Sunday, September 22, 2013

On Being a Co-Mother

Some friends called to ask if we would be the godparents for their soon-to-be-born baby.  Tom and I have been on such a joyous high ever since.  I can't describe what an honor it is to have been asked.  I figured we'd probably be asked to be someone's godparents eventually, but I thought we were far down "the list" for a lot of our friends (who have siblings or closer friends who would probably be asked before us).  I'm really excited to have that special relationship with their little child.  These friends are already Stella's godparents, so now the godparent relationship will extend both ways.  It's wonderful to have this keeping our families bonded, even though we live across the country from each other.

I have a wonderful little booklet about Our Lady of Fatima (The True Story of Fatima by John de Marchi).  The young visionaries who saw the Blessed Mother were cousins, and their parents were godparents several times over for each other's children.  Throughout the account in this book, the children's mothers refer to one another as "comadre", and their fathers as "compadre".  The book explains that in Portuguese, these terms mean - as they sound - "co-mother" and "co-father".  They are titles that describe the very special relationship between the person who is the child's natural parent, and the one who is their godparent.

I think that's just a beautiful understanding of what it means when you ask someone to be a godparent to your child - you are asking them to love that child and pray for them as if they were their own.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Beautiful Children's Picture Books (Part I)

 My requirements for making this list were that the book had to:
1. Have well above-average illustrations
2. Have a good story
3. Be one I did not grow up with myself.  (But I've written about a few of my childhood favorites before).

I'm calling it Part I because I'm sure I'll think of/discover others to add to my list soon.  I really appreciate a good children's book!

1. Philip Booth's Crossing

This one is great for any train-lovers in your life (and I mean small OR large.  When my friend was reading this to Sly recently, her husband heard "train words" and eagerly went over to see what the book was!)  The rhyming text describes a big old-fashioned steam-engine going by, and the rhythm of the words takes on the rhythm of the train.

"B&M boxcar, boxcar again, Frisco gondola, eight-nine-ten..."

2. Lisa Wheeler's Mammoths on the Move (illustrated by Kurt Cyrus)

We originally checked this one out of the library, and fell in love with it.  The illustrations are a beautiful wood-cut style, showing each little tuft of shaggy fur on the mammoths.  I like that this book - unlike most wooly mammoth books - doesn't discuss them in terms of their relationship (which was ill-fated) with humans.  Rather, it exults them as massively impressive and huge creatures - just tromping through the snow and being mammoths.  The text is great for young ears.

"Fourteen thousand years ago
the north was mostly ice and snow.
But wooly mammoths didn't care -
these beasts had comfy coats of hair.

Fuzzy, shaggy,
snarly, snaggy
wooly mammoths!"

3.  Graeme Base's Animalia

This book is like one big puzzle, each page featuring a different letter of the alphabet.  Kids can spend as little or as long as they like pouring over each page, trying to find all the objects that start with the letter.  It's great for all ages, even those who can't read.  Sly had no clue that all the things he was listed were "G" words, for example, but he still loved to identify them all.
"Unruly unicorns upending urns of ultramarine umbrellas"

4. Joan Aiken's The Moon's Revenge (illustrated by Alan Lee)

I'm told this illustrator is famous for his Tolkien drawings.  They truly are fantastical and captivating.  Even though the story is a bit more dense than the average picture book (probably intended for 2nd grade or so), Sly begged me so much to read the story to him that I finally relented.  We had to read in two sessions, and he asked a lot of questions, but we both really enjoyed it.  The story follows the formulas of all the old legends, while still being entirely unique.  How can you stop reading, when the story opens like this?:
"Once there was a boy called Seppy, and he was the seventh son of a seventh son.  This was long ago, in the days when women wore shawls and men wore hoods and long pointed shoes, and the cure for an earache was to put a hot roasted onion in your ear."

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

House and Curly Girl Updates

*Just because I always write about stuff when it's new and exciting, and then forget to record any new developments!*

House-Hunt Update

Today while he was at work, Tom discovered a piece of paper through a random occurrence which he took to be a "sign from God" (but which didn't seem all that out of the ordinary to me -haha).  On it, he learned about another possible program to help first-time homebuyers.  If you're buying within the city and are under a certain income level, you can qualify for a special grant to assist with downpayment/closing costs, and a very low percent down.  Tom took this as an excuse to break our little rule about scanning the real estate sites "just for fun".

And he found a house - for an amazingly low price - that has everything we require in a house (it's old with unique charm, a big front porch, hardwood floors, an adequate backyard, off-street parking, enough counter-space in the kitchen, three bedrooms + attic bedroom, 1.5 baths, as well as a pantry and linen closet!  You don't know what luxuries those last two are unless you don't have them!)...and we can't stop thinking about it now.

I know it's bad, and we shouldn't let ourselves think about houses, especially when I just said two weeks ago that we're not ready to buy yet!  I mean, even if we could make it happen, by the time we get all the paperwork together and figure out some of the intricacies of homebuying, I feel like this place may well have already sold and we'd be left feeling so discouraged.

But we drove past after dinner to get a feel for the area.  It's in a nice-looking neighborhood in a part of town we'd been starting to talk about  as a good compromise area for the two of us - Tom likes the city, I like the suburbs near where I grew up.   It's a nice meeting point of the two.  This house is just *barely* in the city.  So enough to qualify for the good mortgage deal, but not enough to not feel city-like at all.  There's a beautiful big park (with grass! and trees! not just concrete like the park near us now!) right down the road.  And a friend tells me that there are some homeschool co-ops right in the neighborhood.  Sounds pretty dreamy.

Anyways, Tom's gonna call the agent tomorrow just to see if there are any offers on it already.  If there are not...I think we're going to contact someone to help us determine if this could be realistic for us at all, or if we're still just trying to jump in way too early.  I'm trying very hard not to get any hopes up, and just assume that it's not going to happen right now.

Curly Girl Update

Many months ago, I wrote about discovering Curly Girl, and the new way I had started caring for my hair (which is wavy, but not actually curly) to help work with its natural texture.  I continued helping it to be wavy all summer, though 99.9% of the days it was just clipped up off my neck because it was so hot.  Now that it's finally cool enough to wear my hair down again, I've been mostly going back to the old blow-dry-it-smooth method of the past.  Tom loves the waves, though, so begged me to wear it natural for a wedding we went to on Saturday.

(it's interesting to see how much more pronounced the waves are versus the first time I did Curly Girl, in above linked post)

Anyways, even though I'm now shaming the Curly Girl method by using an evil blow-drier most of the time, I'm still following the washing directions.  I only have to get my hair wet in the shower every three or four days.  Once a week, I use a sulfate-free shampoo to clean just the scalp.  The other time, I use a hearty finger-scrub and hot water on my scalp to get out the oils.  And I follow up each wash with conditioner to the bottom half of the hair.  I'm barely washing my hair these days, and it doesn't get greasy!  It's excellent.  And having to dry my long thick hair isn't nearly as frustrating when I only need to do it twice a week.

Anyways, break out of the cycle of harsh shampoos, and your hair will thank you! (ok, it will be really really greasy for a couple of weeks, while it gets the message that you don't need it to overproduce oil anymore.  But gets really nice).

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Pleasantly non-Summery Sunday

Yes, there were raw eggs in the dough. 

I'll avoid joining the ranks of people going into rhapsodies over the fact that Fall is finally in the air.  On every blog and Facebook page I read, all people are talking about is how great it is to feel a chill in the air, wear a jacket, and consume pumpkin-flavored everything from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts.  Don't get me wrong - I feel the same way.  But you are all probably sick of hearing about it!  With the cooling of the temperatures, though, I feel my summertime/early pregnancy lethargy starting to dissipate, and it's really nice to have some more energy again.

I must have been really looking worn out last week, though.  There's an older woman at our church, who for whatever reason, has really taken to my family.  She loves seeing us there with our kids, and always comes up to say hi afterwards, and sends us cards for the kids' birthdays and name days.  A couple days after she had seen us at Mass last week (we didn't get a chance to chat afterwards), she sent us a card in the mail.  She had enrolled us in a year of "healing Masses" with a religious order.  She included a little note, saying "I don't know the nature of your crisis but it was evident to me that you are experiencing severe pain."  Oh my.  It's true that Tom and I were both having a really rough morning that day, but I didn't like her worrying so much.  I wrote her back a note to explain that Tom was really overworked at his job, and had to take on overtime every evening and weekend for the past few weeks.  And that I was really exhausted from the pregnancy, and was feeling rather nauseous that morning.  She wasn't there today, but I hope she received my letter and didn't feel embarrassed.  I did et her know how much we appreciated her concern, prayers, and friendship.

Things have gotten appreciably better for both of us since last week.  This morning, we were both feeling fine.  But man, was it was such a struggle dealing with our little girl.   I had forgotten how bad this squirmy stage is.  Sly's to the point where he can sit or stand relatively still at Mass.  If he needs to be taken to the back, it's just because he's talking too loudly or kicking the pew or something.  But Stella is just all over the place.  She wants to stand up facing the back of the pew and interacting to everyone behind us.  Then a second later she wants to be in my lap.  Then she wants to be crawling on top of Sly.  Then she wants to yank all the books out of the rack at the back of the pew.  Then she wants to stand on my lap and almost plunge over the pew in front of us.  Then she wants to stand against the back again.  I pretty much didn't register a single thing that was happening at Mass today.  I was so completely distracted the baby wrangling, making sure she didn't hurt herself.

As the closing hymn today, we sang "Jesus My Lord My God My All."  I really love that song (Tom would yell at my for calling it a "song", insisting that hymns are completely different), but I can barely get any of the words out when I try to sing it.  It makes me dissolve into a puddle of tears everytime.
Jesus, my Lord, my God, my all,
How can I love Thee as I ought?
And how revere this wond'rous gift,
So far surpassing hope or thought.
Sweet Sacrament, we Thee adore.
O make us love Thee more and more!
O make us love Thee more and more!

Monday, September 9, 2013

An Announcement

We are expecting another baby!

I've known for what feels like ages, and it's been so hard to keep it in.  Tom and I are in disagreement about how soon to spread the news.  He prefers to wait...I think there might be more complex reasons under the surface, but the main one he gives is to wait for the risk of miscarriage to decrease.  But having experienced a miscarriage in the past, I feel like the more people we can get praying for the safety of the baby early, the better!

I'm due on March 25th.  It's the Feast of the Annunciation, so it's easy to remember.  Of course, my other two came a bit early, so this one probably won't get that birthday.  There are lots of other good feast days in March, though.

There was a bit of disagreement over the due date.  In the past, I have charted my fertility, though I wasn't doing so this time around.  Of course, once you understand how your body and your cycle work, it's not like you can unlearn that information.  So I had a pretty good idea of where I was in my cycle in the months leading up to conception.  When I went for my first prenatal checkup, the midwife calculated a due date based on menstruation.  I told her that date was no good: not only do I always ovulate late in my cycle, but in fact, I thought I could pretty accurately pinpoint an exact date of ovulation.  She didn't seem to trust my intuition, though.  There was a nine day discrepancy between our dates, and that was too much for her to feel comfortable with.  She asked me to get an ultrasound to confirm.  So I did...and guess who was right?  Humph!  I understand why asked me to do it, but I'm still kind of frustrated, because ultrasounds are astoundingly expensive (even with insurance), and we had explained that we were trying to keep the costs of the pregnancy down as much as was reasonable.

Anyways, thinking about having three kids is pretty exciting and crazy.  Somehow, it feels like a really significant number to me.  As if with three, I'm crossing some sort of line, and now things are getting real.  It's funny, though, because three isn't even that many kids!  But it suddenly feels like we're much more on the verge of being a big family.  Which is a little scary, but overall thrilling.

This is a section where I would love some advice from other parents, especially those with bigger families than my own!

Having a third kid is going to bring some practical challenges.  For one, we'll need a new car (i.e. new to us, but definitely used).  There is no way we can fit a third carseat in the back.  Isn't it the most ridiculous thing that three grown adults could fit in the back of my car, and yet three tiny little children can not?!  Car seats are way too big.

I've heard some people say that if you buy just the right combination of seats, it's possible to fit three in the back of some cars.  Frankly, I'm not even going to bother looking into this.   I can't afford to spend hundreds of dollars on three brand-new seats when we already have three that work perfectly well.  Besides, we'll need a bigger car soon enough anyways, so I'd rather use our money for that.  Our double stroller already takes up the whole trunk as it is, so I'd love a little more space to fit all the "implements of childhood" we seem to have to cart around.

My mother-in-law is going to lend us her Jeep again this winter because unlike our car, it actually functions on ice and snow, and she's afraid of her grandbabies getting into an accident.  We plan to use that opportunity to sell our car - get some money in the bank - and then shop around for a used something-or-other with more space.  I'm pretty certain we'll have to tap into our savings for a house, which is disappointing.  But at least we'll have a little time to shop around for a deal. 

Does anyone have any family vehicle suggestions?  I would be fine with a mini-van, but Tom hopes to find something which is easier to repair himself (he tells me the engine on a mini-van is very hard to access) and also "less uncool" if possible.

We also need to figure out a sleeping arrangement for the kids.  We plan to keep them all in one bedroom.  Space and location-wise, it just makes the most sense.  But I'm not sure what sort of bed to put everyone in.  Based on what we already own and a few beds various people have offered us, we have many options at our disposal:  Two cribs, two toddler beds, one single bed, a set of single-sized bunk beds, and a set of double/single-sized bunk beds.   When the baby comes, Sly will be three and a half, and Stella will be nineteen I'm thinking bunk beds will need to wait a few years (?).  Any thoughts or suggestions?


My first trimester is wrapping up here, and I'm looking forward to some easier days (please, Lord!).  Morning sickness wasn't too bad this time around, but I have been feeling pretty exhausted most days.  It's been so much harder to squeeze a nap in now that I have two kids to watch.  And they were on completely separate nap schedules (!!!) for most of this pregnancy.  I was resorting to desperate measures, like trying to catch catnaps on the floor of their bedroom while they climbed all over me.  Until a week ago, that is, when I just could not handle it anymore, and forced poor Stella to adjust herself to Sly's nap cycle.  There were a couple rough days for her, but blessedly, they took place while we were visiting the in-laws, and I therefore had many extra helpers so still got my daily nap anyways, no matter what the children were doing.  Haha!  Things are great now, and I've had a nap almost every day since.

I also decided to wean Stella completely.  She was only nursing in the middle of the night, three times, and it was merely for comfort.  It was taking too much out of me and robbing me of precious sleep and I felt like I was just dying of thirst all the time.  So I just cut her off cold turkey.  Amazingly, she's been sleeping completely through the night ever since and for the first time ever in her short little life - around 11 hours!  It's pretty awesome.

Anyways, if you could remember me and the little one in a prayer, I would be very grateful :-)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Home of Our Own?

There is grass in this picture.  Therefore, it was not taken at our house.

We've been feeling buy-our-own-home fever for a little while now, but trying to resist it.  I think we're still not quite ready, financially.  But we've been in this rental house for almost two years now, and a few things are just starting to get to me.  Foremost among them, the fact that we don't have a yard.  Not at all.  Not even a single blade of grass.  We're a corner house on a city street that directly abuts the sidewalk on both sides.  I hate to watch my kids grow up, pretty much never playing outside (Yes, I could be better about this and take them to parks more, but...I don't).  Also, we have eleven foot ceilings and three stories (plus the basement).  I feel like I carry laundry baskets and children and vacuum cleaners and countless other items up and down four flights of extra-long stairs ALL DAY LONG.  I long for a house where the living areas (kitchen, dining room, living room) are all on one floor, and the bedrooms are all on another.

For a little while, Tom and I had gotten into the habit of "just checking" a real estate website every day or so to get a feel for what was out there.  We had to make ourselves stop, because we were just torturing ourselves.  But we were able to confirm what a number of sources had told us - there are some good deals to be had in Pittsburgh!  We both want a big old house in an old neighborhood.  There are some real beauties to be had at almost a steal, if we don't need to live in a high-profile part of town (which we don't), and especially if we're willing to do some cosmetic fix-ups on our own (which we are).

As of April, when our tax refund came in, we have finally paid off all our debt (car loan and student loans).  We've been working hard to do this since we were married, and it feels awesome beyond words to be there.  Now, any extra money in our budget goes towards our "house fund."   It's only been growing for a few months now, but we're getting there, slowly.  Our credit is good.  Really, I think we're on a good path here.  It's just that our income is rather small.  I can't figure out whether there's a "catch", but I've been hearing about FHA loans, which only require a very doable 3.5% downpayment, and it's something we'll have to look into.  If we wait for 20% down, it's gonna be awhile...

We visited the in-laws over the Labor Day weekend, and my mother-in-law brought up the house question.  Our parents, of course, would love to see us in our own house as well.  Both Tom's parents and my dad have offered to lend us money for a downpayment.  Very generous of them, and to be honest, I would be happy to take them up on the offer.  Tom wants to wait, though, and try to do it all ourselves.  And there's pretty much no way he would ever accept money from my dad (it's a pride thing.  I understand.).  So for now, we have to just keep waiting it out, living frugally,  building up a little downpayment.  And praying that we don't have any unexpected costly emergencies spring up on us (but at least we don't own a house yet, so any necessary household repairs are on the landlord!)

If you have any advice for us about saving for or buying a house, I'd be happy to hear it! :-)