Thursday, February 01, 2018

Grandma, We Miss You Every Day!

It's been 1.5 years since Heaven gained this saint, and we miss her every day.  How lucky I am to have had her as my grandmother!  I will love her forever.

A Letter to My 5-Year-Old Son

January 31, 2018

My dearest Liam,

Tonight I experienced one of the most precious, tender moments of my life with you.  Tonight you are 5 years old and 5 months.  As we were preparing for bed, you were crying…simply because you didn’t want to clean up the toys in our living room—and mostly because you were tired.  You came up to me and cried, “My eyes are dropping tears all the way to the ground, Mommy.”  And I could see it was true.

So I turned on the CD player, which had newly been restocked with the Hidden in My Heart album by Scripture Lullabies.  It had been given to us by my dear friend Juliana Tomlinson on the occasion of your birth.  Throughout your entire infancy and babyhood, I listened to that CD with you every time I held you and rocked you in the rocking chair. In your first 2 years of life, I think I held and nursed you constantly!  So indeed this music is the soundtrack to your babyhood and the soundtrack of my motherhood!

The first track began to play, and I know you recognized it as much as I did.  It was called “Be Still and Know,” and—as it played—I sat down on the rocker and invited you to come sit on my lap.  You looked relieved to have such an invitation, and you curled up into my lap like you always did.  As you laid your head on my shoulder, I began to sing to you and rub your face.

At first, you didn’t really look at me.  You somewhat closed your eyes or looked slightly away from me as I sang to you and gently played with your eyebrows.  But I knew you were the baby boy who used to stare lovingly back into my eyes from the first day he was born. And, within a few minutes, we suddenly got very REAL. I started to weep tears of joy, realizing again how MUCH I love to hold you like this and how MUCH I miss it. You opened your eyes fully and began to behold me with your eyes as you’ve always done, and I could see the love in them!

As I cried, completely and beautifully affected by the joy of holding you, the beauty of the music, and the vivid memories of your babyhood, I started to tell you how much I missed holding you like this and that maybe we ought to do it more often!  You nodded.  And then I reminded you of what I’ve always said to you: that I LOVE holding you like this and will ALWAYS enjoy holding you this, even when you’re a big, strong man!  We both laughed a little.

“The Peace of God” played next.  As I continued singing and holding you, my tears suddenly started to flow even more, and I knew exactly why.  I told you how amazed I was that you were going to kindergarten next year and how these first 5 years have flown by.  I told you how much fun I knew you’d have in school but that I’d miss you every minute that you were gone…and that I’d be watching the clock for that first moment when I’d get to see you again.  “And you must tell me EVERYTHING about your day,” I said between sobs.

You were looking at my face with wonder, and your eyes were now crying, too.  I told you how God blessed you with such a good brain and such a good heart.  “You got both!” I exclaimed amid my tears, and you smiled. 

I told you how much I love seeing you get excited about things that you enjoy (which right now happens to be model trains and full-size steam locomotives, and interest I think you’ll have for LIFE!) and told you that in kindergarten you’d discover even MORE things that you’ll love.  I told you that God has a wonderful kindergarten teacher prepared for you, and it will be exciting to see who He reveals that to be. But I still cried hard about missing you, and I told you that the house wouldn’t the same without you walking around within it during the day. You kept giving me tight hugs. “Do you understand what I am saying?” I asked. And you nodded that you did.

As “Seek Ye First” began to play, I told you how grateful I was to be your Mommy and how blessed we were to have Daddy provide for us in a way that allowed me to be home with you all the days of your life before school. “We did it,” I told you, amazed and relieved.

Then “Precious Life” started to play. My tears continued to flow, and then I started to tell you how much I loved you and how grateful I was that God gave you to me as a child. I told you how unique you are, how there has never been someone exactly like you and how there never will be again. And then my sobbing continued as I shared with you how much I prayed for you over the course of my life. I knew that, as you listened, you FELT SO DEEPLY what I was saying, for you have been blessed with a very empathetic heart. I told you again how I used to pray and beg God to please give me a husband and children. And then I told you how much my life was changed when I met Daddy, when you were born, and when Vera was born!

You asked little questions, but mostly you just wanted to listen. Mostly, you just wanted to be held. And you wanted to be there for me.  And when I asked you two separate times what you enjoyed doing with me best, you said, “Just being with you.”  That made me heart swell!

Eventually, our conversation ceased.  But the music kept playing.  And we kept rocking.  And my tears continued to flow, sometimes in little waves and, at other times, in big waves.  I noticed and appreciated that you weren’t at all interested in going anywhere else.  You just wanted to stay in my arms a little bit longer.  You knew what we had was a tender, magical moment.  And we were going to make it last as long as we could.

When you finally did get up off my lap (for, at this point, your long body was just uncomfortable!), I saw that we had listened to 9 of the 12 tracks on the CD.  Later I totaled these to discover that we spent 38 precious minutes together like that!!  I held and rocked you and told you how much I loved you for 38 lovely, wonderful, forever-in-my-heart minutes!  My heart feels so FULL tonight.  And I thank you for that.  I thank you for being the most wonderful son my heart could have ever hoped for, and I thank you for loving me back with what appears to be the same intensity I have for you!!

With all my love forever,

And yet, it wasn't so long ago that we looked like this!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Reflection on Marriage and God

I'm not a psychologist.  Or a theologian. 

But I am a wife.  And I have many friends in the same vocation. 

In the many couples I know who are struggling in their marriage (for no couple is without their struggles), it all seems to boil down to the same thing:  She wants him to be more romantic, to be more physically affectionate, and to speak more words of affirmation.

What is amazing to me is how all of us women are feeling the SAME things.  How can our stories be so similiar when our lives are so different?

This must mean that we women have fundamental similarities and needs.  Likewise, it must mean that our men are all wired like each other.  But why do we women have such strong needs to be fulfilled by our husbands?  Is it even fair to think that men CAN fulfill them?

To answer these questions, let's go back to the Garden of Eden, that lovely Paradise of a place where our problems were auspiciously absent.  It was pure perfection...until our free will (and the chosen disobedience) got us into trouble.

Disobeying God brought the effects of sin into the world.  With it came some specific consequences, said to us by the booming voice of God.  To the man, God said that he would have to work hard all the days of his life in order to obtain food from the earth.  None of this would come easy.  His brow would sweat as he worked for his sustenance, Scripture says, and we know that most good men today shoulder this burden to provide for their families.

But what did God say to the woman?  In Genesis 3:16, He says to her, "I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children."

Ouch.  OK, so this is one we all know well.

But the sentence afterward is something we usually glide over and go past.  God then says to the woman, "Your yearning shall be for your husband, yet he will lord it over you."  Other versions of the Bible say, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

The younger version of me used to think, "OK, so childbirth is gonna stink, but...desiring my husband?  I'm fine with that!"

But remember, this condition of yearning is meant to be a consequence of original sin.  And a consequence is a negative result from an undesirable action.  This desiring, then, is one which is meant to BURDEN us.

Let's look more closely at what this Biblical translation might be telling us.  To desire isn't just to want; it is to yearn so strongly that it is to crave and to deeply ache for--and, according to some Bible versions--it is even synonymous with the want to control.

Ladies, do we get like this sometimes?  We do!

This deep ache for our husbands is a consequence that will last continuously during our earthly experience.  Just like painful childbirth, this ache for him is a burden we must carry as women.  For, if we are always to desire him, it seems reasonable to understand that we will never truly be satisfied by him.

This does not mean that men are incapable of loving women correctly or that we cannot aim for wonderful, happy lives together.  But it does mean that our needs will always--in small degrees and in large degrees--remain unfulfilled.  Why?  Because until we behold our Beloved God in Heaven one day, having been truly redeemed from our sins by our Savior Jesus Christ, our ache will really be for Him and what He originally intended for us as couples.  Heaven is meant to be even more glorious than that original Paradise we messed up.  God, in His Mercy, has a plan for us that is more beautiful than we could have ever imagined.

So what do we women do with this burden of continuous ache for the actions of our husbands?  We allow it to purify us, to strip us of ourselves, to sanctify us, and to ultimately turn our hearts to the One who CAN fulfill.

In the hope of Heaven, we live today as if we HAVE been fulfilled.  We live out our belief in God by doing so!

Our God is a jealous God, and He did not give us husbands to replace His rightful place in our hearts.  Our ache is for Him, and so we must live and carry ourselves with the hope of bringing Heaven to earth now.  By letting Heaven dwell in our hearts and minds, we conduct ourselves as saints and carry our earthly burdens with joy.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Liam's Third Season of Playing Soccer Shots

Our boy is enjoying his third season of playing soccer!  The other week a professional photographer arrived on the scene to capture moments for the Soccer Shots website.  We were so thrilled to see the results!  Liam will be 5 next month, and he started playing soccer when he was 2.5, I believe.  We are so proud of you, son!!

Click on any image below to see a larger version.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

How to Get Scratches and Stains Out of Leather

I'm a HUGE fan of vegetable-tanned leather.  It's the stuff of Madewell bags, and it burnishes into a distinctive patina over time.

I'm a bit of a collector of these bags, and so--when I get a scratch or stain on one--I kinda freak out.

But experience has taught me two fun tricks of the trade in keeping this type of leather looking good.  And today, I'm happy to share them with you.  :)

Last month, when my 2-year-old daughter had a temper tantrum while we were on a walk to get breakfast downtown, she started wailing her arms at me and clawed at my bag like a lion.

The result was several bright blonde streaks that glared boldly on my formerly sleek, brown bag.  It took every ounce of my being to scold her only for her misbehavior and not for damaging my favorite handbag.

Since the day ahead of us was going to be long and out-of-the-house, all I could do was (1) pray hard, and (2) touch my bag's wounds repeatedly with my palms, desperately hoping that the natural oils of my skin might soothe the distressed skin cells of the leather into laying flat again.

With the heat of July, my frequent hand-touching made those scratches disappear completely!  I was astounded.  They have not come back and there is absolutely no way for the naked eye to identify where those scratches were, even when looking at the surface from every angle.  I wish I had taken a "before" picture because you'd never believe the transformation that my bag took.  Thank you, God, for your mercy!

And now for my second leather care discovery that I made that day...

Earlier that day, when I reached for the bag before we left the house, I was disappointed to notice a unsightly stain from my arm pit on one of the shoulder straps.  I realized that, the last time I had carried the bag, I wore a sleeveless shirt.  No doubt the liquid stain (with its ugly black outline most pronounced) was a combination of my salty sweat and the chemicals in my deodorant.

But guess what!  As this long hot day went on, I was pleased to discover that half the stain disappeared, simply because of the warmth of my underarm, as the bag's strap had been pressed against the pit of my sleeve the entire day.  (Thank goodness I wasn't wearing a sleeveless shirt this day!)

Now knowing this, I decided to warm up the other half of the water stain by carrying the strap in a slightly different position, so that it would touch against my person (OK, my arm pit) even more.  Within a short time, I could see that the upper half of the stain was migrating...and, with a gentle rubbing of my fingers, I was able to erase the stain completely, for I must have been whisking out the excess liquid that was trapped beneath the leather's surface.  Can you believe it?!

So there you have it!  If you've got a scratch on your leather, rub it with your sweaty palms on a hot day.  If you've got a water mark stain, heat up the leather and whisk it out with a gentle rub.

Friday, July 28, 2017

To The Girl in the Mirror

Last night I made a promise to the girl in the mirror.  It was the second time in my life that I've done this.

The first time was when she was in 5th grade or younger.  I looked her squarely in the face and promised that she'd be beautiful one day, that she'd walk with confidence, that she'd succeed academically and professionally, and that she'd capture the hearts of innumerable men.

OK, so maybe that last thing was a little bold.  But, still, she got the point.  And whenever she'd have a bad day, I reminded her of our promise.  The best was yet to come, and we knew it together.

And it did.  I had a blast.  We had a blast!

I can look back on my life and smile, recalling all the social events I've attended or organized, all the hobbies I've pursued and had fun with, all the academic hurdles I leaped through, and all the professional accomplishments I enjoyed.  Interestingly, reflecting on all the fun I've had with my wardrobe during those phases is also a big part of my fond memories.  But mostly, I look at the present and marvel at this amazing husband I have beside me, this intelligent little boy I am honored to call my son, and this sweet little girl I am flattered to call daughter.

And yet, this beautiful era of early motherhood brings with it physical exhaustion, isolation from friends, and a dying-to-self that is meant for my sanctity.  Perhaps I should have realized earlier that this calls for another meeting with that girl in the mirror.

I hadn't been smiling at her as much, and I think it's because I've noticed her gray hairs and a few more wrinkles -- and because her sense of fashion isn't as up-to-the-moment as it used to be.  But it's not because she isn't wonderful.  It's because she's more wonderful than she's ever been.  She's giving of herself every day to make this family live and breathe and have its being. 

So last night at 11 PM, I made another promise to the girl I saw in the mirror.  And when I walked up to her, she was ready, smiling and listening and poised for the good news.  It was as if she was expecting it, deserving it, and could read my mind.  And then I remembered that all three were true.

I promised to be her Best Friend, forever and always.  That I would take care of her, uplift her, encourage her, smile at her, and nourish her body and mind with positivism, healthy food, and longer sleep.  Gone, I promised, are the days of feeling sorry for her or over-analyzing her or saddling her with fears, judgements, or criticisms.  Ahead of us, I promised, was a long lifetime of more fun than I've ever had (she was shocked!), good health, and happiness (which I've recently learned is a skill to acquire and refine from within, not something that comes upon us externally).

She was thrilled to hear it, and so was I.  We laughed together for a moment.  And then I saw a twinkle in her eye which told me to get on with it.  So I returned to washing my huge pile of dishes in the sink but knew that everything was different; she had my back and I had hers.  We are Best Friends, which we had always been and now forever will be!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

My Wonderful Parents

These are my wonderful parents.  Even as I get older, I find I still need them every day!  I love you, Mom and Dad.  I am so blessed to have your presence and your positivism in my life!

Our Family Photos by Juliana Tomlinson Photography

In March 2017, we took the plunge and finally had a professional photo shoot done in the studio of Juliana Tomlinson, my beloved friend and our Vera's Godmother!  This was a dream come true for me, as it's something I've always wanted.  How pleased we were with the results!  Thank you, Juliana!  Click on any image below to see it larger!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Vera Likes Football!

Our purse-carrying, pink-wearing, babydoll-loving daughter is more than just a girl enjoying frilly, girly things.  Check out this email below which I sent to my mother and aunt today.  So cute!


Mom and Tess,
Just a few things to share with you!

It's so beautiful and interesting our God makes each child so unique!  I still marvel at how Vera and Liam each approach water so differently.  Liam can't stand water anywhere near his face (like his mommy and grandmother!) and Vera can't get enough of water in her face and thinks it's hilarious!

I wanted to share with you that Vera and her Daddy have a new thing they bond over now!
Vera LOVES football.  Can you believe it?!  She LOVES watching it with Daddy.  She literally REQUESTS it, saying the word, "Football!" in this sweet baby way.
Most of the time she requests it when he's here, holding up her arms to be scooped up so that she can sit on his lap and watch football with him on his phone.
But more recently, she's even starting to ask for football when Daddy's not here.  Today, in fact, I brought up a clip on YouTube of some football games and she was thrilled.
Liam, on the other hand, has never enjoyed watching football...and neither have I!
I can see it now...Michael and Vera will be sporting their football jerseys and talking to the television when important games are on...and Liam and I will be in another room, snacking on chips or something!

A Day in My Life - Winter 2017 Version :)

I am LOVING this phase of childhood right now.  It is such a sweet spot!  Liam is 4 years and 4 months old while Vera is 23 months old.

The kids are becoming so independent; there is so much they can do!  And this affords me more time each day to complete tasks around the house and even occasionally spend time on developing myself.  :)

Since some of you have asked for it and since I would love to remember it for posterity, here's a sample day in my life!  Of course, this is the Winter Version, since we don't get outside much in this bitter cold January weather.  When the Spring is here, I will have to give you an updated version!  We usually get outside 2-3 times per day in the nice weather.  :)

On most mornings, we wake at 8:00 for a 9:15 departure for either preschool or gym class.  I serve the kids a warm bacon and egg quiche with a side of cut grapes just about every morning.  During this time, I let them watch cartoons while I will shower.

While Liam is in school, Vera and I will either attend story time at the library (where we literally bring home a rolling cart of new books), run errands (like grocery shopping), or temporarily separate for 2 hours so that I can attend a mom's group Bible study and she can enjoy socializing with her fellow under-two-year-olds in the nursery (which she loves).

At the conclusion of preschool, we head back home for lunch and our daily faith lesson.  I have been having immense fun planning a simple lesson each day for the kids which corresponds to the liturgical calendar.  On most days, we focus on an attribute of God or His Mother, and then we look for that attribute in the saint of the day.  At other times, we focus on a particular sacrament, miracle of Jesus, or parable that He told.  But we always connect the lesson to something on the liturgical calendar, even if it be one of the readings at daily mass.  After I teach the lesson, Liam summarizes the lesson and "teaches" it back to me so that I can check for his understanding of the most important points.  It is fun to discover what parts of the lesson stand out to him most!  And it is beautiful to see the development of his heart!  The practical application questions are probably my favorite.  :)  His ideas challenge me to be a better person!

Next is Liam's piano practice, unless the day calls for a new lesson from the piano teacher herself.  During this time, Vera will paint with brushes, color with crayons, design with sand art, or play with a sticker book.  Words cannot express how much I enjoy teaching piano to Liam, for I am learning just as he is!  Just before we start, I usually throw into the washing machine a load of laundry and bring up a basket of newly dried items.

After piano, it's bath time.  Often I will get into my bathing suit and jump into the tub with them!  Relaxing in the hot water while my children play around me is peace beyond comparison!  There's no rushing and no need to worry about getting clothes wet while washing the kids.  We're all just fully immersed, both in the water and in the moment.  :)

After fresh towels, fuzzy house coats, and getting in pajamas for the night (even though it's only 3 PM) it's time to nurse Vera and put her down for her nap, and thus begins Liam's Independent Time.  Depending on his choice, I will set up in his room the painting easel, a stereo with light classical music playing at low volume, or plop a nice pile of new library books on his bed.  The rules are simply that he cannot play with toys and he must remain quiet.  Often, I will challenge him to create something new that didn't exist before.  He does a great job with it!

This, then, gives me 45 minutes to an hour to myself!  First, I make the bed for Michael because this is usually the first time I've looked at our bed since I exited it.  Then I try to immerse myself in reading Scripture, and I open my prayer book of intentions.  The view out our bedroom window is of evergreen tree tops and endless blue sky, the perfect backdrop for a time of reflection.  Sometimes I will then blog about life or jot down inspirational notes for my hopeful Fall 2017 YouTube channel.  Or I might catch up on reading and replying to texts and emails.  This personal time is something I've truly waited 3.5 to 4 years for!  And I thank God for it!

Liam and I meet up again about an hour later for dinner preparation.  He has the heart to help but is usually too distracted, so he typically just keeps me company or plays in the living room while I make dinner.  Wafting aromas usually wake Vera, and before long, the kids are helping me to set the table and prepare for Daddy's arrival.

At dinner time, Liam then teaches the day's faith lesson to Daddy while we all eat.  A fun, intersting factoid about our family is that we are constantly sitting down in different places around the table.  The "assigned seats" that we used to have for 4 years disappeared completely somewhere in the last 4 months.  And I love it.  :)

After dinner, I try to pull myself away and force myself to do the dishes because, if I don't, they won't get done.  During this time, Michael will fold and put away all the baskets of laundry that I washed that day.  If, for some reason, the kids didn't have a bath or aren't in their jammies, Michael will do this with the kids at this time.  Then I brush their teeth, we all give our hugs and kisses goodnight, and then Michael and Liam retire to his room for books and night prayer, while Vera and I retire to hers for the same thing.

After the kids are asleep (which is typically at 9 PM), I'll spend the next hour or two finishing the dishes, packing Michael's lunch, starting another load of laundry, and planning tomorrow's faith lesson.  Meal planning (which includes making a grocery list) takes an incredible amount of my time, but I'm excited to unveil in a subsequent blog posting a new strategy I've just come up with (just yesterday!) to streamline the process and save me HOURS of time each week.  Stay tuned for that!

Meanwhile, Michael will head to his office, open mail, and pay bills.  My guilty pleasure before bed is watching YouTube videos on fashion and lifestyle.  But I'm working to limit those so that I can go to sleep when my husband does!  While laying in bed, we try to read some sort of faith-based book together, and right now we are renewing our consecration to Mary by reading Thirty-three Days to Morning Glory.

Thanks for listening!  This was a fun post to write and share with you.  :)

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Packed Lunches and Good News

Today we all ate lunch at our local Ford dealership. 

We could have eaten at home, but Liam was much too excited for the little plastic table, toys, and books that reside in the corner of the waiting room.

So, after preschool pick-up and the unload into the house, I started feverishly packing four lunches.  Michael had the day off from work, and we had spent the morning choosing a new front door, storm door, and interior doors at the Home Depot.  We were hungry.

We spent a good hour there in the waiting room, chomping down and having fun, with the kids' antics entertaining the other customers slightly more than the flat-screen television and free snacks.

But upon hearing the good news that our oil change was complete, my day was made by some other news entirely.

"Do you guys own the black 2008 Ford Escape?" a mechanic asked from afar.  Michael was paying at the front desk, and I was helping the kids get their coats on.

After hearing our yes, the man said with a warm smile, "Well, I can tell that you are very attentive parents."

"What is it about our car that gave you that impression?" I said, laughing at the curious origin of this compliment.

"First off, your car seats are perfectly installed," he began.  "Most people do not have their children's car seats properly installed, and since I'm not permitted to tighten or fix them, I usually have to leave a little note."  Then he continued.

"And secondly, I liked the little note you had on the dash with questions that you ask your son about his school day."

Oh my goodness.  He had me figured out!

I must have turned beet red, but I was incredibly flattered and so thankful that this man took the time to be kind.

"You must get little insights into the owners of each vehicle you work on," I said.  But then I apologized with, "Please excuse the messiness of our car!"

He countered, "I don't see any mess.  I see you emotionally connecting with your children."

We both smiled and thanked him for his kindness.

God bless this man for making my day!

It makes me realize that one can never know how far a compliment can go in lifting someone up.  We should all strive to give out sincere and detailed compliments to one another more often!  Lord, please help me do this.