Saturday, December 29, 2012

Too Much Christmas!

Total mess.  TOTAL.

I'm finally getting a chance to write after the craziness and busyness of Christmas and the days surrounding. We had what was, in all respects, a happy and joyful Christmas - we got to spend time with many different friends and family, we enjoyed much good food, exchanged many gifts, got a couple beautiful snowfalls, and there were no mishaps or fights or anything like that. was stressful.  The social obligations ended up just being too much.  Tom and I are already planning out ways to ensure that next year's Christmas is calmer and simpler.

The thing that made it hardest was the fact that Sly was kept at an intense level of excitement for days on end, which was inevitably followed by many huge "crashes".  He did nothing but go to parties, see lots of fun people he loves, eat cookies, eat candy, drink pop [soda, for those of you who don't call it the right name], miss naptimes, and stay up way past his bedtime.  He turned into an ABSOLUTE mess for a few days, and made us all miserable.

Here's a rundown of the past week:

Friday the 21st
Our community had a little Christmas party.  Sly ate nothing but cake and ice cream for dinner, and then met Santa.

Saturday the 22nd
We had a cookie exchange party at our house, an annual tradition dating back to our college years. It was a wonderful time.  So many of our friends have scattered across the country since college, and many of them travelled back to Pittsburgh just for this party.  It made seeing them all together so much more special than it was back in the early days of this party.  Overwhelmingly positive.  But Sly ate nothing but cookies, helping to set him up for future disaster.

Sunday the 23rd
Mass, then brunch with friends who had stayed with us the night before.  Then, unless I'm forgetting must have been a blissfully activity-free rest of the day!

Monday the 24th
On Christmas Eve, we went downtown to see the Christmas displays.  We ate lunch there, and my dad  met us there.  Sly got to meet Santa (again).  Stella screamed her head off while we were waiting in line because she wanted to be swadled, but the only thing we had in our under-packed bag was a travel changing pad - so yes, we used that instead.  We enjoyed the seasonal stuff downtown, and when we were all too tired to move, we went home for the briefest of naps.

Then it was time to get dressed up and head to my mom's house.  We ate some appetizers there, and opened all our gifts from her.   My mom went completely and utterly too far with gifts the kids, and we need to have a serious talk with her to ensure that it never happens again!!  Our intention is to keep gift-giving for various holidays on a moderate scale.  For Sly's birthday so far, we have given him one gift.  For Christmas, about three, plus some little dollar-store stocking stuffers.  I think this is plenty.  And we are, of course, factoring in the expected additional gifts from family members.  But I don't think any grandparent should be giving the kids more than "Santa" gives, and my mom gave many times more.  We had to totally rearrange the kids' bedroom just to fit all the new stuff!  It's a ridiculous situation , and has been causing some tension between Tom and me.  I hate to be so strict about it, but we're going to have to establish a "one gift only" rule for the future, at least for my mother.

After exchanging gifts with my mom and brothers, we went to my aunt's house for a little party with my mom's side of the family.  We loaded the car with the absolutely ridiculous number of gifts from my mom (and we actually had to come back later for a second trip), and I realized that my camera was missing.  We were already rather tired and stressed at this point, and Tom and I had been snipping at each other a lot, and I just kinda lost it.  I got upset and started crying, insisting that we had to find my camera right then.  I was convinced it would be destroyed if we didn't find it.  Either it was lost inside wherethe dog would likely find it first and chew it to bits,  Or it had dropped on the ground somewhere outside, where there was a freezing rain falling.  I searched all over with a flashlight, but couldn't find it.  Resigned, we finally left for the party half an hour later.  Sly stayed up way too late, and ate nothing but junk, and got very riled up by my three brothers.  But luckily, at the end of the night we found my camera!  Stella had been sleeping on it in her carseat.

Tuesday the 25th
On Christmas morning, we pried ourselves out of bed around nine.  We had to rush through present-opening more than we liked, so we would have time to get ready for Mass at eleven.  Sly kept having little tantrums throughout the morning.  He opened one gift from "Santa", which was a drum (in great shape, found by us at a thrift store).  He was excited for a moment, then asked where the drumsticks were.  Uhhh...oops.  We didn't really realize he knew what drumsticks were, and wouldn't have thought he needed them anyways.  Can't kids just play with their hands?  But he flipped out because he wanted drumsticks.  Tom grabbed two wooden spoons from the kitchen, and showed Sly how to use them instead.  Sly was elated and asked to try.  But as Tom handed them over, Sly realized they weren't actually drumsticks, but were spoons, and had a screaming, wailing break down.  Ughh.

Mass was spent mostly in the back of the church where Sly was being b-a-d.  It lasted until almost one, and then we had to stop home quickly to pack diapers, presents, etc.  Leaving the house a huge mess, we headed over to my dad's house to exchange gifts with him.  Another load too big to fit in the car.  After that, it was over to my uncle's house for Christmas dinner with my dad's whole side of the family.  Again, Sly ate no real food whatsoever.  And he developed an aggravating new habit of picking up full cups and dumping them on the floor intentionally.  Ooh, did that make us mad!  We punished him so many times on Christmas day, but I think he was too tired and cranky and full of sugar for it to have any effect.  We ended up leaving the party earlier than I've ever left it in my life.  I hated having to "answer" to everyone about why we didn't want to stay.  But it felt so nice to just go home and go to bed.

My dad's side of the family, minus 26 people.
Wednesday the 26th
We let Sly open more presents, which had been mailed to us by various relatives.  I was intending to hit the stores in the morning to score some great discounts, but there was a snowstorm, and the roads didn't seem safe.  I really think this was a grace from God, as it forced us to spend part of a day just staying home as a family.  Tom decided during naptime, though, to drive over my mom's to pick up the rest of the gifts.  What should have been less than an hour round trip took him more than three.  Poor guy.  As soon as he got in the door, it was already time to leave for yet another family party.  Again, Sly was spilling people's drinks on purpose, and making his parents very angry!

Thursday the 27th
I went to see Les Mis with my best friend.  It was the only day we could do it, but Tom was working a half day, so I had to get my dad to come over to watch the kids until he got home.  I was out of the house about four hours total, and Stella screamed her head off and refused to take the bottle the whole time.  Awesome.  Tom's parents came to town for a visit.  We went out to dinner, then came home for yet more present-opening.

I think we managed to pull off a fairly holy Advent this year (not to say that there isn't room for improvement), but we have a long way to go on celebrating Christmas appropriately.  I feel like there are too many family obligations on us right now.  While they should help make it festive and jolly, they instead have felt like they were weighing us down this year.  Christmas was just much more stressful than it should have been.  Each individual activity, party, etc. was enjoyable.  But added up, and in such quick succession, it was just too much.  We barely got a break between activities.  Sly was a total nutcase for about five days, missing naps, going to bed late, and being the crankiest we've ever seen him.  One good I can say about this year is that it was a useful learning experience for us.  Next Christmas, we will just have to put our foot down.  We will insist that the grandparents cut down on the present-giving, and prepare them for the reality of us possibly arriving late or leaving early from parties.  Also, I want to insist that Christmas day itself be "immediate family only" time, at least up until dinner.

Things have calmed down a bit now...except that Tom and his dad are currently constructing built-in bookshelves downstairs so the dining room is a wreck.  Oh, and Stella is sick.  I feel like I've finally officially joined the "parent club" because I've actually been thrown up on now.  Sly has never - literally never - been sick.  So this is all new to us.  In the past 24 hours, poor little Stella has vomited on basically every blanket and sheet in the house, and also the Boppy, the couch, the floor, and a few other things.  The pediatrician's office says she probably just has a virus and to keep breastfeeding as usual, but to monitor her for dehydration.  And luckily, she's still been pretty pleasant and smiley, so I don't think she minds too much.  I'm glad I don't have to drive her to the doctor (yet), because there was another snowfall this morning, and the roads are not looking friendly. Overall, yesterday was a success because I finally had a chance to catch up on many little projects while Sly was entertained by Grammy. 

How was everyone else's Christmas?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas is More Than Just "Jesus' Birthday"

 Some theological ponderings.  If this doesn't interest you, feel free to skip this post.  
This post involved so much discussion and editing with my husband during the course of its writing, that I have to give him full credit as a co-writer

In recent years, I've heard a number of well-intentioned people referring to Christmas as "Jesus' birthday".  Factually, there is nothing wrong with this characterization.  We are celebrating His birth, after all.  But something about it always bothered me, and I just couldn't put my finger on why.  It's a term that people use in an attempt to "take back Christmas" and remind themselves of what the day is really about.   I can respect the sentiment.  Reflecting on it, though, I realized that this is ultimately a misguided and overly simplified way to explain the meaning of Christmas.

The first time I heard anyone refer to Christmas as "Jesus' birthday" was in the classic movie The Bells of St. Mary's.  A group of schoolchildren, after performing an adorable Nativity Play, sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus (complete with sweet little bowed heads as they speak His name - ah, be still my heart!).
[A clip of this scene used to be on Youtube, but it seems to have been taken down, and I'm really bummed about it.]

I don't have a problem with children referring to Christmas as Jesus' Birthday.  Birthdays are something they "get".  But the same term sounds rather puerile coming from an adult.  Cutesy customs like baking a birthday cake for Jesus and singing Him "Happy Birthday" on Christmas morning might be better than just doing the whole Santa/presents/mistletoe thing while ignoring the real "reason for the season", as they say.  But it's still missing the point somewhat.  And even when you're dealing with young children, I think you can go a lot further than just teaching them to think of Christmas as someone's birthday, even if that Someone is the Lord Himself.

A birthday is the commemoration of the day someone was born.  However, the day a new baby is born into the world is always a "bigger deal" than all his or her subsequent birthdays which merely commemorate that day.  From a liturgical perspective, when we celebrate Christmas (or any other feast day, for that matter), we are participating in the reality of that event.  As my husband put it, "our Faith is not a commemoration of history, but a living faith."  On Christmas we experience the reality of God made Man - it's not merely a memorial.  And this isn't just the birth of any child.  This child is our Savior - the one we've been waiting for and preparing for for so long.  Now that is awesome, in the true sense of the word.  On Christmas morning, we can joyfully say, "Christ is here with us!  He is come to save us!".  I think that needs to be celebrated with something of a different character than a concessionary birthday cake on Christmas morning, squeezed in before the present-opening and otherwise secular-influenced festivities.

On Christmas, we are presented with the Incarnation of Christ - the fact of God made Man - a crucial aspect of our salvation. While the moment of Christ's birth as Man had an exact historical date, Christ Himself is eternal and uncreated.  The Incarnation is ongoing.  The recognition of a feast day goes beyond mere remembrance of some past event.  It is the active participation of the faithful in a divine reality.

The term "Jesus' birthday" focuses only on Christ's human nature - the birth of a particular baby in Bethlehem.  But Christmas is meant to celebrate the truth of the Incarnation - the unimaginable condescension of our God Who became one of His creatures.  When calling it His "birthday", there is no recognition of Christ's divine nature.  "Jesus' birthday" is a celebration of a long-past historical event, which had a definite beginning and end.  "Christmas" is the contemplation of the ineffable mystery of the Incarnation, which is eternal.

I know this might all sound nit-picky.  Is it really a big deal if people use a term that doesn't recognize the full reality of Christmas?  I would argue that it is.  Sloppy wording leads to sloppy thinking and in turn, possible error or loss of faith.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Prepping for Christmas, Part II

I tried to restrain myself for a while, in order to keep Advent from turning into a Christmas explosion.  But we're hosting a Christmas Cookie Exchange this weekend, so the house needs to be festive for that.  I think pretty much everything is up at this point.

This is the "pretty tree" downstairs, so called because I'm very selective about what ornaments go on it.  They are almost entirely glass, and I don't know how I get away with this with two young kids.  But yes, the tree is every bit as lopsided as it appears in this picture.

This is the "ugly tree" upstairs.  It's smaller, and artificial (blerggh).  It has most of the ornaments that Tom brought into the marriage. ha.
Advent wreath as centerpiece

Sly dictated, and I wrote it down word-for-word.

I took Karen's advice about what to do with our little manger.  The "hay" is just strips of yellow paper, but it works for now.

No mantle, so we're making do with the stereo shelf

My mom decided we needed a cheesy Santa tapestry for our house this year.  At night, it flashes with multi-colored, blindingly-bright LED lights.  Tom hates it :-)

A garland on the china cabinet displays all our "first Christmas" ornaments

the Advent calendar is filling up

This picture is meant to show the cards displayed around the doorway.  The number gets smaller every year, which is a little sad.  But I'm not helping the cause, as I haven't sent any out myself for two years now...
Christmas book basket

breaking out the classic Christmas records

 apron I've been wearing around just because it's cute
I'm trying out the idea of setting up our Nativity scene "realistically" this year.  So right now, it's just the stable boy and the manger chilling in the stable (we don't have any oxen, or they'd be there too).  The shepherd and his crew are "nearby".  I have Mary, Joseph, and the donkey over on a bookcase (they are "en route to Bethlehem" now) and the wise men and a camel on a side table.  This is a Fontanini set, which I love because they are all made of unbreakable PLASTIC, but look so nice.

colored C-9s, baby!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Prep, in a Few Pictures

Sly still mostly just plays with the animals of the Nativity set, but the other day, I found this cute scene he arranged

We got our dining room furniture over the weekend!!  An aunt and uncle of Tom's didn't want them anymore, because they were "too fancy".  We still have a lot of items that need to find a new permanent home, but things are already coming together well.

The wood is cherry and very beautiful.  I wish I'd taken a picture of the table before I put the oilcloth on, but it was a pain to deal with, so maybe next time it's off.  If,  that is,  I am ever stupid enough to allow the one nice piece of furniture I own to be unprotected in a house with young children!

I've always wanted a china cabinet!!

I bought this 12-serving dish set on Craigslist for a mere $40.  Because you can't have a china cabinet with no nice china to display, right?  (at least that's the line I used on Tom, and it worked!).   I arranged all our crystal pieces on the right side of the cabinet.  I was amazed to realize how much crystal we own.  Most of it was wedding gifts. 

Ok, it case anyone was wondering... NO!  STELLA DOES NOT NEED ANY MORE CHRISTMAS OUTFITS!!! There are fifteen in this picture, and another one in the wash right now.  They were all hand-me-downs or gifts from the grandparents.  And believe it or not, they are all size 3-6 months.  So all my future babies need to be born in the late summer, I guess...

Friday, December 7, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 23)

Sly's little shoes after St. Nicholas paid a visit the other night.

A candy cane, a toy cow, and a holy card showing St. Nicholas (since Sly seemed really confused when we remembered to tell him about the Saint, hastily, only two minutes before bed the night before!).  Enough to make my little two-year-old's day.

A lot of Catholic families I know do the St. Nicholas thing for December 6th, and also the Santa Claus thing on the 25th.  It doesn't really make sense that he comes twice.  And in traditional cultures, he wouldn't have.  I think we just have this weird situation because the origins of the "American Christmas" are so diverse, and  many ethnic traditions were just kinda stuck together.  I guess I can just explain to my kids that St. Nick comes for his own feast day, and then again later in the month to celebrate Christ's birth (which is more important, and thus...St. Nick makes a bigger deal about it too?).  That would make sense to kids, right?

Now that Sly's finally old enough to have simple conversations with and he can better understand things, it's getting so fun to hang out with him, teach him new things, and introduce him to new experiences.  Especially with Christmas coming, and all the traditions associated with it.  Growing up, I always hoped to have kids.  So there have been so many little ideas I've been storing up over the years, longing to do someday with my own children.  And now finally, we're starting to do some of those things, and I can't even explain how exciting and fulfilling it is.

 I'm so re-obsessed with Downton Abbey right now.  I had watched season one when it first came to DVD, and got hooked.  At the time, season two still hadn't aired in the US.  I missed the first few episodes when they were on, and I had starting in the middle of a season,  so I decided to wait until it came out on DVD.  Somewhere along the way, I got confused - let's just blame it on "Mommy brain", since I'm sure that's what it was - and came to believe that I had already seen season one AND two, and was just waiting for season three.  I recently realized my mistake, so I re-watched season one over the past couple weeks (it would have been quicker, but I had to go at Netflix one-dvd-at-a-time speed!), and now I am finally starting season two for the first time.  I watched the first two episodes last night, and it's so gripping.  I always love a good period drama or unrequited love story...and this has both.  I cannot wait until naptime today ;-)

I went to a cookie exchange yesterday.  I was grumbling about having to bake a time-consuming six dozen cookies, but the work paid off in the end.  The recipe ended up yielding double what it claimed.  So I stuck the other six dozen in the freezer, and now I won't have to bake again for the other cookie exchange I have later in the month!  Add that to my list of reasons why having a chest freezer is the best thing ever - at least in terms of making a housewife's life easier.

- 6-
Tomorrow is the big "room exchange" at our house.  Tom's uncle is arriving with a set of dining room furniture (given to us by another of his uncles) from Michigan.  We'll put it in our current living room, and convert the upstairs library (and I might as well accept that I will never again have the luxury of being able to devote an entire room of the house to books!) into the new living room.  Basically, we're just adding lots more stuff.  So it's going to be a challenge these next few weeks, trying to find other places around the house to jam bookcases, extra seating, etc.

A few days ago...
Sly: "Mommy clean ALL day" and a little later,"Sly poop all day"

haha...some days, this doesn't seem too far off from the truth :-)

Quick Takes is hosted at Conversion Diary

Monday, December 3, 2012

The First Day of Advent

For the first time ever, I actually had my Advent wreath out on time!  And I already had the candles, which I purchased last year in a stroke of foresight.  And we actually remembered to light them, and even said some prayers.  Our track record with Advent devotions has been pretty awful in the past, so we'll see how long this actually keeps up.

We kept it simple, especially since we have an easily distracted toddler.  We basically just asked God to help us have a holy Advent, and prepare our hearts for Christ.  And then we sang the first verse of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.  Well, actually, I sang it.  Tom claimed he didn't know the words (how is this possible?!).

Sly was really excited when I told him we had a new toy he could play with.  It's the Fisher Price Little People Nativity Set.  I bought it a few months ago from someone on Craigslist (man, I was so thinking ahead this year!).

But pretty much all he did with it the whole time was make the various animals' sounds, and stick each of them in the "barn" (or - in the case of the camel - on top of it, in the angel's spot).  But I also pulled out our stack of Christmas books.  So as we refresh him on the Nativity story (which, really, how well could he have understood last Christmas anyways?), maybe he'll start playing with the human figures as well.

I pulled out the empty manger too.  If I didn't tell you what that thing was, you probably wouldn't have guessed.  That's what I don't like about it.  It really needs some hay or straw....but where can I get that?? I've heard the tip of just going out and cutting a handful of dead grass.  That would work for a small Nativity scene, but this is a life-size one.  They'll have to be pretty long pieces, so they don't fall through the enormous gaps.

I think I owe the long span between Thanksgiving and Advent this year for the fact that I've actually been on the ball with this stuff.  Ooh, darn - I just remembered that we also have an Advent calendar.  I'll have to go hunt that out later.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Improper Toddler Talk, Date Night, and Thoughts on Modest Dress

Tom and I both have a lot of trouble remembering that Sly is listening to everything we say, and is wont to repeat it.  We're good about not swearing or saying anything on that level, but our speech is still peppered with somewhat less-offensive words I just don't want to hear my toddler using.

Me: "That sucks"
Sly: "Sucks! sucks! hahahaha"
-Tom and I exchange looks-
Tom: "Christine! Look what you did!"
Me: "Oh crap!"
Sly: "Crap! crap!"

And today over lunch, Sly repeated a charming little phrase that he had heard Tom use: "secret butt hair".  Lol.  Don't even ask how we got on that topic...

Another word that Sly has picked up recently is "hate", which can be frustrating.  Now that he has a word for the concept, he's decided that he hates various things.  About a week ago, he began inexplicably to hate one of his winter hats, and anytime we try to put it on him, will yell, "Sly hate it!" and throw it to the ground.


Tom and I went to the symphony last night, having been given tickets by a friend who couldn't go.  Actually, there was some sort of mix-up with that.  When they scanned our tickets at the door, they almost turned us away.  Apparently, this friend gave us his tickets, but then called the hall to exchange them for a different performance - so our tickets were null.  The admissions people felt bad for us, though, and let us in anyways.  Tom needs to call that guy up and give him a hard time.

We realized that it's the first time we've been out together with no kids since Stella was born (over three months now)!  So I suppose it was a date.  But my dad, who was watching them for us, tells me that Stella screamed non-stop for the last hour, and refused to take the bottle of milk which I so lovingly and painstakingly pumped for it might be the last date we have for a little while.

"My plan worked - now Mommy has to stay with me all the time!"
The concert was nice - they played Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony and some other stuff (haha - am I offending any classical music lovers by calling it "stuff"?).  I certainly appreciate the value of classical music, and when I listen to it, I am aware of the tremendous genius of some of the composers, and the talent of the performers.  Yet in practice, I feel like I often treat it as not much more than "pleasant background music."  But I have seen this Symphony performed before and own a recording of it, so I was familiar with the music, which always makes it more enjoyable.

It was exciting to get to wear a dress for once, since I wouldn't have to worry about nursing Stella for the evening.  But I regret the decision I made.  Tom always asks why I never wear anything like the standard "little black dress" when we go out.  So, since it was also his birthday, I decided it was time to finally honor that wish of his.  I wore a dress that my mom gave me a while ago because it was too tight on her.  I never really checked it in a full length mirror, since we were in a rush to get ready - I just threw it on and asked Tom quickly if I looked okay, to which he gave a strong affirmative (ha!).  Anyways...once we got to the concert hall, I caught a look at myself in a mirror, and suddenly became very self-conscious.  The dress was just...not appropriate.  I'm not a huge modesty nazi or anything, but I do have a line, and I think that dress crossed it.  At intermission, we saw not one, but two couples from our church.  And I was too embarrassed to go over and talk to them :-(.  So's time to remove that dress from the closet.

When I pick clothes, "modesty" is not a quality I necessarily look for.  This is because I have such a hard time pinpointing or defining what that really means.  Not that it's a bad virtue to strive for, by any means.  It's just difficult for me to say definitively that this garment "is" or "is not" modest.  There are so many factors involved, and I don't think modesty can be your only consideration in dressing.  If I had to give names to they the qualities I chose in my clothes, I would say I look for items that are reasonably "classy" and "feminine",as well as having a color/shape/style which appeals to me personally.  And if clothes are truly classy and feminine, I think they're de facto fairly modest.  After years of dressing this way, it's helped me develop more of an instinct about what is or is not appropriate for me.  If I can say "I don't feel classy" or "I don't feel feminine" in a particular outfit, then I will not be comfortable, and it's probably also not very modest (or else it's a drab, shapeless, grungy outfit of some sort, which I should also be embarrassed to wear in public!)