Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Love the American Girl Movies?

Or do you know someone who does? My neighbor (thanks, Denise!) tipped me off to this great deal on the set of the first three American Girl movies on Amazon.
New Year's Eve Traditions

There's been a lot of talk over at Faith and Family Live! about how people celebrate the New Year holiday. Anyone who's spent time aboard the Ark on New Year's Eve knows that we usually go all out with parties, games, food and friends. This year, our celebration has been scaled back about as far as it can go. We'll still be celebrating, but this year it will just be the nine of us. (We are our own party in some books, I suppose) We're still planning to do a few of our favorite traditions from the previous years' parties, though. One of my favorites is the Ten Year Predictions we all fill out. They are fun to read that night, but even more fun to read a few years later! Here is our list of questions:

Ten Year Predictions

1. In ten years, I will be _______________ years old.

2. In ten years, I will be living in __________________________________.

3. In ten years, my job will be ____________________________________.

4. In ten years, the people in my family will be

_____________________________________________________________

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

5. In ten years, I will _______________________________________ for fun.

6. In ten years, I will drive a _______________________________________.

7. In ten years, the president will be _________________________________.

8. In ten years, the newest invention will be ____________________________.

9. The best thing about being 10 years older will be

_____________________________________________________________.

10. The worst thing about being 10 years older will be

_____________________________________________________________.

*BONUS* What will your mom and dad be doing in ten years???

(Yes---Mom and Dad, make sure you fill one out. We're all interested what you'll be doing---or more precisely where you'll be doing it--- in ten years!)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Muppet Family Christmas

If you have never seen this touching--and funny (how can you not laugh at the "icy patch" every.single.time...even when you the joke has been played to death?) Muppet Christmas special, here is the sing-along scene (nobody does a sing-along like the Muppets) with my favorite song at minute 5:28 (skip ahead if you must, but make sure you see it. It's from another Muppet special called The Christmas Toy) Jim Henson, who even makes an appearance in this special, hits the nail on the head with this one. There is something so special, so intangible, but so powerful about Christmas celebrated with those you love gathered close together.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Come To the Party

My mother-in-law sent me an invitation to a Christmas party you don't want to miss. Now, I am passing it on to you. May your Christmas be filled with much joy and peace!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Spiritual Exercises for the Last Week in Advent

Yesterday, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we had great plans. (I've just used the most dangerous word in the English language, the harbinger of impending doom---at least around here---plans!)
We had *planned* to bake Christmas cookies, watch The Grinch, eat Christmas cookies, finish Christmas shopping (or start in some cases--ahem) and decorate the second, completely superfluous, decorated simply for the sake of being decorated Christmas tree with large scale Lionel train at its base.

Then it happened.

Moments, no--milliseconds, after the Captain walked out the door for Mass, while I had four very wet, very soapy little children running (and speed-crawling) in four different directions, the Boy hollered these dreaded words, "Hey, Mom, there's standing water in the utility room."

And so we did.

Beulah and Hannah were charged with corralling and dressing the bath brigade while I ran down the stairs with a lame mop and bucket. It's a bad thing when the carpet squishes beneath your feet, I thought to myself, as I entered the utility room--where, sure enough, we had water but no visible leak. The walls were dry, the ceilings were dry and the carpet, for the most part, was dry. Unable to contact the Captain by phone in the middle of Mass, I began calling my tried-and-true neighbor and family who might help me discern where the water was coming from. Given the double digit below zero weather we're having, and the fact that the lines to the outdoor faucets were wide open, made burst pipes seem like the most obvious solution. Except for the lack of water coming from, you know, the pipes. So, when my dad--the eternal optimist--cautious homeowner said, "If I were you, I'd call a plumber today," I grabbed the nearest phone.

Fortunately, the plumber was home and arrived at ours less than an hour later. In the meanwhile, I called the now out of church Captain to gently break the news to him. Nothing like an inch of water in your basement to bring down your spirits, I know, but at that point there was nothing he could do. So, I told him to head out and do his shopping and that the plumber cometh. There was nothing, he--nor I--could do at that point. He agreed. While he headed off to shop, the girls and I put into practice the same "let it go" mantra and started decorating the tree. Finished with that, we headed to the kitchen and started baking.

The plumber (and the Captain) arrived about the same time. The culprit, according to the plumber, was a bad sump pump. Several hundred dollars and a couple of hours later the problem was solved, the water began to recede and we (meaning the Boy and the Captain) started cleaning up.

This sump pump disaster gave us (yet another) opportunity to grow in virtue that we hadn't expected. We could have (and in the past probably would have) let this mess ruin our festivities and dampen--literally--our spirits. But perhaps we're learning something throughout the recent string of disruptions on the Ark. Or perhaps we're getting too tired to care. It's a thin line, but I think the relative calmness surrounding this most recent catastrophe is more the former than the later. At least I hope so. All this growing in virtue is great, but even the schools get a Christmas break from learning.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fourth Sunday in Advent Reflection

from the ark-ives

Advent and Giving

Mrs. Testosterhome has a beautiful post
about her work with the Poorest of the Poor alongside Blessed Teresa of Calcutta's Missionaries of Charity. Her blog is worth reading anytime, but today, it's a must.

Her story reminded me of our Women's Scripture Study last month. We'd been discussing the virtue of Justice, which wound around to the topic of charity and the beatitudes; of following Jesus' command to care for those in need. As Advent was nearing, we discussed how many of us choose this time of the year to "clean house" and donate toys, clothes or other *stuff* to local shelters. Someone offered to be a drop-off location for donations as the St. Vincent DePaul truck was scheduled to pick-up donations at her house the following week.

I shared with the group how my own love of donating to charity was a bit jaded by the guilt I feel when said charity pulls up in my own driveway and (sometimes) even loads my boxes and bags of excess onto their truck for me, leaving me to simply stand aside and accept the tax-deductible receipt for the following April.

As we moved on to the final portion of the study, to read the story of "The Widow's Mite", suddenly a great spiritual fog lifted for me. Jesus commended the Widow for her giving because it came not from her excess, but from her need. Of course, my giving was charitable, but it was also a little selfish, if I was being honest with myself. True charity, real generosity, as illustrated from Mrs. Testosterhome's powdered donut story, must come from giving fully of ourselves--even to people whom we decide "don't deserve" it, just as God gives freely to us.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Joyful Catholic Carnival

Jean, of Catholic Fire, hosted this week's Catholic Carnival. It has many wonderful Advent reflections. Make sure to stop by and take a look.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Next Stop--Bethlehem

Not only does this time of year leave me feeling a bit nostalgic and melancholy for warm family memories, it also leaves me reminiscing around my previous years' Christmas posts, which leaves you, dear friends, the bearers of my jolly finds.

From the Christmas ark-ives...


The vacant nativity scene should have been my first clue...

But sometimes, you just have to see things to believe them...

Could it be? Rather than the traditional long-eared donkey, Joseph high-tailed it into town driving Mary, the animals and the three kings on--dare I say--a big yellow school bus?

And how did the mother from the Fisher-Price family doll house get on board?

Look out, Oliver Stone. You've got nothing on a three-year old left to her imagination.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Follow-Up Appointment

It has been brought to my attention that I haven't actually explained what is wrong with our Baby Girl. Trust me when I say it is no great conspiracy theory at work or tabloid worthy illness. It is simply the product of a mom whose thoughts are so scattered right now that I recently found my garlic salt in the refrigerator.

She was discharged with two major issues: a massive sinus infection and a spot suspicious for pneumonia on her lung. These don't seem to be too major, do they? But consider the fact that she has been fighting these very same two ailments since, oh say, October 2007. Kind of changes the picure, huh?

So, after a multitude of scans and tests, she was put on several heavy duty antibiotics which seem to be doing the trick. She also saw a pediatric ENT who will be taking out her adenoids (which are super-sized) as soon as the infections are cleared up.

In the meanwhile, the antibiotic cocktails she is taking are doing a number on her digestive tract and my laundry schedule. She has the mother of all diaper rashes and we have simply thrown out onesies rather than try to wash them in some cases. As she comes off some of the antibiotics, we are hopeful that some of these side effects should subside. Unfortunately, she is looking at several weeks (if not months) worth of treatment.

Please pray for her health on this course of medicine and that she tolerates it until it is finished.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Column

Rather than link to my column this week, I am printing it in its entirety here so that it will forever be a part of this online journal of my family. It is a lesson learned I don't want to soon forget.--Jane

Finding Hope for the Holidays

For every bell-ringing Salvation Army volunteer wielding a red kettle, there are ten Fox Valley parents rallying to de-clutter their homes before the gift-giving frenzy of Christmas morning hits. Armed only with large, black garbage bags, their covert missions typically begin with a highly orchestrated smokescreen involving children’s DVDs and end with mysteriously full Hefty bags materializing on the donation pile. At least that’s what I hear. Ahem.

Recently, I sat down and meticulously crafted a schedule to prepare my heart and home for Christmas that seemed nearly flawless. There were old favorites on my calendar such as Oswego’s Annual Christmas Walk and Blackberry Farm’s weekend Polar Express. There were a few new items that tickled my holiday fancy which were added as well. The Aurora University Christmas Concert and concerts at several of the local high schools seemed perfect additions to our seasonal activity calendar. But my Christmas preparations got off to a slow start. I hadn’t even picked up a single trash bag—let alone filled one—when my children started dropping like flies evidencing yet another seasonal certainty…“Kids are sick…it must be Christmas” humorist Erma Bombeck wrote several decades ago.

It left me holding the bag (literally) and wondering what to do next.

It also left me contemplating my Christmas preparations. For what exactly, I wondered, was I preparing?

Unfortunately, I wasn’t left with much time to discern an answer as our baby daughter—newly adopted from Ethiopia—was determined to be sick enough to warrant admission to the hospital. Suddenly, my painstakingly crafted plans were replaced by meetings with doctors, medication schedules, waiting for test results and the re-crafting of our “holiday” schedule involving simply day-by-day plans for a household of nine to function while mom (or dad) was at the hospital.

Sitting in the quiet of my daughter’s hospital room, listening to the hums and beeps of her monitors gave me plenty of time to reflect on this change. I sat puzzling and puzzling. Having watched A Charlie Brown Christmas every year for nearly four decades, I knew “the true meaning of Christmas” but wanted to understand how that translated into the happiness and joy that miraculously appeared each year at this time. And I began to realize that Christmas was drawing closer and closer whether we sang any Christmas carols or baked any Christmas cookies.

With a new resolve, I stood and walked out of my daughter’s hospital room. Crossing the threshold, my attention was drawn to the ceiling tile above my head. Lifting my eyes upward, I focused on the tile. Where did this come from? Was this here before? I scanned the hallway and noticed other, similar tiles, scattered across the ceiling and painted in bright colors. The one above my head was simple. Consisting of four letters each painted in a different color was the word H-O-P-E. How had I missed this? I had entered and exited that room many times during her stay. A nurse saw me staring at the tile and commented, “Aren’t those wonderful? They were done in 2007 by children staying in the hospital.” And it finally dawned on me; it had been there all along. Even still it remains. There it was spelled out in bold, childlike faith for all eyes to see. What I had been so busy preparing for had been there all along—hope.

So take in a live nativity at one of the local churches…stop by and visit a friend, neighbor or relative for a spell…drive around with the kids to see the lights in the darkness. Be sure to make time to clear the clutter of your spirit as well as your home. And if life deals you a different card than this; or your holiday plans, like mine, get sidetracked on the way to Christmas—don’t despair. Hope abounds this time of year, that’s for certain, but it doesn’t pack its bags and leave town on December 26th. Hope is all around us…all year round…simply lift your eyes upward and see.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Third Sunday in Advent Reflection

from the ark-ives

Advent and Perseverance

Another mile on the bumpy back of a barnyard donkey.

Another knock on the door of an occupied inn, followed by further rejection.

Another cry into the darkness--My Lord, my God, where are you? This can't be Your plan--or can it?

How different would the story of salvation be if the Holy Family decided to pack it up 10 miles shy of their holy destiny? Faced with obstacles, uncertainties and disappointments could you honestly blame them? Certainly not by today's standards, which say--Don't wait...Have it all...Hey, why not have two...right now.

Fear and doubt may be the Devil's two best known tools, but he's got another trick up his sleeve that requires less perspiration on his part and gets the job done just as well. The Devil's not stupid. Why do something to us that we could ultimately do ourselves? Using our human tendency to need instant gratification, he has but only sit back and wait for us to give up and throw in the towel admitting defeat. Saves him time and effort and the end result is the same--a change in God's holy will for us.

This week in Advent, take a moment to think about those things that aren't going as smoothly as possible, that might be taking a little longer than previously planned or that might be requiring some extra effort. Then, think about what the implications might be if you abandon it because it isn't happening just as you had thought. It may be something small or it, like the actions of the Holy Family on their journey to Bethlehem, may have eternal consequences far beyond your wildest dreams. We need only to look to the example of the Holy Family's journey to help us stay the course.

Bonum certamen certavi, cursum consummavi, fidem servavi.
I have fought the good fight. I have completed the course. I have preserved the faith.

2 Timothy 4:7

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Wise Words from a Wise Woman-Part 2

One day I met a lady who was dying of cancer in a most terrible condition. And I told her, I say, "You know, this terrible pain is only the kiss of Jesus--a sign that you have come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss you." And she joined her hands together and said, "Mother Teresa, please tell Jesus to stop kissing me."
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Friday, December 12, 2008

She's Home!

Thank you all for the prayers! We are celebrating tonight ( with what I'm calling) her re-birthday on this most beautiful of all feast days. I will update more soon, but tonight my house (and my heart) are blessedly full.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Shift Change

I'm home now, but Baby Girl is still at the hospital. The Captain took over last night and let me return to the homefront. Really it is impossible for me to be content in either place. If I'm at the hospital, my heart is breaking for the little ones crying at bedtime for me at home and if I'm home, I wonder and worry about my Baby Girl and those caring for her.
We were blessed with an amazing day nurse yesterday. A mother herself and growing up in a family of nine children she laughed out loud when she asked me if all of our other children were coming to visit and I replied, "No, only five are coming." It was a nice change from the 4th year resident who saw us and asked a barrage of questions (that I had already answered 800 million times) including, "So, you have seven kids...umm...how's that working out for you?" Tired, worried, and in no mood to debate my reproductive/adoptive parenting choices with this twenty-something woman, I simply shook my head and stated, "Fine." I think she actually wrote that down.
So, additional tests are being run, antibiotics have been started, she will probably be in the hospital a little longer until we have all things run to ground. Please keep praying. It has carried us through these last few days and nights.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

JANE IS AT HOSPITAL WITH LILLY WILL UPDATE LATER

Monday, December 08, 2008

Heading To The Hospital

Today's appointment yielded little information except the news that Baby Girl is being admitted tomorrow to the Children's Hospital for further testing. I'll try to update as much as possible while she's gone, but until further notice I'm putting my prayer warriors on notice. Pray without ceasing!
To Whom Much is Given...

Please read the following unbelievable account of Peter O’Malley, a dear friend to the Catholic Exchange family, who recently survived the massacre in Mumbai. I invite you to pass this on to your friends and others you know in the media and blogosphere – Peter’s experience is an inspiration and confirmation to all those who seek to know that we do not walk alone and how REAL the communion of Saints in heaven is on our lives.

(Note: Permission to reprint may be granted provided attribution with direct link to Catholic Exchange (www.CatholicExchange.com) is included. For online publications, reprint may be granted as published here, partial piece with link back to full article. Please contact Lisa Wheeler at 678.990.9032 or by email at lwheeler@maximusmg.com.)

Surviving the Massacre in Mumbai: To Whom Much Is Given
by Peter O’Malley

Last Wednesday evening around 10pm, following a relaxing supper, my friend Eugene and I arrived at the check-out desk at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, as we have done together hundreds of times in our travels as New York investment bankers currently living in Hong Kong.

As I placed my bag on the table I heard a loud gunshot, which I recognized from my years living in South Africa to be the distinctive snap of an AK-47 assault rifle. Hearing another shot a second later, I looked at Eugene and said, "Run, that's AK!"

We streaked away from the gunfire toward the nearest exit as the terrorists were entering the hotel lobby from various points. I smashed through the doors toward the pool area and ducked into some bushes as the gunfire grew in intensity. I realized Eugene did not make it out of the lobby.

Five or six people had arrived in the bushes before me, all now paralyzed in fear. From the sound of things I realized that a Columbine-like shooting spree was taking place inside, with gunmen walking around methodically executing people. Mind racing, I concluded that being bunched up in the bushes in the corner of the pool area was not safe.

Surveying the scene brought the dispiriting conclusion that we were trapped, surrounded by dozen foot-high walls on all sides. I scanned the walls and then scrambled for a finger or toehold, but found none. I did, however, spy an air conditioning duct about nine feet above me. I leaped and was able to knock a cover away. I jumped again and grabbed onto the unit, but as I tried to pull myself up, I fell, causing the folks in the bushes to hush me to be quiet.

A quick aspiration to the Holy Spirit – “Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the heart of thy faithful!” – and then another leap upward. This time I was able to grab on and pull myself up over the wall where I flipped onto a lean-to roof of the pool shed. I laid low and quiet, partially concealing myself with tree branches.

Breathless, I thought to email my colleagues in London and apprise them of our plight. "Urgent: This is not a joke. At Taj Hotel in Mumbai. Gunmen on loose. People killed. Call police." Then I turned off my phone, thinking a ring could give away my position and bring on a quick and violent death.

For the rest of the article: http://catholicexchange.com/2008/12/08/114661/


Pray For Us!

Pray for our doctor's appointment today! We'll be at noon Mass for the holy day (where The Boy is serving) while simultaneously The Captain will be at the appointment. Our Blessed Mother will be hearing from us quite a bit on her feast day today.

I know there is a light waiting at the end of this long, dark tunnel...I hope we find it today.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Second Sunday in Advent Reflection

If there was ever an Advent when hope was first on my wish list, this one would be it. Hoping for a miracle end to Baby Girl's sickness, hoping for a doctor hand chosen by God to greet us tomorrow at the doctor's office, and all the while holding myself up on the hope that God will provide and see us through this.

From the ark-ives:

Advent and Hope

On the first Sunday in Advent, my husband and I were treated to an impromptu nativity play, performed by the Ark's own junior thespians. At showtime, we were escorted to a quiet corner of the playroom, where two seats had been reserved specifically for us. We sat front and center while the narrator/director/producer cranked up the Christmas Cat Chat CD kicking off a rousing rendition of O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

CB dressed as an all-purpose angel took her stage direction well. Suffice to say that N and Baby T performing the roles of Mary and Joseph might have benefited from an additional dress rehearsal or two. As the music morphed into an uptempo version of Gloria In Excelsis Deo, we-in the audience-noticed that Mary had taken off her serene covering revealing (big surprise here) her much worn cheerleading dress. Joseph, meanwhile, was alternately trying to turn a bright blue bowling pin into a Louisville slugger and getting down with his bad self to the new song. The angel persevered, but it wasn't enough to keep the play's creator from having an artistic "moment" before calling the troupe back together for a retake.

After a few false starts, Mary re-cloaked. Joseph stopped dancing. And the narrator was able to lead the audience through the final words of St. Luke's version of the first Christmas to the ebullient shouts of the whole cast as Joy to the World played on. At that very moment, watching my children dance and sing around the tiny baby in the makeshift manger, under the computer desk serving as a stable, I smiled.

For with all its flaws and errors, with all its imperfections and miscues, the show went on and the Savior arrived. It was the essence of the Incarnation played out in my basement. Regardless of our sins, despite our weaknesses, our failings and foibles; He came anyway.

Hallelujah! Today we can rejoice---He comes anyway.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Wise Words from a Wise Woman

"I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish that He didn't trust me so much. "
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Friday, December 05, 2008

Well, That Was Fast

So, you'll recall my saying they couldn't get us in until mid-February to see the pediatric specialist, right? Well, I made a call back to our primary doctor's office and wouldn't you know if she didn't have the names of a few other doctors who we could see in the group---one of whom had an appointment on Monday! As in three days from now! God is truly watching out over this baby. He must have great plans in store for her. If I can only manage parenting her until she gets to them...

And in other news, two rounds of antibiotics are finished! Hooray!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Holiday Public Service Announcement

I wouldn't want you to think I've lost my perspective on what's really important this Christmas season, but this one couldn't go untouched. I made sure to go straight to the source when I received (several) emails telling me that my beloved Talbots stores were ALL going out of business.

I made fast work of making sure this rumor was just that when I saw such blasphemy! You can read about it on their website...and it looks like it may not be true for the others stores as well.

It's all well and good until somebody starts trashing Talbots.
Delayed

Apparently this is the Advent to end all Advents as far as waiting is concerned. The first available appointment with the pediatric pulmonologist is not until mid-February! By then, I'll be gearing up for the waiting and reflection of Lent! Sigh.
We're Off to See...

the pediatric pulmonologist! (wizard just sounds better, no?)

Baby Girl had her 15 month check up yesterday and while she has gained almost six pounds in 2 months and grown nearly three inches; and is no longer referred to as "jello girl" (lovingly, of course) due to her terrible muscle tone--she is still sick.

Her ears were "tubed" the first week in November and she is still sporting a nasty ear infection. Her recent chest x-ray diagnosed pneumonia (again!) and we're not certain if it's the old case that never cleared up or a brand spanking new one. Not to mention that her little nose could about win the Boston Marathon it's been running so fast!

And if that isn't enough, Hannah (in preparation for braces in two weeks) had four teeth pulled, which did not go over well. She had a terrible response to the antibiotic and pain killer and spent much of the weekend just trying to keep down a lollipop and ice chips.

Not wanting to miss out on the fun, Mr. T looked at me last week and said, "Mommy, my eawr huwrts" His ears were tubed about 18 months ago, so at the advice of Baby Girl's godmother (who is a pediatric nurse practitioner) I had him checked only to find that, in fact, his ear hurt because it was infected.

And because I believe in leading by example, Naomi and I got ourselves a pair of strep-infected throats, too.

On top of all this, in the mental health category, Candace has been panic-stricken about leaving me. Going to preschool has become a chore and she is worried about everything and anything. Needless to say, this leaves my mental health a little worse for the wear. Nothing like being on call 24-7 for some high maintenance issues to wear down one's resistance.

I'm finding myself getting--not necessarily the Advent I hoped for--but in some ways, the Advent of quiet solitude and prayerful reflection perhaps I need.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

New Column

Hi all, checking in amidst the plethora of sick people here on the Ark (that is a whole 'nother post I simply don't have enough non-laundry washing hours in the day to write) to share my new column over at the Beacon-News.

"Thanksgiving meals are now tryptophanic dreams, items scored on early morning Black Friday shopping trips are stashed away until Christmas, and, if your house is anything like mine, children aren't waiting until Dec. 24 for visions of sugarplums. Instead, they are anxiously awaiting the beginning of Advent and the myriad of family traditions that accompany this month."

Read more...