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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Little Oratory + prayer journal + Sheenazing!

So tell me you read Like Mother, Like Daughter. You do, right? It's one of my favorite blogs and you all know how excited I was to meet Auntie Leila a few months ago.

I bought her book when I met her, and ever since then, I've been trying to think of a way to make the kind of little "home altar" she talks about. Tricky when you're as tight on space as we are. But on Saturday when we were (fiiiiinally) taking down our Christmas decorations, we put away the Nativity set that had been on the table next to our front door and suddenly it sat empty. And I looked at that open tabletop right next to Frank's icon wall and I went "Ah-ha!"

So this happened:


I wish we could have the table UNDER the icons but Frank says that it crowds the door too much, so this will have to do. I also wish we didn't have the printer and all that other stuff under it, but there's no where else to put them so it's working for now. Hey, I'm just so excited we finally have the beginnings of a "little oratory"!

Here's a closer look at the table:


We've got a picture of Popes Benedict and Francis that Frank and I purchased when we went to Rome on our honeymoon (shhhh... it's actually a postcard), we've got an image of a saint's funeral (can't remember which saint) that one of our artistic friends painted, we've got our nicest Bible, a candle... and see that little white envelope poking out of a vase on the far right? That, my friends, contains a relic of St. John the Baptist, a gift from a former professor. So cool, right?! We're hoping to get a nice icon of St. John the Baptist that we can attach the relic to.

And see that little red notebook underneath on the right side? I got the idea from Mrs. Lawler's book to start a family journal of prayer intentions and keep it with the little altar.

On that note, I have a question for you. Lately I've seen several people mention on social media that they use "prayer journals" as part of their spiritual life. I will be honest, I don't exactly understand what a prayer journal is, but the concept sounds fascinating! If you use a prayer journal or know someone who does, would you mind sharing a little bit about what it is and how you use it? Thanks!

Finally, here is Frank's beloved icon wall, the inspiration for this whole thing:


Guys. This is only part of his icon collection. Yesterday he said, "It's lucky for me that you like icons," and I was like YUP.

Finally, I'm so honored to share that some kind soul nominated me for the Sheenazing award for under-appreciated blog! I've admired these awards from afar for several years so it's a HUGE honor to be included. Thank you so much to whoever nominated me, and please go check out the other amazing nominees!


Update: And now I'll be sharing our (very preliminary) Little Oratory on Leila's "my Little Oratory" page. Link yours up too!

Friday, January 9, 2015

My grandfather's memory



(Frankie with his great-grandfather at 6 weeks and 8 months old)

Lillian called me from the other end of the pool. "Theresa! Come quick! Grandpa just asked where the other baby is!"

I had just returned from walking on the beach with my husband and baby on our last day in Florida. As soon as I heard this, I hurried to her.

"Wow, he remembered there are two of them?" I told her. "I'm impressed!"

Then, turning to our grandfather, I held my baby toward him.

"Look, Grandpa," I said. "Here's the other baby!"

I sat down next to her on the pool chair and plunked my baby down next to my sister's, where our grandfather could easily see them.

"Do you know who is the mother of this baby?" Lillian gently encouraged him in Spanish. "Do you remember her?"

Grandpa glanced at my baby and then stared blankly ahead, as he almost always does these days.

We sat and talked to him for a while, telling him stories and explaining who we were. We told him that we are the twins, Theresa and Lillian—his oldest grandchildren—and that these were our babies.

"This one is named Francisco, like you," I told him. "He's named after you, Grandpa." I tell him this every time I see him, hoping he will understand for at least a few minutes.

Lillian said, "You remember your son J--? These are his grandsons. Can you believe your little boy is a grandfather?"

Grandpa just sat and stared as though we weren't there. Finally, after several minutes, he looked at the babies and said in Spanish, "This one has blue eyes"—he pointed at Frankie—"and that one has black"—he pointed at my sister's son.

"Yes! Francisco has blue eyes just like you," Lillian applauded him. "Isn't that incredible, Grandpa?"

Grandpa reached out a finger and tentatively touched little Frankie's hand. The father of six children and grandfather of twenty, Grandpa has always loved babies.

I stared into my grandfather's blue eyes and tried hard to share my sister's positive behavior. Instead I felt my own eyes filling up with tears.

Recently one of my little siblings told me, "I can't remember a time before Grandpa was like this." That broke my heart because, to me, this never has been and never will be who he really is.

Our grandfather is a brave man who fled Cuba in his twenties as a medical student and made a life over here for his brand-new bride. He is a faithful man who raised six children with her and lectored at church every Sunday. He is a patriotic man who served in the United States Air Force with gratitude for the country that gave him and his family refuge. He is a generous man who worked incredibly hard to send his children to the best colleges in America and took most of his grandchildren to visit his birthplace in southern Spain. Now he is a man who suffers from advanced dementia and rarely recognizes anyone or talks to us anymore.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Christmas + Miami family reunion

Christmas happened! We had a traditional Cuban dinner on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) with cousins visiting from Miami, and then Frank and I went to a 10 pm caroling service followed by "Midnight" Mass at 10:30 pm at our parish. The church and the liturgy were stunningly beautiful. Just like last year, walking into the glowing church late at night to see this display took my breath away. I got this picture of the Christmas decorations the following Sunday:


Frankie had taken a good nap that evening but he was still a seriously cranky Frankie for most of Mass. After a solid nursing sesh in the vestibule, he caught his second wind and was all smiles for our friends and priests after the service. We didn't even mind his behavior because we were so happy to be there. "Midnight" Mass at my parish is my favorite liturgy ever, and that's saying something.


We had a quiet Christmas morning with just the three of us. Frank made a delicious breakfast and we FaceTimed with his family, then took turns opening gifts. I was thrilled to get a new camera from Frank (hurray for much better quality photos!) and a Fitbit from my parents. Frank couldn't resist getting Frankie these cute art books* and a maze toy and wooden car from IKEA. In the afternoon, we went to my parents' house for a Secret Santa gift exchange with all my siblings, followed by board games and Christmas dinner. It was a relaxed and low-key holiday, perfect with the babies around.

On Saturday, we decided on a family outing with our cousins to the Art Institute. Lillian and Matt rode the train in with Frank and me. Lil and I were excited to take a bunch of photos while we rocked babywearing in the city together (and I had to break in my new camera!):


Frankie and his cousin thoroughly enjoyed their day in the city, especially riding the L. I was pumped to capture a photo of this classic puffed-cheeks Frankie face:


Skipping ahead a bit, Frank and I left bright and early Monday morning to head to Miami for a giant reunion on my dad's side of the family.

It was Frankie's first time flying, and we were really anxious about how he would handle the plane rides. Frank in particular was kind of a nervous wreck just thinking about it. Frankie is generally a happy baby, but he likes his routines. With two flights and a whole day in airports (we had a two-hour layover in Atlanta), we didn't know what to expect.

Fortunately, Frankie's behavior exceeded our wildest hopes. The flights both fell right around naptime, and the roar of the engines provided the perfect white noise to put him right to sleep. We were so relieved! It was also a huge help that we flew with my mom and my two youngest siblings. They took turns holding him and helping with diaper changes, which made the whole day flow so much more smoothly. Here's the intrepid little traveler himself hanging out at the Atlanta airport at my brother's feet:


Now we are all staying on Key Biscayne (where my aunt, uncle, and cousins live) and enjoying lots of time at the pool and long walks on the beach. Oh yeah, and marathon naps from Frankie, who both loves and is terrified by all the attention from relatives he's been getting. There are about ten little cousins who constantly want to hold him, play peekaboo, sing to him, and otherwise fawn over the littlest members of the family. Frankie loves it until he gets overstimulated and starts to cry! Good thing there are two babies to share all this attention, because it would be too much for just one of them alone.

Lillian and I have been having so much fun dressing up our little men for the family parties and watching them interact. They show great interest in each other, taking turns staring and giggling at each other's antics. Frankie always tries to pull his cousin towards him (and sometimes succeeds in toppling him over) while his cousin got back at him one time by grabbing his hair and giving it a good tug. As much as we joke about them "boxing" or "wrestling" with each other, we mostly love watching them clap their hands at each other or pat each other's legs and laugh and laugh. It's darling. I think they've gotten so used to being around each other that they will really miss their "twin cousin" when this trip is over!


Frank and I branched off from the group this morning for a trip to the gorgeous Vizcaya. This evening is the final dinner of the reunion and I'm looking forward to hearing everyone's toasts. 

We are in town until the 6th, so let me know if you have any tips for things to do during the rest of our stay! Thanks guys, and Happy New Year!

*Quick note: I've decided to sign up for the Amazon Associates program after hearing good things about it from other bloggers. Purchases made through Amazon affiliate links (which will show up occasionally on this blog from now on) yield a small referral fee. This applies to all purchases made on Amazon regardless of whether the product the consumer purchased was mentioned by me or not, and the consumer’s purchases are confidential.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Feast of the Holy Family

Today at church our pastor reminded us that it was the Feast of the Holy Family, and he preached beautifully on the importance of families to the church and the world. It got me thinking about a funny thing that happened on this same feast day a few years ago. I've wanted to share this story on my blog for a long time, and this finally seems like the right opportunity.

Several years ago, when I was in college, the Feast of the Holy Family fell on a weekday instead of a Sunday like it usually does. It's not a holy day of obligation so we didn't have to go to Mass, which sounded just fine to all us kids who were in major holiday relaxation mode. But my mom really wanted for the whole family to go to Mass together in honor of the feast day.

None of us wanted to go, but my mom insisted. We all made excuses (some of us tried to go back to sleep, while others tried to escape to the mall), but she was firm that we all had to be there to go to the 5 pm Mass with her and my dad.

When 5 pm rolled around, mom forced us all into the 12-passenger van and off to church. I will never forget that car ride. Half of us were in yoga pants and I'm pretty sure one of the little kids was still in pajamas. We were all in a terrible mood. Everyone was grumpy and picking fights with each other. Most of all, every single one of us was complaining at the top of our lungs about our mom making us go to Mass.

We slunk into the pew, five minutes late, and settled into the mode of just getting through the next half hour. We were not exactly in a prayerful mood and were ready to pick up our bad behavior again as soon as Mass was over.

But during the homily, the most unusual thing happened. The priest was a sweet elderly gentleman who knew our family fairly well, and he recognized us all the way in the back of the church. He decided to go off-script with his homily in honor of the feast day and my family's arrival.

I was sitting there, completely zoned out and not paying attention, when suddenly I heard my family's last name.

"And here we have the ____ family," the priest was saying. "On this Feast of the Holy Family, what a gift to see a Catholic family all here at church together."

Oh, God. I turned red with embarrassment, thinking about how none of us except my mom had wanted to come.

But Father wasn't done. "Just look at the twins, there," he said, pointing happily, "and the little ones are so cute. And mom and dad are doing a great job!" He named each member of our family, one by one, praising us and pointing out how wonderful it was to see us all at church together.

"What a beautiful example of a great Catholic family," he finished up, "A wonderful witness for today's feast day."

At that point, all us kids were bright red with embarrassment. It wasn't that we minded being called out in front of everyone in church (the only people there besides our family were little old ladies), but rather that we knew how little we deserved his kind praise.

After Mass was over and we were back in the van, I turned to the others with wide eyes. "Can you believe Father said all that about us? I feel so guilty!"

My mom piped up from the front seat, "What are you talking about?!"

That was the kicker - my mom had somehow zoned out during the homily herself, and completely missed all of Father's nice compliments about us! We all burst out laughing and couldn't stop the whole way home. You can bet we were much happier and better behaved after Mass then we had been before it.

Every year since then, I've remembered that incident and reflected on it. I think there are a few lessons to be drawn from that story, but I'm having a hard time articulating them right now (and I need to go put Frankie down for a nap) so I'll just leave it here and let you guys draw whatever lessons you want from it. It's a pretty hilarious story that always makes us laugh when we remember it, so at the very least, I hope you enjoy it too!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Frankie has been sick.

Frankie, helping us wrap Christmas packages, in happier times

On Wednesday, December 17, Frankie learned to say "mama."

I hope to never forget it. He was sitting by the Christmas tree on his little patchwork quilt playing with his beloved Little People Nativity set (my godfather sent it to me last Christmas for our not-yet-born baby and it's become a huge favorite in our house. I love holding up the sheep and cow to Frankie and making them say "Baaa!" and "Mooo!" to his endless delight. Sometimes I also hold up the angel to say "Glooooria" or Mary to say "Fiat," and then I chuckle to myself at my cheesy humor).

Anyway, so he was sitting playing and making his usual babbling sounds, "Ba-ba-ba," when suddenly I heard him test out a new sound and say, "Ma-ma-ma." I rushed over to him with a huge smile and scooped him up in my arms. "Mama? Did you just say mama?!" I exclaimed while covering him with kisses.

Clearly he got the message that I like when he says "Ma-ma-ma," because he has been saying it frequently ever since. At first he mostly said it when he wanted something that he couldn't reach. He would point and stretch toward whatever he wanted and shout in frustration, "Ma-ma-ma-ma!!" But now he says it whenever he is miserable and wants help, or to be picked up, or is unhappy in any way.

It turns out that the timing of my boy learning to say "mama" could not have been more heartbreaking, because two days later he got sick. He wouldn't go to sleep on Thursday night, preferring to loudly babble in his crib next to our bed. Finally an exhausted Frank woke up at 1:00 AM and pushed Frankie's crib out into the kitchen. Frankie was delighted at this turn of events and laughed with excitement at first, but after a few minutes he freaked out, so I spent an hour or two hanging out in the living room with him. He finally went back to sleep around 2:20, but woke up at 6:30 screaming and grumpy.

That was my first clue that something was wrong—Frankie usually wakes up smiling and happy, and waking up mad was very uncharacteristic behavior. As the morning progressed, I realized his forehead felt very hot to the touch, so I called his pediatrician and made an appointment for 10 am. When we went in, they diagnosed him with an ear infection and sent us home with a prescription for amoxicillin, telling me to wait until Sunday to fill it and treat with Tylenol or ibuprofen in the meantime—hoping he would be better by Sunday.

So we cleared our schedules for the next few days and slogged through a weary Friday and Saturday with a sad, scared baby who would barely sleep. We spent Saturday evening with my family, which was a relief since I could not get Frankie to take his medicine, but my mom is a pro at it. She somehow managed to get him to swallow it right away every time.

Sunday morning we awoke at 5 am to our boy throwing up everything in his little body. After that he wouldn't stop shaking and he was burning up with fever. We called my dad, who is a doctor, and he urged us to take Frankie to the emergency room. 

It was one of those moments in parenting that a person hears about, and dreads, but which we never thought would happen to us so soon: the drive to the emergency room with a sick child. It was a tense and scary ride.

We went to the suburban hospital where my dad works, on his advice, since he figured the waiting time would be a lot shorter than at a hospital in the city. My dad met us there. Frankie was an absolute disaster at the hospital, completely miserable, and he wouldn't stop crying. Luckily my dad's hunch was right and we had no wait to get into triage. On top of that, the doctor who saw Frankie was someone my dad has worked with and who goes to my parents' church, and he was very kind and helpful. Frankie had a temperature of 104. They ran a flu test and it came back positive. It wasn't an ear infection after all.

My family had made plans to spend Sunday in the city, checking out the Museum of Science and Industry's awesome display of Christmas trees from around the world, but when they heard Frankie had the flu they made a unanimous change in plans. Instead we spent the day playing board games, baking cookies, and watching "White Christmas" at my parents' house. I think it actually ended up being more fun then the original plan.

We are now on Day 5 of Frankie's illness. It has been absolutely heartrending to hear him wail "Mama!" when he is in pain, his innocent little eyes filled with tears, and not to be able to do anything about it except hold him. I am pretty sure that seeing your child suffer has got to be one of the levels of hell. It's taken an emotional toll on Frank and me. At least he finally seems to be getting better and his fever has gone down.

Here is where I want to pause and say how grateful I am that we moved back to Chicago. I knew when we were engaged that I wanted to live near family when we had kids, but I never could have imagined just how important that would be. It's that my dad came to the hospital emergency room at 5 am to help Frank and me get through the scary experience of rushing in our very sick baby. It's how my mom volunteered to give Frankie his medicine all day when I couldn't handle the way he would cry and scream when I tried to do it. It's what one of my sisters said when I told her that she should probably stay away from Frankie since he had the flu: she looked at me almost sternly and replied, "Do you really think I would let a little thing like the flu keep me from holding my nephew?!" It's how everyone kindly rearranged their plans to accommodate our sick little boy, without seeming to mind in the least.

Even though Frank and I frequently lament how much we miss living in Virginia (and even though I hate Chicago winters), these past few days have proved to me that moving back to Chicago was the right choice. There really is no one who will take care of you in difficult times like family.

Yesterday I said to Frank, "I guess this will go down in history as the Christmas we had to take Frankie to the emergency room." But more importantly, this is also the Christmas when I was very thankful that we live near my parents and siblings, and can benefit from their abundant love and generosity.

While I would certainly not want to live through these last few days again, I can also say that there is so much in my life right now that I'm grateful for.