Friday, December 31, 2010

Feast of St. Sylvester

Constantine hands Pope Sylvester I a statuette of Roma Aeterna (eternal Rome)

Today is the feast of St. Sylvester, who is the name-Saint of my son. To be honest, I knew nothing about the Saint before Sly came around. Tom's family has a long-standing tradition wherein each first-born son is named after his grandfather (which means that the two names "Sylvester" and "Thomas" alternate each generation). So the name of Tom's first-born son had already been decided many years before he even existed.

I really disliked the name at first. In my high school years of dreamily thinking up names for my future children, something so old-fashioned as Sylvester would never have made the list. But it meant a lot to Tom to give his son that name. And besides, I have a lot of respect for tradition, and thought it would be shameful to kill this one just because I didn't like the sound of the name. And now that he's born, I of course can't imagine him being called anything else.

I made sure to say a special prayer to the Saint today on Sly's behalf. And in honor of the day, I did a little "research" into his life. I use that term loosely. Because while we own a very extensive library of wonderful old Lives of the Saints books and resources here (Tom is quite the bibliophile), I took the slacker route, and did a Google search instead.

Here are a few known facts: He was the 31st Pope, during the reign of Constantine. He oversaw construction of the Lateran Basilica, and several other great churches. He fought and helped destroy several heresies during two church Councils. He died in 335.

While he's obviously regarded as a great Saint, there is not a ton of information available about him. There are a few legends of him floating around, which are always the most interesting parts, anyways. One from The Golden Legend, which was quoted on Fisheaters, has him battling a dragon:

In this time it happed that there was at Rome a dragon in a pit, which every day slew with his breath more than three hundred men. Then came the bishops of the idols unto the emperor [Constantine the Great] and said unto him: O thou most holy emperor, sith the time that thou hast received Christian faith the dragon which is in yonder fosse or pit slayeth every day with his breath more than three hundred men.

Then sent the emperor for S. Silvester and asked counsel of him of this matter. S. Silvester answered that by the might of God he promised to make him cease of his hurt and blessure of this people. Then S Silvester put himself to prayer, and S. Peter appeared to him and said: Go surely to the dragon and the two priests that be with thee take in thy company, and when thou shalt come to him thou shalt say to him in this manner: Our Lord Jesu Christ which was born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, buried and arose, and now sitteth on the right side of the Father, this is he that shall come to deem and judge the living and the dead, I commend thee Sathanas that thou abide him in this place till he come. Then thou shalt bind his mouth with a thread, and seal it with thy seal , wherein is the imprint of the cross. Pope St. Sylvester's Miracle (detail), by Maso di BancoThen thou and the two priests shall come to me whole and safe, and such bread as I shall make ready for you ye shall eat.

Thus as S. Peter had said, S. Silvester did. And when he came to the pit, he descended down one hundred and fifty steps, bearing with him two lanterns, and found the dragon, and said the words that S. Peter had said to him, and bound his mouth with the thread, and sealed it, and after returned, and as he came upward again he met with two enchanters which followed him for to see if he descended, which were almost dead of the stench of the dragon, whom he brought with him whole and sound, which anon were baptized, with a great multitude of people with them.

Thus was the city of Rome delivered from double death, that was from the culture and worshipping of false idols, and from the venom of the dragon. At the last when S. Silvester approached towards his death, he called to him the clergy and admonished them to have charity, and that they should diligently govern their churches, and keep their flock from the wolves. And after the year of the incarnation of our Lord three hundred and twenty, he departed out of this world and slept in our Lord, etc.

Many European countries refer to New Year's Eve as "Silvester" or "Sylwester." Before midnight tonight, when you'll kiss your sweetie, sip your champagne, bang pots and pans or make a general ruckus, remember to thank this great Saint for everything he did for the Church, and ask him for his blessings!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Moments

This was taken at our cookie exchange party. Tom wore the musical Christmas light tie I bought him at the dollar store, and I had a great vintage apron that was a gift from my mother-in-law.

Tom and I each talked our "Baby's First Christmas" ornaments off our parents this year, because I thought it would be a nice idea to put ours up on display along with Sly's. I was delighted to discover that Tom and I actually had the exact same ornament (and we were born the same year), except that his was the boy version, and mine was the girl version. I joked that it's a sign that we were meant to be :-P

The ornaments are hanging on the garland on our mantle. My parents stopped buying baby's first Christmas ornaments after me, and I was the first child. But I want to keep it up for each of our future children - I think it will make a nice tradition, and then everyone can be represented with a special ornament.

And here's Sly's ornament. We actually another one at first. It was a blue glass ball. But Tom already broke it before Christmas even came! I need to remember that lesson, and only get non-breakable ones from now on.

Tom had the day off on Christmas Eve, so we went downtown to look at the Christmas displays (which are not nearly so numerous now as they were when I was a kid. These days, people just want to shop at big box stores, so no one ever goes downtown anymore. Perhaps a topic for another post some day). While we were passing the skating rink, Santa drove by in his motorcycle.

We then went to Macy's for the express purpose of meeting Santa. Sly was wearing the cute, but silly reindeer outfit my mom gave him because we had lost his regular winter bunting suit. I would have never used this word before becoming a mom, but I think this picture with Santa is absolutely precious.

Pittsburgh has a huge gingerbread house-making competition every year, and the entries were on display in various buildings. This castle inspired by the old claymation Christmas movies was one of my favorites!

On Christmas Eve night, Sly got a fun pony toy from my mom. For such a tiny person, his stuff sure takes up a ton of room in our house.

This is me on Christmas morning outside the church before Mass. I didn't realize until I got out of the car that I had put on two different boots! Tom kept making fun of me. I was so embarrassed. Christmas morning, a day when you want to be wearing your best, and I had mis-matched boots! Not only was one brown, and one black, but only one of them had a heel! How on earth did I not notice the difference in my steps when I walked out of the house?!

Here's a close-up of the boots. I kept worrying about them all during Mass, sure that everyone was noticing. But, of course, it's one of those things that seems like a big deal to you alone. I doubt anyone else had a clue.

Visting Tom's parents in Philadelphia. Tom is fixing up an ornament I decorated with the baby's name, which they wanted to add to their tree.

Sly continued to be spoiled with gifts. He got a great doorway bouncer chair. He's still not sure what he thinks of it, though. I think it's going to take some getting used to.

Reading How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

No Green Thumbs Here

Tom and I are both terrible at taking care of plants. On our back porch, I found evidence of the three most recent ones we murdered over the summer. The middle pot formerly held a baby Giant Sequoia, which the woman at the shop had assured me were basically unkillable. She obviously didn't know the deadly force she was reckoning with...

Sunday, December 26, 2010


We're going to Philadelphia for a few days to visit Tom's family for Christmas. We originally planned to leave tomorrow morning, but earlier this evening, we started thinking about how great it might be to actually leave tonight. We were going to first attend our third family party (my family) in as many days, then stop home to pack up quickly, and leave. We knew we'd arrive in the wee hours of the morning, but it seemed to make the most sense. Firstly, the baby always sleeps the whole time in the car, and since it would be late, we wouldn't mess up his sleeping schedule at all. It would also allow us the chance to catch Tom's sister before she left town again. And of course, we wanted more time to relax with his family. So we got all geared up for leaving tonight - we started packing, Tom loaded up on caffeine at the party, and we were getting excited for a late-night trek. We announced around 9:30 that we would be heading out early so we could hit the road. And that's when people started mentioning the nor'easter due to hit Philly tonight.

From the NOAA website: "Travel is strongly discouraged." Darn! So it looks like we'll be leaving at the crack of dawn now, instead. And neither of us are morning people (nor is Sly, who wakes up at 9am) I'm kinda dreading it now.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


The other night, I was changing Sly in his room and could hear Tom talking to his uncle on the phone...

Tom: "....oh yeah, she's great. She was just born to be a mom."


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Interview With the Dominican Sisters

Check out this great radio clip from NPR about the Dominican Sisters of Nashville. Sister Victoria Marie, one of the novices who speaks in the clip, is a friend of mine from college.

For These Young Nuns, Habits Are the New Radical

I've always been amazed at how sweet and joyful the sisters always are!

A Cheap Date

We went on a very impromptu date last night. As we were finishing up dinner at home, Tom suggested seeing a movie, since we have to make good use of our popcorn bucket before the year is up (more on that later). We called my mom (our stand-by Tuesday night babysitter who lives only two miles away), looked up movie times, and left the house all within 15 minutes.

Let's do some math on what a date like this would typically cost:

Three hours of babysitting at $8/hour......................$24.00
Two movie tickets at $10/ticket ..............................$20.00
Large popcorn.......................................................$7.00
Two small drinks at $3.75/drink.............................$7.50
GRAND TOTAL................................................$58.50

YIKES! How on EARTH do couples ever afford to do the dinner and a movie thing, when the movie alone costs so much??

Going to the dollar theater is the best deal ever. And it's not even actually a dollar - it's 99 cents per ticket! I know saving one penny doesn't really matter, but in these days of ten dollar movie tickets, that's just unheard of! And so is this popcorn bucket I mentioned. It's a huge plastic bucket that we bought earlier in the year from the theater for $10 (and it came filled with fresh delicious buttery popcorn). Every time you go back to the theater during 2010, it only costs $2.50 to get it re-filled. Also, we snuck* cans of pop (or "soda" as some people so erroneously call it) in my purse.

So let's do the math on what we actually spent:

Three hours of babysitting...........................FREE
Two movie tickets at $.99/ticket.................$1.98
Extra large popcorn...................................$2.50
Two cans of pop**.......................................FREE
GRAND TOTAL.....................................$4.48

What a great way to have an inexpensive date, and still get out of the house!

*Spell check is telling me that "snuck" is not a word. I suppose I should say we "sneaked" in cans of pop. But I like snuck better.
** I said the drinks were free since we already had them at home, but if you want to get technical, they came out to $.25/can since I only buy 12-packs when they're on sale for $3.00.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mom Power

I guess I've always liked babies more or less about as much as the next girl. But I always preferred the older children I came into contact with - the ones that could walk by themselves, and talk well enough that I could have some semblance of conversation with them. I think my comparative disinterest in young babies developed after only a few exposures to them. For my entire life, whenever I've held a baby, it would inevitably start to cry within minutes. Each time, I'd try bouncing it, distracting it with colorful or moving objects, walking with exaggerated steps - anything. And those tricks sometimes worked for a short time. But my ultimate solution was always to just hand the baby back to its mom with a defeated expression, and apologetic smile. I had to admit that I was just not what the baby wanted. And then I would watch in awe how as soon as the mother put out her arms, the tears immediately stopped. A look of pure contentment returned instantly to the child's face. The baby felt "complete" once again. I was SO jealous every time! Because those women all had something magical. Something I've come to term "Mom Power." It's that special ability that only a mom has, able to instantly calm her child and make him feel happy and safe through nothing but her mere presence.

When Sly was born, I was so excited to finally posses the long-coveted Mom Power. I'd read about how he should be able to recognize my voice and my smell, and the rhythm of my heartbeat. And I knew I would have that one sure advantage over my husband in the baby-pleasing department: my ability to feed him and comfort him at the breast! My baby might cry, but I knew I would always be able to comfort him, just by being ME. Finally, it would be my friends and family bringing the baby to me when their efforts were insufficient to calm him.

But the Mom Power didn't kick in right away. Sly came out a totally adorable, but amazingly fussy little boy. For the first four or five days, it was basically impossible to get him to nurse. When he wasn't sleeping, he was SCREAMING. His little tongue and lips were so dried and chapped because he wasn't getting any nourishment or hydration from me at all. I realized that I wasn't producing any milk, and barely any colostrum. I knew it usually took a few days for a new mom's milk to "come in," but by day four with nothing to eat, I could tell he was getting hungry. I couldn't sleep that night because I was so plagued worry and self-berating. I was convinced he would die of starvation during the next whole day we had to wait until his pediatrician appointment. I felt so completely insufficient as a mother, unable to perform this most basic function of feeding my baby. The milk finally arrived, though, the morning of the doctor's appointment. And he drank it up gratefully. And I was grateful too.

For his first month, I still hadn't received my Mom Power. Every other person seemed as acceptable to him as I was. The only advantage I had was that I knew his individual personality better, and so knew certain "tricks" to try right away that sometimes worked to calm him. My husband was actually better than me in those first weeks, having quickly mastered the perfect bouncing rhythm and "shushing" combination.

But as the weeks passed, Sly started to be more aware of everything in the world around him. Slowly, he got used to me and began to associate me with something safe and comfortable. It was clear that mom was usually the only thing he needed to be happy and settled. Now I am the one who can calm his major meltdowns. And I do it just by virtue of being me. I finally have Mom Power! I now realize that it's not something you are endowed with at the birth of your child - rather, it is something you have to create, through the genuine and consistent love you give to your baby day after day.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Motherly Love

Sylvester (Sly) born Aug. 26th, 2010

I love my baby so much! It seems stupid to even say it like that. Of course I love him, I'm his mother. But it still amazes me each day how intensely I feel that love. How even through my tiredness and frustrations, it continues to grow. Until now, I never knew this *kind* of love. It's a whole new experience for me, this whole parenthood business. And while I think I was well-prepared mentatlly (having longed for this since I can remember), you can never anticipate what it's truly like.

It was just like everyone always said. Giving birth to him was certainly the most physically painful thing I've ever experienced, but as soon as he was born and in my arms, I didn't even really care. Two hours later, after the nurses and midwife had left the three of us alone, I said to my husband Tom, "I would definitely do that again. Having him made all the pain totally worth it." Now, skeptics might say, "oh, that was just the oxytocin, and the adrenaline kicking in. It's an evolutionary function to make sure that women will forget the pain and keep reproducing." The biologist in me will admit that there is some truth to that statement. But love is much more than hormones. In Sly, I was given a great gift. Not only is it easy to love someone so small and innocent, but besides, it's my job to love him.

I know there will be many times in the future when I find it hard to feel love for him. He's not going to be this sinless creature forever. He'll disobey me, and do things that make me sad or worried. There might come a time when he'd rather spend time with almost anyone but his mom. But as my husband constantly reminds me, "love is an act of the will." It's not a very romantic notion of love, but it's the truth. And I'm thankful for these early days when I get to spend so much time with him completely to myself, getting to know him, and learning to love him better. Because knowledge begets love.

So even though he's the fussiest baby in the world (or at least it seems that way sometimes), and takes up all my time and needs me to hold him all day long, I need to remember that the sacrifice now will be worth it. I am his first encounter with Love, and I need to teach it to him well.

And it amazes me to think that despite this overwhelming love I feel for Sly, God's love for me is so much greater. It's pretty easy to love an adorable baby, someone who's never sinned against you or anyone. And then there's me, huge sinner that I am, repeatedly unfaithful to God, and yet He - Love personified - still loves me more purely than I could ever imagine. Rather humbling to think about.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Few Seasonal Thoughts

1. My annual cookie exchange is coming up on Saturday. My best friend and I have been holding these for six years now, since we were juniors in college. We were so excited for the first one, because it was the first year we were both living in apartments with real kitchens and ovens! We created this hugely elaborate list of "rules" for the party, which I'm pretty sure no one even read, let alone obeyed. It was full of admonishments warning people that they'd better not "lame out" and decide not to come (even if they had finals the next day), and reminding everyone to wear appropriate fancy Christmas attire, and not wait until the day of the party to bake their cookies in case something went wrong and they had to start over. I even signed off the invitation with "Please come! It will be tons of fun and very classy!" - which is basically the same thing as saying "we're totally desperate." And it was particularly difficult convincing our male friends that there was a good reason they should brave the daunting task of baking cookies. Amazingly, people did show up to that first party, and it was a good time. Thus, we have continued the tradition every year since.

Instead of the normal (and in my opinion, insane) way of cookie-exchanging, where each guest brings a full dozen cookies to exchange with each person, we just ask people to make a double batch of their chosen recipe, so there are enough to share. And I force everyone to take home leftovers.

This year, I'm just making some easy drop cookies. They're basically oatmeal raisin cookies with mini m&ms in them. Based on my limited time (very fussy 3-month old baby!), and limited budget, I decided to stick with something pretty simple.

2. I've been thinking more this year about the season of Advent, and how it should properly be observed. Before coming to college, I thought of Advent mostly as a time of joyful expectation for the coming of Christ. I saw no problem with putting up Christmas decorations, listening to Christmas music, attending Christmas parties before December 25th. I had heard stories from my dad about how it was when he was a kid. My grandparents would buy the tree before Christmas, but then seal it off from view in a room by hanging sheets at the door. They hung a sign saying "elves at work" and prohibited the kids from going inside. When everyone went downstairs on Christmas morning, the sheets were down, and the tree was unveiled in its decorated glory. I thought this was just a quaint family tradition, and didn't connect it with the fact that Advent might not be the time for the full-on Christmas splendor.

It wasn't until I started college and got involved in the Newman Center there that I even encountered the idea that Advent was a penitential season in many ways. Now it's not uncommon for me to hear about people holding off on the lights, ornaments, and carols until it's actually the day of Christ's birth. And I have to say, I have respect for people who do that. And yet...I still break out my stuff some weeks before. I'm still trying to figure out what's the right way for me and my family to honor this season.

3. Also on my mind recently is how I should handle Christmas gifts this year for a little baby. Obviously, he's much too young to have a clue what's going on or even realize that he's been given anything at all. But I can't be that mom who gets NOTHING for her son for Christmas. He already has more than enough toys as it is, from the baby shower, hospital visitors, etc.. Also, my mother is the hugest over-gifter I know, and I'm sure she'll be buying him TONS. So what to get him? I found a set of wooden blocks in a little pull-wagon. I had the same thing when I was a kid. And I like that they're made out of wood. It's so hard to find toys that are anything but plastic these days. Or that require batteries! Geez. It was only $5 - haha. I'm content giving my kid just one gift this year. And at least it's something that he'll appreciate when he's a little bigger. A friend of mine was telling me that for her son's first Christmas, they just wrapped up a huge box of diapers, and filled his stockings with nursing pads!

Why I Decided to Start Blogging

Inspired by the many interesting and inspirational blogs I've recently been reading on homemaking, housewifery, motherhood, etc., I've decided to start one of my own. I doubt I'll have more interesting ideas or stories to share than so many of the other women who are so much ahead of me in figuring out this whole thing: how to live a purposeful life of serving God and serving others through a Vocation to marriage and motherhood.

I live a fairly ordinary life. I live in a small rented house with my husband and my baby and our two cats. I have varied interests (in music, crafting, etc.), but no strong talents in anything, really. I am a "retired" high school biology teacher (I really only worked for one year), transitioning into a full-time housewife/stay-at-home-mom. But I still do some part-time tutoring on the side, to bring in some money (and keep my mind sharp!). I pray for the blessing of a large family someday, and God willing, intend to homeschool my kids. I know we'll never have a lot of money to spare - I don't expect that we'll ever make the same income our parents did - but I'm okay with that. I think it will ultimately be good for us, and especially for me, to have to give up some of my attachment to "things."

I think accepting an ordinary life is the first step. Giving up your dreams of having a high standard of living, or being the family who gets to travel to cool places, or building up a prestigious career. I'm fine being normal and relatively unknown. The hard part comes when you realize - as I recently have - that it takes more than this to attain holiness. Living in a humble manner is one thing, but actually BEING humble is quite another. It means accepting your "littleness" but loving and serving in a very big way.

I look for inspiration, firstly, to the Holy Family, of course, and to the Blessed Mother who lived this out perfectly. As St. Louis De Montfort says of her in the Preliminary Remarks of his True Devotion to Mary, "Her humility was so profound that she had no inclination on earth more powerful or more constant than that of hiding herself, from herself as well as from every other creature, so as to be known to God only."

Another beautiful example of living extraordinarily, even amidst ordinary life circumstances, is the Martin Family, that which produced St. Thérèse. The parents, Louis and Zelie, were saints themselves who provided such a powerful witness to their daughters of how to serve God through their ordinary lives and actions, it is not surprising that all of their (surviving) children went on to join the convent.

As this blog develops, I expect it will be mostly a collection of random happenings, observations, and thoughts about the random things I encounter as I learn how to be a better wife, mother, and daughter. But I hope throughout, my strivings to better emulate the Saints will be apparent.