Friday, December 21, 2007

Let the gifting begin . . .

The gifting has already begun, in fact. We try to wait until Christmas before giving anything ourselves, but a few have bestowed lovely offerings on us and our children already and I do think it polite to open a gift when the giver is present. My dad, who likes to play up the scrooge thing but is a very generous giver, doesn't believe in surprises and shipped us a couple of boxes from Amazon as well. Our kids get so overwhelmed by all the gift opening that I opened the Amazon packages early, removed an item or two that would be meaningful to unwrap and shelved the rest of the items for a rainy day. I even shelved my own gift in anticipation of our long car trip tomorrow.

Speaking of which, I really shouldn't be blogging this evening because we're leaving in the morning for a trip that will encompass twelve days, five abodes, and about thirty-five of our closest relatives and friends. All this visiting during this, our leanest year yet, stretched my gift-giving muscles a bit. I wish I could say that I took a handmade pledge and that I just love handcrafting gifts for people, but I really don't. I'm not crafty and I get frustrated very easily. But, I think I'll call this year a success in that department, anyway, and if the recipients are duly pleased, I may ramp up my efforts next year with some advanced planning.

My gourmet spice mixes were easy enough to mix once I got my bulk order in from the co-op. Robyn was here this week and managed to show even me how to make nice looking labels for the tops of the canning jars. She came well-armed with tools and supplies and I think the results are great. Even Eric was pleased. Each of nine family members will receive four mixes.

Other than those nine family members our gift list is pretty short but I did manage to get together a hefty box of cookies and fudge for a dear friend--a priest whose parishoners really should take better care of him.

Our immediate family has decided to have our own small celebration for Epiphany and exchange gifts then. This saves a good deal of time in wrapping things for Eric and Margaret tonight. I also don't feel as guilty about not even having a gift for Joseph, yet. And I'll have time to finish Margaret's doll.

This is the project that might really sell me on handcrafts. I more or less made up this pattern, the hair, and the stuffing material. I've never made a doll (or anything else) before, but I love how this has turned out. Here she sits, posing with the piece of fabric that will one day turn into a dress for her. The hair is not sewn down and Joseph is quite disturbed at the lack of face, but I think I'll have plenty of time to finish it between the end of our trip and Epiphany and I think the kids will benefit from having their gifts spread out a bit. It is really hard to make this lovable little thing, though, and not be able to bestow it immediately on my lovable little daughter.

I doubt that I'll blog before the New Year. A blessed Advent and Merry Christmas to you all!

Monday, December 17, 2007

I better have something to blog about today

because tomorrow the founder and one-time president of the Lyndon Institute branch of the Future Homemakers of America is coming to stay at my house for a few days. Just because she is bringing her son (nickname: "Havoc") is no excuse to shirk. I'm pretty sure Margaret can give him a run for his money. Joseph's favorite question these days (while laughing hysterically), "Mommy, is Margie wreaking havoc again?"

Better get to work.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Let the bragging begin . . .

I have doubts that anyone is really that interested in my closets, especially since I don't have a camera to illustrate the amazing transformation our apartment has undergone in the last two days. But I know from many years of living with myself that one of these days I will contemplate some afternoon project--writing a full-length novel, for example--and doubt my ability to be that productive. So this trumpeting of accomplishments is really for my own future memory-jogging.

Yesterday I reorganized all my kitchen cabinets and "found" an entire shelf. I filled this with all the canned goods from the "pantry" closet near the front door. Coincidentally, we also discovered that that kitchen cabinet was falling off the wall. Eric called our landlord who implied that maybe it was our fault that the cupboard was falling down because we were, um, storing food in it. He also suggested that maybe we could just consult with friends and fix it ourselves. Why are we renting, again? Eric did fix it himself, actually.

Today I completely emptied everything else from the front closet, found new spots for it all, cleaned that closet and refilled it with a double stroller, a guitar, a yoga mat, an ironing board, and a basket of winter accessories, all of which were cluttering our main living space. Then I went to the laundry closet, pulled everything out of it, pulled out the bookcase serving as shelving in there, cleaned out the closet, put the pantry shelves in the empty closet, refilled the closet (it holds more, now) and dragged the empty bookcase down to Joseph's room. I put the empty bookcase in an under-utilized corner and filled it with fiction books from the other rooms of the house. I used the new empty spots that formerly held works of fiction to shelve all the double-stacked books in the living room. Then I reorganized all of Joseph's toys.

Basically I found an entire closet and an entire bookshelf today and put them to excellent use. And I did all this between 2:00 and 6:00 and had a 14-month old on my back almost the entire time.

I have discovered an important thing about myself. Rest is not all that restorative for me. So often I finish some tiny project, like changing a diaper, and think, "Now I deserve a break!" I usually read a blog or write an e-mail. Sometimes I look at a book or magazine. But I never feel rested after my "break." My breaks do not refresh me; they do not renew my energy for the further tasks at hand. Work refreshes me. I conceived of this huge project just a couple of nights ago. Several minor problems that had been lurking on the periphery of my brain suddenly coalesced into a complete solution. Eric was skeptical and he had every right to be. Usually I approach projects like this one step at a time. But chipping away at closet reorganization one step at at time would have created so much sustained chaos that I would have gone crazy and given up and felt depressed. Instead I just worked. I never stopped moving this afternoon. I feel tired, to be sure, but I haven't felt this good about life in months.

I have some idea of trying to adapt this new insight to smaller things. After all, I only have so many closets. Sometimes I don't need a break, I just need an accomplishment. A mother's life is full of repetition and maintenance. There is joy to be found there, and much meat for reflection, but it can get wearying and sometimes I need a little shot in the arm of accomplishment. I'm going to try looking at my running to-do list from now on when I need a "break" because there is usually something there that can be finished in five minutes or less and that's what I really need most of the time.

Lest you think . .

That I went on retreat permanently. I am back. It was wonderful. The last night of my retreat I had a vision. A vision for a total apartment closet-reorganization project. This was the sort of project that promised so many dramatic improvements to our living situation that I had to act on it immediately. So I've been busy doing that and our camera is broken so I have no motivation to blog because I can't even show you the closet projects. I will take up bragging, I mean writing, again soon.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Mixed blessings . . .

I was on my way out this evening. Alone. My first evening out with no kids in 14 months. Margaret was asleep and Eric has built up a strong track record the last couple of weeks getting her back to sleep peacefully at that 10:00 waking. I was about five minutes from my destination when the cell phone rang. Margaret was awake and inconsolable. I came back home. Part of me, really, wanted to cry. I was headed to a fantastic book group with a great group of Catholic women and we were planning to discuss one of my absolute favorite books, Brideshead Revisited. At least the promise of the book group gave me a good excuse to read this for the third time. But the other part of me felt good coming back home and snuggling in with my traumatized daughter. I don't know quite why she is so very attached to me but she is. I'm her mother and she wants her mother and I really adore this little girl. I'm even starting to feel sad at how fast she's growing up. There won't be too many more snuggly nights in the grand scheme of things.

We've had quite a rough start to Advent. I haven't written in a few days because I couldn't figure out what and how to write. Sorry to be vague. Please pray for our family and our parish. In the meantime, I'm going on retreat!

Before I had kids I was very blessed to be able to make an annual retreat. I was able to go twice to a house of cloistered nuns in the city. It was completely wonderful and I really miss those sisters. The beauty of a two or three day individual retreat is the descent into silence. You arrive at this house of silence and its all very novel and enchanting. Maybe the whole first day is like this. Then the second day arrives and you are still alone and it is still silent (these particular sisters did pray in the chapel seven times a day and had Mass, but still). Sometime late in that second day you crash and I think I think I might have cried once or twice at that point. Then you get over it and embrace the silence and then the blessings start to flow. Then the retreat ends and you need to go back to the noisy world outside. But that occasional descent into silence is so valuable.

That sort of retreat is impossible for most parents. I certainly can't leave Margaret and I'm not sure I want to leave Joseph for three days. I make a Holy Hour every week but it's all too short. This year I felt like I really needed something approximating a retreat. Eric and I talked about it and I asked for ideas at 4Real and someone suggested to me a novena of Holy Hours.

A novena, for my non-Catholic readers, is nine days of prayer for a particular intention or to cultivate a particular devotion. The original novena was the nine days prayer of the Apostles between Ascension and Pentecost. You can find a novena for almost any saint, now, and traditionally, a novena is said for the nine days preceding the feast day of the saint you are honoring. Many families are saying a novena now to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (feast day this Saturday). I will be making my novena of holy hours for Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mary, under this title, has been very good to our family. Every time we have had a grave request we have said a 54 Day Novena (which is just six novenas in a row) to Our Lady of Guadalupe. We intended to start this 27 days before the feast for Eric's job hunt but, ironically, he was away at interviews and we forgot. In place of that we are praying the "novena" to St. Andrew until Christmas fifteen times a day. I will follow the custom of the other 4Real bloggers and put the prayer in my sidebar. It is quite beautiful and makes for a lovely Advent devotion even if you don't have a special petition on your heart.

Anyway, Our Lady of Guadalupe has given us a couple of children and a couple of good jobs so far, so I wanted to honor her in my retreat. The Madonna House near our parish is allowing me to use their chapel for one hour each evening starting tomorrow for an hour of silence and prayer. It is my hope that doing this nightly for nine nights will help me approach that descent into silence that I so miss. I don't have a particular plan for the time. I will take my journal, as usual, to help focus my prayer and I am really looking forward to it.

I wanted to do something for all the other 23 hours of my day to remind me that I am "on retreat." Fasting came to mind immediately but that isn't really a workable option. I would just be punishing my family. I need to eat about six times a day just to function (I am still providing almost all the nourishment for a certain hungry little girl). I've decided to do something much more difficult: fast from the computer. I still need to use my e-mail for a bit of household business, but no blogs, no forums. I think this sort of a fast will really promote the peaceful, reflective, family-centered atmosphere I'm trying to create this Advent.

So, remember me in your prayers these nine days. I certainly intend to offer some prayer time for my friends, those I know in person, and those who have been a source of encouragement to me in the online community.

A blessed Advent to you all!