Quiet German Christmas

German telecom has the AWOL family out of the loop for this Christmas season and into the new year. But I had 40 minutes of internet today and wanted to thank everyone for the lovely posts and comments of the last few weeks, and wish you all a blessed new year. Oh, and to (of course)give a hollar to MaryAlice's amazing family.

Marriage is a Divine Path

An uplifting reflection from Opus Dei:

I shall never tire of repeating that marriage is a great and marvelous divine path. Like everything divine in us, it calls for response to grace, generosity, dedication and service. (Conversations, 93)
Christian couples should be aware that they are called to sanctity themselves and to sanctify others, that they are called to be apostles and that their first apostolate is in the home. They should understand that founding a family, educating their children, and exercising a Christian influence in society, are supernatural tasks. The effectiveness and the success of their life — their happiness — depends to a great extent on their awareness of their specific mission.

But they mustn’t forget that the secret of married happiness lies in everyday things, not in daydreams. It lies in finding the hidden joy of coming home in the evening, in affectionate relations with their children, in the everyday work in which the whole family cooperates; in good humour in the face of difficulties that should be met with a sporting spirit; in making the best use of all the advantages that civilisation offers to help us rear children, to make the house pleasant and life more simple.

I constantly tell those who have been called by God to form a home to love one another always, to love each other with the love of their youth. Any one who thinks that love ends when the worries and difficulties that life brings with it begin, has a poor idea of marriage, which is a sacrament and an ideal and a vocation, It is precisely then that love grows strong. Torrents of worries and difficulties are incapable of drowning true love because people who sacrifice themselves generously together are brought closer by their sacrifice. As Scripture says, aquae multae, a host of difficulties, physical and moral, non potuerunt extinguere caritatem, cannot extinguish love (Cant 8:7). (Conversations, 91)

I hope you all continue to enjoy the Christmas Season!

Girl Time

Subtitled: What Goes On While Bean is Napping
Also subtitled: You're Never Too Young to be Dressed Up By Bella

'Tis the Season

On the second day of Christmas, “the most wonderful time of the year” gave to us:

Five sleepless days and nights
Four violent stomach viruses
Three cancelled Christmas parties
Two ear infections
And only one family member well enough to go to Christmas Mass (dad)

I've never been so thankful that our faith gives us Twelve Days to celebrate Christmas! Is that God's gift to moms or what? (Well, that and Amoxicillin of course.)

Silent Night


The builders will be going offline for a few days as we all prepare to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child with our families.

May God's rich blessings be poured out on you and your families!
Merry Christmas!

Isn't it amazing how quickly time passes from one year to the next?! I can't believe that our little Maria was just a couple of months old last Christmas, and in the course of just one year she has grown into an active, curious, full-of-giggles little girl! Here's a picture of Maria in Christmas of 2007 with my mom, and then one of Maria just a couple of weeks ago with me, squirming to get free so that she could enjoy the Christmas party :)

A blessed last couple of days of Advent to all of you!

In Awe

It is at times like these, particularly in seasons such as Advent and Lent, that I stand back in grateful awe of our Church's Liturgical Calendar. The ebb and flow of days and weeks, the significance of each Sunday, the timely Mass readings, the celebrations of saints, the faithful traditions: these among so many other wonderful details do so much to draw my soul in and keep me waiting in anticipation for Christ in each season. These times make me truly grateful for a Church that guides my reflections and contemplations and heightens each season for all that it is.

When I began my Catholic journey in college, I came as a rooted-in-Christ Evangelical, fully appreciative of Christ and his message of hope and salvation. I was saved by His Grace (still am) and enjoyed opportunities to exalt Him who loved me enough to die on the cross. As I began to regularly attend the 4:30 Mass on Sundays in the University Chapel (seen in the background of our blog) with my roommate, I slowly began to realize that Catholics, too, loved Jesus as much as I did. You see, this was a surprise to me, who had grown in my faith thinking that Catholics didn't believe in Christ. (So many misconceptions out there!) My subtle realizations turned into a vast appreciation for the Church and all it had to offer. The Mass for me was mesmerizing--holy, pure, and Christ-centered. The Catholic Church helped me take my Christian faith to an even deeper, more meaningful level at a time when I needed to do so.

My first Lenten season offered a new appreciation for Christ's forty days in the desert, a time of temptation and testing. I had "given things up" for Lent in the past, but never before with such reflection and contemplative prayer. My growing Catholic faith helped me put it all into greater perspective, with an increased appreciation for the season. Later that year, during my first Catholic celebration of Advent, GG (my then crush and now husband) presented me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers in a dark, rich purple, "for this time of Advent." How utterly gorgeous--to have hues of color to represent each season. The Church was reaching out to me once again, allowing me a deeper sense of the season.

"Silent Night" plays in the background as I type. It is the same "Silent Night" I remember singing as we lit candles in my beloved childhood church at the end of our Christmas Eve service. It was my absolute favorite part of the Christmas celebration... This year, the playing of "Silent Night" brings tears to my adult face. With it comes a serene appreciation for this beautiful season of Advent and all that it holds, all that it promises. Thank you, Father, for sending your Son. Thank you, Jesus, for taking on human flesh. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for my Christian brothers and sisters who helped me to hear and respond to your Gospel as a youth. Thank you, Lord God, for your Holy Catholic Church, which preserves and enriches my ongoing faith journey.

Here is the message, please comment if you have experience with these books or others that have been helpful:

I was wondering if I could have a quick bit of advice.  I am a new
wife and mother who is interested in creating a vibrant Catholic home
in tune with the rhythms of the liturgical year, but I am a complete
neophyte when it comes to all of this. I was recently given a gift
certificate to Borders and would like to use it to purchase a
guidebook for cultivating a Catholic home. I came across the
following list, and I wondered whether you might quickly indicate if
any of these is worth purchasing (or, if you know of an even better
alternative, I would appreciate knowing the title).

The Book of Catholic Customs and Traditions (Ronda Chervin, et al.)
The Catholic Home: Celebrations and Traditions for Holidays, Feast
Days, and Every Day (Meredith Gould)
The Catholic Parent Book of Feasts: Celebrating the Church Year with
Your Family) (Michaelann Martin, et al.)
Catholic Traditions in the Home and Classroom (365 Days to Celebrate a
Catholic Year) (Ann Ball)

I am drawn to the last entry on account of it's scope, but I have no
idea as to its quality.

First Family Photo



Thanks to all of you for your prayers and support! We are home now and ready to enjoy a white Christmas and a January babymoon!
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Worst Christmas Songs Ever

We are in full Christmas-prep mode around here. Less than 1 week to go until the great Feast, and since Guadete Sunday we have been listening to non-stop Christmas music. I LOVE Christmas music, and there are plenty of great Christmas songs out there. A good version of O Holy Night literally makes me tear up EVERY time.

But, there are few "Christmas" songs that drive me absolutely bonkers. With the help of Mr. Red, I have made a list of my top 3 worst Christmas songs ever. In the comment boxes, please feel free to add to this list, or make a case as to why one of these songs should not be on my list (maybe there is a 'good' version out there that I am missing?).

1. Santa Baby (this tops my list as the all-time worst Christmas song).
2. Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time (Sorry Paul, but after listening to this we aren't.)
3. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (the version I heard on the radio yesterday actually had smooching noises throughout the song!)

Close runner ups include: Same Old Lang Syne, Christmas Shoes, Domonick the Donkey.

Gift Wrapping Advice


If, during a bout of mastitis accompanied by a 102 fever, you decide to wrap some Christmas gifts in between pumping sessions, do NOT say to yourself, "I'm too tired to go upstairs and get the gift tags...I'll just put them on the wrapped gifts tomorrow."

Very, very bad idea. Maybe we should play white elephant this Christmas.

A big congratulations to MaryAlice and family! MaryAlice gave birth to her 6th baby tonight at 11:51pm. We welcome the newest little member of her family with great joy! He has finally arrived!

Pruning


"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit....I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing."

John 15: 1-2, 4-5 (New American Bible)

We recently had some drainage work done in our front yard, and following the completion of the project we had great drainage but not-so-great-looking landscaping! So, this weekend ET and I decided to re-plant and prune the plants that we have in our front yard, which took much longer than I had expected. As is often the case with any type of physical labor, working in the yard gave me the opportunity to reflect and think those deep thoughts that sometimes don't happen in the course of a normal day spent with young children! 

The above passage from the Gospel of John kept running through my head, and I was thinking of how wise Jesus was in giving us the image of God the Father as the "vine grower". The people of Jesus' time could relate very well to the image of God as "vine grower," since the cultivation of grapes was an integral part of early Hebrew culture. The hills of the Holy Land provided a perfect place for the planting of grape vineyards, and the keepers of these vineyards had to cultivate and prune their vines to ensure an optimal yield of grapes. Perhaps the most important job of the vine-grower is pruning. If there are branches that are not producing fruit, they must be cut off. When the main branch of the vine reaches a particular size, it must be pruned at the top so as to encourage the development of side shoots. Each side branch produces abundant fruit so long as it remains attached to the sturdy center stalk of the vine, which provides all of the side branches with their nourishment. 

So, what parallels can we draw from the image of the vine and branches? To simplify, we can learn that first, we must always remain rooted in Christ as our sturdy center stalk, otherwise we will not have the nourishment that we need to thrive and bear abundant fruit. Secondly, we can realize that even when we are rooted in Christ, we still need Him to be our "Gardener," the One who has a greater vision for our lives and who knows when we need "pruning" so that we can be who we were created to be. Remember, it is only by pruning that grape-vines can grow side-branches that bear abundant fruit. In the same way, perhaps our lives need pruning so that we can move in a new direction to accomplish God's will for our lives. Sometimes this prospect is scary, even painful; other times, we cry out to God and ask Him to prune us because we realize that we have hit a dead end and need His life-giving power to work in our lives. Perhaps we need to cut a certain habit out of our lives so that we can become more productive, healthy individuals. Perhaps we need to cut off a certain relationship that is sucking all of the life out of us. Perhaps we need to give up a certain way of thinking that is crippling our ability to be full of the joy and peace of Christ. Whatever it is, we can be certain that pruning is a life-long process.

As I was working in the yard last weekend, I realized that the task of re-planting and pruning had been hanging over my head for the past couple of weeks. The chore had been daunting to me before I got started; I would look at the mess and think to myself, "How will I ever clean this up?!" But once we (literally!) got our hands dirty and started in on the project, we gained a certain amount of clarity about the whole endeavor. It was easier to see where some extra work was needed, and which areas could be left alone for now. Bit by bit, I was able to see what the end-product could look like, and this encouraged me to keep going! My muscles were sore and my body grew weary, and at a certain point it became clear that enough work had been done for the day. But I came away with a feeling of great peace and a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes, I realized, you just have to jump in and get started. And after a little while, make sure to step back and get a sense of the bigger picture. Soon, it will be time to rest and take a break for a little while, seeing how things unfold. And then, there will be more work to be done, but with the promise of abundant fruit and a bit of respite at the end.

A New Take on Nativity


Apparently, the Holy Family, et. al. are avid train watchers? :)

I really need your advice on infant feeding. Here's the situation:

Angelina (7.5 months) appears to have very active gag reflex plus some poor coordination over her tongue. I never realized just how necessary the tongue is for swallowing until I watch her try to move pureed foods back into her mouth without success. The good news is she nurses absolutely wonderfully! And she's the right weight and height, above average maybe.

So, I put very watery pureed food into her mouth as the pediatrician recommended, and it sits there in her mouth as her tongue tries to work with it. A lot of it comes back out, and she often gags on the food that makes it all the way back to her throat.

She has better luck with Cheerios... maybe because they're harder and small, she seems to be able to feel each individual one in her mouth and work it back and down the hatch, albeit slowly.

The advice I've received from our pediatrician and friends is to just keep practicing. So that's what we're doing.

But meanwhile, I'm wondering:

(1) Does anyone know what I'm describing, this uncoordinated tongue thing? Is there anything else I can be doing to help her work it out, and to work on the gagging as well?
(2) Is it OK for a 7.5 month old to be receiving 99.9% of her calories from breastmilk still? The few Cheerios she manages to consume don't account for many calories at all, but I do give her a vitamin supplement when I remember. I'm hesitant to wean her from night nursing because I think she needs those extra calories from night feedings to make up for no other food during the day.
(3) Is it possible that we can skip pureed foods altogether and do more solid foods since she seems to work with them better? And do you have other recommendations on very small finger foods that a baby her age could swallow--basically, same effect as Cheerios but something different?

She's the most lovely, wonderful baby... she's happy all the time, and the feeding trials don't bother her either. She just smiles and keeps trying!

So, Doc Alex and any other seasoned moms... I'd so appreciate your help! Our next pediatric checkup is at 9 months, and I'd love to have some improvement by then.

I heard about this story on the radio, and thought it was pretty interesting. I am thinking of letting the older children follow it, as well, and also looking at the route on a map. A warning is that he will speak of the geo-political problems in the area, so perhaps it will not be appropriate for younger audiences.

BBC correspondent Aleem Maqbool keeps an online diary in text and video as he walks from Nazareth to Bethlehem, retracing a journey made by Joseph and Mary in the Christmas story told by Luke the Evangelist.

There is a donkey involved, though the correspondent is having trouble because the donkey does not like traffic!

You stop at Steak-n-Shake on the way home from the airport to pick up burgers* and your 3 year old looks at his sandwich in a wrapper and exclaims, "Ohhhh...a Present!"

* My apologies to Mad Cow


...she can ruin your boyish charm.

Happy Gaudete Sunday Everyone!

Quite timely to our conversation about NFP, there is a new vatican document, Dignitas Personae, On the Dignity of the Person, which addresses life and reproductive issues including the Morning After Pill. There is a brief article in todays New York Times, and lots more to read all over the 'net, here is one place to start. Read up, ladies, I'm sure your friends will be asking you about it!

Among the most interesting questions I get about homeschooling is the one from a mother who intends to enroll her child in school, but is still looking for a way to supplement early learning, especially reading. I truly believe that every home can and should be a learning environment, and that I learned as much from my parents as I did in school everyday, not just about faith, love and values, but academically as well. I was also blessed to attend a really wonderful Catholic elementary school, and the learning atmosphere there is something that has strongly influenced my parenting and homeschooling. My mother and aunt taught in that school after I moved past kindergarten, so they have helped me to recreate that environment in my home. The reading that I have done about homeschooling has given me the words and philosophies to describe the atmosphere which, to me, was just a natural result of curious, loving teachers.

Since I have had this question twice this week, it seems like school plans are on your minds, and since I am STILL PREGNANT, I thought I would take advantage of the time to finally get my long promised homeschooling post going.

I will move on to specifics, but first I want to talk a bit about homeschooling philosophies. I am an "eclectic" homeschooler, drawing ideas from Charlotte Mason, Montessori and Classical curricula. I see more overlap in all of these than the strict adherents might, and I take what makes sense for my family and try to make it my own.

Each of these methods of learning places strong emphasis on the potential of the child and on offering the right material at the right stage. The child deserves a welcoming atmosphere with real tools (Montessori), real books (Mason) and real information (Classical) which are respectful of his intellect.

I would wager that those who have preschoolers already have many of these good, real resources in their homes, but the child may not be choosing them often because they may be crowded out by junk. I am big on "decluttering" in general, but most especially for our kids. It is just easier to think, learn and be creative when there is less stuff, and when the "junk" has been eliminated. At Christmas, especially, we have been talking about how to make sure our kids have only what is really best for them. This does not mean "educational" toys like leap frogs, but instead toys that really exercise their brains.

So, here is my list of toys for a great learning atmosphere, these are the toys that were present in my wonderful preschool classroom:

--building toys - wooden blocks, legos, castle or tree blocks, wooden train tracks
--home toys - doll and stroller, play kitchen, dress up
--art supplies - easel and paints, lots of white and colored paper, crayons, markers, watercolors, scissors, glue, glitter, sewing or knitting, beads to string, all set up in a way that the child is free to use them often
--outdoor toys - balls, sports equipment, baskets or buckets for gathering treasures, sandbox, bikes, trikes, scooters
-- other - wooden animals, cars and trucks,
--games - dominoes, cards, CandyLand

I find that my children focus on one thing from each category for a while at a time, for example all outdoor time in August and September seemed to be about riding bikes, and in October they were using the easel daily while the watercolors gathered dust, so having just one or two things from each category might be plenty.

The children need a fairly tidy place to play, so we keep toys in baskets on shelves along the wall and try to keep the center of the room free as a play space. My preschool teacher used a bell, which she rung at certain points to tell us that it was time to clean up before we moved on to the next activity. I do not do this, but I really should. This is a Montessori trick, actually, and another great Montessori trick is to try whispering, rather than shouting, to call children to attention. Last night, my rambunctious twins were really helpful getting the house straightened up when I whispered a "mission" in their ears and asked them to come back and tell me when it was finished.

I could go on for hours about picture books, and will put up a list in a future post, but for these purposes I will just say that real books have individual authors and are not based on TV programs. If you find yourself hating to read to your child, you are probably reading junky books, because reading together should be a pleasure for both of you. Read, Read, Read, and also have a nice cozy place where the children can look through books on their own, even though they cannot read, they will look at pictures and tell the familiar stories to dolls and one another. We also use lots of stories on CD in the car, we listen to longer chapter books there, and good music, too.

Okay, so now you have a neat, inspiring play room, maybe put on some classical music and hang an art print on the wall at child's height, and you have a great learning atmosphere -- but what about the part that feels like "real school?" This might be about 45 minutes a day, three days a week, working on the "three r's."

Reading -- if you have a child who likes to color and do "seat work," I recommend the Explode the Code series. For preschool, these workbooks are "Get Ready," "Get Set," and "Go for the Code." The book teaches phonics one letter at a time through repetitive exercises. So far, my children have worked through these books around age 4, although they are not able to do the handwriting portions of the book, and I just skip those.

I also use a "phonetic object set" which I ordered from Montessori Services. You could make your own. This is a box of little toys, all of which have names that are 3 letter words (hat, jet, dog, etc). You could also use pictures, but I have to say that both of my boys got more enthusiastic about the tiny toy jet than any other reading material I presented. We work with these in a variety of ways. First, we play "I spy" using the first position letter, I spy something that begins with "huh", the child picks the hat. Around the same time, I teach that the vowels are special letters and I teach the short vowel sounds. Right now, John is working with the objects by placing one on a board and trying to write it's name, this is sometimes easier than reading.

If the child is ready to read before he is ready to write letters, you can use a magnetic set of letters to "write" the words, place objects or pictures under their letter, etc.

See what happens, and take it at the child's pace. Some kids seem to really click with the "blending" the letters together into words, and others take longer to get to that step. When the phonetic sounds are familiar, your child may be ready to read "Bob's Books." After those, I work through the Primary Phonics series of readers, I chose those because they are the ones that I used to learn to read, so they are familiar to me.

As you can see, I really create my own program, and my children have learned to read quite easily. I have my mom to call on with questions, though, so you may feel that you need more structure or support. For that I would recommend "The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading" by Jessie Wise. One caveat: do not make a goal of teaching your child to read before kindergarten. Make a goal of making reading fun and teaching the child the letters and sounds. If she is ready to start to read, go with it, but many children do not read before first grade and you really do not want it to become a negative thing.

Writing: I really like the Handwriting Without Tears series, and I have a child with some degree of special needs in this area. The preschool book has been well received by my four year old twins this year, and it will also reinforce phonics.

Also, have your children tell you stories, or tell back the stories and fairy tales that you have read together, and illustrate them if they are interested. This is "narration" (Charlotte Mason), and it works on both listening comprehension skills and sentence and story structuring, which will help with writing in the future. It is also cute and fun! You can type these or write them for the child, and you can also write captions under any pictures that they draw for you.

Arithmetic: I am not doing a formal "math" program with my four year olds this year, but we do lots of counting activities, like dominoes, cooking together and using the calendar. Cuisenaire Rods, pattern blocks and base-10 blocks are also great to have around and work with. A preschool wall calendar set is a great investment, you will work on numbers, letters, the weather, days of the week and months, holidays, etc. Next year I will use "Saxon Math K" with the twins, Red is using it this year with her daughter, who is about six months older. This is program is almost a complete preschool in itself.

With the exception of the Saxon, the workbooks mentioned above are inexpensive, and I think they are worth purchasing rather than trying to print off lots of free coloring pages from the internet, though you might do that to supplement if you have a child who really loves seat work. The Saxon book you might be able to get used on Ebay, and then just buy the workbook, which would save money. For Saxon you will also need some hands on "math manipulatives." I just bought the complete set from them because I knew that I would be using them for several years with several children. I think Red took stock of what she had at home and then purchased a few things from a local teaching supply store, and this is more economical if you can take the time.

There is a fourth R, religion, which is a fundamental part of any education, but I am not going to address that here. Texas Mommy, maybe you want to tackle that one at some point, Tex does a great job of "living the liturgical year" with her children. If you read my post about our Advent read aloud activity, you get my general plan, which is to have good books on religious subjects and read bible stories to my children. We also use an Adoremus Hymnal and CD to learn some hymns from time to time.

As for logistics:
Charlotte Mason encouraged doing lessons first thing in the morning, keeping them short, and spending as much time outside as possible. Montessori encouraged a "three hour work period" in which the children had free choice within limits and directors allowed them to focus on what activity at a time. Mason talks about the atmosphere and discipline of education, and I think Montessorians would agree, developing the habit of attention to a task is crucial to learning, Montessori called this "normalization." We work in our school room from about 9-11:30 about four mornings a week, and the children can choose seat work from their cubbies or the Montessori style works that I have out on the shelves. They can take breaks to play outside or in the playroom. I have actually been working on more and more outside time, perhaps we can all chat about that in another post.

For the older children, I have set daily and weekly tasks that must be accomplished and checked off a list, but they can choose these in any order, with the exception that they must do the things that require me when I am free, so I can call them for an individual math lesson when others are engaged in handwriting, etc. I do not usually read aloud during this morning work time, but we have a long reading session at bedtime each night and often a mid-afternoon snuggle and read as well. They are in bed for "quiet time" with books each afternoon for an hour and a half.

Now that I look at this, with the addition of a few more subjects (grammar, science, history, geography), this school outline is what I am doing up to second grade, which is our oldest at the moment. I hope that I have answered your questions about how I teach my children, and that some of this will be useful to you whether or not you are considering homeschooling!

Childbirth Chat

Many due dates are approaching these days--or have already come and gone, in the case of MaryAlice and our dear friend B from Princeton--and it's been a while since we've had a good childbirth chat here!


A good friend of mine Erika is nearing her due date with her first baby, planning a hospital birth with a nurse-midwife, and intending to give natural childbirth a try if all goes well. She writes, "If any of you have suggestions about how to weather natural childbirth, the unpredictabilities of childbirth generally, and pain specifically, I'm all ears and would greatly appreciate anything you have to share."

I LOVE natural childbirth and think it's beautiful, of course when attempted in a totally safe environment under uncomplicated conditions. To keep this short and leave you enough time to comment here for Erika and to read MaryAlice's wonderful post about homeschooling, I'll share that I think the key for me is:
Do not be afraid. (Yes, this happens to be a theme of Christianity too, but I'm not about to say it's more Christian to birth naturally or anything...)

A downside of hospital births, which often are so controlled and filled with interventions from the get-go, is that they make the laboring mother afraid and uncomfortable. If you're laboring in a safe environment where nurses are monitoring the baby's health, your main goal should be to relax and try to be as peaceful as you can in the moment. I can't think negative thoughts about how much worse it may get or how I'm going to push the baby out once I'm dilated. Your body will take care of that. Try as hard as you can to concentrate, relax and be unafraid. What I have found is that my body never gives me more than I can handle until right at the end, then it's over and the heavens open as you meet your baby!! In unmedicated births (I think this is different with Pitocin), my body takes me through the stages of labor at just the level of pain I can tolerate, no more and no less.

Each moment of labor is an accomplishment. Be not afraid!

Good luck and a most heartfelt God bless to all you who are about to meet your precious newborns!! So happy for you already...

Diet and Exercise

Since I've already shared my rigorous exercise routine with you all, I thought I'd give you the complete picture. Doctors always advise the twofold strategy of diet and exercise. I've got both of them covered.*

My portion control strategy, especially during the holiday season: Jack-Jack, our resident gourmand (almost) two year old. He is constantly taking food off of my plate and anyone else's that is within reach for that matter.

Here he is waiting for crumbs by the dishwasher after Thanksgiving:

Here he is with two forks in his mouth, one of them Mommy's, of course:

And while everyone was distracted by the camera during Thanksgiving dinner, Jack-Jack (in the Princeton sweatshirt) leans over to take some food off of Mr. Incredible's plate.

In all honestly, I have trouble keeping weight on while lactating, and Red advised me to try paying attention to what I eat for a few days since I'm usually distracted by feeding toddlers. It is way less than I think, because I usually have a good deal of help with my meal.

You might not have a 2 year old human vacuum cleaner to help you with this diet. No problem...you can borrow mine. And then I'll go get something to eat. I'm hungry.

*It is not recommended that a nursing mother try to diet!


After several months of faithful service, our universal remote control was put out of commission by a small person whose innocence will be protected. Let's just say, this little person was not supposed to be able to enter the bathroom, much less access the toilet bowl; in our house, the rule is that the lid must be closed after each use. Oh well.


And yes, just in case you're wondering, the wallpaper in this bathroom does have a library theme - the previous owners must have had a quirky sense of humor :)


There are so many things that we can do to make sure that our children are well aware of the "reason for the season," and I do think that we need to work hard on this, daily, throughout December, because the material side of Christmas is so well marketed! Have you noticed that Santa is everywhere? After giving it a lot of thought, we do include Santa in our celebration, and we also have strong emphasis on family traditions including baking, singing, and decorating our home. Most importantly, however, I try to make sure that throughout Advent my children really learn the biblical story of Christ's birth.

I volunteered a bit in a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Atrium, this is a Montessori-model religion program for preschoolers, and there I learned that children really respond so well to hands on activities. In the Atrium, they have a "work" for all of the Joyful mysteries of the Rosary, and inspired by this I created a Nativity work, which you can easily reproduce at home.

We use a Fontanini plastic Nativity set. This is an Italian one which looks like carved, painted wood, ours was a wedding present and I have added pieces to it over the past few years, and I prefer that it is not cartoonish. It is very Montessorian to let children use real things, rather than toys. Even though the set is plastic, we talk about how special the figures are and how we carry them with care. You could use any that you have that is not breakable. (Using a ready made Nativity set was a breakthrough for me since most of the works in the Atrium are hand made, but really if I waited until I made my own figures I would be doing this with my grandchildren!)

Anyway, along with the Nativity set, we use a simple narration of the Christmas story, ours comes from a board book called The Story of Christmas. As I read about each character, I hand the figure to a child and she places it in the stable. One thing I really like about this particular book is that it includes the Annunciation and the angel's visit to St. Joseph. The children are welcome to choose this "work" during choice time in school, and we also do this a few nights a week as a bedtime story. By the end of Advent a three year old child can tell the story himself!

We have tried some other Advent activities over the years, but this is one that has really stayed with us, perhaps because it is really so simple. I would love to try some new things, especially simple crafts, that keep the focus on Christ, if you have any suggestions!


The "Why" of NFP

If you have a moment check out Mary Alice's new article at Busted Halo. Mary Alice discusses the "why" of NFP--and does so beautifully. I hope and pray that some hearts are changed by her words.

And while we are on this topic, I want to add a little bit about why me and my husband teach NFP.

Mr. Red and I began our own NFP journey in college. Like most young women who don't belive in artificial methods of contraception, I was a nervous wreck that NFP wouldn't work and I'd be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen with 10 children. Once I realized that NFP actually worked, we were relieved and then excited to share the good news with other couples.

We didn't decide to become NFP instructors, however, until we started helping with the pre-cana at our local parish. At any pre-cana, divorce is on the minds of those running the workshop. Seeing how Catholic engaged couples have a similar divorce rate to the national average (over 50%!), and couples that practice NFP have less than a 2% divorce rate, we saw NFP as a basic self-help principle to creating more stable lasting marriages.

And that gets me to the point of my post, and the heart of what Mary Alice has already written. If NFP was really just Catholic contraception, these divorce rate numbers wouldn't make sense. While NFP is just as effective as the pill or other chemical contraceptives, it is fundamentally different than these other methods of contraception. NFP alters the way we think about our sexuality and it alters the way we think about our marriage. It radically changes our hearts to love and to listen to God's call for our lives. And this is the reason that many couples who practice NFP have larger families. God has changed their hearts and given them the grace to welcome a larger than average number of children into their family.

The Church doesn't condemn the use of contraceptives in our marriage because She wants to be mean and make our lives difficult. Rather, the Church wants our marriages to succeed, and our lives to be holy and full of love. The Church in her great wisdom has laid out a blueprint for success in marriage. We teach NFP because we want other couples to have a successful, love filled, and blessed marriage.

Thanks Mary Alice for engaging this really important topic. You are a wonderful example of the beautiful openness to life in marriage. Prayers for you as you prepare to welcome your newest addition.


I never thought I would receive a lesson in Catholic apologetics from my severe, non-religious German florist, but this morning it happened. My children and I had made our way through the freezing foggy morning to her shop in search of a beeswax baby Jesus. My plan was to hollow out the white Christ candle we have in the middle of our Advent wreath and place a baby Jesus inside a little cave at the base of the thick white candle. The candle would represent Mary's pure body, and we had to do the craft today because my four year old is all jazzed up about the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

We easily located a baby in a manger amidst a nativity scene like the one above. Nonetheless, the plans for our craft came to a screeching halt when those little Viv hands excitedly placed the little baby in a manger on the counter top for us to pay. The florist looked up at me and matter-of-factly explained, "de baby does not go alone." That is all she said. Viv was crushed, but I had an epiphany moment.

On this, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the florist had reminded me what a blessing it is to be a part of the Roman Catholic family. As Protestant Christians around the world are accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, we Catholics are (additionally) blessed with remembrance of the centrality of his Holy Mother, his dutiful earthly father and the whole communion of Saints. It is so sad when a feisty Protestant asks me "why do you worship Mary?" Of course that is not the case, and we simply offer our dearest intentions to her for her powerful prayers to her Son. I believe that the Reformation reinvigorated all shades of Christianity, but how sad that some of the broken away Christian faiths felt the need to discard a bunch of Jesus' family. If only they could hear our florist explain, in no uncertain terms, that "de baby does not come alone."

It's Official



We are a large family. We don't know when our baby will be born, but at least now we can all ride home from the hospital together!
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Non-Present Presents

Ok, so we are three weeks out from Christmas and the temptation to buy, buy, buy is setting in. I mean, don't get me wrong, I am pretty good at ignoring societal pressures. However, I do fall victim to the mentality of, "well, sister-in-law is going to buy something for me, so I better check her off my list."

Please help me to thwart this trend of buying thoughtless trinkets and spending hours in line at the post office to mail them without being the family Grinch. What non-present present traditions do you have in your families that work? Ways you spread the holiday cheer without spending the needless cash? Preemptive thank you. Happy Feast of Saint Nicholas to all.

How you hanging, MA?

A Warming Trend

There are few things better on a brisk, chilly day than a bowl of piping hot soup.  It's hearty and delicious and warms one from the inside out, which is why soups are my favorite culinary creations come wintertime!


Even better than soup is the mighty slow cooker, turning an evening dinner task into an all-day savory affair.  I just love popping the ingredients in in the morning, smelling the aroma throughout the day, and reaping the benefits come dinner, when I have little to prepare!  The slow cooker is really a mother's dream.

So here's a two-for-one for you--a Crock Pot creation and soup/stew du jour from our home to yours.  We've feasted on this soup for years now, serving it to guests in a bread bowl or hoarding it for ourselves and saving some for later.  Whatever you choose, you'll definitely enjoy!!

Rich Beef and Barley Soup
(adapted from an original recipe in The Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes, Better Homes and Gardens, 2002)
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 C. chopped carrots
1 C. chopped celery
1 med. onion, chopped
4 C. beef broth
14.5 oz. can cut tomatoes (Italian style works well)
1 C. spaghetti sauce
2/3 C. pearl barley
1 1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. salt (or less)
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Brown ground beef, drain, and place in cooker.  Add rest of ingredients and stir.  Cover and cook on low for 9-10 hours or on high for 4-5.  Serve with warm bread and salad.  Makes 6 servings (usually with leftovers!)

As I stood by the stove this morning, stirring the oatmeal for our family's breakfast, I heard these tokens of sibling affection coming from the adjacent playroom:


"Hey-yuh, Maria, you just knocked down the Tower of Schlambadingscoobalidoo! Sto-o-o-op!"

A few minutes later, "Ahhhhhhh! No no bite, Maria, no no bite!"

Can you feel the love? :)

For nearly five years, I have been carrying around the heavy, guilty burden of failing my family as our family historian. Thousands of photos uploaded to Snapfish online albums: wedding and honeymoon, baby pictures, holidays, and priceless candids hidden away in the recess of cyberspace. Not a single print ordered, not a single photo album underway.


Oh Felix Culpa!

Right now, for three days--December 3, 4, and 5, 2008--Snapfish is offering free shipping on all prints. Snapfish print prices are dirt cheap, but shipping costs generally are where they get you. Unless you take advantage of this once-in-a-blue-moon offer! Online coupon code: HOLPRINTS08. My horrifying procrastination has been rewarded. I saved my family $40 last night. How will I ever learn to be a better homemaker if Snapfish keeps enabling me this way?

Last night I placed an order for 799 photos, and I'll be pulling another all-nighter tonight, sorting through online albums to take advantage of this special offer and to get our family photo chronicles up to speed FINALLY. If you're awake tonight at 3am sorting photos, email me.


As we sat down to read stories tonight, 4 1/2 year-old C made an awful face and said "P-U Mommy, your breath really stinks!" I laughed and said, "Okay, C, I'll take care of it. I'll be right back." I headed to the kitchen and, after considering my options, decided on a brownie. I suppose that I could have chosen a carrot or an apple, but if the poor boy has to smell my breath all throughout story time, it's only fair that he would smell the best, right? I thought so, too :)

Feeling Blessed

Someone once reminded me that those of us who get help from our parents probably underestimate what a difference that makes. I think that this has often been true for me, but right now I am well aware of, and very thankful for, the help I am getting, and I know that what I am doing would not be possible without the support of my extended family.

Already this week, I have had grandmothers on call. One babysat while I went to my doctors appointment, the other spent several hours filling my freezer with casseroles for my babymoon. Both are on speed dial for when the big moment comes, with just a phone call they will drop whatever they are doing and one will watch the siblings and while other will help me through my labor (my husband is a great support during labor, but each time there have been moments when I have said "I need my mommy!).

Today I thank God for moms, especially those moms who are still willing and able to be parents to their grown children!

One week to go?

Another Builder is due to have a baby! MaryAlice is due one week from today--Tuesday December 9th. Lets get some guesses as to the date and time for the arrival of baby #6. She won't go more than 1 week overdue (per doctors orders), so baby should arrive by December 16th at the latest.

And just in case you are keeping track, once MaryAlice's wee one arrives--barring any last minute pregnancy announcements--we will be without a pregnant Builder. We have had at least one preggo at all times since this blog began back in February! Let's get to work ladies! ;-)

Our prayers are with MaryAlice for a safe and quick labor and delivery.

We recently had a reader query regarding Vitamin D supplementation for her breastfeeding infant. Thanks to Alex (a doc-in-training, fellow mother, Catholic, and Princeton alum), we have the latest insight into this important issue.  Below is a question/answer session with Doc Alex, who cites a new AAP Policy Revision in Prevention of Rickets and Vitamin D Deficiency in Infants, Children, and Adolescents (Pediatrics Nov. '08) as the source for many of her recommendations.


Doc Alex, what is the big issue with Vitamin D and babies?
The main source of vitamin D for all humans is skin exposure to the sun's UV rays (UV-B rays, specifically). The sunlight stimulates the skin to make active forms of vitamin D that are necessary for our bones and other bodily functions. Unfortunately, it is very hard to determine how much sunlight exposure is enough to make sufficient amounts of vitamin D, especially in small children.  Furthermore, we now know the dangers of direct exposure to UV light without the protection of sunscreen or clothing and to keep our infants under 6 months of age out of direct sunlight. This is great for the prevention of various skin cancers but is not good news for our production of vitamin D.  Breastfed babies and infants with darker skin color are particularly susceptible to a condition known as rickets, or extreme vitamin D deficiency. 

Why should we worry about Rickets?
Rickets is a dangerous condition because the extreme vitamin D deficiency occurs months before the appearance of any physical signs that a doctor could spot or which could be seen on an X-ray. Vitamin D deficiency may also first present itself in forms as serious as seizures, growth failure, lethargy, irritability or a predisposition to respiratory infections during infancy. Rickets also eventually causes the skull, rib cage and joints to enlarge, and causes curving of the spine and femurs (i.e. bowed legs).

Doc Alex, what should we do?  How should we prevent Rickets in our babies?
To prevent rickets and vitamin D deficiency in *healthy* infants, children and adolescents, The National Academy of Sciences Panel for Vitamin D recommends a supplement of 400IU/day, beginning in the first few days of life and continuing throughout childhood. Any breastfeeding infant, regardless of whether he/she is being supplemented with formula, should be supplemented with 400 IU of vitamin D.

Does this mean formula-fed infants are safe from developing a vitamin D deficiency?
All infant formulas sold in the United States have at least 400 IU/L of vitamin D. Since most formula-fed infants eat nearly 1L or 1 quart of formula per day after the first month of life, they will get the necessary amount of vitamin D in their diet. Any infant who regularly eats less than 1L or 1 quart of formula per day can get the recommended amount of vitamin D through vitamin supplements.

What kind of supplements are available?
The required amount of daily vitamin D can be found in many liquid multi-vitamin supplements as well as in new vitamin D-only preparations. These vitamin D-only supplements are particularly good for a breastfed infant who has no need for multi-vitamin supplements.  As infants are weaned from breast milk and/or formula, vitamin D-fortified milk is recommended to provide 400 IU of vitamin D per day, however is not recommended to give cow's milk until after 12 months of age (use the vitamin supplements to get the needed vitamin D before that time).  Also, adolescents who do not obtain 400 IU of vitamin D per day through vitamin D-fortified milk and vitamin D-fortified foods (like fortified cereals and egg yolks) should receive a vitamin D supplement of 400 IU/day.

Doc Alex, to wrap up, what is your "take" on vitamin D supplementation?
Parents in previous generations did not give their children vitamin D supplements and most of us "did just fine," but we now know the risks of getting unprotected sunlight exposure (which is, unfortunately, the only kind that generates vitamin D!) and so parents are tending to avoid UV rays to protect their children from skin cancer and, simultaneously, are putting them at risk for rickets. Rather than "picking your poison," just have your children wear sunscreen AND take vitamin D supplements and enjoy the best of both worlds!

Thank you, Doc Alex, for bringing such insight to us over here at Building Cathedrals!
God bless!


A few months ago on her family's blog, Texas Mommy had a post entitled "Boys Love Dirt," and while I don't remember too many of the specifics, I do remember seeing lots of pictures of little boys covered from head to toe in dirt :) I remember smiling to myself knowingly; after all, what mother of boys hasn't experienced the clean-up associated with dirt-play? You know what I mean: the dirt under the fingernails, in the hair, in every pocket and buttonhole imaginable, smeared across the face...It's a beautiful sight, indeed :)


What I didn't expect is that my little girl, my sweet little girl that wears pretty little dresses and pink bows, seems to love dirt just as much as her big brother! Actually, Maria loves anything that her big brother does, which I'm pretty sure is universal for little sisters. She also has a very strong will (I'm staying away from the word "stubborn" because that implies that it is a negative quality), which poses its own set of difficulties when, for instance, I am trying to bring her inside for lunchtime. After prying a shovel out of her hands and unsuccessfully trying to dust all of the dirt off of her clothes without getting dirty myself, I am faced with the challenge of lifting and transporting a stiff-as-a-board, red-in-the-face toddler from the dirt-pile into the house. You wouldn't think it from that innocent smile, would you? :) 

So, what sorts of fun will you be having with the kids this December afternoon? I hope that it's not too chilly to be outdoors yet in your little corner of the world...

God bless!

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