Finally Back (An Update On Our Miraculous but Complicated Pregnancy)

Hello, friends, if I may still call you all that after having vanished into the abyss for another 2 months. I have some other posts that I’ve been meaning to/needing to write, but I feel like I owe you a little context/update/explanation first.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/anujraj/3518252658/

Sorry to have been gone, but it’s just been the sort of season of life that requires your full, active attention (not the kind of attention that writes posts in your head during showers and then forgets about them afterwards.) Originally, it started with just being busy at work since First Communion season was approaching fast and we had a lot of weekends and late nights to work. And I was just exhausted and burned out.

But shortly after all of that, we were diagnosed at our 20 week ultrasound (which actually took place at 18 weeks) with a placenta previa (the statement that alcohol increases the odds of previa is is mis-citation of the scholarly article–ignore it. I put in a correction request.) Which is NOT super uncommon at all for that mid-point ultrasound. From what I’m told, about 10-20% of women are diagnosed with it at the point and for all but 2-3% of THOSE, it clears up all on its lovely own. No problema.

But when have you ever known me or mine to ever do anything by the book? Yeah. You guessed it–it hasn’t moved! Most ladies start having bleeding episodes sometime during the 3rd trimester, usually close to term, when there’s a lot of extra pressure on the cervix/placenta area and the BH contractions start. Rebel that I am, however, I started with the bleeding at just 23 weeks. Which is a terrifying time to bleed because most hospitals won’t perform serious interventions until you’re at 24 weeks (viability.)

Thankfully, the bleeding stopped and baby has been good as gold the whole time (I’ll say that now before anyone starts to really stress–no matter what’s happened with this placenta nonsense, he’s been blissfully unaware with a beautiful heart rate, movement pattern, and continued growth.) We were put on home bed rest, which was unpleasant and difficult with so much chaos happening at work, my desire to do all the things, and no serious internet at home (as in no streaming options available,) but we were making lemonade.

Hear me roar! (Please tell me someone gets this. I’ll hide in my corner if no one does.)

For 10 days. And then the second bleed, which was worse and even more terrifying (except for the relief of knowing that we were past 24 weeks), happened. Thankfully that also stopped itself after about 8 hours off-and-on, but they kept us here at the hospital (which we keep accidentally calling a hotel–our standards are high, yes?) for the next 3.5 weeks. And that’s been rough–but we made lemonade again as best as we can. They have wifi here to stream netflix and the staff COULD. NOT. BE. MORE. AMAZING. Seriously, I’ll never be able to thank all of the nurses, techs, and even the cleaning ladies here enough.

We got to go home on Thursday, which was both scary and wonderful since we knew that the bleeding was only going to pick up. But since I hadn’t bled in several weeks, our doctor really wanted to give us a chance to go home. It was lovely to try out our new bedroom furniture and mattress that had been delivered while I was gone. So lovely.

For 2.5 days (three nights!) I woke up yesterday morning to more bleeding which meant–back to the hospital! We’re not sure how long we’re going to be here for, although it’s quite likely for the duration of the pregnancy (which we pray will be until mid-June or early July and not earlier.)

It’s not quite like this.

Bed rest is not nearly as fun as it may sound (imagine having people chastise you every time you get up to pick something up off the counter on your way to the bathroom,) but we’re just SO unfathomably grateful that we’re here, in a safe place, still pregnant, and pregnant at all. This little miracle baby is just trying to earn his title again and again. I’m so grateful for all of the blessings that God has given us. I know so many of you, dear friends, would trade places with me in a heartbeat (I know I would have–and may again, infertility is a lifelong battle for most of us–without a moment’s hesitation.) So while I want to be real about the struggles of this season of our lives, I want you to know that I don’t take the gift of these struggles for granted. And that I’m offering them up for each and every one of you.

If you’d like to email me or leave me a comment with specific intentions that you want me to pray for, I’d be more than honored to do so. That way, every lonely day, every IV stick and blood draw and weird steroid shot that makes your butt numb, every baby shower I’ll miss, every time I’m utterly exhausted and confused about when or if we’ll ever go home, every time I long to be able to set up our nursery but can’t, every time I’m exhausted from not sleeping in the hospital and an unexpected “visitor” from some department or other just walks on it, all of those will be offered up for you and your needs. Because all of that–it’s SO, so worth it. I wouldn’t trade it for where we were this time last year for anything.

Despite all of the unpleasantness, my heart is SO full of joy and gratitude for the gift of this life. Thank you, thank you, thank you, God!

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The Story of the Giant Easter Bread & Answer Me This #2

So, folks, it’s Sunday (I wrote this on Saturday, but didn’t have time between when the link-up went up Sunday morning and uhhh…Wednesday morning apparently to add the links and finally post… Oops!) Wednesday again and I plan on milking this Answer Me This link-up thing for all it’s worth. But first, how’s about a little story involving the world’s biggest loaf of bread?

Once upon a time, a naive young wife named Theresa was asked to bring food to her grandmother-in-law’s Easter potluck extravaganza. Thinking that it would be lovely to bring a few traditional staples from her side of the family, she began digging through the little cookbook that her family had put together with their very own traditional recipes years before and decided on lasagna, rum pecan pie (the rum was her own addition,) and {drumroll please} Easter Pepper Bread!

What’s Easter pepper bread, you ask? Why it’s a delicious Italian traditional bread made with lots and lots of cheese…and a bit of pepper. Some folks call it Easter Cheese Bread, but her Papa (what she lovingly called her Italian grandpa) always called it “Easter Pepper Bread,” so that’s what it is.

Thus, her adventure began. She had gathered all the necessary ingredients, including the 10, yes ten cups of flour it would require. She began to mix all of these wonderful ingredients in the KitchenAid mixer (after 4+ failed attempts to proof the yeast,) but wait! What was that terrible sound? And the smell of burning, grinding gears? And how did the mixing bowl become detached from the mixer? And why is there half-mixed bread dough all over the place?! She quickly turned off the mixer, looked around, realizing that the dough was too huge for the bowl (although she’d only added 6 of the 10 cups of flour thus far…that’s right,) and promptly had herself a little breakdown. Not a proud moment.

Thankfully, her husband was working from home and since it was Good Friday, an act of penance was probably called for anyway. He calmed her down, assured her that her grandfather was not looking down on her from above, too ashamed to intercede, and began to help knead the giant dough by hand.

Yes boys and girls, the heroic husband fought that giant ball of dough with his own bare man-hands. Can this picture possibly do justice to the sheer size of it?

 

Those are knuckle prints, by the by.

Those are knuckle prints, by the by.

All was well and they decided to only add 9 of the 10 cups because, well, they couldn’t take another break-down. So after several hours of letting it rise and punching it down, it was time to cram that giant ball of dough into this little spring form pan:

It took a lot of squishing to get it in there, let me tell you.

It took a lot of squishing to get it in there, let me tell you. Pardon the blur.

See? it fit. Kind of.

And about an hour later, they had this beautiful finished Italian Easter Pepper Bread loaf (remember that this was with less flour than it called for):

 

Kind of looks like Marvin the Martian's head, right?

Biiig!

Out of the pan! Still huge.

Out of the pan! Still huge.

Doesn't it compare nicely to this lovely Umbrian woman's loaf?

Doesn’t it compare nicely to this lovely Umbrian woman’s loaf?

And they lived happily ever after. The End.

Now kids, story time is over and it’s on to questions time. Good segue? Sure!

1. What did you and your family wear to Mass on Easter Sunday?

As I type this on Saturday, we haven’t been yet, but the plans were set in stone long ago. I have a pretty new brightly-colored dress and the dear husband has been putting together a “stroller” (which is apparently the fanciest thing in the world that you can wear before 6 pm and be legit.) Except that I was supposed to hem the pants on them and fasting days and simple sewing jobs do. not. mix. So I accidentally cut them in a bad place and have to try to fix it. See? It was a VERY penitential Good Friday. Pray for me, please.

Stroller

Classy, yes? He’s excited anyway.

2. Easter Bunny: thumbs up or thumbs down?

I am again neutral on the Easter Bunny issue. Rabbits are actually kind of gross animals, I should know. They poop all over themselves and just sit there, staring at you with their beady little red eyes. However, I do like that this one brings me candy and little gifts. So he’s ok, I guess. Plus I do have to agree with the whole “believing in magical impossible-sounding things reinforcing the Faith” thing.

3. Do you prefer to celebrate holidays at your own house or at someone else’s house?

It’s strange that I never considered this question before I moved away from my side of the family. Growing up, we had a large family party at least once a month to celebrate whatever holidays and birthdays had fallen within it. And no matter where we were, it always felt like home. I never thought about it. We all showed up early to clean and cook, and we always stayed late to clean up afterwards.

But since moving up here, I’m on the fence. I do notice and feel the difference. (Please note, it’s not in any way due to a lack of love or hospitality on the part of the other side of my family. They’re so wonderful to me and make me feel so loved.) I love having events at our house whenever possible because it’s fun to plan and it’s fun to get to make the decisions aaaaand it’s fun to already be home when the party is over. However, it is stressful. So perhaps a combination is the best of all worlds? Some here, some there.

4. What is your favorite kind of candy?

Twix. Original Reese’s Cups (not the weird shapes–they have too much peanut butter.) Twizzlers. Peeps! Oh, and those Queen Anne’s chocolate cherry cordials that only seem to surface around Christmas. Are you buying?

5. Do you like video games?

Yes, yes I do. However, outside of games like MarioKart, MarioParty, and Perfect Dark on our N64 (oh! and the mine cart level on Donkey Kong for the Super Nintendo…I just play that one level over and over and over,) I really prefer computer games. Specifically computer strategy games that I can play cooperatively with my husband. We started doing it when we were dating very long-distance and needed another way to bond beyond “just” talking on the phone. I’m a firm believer that playing games like Starcraft and Age of Empires has been such a great team-building, communication-improving exercise in fun for us that I’d recommend some variation of it for any family. My only rule when we play these games has been that we NEVER play against one another. We’re always on the same team. Because we’re too competitive to be enemies and I don’t like the mood that it fosters. We’re teammates in everything in this life–even our video games.

6. Do you speak another language? 

Not well. I took 3 years of Spanish in highschool, 3 years of Latin and 1 year of Attic Greek in college, and 6 months of the most traumatic French class ever in the sixth grade. I am fluent in nothing but English. In Italian, I can say, “Thank you, grandpa.” But that’s about it.

 

That’s all, folks! Have a happy and blessed Easter! Go enjoy some more Q&As at CAY. (See what I did there? Letters. Also I think I used that same link 3 times in this post.)

What We’re Doing for Lent

After my last post about my biggest goal for Lent this year, I thought it would be good and fun to share with you what we’re planning on doing as a family this Lent.

Over the years, I’ve found that I really need to challenge myself to commit to both physical and temporal sacrifices during Lent. I can remember after my earliest practicing Lents when I gave up Coke (it’s a big deal for a girl from the South,) when I decided that it would be much better for my soul to give up my time, which I am oh so stingy about. I spent a few years trying out things like the Liturgy of the Hours, Adoration, and reading the Bible daily.

But eventually, I realized that I’d fallen into a trap with that too. It was too easy. Because I am a great big wimp when it comes to physical difficulties. And I need to learn to master physical discipline if I’m ever gettin’ to Heaven. Seriously. So now, I try to make sure that I have a good mix of both things each year. Here’s what we’ve come up with so far this year:

Let's do this.

Let’s do this.

The Physical

Partial Abstinence

For the last three years, my husband and I have followed the traditional practice of partial abstinence during Lent. Partial abstinence means only allowing one meal a day that contains meat (except on Fridays, which have none at all.) We prayerfully considered doing no-meat at all during Lent, but ultimately decided that it wasn’t beneficial for our health at this point, and frankly: it’s a little too much to follow successfully. Partial abstinence for us is hard. Although our regular breakfasts don’t include meat, our lunches almost always do. And finding ways to cook lots of vegetarian/pescatarian leftovers or suffer the consequences of choosing between PB&J and tuna sandwiches every day is very penitential for us. It’s very hard, but it’s been so good for us! It was after practicing this for the first time that I felt really, truly joyous all through Easter (instead of just on Easter Sunday.)

Reducing Sweet Snacks

I can’t really cut out snacks completely due to my medications and health problems, but I can choose to have apple slices or crackers instead of that cookie someone brought into work. We don’t eat a lot of sweets around our house to start with (as evidenced by the stacks of old Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine’s candies on top of our pantry–from last year,) so giving them up isn’t a very big deal. We actually have been instead making it a point to add a special dessert on days when a solemnity falls during Lent (oh, how I love those days!) Just to make the distinction feel a bit more special.

Giving up Liquor & Cocktails

Oh Manhattans, how I love thee. (But seriously, wikipedia images… who wants to put Crown in a Manhattan?)

If you knew us, you’d know that this is kind of a big deal. Okay, now we sound like drunks. I promise we’re not. We’re just a family that loves the fun of a yummy, well-mixed cocktail over a glass of wine or a beer. We still enjoy wine and beer, but isn’t a Martini just so much better most nights? Or a Manhattan? My husband has gotten pretty good at mixing all kinds of cocktails over the last few years and they’re really our go-to treat. So we’re giving them up. Waaay harder than giving up candy, let me tell you.

The Temporal

Keeping Television Time to about 1 Hour a Day on Weekdays

We have a bad habit. When we both finally make it home on weeknights, as soon as dinner’s on the table, we’re exhausted. Done and ready to snuggle. So we watch one of our favorite TV shows on DVD. We don’t have cable or internet powerful enough to watch hulu on, so we own everything we enjoy watching together on DVD. While this is great, we often don’t keep it to one show (or a long show and a short one,) because we’re just beat and would rather keep watching and eat away at the little time that we have each evening. So we’re keeping it to one hour of TV time together on weekday evenings so we’ll have time to do some of these other fun things:

Reading the Gospels Together Daily

We’ve been wanting to do this for a while. The plan is to just start at Mark and work until we’re done with John (we’ll decide what happens after that when we get there.) We decided against a set amount of reading per night because every night is different in this house. Some nights we might get through a few chapters, but half a chapter might be all we can do on some nights when we work late.

Reading “My Catholic Faith” Together Weekly

I’ve told you about My Catholic Faith, right? If not, seriously, take my advice and go buy yourself a copy of it now from wherever you can get it. It is THE best family Catechism I have ever seen. And I run a Catholic bookstore, remember? Everything is so well organized and clearly written–no fuzzy gray areas for those without theology degrees. Bishop Marrow gives simply the best clarifications and elaborations on Church teachings you can find. Also, the pictures are beautiful and so, so informative. Just go get yourself one, dig? (P.S. I hear that if you get it through that link, they might throw me a couple of pennies. Which is cool. But no pressure.)

Best. Catechism. Ever.

Best. Catechism. Ever.

We’ll be reading at least one lesson per week during Lent, in the hopes that the habit sticks after the season is over. We’re deciding to keep the night flexible because when we’ve tried this previously, all it took was one wacky schedule change (which happens all the time) to throw off the whole thing. This way, maybe once a week will turn into twice a week.

In addition to these hard and fast commitments that we’re challenging ourselves with, we’re also planning to look for little opportunities throughout the day to offer extra little sacrifices. You know, the quiet little gestures of sacrifice for others that we ought to be doing anyway, or little extra penances like standing when we’d rather sit, doing our least favorite chores first, or doing things the hard way when the easy way is still an option. (Or big things like actually going to the gym.) This post has some wonderful ideas for just these kinds of sacrifices. I might even make some St. Therese Sacrifice Beads to help us along. I’ll let you know.

I’m so grateful to have had the season of Septuagesima again this year to help us prayerfully prepare for Lent’s coming. We were reminded with the readings and homilies in Mass that Lent was soon approaching and had the opportunity to do a “trail run” of some of our planned sacrifices to see if they’d really bear good fruit in practice. Isn’t that great?

There’s what we’re aiming for this Lent, what about you?

Why I’ve Been Gone & Where I’m Going

You might (or more likely might not) have noticed my absence from this blog over the last three four months. I’m still pretty surprised that it’s been that long already, and I’ve been feeling incredibly and inexplicably guilty about it. It’s strange that even though this isn’t something that pays me or that I even have much accountability for from anyone I know in person, I feel like it actually is a big commitment at which I’ve failed. I feel guilty and like I’ve let someone down (who, I don’t know,) but I’ve also recognized that stepping away from the additional commitment for a time was the right and healthy choice for me. And it may be again.

The truth of the matter is that the last several months have been incredibly overwhelming for me emotionally. And I’ve just been so drained from everything else that I haven’t had the energy, motivation, or even a useful idea about what to write.

So, here’s the story. Around this time last year, my doctor discovered an unidentifiable mass in my abdomen and after surgery to remove it, I was diagnosed with very severe endometriosis. (Someone give me a gold medal, because she claimed it’s the worst she’d ever seen.) Problem? Yes. But we were very hopeful that since they’d cleared all of the tissue, we would be able to follow the doc’s instructions and get pregnant asap. Because that’s what we’ve wanted most in the whole world.

Shortly following my surgery, however, I was diagnosed with another autoimmune issue: ulcerative colitis. Which, trust me, you do not want me to describe to you. Let’s suffice it to say that it was miserable and gross, gross, gross. But we were still trying. With no luck.

The GI doctor then put me on steroids (in addition to my other medication) to help with the UC. Which did…eventually. Unfortunately, being on the steroids for 6 months really screwed up a lot of other things including my weight (I’ve had literally dozens of well-meaning people ask me when the baby is due or how far along we are–one even rubbed my belly and argued with me that I “was too” pregnant when I told her we weren’t,) energy levels, and most importantly hormone levels.

When after so many months of trying despite the health issues and having no good news we sought treatment with our NaPro doctor, she informed us that the next step should be to run a series of blood work for a month to see if I was progesterone-deficient and that ovulation was happening as it should. Except we couldn’t start those until after I was off of the steroids because they would mess up the readings. And we had no idea when that would be.

So we waited, month after month, trying again and again and otherwise focusing on slowly getting me back to health in whatever way we could. I started this blog as an outlet with the hopes of meeting other women who were going through similar things and to just feel connected. Everything about the situation has been so isolating. It’s as if my husband and I are in survival mode all the time and it’s all we can do just to do the bare minimum. Which frightens me when I try to imagine being a good parent if, God willing, our prayers are answered.

The thing is, even though I’d started this blog to feel more connected to other women, including those struggling with fertility issues, I never talked about what was happening with me. I rarely even mentioned it and certainly never put the cards on the table. Because I was scared. Scared of someone I knew finding it (I’m odd, I know,) scared that it would turn into someplace that was full of drama and woe is me, scared of pigeon-holing myself as an infertility blogger when all I wanted (and I suspect many other women in this position feel this way too,) was to become a mother and transition into a happy-Catholic-mommy blogger and be accepted by this beautiful community of women whose blogs I’ve read. I love their happy stories and pictures of their children, their advice and strategies for disciplining and teaching them, the details of how their backs hurt and their feet ache, who threw up where and how these incredible women got down on their knees and wiped up the glamorous stuff. Seriously. I gobble that up like Lucky Charms.

But I’ve always felt like I’ll never be part of that world until we’re blessed with a child in some way. Because even if I could win these women’s sympathies, I’d never win their camaraderie until I’d earned it. And I want so badly to earn it. With poopy diapers, shirts covered in spit-up, scrubbing up vomit while trying not to be sick myself, mountains of laundry and dishes, hundreds of hours of kids’ TV shows, and saying goodbye to 6 hours of sleep a night.

I know I’m not alone. I know that there are thousands of women who have it worse than I do. My husband and I are still hopeful, now that we’ve just finally begun the blood tests that will hopefully change our lives. But so many women have been waiting for years longer than we have. Some have already been told that it just won’t happen, and some are even unable to adopt. These women are the bravest and strongest that I know. They carry the burden of the greatest pain imaginable for any woman, especially one whose vocation as a mother has been made clear to her.

The thing is, I think by God’s graces I could be strong enough to be a good parent, but I’ve been afraid that I’m not strong enough to not be a parent. I know, I shouldn’t doubt that God’s graces would be enough, and I don’t. But I do often doubt my ability to accept those graces and to make use of them.

So ladies, it’s time that I start reaching out and sharing this part of my life with you. Because maybe you can teach me how to accept those graces that I need. And maybe I can learn to share our struggles without being overwhelmed by them and turning this into a depressing blog. I neither want this to become a dark, sad place nor do I want it to be a place of constant cheery covered-up pain. I just want it to be honest.

Cheater’s Michaelmas

I know, it’s still a day early for Michaelmas. But tomorrow we have plans that we can’t get out of that involve not being home all day, so we’re celebrating today and hopefully our dear St. Michael won’t mind much. On the up side, since I’m posting a day in advance, you can totally steal my oh-so-complicated and original feast day ideas. 😉 [Edit: It actually took me so long to get this written up that now it really is Michaelmas. Whoops!] Confession: I came up with these very cheesy ideas, did the shopping, and THEN found some super delicious-sounding and legitimately traditional recipes online that I simply don’t have the time, money, or energy to produce. So feel free to call this a “Poor Man’s Michaelmas Dinner.”

Firstly, a little history (because learnin’ is important):

Fierce.

Fierce.

St. Michael the Archangel is the angel who fought satan during the great battle. And won, of course. My favorite tidbit about him actually stems from the fact that he was so named because when the evil one, who was the highest of the Seraphim (thusly named Lucifer, “light bearer”–think the light of God) heard that God the Father intended to have a Son who would be human, a being far beneath the angels in honor and glory, he became enraged. He was so offended because, as far as he was concerned, he was the closest to God and would never be so foolish. He started to believe that he was not just very close to God, but rather like God. Which of course he wasn’t (and isn’t) remotely. “Michael” means “Who is like God?” Please note the question mark. Even though ancient Hebrew has no punctuation, it’s important to establish that it was a (rhetorical) question and not, as it’s often mis-translated, “he who is like God.” Because obviously, no one is. That’s the point, yes? In short, that question became the battle cry of Michael and the other good angels during the battle.

Good story, right? What’s that, you already heard it? Only someone else told it better? Well aren’t we catechized. Good job. 😉 In that case, here’s some other fun facts about the angels that you might not already know.

-You know how every person is assigned a guardian angel when he or she is born? Well, each family is also assigned one during the Sacrament of Marriage. Boo-ya. (Good thing too, ’cause I need all the extra angels looking out for me that I can get.)

-Devotion to the angels is supposed to be a mark of predestination. Which makes me feel like I should start asking for their help a little more often.

-The nine choirs of angels are divided into three hierarchies which are (highest to lowest): Seraphim, Cherubim, & Thrones, Powers, Principalities, & Dominions, Virtues, Archangels, & Angels. Although apparently it’s more traditional to list them in ascending order. But I thought this would make more sense.

-Michael shares a feast day on the new calendar with the other two canonically-mentioned Archangels, Raphael & Gabriel.

* All fun facts from the totally awesome book, St. Michael and the Angels. You should get it.

Beautiful image of the choirs, yes? Can you guess who that is in the middle?

Secondly, here’s some fun recommendations of my favorite angel items from the store. You should get them.

Cold-Cast Bronze Statue. This company has the most detailed statues I've ever seen.

Cold-Cast Bronze Statue. This company has the most detailed statues I’ve ever seen.

An amazing book put out by TAN Book Publishers. It's basically a 30-day devotional to teach you all kinds of traditions about the angels.

An amazing book put out by TAN Book Publishers. It’s basically a 30-day devotional to teach you all kinds of traditions about the angels.

OK, we’re finally on to the food part. Here’s how we celebrated our early Michaelmas this year (in truly cheesy literal cheater’s fashion):

Yummy, yummy, in our tummies.

Yummy, yummy, in our tummies.

Angelhair Pasta with three colors of peppers to represent Michael, Raphael, & Gabriel. It was crazy good. Initially, I’d intended to make my own white parmesan sauce for this, but it was late and I’ll confess I cheated. I got to try out one of those new recipe starters. It was great. And went very well with the wine. Also, it was way less expensive than roasted goose, which is apparently the real traditional Michaelmas dinner.

Drool.

Drool.

For dinner we had–of course–angel food cake! And since my husband informs me that apples are totally in season right now, I cooked some apples in a bit of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. That’s a scoop of frozen coolwhip, by the way. But it tastes like ice cream. And, yes, it was even more delicious than it looks. Especially after we caved and drizzled the caramel sauce on top.

Happy Michaelmas!

Epic Road Trip Pt 4: Coming Home

I know you’ve all been such troopers sticking with me through my ramblings about road trip after road trip. Probably you’re just grateful that you’re not anywhere near my laundry pile right now and are ready to hear about something more interesting. Hopefully we’ll get to that. But until we tackle the biggest and most important trip of the batch: our trip home to Atlanta for my birthday.

I’ve mentioned in an off-handed sort of way a few times that I’m a Maryland transplant from Atlanta, Georgia. I was born there, but my family is originally from New York, so I spent most of my childhood feeling slightly displaced. I don’t say “y’all” more than about four times a year when I’m so tired that I’m probably actually trying to say something else anyway. I have no Southern accent. I can put on a decent one, but it’s really not natural at all. (Actually, when I’m really groggy, I sound like I’m from Brooklyn. You can thank my grandpa.) I don’t speak slowly or like to be outside in the Summer (ok–Southerners don’t really like this. They like their air conditioners.) I don’t have a fried chicken recipe that I swear by or eat chitlins or do much frying in general. I have no relatives who fly confederate flags from the backs of their pickup trucks. While I do know how to make a nice pitcher of sun tea, I don’t like to tell people that I’m fixin’ it.

Deep, deep, down, I think I’ve always wanted to try a hoop skirt.

It wasn’t until I moved to Maryland that I began to actually feel Southern. Most likely this is a result of many a heated argument that my husband and I have had regarding whether Maryland can be considered “the South.” He’s from here and defends this little state’s Southern-ness (yes, not really a word, but it’s been too long a day to care) tooth and nail. He argues that they wanted to secede from the Union, but mean ol’ Mr. Lincoln incarcerated the entire voting body so they couldn’t vote to do so. He’ll remind you that it’s technically south of the Mason-Dixon line. He’ll even quote a president as saying that Baltimore was a city of “Northern charm and Southern industry.” (Nice, huh?)

It wasn’t until I moved here that I started getting defensive about what’s really the South. Here’s my argument: None of the cashiers at the grocery store strike up a regular conversation with me while I’m unloading my cart. Eighty percent of the restaurants and fast food chains have pepsi products (shudder) instead of Coke. “Sweet” tea up here tastes like unsweetened tea where I come from. For that matter, in the real South, when you ask for a tea, they just bring you a sweet tea (a fact that used to drive me crazy when I lived there and wanted a cup of hot tea and had to phrase it as such.) Every building there has central ac–no matter how cheap the rent is. The grocery store’s policy is that they carry your bags out for you and you’re not allowed to tip the guy. There is a Waffle House on every exit. The Braves are, and always will be, America’s team. I could go on, but I’m sure you’re already convinced.

Just try to tell me this doesn’t make you want to be a Braves fan.

We usually compromise by agreeing that Maryland is not the “deep” South. For the health of our marriage.

All this is to say that after our miraculously short drive down (13 hours down driving overnight), I was ready to soak up every last bit of my semi-Southern/semi-New York Italian & Irish hometown and family as possible. We did it right folks: two Waffle House trips, a Zaxby’s stop (how I wish they’d open one up here!), two big family parties, and going directly from our air-conditioned rental car to similarly arctic conditions wherever we were going. We had a blast.

The best part, though, was seeing my family for the first time since Christmas. We were supposed to go down for Easter, but between my surgery and the husband’s new job having just started, there was just no vacation time. We made dinner with my mom and sister, stayed up late talking and drinking tea (hot tea with milk and sugar for the record–Irish style) as we’ve always done in my family, and watched baseball movies.

Why yes, my husband did get the owner of Waffle House to personally send me two mugs for Christmas this year. I'm so lucky.

Why yes, my husband did get the owner of Waffle House to personally send me two mugs for Christmas this year. I’m so lucky.

We also had a family party to celebrate all of the birthdays from August and September (5, if you’re curious. Although we added the one October kid in to make it 6). I adore our family parties. There’s something about being just this one simultaneously very important and not really important at all person in a loud, loving, swirling mass of aunts, uncles, cousins, and children of assorted ages. I feel more grounded, more me, and more at home than I do just about anywhere else.

As long as I can remember, we would have one birthday party a month for any family members born during it (hey–it’s expensive to feed that many people,) except for the horrible, sad gap between New Year’s and Easter. There are only four birthdays during this gap and because we’ll have just lugged out the big bucks to afford Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s parties back-to-back-to-back, we have to take a break. It took me years to realize that I would often sink into a mild depression during this time of year because I needed the madness of my beautiful and crazy family to recharge. Turns out, I needed the physical closeness and volume and food and jokes and hugs to feel connected to my sense of self.

Our modern secular culture would not like my family or my reliance upon it. This culture constantly tells us that we’re supposed to be entirely self-reliant, self-contained, and self-important. Our identity should never be wrapped up in someone else, it says. We must be independent! Chase our dreams! Sacrifice for no one!

But guess what? Our faith teaches us that being interdependent, being consistently generous, and emptying ourselves for the love of others is how we get to Heaven. What my family taught me, without knowing it, is that it is better to be part of the love and madness of a family than to be self-contained. They taught me that sacrificing my eardrums and my personal space and spending hours over a hot stove to prepare a meal for twenty-something people to show them that I love them is the best thing in the world. When I’m home, I am just one very loved but singular component of the great, big, wonderful thing that is my family, for which I would give whatever is required of me.

My family prepared me for my vocation as a wife and, hopefully some day, a mother. Because the unconditional and sacrificial love that I’m overwhelmed by and surrounded by during a regular family dinner is a sign, a dim reflection, of the beatific vision that I’m stumbling towards, Heaven. And it’s a great thing if I can focus on yearning for that Heavenly home the way that I yearn for this earthly one.

St. Monica, Motherhood, & Absolute Hope

Before I catch you up on leg three of our big Summer road trip (which admittedly is not nearly as exciting as the first two legs,) I thought we’d take a little break and I’d just throw out a little thanks to Monica who accidentally (must have been an accident, right?) got me the most views in a single day that I’ve ever had so far. Who knew bragging about what great kids catechesis crafts stuff she comes up with would pay off for me too?

I promise you that it’s merely a coincidence that I’m bragging about my own new favorite Monica in a post about her great namesake.

We’re selling this new book on St. Monica in our store right now. It looks wonderful and this image just captures her so well.

I’ve always felt so drawn to the beautiful St. Monica whose steadfastness, persistence, and simple example of Christian womanhood have never failed to inspire me when I’m feeling my lowest. St. Monica is someone that I strive to be, especially in the workplace each day.

I run a Catholic bookstore, which is simultaneously one of the most fun, exciting jobs I can imagine, and one of the most emotionally and spiritually difficult. As a store, we exist not just so people can swing by and pick up a miraculous medal or baptism gift (although of course they can,) but also as a spiritual soft place to land, a support network, a counselling center, a cheerleader camp, a library and a set of shoulders to cry on. We see people in our little store every day that are suffering and surviving through tragedies and losses far more intense than I can even imagine experiencing. We also see people brimming over, exploding with joy in their happiest moments. It’s an emotional roller coaster every day as we fill the moments between heartbreak and celebration with stocking the shelves, placing orders, restarting the CD player, and checking email.

My job, really, is to help people get to Heaven, however I can. That’s what every task of my day from answering the phone to holding a sobbing customer who recently lost her child in my arms, to selecting the right books, to teaching a new friend how to pray the Rosary is all about. It’s a beautiful and wonderful thing to be blessed with such a vocation. It’s a vocation to do a million little things a day that seem like logistics, but are really acts of great love. It’s a vocation to comfort, to mourn alongside others, and to acknowledge their pain by sharing in it in some small way. It’s a vocation to put a copy of My Catholic Faith into someone’s hands who doesn’t know they need it yet (Ask your local Catholic bookstore for that one please!) It’s a vocation to pray fervently that every person who walks into the store making jokes about being a cafeteria Catholic (I was guilty of this for years) will some day see the light and bask in the fullness of Truth.

It’s a lot like motherhood. I’ve mentioned before that we haven’t been blessed yet with children, but I like to think that Our Lord has given me this job as a way of both practicing for future motherhood and as a way to actively live my vocation as a mother in a way that models His own mother and St. Monica. He challenges me every day to dig deeper, no matter how exhausted I am, to bring consolation, or insight, or at least a smile to the face of every person that He sends through that door. He’s given me a way to care for others and to learn how to love more generously.

Just like the motherhood that I see exampled in all of the women I’ve met online and whose blogs I read, I am called to example love, patience, steadfastness, humility, and simplicity in the same way that St. Monica did each day of her life. St. Monica exemplifies a motherhood spent waiting in absolute hope. I pray that I can learn from her example not only as a mothering caretaker of souls at work, but as a woman who is waiting to fulfill her vocation to love as a mother of children. I pray that I can learn to patiently wait for God’s perfect timing and perfect plan for our lives, all the while remaining steadfast in an absolute and trusting hope. I pray that I might remember always that my every action, no matter how quiet or simple, has the potential to draw me and others closer to Our Lord.

Oatmeal bread is simple, strong, and solid, like St. Monica.

Oatmeal bread is simple, strong, and solid, like St. Monica.

I’ll tell you about our adventures in bread-making soon, but I wanted to share a picture of this oatmeal bread that we made using a recipe from my new favorite cookbook. Baking bread is an excellent way to honor St. Monica on her feast day because very little that you can do in the kitchen requires more carefulness and patience.

St. Monica, ora pro nobis. Please make us good waiters.