Finding my Normal

There is that day after each pregnancy (well, besides the first one), that I have felt “normal” again. My mind is clear again; I feel like I have emerged from the fog that I was in since the beginning of pregnancy. And my old jeans fit again (the ones I got after baby #2).

It has been 11 months since T was born, and 11 weeks since my concussion, and the past few days I have felt myself again. I can’t remember exactly when it happened after the other babies. I think with my third it took over a year. With my second, I am not sure, maybe 10 months? I ran a 5k when she was that age. And with my first, it was not until my second was 10 months, because, you can never go back to your pre-first-baby self.

Another thing about this post-baby time is that this is the first time we have lived three years in one home since we were married. This is the first time we are coming to the end of four school years in one place and we are not moving somewhere else.

We are here, in Minnesota. The roots we make here are not going to be taken up, if life continues as it has been going. The friends we have made we are not about to leave. We are here, and it is a little strange, but it is also good.

Life is moving forward, but we also have stability. The school year is coming to an end. The professor is on campus more than normal, but the end is in sight with last week being the last week of classes. It will probably be the last week of home school classes as well. Math and English are wrapping up.

And I feel like a normal human being (as normal as I can be when I my values seem to be radically different from most of the rest of the people in my country). I have had a four-plus hour stretch of sleep in the middle of the wake ups at night for the past week. I am functioning above baseline this week.

And despite all the things going on the world, I feel that life is good. It is good that we are here, and we are so blessed.

Seven Quick Takes: Easter Week

1. Happy Easter! We had a lovely Triduum, not pushing our limits with four kids. M and G went to Holy Thursday. I made it out to the altar of repose at our territorial parish once they came home from St. Agnes. On Good Friday we all went to the afternoon Mass of the Presanctified (that is the traditional name for it, the Eucharist is already consecrated, hence “presanctified”). I had a wrestling match stood in back with T for most of it. Saturday we stayed home. It was a good idea all around. M and I like to do the 12 readings from the old, old Easter vigil on the Holy Saturdays that we don’t get to go. So we did that, and it was nice. We went to Sunday morning mass and then spent the day at the farm in Wisconsin with M’s aunt, uncle, and cousins. We had a lovely time there as usual.

2. Secondly, thank you all for your prayers for my dad and I a couple of weeks ago. Dad had another scan, and will be seeing his doctor next week to hear about his options. As for my concussion, I am going to be going to physical therapy for about a month to help me become more tolerant of visual stimulation (too much of which has been causing me to be lightheaded, dizzy, and nauseated).

3. Today did not turn out at all like I expected. We were planning on going to our home school co-op only to have the baby wake up sick. The poor little guy had to have two baths this morning from various effects of his illness and has been running a fever all day. Instead we stayed home, and did things like plant some seeds. I think everyone enjoyed it. We had four little starter sets from Easter baskets, but they came with so many seeds that we planted 7 more basil plants, and two strawberry plants from another starter kit. I am hoping the light from the AeroGarden will give our plants the help they need to get a head start on summer.

4. I got around to some things I have been wanting to do for awhile, like put the Easter grass away and organize this school supply cabinet. I have been meaning to organize it since September, but never got around to buying the paper organizing racks. So, these stacks of paper have been laying in a messy stack with other things scattered about. I do not have before pictures for you. At any rate, my dad had some extra office organizing supplies and brought them when he came to visit it. A sick day for baby and canceled outing was the perfect time to get started!

5. I meant to write in the afternoon, but the girls asked me to help them build their Lego pizzaria. This set was mine as a little girl. So, instead of writing I spent 45 minutes digging through Legos and building with my kids. I think it was worth it. And I have discovered that most Lego sets have directions online.

6. Spring is springing even though we were in the 30s today. I am thinking about buying seeds this weekend and planting cold crops outside soon. Our tulip bulbs are well on their way to flowering. And these daffodils are on their third spring and finally look established. In the past we have gotten a few straggler in May. It looks like we will have an abundance this year! I love daffodils!

7. We have been a little delayed in our indoor plant traditions this year, so instead of an Easter lily, we have an Easter Amaryllis…

We were also late in that we planted the Resurrection garden grass thing on Good Friday, so our grass is just starting to come in. I suppose it is a good thing Easter lasts 7 weeks–maybe this little lawn in symbolic in that the joy of Easter does not happen all at once, but we grow closer to God slowly over the Eastertide so that we are more spiritually ready to receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

I am linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum. Head on over for more quick takes!

Seven Quick Takes for March

It has been a long crazy last couple of weeks here. A lot of things have happened, and I have had no time for blogging here! I thought I would sum it up in a few late quick takes, and join last Friday’s link up

1. First up: my dad. People ask me on occasion how my dad is doing since his emergency surgery after anaortic dissection two years ago. Since I only see him every couple of months it is easy for me to notice his steady improvement. It has been a long recovery, and there are some things that he will never recover from. His aorta did not heal as fully as the doctor hoped, and because of that he is not supposed to let his heart rate get to high. So my runner father is not allowed to run ever again. As you can imagine, this was very difficult for him. 

The most recent news on Dad is that one of his arteries (to which the dissection extended) did not fully heal and it is becoming enlarged. If it becomes too large and bursts, it will be fatal for him. In your charity please pray for my father’s artery to heal and for wisdom for the doctor on how to proceed to help prevent this from occurring. We have been praying to Jesus with a devotion to his right shoulder wound (the one he received while carrying the cross) for dad’s healing. So this Friday when we are remembering Christ’s Passion please say a prayer for Dad’s complete healing. 

2. Second: my fall. It has been five weeks since my tumble down the stairs, and I was pretty out of commission for about three weeks. I would do the bare minimum (home school, baby needs, and feeding people) and then lay down for ten minute stretches to rest my head. It became more and more evident throughout those weeks that I must have suffered from at least a moderate concussion. Even now (almost five weeks after the incident) I have a few lingering symptoms. I have an appointment with a concussion specialist tomorrow, so please pray for me and my complete healing. 

3. On to happier things! We had two birthdays in March in our home, and for M it was a particularly important one. With the help of awesome friends who did most of the food prep, I managed to throw him a surprise party in our house. He had no inkling of the fact until 90 minutes before party time when I asked him to do the taxes in his basement study. And he did not really know until he heard a whole lot of people hanging around upstairs. The party was a hit, and even the weather cooperated with a high in the 60s. We had cake and ice cream OUTSIDE in early MARCH in MINNESOTA. I am so glad to not have to sneak around planning a major event in our home without M to discuss it with. Though he claims that he is just going to let me do all the party planning from now on without him since it was a stress free planning for him. 

4. G had her 7th birthday, and I really cannot believe that I am the mother of a 7 year old. She is growing up way too fast. She is doing splendidly in first grade, is a loving big sister to the baby, and is really becoming independent. Her growing up really has taken me by surprise.

5. My parents came for a visit during the March birthday week, and they were able to help out with the craziness that has been this “spring” semester. I was able to leave the littlest kids at home for the dance classes, piano lessons, and our Little Flowers meeting. The girls had a great time with their grandparents around.  

6. The baby and I road tripped with my parents back to St. Louis so that I could help with my sister’s bridal shower. It was really weird being in St. Louis without the rest of my family, and I think the professor and the girls missed us a lot as well. Baby T was a good baby as usual, and made sure to revert to some of his bad sleep habits once we got there. He really likes his own bed and room! I had some good visiting with my parents and siblings, and helped my mom dress shop to be the mother-of-the-bride for her last time. My brother and I bonded over putting peanut butter on ice cream (he really has great taste). My sister (the one who is getting married) shared a room with the baby and I, and I am not sure how much she liked being woken up by him… But the shower was a success, and T and I flew home together without incident on an airplane full of businessmen. I amused myself thinking about how all of them were little active 9 month old babies once. 

7. We are all set to have a quiet Holy Week, with just our little family, making it to the liturgies that work best for us. After enjoying the spring flowers in St. Louis, we are having a slow, steady snow fall in Minnesota. I guess the warm weather we had in early March was too good to be true.

Thanks for stopping by! Have a blessed Triduum.

7 Hopes that I Had for Family Life While in College

In my research for writing the second installment of the story of my relationship with M, I have been reading my old prayer journals. First of all, why was everything so dramatic in college? Second, of all it has been fascinating seeing who I was then and seeing how I have changed, and how I still need to improve.

One of the things I came across was how I imagined family life would be. M and I had a lot of serious discussion during our time in Austria, and this was a topic that came up as we wondered if and when we should date again. It is kind of fun to see how I hoped life would be. Here are a few of the hopes that came true.

1. “Husband in charge of kids so that she can work on her book or read a novel”
Now I have not written a book, but I am doing a lot more writing than I once did in my married life. I do feel that writing has been a kind of fulfillment for me these last few years that I had forgotten about when we first had children. Usually it happens not while M is watching the kids, but during our daily quiet times or after the kids are in bed. And I am finding plenty of time for reading novels and other things.

2. “Group of women to spend time with”Developing friendships always takes time, but it is worth the effort. Everytime I get together with lady friends or have a good conversation online, I am reminded of how important it is for women to support and have each other in their lives. It is especially helpful with family life to have the support of other women.

3. “Family meal time is sacred”
When the professor works at home, we sometimes have all three meals together. In fact, he would forget to eat lunch sometimes if it were not for the family eating lunch with him (#philosopherproblems). Family mealtime has become crucial to our spiritual life and cultural life as well, since it is at these times we pray together, read Scripture together, or at lunch read fairy tales together.

4. “I do not want stacks”-This means “no clutter.”
We are not always the best at this, especially on select spots on the counter, the dining room table which doubles as the pre-K craft table, but we have become pretty good at having a spot for everything, and eliminating the offending stacks fairly often. We also purge the house a couple of times a year of things we do not need.

5.”Children should be everywhere”–but God is in charge
I had a strong desire for a large family in college, but also realized that when it comes to having children, we only have so much control. Bringing new people into the world/adding to the perfection of the universe is not something to be taken lightly. And I am so thankful I have been blessed with these four amazing human beings. Sometimes I look at them all together and it blows my mind that I bore them all in my womb, gave birth to them, and tended to their basic needs day in and day out. How did I get to four children already?

6. Home cooked meals
I love home cooked meals, and I love cooking home cooked meals. But I also love the ease of ordering out when I need to, or just would like a break. Food is yummy!

7. Close tight-knit family
This is something I had growing up in my own home. So far the kids are all really close, and I figure if we do what we can to promote a close family, it will probably happen.

Linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum on Seven Quick Takes Friday!

In which I get to go to the ER again

I have considered myself exempt from commenting on the things that have been blowing up the part of the internet I happen to peruse lately. Like the Pope (again) for example. I pray for the pope, a lot. And I pray for the Church, and I just plug along in my domestic church and local Catholic community. Some days it is just enough to do that. Some days we just have to be a part of the Church no matter what everyone else says about us. And some days we are just trying to get by at home.

You see last week I had a big fall.

Down these.

Not like this.

My fall was a little quicker, and less enjoyable, and I am not nearly as cute as F at age one. Though it began on the same step. And my PSA about the whole thing is to not have a stack of thin, slippery books books on the first step down. It is a bad idea. It leaves room for all sorts of accidents to happen, including ones that end in a trip to the ER.

But as in all bad things that happen to me, I have tried to look on the bright side.

Here is what did happen. I was holding a heavy bag of groceries close to my body, and was taking them downstairs to store for later. I stepped onto the stack of books (of which I had no idea of it being there) and my foot slipped forward out from under me. My elbow flailed out to stop the fall, was scrapped and bruised, and was useless. I held onto the groceries for dear life, apparently, and counted each time my head hit the steps, one, two, three, four, five, following the thump of my tailbone.

When I finally made it to the bottom I lay on my side in a sobbing mess. Everything hurt. But I thank God that M was home. What would the children have done had this happened without him home? He came running down, and I never went unconscious. I stayed in place and iced my head until I stopped feeling shocked by the whole incident.

Once I was on my feet, I took into account any symptoms of a concussion, and sure enough, I was having dizziness and nausea. I carefully went back upstairs. As my symptoms did not improve, we decided to go to the ER just to be on the safe side. We found some friends available to watch the kids, dropped them off and head over with the baby to the same hospital he was born in.

After checking in, we sat in the same waiting room seats we had used before. T was happy to tag along, and I was happy that my symptoms were not getting worse. At the ER they Xrayed my bruised bones and CT scanned my head. After 45 minutes of waiting for results, we were given the OK to go home. Just bruises, nothing broken. Our wonderful friends fed us and the children dinner and I have been trying to take it easy since then.

L had a concussion a few years ago, and her symptoms persisted for about 10 days, so it does not surprise me that I am still feeling a bit off. I am still sore everywhere I hit the steps. But I have lots of people to offer my sufferings for in prayer, and it is Lent after all.

On top of this all, I just want to say how great M has been in all of this. He has been helping a lot with the kids, coming home earlier than he planned from work (I love the flexible academic schedule). And he was so so anxious for me and my well being when it all happened. There is nothing to make you love your spouse more like the thought of losing each other.

And we have another reason to be thankful for the great basement flood of 2013. For if that had not happened, there is a possibility that I may have fallen down noncarpeted stairs, which would have been much, much worse.

In your charity, please pray for my complete recovery. I hope to have my next relationship post soon since I have finished my research of reading all my old prayer journals up to the end of our semester in Austria. SO stay tuned!

Things I Learn From my Mother

If you have ever met my mother, then you know how beautiful of a person she is in all aspects. Well today we had our “we are in the same city, so lets go out to brunch” outing, and I came home to be reminded that I wrote the devotion for Blessed is She today.

I spent a long while reflecting on today’s readings when I wrote the devotion, and today we made it to daily Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Mom came with us to Mass, and at brunch we had a lovely, blessed conversation about God’s movements in our lives. (See, awesome lady.)

And then I reread my devotion, forgetting what I actually wrote about, to see that it is all about my Mom teaching me to pray for all my little needs.

If you want to hear more about her, head on over to Blessed is She for today’s Mass readings and devotion.

Getting Ready for the Baby this Advent

And by the baby, I mean the Newborn King, the Little Lord Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity who became Mary’s little Child.

I always thought that my perfect Advent was the year my second was born on the First Sunday of Advent. My Christmas preparing was all finished, and I just sat with my baby watching everyone else in the daily snow falls we had that December in Buffalo, NY.

I think I was wrong. It was an amazing Advent; relaxed and prayerful, but I wonder if maybe Advent can still be great if it looks a lot more like the weeks leading up to the birth of a baby.

My baby preparations involve several extremely long to do lists: odd jobs around the house, odd jobs in the yard, and BABY prep. And of course there are always the last minute things that you just did not quite get to. Besides that I am supposed to be doing the prelabor exercises: squating, kegels, and relaxation practice for those hard contractions.

I actually do way more to get ready for a baby then I do to get ready for Christmas. The baby list takes months, and for Christmas we do it all in 4 weeks. 

Christmas is: cookies, cards, gifts, decorations, some cleaning, and prayer.

Baby is: baby clothes, all the baby gear, hospital planning, hospital packing, relaxation practice,

The year we had our second we stayed at home for Christmas instead of the usual three week tour of the Midwest relatives. People came to us. People took care of us. It made sense for that year and it was perfect for that year.

This year we are traveling for the first time since the birth of our fourth six months ago, and I can’t help but think that maybe this is a more Marian Advent.

Our Lady spent her time waiting for Christ firstly visiting her cousin. Then she went home, got married, and was ready to have her baby in Nazareth, when Caesar decides to have a census.

There she is almost ready to give birth to the Son of God and she has to travel on a donkey 90 miles in cold weather on dangerous trails. When I am 9 months pregnant I can’t handle the pot holes in the road, let alone riding on a donkey.

Do you think Mary said to God, “This is not how things were supposed to go? My Advent needs to be restful so I can pray better!” I imagine not. She being the perfect woman, took it all in stride. Her acceptance of the journey, was part of her continual acceptance of God’s will.

This Advent is already not what I expected. We were going to finish the semester strong with school since we will be taking a three week Christmas break. Instead we had one full school week after Thanksgiving, and then last week I was sick with strep throat, so minimal school. This week the 24 hour stomach bug is making the rounds (so far only the kids).

But we have all been okay. Advent has been manageable because I have been forced to take it easy on myself, M,  and on the kids. And we still have been doing our traditions of the Jesse Tree, lights up on St. Lucy’s day (since Lucy means “light”), and the tree up on Gaudete Sunday. We have been having some really beautiful family time through it all.

When we head out on our travels, I hope that we do so united with the Holy Family who were far from home that first Christmas day. (Though I suppose we could say that Bethlehem was their real home, just as our family is traveling back to where we came from.) And if my baby has trouble sleeping on the road, I can just think of baby Jesus waking to the cattle in the stable.
And maybe that is what Advent really should be like, being like Mary and learning to continually accept God’s will whether we are so busy we barely have time to pray or are nursing a newborn on the couch all December. It is accepting God’s will that matters most, and preparing our hearts to receive with joy the Infant King.

I hope that the rest of your Advent is blessed and full of grace!

Cousin Time!

Last week we had our third annual summer visit from my sister and her family. I love these visits and wish we could have them more and more. (I am told that 6.5 hours in the car is not an “easy distance,” but I say what is 6.5 hours of good road?)

We do them as we can as families grow. My parents are up to 8 grandchildren now, with my other sister’s wedding next summer and a strong desire for more cousins expressed weekly around here.

It is fun how a break from normal life impacts the children. Suddenly G wants to read chapter books and is imitating her bookwormish oldest cousin in reading every free minute. L, when she had her closest aged cousin around was suddenly much less into mischief and playing elaborate games. I love that my children have cousins so close in age and hope that they keep the bond strong.

And I loved spending time with my sister. Meals were easier with my sister in the kitchen. We planned and cooked and chatted. Phone calls are nice, but three days together is a great way to pick each others’ brains on just about everything. So, while living next door would be crazy fun, vacations to each others’ homes are the next best thing.
It is visits like these to relatives and cousins that I remember most fondly from childhood, and I am glad my children get to experience them as well.

A Long Weekend in Illinois

We packed up our things for a quick road trip this past weekend. I wanted to give my kids and nieces and nephew a chance to play together (and to see my sister and brother-in-law) before we threw a fourth Spencer child into the mix. Since we road trip every 4-6 months, I know that traveling with weaned, potty-trained children is about as easy as it gets, and thought we would have our last hurrah before rest stops took 20 more minutes to accommodate a breastfeeding child.

A walk on the paved old railroad bed trail, and a bump picture. Photo credit my sister “M”.

It was the kind of weekend where you stay up way too late talking to people you don’t see very often, and the kids stay up late and wake up too early. And if you are 34 weeks pregnant, it takes a good 36 hours to recover energy after you arrive home, but you are satisfied with a good visit and happy you got to see family.

I was a little bit nervous about rest stops, since F is potty trained and I can’t leave her to have her diaper changed in the car. However, I had the brilliant idea to send the four and six year old into the stall together and to take the two year old with me. The older girls were great. They helped each other reach the toilet paper and washed their hands before F and I were finished. This parenting thing is getting to be a little smoother now that our kids are more capable of taking care of their basic needs.

I am not a huge fan of using gas station bathrooms, but sometimes it just makes sense. So, we look for ones that have multiple stalls and will hopefully be clean. We managed to find them each way, and on top of that, in the middle of rural Wisconsin no one even blinked an eye at a hugely pregnant mom with three little girls parading through the gas station. We only got smiles, and I had the typical friendly conversation about whether our next baby was a boy with a cashier (when I really needed a snickers bar…could that be why I gained that extra pound since my last prenatal exam?).

My BIL is pushing 3 kids in a double stroller and giving a piggy back ride. My brother is just giving the ride. Photo credit my sister “M”.

Besides the driving, we had a lovely, laid back, and very loud visit with the cousins. I know people think that boys are loud, but put an 8 year old girl, two 6 year old girls, a 4 year old girl, a 3 year old girl, and a 2 year old girl together plus a 1 year old boy and it is pretty hectic. The thing is, girls like to talk and scream, a lot.

Here we are on Skype, way too late (for us that is 11:30pm), and with our Lebanese eye bags.

 My brother came up from St. Louis to see us (since he is willing to do a 2.5 hour drive as opposed to an 8.5 hour). I guess he likes being attacked by screaming little girls and being made into a chocolate pie by a two year old.

It was pretty fun chatting with two siblings that I only see for a few days each year. And to top things off, we were all together (staying up way too late) when my other sister and her fiance called us to announce their engagement. Then we decided that we had to Skype so that we could see the engagement ring. And video chatting with four siblings plus M and my future BIL meant more silliness and staying up late. We tried to plan the whole wedding for them right there and then, but they were not having it. It is always nice to spend time with my siblings, if only we did not all live so far apart…

When we arrived home Monday evening, it hit me that I only have 6 weeks until my due date. I am banking on at least 4 more weeks since my earliest baby was at 38 weeks 3 days. But… that is not a lot of time people. My nesting, despite my third trimester laziness/exhaustion, is kicking in…however, I would really appreciate it if someone could run out to Ikea for me…

Holy Week at Our House: Family Traditions and Memories

This year we have a new tradition in the Spencer house:

The grass really took off this week in our miniature tomb and Calvary scene. Last Friday in my quick takes, there was no growth at all.

But besides this one new tradition, we have been sticking with our normal Holy Week things. Since M and I are both cradle Catholics, Holy Week traditions have been ingrained in us from our first years of life. We mostly have preserved the traditions from M’s side of the family. I started going to his house for Easter nine years ago in college and Holy Week just does not seem like Holy Week without certain things, like Greek kurulaikia and my mother-in-laws chocolate eggs. For Holy Thursday we always have manestra, a greek dish with orzo and lamb, that his mom taught us how to make. I went to the Triduum at M’s charismatic home parish in Ann Arbor, MI all through college and we made it back almost every year that we lived in Buffalo as well. Since we have been in Minnesota we have been going to our parish, St. Agnes, for the Triduum liturgies, which are beautiful as St. Agnes liturgies always are.

Palm Sunrise.

 This year, Holy Week started off with a gorgeous Palm Sunday Sunrise, and me remembering to take the palms away from the children once we got through the procession, which meant normal Mass behavior instead of worse behavior.

Today, M helped me with the kurulaikia and the chocolate eggs, while our Triduum guests, my sister and her boyfriend, played with the children and colored in Stations of the Cross coloring sheets.

This years batch. A couple years ago I made a bread “nest.”

Tomorrow our plans are for my mom’s lentil soup for dinner, and Saturday is for coloring eggs. I am trying to keep all the important traditions but not overexert myself, because, well, third trimester plus guests, plus late nights for the children is a lot in itself. Sunday we are hosting the Wisconsin relatives, which should be lots of fun, because they are really awesome people.

My grandmother and grandfather (both deceased) in Rome early in their marriage. I love this picture of them.

To add to the rambling post, if you recall, today is the 10 year anniversary of Pope Saint John Paul II’s death. My grandmother also passed away on April 2 ten years ago, but she died in the morning. It is a somewhat bittersweet day today. And further, Good Friday is the liturgical anniversary of us finding out about our 7 week old unborn baby’s, John Paul, passing last Spring. But the great thing about the Triduum is that we celebrate the Resurrection every year as well. And remembering those who passed away this week, reminds us also of our Hope in the Resurrection.  Oh, happy fault.

Our family altar the day we buried our little JP.