Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Getting to know our niece

We really enjoyed our time with my sister Beth and her 2-week-old daughter Arianna last week. My mom was able to stay in Virginia until Christmas day so we got to see her, too. But Arianna was definitely the star of the show, receiving lots of loving from everyone. Here are David and I with Ari:

And here's a video of me enjoying Ari's "new baby" scent:

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Chocolate moose?

Here's a picture of me (taken today) with one of my favorite Christmas decorations: a chocolate moose (my dad sometimes called me Moose when I was a kid - who knows why - so I have a very small collection of moose). This stuffed moose's soft, silky fur really smells like chocolate! Every year I pull him out of the decorations box and marvel at his delicious scent and how it remains strong, year after year (I've had him at least three years, probably longer). In the hubbub of the holidays, sometimes I pick him up and sniff him - I find the scent very relaxing! Hmmm, should I pack him in the hospital bag when the Christmas season ends? ;)

In case you're wondering, our tree has no lights or ornaments because we just put it up yesterday and haven't had time to trim it yet. This Advent I've chosen to delay Christmas decorations and music. The simpler and more penitential time of preparation has been meaningful for me. Next year, though, I think we will start decorating on Gaudete Sunday (the third and most celebratory of the Sundays of Advent). It seems a shame not to enjoy the beautiful and symbolic decorations a little bit longer.

David graduated!

On Friday, December 19th, we celebrated the momentous event of David's graduation from nursing school. Many long and challenging years of study, practice, and performance culminated in his graduating with honors, and we give all the glory to God (David even wrote "Deo Gratias" on his cap with medical tape). Next step: taking and passing the NCLEX (state boards) some time in January. Thank you all for your encouragement and prayers for David during this journey! May God be glorified by the results. :)

David with his school and work schedule marked off each day leading up to graduation:

The cap (which sparked lots of questions from fellow students and instructors):
(David is holding our nephew, Sean)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Confession & Letting Go

This afternoon I participated in our parish's Advent penance service. Father began by exposing the Blessed Sacrament for Adoration, which was a real treat. I got in the line for an order priest (a pastor at a local parish who had come to help out) who I'd never met before. As each person in line in front of me went for their Confession, I stepped closer to Jesus on the altar. Sweet. Our line moved the slowest of the three I could see from where I was standing, so I assumed that this priest liked to give a bit of counsel. I looked forward to hearing what he would say to me.

Ever since I returned to the regular practice of Confession my junior year of college (six years ago?) I have taken time to make an Examination of Conscience and write out my confession in preparation (sometimes days beforehand). I used to write it directly in my journal, but a few confessors along the way encouraged me to throw the record of my sins away after I received absolution, so I began to write them on slips of paper that I joyfully tear up and toss after my Confessions.

Well, today I sat in front of the priest, made the sign of the cross, asked for blessing, and turned over my piece of paper to begin reading off of it. Imagine my surprise when the priest reached out and grabbed the paper, crumpled it up, and set it off to the side. "No lists!" he insisted. "Just tell God what you're sorry for."

I sat in stunned silence for half a minute. As shocking as his actions were, they were incredibly appropriate for someone who had come to confess her desire for control and negative responses when that control was threatened. I was totally out of my element, naked before God. I faltered in recalling and articulating my sins, but, by God's grace, I made my confession with a new sincerity. My repentance became palpable in the absence of that neat little narrative I'd written - no smooth sentences and complete thoughts to hide behind...only the very raw feelings of my exposed heart.

The priest encouraged me to bathe in God's love for me, as though I were getting a suntan. He asked me to pray for peace - not just "no war" between nations, but God's peace in my heart and mind. He reminded me that God doesn't want me to feel unsettled, as I have so often lately. He also insisted I pray for my husband every day - something that seems so obvious and yet, I have failed to faithfully put into practice.

After I received absolution I returned to my seat, knelt, and wept. Once again God had taken me totally by surprise and shaken up my comfortable ways of doing things. He broke me down so He could really work in my heart and build me up in His love. I still haven't completely processed the experience, but I am very hopeful as to its impact in my life.

Lord, help me to let go and let You in!

Just in case you're wondering, the priest did give me back my paper with the stipulation that I destroy it immediately. He urged me not to write my sins down any more, but I'm not 100% convinced. What do you think?

Image from Holy Cards for Your Inspiration

Friday, December 12, 2008

Deja Vu Baby

My sister Beth had her baby on Wednesday morning, December 10th (the day after her 2nd wedding anniversary). Arianna Marie (7 lb 10 oz, 19") came into the world by emergency c-section and is now doing as well as can be hoped for a 4-week premature infant. By the grace of God, my mom was able to fly from one side of the country to the other (WA to VA) soon after she learned that Beth was admitted to the hospital and she arrived 5 or so hours after the birth. She has been a great help to Beth, whose husband is deployed with the Navy.

When I got my first peek at little Ari via a cell phone picture, I marveled at how much she looks like Beth did as a baby (not that I remember back to that time, but I've seen pictures). Mom said she's experiencing deja vu - "I've held this baby before, haven't I?" :)

I wish I had more pictures of Beth as a sweet little blond cherub here with me to really make the comparison, but I was able to find one old picture for your viewing pleasure.

Here's Beth with Ari:

Here's me (and my brother) with Beth:

And here they are side by side:

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Miracle Maker on Hulu

Have you seen The Miracle Maker? The movie interweaves the story of Jesus with that of Jairus' daughter (whom Jesus raises from the dead). It's mostly done in claymation (think Wallace and Gromit) with a bit of cartoon animation thrown in. I saw it years ago and had been hoping to watch it again since.

I recently discovered that anyone can watch the whole movie for free, anytime, on Hulu! Hulu offers both clips and full cuts from lots of movies and TV shows - in recent months David and I have perused its offerings and found some light entertainment for quiet evenings. Although much (if not most) of what Hulu offers is not recommendable to a discerning consumer of media, there are some diamonds in the rough. Like The Miracle Maker! Safe and inspirational for the whole family (well, except for littles who might be scared by the cartoon demons that haunt Mary Magdalene and Judas at two points in the story). The only thing I wish the writers hadn't included is an eye roll by Jesus when one of the Jewish officials asks him an antagonistic question. (The Bible says Jesus called some Pharisees hypocrites, blind guides, and a brood of vipers, but it does not say He rolled his eyes at them.)

Here's a clip to whet your appetite:

If you choose to watch the whole movie, enjoy! If you've seen it already, let me know how you think it compares to other Jesus movies.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pregnancy Update

Deo Gratias, everything's going well! Compared to some other women's experiences, my pregnancy is an "easy" one. Although I have my share of little woes, they aren't much to complain about.

On Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) I went to the OB for my glucose tolerance test. I actually enjoyed the drink, which tasted like condensed orange soda (the carbonation helped). While we waited for an hour to pass we got to meet with the Certified Nurse Midwife I like best (of the three we've met). I asked her to help me understand exactly why my due date was changed from February 25th to February 15th and she explained that the new date was actually set back at my 8-week ultrasound (when Teresa was just a little bean) and confirmed at my 19-week "anatomy" ultrasound. Although I'm still inclined to answer "mid to late February" when people (frequently) ask me when I'm due, I now know why the OB thinks she'll come closer to Valentine's Day.
If Teresa chooses to wait longer, I will hold my ground against induction for as long as possible.

I also asked the midwife if she had any tips for preventing or alleviating the back pain I'm experiencing daily now. She gave me a helpful brochure with exercises to strengthen my back. I'm trying to sit conscientiously (especially when I spend many hours in front of the computer for work) and change my position often. But every afternoon or evening that nagging pain in the right center of my back returns and
usually doesn't leave until I get in bed at night. I use my hands or a vibrating massage bug to put pressure on the painful muscles.

After drawing my blood, the clinician told me that my glucose tolerance results would be in Monday and no news is good news. When we got home I received a phone call informing me that my hemoglobin level is low (9.4) and I need to be eating more iron-rich foods. So David made us steak that night. :) It's now Wednesday and I haven't heard from the OB again, so I'm assuming I passed the glucose test and do not have gestational diabetes. :)

I do experience a bit of heartburn at night and some digestive troubles now and then, but that's about it. David would add that I also have wild hormonal mood swings, but I don't know what he's talking about. ;)

Teresa has become very active - or I've become more sensitive to her movements. Either way, I feel her bucking, rolling, kicking/punching, and stretching often - I've even started feeling her feet in my ribs, as my sister described with her pregnancy a few weeks back. The movements are not bothersome and haven't kept me awake at night yet. Sometimes it can be a bit disconcerting when my belly "does the wave" or I'm repeatedly poked while trying to concentrate on a conference call or something. But I usually put my hand on my belly and she goes still. I enjoy sharing the experience with David, who has gotten to feel a lot of movement under his hands and his cheeks (he likes to put his face up against my belly).

My first nursing shirt (ordered during a Thanksgiving sale) arrived yesterday - it will be a cute part of my summer wardrobe. I look forward to collecting some more nursing-friendly tops as I prepare for Teresa's arrival.

Prenatal Yoga DVD Reviews

I've been practicing yoga (by myself, with DVDs in the comfort of my own home) for about 4 years. At first I saw it as a way to build muscle tone and increase my flexibility in between runs. Now that I don't run any more (I stopped after the miscarriage and may or may not pick it up again post-baby), yoga and occasional walks are my only form of exercise. And, I must say, they are both GREAT for this pregnant mama.

Quick disclaimer: I avoid anything to do with the "spiritual" aspect of yoga, as it is generally not compatible with my Christian faith. But the postures, movements, and breathing of yoga are easily separated from the mumbo jumbo and are highly beneficial, both physically and emotionally (in the sense that they can help us to relax and focus and to be more aware of how we're carrying our bodies throughout the day).

In anticipation of my pregnancies, I started collecting a handful of prenatal yoga DVDs last year, mostly through Swap a DVD. I needed the "professional" guidance to make sure I only did postures and sequences that were harmless for the baby or - even better - excellent for pregnancy and labor. I ended up with 4 very different programs, which I present here with my personal reviews.

TOP CHOICE: Prenatal Yoga With Shiva Rea, produced by Gaiam

Pros: Shiva has a great personality/style - she is capable and confident yet gentle, warm, and encouraging; exercise moves fluidly from posture to posture, promoting flexibility, strength, and calming breathing; all poses are modified and demonstrated according to trimester/ability; props used are common (folding chair and block)

Cons: program is a bit long, so I usually do it for 30 minutes or however long I feel like it (I'm probably missing some great stuff in the last segment)

Final Say: This is definitely my favorite and the one I use the most. I love how the program increases in challenge as it progresses, beginning with simple stretches (and including "elevator" Kegels, which I find very helpful) and building up to poses that challenge various muscle groups in the best of ways. I usually feel light and energized after these workouts. (I have yet to try the bonus Pregnancy Massage instruction, but I'm sure it's great, too.)

SECOND CHOICE: Prenatal Yoga Complete with Mary Pappas-Sandonas, produced by bodywisdommedia

Pros: Mary is another instructor I enjoy - her guidance exudes experience and encouragement (she is very practical/precise); this DVD offers a huge array of possibilities: first you choose your trimester, then you choose which program you'd like - most are geared toward the relief of discomfort, such as morning sickness, back pain, or headache, or toward the promotion of a positive feeling, such as energy or relaxation; the poses are long-lasting and thus you can really maximize their benefit according to your particular needs that day

Cons: Mary is not present in the video, demonstrating the poses - you only hear her voice while a model demonstrates; the programs jump between poses (no smooth transitions), causing me to scramble to prepare for the next pose; lots of props are needed to get yourself in some of the poses (several bolsters and blankets, a chair, blocks, and strap)

Final Say: I grab this DVD when I have a particular issue I want to address (for example, I do the "Rejuvenate" sequence when I feel sluggish) and look forward to the challenge of holding poses as long as they feel good. As much effort as it takes to get into a Reclining Bound Angle Pose, the results are totally worth it.

HONORABLE MENTION: Crunch Yoga Mama - Prenatal Yoga with Sue Elkind, a CRUNCH workout

Pros: basic yoga postures and breathing; some flow sequences; variety of poses all suitable for pregnancy; shorter complete workout (about 30 minutes)

Cons: I don't like the instructor much (her lines seem canned, not heartfelt); the program is very simple and doesn't leave me feeling like I did a challenging workout

Final Say: For a beginner or someone looking for a quick and easy prenatal yoga session, this DVD is decent. I just wish it moved my body and my heart more.

TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT: The New Method Pre & Post Natal Yoga (2 Pack DVD Box Set) with Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa

Pros: lots of general stretching and repetitive motion (sometimes it even gets my heart going); the endurance exercise (continuous arm movement for 3 minutes) is a real mental challenge which may help prepare for the rigors of labor

Cons: This is the most new-agey of the four programs: the turban-wearing instructor leads the group in chanting and spouts such nonsense as "sometimes we have more trouble with our left leg - it's ruled by the moon" and "build your electromagnetic field." The few times I've done the program I've bypassed the intro and fast forwarded through the chanting. Because this program offers Kundalini yoga, it offers few (if any) actual muscle-toning postures and never holds any pose longer than a second.

Final Say: Although I could do without all the hokey elements, I have done this program a few times because it limbers me up and gets my blood circulating in a way the other DVDs don't.

For more tips and reviews, check out the weekly Works-For-Me Wednesday post at Rocks in my Dryer.