Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Today I was thinking about writing about violence, but have honestly felt so inundated by violent images and stories these past few days that I think I'm going to have to wait to go there. So, instead, I thought I would instead mention the incredible joy that it has been to be living within a strong community of support-- something that Ben and I have been lucky enough to do for several years now, both in Boston and here in DC.

Community is an amazing thing. This afternoon as I write this, for example, I can say that I have an impeccably clean house (even the bathroom! and that is a miracle), there are two loaves of freshly baked bread cooling in the kitchen, and I have a tired baby sleeping in the room next to me. And all of this is entirely because of community-- my dad, namely, who dropped by this morning to take Zosia out for a walk so I could get a few things taken care of around the house.

It is amazing to know that there are so many people around us that Ben and I love and fully trust-- and to know that Zosia is growing up knowing that love is something that comes from all sorts of people and relationships.

So, in keeping with the lighter tone of today's post, here are a few pictures of my growing baby bump, doing yoga with Zosia, and Zosia pre-walk with her dziadzius:

Monday, December 29, 2008

Small House

Changes in the economy may mean that McMansions are officially out of style. Check out these two articles:
As McMansions Begin to Die Off, Look to the Past for Housing's Future
Recession Should Change Tastes
This comes as no surprise to me, because I've never been a fan of the large, treeless neighborhoods that seem to populate the majority of DC's exurbs. Our little three bedroom rambler is perfect. Here are some of the reasons that we actually prefer living in close quarters:

1. We don't need a baby monitor
2. When we're at home, the whole family is automatically together
3. We need less furniture
4. We get creative about using our space
5. I can usually holler from any point in the house and be heard by Ben in any other point of the house.
6. It feels safe to know that Zosia is always close by
7. If anyone tried to break into the house, we would know
It's easier to heat and cool
9. It's way easier to clean
10. It feels cozy in the winter

Now, that being said, I also recognize that we live much more spaciously than many people around the world-- the majority of which share a single room. Having some space is nice. It makes having a life after the baby goes to sleep easier (although we still feel like we have to tip-toe to keep from waking her up), gives me and Ben more privacy and better rest at night, and allows us to simultaneously engage in different activities at the same time. Like right now, I'm writing, and Ben is changing Zosia's diaper in the other room. But having enough space to live comfortably is quite different than the extreme of the McMansion, where whole families can go days without even seeing one another.

So three cheers for the end of the McMansion era! And bring on some cute small houses.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holiday Update

Belated Merry Christmas! We had a very peaceful and joyful holiday here at home. After our traditional German cookie fest at the Collins stronghold complete with the Christmas story, carols, and many many cookies, we headed to our house with my parents and aunt for our Wigilia celebration. Wigilia is the traditional Polish Christmas Eve celebration where we break bread and share blessings for the coming year, eat many dishes of fish (13, traditionally!), and exchange Christmas gifts. Being at our own house for this was so beautiful and special-- albeit not nearly as formas as in previous years. But sitting around our tiny candle-lit dining room table with some of the people I love the most in the world for a tradition I've participated in every year since I was born was beautiful.

Ben and I have never actually been at our own home for Christmas-- we've always traveled to visit family or friends (and now have the luxury of living among our family!). So this was our first Christmas morning on our own, and since both families do the majority of celebrating Christmas eve, we could do our own thing. This year, we woke up late (thanks, Zosia!), went out for a nice long Christmas morning walk at a park in Arlington (it was in the 50s on Christmas day, which was amazing), came home and started a fire and had some traditional German sandwiches while listening to Christmas carols. It was perfect, and relaxing, and gave us a little time to meditate on Jesus being in our midst.

Since then, we've been doing what we do best-- relaxing together, spending time with loved ones, and embarking on a few special adventures. Today, to celebrate Ben's birthday, we went out for breakfast at The Original Pancake House, a local Falls Church establishment that we've heard about for so long. It is amazing! No place we've lived has felt totally like home until we've found a great place to get some breakfast, so it was a homecoming of sorts.

I hope everyone else had a blessed and joyful holiday and I'm looking forward to hearing many stories!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Forgotten Figure in the Nativity

You will love this story in today's Slate about Joseph as the forgotten figure in the nativity. I'm a huge Mary fan, but I've got to admit-- we should give this guy some credit!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What Christmas Truly Is

This morning, after spending a little extra time in bed with my two favorite family members, Ben and I hit the ground running. I started working on the dessert portion of the several Polish dishes I'm preparing today for our family's Wigilia celebration this evening. And, in the process, I've learned that apparently Polish recipes a. do not use measurements that are recognizable (what is a dag??) b. often do not use measurements at all (as in: "add raisins", as if I'm supposed to know how many) and c. Are just plain erroneous: the recipe for dough that I just made clearly instructs you to add "the sugar" in two separate points of the recipe. So, amid my frustration at decoding a cryptic recipe (I am convinced that the difficult instructions are the author's attempt at guarding his recipe), I recieved a call from a family member pertaining to today's festivities that left me stressed, to say the least. Ben, on the other hand, is out at Target with the baby buying the last few things that we need for today (I asked him to buy me some panty hose, and he just called to inform me that there are hundreds of varieties of panty hose, and wanted to know whether I wanted custom fit brief panty hose, silky sheer, control top, ultimate control top, cellulite control, or mega ultimate control top). So it's been one of those mornings.

As I felt the stress and negativity well up within me, I paused for half a second to realize that this is not an environment suibtable for welcoming a new baby, let alone the Christ child in our midst. I realized that I needed a second to put everything in perspective, so turned to the Henri Nouwen readings that have been keeping us focused this Advent. Today's reading hit me like a ton of bricks, so I thought I'd share it here:
Somehow I realize that songs, music, good feelings, beautiful liturgies, nice presents, big dinners, and many sweet words do not make Christmas. Christmas is saying "yes" to something beyond all emotions and feelings. Christmas is saying "yes" to a hope based on God's initiative, which has nothing to do with what I think or feel. Christmas is believing that the salvation of the world is God's work and not mine. Things will never look just right or feel just right. If they did, someone would be lying.... But it is into this broken world that a child is born who is called Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, Savior.
Amen to that!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Unexpected Annunciations

I really enjoyed this article discussing the experience of being open to new life, written by a 30-ish woman who is the mother of 6 children. It's interesting, and many of her points really resonated with me. The day after reading the article, the gospel reading at mass was the Annunciation. Thinking about the openness of Mary, who was young, nervous, and vulnerable, to bringing new life into the world (and to what ends!) only got me thinking even further about what saying "yes" to the Annunciations within our own life truly means and requires.

Zosia was a very planned pregnancy. Ben and I started meticulously trying to get pregnant, and when we found out that we were expecting, it was joyful but also very expected. This pregnancy, on the other hand was not at all "planned." We were in the middle of our move between my parents house and our house when I realized that my period was late-- very late-- and, in total fear and trepidation, walked down to the pharmacy to pick up a pregnancy test. When the test was positive (which, in my heart, I knew it would be), I laughed out loud, but was totally terrified inside. Zosia was still breastfeeding, and really seemed like a little baby to me (this was right after she turned one). She was still waking up at night to have a feeding, wasn't walking, or talking. I couldn't imagine having another little baby in the house. So, even though my circumstances are obviously more accomodating of pregnancy (I'm married, have a home, am a stay at home mom, have a loving and supporting husband and family), I get how Mary must have felt, just in the littlest way.

Within a week of finding out about the pregnancy, Zosia was a different baby. She weaned herself, started walking, sleeping through the night, and became much more independant (I'm wondering if this is God being showy). Now, several months later, we're totally overjoyed and excited about this baby girl, and can't wait for her to join our family. Somehow, my uncertainty and fear was turned into joy. I'm sure as this baby enters the outside world and becomes her own person and adult, that joy will only grow. So, while I make absolutely no promises of having six children (and might even be willing to make promises to the contrary), I can understand Mary Alice's decision to be open to as many new lives as possible. I think it's amazing that she's doing it. I hope that in my own life, I can be open to the Annunciations that God puts in my path, whether that's a new friendship, a new commitment, or in the most extreme case, a new baby.

Our Week in Photos

These more or less capture what's been going on. It's been a peaceful and joyful time here with a lot of enjoying the baby, having friends come through, baking, and long quiet evenings. And a few minor frustrations mixed in-- like a two day nap strike put on by Z that finally ended today (Whew! That is a huge relief). We have so many friends coming back to the area for the holidays and family events planned this week that I'm hoping we find the time to remain centered and focused amid all of the excitement-- but we're so happy to spend time in community that we're happy to just ride the wave too.

Things I've Done (meme)-- Thanks V!

Embolden the things you've done:

1. Started your own blog

2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland
8. Climbed a mountain

9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo

11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France

20. Slept on an overnight train

21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset

31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language (not well)
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied.
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David

41. Sung karaoke.
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person

50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris

51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud

54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class.
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen

61. Sold Girl Scout cookies

62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma

65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial

71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone.

78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book

81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating.
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life.
90. Sat on a jury

91. Met someone famous (Woo hoo Ronald Regan!)
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a mobile phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Read an entire book in one day

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Banana Shake

I discovered this simple banana shake while I was pregnant with Zosia. It tastes awesome, and has lots of protein, which us preggers can't get enough of. These days, I've even found that as long as I provide a straw, Zosia loves to drink it too, which is great for a baby who doesn't like to drink much milk.

1 cup milk
1/3 cup nonfat dry milk powder
Tablespoon honey
Squirt of vanilla
Pinch of cinnamon
One Frozen Banana (warning: peel before you freeze it. I found this out the hard way)

Combine in blender and enjoy! It makes a surprisingly filling afternoon snack or even lunch if I drink the whole thing myself. Otherwise, it really makes more of two servings. I imagine it would be an easy recipe to doctor with various other healthful things (flax meal, that sort of thing).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Not a Big Deal

Yesterday I went over to my friend Magdalena's house. This is the friend that also has a daughter named Zosia. It's the craziest story-- Ben was playing with Zosia in the lobby of the birth center, and Magdalena overheard him calling her Zosia, and was like, "No, he couldn't have just called her Zosia." But after a few more times, she went up to him and asked, and they realized that sure enough, both have girls named Zosia. She's Polish too, and her Zosia is the sweetest little Polish speaking 3 year old ever. We've been hanging out, and it's been so nice.

Magdalena just had her second daughter three weeks ago, so yesterday was my first time meeting Ania, who is so tiny and beautiful. I've been seriously nervous about the first few weeks with a newborn in the house, mainly because Zosia is beyond being a "mama's girl" at the moment. She's so overly attached that it's hard for me to do anything without Zosia realizing that she wants and needs my attention and care at that moment. This is apparently totally developmentally normal for a 15 month old, healthy, and fine. And I've been through so many stages with Zosia that I'm happy to go with this, because just like all the others, I know that this too shall pass (and I should enjoy it while it lasts, because soon she'll want nothing to do with me). But I can't imagine doing this and having a newborn.

So going over to Magdalena's house was part to see her beautiful new daughter and part observation, seeing what it's like to have a toddler and a newborn at home. And it was fine! Now, I must say that Magdalena is the most natural mother I have ever seen. She lives in this one bedroom apartment with her husband and now two kids, and it just seems like the most natural thing in the world-- Ania is in bed with her and her husband, and Zosia has a little toddler bed off to the side. They just live in this equilibrium that is so foreign to us American parents. It totally reminds me of the way that my mom was with me and my sister-- totally willing to give of herself, whether that meant sleeping with us (until we were like 7 and 9 or something!), playing with us, whatever. Maybe this is a Polish thing?

But the bottom line is, having two kids at home was not a big deal. Newborns sleep all the time, which I now remember, but had somehow forgotten. So she said she has plenty of time to play with Zosia, and apparently even reads to Zosia while she's nursing Ania. And, newborn babies usually sleep so much that you can get a reasonable amount of rest. The whole thing is just nothing to worry about. Which is a good thing for me to remind myself daily as I'm preparing for April!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Amazing Peace

Here's an excerpt from a poem written by Maya Angelou entitled "Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem." The whole thing is beautiful, and I encourage you to check it out from the library:

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to
each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of
Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues the coming
of hope.
All the earth's tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortals, believers and
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the
word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation:

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Plain Old Folks

Last night Ben and I went to a holiday open house that our neighbor three houses up was hosting. We got to see neighbors that we know/ meet a lot of neighbors that we've seen but never met. It was surprisingly nice, and I was struck by something about our neighborhood-- we live among some incredibly unpretentious, down to earth people.

Now, I'll admit, when we first moved here from Somerville, one thing that I couldn't verbalize but missed was the trendiness of our old neighborhood. In Somerville, there were tons of independent coffee shops, funky people, and quirky happenings (like these crazy massive bike rides through the streets). Our little corner of Falls Church, on the other hand, is humble. Unlike in Somerville, the people are not all young urban professionals, but there's truly a mix-- some young couples, some people who have lived here for decades, some middle aged families with older kids. The houses aren't super trendy-- they're stable reliable brick ramblers built in the 50s. Some have been renovated to look cute and craftsman-y, others have received these horrible makeovers that make you scratch your head in wonder. Others are just plain little homes that are unpretentious and functional.

Last night, though, I realized this amazing asset about our neighborhood-- the people, like the homes, are unpretentious and down to earth. Yes, we could have moved to Del Ray (a renovated part of Alexandria that is all the rage right now), but I bet we would have inherited some neighbors with lots of "image" issues-- let's face it; in order to be willing to pay the price to live in the hottest neighborhood in town, you've really got to care about what people think about you. Here, there's an assortment of people; the woman who hosted the open house has a knack for interior decorating and is the most amazing mother to two boys, one with autism; her neighbor across the street has lived here for 50 years, and was sweet enough to notice and compliment our window boxes; there are older childless couples, a couple that just adopted a little girl from accross the country, and then some young couples with babies and toddlers. It felt so... normal and down to earth. People were wearing horrible Christmas sweaters, jeans, ridiculously out of style long skirts, and a few were dressed trendily, but it seemed like no one cared, and I loved that. Jen, the hostess, made a comment at some point in the evening to the effect of, "We're never really planning on moving from here." I've been thinking about it all day, and have realized that I would be totally happy to become that woman who has lived here for 50 years.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

O Holy Night

This afternoon eleven members of the Collins family (plus one guest) gathered at Ben's parents house for an Advent celebration. Advent is huge in Ben's parent's house, and one of the main rituals is gathering together, eating German Christmas cookies and singing Christmas carols (a LOT of them, especially since every person gets to choose their favorite, and verses are generally not skipped).

It's something I look forward to each year, and it's amazing how I can look back over the past many years (I think I've been attending for at least eight years, maybe more!) and see how circumstances have changed (from being teenagers to college students, to a young married couple, to parents) and how my own experience of Advent has also changed. I remember the year before Zosia was born, Ben and I were both so totally present and contemplative during all of advent, including our gathering at the Collins house. This year, of course, we were as present as we could be while keeping our eyes on a 15 month old who was climbing furniture, clapping, climbing stairs, and snatching Christmas ornaments-- I truly don't know what I would have done without the expert babysitting help of Zosia's two cousins, Caroline and Annelise (12 and 8) who entertained her for the majority of our time there.

Anyway, each year different things jump out at me from either the readings that we do or the Christmas carols that we sing. I think that my favorite Advent carol will always be "O Come O Come Emmanuel," which feels like the perfect invitation for Jesus to enter into our presence. But this year, while singing O Holy Night, I realized that there was a verse that I had never heard before (or heard, but not really understood). Here it is:
Truly He Taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Wow! Talk about a radical message, and one that totally jumps out into your face among a bunch of fa la las. Traditionally I've been a sucker for the radical theology stuff, so I was surprised that I hadn't caught this lyric sooner. Anyway, for now I'm just realizing how much Christianity turns the world upside down and challenges the traditional ways that we relate to one another.

Finding Baby Jesus Easier With GPS

I feel like I've been so busy this advent looking for the baby Jesus in our midst, so my eye gravitated towards this headline. Apparently all I need is a little more technology!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Rachel's post on the ways that her dog Maggie brings to mind characteristics of God has had me thinking about unlikely places to find sacred inspiration. First, I tried thinking about Selma (our 50 lb lab-chow mix), but I guess she's not quite as godly as Maggie, because I really didn't see the connection (sorry, Selms). But as I started thinking about Zosia, I realized that some of the central challenges of being around children are the very things that bring us into deeper relationships with those around us-- and specifically, with God.

Babies are incredibly needy-- at least my babies are (I still occasionally see what I call the "backpack baby" who just seems happy to be schlepped around anywhere, but as far as I am concerned, these children are a different species than Zosia). What's more, she is not ashamed of unabashedly demanding my full presence and attention. She is a master at sensing when I am being present and when I am not. For example, I can be making little faces at her while I try to carry on a conversation with someone on the phone, and she doesn't buy it for a second. She knows that I am not being present. Or, at the sound of computer typing noises, Zosia runs (even if previously happily playing on her own) screaming, because she knows that when I am on the computer is one of the times that I am the least present to her.

What's amazing is that once I set aside whatever the obstacle is and truly engage with her, she instantly mellows out and becomes happy. Sometimes just a few minutes of presence (lying with her on the couch, reading a book, chasing her around the house) give her the security and confidence to play independently for a long time. So, all of this has me thinking about God yearning for our presence, and Jesus' command that above all else we should love God (above even loving our neighbor, which is totally not the way I usually think about it).

It's a bit trickier with God, because God doesn't come screaming, doesn't whine, and doesn't tug at our pants. But obviously, just as our human relationships are deepened by real presence to one another, so too does presence deepen our relationship with God. This is something that, to be totally honest, I struggle with. It's hard for me to take any substantial or even insubstantial amount of time out of my day (especially while I'm surrounded by a host of creatures that very vocally demand my presence) and be present with God. I have a hard time justifying it. But those rare occasions that I do become present to God, I feel like the details of the rest of my life fall into place and everything remains so... in perspective. Maybe I just need to make a commitment and trust that everything else will fall in place? And, perhaps ironically, I have a 15 month old that just came in from playing outside with her dad now tugging at my sweater!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Apple Cinnamon Ornaments

I've been meaning to make these ornaments for several years now, but somehow am always down a few ingredients... which is ironically also the case today. However, I'm hoping that I'll FINALLY have the get up and go to actually get this done this weekend. I already have a huge canister of cinnamon, so now all I need to complete the project is applesauce and glue. I have high hopes for these ornaments not only looking nice, but also bringing the smell of simmering apple cider to the house-- I'll let you know if they deliver. (These ornaments are not edible, but should last for several years)

What you'll need:

  • 1 1/2 cups ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 1/4 cup white school glue (like Elmer's)
  • Bowl
  • Plastic food wrap
  • Rolling pin
  • Wax paper
  • Cookie cutters or a knife
  • Ribbon or yarn for hanging
  • Straw

How to make it:

  1. Mix cinnamon, applesauce, and glue together in a bowl. The dough should be as thick as cookie dough. Add a bit of water if the dough is too stiff.
  2. Remove from bowl and knead. Put it back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for at least a half hour.
  3. Remove the dough, knead again to make sure it's smooth. Flatten/roll the dough between waxed paper until it's between 1/4" thick and 1/8" thick.
  4. Cut out desired shapes, use a straw to punch a hole for the ribbon to hang. The circle of dough will pull out with the straw.
  5. Gently place the shapes on a piece of clean wax paper. They will take 3-5 days to dry, and you will need to turn them over a couple of times a day for them to dry evenly and flat.

Check out the full recipe at

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's a Girl!

Here are our first glimpses of the little one!We all love this next one. Can you see that muscle? My mom says that it just shows that she's part of our lineage of strong women. The ultrasound technician thought the baby might be trying to show Zosia not to mess with her.

We're all so excited, and can't wait to have another baby in the house-- and knowing that it's a girl just makes it all that much more real. And we LOVE having women around, so the more the merrier!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Why Live Trees are Eco-Friendlier

From Lauren's "Do Just One Thing " eco-friendly calendar for today:

If you're debating between a live or fake Christmas tree, here's the green winner:live. Fake trees are manufactured overseas (translation: fuel costs) and are made from non-renewable, non-biodegradable materials. When thrown away, they clog our landfills. A live tree is usually grown on land unsuitable for farming anyway, but still contributes oxygen to the atmosphere. Trees are also recyclable and most communities have programs in place.
I've been pro-live tree for a while... but I must admit it's mainly the intoxicating scent of pine. But this argument is true-- none of those trees would have been planted had it not been for the Christmas tree market. They're a net benefit to the environment!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Finding Jesus in our Midst

I often feel a little overwhelmed by the enormity of problems that the world we live in faces. As a daily newspaper reader, I am aware of murder, war, hatred, violence. I ideologically oppose all of these, and yet I see the roots of each one in my own life. Sometimes I feel a surge of maternal instinct well up that makes me know that I too would be capable of murder, given the right alignment of circumstance. Whether it is an argument with a family member, an irrational prejudice I find myself holding, or the need to control my environment a little too much, the reminders of my own participation in the web of world suffering are ample.

During Advent, I am called in new ways to wonder what being a people of waiting means in such a world. How am I supposed to be looking for Jesus, the Prince of Peace in our midst, when it seems like Jesus is nowhere to be found. And yet, it is Jesus himself who in the Gospel reminds me to constantly watch and be alert, challenges me to be awake and not sleeping. It is those moments of wakefulness, which are all too brief, when I recognize Jesus in strangers, beautiful things, moments of despair, and friends and family members that bring me into fullest communion with God.

And yet when I look back on my life, almost all of those moments, so profound to my own spiritual journey, have been teeny and insignificant, not momentous or earth-shattering. It's something like the arrival of Jesus himself, which the Jewish people were anticipating would be an earth-shattering event. The prophet Isaiah calls on God to "rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you." But God had more modest plans involving an unwed teen mother, a carpenter, and a manger. Jesus' entry into the world, which we are currently so eagerly anticipating, was a whisper in a world of disorder. It was quiet and humble and forgettable, just like those moments of witnessing Jesus' in my own midst today.

This Advent, I am going to try to remember the smallness of the whole thing while celebrating the hugeness of its implications. I hope my own carol will be more like an Capella lullaby to a sleeping child than the Hallelujah chorus of the Messiah. And I hope that my own small gestures-- of being present to the moment, pausing between activities to say a prayer and remember the God that formed me, being thankful every chance I get for the beauty of every person and creature God has created-- will be the ones that call Jesus into my midst and transform this broken and hurting world.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Homemade gifts

Check out this Washington Post article with ideas about a few homemade edible gift ideas. I'm totally trying these out on family members this Christmas... beware!

Christmas Tree Day

Whew! Today was quite the productive day. Zosia is teething (working on her last two teeth before her two year molars, so at least the end is in sight) which is exhausting; we went and got our Christmas tree and started decorating it; I made english muffins from scratch, which was surprisingly simple and gratifying (thank you More with Less!); and now I get to take a break as Ben is in the kitchen working on our pizza dough. Here are a few photos from the day:
Ben at the tree lot, complete with lumber jack attire (actually, that's just how he dresses ;-).
English muffins

Me and Z catching a snuggle.
The Christmas tree! Ornaments arriving tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mommy's Little Worker

So cute! This is a picture of Zosia helping me unload the dishwasher. She has this little bear backpack, but she insists that she wears it on her front (I think it's because it makes her feel like a mama bear).

One of those Days

Man, I totally had a case of the Mondays today. Which is funny because yesterday, on Monday, I was the zippiest, cheeriest, most productive person ever. But today I woke up out of it, and felt like it was an epic battle with myself to regain a semblance of a normal day. Today's Nouwen reading was something about finding balance and meaning between extremes-- solitude and community, silence and sound, emptiness and fullness. Somehow I feel like I've gone between the two in just two days.

Lately, when I get in a funk, I've been trying my best to take some action to pull myself out of it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't-- usually at the very least I feel like it shortens my period of grumpiness. Today, that meant going through the motions and hoping that eventually my spirit would catch up with my body... Making the bed was the first willful act of productivity, followed by taking a bath with Zosia, buying some Christmas lights, and later in the morning actually hanging up some lights. I must admit, there's nothing quite like Christmas lights to lift the spirits. Once I was hanging them up, I felt like I had arrived and was no longer a victim of my own day. Why is it that it takes so much work to just do the thing that makes us the happiest?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

First Sunday of Advent

Most of you know that I love love love Advent-- it's my favorite liturgical season, and one that I really love marking with a distinct set of spiritual practices. For the last two years, Ben and I (and our faith community) have been celebrating advent by working through a book entitled "Advent and Christmas: Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen." It's a beautiful book, and has devotions for each day of Advent that contain a passage from some of Nouwen's writing, a biblical passage, a prayer, and what they call an "advent action."

In addition to our daily devotions, we love having a special celebration each Sunday of Advent. Ben's mom has totally paved the way for this tradition-- in their home, they have special Advent treats, Advent songs, and a candle lighting ceremony each Sunday of Advent. We've taken to continuing that tradition in our household, and each Sunday we sit down and have a time that we spend together in song, prayer, and feasting. So later tonight we're going to dim the lights, light that first lonely candle Advent, and begin the season of waiting (which feels so much more centered than black friday!).

Here's today's special Advent treat, a modified recipe from my dear friend Kathryn:

Candied Walnuts
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup milk
1/2 t cinnamon
1t vanilla
2 cups walnuts
1/4 t kosher salt

1. Boil milk and sugar to about 234-240 degrees, which for those of you who, like me, have no candy thermometer, is roughly until it just starts to turn a little off-white.
2. Add cinnamon and vanilla, and pour over walnuts
3. Continue stirring until the syrup cools down a bit and turns into a candy coating.
4. Sprinkle with kosher salt

Enjoy! And I hope everyone has a blessed and peaceful Advent!

At the Foot of the Goddess

Here is a beautiful poem that my friend Sara shared at our first female spirituality gathering last saturday (more on this later). I photocopied the poem (translated from Spanish), but forgot to write down the name of the author, so I'll edit that in as soon as I find it out:

It's true that I have betrayed you.
For years I put you off with empty arguments.
How I ignored your calls!
I wanted to plug my ears with golden
beeswax, but
your song was not that of a siren.
Even in dreams you pursued me;
you made an anvil of my poor head
and I, stubborn, refused to obey you.

But you, goddess, prevailed over me
and over the will of those who wished
to enchain me in an ancient role.

No one can say I was a coward
because in some way I knew how to resist.
You filtered in, a breath that expanded my soul.
At least I have survived, Goddess, and I speak to you,
Victor: I am yours forever.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Breastfeeding Virgin Mary

My favorite icon that is currently on our mantel is a small painting of Mary breastfeeding Jesus. The picture, which was a baptism gift to Zosia from my Aunt Basia, is very small, so it requires a very close look to even notice that Mary is breastfeeding-- but I love love love it. When we received it, it shifted the way I thought about Jesus. I somehow had never really thought about Jesus as a breastfeeding baby. It brought my understanding of his full humanity to an entirely new level. As Ben always says, some Christians never move beyond the notion of Jesus as God in a man suit. But in reality, he was fully God and fully human, which is just so difficult to understand that we often drop the human part.

Check out this article about the Vatican encouraging Catholics to be more accepting of icons of a breastfeeding Jesus (thanks, Michelle, for passing this along!):

By the way, we're traveling to Connecticut and Boston this week, so my posts might not be quite as consistent, but I'll be back at the end of the week with at least one new Thanksgiving recipe to share!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Home or Birth Center?

After several weeks of insurance limbo about the birth of this child, we have received some great news from our insurance company (Anthem Healthkeepers HMO). Since they don't have any in-network midwives in the area, they've pre-approved us to use the midwives that we were hoping to go with, who are based in Alexandria. We like this practice of midwives because they do both home births and birth center births, remind us of the Cambridge Birth Center, which we loved, and are within a reasonable driving distance. So now that we're finally cleared to do our prenatal care and delivery with these midwives, we have to decide whether we want a home birth or another delivery at a birth center. Since as far as we know, we have another low-risk pregnancy on our hands, the safety of either option is a non-issue-- the midwives take the same precautions in both locations, and are prepared to make a transfer to a hospital in the event of a complication.

Here's what I'm thinking today.

Advantages of a home birth:
  • we don't have to drive to the birth center (this is huge, because I can't imagine spending an hour of labor in the car... in Boston we had 3 minutes of labor in the car and that felt way too long)
  • we don't have to drive anywhere after the birth and can just rest/ sleep at home after labor
  • we are most comfortable in our home environment
  • second babies tend to come fast, so we have the advantage of already being at our delivery point
  • we don't have to worry about taking Zosia anywhere, since she'll be happy to be at home
  • we have all our stuff/food here
Advantages of the birth center/ disadvantages of home birth:
  • i thought it was kind of nice to change scenery mid-labor last time... maybe because I was practically fully dilated by the time we got the birth center and was just happy to start pushing
  • at the birth center, you don't have to get all the delivery stuff ready (there's a looong list of things you have to prepare for a home birth)
  • the laboring tub at the birth center is infinitely more comfortable than our 1950's era tub that doesn't even have an inclined back
  • at the birth center, i could walk around and be as vocal as I want to without having to worry about waking Zosia up (although I'm seriously praying that this next labor takes place entirely during the day... man, it was hard to make up for a full night missed sleep)
  • During rush hour, the drive could take an hour or more
I'm sure that both lists will grow as I learn more about each option, but I think that if I had to make the decision today, I would go with home birth, especially after talking to a mom who just had a home birth a week ago (and also has a toddler at home) and loved it. I'll let you know when we decide for sure!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Anti-Anti Buy Nothing Day

Today I've been reading all about Buy Nothing Day-- a sort of protest of Black Friday that many in the counter-culture have been participating in for years (heck, I remember hanging up posters for buy nothing day in high school). So, as is always the case in liberal circles, something can only be revolutionary for so long before we liberals have to start a revolution against the revolution. I've come across several opinion pieces/blogs challenging buy nothing day as a white liberal elitism (and make something day, the recent spin off where people are called to get crafty as essentially a waste of time and craft supplies). Some of the arguments resonate with me: people have said that the true poor rely on opportunities like black friday to get things that they really need, like computers for their children. Others have said that we should save all the energy spent on crafts towards getting things that people actually need. So, I get the arguments. But come on, people. Can't we just come together behind a noble cause for more than a week before we start splintering into factions and somehow claiming that we're more enlightened than the enlightened?**

Here's why I like buy nothing day: it challenges consummerism on the single day the most symbolically associated with overconsumption. Perhaps there are a few low income folks waiting in line for their first computer, but I bet that the vast majority of people are waiting for their new i-phone, luxury sneakers, or flat screen television. If black friday is a cornerstone in your survival strategy, then by all means get in line! But let's not pretend that somehow that's what it is for most people. Events like black friday are put on by retailers precicely because the frenzy of it all causes people to act irrationally and buy crazy amounts of stuff. Think Filene's Basement wedding dresses. People start grabbing for anything and everything and it gets ugly. This is not survival, it's gluttony.

This black friday I plan on avoiding the retail scene, mainly because I don't care for it and don't need the kinds of things that one is likely to get a "steal" on on black friday... they are the sorts of things that are the bells and whistles of life and not the bare bones. I think it's great if others decide to do the same. It's not going to change the world (it might not change anything at all), but it's still powerful to participate in a noble cause together with others that are filled with hope for the future.

** Of course, I guess that makes me the person who thinks that I'm more enlightened than the people who are more enlightened than the enlightened. Whew, this is why I went to Harvard!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Owning My Identity

In many social circles that I belong to-- the new mommy social circle, the social circle of my neighborhood, my church social circle among many-- my age is something that I feel embarrassed about. The truth is, often times I'm 15-20 years younger than the people whose friendship I appreciate and who value me as an equal. Ben and I generally avoid the topic of age. However, it has this way of always coming up... eventually. People are often circumspect about it, asking questions like, "So... when did you graduate highschool?" or once they learn that Ben and I are highschool sweethearts, "How long does that mean you two have been together?" My guess is that many of them are curious about our age. Neither of us look particularly mature and we both look young enough that us having a toddler is somewhat scandalous. I still remember once in Somerville when I attended mass by myself with Zosia, an older woman came up to me afterwards and congratulated me for being "such a brave girl." I had no idea what she was talking about, and only later realized that she must have assumed I was a teen mother.

Anyway, age is something that I'm very careful about and generally avoid. The reason is that the times that my age has been "outed," I have often felt a shift in the relationship. People stop treating me as an equal, stop confiding in me, start feeling awkward around me. The other day my age was outed to some of our very favorite neighbors, and the embarrassment that it created caused me to do a little reflection. Why is my age something that I'm uncomfortable with? And, will there ever be a time when I'm truly comfortable with my age? I mean, it seems like as soon as one outgrows the "you're just a little baby" stage, they enter the "you're practically retired" stage, where being too old is something they're nervous about.

All this is to say that I have decided to own my age boldly. I may be only 25, and that might mean that I don't have as much life experience as some, but that is just a part of who I am. I guess I'm not used to being marginalized for a part of my identity. In an ideal world, no one would be marginalized for any part of their identity. But in the mean time, I can always challenge people's assumptions about 20-somethings, or possibly gauge their authenticity by how they treat me once they find out the truth. Our neighbors delivered-- they both think it's cute and funny and it's something they tease us about now, but without compromising our friendship.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Boob Tube

For a few years now, Ben and I have been intentional about television. For us, that means that we usually alternate between watching no tv (easier during the spring and summer months, when we spend the whole evening outside), and carefully choosing which television programs we do watch (miss marple, independent lens, and football generally make the cut). Of course we're not perfect or legalistic about this decision, but it's something that we've tried out in our lives and found to be a positive and enriching decision. The less tv we watch, the more we read, talk to one another, and engage in other leisure activities. It's a form of simplification that makes us feel good, and we're happy that Zosia is growing up in a home where human contact is a priority over electronic contact.

So, it's always interesting to come accross research/articles that explore the effect of television on people. Today I came accross this article, which discusses research that asserts that people who watch a lot of tv are more unhappy than those who watch less. I know that days that I do veg out in front of the tv, watching whatever junk might be on, are the days that I'm most listless and down-- even moreso after the tv watching than before it. I'll definitely try to remember that the next time I'm about to laps from my commitment!

Foreclosure Article

Busted Halo just published a piece I wrote about buying our house. Check it out if you get the chance:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Peace on Earth and Goodwill Towards Men

I can't quite believe that in just a few short weeks Advent will have begun! This year, I'm trying something I've never done before, which is doing the consumer part of Christmas before Advent begins. I've heard of people doing this and have always thought, "Wow. That must be wonderful to just truly focus on the gift of Jesus during Advent," but am always one of those people scrambling to get presents together at the last minute.

Ben and I have been thinking about Christmas presents. We want to give gifts that are meaningful, simple, and this year more than others, affordable. As in previous years, I think we're going to try to make some of our gifts (I've often found that these are the ones that are the most joyful to give). But we just don't have the time to do all handmade gifts for everyone. The other night Ben threw out the idea of buying all our gifts at goodwill. Some of our own most treasured clothing items, books, jewelry and household items were bought at thrift stores. Going to a thrift store with someone in mind but no particular thing in sight always feels like a treasure hunt, and I feel like most of the time you can find something really special that is affordable. It is the greenest present option, benefits people who are on the margins of society (especially at stores like goodwill and salvation army), and is one of the few ways that this year we'll be able to stay within our teeny budget.

This afternoon we might go on our first trip, and I'm excited about scouting out special things. I know that in the formal world of present giving re-gifting/ buying used things is totally taboo, but you know what? I hope that our friendships and relationships are real enough that those who we care about will receive their quirky, thrift store-y gifts and say, "I get it."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

At the Checkout Counter

Over the past year, Ben and I have learned that simple living while you're pretty financially comfortable is a different beast than simple living when times are tough. Simple living when times are comfortable is cute-- it's trendy, makes you feel good, and, unless you've got a will much stronger than me, paves the road for lots of corner-cutting. You can splurge every now and then, and your checking account won't call your bluff. Simple living when times are tough, however, is a challenge. You literally can't splurge, and that means that something that once seemed so charming and nice is all of a sudden a grim reality that you're stuck in.

To try to pay down the credit card debt we accrued while working on our house, we're sticking to a very strict $100 a week grocery budget. Which, when we were making the budget, sounded like a breeze. Although, when that amount includes all household items (toilet paper, paper towels), all eating out/entertainment, as well as groceries, money starts to get tight. And, since we're still getting adjusted to it, sometimes we get to mid-week and realize, "Crap! We need milk and we've used up our money."

Take today at the grocery store. I had $10 in cash left over to spend on food at the grocery store and we needed milk, eggs, dental floss, apple juice, and whole wheat flour. After circling around the store for long enough that the store clerks started giving me strange looks, I gathered together a half gallon of milk, 8 eggs (what would you even call that? Three quarters a dozen?), a bag of store-brand flour, some off-brand floss, and a can of frozen apple juice concentrate. I hopefully took my goods to the checkout, honestly unsure whether I was going to make it under 10 bucks. I held my breath while I scanned my last item and pressed "finish and pay." And..... I made it! With 88 cents to spare. I felt relieved and totally accomplished-- and realized that this, this is truly simple living.

I have often thought of the verse in the Gospel where Jesus talks about not worrying.
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!"
But what does something like that mean when you're saving money for a down payment, maxing out on retirement savings in your 401k and comfortably insured? It doesn't really make sense. Of course, here I am blogging from my heated home, without any serious worries on my horizon. But moments of vulnerability like that second of uncertainty at the checkout counter where I didn't know if I could buy this food that my family needs, give me teeny glimpses into what Jesus is talking about, and drastically transform the way I think about trusting God.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Creating Community

Last night I talked to Rachel-- a very dear friend who just relocated with her partner to Seattle. We caught up about family stuff, health stuff, and eventually landed on the topic of community. Community and communal living is a passion, and my own powerful experience of community in Boston set the bar very high for creating a similar community of faith wherever I may go. But, Rachel and I both agreed that finding community is hard. It is a challenge to find a group of people who share a vision of caring for the least among us, simple living, and intentional community. And once you find such a group, it's difficult to make that community more meaningful than just a group of like minded, similarly-situated individuals sharing dinner. And when the lifestyle of a 20-something often leads to relocating every few years, that difficulty is compounded by the instability of our communities once we do establish them. I have myself sometimes thought, "What's the point?" That seems to be the conclusion that so many of us have come to.

Here in Virginia, finding community has been both easy and hard. Since we moved into an area filled with family, old friends, and connections, we never really felt as isolated and lonely as we did when we first moved to Boston. We are blessed to have many family members that are on our wavelength when it comes to striving to live meaningfully as Christians. And we've connected with a lot of families with young children in our neighborhood who we are thrilled to share the parent part of our personalities with. However, I feel like our sense of belonging here has made it easy for us to become complacent in searching out a deep, diverse community. Searching for community is almost easier when you do feel that sense of isolation than it is when you're overall pretty content with your life as is.

I'm left wondering what my ideal community would be like, what it would feel like. I always think of the early Christians who had all things in common, sharing all aspects of their lives, despite the many differences between them, and think, "Wow." And yet, I also think, "How on earth did they do that?" So here's to the hope of finding new community in new cities, in unexpected places, and through deeper relationships.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Dance of Dissidence

The other week Ben and I ran into an old friend from high school, Michelle, who just recently got married and moved into a cute little house on the other side of Falls Church. I got together with her for lunch a few times, and she invited me to come to a book group she was hosting at her house where they were discussing the book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd. I didn't know anything about the book (but had read and loved the Secret Life of Bees), but gladly agreed to go to the book group. The book, for those of you who haven't read it, chronicles her journey from baptist church woman to liberated woman who celebrates the feminine aspects of God. It's a beautiful story, and one that re awoke that desire deep within my own being to recognize, name, and worship the feminine aspects of the divine.

Julie Clawson, who's awesome blog I just discovered yesterday, describes the necessity of naming the feminine characteristics of God like this:
"The call to speak of God rightly has awakened in many women the need to reclaim the feminine metaphors for God. God is of course neither male nor female, but in the image of God both male and female were created. God’s image is reflected in all of us. To use feminine metaphors for God is not a call to swing the pendulum to the other side and think of God as exclusively female, as much of the Divine Feminine and Goddess talk has recently called us to do. It is merely a call to balance our perceptions and rightly name God."
Amen to that! This re imagining of God is accomplished through events like the art event at Emily's house where we created plates to describe our experience as women in the church, or events like Zosia's baptismal mass at our apartment, where the sacred feminine blessed us with her divine presence, or Sean and Rachel's wedding, where the fusion of God's feminine and masculine characteristics was so beautifully evident. As a woman, recognizing the feminine characteristics of God is the first step towards recognizing that I am created in the image of God and deeply beloved. It is essential to the female spiritual experience, and yet something that most major religions entirely neglect to address.

Reading this book and discussing it with a group of strong and intelligent women reminded me of this mission that we as women have in the contemporary church. Immediately, I realized that finding support is essential in this journey-- and that's certainly not something that I'm going to receive from the Catholic Church. As I started researching local churches and groups that would affirm this mission, I realized two things: there aren't a whole lot of them, and those that exist usually function under the auspices of organizations that are highly marginalized by modern society. Namely, there are several pagan groups that celebrate the feminine divine. Of course, as soon as Ben found out that I was researching paganism, he pulled out the full battery of witch jokes, suggesting that I search google for "kettle broom newts witches northern virginia." Jokes aside, joining a pagan group would certainly create some intra-family conflict, and I don't even know if I'm quite ready to make that leap (but if I attend a coven meeting, I'll fill you in on all the details).

I feel kind of alone, especially when I'm at a church that, for all of its amazing ministries and assets, is pretty male-centered. And yet I know that I stand together with women accross this country, in Boston, Chicago, Seattle, and almost certainly dozens of women in my own congregation, who are journeying towards the sacred feminine. And, as an amazing outgrowth of the book group, I'm going to be meeting with two women later this month for our first celebration of the sacred feminine. It feels like a babystep, but one that I'm very happy to be making.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I'm still here! Here's what I've been thinking...

Wow, I somehow can't believe I've neglected this blog for so long. I was just talking to Ben yesterday about the importance of having discipline regarding traditions, and I realized that I suck at this. And, communicating with friends/loved ones is a sort of tradition in itself, so let me try to make up for lost time with a few updates:

1) As most of you know, we have another baby on the way. I've had premonitions that it's a boy, so we'll see how intuitive I am about these things.

2) We are settling into fall here in Virginia-- even though it's the end of october, the leaves are just starting to change. For me, this has meant prodigious reading, making huge amounts of soup, and trying to spend as much time as possible outside.

3) I've been especially loving time spent with Ben these last few weeks, and there are lots of things we've been talking about-- the election, the economy, the Catholic Church. Ben is attending RCIA classes, and I feel like those provide lots of food for thought for both of us, both pulling us into the Catholic tradition and at times forcefully repelling us away from it.

I'll spend the afternoon trying to sift through all of these topics and pull together a coherent reflection, but in the meantime, here are a few artifacts of my fall.

Our Neighbor Annie's Chicken Curry

1 can coconut milk
1 can garbanzo beans
4-6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
2T curry paste
2T tomato paste
1 t ground coriander
1t ground cumin
1 t grated ginger
1 yellow onion chopped
2-3 smashed cloves garlic
1/2 eggplant chopped
1 sweet potato chopped
1 bell pepper
salt to taste

Add all ingredients in crockpot and cook until done! Serve with sticky brown rice.

I've been reading:

This book is, quite simply, one of the best I have ever read. Thanks Maura, for leading me to it, and I do still have your copy in a box somewhere, so don't think I've forgotten! I absolutely loved the family that this book follows through multiple generations. It is filled with magical, powerful women, corruption and the quest for power, and stories of political revolution. But, more than anything, I felt at the end of the novel that I had a deeper insight into myself, my relationship to others in the world, and my own power as an individual.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Manual Labor

Ben and I have entered the crazy (and exciting) world of home ownership! We closed on our new house last Thursday, and are full-swing into fixing it up before move in-- a huge job, since it is a foreclosure that has fallen into disrepair during its several months sitting vacant. We've had people gutting the basement, and there are more coming to put in a new electrical system, rip out the vinyl floor in the kitchen, install tiles, clean out the gutters, install drains in the basement and refinish the floors. Ben and I have been in there too (More Ben, really... minding a 11 month old is surprisingly incompatible with working on a house): we've prepped for painting, spackled the walls, pulled out the caulking in the bathroom, cleaned the windows, and started cleaning up the yard. In the next week or two we hope to install blinds, put in some new cabinets, and, eventually move in!

This, for me, has been my first prolonged immersion in the world of manual labor, and it's been sort of amazing/horrifying. First of all, I am a total wuss! My shoulders and arms have been sore for three days from removing 3 (yes, I am ashamed to admit it) vinyl tiles in the kitchen and washing some windows. All this while I have watched three men literally destroying and carrying the entirety of our basement into a huge dumpster over the course of two days. I guess I just don't have what it takes.

But, today, as I was thinking about the workers that have been in our house-- who work for relatively meager wages, with total uncertainty about where their next work will come from, and no health benefits, even though, dear Lord, of all people in the world, they need it the most. They are living far away from the place they consider "home," in all probability away from their wives, children, families-- bunking up with other young laborers like themselves in cramped conditions, and, on top of all of that, viewed with contempt and hatred by many if not most people around here. I was thinking about how to interact with them, how we can be good, ethical employers (Do we buy them lunch? How do we react when they don't show up for work, or leave early without explanation? How do I, as a young woman, treat them with dignity and respect without creating a cultural misunderstanding about my intentions?), and God revealed something to me that hit me like a ton of bricks. That man Jesus, who is our Savior, the Son of God, yadda yadda, WAS A CARPENTER. How this fact was not fully understood by me until today is unbelievable, because of course I factually knew he was a carpenter, but I never really understood what that means.

Talk about being made vulnerable to the world in a day-to-day, hour-by-hour sort of way. So, more than anything, right now, I am pausing to think about this. It has 1) totally transformed the way I think about Jesus, and 2) totally transformed the way I think about those workers. Who knows where this is taking me, but I feel like it is a breakthrough. Right now, I am enjoying thinking about Jesus as a worker. Did he drive a hard bargain, or give out good deals? What was his workmanship like? (pretty good, I'm guessing) Did he take breaks for lunch with his coworkers? Did he pack a lunch, or eat out? What were his conversations like while he was working? Did the people around him have any idea about who he was? Did he even really understand who he was? Let it be known that over these coming weeks, as I interact with these burly, sweaty, dirty workers, I will truly behave as if I am in the presence of the sacred, Jesus in our midst.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Adam: God's Beloved

I have noticed that when I stroll into a library/bookstore, I gravitate towards exactly the same two kinds of books: books about urban couples moving to a farm (yes, I have discovered there is a whole genre of books just like this... so much for being original), and Henri Nouwen books. My last trip to the library, I was planning on getting something edgy and different, but no. I came home with a book whose byline is "how one urban couple grew a business, a family, and a new way of life from the ground up," and two Henri Nouwen books: one that ben snatched from me the moment I walked through the door, and another entitled "Adam: God's Beloved."

Somehow, every Nouwen book I start resonates so strongly with me that I can't put it down once I've started-- and this one is no exception. This book, which was actually Nouwen's last book before his death, tells the story of the man that Nouwen calls "my friend, my teacher, and my guide." Adam, a severely handicapped member of Nouwen's L'Arche community in Toronto, can't talk, walk, or even feed himself, but exudes a peace and stillness that draw those around him deeper into themselves and deeper into the presence of God. Nouwen structures the book, a memoir of Adam's life from birth to untimely death, as a parallel to the life of Jesus. Just as the gospel narratives tell us about the childhood, public ministry, suffering, and death of Jesus, so too Nouwen chronicles each of these chapters of Adam's life, starting with Adam's obscure life within the loving shelter of his parent's home, to his public ministry at L'Arche community.

What Nouwen makes clear is that while most of us have to spend our entire lives working to understand the fact that there is nothing we can do to become God's beloved-- it's just who we are-- Adam's entire existence was a testmanet to this. According to the world, Adam didn't have anything to offer, and yet God found powerful ways to use him as a messenger of The Word.

Many of you know that I have struggled with my own desire to somehow earn the approval of others, and, ultimately, God. There was certainly so much pressure to work towards this end in academia! It seemed like somehow your entire being was defined by your thoughts, papers, arguments. In the context of our little family, where I feel so precious and affirmed both as a wife and mother, this burden is lifted. But nevertheless, in friendships, relationships, and jobs, I always feel a subtle pressure to "wow" those around me. Over the past few days, as I have encountered new and old friends, it has been so transformative to have Adam's image in the back of my mind, calling me into a fuller communion with the present, which constantly whispers, "You are my beloved."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rich Soil

I know things have been a bit sparse around here since we moved down to Virginia... which is totally counter to my hope of using this blog as a way to stay in touch with people! Well, do you know how sometimes there are whole weeks when it feels like nothing is happening, and then all of a sudden, there's this torrent of insight? Well, that has just happened, and I'm still so in the middle of it that I am making sense of it all.

First of all, both Ben and I have recently realized that there is something different in the air down here in the posh-DC suburbs. The cars are a little nicer (okay, way nicer), the people a little more polished, and the pressure a little stronger to conform. The pessimist in me has long suspected that these VA suburbs are inherently corrupt, while the Christian in me that lives by hope has known that there is goodness everywhere. Well, for whatever reason, Ben and I have both been feeling really heavy with the burden of this place, which is teaming with hunger-- for power, money, and, I believe, under all of that, God. So, that "nothing" time of our first weeks here was actually just us giving in to those pressures.

Yesterday, Ben and I went out and saw Wall-E (the first movie out since ratoutouille before Z was born! woo hoo!). I was kind of horrified by the whole thing-- as in, I could really see not only our culture but my specific life in this movie. The story line is essentially that people have destroyed earth, and now live on this big space0crafty thing where they live lives that are focused entirely on technology. Over the course of the movie, Wall-E brings people back to earth, which is then restored as people re-learn the simple joys of life. Those of you who know my amish-leanings can understand why I was the first to say "Amen!" to the story line. But I was made a little more than edgy by how I had felt personally accused by the plot. I'm supposed to be a person living in grace and in accordance with the teachings of Jesus.

This morning, our little family finally went to the church that we have been meaning to go to since moving here-- Our Lady Queen of Peace in Arlington. Walking into the church was like balm for my soul... I literally spent the first few minutes teary-eyed from relief. Man, I guess I've been skipping church too much lately. Anyway, the morning was full of affirmations for me (and, I think, for Ben too) that this church is where we're being called to grow as followers of Christ. This week, out of the blue, the verse from the Bible, "create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me" has been stuck in my head. As we walk into the church, the choir is singing these very words! The gospel reading today was the parable of the seeds that fall on various forms of bad ground-- rock, thorny bramble, etc, each of which inhibits long-term growth. Here's a bit of that reading:

"The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Ta da! Could there be a clearer answer to my struggles? So, I am called to be the good soil that hears the word and understands it (easier said than done, I'm afraid, but such a beautiful image to work with). Amid all of this craziness, all of this money, consummerism, judgment, and anger, I am called to be the soil upon which the fruit of the Lord is produced. I'm that little shoe in Wall-E that holds the single remaining plant on earth!

This is causing some drastic re-evaluation of the different idols that I have had in my life since moving down here: no, we are not called to have the most beautiful perfect home in Falls Church, no, we are not called to be the most put together, no, we are not called to have glamorous lives of eating out, buying nice cars. Those are the thorns! We're just supposed to be good earth upon which God can plant her beautiful garden. That's what I'm going to be trying to channel today.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

On Rebirth

This Saturday is the big day! Zosia is being baptized, receiving the sacrament that symbolizes her belovedness-- a truth that was already made so fully evident in her creation. The Baptism of Jesus has been so present in my thoughts lately, especially the the words from heaven after Jesus emerges from the Jordan: "You are my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on you." I only hope that Zosia, as she grows and encounters the world can hear those same words uttered deep within her own heart: "You are my daughter, the Beloved; my favor rests on you."
On Monday, Ben Zosia and I attended the baptism prep class at our church. We met several other families with little ones being baptized in the coming months, and had the opportunity to reflect a bit on the sacrament of baptism. One question we reflected on was something to the effect of, "What is the significance of water in baptism." Together, we came up with several answers; it is cleansing, refreshing, powerful, and sometimes dangerous. However, leaving the class, I felt that there was a dimension of this question that did not feel fully answered. I kept thinking of water and birth, or, in this case, rebirth.
Today, several days later, I have put the pieces together.
Proponents of water birth say that delivering a baby into a bath of body-temperature water is the most calm and welcoming way to enter earth. The bath itself simulates the womb-- so the baby comes into the world in steps, first into a warm pool, and then into its mother's arms. Baptism in water serves a similar purpose: it literally simulates the birth process through entering into water and then emerging back into the world. It is re-enacting birth in order to fully embody the rebirth that it is internally signifying.
So, here are a few thoughts on my observations of birth that may or may not give insight into Zosia's baptism:
1. Birth is cooperative-- both mother and baby work together to negotiate the transition from womb to world. Who are the entities that are cooperating in Baptism? Baby and Creator? Baby and godparents? Baby and faith community? Perhaps some combination of all of these.
2. The experience of birth is so powerful that it absolutely forces mother and baby to be fully in the moment. If enlightenment is experiencing the now, then birthing was my single brightest glimpse into enlightenment. In the midst of a surge, I couldn't think of anything-- not the next moment, not the baby I was about to bring into the world. My mind was forced to stand totally still and observe the magnificent work of my body. How does baptism mirror this total awareness? Certainly, awareness of God's deep unfaltering love for each of us is the central pillar of living in the present-- it is the backdrop for that state that we find ourselves in when we are able to reign in our thoughts from the future, the past, back into the beautiful awareness of being in God's midst.
3. Birthing is spiritual but it is so, so physical. I remember the day after delivering Zosia I noticed that every muscle in my body was sore. I think that my neck muscles were the most sore of all, and I was perplexed... When I told Ben about it, he told me that as he watched me labor, he could literally see each muscle along my back tense up with each contraction. There was no part of my body that was uninvolved. Likewise, I'm sure that birth is perhaps one of the most physical experiences for baby. I remember Zosia's cone head in the moments after birth-- her body literally changed shape in her journey from the womb. The first day after she was born, she seemed totally shocked, as if to say," Wow, I had no idea my body could do that!" So, what is the physical nature of Baptism? Of course there is the literal immersion in water, but that is only the beginning. Baptism invites a transformation of our bodies, our physical lives, which are inexorably bound to the spirit that dwells within them. Baptism is an invitation to allow God into our selves, which transforms the core of our being.
4. Birthing is messy. I would love to see a baptism that literally simulates a birth complete with amniotic fluids and placenta. Babies aren't squeaky clean when they emerge from the womb-- they are sticky, slimy, beautifully human. Zosia had this awesome earthy smell to her until we gave her her first bath a week or so after she was born. I'm not quite sure how this relates to baptism. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that rebirth is messy too. Not in a totally physical sense, but in the sense that it is not perfect. Rachel Doll once said that she loves it when babies wail during their baptisms. It reminds her of how totally real baptism is. It involves people, and crying, and babies. I loved her reflection! Baptism is, in fact, messy. We plunge into those waters in the hopes that our every sin will be washed away and we will be perfect, but we emerge just as fully human as we were before we entered. Our journey through life towards that beauty from which we were created is a messy, clumsy scramble and not a clearly illuminated stroll.

Two days before Zosia's baptism, my deepest wish for my baby is that in her life she can rejoice in communion, awareness, physicality, and messiness, all the while feeling so incredibly loved.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Diaper Debate

Check out this article in Slate about the diaper debate (cloth v. disposables.) I love it! It concludes, that all things considered, cloth diapers are greener than disposables, although as you can see, it's not as clear cut a victory as one would initially guess. I love cloth diapers, and the fact that they are good for the environment is only one small piece of it. They minimize diaper rash, they save us a lot of money. They double as everything from dust cloths to changing pads.

Other "green" ideas for baby care:
Using washcloths whenever possible in lieu of baby wipes
Using any and all second hand clothing available (big shout out to the Peter Collins family for this one... we're essentially set on girl's clothing for the remainder of Z's life)
Making baby food at home
Using natural cleaning products
Allowing household items to double as toys (no matter how many fancy baby toys I put in front of Zosia, she always prefers to play with a pot and wooden spoon)-- this is good for learning too!

That's all for now!