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Friday, March 6, 2015

Good things come to those who blog


There has not been much to write about lately. Life is moving along quickly and yet we have settled into the comfort of a familiar routine. After so many years of changes—I recently realized that the last time I lived in one place for this long was in high school—it is a welcome relief to hold still.

Not that our days are boring. Frank and I are enjoying delving deep into our little community and putting down roots that will grow deep. I give thanks for the knowledge that this is where we are going to stay—Chicago is our home now, despite my endless complaints about the winters, and this is where we will raise all our children and live til we grow old. There is such comfort in that thought. I realize how rare it is nowadays for someone to grow up in the same place they were born, much less in the same place that one of their parents grew up—but if there is one thing I got out of reading Wendell Berry (whose works I love), it's that people in the modern world suffer from not knowing their roots. I hope to give our kids that rootedness, and give it to myself too as we stay here in this city that is both so familiar and yet constantly offering unexpected new finds.

I find myself this evening (written a week ago) with some rare time to blog as I don't have any work to do, Frank is at a church meeting, and the baby is sleeping. I've been thinking about stopping blogging altogether, because the older I get the less I want to share of my personal life. It's a funny thing—I started this blog as a 19-year-old college girl who wanted to be a mommy blogger someday. Now that I am a mommy blogger, I question why I ever started—why not write down these memories just for myself and my family? But I miss the community of blogging—you guys reading—and I am so grateful for the bloggers whose writings and ideas I love, so I will try to continue writing.

The biggest thing going on lately is our involvement with our church. I feel so lucky to have found the church community we have. When I lived in Virginia, Frank and I attended an amazing parish with a dynamic, gifted pastor who we came to know and love dearly. Right before Frank moved to Chicago, that pastor was called away from that church, as happens frequently for Catholic priests. I remember Frank said at the time, "This actually makes it a lot easier to leave." That experience has made me realize how quickly and easily a beloved church community can change—so I cherish all the more the one we have now, knowing it may not last long. Frank has joined the parish's newly-founded Knights of Columbus Council, while I am enjoying running our small mothers' group and helping out in other ways. Last week our parish hosted a fun Catholic trivia night for which Frank planned out the questions (and I was supposed to keep score but ended up wrangling a grumpy baby instead). The parish is growing incredibly under our pastor's strong leadership, and every Sunday there are more and more families with little babies filling up the pews. It's a glorious thing.

Is anyone going to the Catholic Women Blogging Conference at Notre Dame tomorrow? I'm driving out with my dear friend Giedre (check out her blog for some cute pictures of Frankie last week!) and so looking forward to meeting and reconnecting with this community of women who have inspired me in so many ways. Hopefully this will kick-start me to being a better blogger myself!

Finally, Frankie is now officially over ten months old ... which means I can start planning his first birthday party! I've been thinking about it forever but Frank insisted we couldn't start planning til it was two months away. Last weekend I started trying to talk about his birthday party and Frank just replied with "What? Hmm? Did you say something?" which cracked me up. But now it's time! I feel this great inner tension between having a super-casual, backyard-barbecue, burgers-and-beer party for adults and jazzing up the "first birthday" aspect with a cute theme and baby-friendly activities. I think we will try to combine the best of both worlds by doing a backyard barbecue that ALSO has a cute (but very low-scale) theme. I already started a Pinterest board of ideas—woohoo! Considering my experience with first birthday parties is exactly nil, I would appreciate any suggestions or ideas you might have!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

LITHUANIAN FLAG COOKIES

And now for something completely random...

A few weeks ago my dear friend Giedre was brainstorming ideas for a party. She was considering a St. Casimir Day theme since that holiday is a big deal for Lithuanians like herself, but wasn't sure if that would be too unfamiliar for most people.

I said, "PLEASE do a Lithuanian-themed party! I feel like I barely know anything about Lithuanian culture and I would love to learn more."

And to sweeten the deal, I threw out, "If you do, I'll make Lithuanian flag cookies!"

Giedre stopped and looked at me with her head cocked to the side.

"Lithuanian flag cookies? What are Lithuanian flag cookies?"

She thought I had access to some old traditional recipe that she had never heard of!

I started laughing as I explained that I just meant regular sugar cookies frosted to look like the Lithuanian flag.

Ever since then Lithuanian flag cookies have been a joke between us, but I was most certainly not joking when I said I would make some for her party. I thought you guys might enjoy seeing them now that they're done!

I started with basic sugar cookie dough and just cut it into rectangles after I rolled it out—no cookie cutters needed! They're a little rough around the edges (literally) but work just fine.


Next I made green, yellow, and red buttercream frosting (powdered sugar + butter + milk). I added a drop of blue food coloring to the red frosting to give it that nice deep hue.



And there you have it! Simple, beautiful and very popular at the party. You could use the same basic idea to make cookies of pretty much any country's flag, although it would be harder if the design was very detailed (I'm looking at you, Mexican flag).

I texted Frank a picture of that last photo while I was making them and he wrote back, "Awesome!!! Pinterest!" showing that clearly that man knows the way to my heart. ;)

Keep an eye out for Giedre's post about the party on her blog... she'll have a lot more of the fun details. It was a great time!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Daily Minimum


A while back, Grace mentioned that she has a few basic goals she tries to meet every day—or in her words, "it's been important for me to pinpoint the things that make me feel less frazzled and do them on the daily." I remember reading that and feeling like a lightbulb went off in my head. Maybe I would also feel more organized if I set some basic daily goals for myself. So I did.

Every day, here are the four things I try to accomplish by the time Frank gets home:

1. Make the bed

2. Do the dishes, leaving the sink clean

3. Get myself and the baby dressed (yoga pants totally count)

4. Have dinner made.

And that's it!

There are days when I don't get all of that done—like today in fact, as currently the baby is napping on the bed (so I can't make it) and Frank is making dinner tonight. It's a really good day if I manage to hit my "daily four" and ALSO pull off another goal like vacuuming, baking a loaf of bread, or finishing a project for work. But by and large, these are the small things that make me feel less frazzled on a daily basis.

What's your "daily minimum" for a good day?

And just for fun... Guys, Frankie learned to crawl this week!! He only crawls with his left leg and keeps his right curled up under him (I was concerned but his doctor said it's normal and both legs are fine). It's the funniest little one-legged hop you ever did see. My mom says that's how I used to crawl, which does not bode well for the poor child's future athletic ability.



Tuesday, February 3, 2015

How motherhood has changed me



Once, when I was a junior in college, sitting in a noisy London bar on a Saturday night, I successfully convinced one of my dear friends that he did not, in fact, want to be a stay-at-home dad.*

He had just finished telling me how "fun" he thought it would be, how "relaxing" to be a stay-at-home parent—how he could get lots of reading and writing done, and enjoy a leisurely life filled with the finer things.

I had a slightly more realistic picture than he did of parenthood, so after I was done laughing, I set him straight.

"Do you realize that as a stay-at-home parent you could go days or even weeks where the only adult interaction you get is your spouse coming home at the end of the day?" I asked.

That hadn't occurred to him.

"Do you realize that babies need almost constant care and attention, and toddlers make messes out of everything? What about the cooking and cleaning? Do you realize how much work it is to be home with kids all day?"

He didn't, actually, and after hearing the really appealing verbal portrait I painted, he decided he did not aspire to the stay-at-home "life of leisure" after all.

*I want to be clear that of course I support stay-at-home dads, and in fact I have a dear friend who is one—and he would be the first to tell you it's not easy. What I didn't support was my friend's misguided idea that being an at-home parent would be easy.

But what he couldn't understand was why I did want to be a stay-at-home parent—and actually, I was beginning to wonder that myself. Here we were, studying in one of the greatest cities in the world, spending our weekends in Athens and Prague and Dublin. Nothing sounded less appealing than a life of being at home with a baby all day, often with only your spouse for adult interaction. His reaction was that the life I described was not for him; my reaction was that I would prioritize picking a really interesting and fascinating spouse.

What neither of us accounted for, because we didn't know about it at the time, is how becoming a parent changes you. Recently I read this beautiful reflection on Lindsey's blog:
"Looking back at my earlier years of motherhood and remembering the attempts at holding onto my old free self, but knowing that my vocation now was to be in the home carefully tending to the next generation.  Parts of that self still wanted to "See the World."  Now though, 12 1/2 years into mothering, even though the delights of the world are still interesting, I want to be home more than anywhere else without much of a second thought of anything else.  I still find world news and events exciting, but not at the expense of time spent with our family.  Even when I am away from home, my heart is pulled towards home.  When John so willingly offers me a chance to step away, I really just want to be home with him enjoying our children together.  We have invested years into our children and ironically those children become your intrigue, individual biographies to be read and re-read,  human beings to get to know over and over.  Funny how that works."
Her words struck me because she describes something I've begun to experience ever since my son was born—something that is so difficult to describe, or to understand if you haven't experienced it, and yet that has changed me completely.

Before my son was born, I always wanted to be out and on the go. When I was single, I actually had to make a rule for myself that I would stay home at least one night a week (to clean, do laundry, etc.) because otherwise I would never be free of outside commitments. Every evening was filled with lectures, parties, dinners, happy hours, coffee dates. The world was so full of exciting people to meet and things to do that I was never home for long if I could help it.

The world is still full of exciting things, but now I see my home as my little kingdom (or queendom, I guess I should call it). Somehow I care more about making things right in here, having all my family healthy and happy, than about all the things going on in the outside world. The focus of my energies has changed in a way I never imagined or expected.

I also never realized what good company babies can be. They are hilarious, affectionate, snuggly, and cute, laughing at all your slapstick jokes and clapping for your songs. Frankie and I have a lot of fun together all day. The worst thing I can say about him is that he always wants to be close to me—but my gosh, think what a compliment that is. Not a bad thing at all. I could fill a book with all the endearing things this boy does every day. Lately he has this funny habit of trying to pick up my freckles with his little pincer grip, and a few days ago he was pinching a bruise on my arm so I said, "Frankie, don't pinch. Give Mama kisses," so he obligingly leaned forward and gave my arm a slobbery kiss. I'm still melting over that one.


I also never accounted for the whole world of other fun things to do that opened up when I quit my full-time job. Every other week or so, I get together with my friends for baby play dates, trips to museums and parks, coffee dates at each others' houses and afternoon crafting sessions. We half-joke, half-plan about how eventually we will all homeschool our kids together. 

For a while after Frankie was born, I said that motherhood had made me an introvert because I found myself suddenly happiest at home, but I've realized that's not accurate. I still love being around people and I draw energy from social interactions. What has changed is that motherhood has brought the source of my contentment inward, to my own home and its beloved inhabitants, rather than outward to the world—where things are thrilling and interesting, but where I have so little control over people's happiness. Here I can make us all happy so easily. A clean kitchen, a tasty family dinner, snuggles and a cozy movie on the couch, baking cookies on a snowy Sunday afternoon—these are the things that make me happiest now.

Sometimes I wonder if the world would be a better place if we all invested in making our own homes peaceful and happy instead of running around looking for happiness in other places. A lot of you seem to do that so well, and I think many of you learned this lesson at other times in your lives and through other ways. For me, it took becoming a mother to learn how to be happy staying in my own home, making it better and focusing my energy there.

Far from what I envisioned in college, I actually like the days I spend alone with the baby, only seeing my husband for adult interaction. Instead of being boring, it's the happiest life I've ever lived. I did not expect that, and that is how motherhood has changed me.

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!