcome my nausea, but today that has not been the case. Even my normally favorite foods have the wrong texture in my mouth, but in case you were really wondering, what is Susanna eating at 10 weeks pregnant without discomfort, let me tell you:

1. Ice cream: A guaranteed stomach settler

2. Take Out Chinese Egg Rolls: We got some of these after the 10 AM Mozart Requiem Mass yesterday. They were amazing.

3. Snickers Bars: I am so glad I snagged a bag of these when I bought Halloween candy.

4. Potato Chips: Those seem to be going down fine.

5. Pizza: Duh...

6. Flavored Sparkling Water

So, while I do not feel that great, and I am eating a lot of junk, I am forcing down things like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats...

But I am also thankful, because I am pretty sure the fact that my pants are tight does not have to do with the food I am eating but the fact that the baby is growing and so is my uterus. The baby websites are telling me this. The more pregnant I feel, the more I am thankful for a baby growing and that will hopefully be joining our family.
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