Monday, November 30, 2009

1DoH: Thanksgiving!

Matt and I were so excited about our five-day Thanksgiving holiday--a grand continuation of the holiday season and a kickoff to the beautiful Christmas season that is made extra-special this year by it being "Baby's First Christmas." Christmas is only 26 days away... which means this past Thanksgiving week started with the 61st of the "100 Days of Holidays," and began like any other, before we got into the turkey-laden festivities later in the week.

61) Monday 11/23: Before bedtime tonight, I read Kate my favorite childhood book: How the Alligator Missed Breakfast. It is hilarious in its insanity. This book was the start of my theory that most kids' books and TV shows were conceived with the assistance of some illegal substance.

62) Tuesday 11/24: After a Tuesday that felt like a Friday, we kicked off the Thanksgiving weekend with our annual joint Thanksgiving service between Bethlehem and Hickory Point UMCs. Hickory Point always does a great job with their altar decoration. I swear, my favorite part of Thanksgiving is getting to sing "For the Beauty of the Earth"--one of my favorite hymns.

63) Wednesday 11/25: We drove up to my parents' house in Louisville, eating at IHOP on our way out of town (and declaring it a new family tradition, since we ate there before heading to Louisville in July too). Kate enjoyed a whole "new" box of toys filled with my old stuffed animals and toys.

64) Thursday 11/26: Thanksgiving!!! Kate donned her "Baby's First Thanksgiving" bib and ate a dinner entirely of table food (which I am always tempted to call "people food"): turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, peas, and carrots.

65) Friday 11/27: My high school class finally had its belated 10th reunion. It was a small crowd, but given that our class only had 21 graduates, what can we expect? We had fun touring the renovated upper school building and going out to dinner. Amazing how some things change and some things are totally the same!

66) Saturday 11/28: Kate celebrated her 10 month birthday by learning to climb stairs!

67) Sunday 11/29: Advent has begun, and our family lit the first candle on the advent wreath (in the absence of the family that was originally asked to do it). Ironically, my parents lit the advent wreath at their church today too!

A blessed advent to you all, filled with joyful carol-singing, cookie-baking, present-wrapping, tree-trimming fun... and hopefully some reflection on the birth and life of Jesus Christ as well!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Guilty Pleasure

Though I work in religious publishing and have a bachelor's and master's in religion, I have to (begrudgingly and with my head ducked in shame) admit that books about theology, spirituality, and even church and church history (my main interest professionally and academically) are not among my favorite reads. I am very proud of the books I edit, and I feel strongly that they can change people's lives and the church, and there are books I read in college and grad school that definitely shaped the way I understand religion in America.

But for pleasure, these are not the books I stay up late into the night reading.
I know. How can I even show my face in public?

The books that I love and am not ashamed to admit I love are sociology and psychology-type books. Things that explain why people do the things they do--why things are the way they are. Favorites in these genres include Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point and Blink (he has two more recent books out that I still need to read), Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational, Barry Schwartz' The Paradox of Choice, Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness, and Barbara and Allan Pease's The Definitive Book of Body Language. (That last book has the definitive honor of helping Matt realize he never had to read these types of books himself because I will read every other sentence aloud to him, as I did with the body language book throughout our trans-Atlantic flight home from our honeymoon in 2006.)

These are the books that I mention again and again in conversations about consumer behavior, personal satisfaction, interpersonal relations, etc. They are absolutely fascinating to me and I recommend them highly. However, these are not the books I would refer to as "my guilty pleasure." For that, we move beyond "why things are the way they are" to "things I hope never happen to me."

Perhaps it's a sick case of schadenfreude, but I am addicted to ripped-from-the-headlines memoirs of personal tragedy. Given that I am not at all an Oprah- or reality TV-junkie, this reading habit feels strangely out of character for me, and I feel ashamed to admit how entranced I am by this kind of book. I think it is somehow akin to my love of really bad natural disaster movies (if it has cultural landmarks being toppled by giant tornadoes, asteroids, or tidal waves, I am so there). I am ashamed of that guilty pleasure too.

It started several years ago, I think, when I found Bringing Elizabeth Home and Let's Roll on deep discount tables (since I refuse to spend much money on these kinds of books). Recently, I joined Bookswim, which is essentially Netflix for books, so now I have library-style access to tons of books AND I don't have to find room for them on my shelves when I am done with them. So, I feel freer to order books that I am curious about but don't necessarily want to have around forever. I've read After Etan (and blogged about it), and coming up soon is For Laci (about Laci Peterson). Just this past week, I read Mistaken Identity, about that case where the family cared for their daughter in a coma for five weeks before finding out it wasn't actually their daughter. Even though you know the big twist from the beginning, I couldn't put this book down, and finished it in just two evenings.

Obviously, I am not alone (since these books seems to sell pretty well, if their publicity is any indication), but I still feel slimy just talking about these books because they are so sensationalistic, capitalizing on tragedy. I'll admit that part of the appeal is sheer curiosity--the same suspense and intrigue that make 48 Hours, CSI, and various blockbusters so popular--but I think there is something else that appeals to me in these books. It's also curiosity, but not about the tragedy of kidnapping/hijacking/car crashes, etc. Rather, it is curiosity about these relatives who survive to tell the tales. How do they go on? How do they cope when they've lost a spouse? How do they go on living when their child is missing or presumed dead?

Some of these delve into theodicy, wondering why God would let these tragedies befall them. Some wrestle within themselves, dealing with blame, choice, and all the what-ifs the crises of life cam bring. Whether they address the overtly theological aspect or not, these books deal with hope and despair, and pretty much always come out on the side of hope. Maybe that's just because editors know that book-buyers want a happy ending, or because those who are in a stable enough place to write a book about their loss have to have learned to cope somehow, or maybe it is a testimony to the human spirit and the power of God to sustain people throughout the worst times of life.

I am a worrier--and one with an overactive imagination at that. I do think about all the what-ifs and wonder what I would do, how I would respond if it were me facing the horrible tragedies described in these books. Maybe what these books about tragedy really offer is hope--hope that I too could survive to see the grace of God and beauty of life even through immense pain and loss.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

1DoH: Pilgrims and Turkeys

This "100 Days of Holidays" endeavor may usually just be a glimpse into our ordinary life, but another actual holiday is fast-approaching: Kate's first Thanksgiving! Uncomplicated by gifts, consumerism, and theological v. cultural understandings of the holiday as Christmas is, Thanksgiving is just such a nice time for gathering with family and expressing gratitude.

This past week was pretty ordinary, but in little ways, we were gearing up for the fun family time we'll have next (this) week.

54) Monday 11/16: These little pilgrim candle guys make me so happy. My mom always set them out on the shelf above the toilet in the house I grew up in, and while she reminded me that their annual post was in the kitchen in our "new" house (which we moved into in 1994) I still associate them with the bathroom. So, as you can see, they have their place up with the jars of Q-tips and cotton balls in our house now. 55) Tuesday 11/17: This little gal makes me so happy too--in the bathroom or out. We love to play every evening when I get home from work.
56) Wednesday 11/18: This is as good a time as any to admit that the pics I post for each day were not always taken on that day. This was my "gift" to Matt for his birthday, which is actually tomorrow (11/19) and which we celebrated last Saturday (11/14). He's getting a blog makeover, and I constructed this little paper laptop to share that news with him! Soon, The Truth as Best I Know It will have a cool, new, non-template look!
57) Thursday 11/19: Tearza came over to hang out and play with Kate for a while this evening. Kate is very excited to meet her new little friend Emery sometime in January!

58) Friday 11/20: Matt and I went to see Donald Miller and Susan Isaacs at the second-to-last stop on their book tour. Matt is currently reading Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, and we read Isaacs' Angry Conversations with God in our young adult book group this past summer. Actually, we read Miller's Blue Like Jazz in a young adult book group we led at our previous church, so they're both great for group discussion.

59) Saturday 11/21: Some friends of Matt's parents gave Kate this fun turkey. Isn't he cute? I couldn't get Kate to hold still for a photo with it, but Charlotte was quite compliant. :0)
60) Sunday 11/22: Matt had been sick for a few days, and his voice was pretty rough, so he wanted me to deliver his sermon for him on Sunday. I agreed, but Sunday morning, Kate's sniffles were getting worse, with a super-drippy nose and a phlegmy cough, so Matt (with slightly improved voice) did his own sermon and I kept Kate home. She played with a matryoshka and a singing penguin while I started packing for our jaunt up to Louisville for Thanksgiving!

Next week: Thanksgiving, of course! I'm excited for Kate to eat mostly table food at the big meal--little bites of turkey, peas, roll, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie... mmm...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Delivery Advice for First-Time Moms

In honor of my friend Tearza, who will soon deliver sweet baby Emery, I want to share a few lessons I learned from my limited experience in baby-delivery and the aftermath.

First a few warnings/disclaimers:
1. If you are a man, or are at all squeamish about body stuff, stop reading now. Unless you are about to give birth, in which case, you better get over it.
2. I hate it when people universalize their experiences, so I am not implying these things will definitely happen to you, and even if I seem to be, it’s just for rhetorical effect. But if they do happen, it’s nice to know you’re not the first person they’ve ever happened to.
3. These are roughly in the order in which you might need the info. You know, in case you want to check my blog again and again throughout your labor and recovery. Just kidding :0)

Here we go:

  1. Pack smart for the hospital—comfy button-up jammies, something to pass the time, toiletries, and snacks (that’s the one thing I forgot, and the hospital food was gross—and I’ll eat just about anything!)
  2. They are not afraid to send you home if you go to the hospital too early. Better safe than sorry, of course, but it seems like they’re pretty hard core about this. My contractions were less than a minute apart and painful, and they were still about to send me home because I wasn’t dilating fast enough. (Refusing to leave and asking to speak to supervisors does help in a situation like that, though!)
  3. Epidurals are awesome. If you feel personal pride in enduring massive amounts of pain, by all means, go for it. I’m surprised I wasn’t one of those people, because I really do think that’s cool and “no pain, no gain” sounds like something I would say. But when it came to labor and delivery, I figured “no pain, no pain.” From the moment I got my epidural, I drifted peacefully in a super-relaxed sleep, and even dozed off between pushes. It was great.
  4. Interventions aren’t ideal, but they’re not the end of the world. I—like most people—said “no vacuum, no forceps, no episiotomy, unless absolutely necessary.” Well, I ended up having all three, and while the vacuum made a scary noise when it kept popping off Kate’s head (too much hair to get a good hold), and the forceps left a mark on her cheek for her first 12 hours or so, and the episiotomy recovery was no fun at all, it’s really all fine and none of it marred our “birthing experience” in the least.
  5. If you feel something weird down below, don’t panic and assume they sewed up your episiotomy wrong. It’s probably just a hemorrhoid. (Not that I made that assumption or anything.)
  6. Don’t be in a hurry to leave the hospital. In those early days at home with Kate, when she was crying a lot, wouldn’t eat, and I was still physically recovering, I never longed for the days before baby, but I definitely longed for the days in the hospital, where professionals could help me out, were easily accessible for questions, and everything just seemed simpler. I seriously get all nostalgic every time I drive by the hospital. It was a special time (minus the bad food). Next time, I won’t be so eager to go home (except for the fact that the next time, I’ll have another child waiting at home, who I’m sure I’ll miss desperately!)
  7. Don’t look “down there” for at least two weeks. Just don’t do it.
  8. Your bathroom habits will be screwy for a little while. Things will come out when you don’t want them to and won’t come out when you do want them to. That’s as graphic as I’m going to get about that. (Unless you ask me in person, in which case I’ll tell all, because I have no TMI-sensor.)
  9. It’s alright to cry. It’s pretty much inevitable. Most of my early tears stemmed from our nursing difficulties—frustration, sadness, fear for her health, and fear that she would associate me with those negative interactions. But whatever your reasons (or lack thereof) it’s okay.
  10. Enjoy it. Take pictures of little things like the clock and the contraction monitor. Take note of what’s on TV and in the news the day your baby was born. Be sappy about it. It is the beginning of a completely new life—not just for your baby, but for you too.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Birthday Babe

29 years ago today, this little guy was born!
28 or so years later, he helped produce this little gal!
(They look a lot alike, don't you think?)

And they all lived happily ever after in a magical land filled with pacis and puffs.
Happy birthday, sweetie!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

1DoH: Project Life

When I started this weekly series I call 100 Days of Holidays (1DoH), I explained how I had been inspired by the "Project 365" scrapbooking concept, which encourages you to take a photo every day and journal about it, and there is a whole cool scrapbook kit designed specifically to showcase this photo-diary. That sounded too overwhelming (and they sold out of the super-popular kits anyway), but when fall rolled around, I decided to do something similar with 100 Days of Holidays--a title borrowed from Parents magazine's daily e-mail with ideas for the fall and Christmas holidays.

I've tried to feature holiday-ish things in my 1DoH pics, but (as you've probably noticed) they more often end up just being about ordinary life--all the little moments and memories that make up this season of Kate's first year. It seems like a lot of pressure to keep this up for a year (or to orient the pics toward a holiday theme) but the central goal of all these efforts is just to document memories! In this year's iteration of Project 365, the designer (Becky Higgins) is trying to emphasize the "record-your-life" aspect more than the pressure-filled "365" number, so she's calling it Project Life.

My pics this week aren't all that exciting, or even remotely holiday-oriented, but they do chronicle the little things that make life special. This is my Project Life.

47) Monday 11/9: We returned from New Orleans are were reunited with our sweet girl. (Is there anything cuter than a baby in footie jammies?) This is Kate's toy basket in the family room. I love how she will lean in and dig around to find a toy, and all the motion-activated toys in the basket go off!

48) Tuesday 11/10: Back to work after our nice long weekend, I enjoyed my bridesmaid bouquet on my desk.

49) Wednesday 11/11: This is what I get for moving my warm computer off its usual spot on the kitchen table
50) Thursday 11/12: Until recently, Kate has only messed around in her toy basket and left the rest of the bookcase it's on alone. Now, she likes to take Aunt Alexis and Uncle Andrew's picture down off the shelf (we think it's because she misses them :0) and messes with the Luther book there on the bottom shelf.

51) Friday, 11/13: Matt sent me this cell phone pic midday when he and Kate went on a walk (it was Daddy-Daughter Day). It made me miss her so much and want to teleport home right then to be with her!

52) Saturday 11/14: We celebrated Matt's birthday tonight, even though the actual day isn't til Thursday. Matt's parents came up and we oohed and ahhed at Kate walking (often five or more steps at a time now!) She got really excited whenever we cheered for her, and she got so wound up she didn't want to go to bed!
53) Sunday 11/15: Kate was kind of fussy off and on today. I won't lie--the whiny noise can get a little frustrating when you don't know what's wrong--but her fussy faces are so cute I have to smile. Check out that furrowed brow and outturned lip!
Life is good.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Getting to Know You

Rachel Held Evans had a post yesterday where she lamented the fact that adults never ask the fun questions that kids use to get to know one another:
1. How old are you?
2. What do you want to be when you grow up?
3. What is your favorite animal?
4. What is your favorite color?
5. What is your favorite game to play?

I remember two questions my elementary school classmates and I always asked each other:
1. Are you a Republican or a Democrat? (and since we had no idea what that really meant, the answer was basically whatever our parents were), and
2. Are you for UK or UofL? (This was suburban Louisville, of course, and my dad had to reassure me that yes, in Louisville, many people were for UofL, but in the rest of Kentucky, the noble Wildcats reigned.)

The deeper tragedy, I think, is that we stop asking "get to know you" questions and using cliche conversation starters after we've known someone for a while. I've always loved asking follow-up questions after certain experiences: "What was your favorite part of the movie/concert/vacation?" My mother's response is usually an exasperated, "Jessica, I don't knoooow." Matt usually tries to humor me and sometimes a great analysis or recap of the event will follow. We met playing a "get to know you game," so we'll never discount the significance of such silly exercises! Though it may sound like we're on a first date, I often ask Matt questions like "What is your first childhood memory?" or "What's been your favorite part about this past year/life stage?"

Yes, these questions sometimes seem forced, a way to remedy a lull in conversation, but they can really help you connect in a new way with people you've known a long time. I once heard someone say you should learn something new about your spouse every day. What question could help you learn something new today?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Still Pumping

In case you were wondering...

I'm still going to my little conference room twice during each work day and taping up my sign...Still opening my little cooler and plugging things in... Still getting "track marks" on my arm from holding the shields against my chest...
Still pumping!
It's been nine months since we gave up on Kate nursing and I started pumping 7-8 times a day (then six, then five, and now generally just four). Some people tell me I'm crazy to spend the time and effort (and recently, blood, but I won't get into that) when Kate wasn't into breastfeeding, but I love giving my little girl good, healthy, IQ-and-immunity-boosting milk.
Originally, I considered stopping at nine months, so I wouldn't have to worry with pumping in New Orleans, but I managed just fine (filling most of a gallon cow's milk jug... what? TMI? Sorry...) and I'm determined to keep going until Kate's first birthday. Though I've given away a fair amount of frozen milk through Milkshare to adopted babies and other babies/mommies who can't nurse, I still have a whole chest freezer full, which will last for a couple months beyond the time I stop pumping.
(and I'll spare you more boobie-pumping talk until then!)

Monday, November 09, 2009

1DoH: November Nawlins Nuptuals

This week, with Halloween past and Thanksgiving still a few weeks away, the major holiday was my cousin Lindsay's wedding in New Orleans! But before we get to that, let's scootch back to #40 of the 100 Days of Holidays!

40) Monday 11/2: Unable to wait to see Nala and Popi on Thursday, Kate wanted to Skype with her maternal grandparents. So, she demonstrated her cart-pushing abilities via webcam. Score one for the 21st century.
41) Tuesday 11/3: Kate's new "big girl" car seat arrived today! Her infant carrier was getting pretty heavy with her in it, so it was about time to get a convertible car seat (no, not a car seat that goes in convertibles, but a seat that rides rear-facing for another year or so and then front-facing until she's 65 pounds). We chose The First Years TrueFit, which now stays in Mommy's car, and her infant seat will just stay in Daddy's car until we sell a few more internal organs to buy another convertible seat around Christmastime.
(she's proud!)
42) Wednesday 11/4: Kate had her 9-month checkup (a week late). She weighs 18 lbs., 10 oz., and is 27 inches long (both quite average). Her head is still around the 90th percentile, though, making room for her big brain. She is developing perfectly, but the doctor did find an ear infection, so Kate we now have the challenge of sneaking an antibiotic into her food for ten days!
43) Thursday 11/5: It was Daddy-Daughter Day, which is always fun. Kate found the ceiling fan especially fascinating.
44) Friday 11/6: Matt and I drove to New Orleans with my parents. What a great town! I hadn't been in five years (since before Katrina) and Matt hadn't been in ten! The rehearsal dinner was that night, and I wore a new green dress that I absolutely love, but alas, we forgot our camera and Mom didn't take any pics of us :0(
45) Saturday 11/7: Lindsay's wedding day!! We bridesmaids hung around the hotel suite most of the day, snacking and reading trashy magazines as each girl got her hair and/or makeup done. Lindsay looked beautiful, and the big event that night was terrific, held in the New Orleans Museum of Art and accentuated with New Orleans traditions.
46) Sunday 11/8: A "morning after" brunch was held at the Palace Cafe, and we enjoyed visiting with the happy couple, family, and friends a little more. I love this shot of my parents, letting their hair down over a breakfast of mimosas and eggs benedict.

Coming this week: not much, though I hope Kate gets over her ear infection soon. She's a bit cranky, and I'll assume it's the infection and not the fact that she was spoiled by her other grandparents, who kept her while we were gone to NOLA! (Thanks, Granna and Opa!)

Friday, November 06, 2009

What Do You Think?

“I want to know God’s thoughts. The rest are details.”

This quote from Albert Einstein was a mantra to me during a time of immense spiritual growth my junior year of college. It has recently come to mind again because of a question that I find myself asking all the time these days:

“God, what do you think?”

Sometimes, it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek. Like on Sunday, when I saw the pretty, blond, long-eyelashed Jesus in a portrait at the Catholic school where our church is currently worshiping. “God, what do you think when we portray your son like a Norwegian fairy tale princess from 1890?”

Sometimes, it is a fairly neutral pondering: “God, what do you think of the world and people today? Are we more screwed up than ever before, or pretty much par for the course?”

Often, it’s a bit more despairing. When I hear someone baptizing hatred or violence with religious rhetoric: "God, what do you think about them abusing your name?" When I cynically feel like the institutional church is little more than a social club: “God, what do you think about people worshiping a building/book/tradition more than you?" When I fail again and again to live up to my ideals and be the person I want to be: "God, what do you think of me?"

I can’t say I’ve gotten too many answers to this question. Sure, the Bible or basic morality might provide insight on the godly perspective, but discovering "the answer" is not really the point. Rather, I ask because seeking the mind of God brings me closer to the heart of God. I ask because it feels like one small way I can try to avoid stumbling into that self-righteousness I am so often guilty of when I assume my opinion is God's. Instead of indulging the judgmental reaction that may first pop into my mind, I can try to see things from God’s perspective. I may be pretty convinced of someone's wrongness, and be able to back that conviction up with a biblical commandment, Jesus' example, or the golden rule, but I always sense that God's perspective involves love for whomever I am about to condemn. That sense softens my heart a bit and helps me give them the benefit of the doubt.

I want to know the thoughts of God. I cannot know them fully, but what I know of them is love.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

1DoH: Halloween

This week starts with the 33rd of the "100 Days of Holidays," which means we're one third of the way through the fall-Thanksgiving-Christmas season! It's such a fun time. This week, of course, included Kate's first Halloween. As with all of this year's special events and holidays, she didn't really know what the point was, of course, but we had fun celebrating these milestones and the general joy of the season.

33) Monday 10/26: I have been wanting to make spaghetti and meatballs for a while. I've made spaghetti before, of course (though not in a while) but I've never made meatballs. They turned out pretty well, I think. Matt really liked them, and they even had some diced zucchini in them, so Kate got to have some finger-food zucchini with her dinner.
34) Tuesday 10/27: We did a fun photo shoot of Kate (and Marcel) with the pumpkins on our front porch, and with some bananas for our little monkey.

35) Wednesday, 10/28: Kate turned 9 months old today, so we took her monthly Marcel picture. They are getting harder and harder each month, as she won't just sit there with him anymore--she grabs him and eats his head, or tries to crawl off the chair.
36) Thursday, 10/29: Kate's been eating finger foods for a month or more now, and is always very interested in what we're eating. She even stole my half-eaten apple and started nomming on it. I think she was able to scrape some of the fruit off with her two little bottom teeth, but the whole thing was definitely slobbery enough that I didn't eat any more of it!
37) Friday 10/30: Kate took her first steps!! She took up to three steps all on her own, and it was very exciting. She's still learning how to balance herself, though, and was much more confident when holding even one of our hands. We walked hand in hand across the room at a pretty decent pace.
38) Saturday, 10/31: Halloween! Here's Kate all ready to hand out candy to our trick-or-treaters. I think her favorite part of Halloween was mashing Reese cups (still in the wrapper) in each hand.

39) Sunday 11/1: Most of my fall decorations are season-generic pumpkins, leaves, etc., but I did trade out a few specifically-Halloween items for specifically-Thanksgiving decorations today. I can't believe it's November!

This week, we're off to New Orleans for my cousin's wedding! We'll miss Kate a lot, of course, as she stays home with her grandparents coming up to care for her, but it should be a lot of fun!


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