Sunday, December 30, 2012

Merry Christmas from the less-than-holy mother

The Holy Family at Table - Jan Mostaert
Merry Christmas! It is still Christmas, after all – the sixth day…and while I’m glad to report there are no geese a laying in my living room, I’m not sure the mess would be substantially bigger if there were. I’m still totally overwhelmed and wondering how I will ever get things in order. At least if there were geese, we could have had eggs for breakfast.

It’s the Feast of the Holy Family today, honoring Jesus, his mother Mary, and his earthly father, Joseph. Falling as it almost always does on the Sunday after Christmas, it seems to be a feast celebrating the ordinary right smack in the middle of the extraordinary – a recognition that Jesus became who He was in the context of an ordinary family, just like we do. He had people…parents, cousins, extended family…a context, roots, a center from which to grow and develop.

Looking around at my (unholy) family, I appreciate this feast. Jesus’ holiness grew up in the middle of the mundane...the same kind of domestic everyday that surrounds me. Dishes are stacked in the sink and bags are still packed with dirty clothes from our recent return from my parents’ house. Old and new toys cover every surface – they refuse to be contained – and both bathrooms need cleaning, even though we were gone all week. My eyes search for some space to rest, but I see piles of stuff every place I look. My entire family is suffering with the same stuffy nose and are slightly feverish, achy, and out of sorts. I’m tired and more than a little grumpy today despite two cups of coffee. Tomorrow’s the last day of the year, and it looks like might go out like it came in- as an ordinary, everyday mess.

I can’t remember another year of my life that seemed so much the same at the beginning and the end. Much of this year has passed in the doing of very ordinary things: washing and folding clothes, wiping little faces, sweeping, changing diapers, shopping for groceries, vacuuming floors, cooking and baking. My primary work has been tending to the needs of my family.

Have I grown at all? Is my attitude toward this vocation of mine any better? Am I any kinder, any fuller-of-grace?

I’m not sure. 

Growth often happens despite our best efforts, and I’m sure I’ve grown some. I confess, though, that my attitude is often crummy and that I grumble about the simple things that need to be done even as I’m doing them.

Fortunately, God is with me whether or not I’m particularly full of grace on any given day. And God can use what I have to offer, even if it’s not worth much on its own.

A year ago, I started this blog as a way to practice gratitude, as a way to share some of the struggles and the joys and the humor and the grace of living an everyday life. I’m grateful for each of you that has shared in any part of this last year with our family.

Along the way, I’ve encountered some amazing writers who have become company for me on the journey. One of them is Dwija Borobia, who writes at House Unseen about her own ordinary life (and cracks me up with laughter when I’m in danger of taking things too seriously). A couple of weeks ago, she described motherhood as her path to sanctification.

I think I’m on that path, too.

Motherhood seems to be made of little stuff…a string of ordinary tasks, words, and actions that add up to something much larger. The day-to-day seems insignificant, but the end result is extremely important. And I think it’s possible that God is using the littleness of motherhood to teach me big things. It is possible that making things clean, caring for little people and meeting basic needs, wiping noses and bottoms and faces is making me holy, little by little, whether I like it or not.

I am far from holy. But sacrificing little parts of myself every day in a series of small, seemingly insignificant acts of service to my family is moving me toward God…and every now and then, I’m even aware of becoming more beautiful in the process.

...God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work...Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!        
2 Corinthians 9:8-15

Saturday, December 22, 2012

What if it's too dark to see God?

Early evening these days is nearly totally dark at our kitchen table, even with two purple candles and a pink one lit in our Advent wreath. It seems darker than usual this year. The familiar fuzzy comfort of the season is absent...I feel fierce, raw, angry and afraid. I think of my sister, whose pale Alaskan sun sets early in the afternoon this time of year; after a weak attempt at climbing partway up the sky, it gives up and drops quickly back below the horizon again.

I think I know how that sun feels.

We have been working at Advent, at cultivating the calm contemplation that might be slightly out of reach for a family with children as young as ours. Every day, I've been listening to my playlist, reading books with my children, baking and crafting and knitting and praying to get ready. Every night, I've been faithfully lighting our candles. I've been doing a lot of explaining, helping my son to understand what Advent is all about, teaching him songs and prayers and recipes, watching him as he bites his lip in concentration during a reading, as he smiles and signs himself with a cross, as he bounces in his seat and sings, "Gaude!".

Gaude. Rejoice. It's what we're supposed to be about, our task in even these darkest weeks of the year.

Since the shooting at Sandy Hook school last week, I've felt at a loss for words. Usually, I write about faith, about God, about how to be domestic church in an ecumenical family, about how to survive long days with little people when things feel tough. I post recipes for play dough and talk about what books we are reading. I share cooking projects and post pictures of kids painting and smiling. These are the things that make up my life. This is what I am doing, who I am being.

All of it seems so very small now.

Just over a week before Christmas, a gunman in a school in a state I've only driven through has thrown everything into a tailspin. Anxiety has been my constant companion, a sort of unnameable, unearned ache that makes me feel a little frantic. My lists are spiraling out of control. How many loads of laundry need to be done before we leave this weekend for family Christmas? Do we have enough toothpaste for the trip? Should I have bought more curling ribbon? Does any of this even matter?

If I'm honest, I confess that my busy-ness and listmaking are ways of dealing with the anxiety and sadness I feel...that occupying myself with batch after batch of cookies keeps me from thinking about the children who are gone, from wondering about the motives of the shooter, from scrolling through facebook to see my friends and their friends engaging in heated debate about gun control and mental health care. I'm too busy on purpose with all I have to do, even though none of it seems as important as it felt before.

I've been trying to write this post all week, too, without success. My best effort feels weak, like that Alaskan sun...a halfhearted attempt at helping, a band-aid offered to someone who has lost a limb. The scope of this tragedy, the enormous weight carried by the families who have lost a child, dwarfs my capacity to say anything helpful. My words are raindrops in a hurricane. There's nothing I can say that hasn't been said...and the storm of words is so deafening, there's almost no point in speaking, anyway.

It's still Advent, though. This helplessness, this sadness, this brokenness is exactly why I need to keep on keeping watch. I need to wait for God...maybe more this year than ever.

God always shows up. God is still God- unchanging, everlasting it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen. We confess it every week in worship- we proclaim God's God-ness every time we say the creeds that define our faith. We cannot proclaim the limitlessness and omnipotence of God in one breath and then say that God has abandoned us in the next breath.

This tragedy did not happen because God is on some big power trip about how we don't allow God in schools. God is God, and God is everywhere. We may invite God into this place or legislate God out of another place, but God does not need our permission to exist or to be present and is there whether we confess belief in God's existence or not. God is at school and in jail and in Wal-mart and wherever else we can imagine and in all the places we can't imagine. It is not up to us.

(How fortunate for us that this is not a decision we are responsible for making.)

God is always in the picture, whether or not we see God. God is there, and God is always for us. We don't always feel it, but it's still true.

What's more, the God I know isn't too busy judging our cultural shift away from organized religion to cry with us. The God I know isn't standing over to the side somewhere with arms crossed, saying "I told you so."

The God I know is standing right with us, right behind us, sharing our pain and our fear. The God I know has God-sized hands big enough to hold all the worry and suffering and torment and anguish. The God I know has arms long enough to wrap us up and hold us close...and that God wants so badly to be with us that God Incarnate came to earth to do just that. To be with us.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).     
Matthew 1:23

If being with us is that important, maybe we ought to pay more attention to being with each other. If God was willing to come down to earth to keep our company, then keeping company with each other is no small thing. Standing in solidarity with the families in Connecticut, even from thousands of miles away, means something. It is a confession of hope. Maybe it is as dark as we have ever seen it right now, but we will keep watch with you until the light shows up.

So we wait. We watch. We hold our families close. The people around my table, the ones whose eyes are bright in the candlelight as we eat dinner together - they are what matters most right now. And my time with them is what I have. Maybe my territory is small stuff compared to the scope of the suffering out there. But to my children, the smallness in front of us is the universe. This is their world - it's what's before them, it's what they know. And my job as their mother is to help make that world the kind of place that prepares them to go out into the darkness and be lights and shine in the way that only they can.

Jesus said, "You are the light of the world." And they will be. Tending little lights may feel small to me now. But only the presence of little lights- hundreds, thousands, millions of them - can push back the darkness.

It is surely dark right now. Darker than ever. Still, there's a light. It's growing. It's in us, it's in our children...and when we forget about our light or we're too weak to shine, we can hold it out for each other. God's still God. Jesus is still going to be born. We just have to keep watch, to sit together as we wait for the light to show up.

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Friday, December 14, 2012

St. Lucy Day from a can

 This is our second St. Lucy Day as a family of 5. Since we have a Lucy (our oldest daughter, otherwise known as The Bug), we feel we ought to mark the occasion. Lucy may only be older by 40 minutes, but she believes it still can just tell when you talk with her.

Last year, we said, "Oh, it's St Lucy Day. We should probably do something." The Sisters were not quite 3 months old. Our celebration last year consisted of changing lots of diapers, rocking and nursing. Those things took all day. There simply wasn't time for anything else.

This year, we have (a little) more time, and I fully intended to do something for St. Lucy Day.
Unfortunately, it fell the day after the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which we celebrated. I had planned to make the special St. Lucy bread and have it in the morning. When that didn't happen, I thought I'd make it during nap time and have it with soup for dinner.

It turns out, though, that this year I'm the kind of mom who chooses to go for a 5 mile run (on the treadmill) during nap time instead of baking special St. Lucy bread for my daughter's name saint day. I suspect (okay, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt) that my family had a better evening because of my 5 miler than they would have if I had made the bread, no matter how well it turned out. Every mother runner (and probably her husband and children) knows that Grouchy Mommy in the morning + run at naptime = Better, Happier Mommy in the evening. Grouchy Mommy baking bread...well, that's not quite as predictable.

So, no special St. Lucy bread this year. Although we've come a long way in a year, time is still so limited. As you all know, I have my hands full. I know many of you do, too.

Instead of soup and special bread last night, we spontaneously put everyone in pajamas, hopped in the car, went through the drive-thru at McDonald's, and ate in the car while we drove around town looking at Christmas lights. We ended up outside of town in Shenandoah National Park to catch sight of a few of the Geminids in the hours before the meteor shower peaked, then came home and put everyone to bed a little later than usual.

The nicest thing about family traditions, particularly when you are trying to start them, is that they are flexible. They can be adapted to suit the situation in which you find yourself. I am a devout observer of traditions. I am not a fan, however, of rigidity. I grew up in a blended family with stepsiblings who were not always with us on the calendar date of major holidays. Sometimes we celebrated a day before everyone else we knew and sometimes a day after. My mom's favorite phrase during these times was, "We'll just need to play it by ear." I remember all of us skating around the neighborhood in our brand new rollerblades, telling our confused neighbors that Santa had already been to our house when Christmas was still two days away. We were flexible...and it was fine. It all turned out okay.

Things change, and our traditions need to be able to change, too. Traditions are only as good as they make us feel, and if we stress ourselves out and get all weepy over how things aren't going the way we wanted them to, the tradition is serving itself instead of our families. That's not good for anyone.

So, with yesterday having come and gone with no St. Lucy festivities, we celebrated St. Lucy quickly this morning at breakfast, and we did it in a way that worked for us this year. I made a can of cinnamon rolls (the bake fast method, where you spread them out on the cookie sheet - it took less than 10 minutes). We stuck some leftover birthday candles in them and lit them. I quickly made a wreath for Lucy's head out of pipe cleaners and put some more candles in that. (I did not light them.)

Throw in some smiley kids, and there you have it -
Instant celebration.

See those faces? This is what it looks like when you build traditions from the ground up. It's not always perfect, it's not always Pinterest-ing...but it is always worth doing, anyway. We're building a foundation for our families, for our children. We're laying the groundwork for memories and celebrations in years to come. It is enough just to start something, even if it's something out of a can instead of from scratch.

A happy St. Lucy Day to all of you- a day late and slightly imperfect, but still just as meaningful.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why I'm baking biscochitos

Biscochitos are tiny little crispy bits of heaven by way of New Mexico. They are the state's official cookie, and they are eaten at Christmas and other festive occasions. When we visited New Mexico two summers ago, we loved them and vowed we would make them at home. All of the recipes I could find then were a little more complicated than I could manage that year. Then last Christmas, I had less time than ever for baking (or anything, really) with the two baby twins needing my care.

This year, I am a more confident baker, and I am baking biscochitos for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12.

The real way to make biscochitos is to use your New Mexican great-grandmother's recipe that has been handed down in your family (and about a pound of lard). I have no New Mexican great-grandmother, and this isn't a family recipe. It doesn't belong to me at all- I found it on the website for a New Mexican newspaper - but I'm adding it to my family's traditional celebration for this feast. (No lard, though. I used butter and just a tiny bit of Crisco. Crisco is scary, but lard scares me even more.)

I love Our Lady of Guadalupe. She doesn't belong to me, exactly...maybe no more than the cookie recipe does. Her story, though, reminds me that God always finds ways to meet us where we are and that God is big enough for all of us.

On December 9, 1531, an Aztec peasant named Juan Diego encountered the Virgin Mary at Tepeyac Hill. His people had been under the rule of Spanish conquistadores for many years, and the Christian faith had been forced upon them. When he saw the Virgin Mary, though, she looked like him: she was wearing native dress, had brown skin and features like his (instead of like the Spaniards), and spoke to him in Nahuatl, his own language. Juan Diego reported the encounter to the archbishop, who requested proof that the lady was who she claimed to be. The lady instructed him to fill his tilma (cloak) with the roses growing on the hill and take them back to the archbishop. (It was the middle of winter, so the presence of the roses was in itself miraculous.) When Juan Diego followed her directions and opened his tilma to show the roses to the archbishop, they both saw a clear image of the Virgin Mary imprinted on the fabric.

Because the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego's people as one of them and spoke to them in their own language, millions of people converted to Christianity. Where the Spaniards had tried (and failed) to force the people to accept their faith, this apparition brought a message of love and acceptance: truth isn't the property of the people who are persecuting you, there is room for you here, and God wants you just the way you are.

In Mexico and across the United States today, there are Masses and parades and celebrations honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. At our parish, there was a Mass at 5 AM to start the day off, and there will be a dinner with a dance this evening. At our house, there will be a feast of fajitas, queso dip, and tamales. We'll play Mexican music and enjoy each other's company as we remember that God is the God of everyone...including each of us, even when we aren't looking for God. And we'll eat biscochitos for dessert.     
We cut the biscochitos in the shape of stars for Our Lady of Guadalupe. Her mantle is full of stars, like the night sky...and it's big enough to cover all of us who want to stand beneath it. From now on, these cookies will be our way of remembering how she came to share God's love with everyone.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Best idea ever, Vol. 1

Sometimes the best idea ever is the simplest thing...the kind of idea that, when I see it someplace (or even better, when it unfolds in my own brain!), makes me wonder why I hadn't thought of it before. It seems obvious, like it was right there in front of me all along.

Brilliance can be simple. Things don't have to be complicated to be pure genius. Sometimes, parenting small people produces special opportunities for these remarkable ideas to surface- and when they do surface, I think we should be sharing them with one another.

With that in mind, I give you The Best Idea Ever.

(Okay. It's possibly not really the best idea ever. That's not the point. The point is, it's a great idea, and it's simple, and you can do it, too, and you'll be glad you did.)

Are you ready?
Here it comes:

Wash your toy dinosaurs in the sink. With bubbles.

Ours were really dirty after being in the moon sand box. Today we cleaned out that box to make cloud dough and rescued them...all covered in sand and cornstarch. Poor dirty guys.

They got a bubble bath in the sink, complete with bath toys and snuggling in a warm towel afterward.

It felt like an Advent miracle- the carnivores and the herbivores shall lie down together, and a little child shall bathe them...and that little child shall be kept busy, happy, engaged, and relatively quiet during his sisters' full hour and a half morning nap.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

St. Nicholas, take one

This is our family's first observance of St. Nicholas' Day. Our logical, intellectual, science-loving preschooler was about to throw all belief in the invisible out the window after seeing Santa in a mall near my mom's house at Thanksgiving. Sensing that we needed to shift the emphasis a little from the Santa question, I suggested we start celebrating this feast to honor the historical person of St. Nicholas, who was so much cooler than Santa, anyway (see Haley's excellent post on him here at Carrots for Michaelmas).

I won't go so far as to say it was a bad idea for us to do this. I just think I went about it wrong. Interested in learning from my mistakes? Here is the breakdown of what you should do if you want your St. Nicholas feast day celebration to feel like it's turning out badly:

  • Realize that you aren't sure whether to set out the shoes on the night before (St. Nicholas' Eve?) or the night of the feast. Pick the night before because you're excited. (Ignore the sneaking suspicion you may have at this point that this is about you and not about St. Nicholas or the children. A moment of self-awareness at this point could ruin all the fun.)

  • Be sure to get treats that are too big to fit into the children's tiny shoes (more because of their tiny feet than the bigness of the treats). Attempt to shove the card game into your child's shoes anyway and get frustrated when it doesn't fit. Decide to save the Santa-hat-wearing rubber ducks for the children's stockings because you hurt your hand trying to cram them into the shoes.

  • Let your child have hot chocolate at breakfast (it's a feast day, right?), then grumble at him when he's too full to really eat anything. 

  • Unsuccessfully try to read your beautiful new St. Nicholas book to your child, who will only talk about planets and runs away shouting something about nebulae when you try to change the subject. 

  • Decide to bake cookies with the child, but don't bother to double-check the ingredients (especially if you bake and generally have all that stuff). Realize that all the traditional cookie recipes for St. Nicholas' Day call for anise. (Who has that?) Decide to substitute cloves. Grumble at the child when he jumps up and down on his stool and spills flour all over everything and everyone.

  • Don't chill the dough fully because you're in a hurry to get to a playdate and you want to take fresh baked cookies along to share. Struggle to roll out sticky dough, even though you know better. When your child approaches and is chattering at you about VY Canis Majoris and how it's the biggest star and how it can burn up everything in our solar system, tell him, "Sssssshhhh!" in a very aggravated way. Feel guilty, but keep struggling with the dough.

  • Burn your hand while taking out the cookies. Say, "Awesome," in as sarcastic a voice as possible. When your child asks what is so awesome, roll your eyes at him.

  • Anger the babies while waking them up early for the playdate (for which you are already quite late). Feel frustrated with them for being fussy. Allow a small part of your brain to think they are doing it on purpose just to annoy you.

  • Realize that your celebration feels entirely uncelebratory and that it's your own fault.

My attitude needs a reset button today. I am the cause of my own frustration - it's not really about my kids or the cookies or any of it. I have an idea of how I want to celebrate the feast, and I've tried to force our day to fit it. Really, it ought to be the other way around. Really, I should start with the day I have, and then see what I can do to make it feel like a celebration.

My children are kind of grumpy today. I'm kind of grumpy, too. We're making each other grumpier. We did the shoes and the cookies. That might be all the celebrating we need to do this year.

You know what? It's okay. It's enough. Sometimes, on a day like today with little kids, you have to just cut your losses. SuperSam might remember the shoes for next year, but the girls won't remember anything - it will basically be a blank slate. So for now, instead of worrying about what kind of feasting we should be doing at dinner tonight, I'm going to take a nap. I might even end up ordering pizza and calling it a St. Nicholas' Day gift to myself.

No judgment.

Happy St. Nicholas' Day, y'all.

Church with little kids: Betty Lukens Felt Books

If you've been following along, you know that I've been working on our Mass bag for SuperSam and the Sisters. We take this bag along to church so we have items at hand to help occupy and engage our squirmy brood.

This past weekend at church, the family behind us had two young children and an infant. Somehow, their children were perfectly still and quiet despite not having "stuff" along to keep them that way. Because I was occupied with wrestling the Belle to thwart her pre-walking pew escape skills and preventing SuperSam from rolling his crayons across the floor, I was unable to discover those parents' secret for managing their family (and looking so serene while doing it). Maybe they bribed the kids with the promise of Happy Meals after Mass. Maybe the mother had a taser in her purse. Maybe their kids are just further along the path to sainthood.

It doesn't really matter - handling my children requires serious energy during church. I need some resources to keep everyone reasonably happy and engaged, and I'm willing to incur judgment from people blessed with less wiggly children if necessary.

On my search for appropriate items for our church bag, I came across these felt books from Betty Lukens. Remember Betty Lukens? Her company designed the felt board stories we used to do in Sunday School when we were children.

I was the girl that loved Sunday School...the paste, the little metal scissors, the wooden chairs arranged in a half-circle. I loved it all (at least until I started asking the types of questions that frustrated my teachers and got me sent out to talk with the Minister of Education in his office). The only thing more thrilling to me than winning the Bible drills (where we flipped frantically through the tissue-thin pages of the Bible to find the verse before anyone else did) was being asked to put one of the felt pieces up on the board during the story. The felt grass was so green, and the felt sky was so blue...and the little sheep on the hillside looked so white and fluffy.

I loved those sheep. And I loved, loved, loved those stories.

Now a grown-up, mama version of my goody-goody Sunday School-loving self, I was really excited to find that Betty Lukens has started making portable felt activity books with the same kinds of stories that were on the big felt boards. They have several different ones available and were kind enough to send me the Old Testament Bible Stories to try out for our Mass bag.

There was some work to do to assemble the book. The kit arrived with everything but the scissors and glue. The pieces and pages were arranged in a single, big sheet of felt to be cut out.

Two pages of directions contained everything I needed to know to put the book together. After the cutting was done, pages were glued together on three sides with the top left open to form a pocket. This allows for storage of the pieces for each page inside the pocket, keeping everything together. (Due to the odd number of pages, the last page does not have a back, so there is no pocket for these pieces. I solved this by making a cover for the book and gluing the final page to the back of the cover.) The cutting and assembly took about an hour from start to finish and left quite a pile of felt scraps. I used hot glue for everything that needed to be put together, which worked very well.

There is a slit in the fish's mouth so he can swallow Jonah.
The book is a great addition to our Mass bag. SuperSam likes taking all the pieces out and arranging them on the pew in rows before putting them into the book. I like that this is a quiet activity that occupies his fingers without raising his decibel level. I also like that he is learning some stories in a hands-on way that engages his imagination.

One joy of parenting is passing on to my children things that I loved when I was their age. I'm pleased to find that these felt stories are as interesting and enjoyable for my little boy as they were for me when I was little.

(It will be okay, though, if he's not quite the Sunday School nerd that I was.)

Disclosure: Betty Lukens provided me with a felt activity book to review for this post. I was not compensated for this review.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent linkup: in case you haven't had enough...

I'm participating in an Advent linkup with some other bloggers this morning. It's being hosted by Carrots for Michaelmas, Dualing Moms and Molly Makes Do. People will be posting about Advent traditions, upcoming holy days, music, crafts and activities, simple gift giving, how to teach children about the liturgical year, and more. There are a bunch of great writers participating, and we'd love for you to come and check it out. Just click on the button below to find out more.

My Button

Names of Jesus advent chain

This morning, SuperSam and I found ourselves with some time to fill. He was feeling crafty, which doesn't happen all that often. There are probably a thousand exciting, beautiful, intricate Advent project ideas out there right now that we could choose to do together. Sometimes, though, the simplest projects are exactly what I need to help me connect with my children and with the season. Today, we made an Advent paper chain with one of Jesus' names on each link.

Jesus is called by many names in the Bible. When the angel comes to announce to Mary that she will bear God's son, he tells her that the baby will be called Emmanuel. Some of his names are taken from ancient prophets, like Isaiah. Each Gospel writer introduces new names for Jesus, and St. Paul gives us many more names in his letters to the early church. Finally, some of the powerful images for Jesus come from names used for him in Revelation.

Our Advent chain has 24 links, one for each day until Christmas Day. SuperSam and I worked together to choose our favorite names of Jesus and wrote one on each link of chain. Our plan is to remove a link each day and read the name of Jesus and the scripture verse where that name originates.

Here is how to make your own Advent chain, if you want to join us in this practice.

What you'll need: 
  • Paper to cut into strips for the chain links (we used scrapbook paper)
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • A writing implement (pen, pencil, marker, stub of crayon - whatever you have will work)
  • A calendar (optional)

You probably know how many days there are from the beginning of Advent to Christmas Day. Since SuperSam is just beginning to understand how days and weeks and months and seasons fit together, he asks me every day if it is Christmas yet (I like to send him here for the answer and a giggle). I thought it would be helpful to have him count the days on the calendar to figure out how many links we would need. We started with the first day of Advent (December 2) and made a link for each day until Christmas.

First, cut your paper into strips. Our strips were 6 1/2 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide, which made nice, fat links. If I were doing this again, I would make them almost twice that long so they would be easier for SuperSam to link together.

This is a great way for a young child to practice cutting. I made "starter cuts" for SuperSam at the edge of the paper, and he followed them up with his scissors to make the cuts (all the while saying "squeeze squeeze SLIDE, squeeze squeeze SLIDE" and making a noise like squealing brakes when he reached the edge. Ah, crafts with preschool boys...never boring.

Once you have a pile of strips, write one of the names of Jesus on the back of each strip. (There is a thorough list available here.) Here are the ones we used with the scripture references, in case you'd like to borrow any of them:

A Precious Stone - 1 Peter 2:6
The Builder - Hebrews 3:3
The Vine - John 15:5
The Son of the Living God - Matthew 16:16
Emmanuel (God with us) - Matthew 1:23
The Truth - John 14:6
The Root of Jesse - Isaiah 11:10
Prince of Peace - Isaiah 9:6
A Sure Foundation - Isaiah 28:16
The Word - John 1:1
Lily of the Valley - Song of Songs 2:1
The Resurrection - John 11:25
The Lamb of God - John 1:29
The Way - John 14:6
The Bread of Life - John 6:35
Alpha and Omega - Revelation 1:8
Dayspring from on High - Luke 1:78
The Head - Ephesians 4:15
Lord of Lords - Revelation 17:14
Light of the World - John 8:12
Bright and Morning Star - Revelation 22:16
The Sun of Righteousness - Malachi 4:2
King of Kings - Revelation 17:14
Messiah - John 4:25
King of Glory - Psalm 24:10
Savior of the World - 1 John 4:14
The Good Shepherd - John 10:11

To make the chain, form the first link into a circle and fasten it with a piece of tape. If you want to be fancy, you can use double-sided tape so it doesn't show. We are not fancy, so we used regular old transparent tape (which is never quite transparent, so you can see if it you look closely!). Insert a second strip through the first strip to link them together, then make another circle. Keep going until you have threaded all the links together to form a chain. If you're working with a child who can't do this part by himself, this is a good time to work together. SuperSam lined up pieces of tape all along the table edge and chose which strips should go next in the chain. He also liked putting the piece of tape on each link while I held it (although his success rate with that was about 50% - we had to redo a number of them when the tape totally missed the seam). It's all about the process, right?

Finally, SuperSam wanted to make a star to put at the top of the chain and write "Jesus" on it. His star is a Jesus Star, he said, but it's most like Rigel (one of his favorites because it's a double star and it's blue- the hottest kind of star). He also drew planets orbiting the star (because we just can't do anything without including planets these days).

I hope this simple craft gives you time to reflect on some of the many different facets of Jesus. We often think this time of year of the little baby boy who was born in a manger, but taking a step back to consider the bigger picture of who Jesus was and is can be a good thing, too. A great number of these names for Jesus show up in hymn texts and carols we will sing during Advent and Christmas. Taking a few minutes to remind ourselves (or to learn for the first time) some of the names now can make singing those favorite songs even more meaningful this year.

Blessings during this first week of Advent!

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

It's beginning to look (and sound) a little like Advent.

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent. The season of preparation has officially arrived.

Deep breath. That doesn't mean I have to be prepared now. It means it's time to start preparing.

(For those of you who for whom this whole Advent thing is unfamiliar or who might not share my enthusiasm for the topic, it's okay. This just happens to be one of those times when my liturgical geekery is on full display. Once January comes and Epiphany happens and the Magi have left the building, I will go back to writing about other stuff. Promise.)

So far: I have replaced the fall wreath on our door with an appropriately wintery (though not overly Christmas-y) looking one that I made. I love how it turned out. We have thrown away the moldy jack 'o' lantern. Right now, there's still a fall-looking flag up on my little garden flagpole, but I can change it tomorrow. We lit the first candle on the Advent wreath tonight at dinner, but we didn't have time to dig the actual wreath out from the attic, so we just have the candles in the wreath form. Not pretty, but functional. It was fine. There's plenty of time.

Many Christian churches have an Advent wreath. It has four candles, usually purple or dark blue, around the circle and a single white candle in the center. (Sometimes the third outside candle is pink...more on that when we get to the third Sunday.) One of the outer candles is lit each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas to symbolize the coming Light of Christ. The center candle symbolizes Christ and is lit on Christmas. It is common for families to have a wreath in their homes, as well, and to light the candles together. We received a wreath as a wedding gift and have enjoyed lighting it every year since we were married in 2001.

With little children, the traditional readings can get a little long. I want SuperSam and The Sisters to enjoy our tradition of using the wreath, so I have been searching for a resource that can help us make this happen.

I found O Radiant Dawn: 5 Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath by Lisa Hendey and ordered it last week. There are short readings and prayers to use daily during Advent. Each day's reading lasts just a few minutes, so it's perfect for us to use at dinner together each evening (which is when we usually light our candles). The readings focus on light and dark, so it's easy for SuperSam to relate to them. (Note to fellow liturgy geeks: the book does not follow the lectionary, but it does include the O Antiphons, so I'm not complaining. Besides, we can use it again next year.)

A reader asked me this week what I was doing to help slow myself down (see here if you missed why I need to do that). I have decided to put notes to myself in some prominent places (bathroom mirrors, refrigerator door, coffee pot, dashboard of the car, and laptop, to start) that say things like "Breathe, there's time," and "Waiting IS doing something," and "Slow down, it's just Advent." I haven't actually done this yet, but since the notes are supposed to remind me that I have time, I am not stressing about it. We'll see if they help me keep myself from rushing ahead to Christmas too quickly.

We have been listening to the Advent playlist I created (yes, I know that was cheating, but I needed to test it out for you). I'm posting it here on the blog for you in case your ears are hungry for some not-yet-Christmas music. It's about 2 hours long...who knew there were so many Advent songs?

Advent music is strange in some ways, and hearing these songs can be a little jarring when we are so used to Christmas music this time of year. Putting together this playlist made it clear to me that as a culture, we have moved away from observing this season. Most of the compositions are quite old - classical pieces, motets, chant and plainsong make up the bulk of the music I included - but a few contemporary artists have recorded some of the old hymn texts in new settings, and there are some lovely instrumental arrangements, too. The tone is contemplative, often solemn, occasionally apocalyptic- a definite contrast with the stuff being played over the loudspeakers at the mall right now. It is working for me, but if you're in the mood for something totally upbeat and cheery, you might look elsewhere. (Or just check out the a capella version of Sleepers, wake! down below - so catchy!) You might need to download free Spotify software if you don't already have it to hear the songs...I'm trying to find a way around that.

Here is the text of one traditional Advent hymn that has been running through my head:

People, look East. The time is near of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look East, and sing today: Love, the Guest, is on the way.

I especially like the part about making your house "fair as you are able." Maybe the composer had a bunch of little kids and shared my aversion to sweeping and never quite got around to dusting her bookshelves. Fortunately, I still have time to clean things up before Christmas (and Love, the Guest) arrives. So yes, people, look east, by all means - just don't look behind my couch (at least not for a few more weeks).

If the cleanliness of my floors is any indication, I'm doing okay with the whole "taking my time" thing. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why I need Advent.

Our jack'o'lantern's face has that wizened, sunken look...kind of like the woman wearing a purple daisy housecoat in the aisle at Dollar Tree who has forgotten to put in her dentures.

Yes, the pumpkins are still on our porch. The mums have browned and are all droopy and in need of cutting back. The straw wreath is still on our door.

All around me, my neighbors have decorated for Christmas, erasing chunks of the night sky with colored lights on their houses and white lights in their shrubs and giant inflatable light-up snow globe thingys in their front yards. People have their trees up and their presents bought and are already baking cookies.

And the music...oh, the music. It's everywhere, even inside my head. Rudolph and the horrible lisping child who "ain't been nuthin' but bad" and Santa Baby won't you bring me a duplex and checks and Frosty hippity-hop-hopping all over the shopping center are making me want to run into the mountains and hide out indefinitely in a cabin by myself.

Wait! I want to scream. Hold on a minute! I'm not ready...I'm just trying to recover from Thanksgiving.

We have a whole extra week this year...Thanksgiving was early (whatever that means), and it isn't even December why do I feel so out of breath, like I'm being left behind? Somehow, before the table was even cleared, with words of gratitude barely out of our mouths, the world went spinning madly into "the holiday season," everyone sprinting for the door with the goal of getting as much done as possible, as quickly as possible.

I feel like I got left sitting here with the dirty dishes.

Before you decide that I'm one of those bah-humbuggers, let me say that Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love everything about it. I even got married in December, just so I could have a brass ensemble playing carols at my wedding and Christmas trees with lights as decorations. I love egg nog, cookies, wrapping paper and caroling. George and I have been making Christmas playlists since 1997, and we have amassed thousands of songs for holiday listening. Really, we should start playing the music as soon as possible, just so we could make it all the way through our old favorites and get some new things in the rotation, too...and most years, we have (all the while faithfully lighting our Advent wreath).

This year, though, I just don't understand the rush. Why do I feel so overwhelmed? Why the huge push to get everything done right now? So we can check everything off our lists and then relax and enjoy the holidays?

Today, sitting amid piles of unwashed things, some still in suitcases from our trip last week, I'm struggling to create order from chaos, editing my longest to-do list in recent memory (involving both sides of a piece of college-ruled paper). I have a bunch of lists right now- a house cleaning list, a gift list-turned-spreadsheet, a decorating list, a grocery list, a list of gift ideas for the grandparents. (I just made a list of my lists. That alone might qualify it as a compulsion.)

The house is a mess. I'm trying to do five things at once (involving multiple separate screens on electronic devices, a cold cup of coffee I've reheated twice already, and mismatched socks). I hear my babies' conversation as they are waking up from their nap, and my first thought is, "Oh, I'm not going to get anything done."

It all feels out of control (a situation I don't handle well, if I'm being honest). I'm not ready for Christmas, and there is so much to do. In an effort to get everything together, I am writing it all down, as if literally putting all of it under my fingers will help me to feel on top of it.

Suddenly, I realize that I am guilty of trying to control the Incarnation (and everything else, too) with my lists.

It's not only my house that needs cleaning. My heart and my mind do, too. I feel cluttered, overwhelmed by all the stuff I think I need to do, busy and scattered and distracted.

Fortunately for all of us, the arrival of Christmas doesn't depend on me and my chronic list-making and my incomplete preparations. Christmas is so much bigger than my lists. It is a turning point in history, the arrival of God-made-baby, Love made visible. It is hope with feet, complete with ten tiny toes. It can completely change everything, if we let it. It is a big deal. 

It's such a big deal, in fact, that we need time to prepare for it.

Yes, there are things to be done, as there always are. But it doesn't have to all be done right this instant. The false sense of urgency I feel is just that - FALSE - and I'm calling it what it is.

It isn't Christmas yet. It isn't even Advent yet, actually, and I don't have to do everything RIGHT NOW.

Today, I'm stopping.

I'm reminding myself that I have time...that time is what Advent is about. It's about waiting. It's about not throwing ourselves into the nativity scene while there is still leftover turkey and dressing in the fridge. It's about giving ourselves permission to start at a place that's less than ready. It's about taking a deep breath and realizing that our unpreparedness, our brokenness, our cobwebby corners and dirty floors are exactly where Christ is going to make his entrance...and that when Christ meets us in the middle of our mess, He makes it holy.

Waiting is hard, I often tell my son. I know it's hard to wait. I don't like to wait, either. But waiting, especially at this time of year, is also a gift. A gift of room to breathe. A gift of a spare moment to sit and ponder and stare out the window without worrying about the crumbs under the table or the bread that needs to be baked. A gift of empty space that doesn't have to be filled right away with a tree or neatly wrapped gifts.

We have time to get there.

I'm going to take my time. I hope you will, too.

And...I'm fighting back against the holiday muzak with a playlist just for Advent, starting this coming Saturday evening. If this sounds like something that would help you create space and take time to wait during this season of preparation, feel free to come by and listen along.

**Update: Here is the Advent playlist for your listening pleasure. You may need to download the free Spotify software to listen to the songs if you don't already have it. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Church with little kids: What's in your Mass Bag?

We sat in a pew in the main part of the church that Sunday because we were actually on time. The Sisters were settled on our laps, and SuperSam was snuggled between us. There was some wiggling, but the children were content. We had made it through the opening hymn, the confession, the first reading. Just when we thought things were going pretty well, there was that moment. The moment when, during a quiet lull between Scripture readings, SuperSam burst out at full volume, "You didn't bring me anything else to keep me occupied?"

Our parish usually has Children's Church during part of the 10:00 AM Sunday Mass, and SuperSam enjoys his class there. In the summer, though, or if we have to go to a different Mass for some reason, he sits with us. I know it's not developmentally appropriate to expect him to follow along with the entire Mass at 4 years old, but we feel that he gains something by being part of the gathered Body of Christ, even if he isn't completely able to engage with everything that is happening.

My hope is that the sound of the music, the rhythms of the prayers and the responses will wash over him, imprint upon him, become part of his sense of what church feels like. He can kneel and stand and sit when we do, even if he's not entirely aware of what it all means yet. Being part of the Mass with us, even as he's staring up at the stained glass windows or watching the candles is slowly developing his liturgical awareness. Even taking part in small ways is growing his God-image and feeding his spiritual imagination.

The ways in which SuperSam participates in church are growing as he does. He always dips his fingers into the font on the way in and out of the sanctuary (though we have to lift him up so he can reach, which is no small feat while balancing a baby on one hip and the enormous diaper bag on the other!). He's excited to offer the sign of peace to others, especially The Sisters. He loves receiving a blessing when we go up for Eucharist. He sings along with the simple, prayerful song that is always sung after we return to our seats. He likes to be the one to put money into the collection basket. He sometimes asks to light a candle for someone after church, especially if our family has been praying for that person at home.

And yes, sometimes he throws himself down on the floor in protest during the prayers and won't get up, which usually leads to George and I hauling him up by his arms and holding his dead weight between us as we smilingly sing the Our Father. (Please, try not to stare. This could be your kid next week...or five minutes from now.)

Given how active SuperSam is, we have found there's a real need for something that he can do, something on which he can focus during the homily and during the longer readings. So many words are spoken, and most of them pass over his head. Mass can feel incredibly long for such a small, squirmy, talkative boy.

With this in mind, I began searching the for items for our Mass bag. It's a simple blue tote bag with handles like you might find at any craft store. It could be decorated easily with paints or markers (and maybe someday, I'll get SuperSam to help me do this). For now, we have been using an extra bag we had around the house.

Some things I kept in mind when putting our bag together:

  • We don't include snacks. I know other parents who successfully put snacks in the bag for their family, but with three small people, it's just too messy for us. Before we made this rule, many Cheerios rolled far away under multiple pews and were crushed by others' feet three rows ahead. We crawled around under the pews after church trying to clean them was just too much to handle.
  • The items need to be somehow church-related. There is time every other minute of every other day to play with our regular toys. I want the things in this bag to be special, to only be used at church, and to help our children develop their spiritual imaginations.
  • The things in the bag have to encourage SuperSam to be quiet. They need to be somewhat interactive, but if they make his volume go up even slightly, they're out. (It would be nice if they encouraged the Sisters to be quiet, too, but I'm trying to keep my expectations realistic.)
  • I can't handle anything with tiny pieces that will be lost under the pews. We have too much going on already.
  • I don't want the items to distract the people around us.

So far, here is what we have in our bag:

  • Baby board books for the sisters, one "baby's first Bible" and one called Adam and Eve's New Day by Sandy Eisenburg Sasso (a family favorite because of the amazing artwork)
  • The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes by Kenneth Taylor (which SuperSam never opens)
  • Crayons in an Altoid box (only a few, because they have a tendency to roll when dropped)
  • Bible story coloring book (we got ours at Dollar Tree, which had a surprisingly good selection)
  • Dry-erase wipe off board for writing or drawing
  • Lacing cards and string
  • Button string 
  • Wooden children's rosary (more beloved by the sisters than by SuperSam at this point)
  • Children's Missal book with the order of Mass so he can follow along (so far, he likes to follow through the Gloria but often loses interest after that)
  • Prayer cards on a ring with pictures of Jesus, various Bible stories, saints and angels
  • Betty Lukens felt book of Bible stories - a new addition, and my favorite item so far. Interactive but quiet (except when SuperSam feeds Jonah to the whale and says "nom nom nom" in what he believes is a quiet voice). Each page has a different familiar Bible story with felt pieces that can be placed on the page. (Stay tuned for a review of this item next week!)

I'm thinking about making a photo book with pictures from the children's baptism. I'd like to be able to rotate the items out so that the bag contents change somewhat. Especially in weeks with multiple Masses, sometimes the novelty wears off.

Do you have a church bag for your children? What's in it?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Christ the King Sunday

Yesterday was Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical year. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the church calendar, it runs differently than the "regular" calendar (January through December). The church (or liturgical) calendar begins with the season of Advent (the weeks that lead up to Christmas) at the beginning of December. Advent starts next Sunday, which means that this past Sunday was the end of the church year.

On the way to church yesterday, SuperSam talked with us a bit about what it meant for Christ to be the King. The whole "king" concept is a little outside of his frame of reference. We tried to explain words he might hear in the service, like "power" and "dominion" and "omnipotent." He was, as usual, totally into the big words. 

Finally, he summed it up: "So it's like Jesus is the one in charge of everything, like the whole universe and the planets and galaxies and stars and constellations and everything there is and used to be and will be and is to come."

Yes. That pretty much covers it.

Although church itself yesterday was mildly awful, with two horribly squirmy babies and one preschooler meltdown, SuperSam apparently absorbed something anyway.

This morning, he wanted to talk about it more and draw a picture of it...and this is what he came up with.

That is a drawing of all the planets singing "holy" and "la la la." They're all smiling. And those red and blue guys at the bottom are cherubim and seraphim (well, just a cherub and a seraph, since there is one of each). We looked up the definition, because I couldn't remember what they were, exactly. Based on our research, SuperSam's seraph has six wings and blue light coming out of it (because blue is the hottest light, he said) and the cherub has four faces (all smiling) and wings with eyes on them and feet like a cow (which are supposed to be like ox feet, but as SuperSam pointed out, he's never seen an ox and we have cows in the field behind our house, so he knows what their feet look like).

Christ the King is the blue guy on the left near Betelgeuse, wearing a blue crown and smiling, of course. And why shouldn't he? Who could ask for a better party for the last day of the year?


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving thanks for Turkey Trots.

Today, I'm thankful for the Turkey Trot. It's become a tradition in our family to run (or walk) a 5K together on Thanksgiving morning. The weather was perfect this morning, and running through the woods with the sun shining through the trees was just the way to start a day dedicated to being grateful.

The Turkey Trot is a funny thing. It's not a fast race, really...but then, it's not about the time. It's about going outside in the morning and running or walking with a bunch of other like-minded people before we stuff ourselves full of carbs and turkey and sugar and then crash on the sofa for a nap.  The level of participation in our family varies from year to year. One year, it was almost everyone on my mom's side. This year, it was just us - my husband, my children, my parents. 

I'm grateful for my body, for my legs and feet, for the chance to run with my family and be together today. I'm grateful for the members of my family who didn't run this year. I'm grateful for my parents, who pushed the double and single joggers so George and I could run with our hands free. I'm grateful for the three little stroller occupants, who cheered when they saw me after the race. And I'm excited that the race is done. Soon the food will be ready, we'll be gathering around a table with everyone, and there will be food. I think I burned the corn pudding, but George didn't burn the pies...and since we already ran this morning, I'm planning to eat as much pie as I want. (The rule of thumb is 100 calories per mile run or walked, but I don't normally count calories, and I'm certainly not going to start today.)

And, although this isn't the focus of my gratitude, I'm happy about the race I ran. I beat my post-twin PR by almost a minute, coming in at 33:03. I felt good, I had fun, and I didn't get sick. It might just be a 5K, but it feels kind of like redemption.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Race report: OBX Half Marathon

Long story short: This wasn't the race I thought I would run; therefore, it's not the race recap I thought I would write.

I told myself (and you) that my goal was just to get across the finish line this time. I said that it didn't matter how slow my time was, that this was the beginning of my comeback after having the twins. I said that I was grateful just to be able to do the race, given that I had to sit out of my last half-marathon because of complications with the twin pregnancy.

I believed those things were true.

It turns out that I wasn't being completely honest with myself (though I believed I was being honest with you!).

So, how did it go? 

Not the way I hoped. I struggled nearly the entire time. It might have been my worst race ever.

Because of horrible, unprecedented stomach upset that attacked around mile 2, I ended up walking a big chunk of the second half and visiting a higher percentage of the porta-potties on the course than in any previous race. I have never been so sick on a run. Even now, as I'm sitting here telling you about it, the mere thought of lemon lime Gatorade is making me nauseous. I ended up finishing over 3 hours, which is the longest (by far) that I have ever taken to complete this distance.

Does my time matter? Maybe it shouldn't, but it bothers me.

I know. I should give myself a break. Three different people have been in residence in my body in the last four years. With the double occupancy of The Sisters, I ended up with 12 weeks of bed rest, which erased all the hard work I had done in 2010 to train for my last marathon. This race is like starting over for me- a reset button for everything.

Writing about the race has been harder than I expected. I really left everything I had on the course. It was the most difficult, most demanding race I have ever run, and although it's been over a week since I ran it, I still can't manage to rehash the whole thing.

I do want you to know two things:

1. This is an outstanding race. It's well organized, the course support is great, the scenery is amazing. It has the warmth and charm of a small-town race, but every detail has been handled with total professionalism. Even with a hurricane blowing through just a week and a half beforehand, the race organizers managed to pull off a smooth race. Not only that, they used the event to entirely restock the Outer Banks Food Pantry (which was wiped out by the storm) by coordinating a food drive at the race expo. Additionally, 100% of the net proceeds from their race events go to charity. If you have never done a race run by Outer Banks Sporting Events, you definitely should consider it. They are a class act.

2. I have already started looking at my training plan for another half marathon. This race (which felt like a failure in some ways and a victory in others) is a beginning, not an end. I will be back, stronger than ever...and I'm going to do more of my long training runs with lemon lime gatorade (or whatever they will have on the course for Shamrock) so my stomach can adjust.

Random race highlights:
  • I started the race with a good friend, and it was her first distance race. I remembered my first half-marathon (Rock 'n' Roll in Virginia Beach in 2005) and how nervous I was. She was as calm as I've ever seen her.
  • In the first mile, my friend and I ran behind someone with a shirt that said "Mormons on the Run." I've seen a lot of race t-shirts, but this was the first time I've ever seen one of those.
  • In the second mile, the sound was blending into the sky in an unbroken band of shimmery was impossible to tell where the water ended and the sky began. It was incredibly beautiful. The bridge up ahead was hidden by the fog that obscured the horizon, but I loved this part of the course more than ever before.
  • In the fifth mile, I passed a sign that read "Run like Gerald is chasing you." I have no idea what it was for, but I thought of the only Gerald I know, my children's godfather, running along with me as I went. Also, someone (seeing my "Virginia is for Runners" shirt) yelled out, "Good show, Virginia!"
  • Going up the bridge over the sound toward Manteo, I looked out over the water. It gave me chills to look back over to Jockey's Ridge, where we had started, and see how far away it was.
  • They had coconut water at the finish instead of sports drink. Since I kind of never wanted to see sports drink again, this was a delightful surprise.
  • The best part of the whole thing was when George showed up, having just finished a hard-fought 26.2 himself, and handed me my discarded striped knee sock arm warmers. He had seen them on the roadside and picked them up to bring to me, even though they were covered with sandspurs. What a guy.

So, am I glad I did it? Yes. Mostly, though, I just want another shot at it. I wasn't expecting my time to be fast, but I wasn't expecting it to be so slow. I'm working on processing things and seeing this one as a success. 

I did it. I did okay. And I feel okay about telling you that I'm not totally okay with the whole thing yet but expect to be more okay as time goes on. I'm working on it, and I'll get there.

Thanks for all your support and for the race playlist ideas...the music was one of the best parts!