Laughing, Weeping, Living

Life happens. You laugh about it or cry about it, sometimes both.

What Does It Mean to Be a Leader?

Close family and friends will know that several months ago I applied for a job that would be a Big Deal if I were accepted. It seems that my application was not accepted, which is no surprise to me since I knew it was a long shot, but I can’t help feeling disappointed. The experience leaves me with an odd mix of emotions and ideas about myself and what I see myself doing. On the one hand, I was looking forward to the opportunity to prove that I am important, that I have valuable insights to offer, that I am an effective leader. On the other hand, I feel some relief because that job really would have been a reach for my current skill set. On the one hand, I am glad I have been given time to develop the needed skills so I can apply more successfully should the job come available again in five or six years. On the other hand, I feel doubtful that I will ever be able to improve myself enough to become the desirable candidate the company is looking for.

The whole experience has put the decisions I have made so far in my career in sharp perspective. This is the first time I have thought that the decisions I have made do not serve my career goals. Granted, my career goals now are very different from what they were five years ago, and I would always make the decision to break from my career in favor of raising a family, no matter what my career is.

It leaves me thinking, what does it really mean to be a leader? What does it really mean to be a success?

I believe I am doing my most valuable work by staying home with Stephen, but this Big Deal job got me dreaming. Now that my application appears to be off the table, I wonder am I not leadership material? Do I not have what it takes to be a success? I’m thinking, you know not everyone has what it takes to be the leader. Some people just make great assistants. Should I just embrace being a good assistant? Does this mean I’m mediocre? Not everyone can be great; maybe I should just embrace being mediocre. Maybe I’m just cut out to be a successful small fry. Not destined for greatness.

It’s a good thing I have Jeremy to talk sense into me. He’s a great husband. He reminded me that being an assistant doesn’t mean I’m not a leader. That being a small fry doesn’t mean being mediocre. These are great points. There are different kinds of leaders at every level of notoriety. I don’t have to be in charge of lots of people to be a leader. I am a leader in my parish, in my family, and in my community organizations simply by being an active participant and believing in the mission of each organization. For me, I know I am a leader because I see that people listen when I talk, and I believe they value my insights. My opinion is solicited; people notice when I’m not there. That means something. As for being a success, that’s an idea I struggle with daily. I wanted to be validated by winning a job offer, but really it’s something I need to know about myself. My child is articulate and well-mannered (most of the time!), independent, has unique ideas and can solve problems. Success. My marriage is strong still, going into seven years married. Success. As far as I know, I don’t have any enemies. Success.

I have to keep an eye on what I really value. A career? Yes, but I value my family and friends more.

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Goodness

On Saturday Jeremy and I attended a wonderful event presented by Marriages of Grace, a Northeast Ohio local non-profit organization devoted solely to promoting the sacrament of marriage and supporting the enrichment of marriages in the area. The event theme this year was “Marriage, Mercy, and the Martins” since this is the Year of Mercy as declared by Pope Francis, and Louis and Zelie Martin were recently canonized saints, a married couple canonized together. The Martins were the parents of Saint Therese of Lisieux, who you may have heard of.

We learned about the Martin family, and their story offers much to encourage any married couple in the pursuit of holiness. They each had wanted to join religious orders, but it didn’t work out. Later, they met by chance while walking around their town where they lived, fell in love, and were married. They had nine children all together, though four of them died during infancy. All the remaining children became nuns. The example of this holy family is inspiring to any family that wants to grow in holiness.

At the event, we also heard Philip Keller speak about crossing the line that most people don’t even know exists. The line between thinking like a human being, and thinking like God. The Martins crossed that line. They lived their lives according to what God willed; they made choices and decisions based on what is good and right, and benefiting to others above their own personal desires. We are all called to do the same. We are invited to turn our hearts over to God and accept his will to work through our lives. How do we know when we’ve crossed the line? Keller says you start to see little miracles everywhere–you see the hand of God where you would have missed it before. You start to notice communications that you sense are coming from the Holy Spirit. You become sensitive to when angels or the Holy Spirit are close to you, inviting you do this or that so that something greater can then take place. Keller’s talk was very inspiring for me. I want to be holy and I want to cross the line. I spoke to him at one of our breaks and asked him what I should do first to start crossing the line.

Here is where the story gets interesting. As he was talking to me, I realized that maybe I already have. He asked me if I experience some of the things he spoke about, and I said, sure, all the time. He told me I’m already across the line, but the real trick is to stay there. I didn’t tell you this before, but Philip Keller is legally blind, and has been for almost 20 years. He is closely involved in a miracle healing ministry, and I’m sure he himself has prayed many times for healing, yet he still cannot see. His faith inspires, despite his weakness, maybe because of his weakness. In any case, he was “looking” at me as we spoke and he told me “You radiate goodness.” Gosh. That is honestly the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. It reminds me of an occasion about a year ago when a lady told me she could sense something about me that put me in tune with the spiritual, and when she learned about Agnes, she understood why that was. I just remembered that. Anyway, he told me “You radiate goodness.” So sweet, but also really powerful.

Radiate goodness. First, what does that mean? My first thought is saints are depicted with halos and that imagery must come from somewhere. Second, is this a temporary state that comes and goes, or do I have it all the time? I was feeling pretty holy at that Marriages of Grace event, but I don’t feel that inspired all the time. Do I radiate goodness when Stephen is being kind of irritating and I’m trying not to be snippy with him? Do I radiate goodness when I’m grocery shopping? Third, well great now I have a reputation to uphold. Thanks a lot Mr. Keller. Now I have to be a good person all the stinking time.

But seriously. The other keynote speaker at the marriage event–Jim Hogan, a high-school theology teacher–spoke about “free gifts,” and how even gifts come with a cost. The cost is prorated depending on how awesome the gift is. A pair of hand-knitted socks is pretty good, but you have to make room for their bulk in your drawer, and commit to special laundering so they don’t fall apart. A “free” vacation is really awesome! But you may have to pay your own airfare to get to the vacation, arrange for child care for your kids you leave behind, miss out on the family or social events you would have attended if you stayed at home. We are happy to pay that cost, because the gift is so good. Hogan went on to say eternal salvation is the most awesome gift there could ever be. The cost? Giving your life over to God and living a life of self-sacrifice and mindfulness of God’s will. We are happy to pay that cost, because come on. Eternal. Salvation.

Philip Keller’s remark to me is an awesome gift, but it comes with a cost, too. It would be really easy to feel puffed up and prideful (Sweet! Holy Blind Guy Thinks I Radiate Goodness!) but that cannot happen. I must remain humble. I am happy to pay the cost of humility, the cost of striving every day to stay on the “thinking like God” side of the line, the cost of being openly faithful and joyful in my faith despite my own weakness. It is a pretty hefty cost, fitting for such an awesome gift. I am willing to do it so that I can continue to be radiant with joy. Despite my weakness. Despite the trials. Despite the multitudinous opportunities in my life to practice humility and patience. I must need a lot of practice, because I get a lot of those opportunities.

Saint Baby Agnes, pray for me so that I may continue to live on the side of the line that puts me closer to the hearts of Jesus and Mary, closer to the promise that one day I may join them and you at the heavenly banquet.

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God Things

Have you ever heard the expression, “It’s a God thing,” or, “It must have been a God thing.” I haven’t heard it too often, but I’m pretty sure the expression is meant to describe a coincidence or apparent accident that obviously had spiritual influence. Like, maybe you are a young lady thinking that you might want to become a nun, but you don’t know where to start looking. Then the next day, you meet a nun through a mutual friend. That’s a God thing.

I think “God things” happen all the time, but we sometimes are too busy or blinded by our petty needs to notice. Or, maybe we don’t recognize a spiritually influenced event in our lives as positive.

I was remembering that post I wrote almost exactly one year ago about how much of an awful year we had from 2012 to 2013, and I was thinking that our life right now looks a lot like it did then. I admit, I have been feeling a little sorry for myself. It is true that no one is trying to kill us because we are Christian, we are not being forced to leave our home secretly in the middle of the night, and our neighborhood streets are not a battle ground. But, we did have a major car repair, AND a bill from the funeral home that we may not be able to pay until I sell my guitar and some jewelry, AND a refrigerator that seems to be thinking about kicking the bucket. We did lose our infant six months ago, AND we just had a miscarriage AND I have a mole that resembles, in appearance and description, a malignant melanoma, AND the dermatologists who accept my insurance are scheduling new patients into January. That all seems like a lot to bear, but at least no one is trying to kill us, right? Look on the bright side, Judy.

Maybe these hardships are “God things.”…

But on a more positive note, I’ll tell you a story that is definitely a God thing. We have an extra bedroom which we have been hoping to furnish as a guest room since we moved in, but a guest bed seems to always be at the bottom of the list these days. Then on Sunday at church, our priest announced a need for some families to host Ukrainian war victims who are coming to area for medical treatment. They will have surgeries or doctors appointments, and they will need somewhere to stay while they are receiving treatment and recovering. Jeremy and I offered to host someone. We don’t know for sure if we will have a guest, but if our hospitality is needed, the notice will be brief. When we came home from church I started looking at Craigslist for a bed to buy. On Sunday evening, Jeremy and went for a walk and the house five doors down had put a wooden bedstead on the curb with their trash cans. It looked totally usable, if a little scratched and dusty, so we took it! We couldn’t tell if it was full size or queen size just by looking, so when we set it up on Monday we measured it: queen size. Well, that’s a bit more expensive to buy a mattress…but then I remembered! The last time I had visited my neighbor I had noticed they had a queen size mattress and box spring propped against the wall because they recently bought a new bed. I sent a message, “can I buy your old mattress?” They said, if we can move the mattress out of their house, we can have it for free! And not only that, they needed that mattress out of the house by this morning (Tuesday) to make way for some home renovations.

So now we have a bed in our guest room that just needs a few slats to finish assembly, and we can host a Ukrainian refugee. That is totally a God thing.

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Baby Alice

Next week we were going to happily announce that a new baby Schwager is on the way. Instead, today I announce with sadness that our new baby Schwager has miscarried. We have named her Alice. She was very, very little when she died, so we decided to endow her with a female name since her actual gender was unknown. Alice is a family name on my father’s side, and I have always thought it was a very pretty name. Perfect for our new little baby saint.

We are very sad to lose yet another child; just to recap our baby survival rate right now is 25 percent. I don’t really want to be that family who is such an example, bearing trials with such grace. I don’t want to need all this grace we get from having three little baby saints in heaven praying for our particular needs and intentions. Why do we have to be purified so thoroughly here on earth? I would be happy to do it in purgatory if it meant I could keep my babies.

Since I have now had two miscarriages, my doctors and I will do some investigation to see if there is something medical that is causing me to lose pregnancies. On the one hand, I hope there is a medical reason, because it might be treatable and then I can have a successful pregnancy with a healthy baby. On the other hand, a medical reason for repeated miscarriages can potentially be serious. I don’t really want to come away from this investigation with a newly diagnosed disease.

So while we continue grieving our children, and investigating medical possibilities, we rely on their prayers.

Baby Joseph Mary, pray for us. Baby Agnes, pray for us. Baby Alice, pray for us.

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Follow Up: Masters Degree

I wanted to clarify from my post the other day.

I am reacting to something. Several years ago, I signed up for a bundle of magazine subscriptions, one of which happens to be Cosmopolitan. Now, I am not a “fun, fearless, Cosmo girl,” but when the magazine arrives, I read it. I skim the icky pieces, read the interesting ones, and discerningly evaluate the fashion and beauty tips. Sometime early in 2013, the magazine featured an insert about careers authored by Sheryl Sandburg, former Chief of Staff for the US Secretary of the Treasurer, former top exec at Google, current CEO of Facebook. She is also a wife and mother to two school age children. She did write the book on women and careers with the 2013 publication of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Cosmo magazine has adopted Ms. Sandberg and her Lean In movement as the ideal to strive for. I see “Lean In” in nearly every issue of Cosmo and it is starting to bleed over into other women’s interest magazines I sometimes (okay, monthly) read (subscribe to), such as Glamour and possible even Everyday with Rachel Ray. The movement emphasizes engagement with your career, gunning for extra duties and projects, really making a place for yourself at the office. That way, when you do decide to start a family, you are less tempted to leave for good. Ms. Sandberg says you should not back away from your job because you know in a year or so you will have a kid; rather, she advocates for the opposite. I do not disagree with these ideas, in and of themselves. I think this is solid career advice.

However. I read Cosmo and get an intimate look at the big picture, idealized lifestyle young women like me are supposed to desire for ourselves. We are supposed to get out there and do something we are passionate about, fulfilling our potential to make a big impact on the world. So far so good. We are supposed to lean in during the first few years of our careers, and make five or ten year plans for our advancement, promotions, and possible career changes. We are supposed to do what we want, and not let a partner hold us back. If we’re dating a man who is uncomfortable with us being successful, career-oriented women, we are supposed to let him go; he is not the one for us. We are supposed to date a lot, I guess after those long days at the office. We are supposed to choose from among the available long-term birth control options because right now our career is our baby. And then later, sometime in the future, when we are ready, when we find the right guy, when the timing is perfect, we can start a family. But then they play on women’s fears: what if when I am “ready” is too late? Then there are articles about banking your eggs to use later during rounds of IVF. There are articles about women who choose not to have children ever, and aren’t they brave for standing up and admitting to such an unconventional decision.

The ideal life for young women portrayed here is one of professional success first, family later. Family, maybe. We are told that it is acceptable to have a family after you have the career, and you are allowed to have a family and a career together, or you are allowed to have a career only, but it is not acceptable to have a family only.

I think these are all troubling trends. I know I am not the only woman who invested emotionally into my job, and I tend to finish what I start. For many women, starting a career and mapping out a five or ten year plan for work is a pretty big commitment that demands to be “finished.” It’s a human tendency to want to confirm and reinforce prior behavior. If a young woman is gung-ho about career for the first few years, she will feel guilty about changing her loyalties to a team (her family) that appears to be her career’s opponent. Like I did when I was faced with the decision to leave my career, a young woman may feel guilty abandoning all the people at her company who have come to rely on her. It happens again and again, evidenced by the booming egg-banking business and IVF treatment facilities, mothers who are older and older at the birth of their first child.

So, this is what I’m reacting to. There is an overwhelming cultural pressure on young women to choose career over family, and glamorization of the powerful career woman as a feminine ideal, and finally an effort to normalize childless marriages. All these things led me to write my other post.

So, I definitely don’t want women to forsake their own interests and avoid going to college or grad school, or to even avoid starting a career. I just want women who are of a mind to start a family to be aware that that will happen, and to not get locked in to a ten year career plan that absolutely will be derailed when kids come along. Because, you will want to quit your job to be with your children. You will want to leave behind those work colleagues who depend on you. You will want to sacrifice yourself and your happiness at least a little bit, because that’s what mothers do for their children.

I just want women to know that they don’t have to be mothers who do everything. It is okay to be only a mother. That is more than enough, and it is the best career of all.

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Close to a Turning Point

Today marks six months since Agnes joined the heavenly choirs. It is difficult to think about that time passing. On the one hand, it feels like we had her only last week, and on the other hand, it feels as if she has been gone for much longer. We think about her every day, and Stephen too. We recently uncovered a few blurry snapshots from Agnes’ time in the NICU at the bottom of a stack of papers in our desk. Stephen saw the pictures and said, “Ooooh! It’s Baby Ang-is!” We are trying to let Agnes show us how to live out her legacy.

It is on my mind that we are near to a turning point in our journey of life after Agnes. Next month she will have been gone for as long as she was alive. In September she will have been gone for longer than she was alive.

That is difficult to accept. We have become accustomed to coping as a family that recently lost a child. After she has been gone for longer than she has been alive, we will become a family that once lost a child. It will be a change we have to navigate, a change I am not looking forward to.

Our grief counseling has been going well up to now, and we plan to continue. We will be meeting our new counselor next week as our current one is leaving the facility to pursue another area of her field. We are learning to cope with trigger moments and redirect our attentions to help manage overwhelming emotions. We are making progress on the road to healing, but the road is not straight. Sometimes there are back tracks or loops, but we are on the way. The next few months will be telling, but hopefully we will be able to find our way through with the help of our support network, and the grace of God.

Baby Agnes, pray for us!

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My Masters Degree

Hi everyone, I realize it has been an unforgivably long time since my last post, but I guess life was just happening.

Since we returned from our lovely trip to California, we’ve been full speed ahead with Jeremy’s new quarter for nursing school; it’s his busiest one yet. We have also been coping with a flea infestation that the kitties somehow caught, even though they are indoor-only. I know it can happen, but I wish it hadn’t. We’ve also been getting our life routines back in working order, producing a house cleaning schedule that I can follow on a weekly rotation, as well as a stockpile of slow cooker meals portioned and ready to go in the freezer. All they need is defrosting. Also Stephen had some follow up for his lingering quasi-illness. When he was sick with an infection a couple months ago, his tonsils became inflamed and swollen. Well, even after the infection cleared, his tonsils are still swollen and causing some minor discomfort. An x-ray revealed his adenoids are also swollen, so we are supposed to monitor for breathing obstruction. Plus now he has some kind of viral infection that is making him pathetic.

So, we’ve been up to stuff. But the main reason I’m writing about my masters degree is recently my next door neighbor hired me to clean her house. She, being awesome in many, many ways, admitted that she is not an awesome house cleaner. And she noticed that we are living on a part time income, goodwill, and the grace of God, so she offered to hire me to clean her house. This was very thoughtful of her to do, and I find that I really enjoy the work. Don’t you all get ideas; I don’t think I can handle more clients! But in the midst of some satisfying moderate to difficult labor, I reflected on where I am in life.

Here I am, a homemaker and stay-at-home mom, who is now a hired house cleaner, with a masters degree. Obviously I am not belittling house cleaners, but you don’t need a degree to do it. I am happy doing it, and I am happy being a stay-at-home mom and housewife. Was my degree a waste? Why did I pay for that schooling?

I reflected on these questions, and I know that no, I do not regret getting my masters. If I hadn’t gone to grad school, I would not have met my wonderful husband! I would not have moved to Montana to meet all the wonderful people we knew there. I was employed in the field of my degree for five years. I am still thankful for the knowledge I gained, when my church choir needs a substitute director, or when the community choir I joined needs someone to lead warm up exercises, or when I give a voice lesson. I do not think my degree was wasted. It is entirely possible I will use my degree again later in life, when my children are older.

Some of you may be aware of a movement among professional women centered around the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg. he idea here is for young women to dig in to their careers and to not avoid professional opportunities because they may take a break soon to have kids. Go for the extra projects, gun for the promotion. Then when you leave for maternity time, your boss will be eager to have you back, and you will be less likely to quit after mooning over your newborn, because you have excited projects waiting for you at the office. It sounds fine, but the idea is built on the assumption that young women can have it all, and more than that, that they should have it all.

I’ve given a lot of thought to this, and all I can offer is advice based on my own experience. I had a full-time career, and during my pregnancy I thought ahead to how I would maintain my full-time career and take care of my new baby. After Stephen was born, I quickly quickly discovered that maintaining two lives was absolutely the last thing that I wanted. I couldn’t give either job the attention it deserved. Soon I downsized my career to part-time, ten to fifteen hours per week maximum. Even that was sometimes a strain. My advice is: you don’t need to have it all. Do you want to live your life at a frantic pace, always feeling that you are desperately needed elsewhere, no matter what you are doing? That life sucks. Trust me, I lived it.

Young ladies, decide what your priorities are. If you think you want to have kids, plan to focus on child rearing and don’t count on maintaining a full-time career at the same time. I promise you, unless you are comfortable telecommuting while you breast feed, and funneling nearly your entire paycheck into daycare fees, a full-time career while you raise young children is not worth the heartache. Then, since you know you will take time off a career, decide if you really need that masters degree now. Don’t just go to grad school after college because it’s the next thing to do. Most careers can start with a bachelors degree only. Then you’ll take time off for kids, then maybe you won’t even need to get a higher degree. Or you can get it when the kids are older and you have more time to do stuff for yourself.

I’m not advocating for women being uneducated, or that a woman’s place is in the home, or any of that. I’m advocating that a woman who feels that her main job will be raising a family should be free to choose that without having to defend her decision to forego higher education and a high powered career track.

Consider it, and save yourself the cash you will shell out to pay for a degree you won’t use for twelve years. Use that time and money to get a head start on your family, and go back to school when you and your children can really afford it. I did my schooling all back to back, and while it is true that I do  not regret that choice because of the positive outcomes, there are lots of routes to a fulfilling life and you should be aware of what you ultimately want from your life before you choose the way you want to go.

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Happy Earthly Birthday

Today is Agnes’ first birthday. She would be one year old. I remember the day of her birth vividly, the anxiety, the fear of the unknown, the discomfort, and the excitement at the end of the labor when Agnes decided she had to be born Right Now. The pain. The anger that I couldn’t see her right away. Asking again and again when would I get to see my baby.

This past year has been a roller coaster of extreme highs and extreme lows. Caring for Agnes at home was fraught with high pressure need for attention to detail. Caring for Agnes in the hospital often became our routine. The hospital was our second home. The medical and social work staffs became like family for us.

The past week leading up to this date have been difficult for us; we have been sad and dreading today. Now that it’s here, I’m not sure how I feel. Maybe I’m relieved that the day is actually here and I don’t have to anticipate it any more. We made a loose plan to have a party to commemorate this day. We are buying an ice cream cake and my parents will come over. Today is a day to be simply endured; I can not hope to enjoy it. But I’m sure this first one will be the most difficult to endure. I know it will get easier with time.

In remembrance of Agnes, here is a link to her birth story.

Agnes will always be a huge part of our lives, and we will continue to mark her anniversaries of birth, on earth and into the heavenly kingdom. Agnes changed our lives, and her legacy continues to flourish through us and through all the people whose lives were affected by our little saint.

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Merry Christmas from Agnes in her cute booties.

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Cookies and Kittens and Other Cute Stuff

Hi all. We’ve been busy around here the past week or so.

First before I do anything else, here is Agnes’ grave marker! It was installed in time for us to visit on Memorial Day. It is so pretty. We are very happy with it.

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Octopus and shark cookies, with interested facial features.

Octopus and shark cookies, with interested facial features.

Okay. Since I made those cute lamb cookies for the Holy Ghost parish Easter dinner, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to make more cute cutout cookies. Finally this week I found an excuse: the celebration of Stephen’s baptism day! He was baptized on May 28, 2011 when he was just barely three weeks old. We want to celebrate these sacramental anniversaries in our family, so we took the opportunity to throw a little party, complete with cute animal cutout cookies. I wanted to do octopuses and sharks because those cutters appealed to me this time. If you are interested, the set of cutters I bought is this one from Wilton. It has any animal you could ever want. Any. Animal. The cookie recipe I use now for these cutouts is the “Glazed Butter Cookie” recipe from The New Best Recipe Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen. I haven’t talked about those guys for a while, but I want you all to know that they are still a big part of my life. Especially now that I can’t live without these cookies. I like this recipe because the dough is easy to work with, you don’t have to chill it for hours before you roll it out for cutting, plus the directions say to roll the dough between two sheets of parchment which is pure genius. Nothing sticks to anything and the dough rolls out perfectly even with very few tears. That’s “tears” rhymes with “pears” not rhymes with “beers,” though this recipe certainly cuts down on that kind of “tears” as well.

Nap time

Nap time

Also this past weekend we went to visit my Aunt and the new kittens one of her cats recently birthed. There were four kittens in the litter and we wanted to adopt one of them! It was a fun trip. Stephen enjoyed playing with all four kittens, who were all energetic and very adorable. We decided relatively quickly that we wanted to take the fluffy one, the only kitten that has long fur. We had been discussing potential kitten names for a while so it was pretty easy to decide on a name. At this point in the story I would like to stop the narrative in order to fill you in on a bit of history. As you know, we already have a cat named Sashimi. We adopted Sashimi a few years ago when we lived in Billings, MT, and we thought it was funny to name him after the Japanese raw-fish appetizer “sashimi.” Ha ha. Aren’t we funny and so witty. Anyway so. We wanted to continue the ethnic food theme with our new cat as well. We tossed around some ideas like Pakora, which is a chickpea flour fritter from the East Indian culinary tradition. We considered Cannoli. Taquito. Nori. Ramen. As you can imagine it gets ridiculous very quickly. Frijoles Refritos, “Frito” for short. Combo Plate #2. Gravlax. Wonton. I refer you back a few lines [ha ha aren’t we funny and so witty]. We named the fluffy kitten Pakora and vowed to bring her home with us.

Oh, but all the other kittens are so cute and look at that one, he really gets along well with Pakora and my Aunt says he’s even more snuggly and I really wanted to get another snuggly kitty. But then, if we get another kitten, what should we name it? Gravlax? Jeremy said no way. I quote directly from Jeremy’s mouth: “That is the worst name for a cat ever.”

Gravlax (left) and Pakora (right)

Gravlax (left) and Pakora (right)

Guess what we ended up naming the kitten? Gravlax! I’m so happy we did because every time anyone says the name Gravlax everyone in the room kind of titters. It’s hilarious. Also, it’s very much in keeping with Sashimi’s name, since Gravlax is a fermented fish that is also eaten raw. I think the name is awesome. Pakora and Gravlax. It rolls off the tongue so well. And they really do get along well with each other. Sashimi did take a few days to get used to the idea of two new kittens, but I think they have already worked out their differences. They have all played together a few times, and they can all eat in the same room without a throw-down occurring.

stephen and iconsFinally, we hung up our icons in our new house. It took awhile to get around to it, but I’m so happy we finally did it. It looks great! There is plenty of room to continue adding icons as our collection grows. So long as add to it symmetrically! We plan to have icons for each of our children’s patron saints, as many as that may be, plus whatever else we decide to add. I’m excited for the possibilities.Gravlax likes Mary!

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Face to Face

I realized today that one of the main reasons I’ve been quiet on the blog recently is not because my life is so busy. No. It’s not because nothing meaningful is happening around here, that’s not it either. I think the big reason I’m not posting on the blog is because Jeremy and I are participating in grief counseling. I am able to take the inner conversations that I used to hash out on the interwebs, and I hash them out with our counselor. This activity is exceedingly important and beneficial, and I didn’t fully realize how beneficial the counseling is until I made the connection to my silence on the blog.

We’ve been meeting with the grief counselor for about six weeks, and that pretty much lines up with blog silence. It’s really funny to me that I find myself appreciating the experience so much, since Jeremy all but dragged my the hair into the first meeting. *Sighhhhh* “Okay, honey, if it’s that important to you, we can go…”

The first few weeks of meetings, we just got to know our counselor (we have the same lady every time), and we told her the background of us and Agnes’ story, and what happened when she died. Then we worked on a list of goals so we know what we are working on, and so we can know when we are done. That was hard. How will we be able to know when we are healed enough that we don’t need grief counseling anymore? We had to list specific, concrete markers like: right now I cry at trigger moments twice a day; I’ll know I am “done” when I cry at trigger moments only once a week. For example. We have to learn how to recognize a trigger moment is about to happen so we can redirect ourselves or prepare, and thus manage our emotions. That is a big one. For me, trigger moments happen all the freaking time. If you ever see me weeping in the grocery store parking lot or sniffling during choir practice, now you know why. Trigger moment. I keep saying that like you already know what it means. You can probably guess, but the trigger moment is something that makes me think of Agnes, or something that makes me feel sad, or something that pushes me close to the edge of tears. So basically, anything.

The other thing we’ve been doing with our counselor is, she wanted a list of names of all the people whose lives were enriched or touched by Agnes in any way. That would be a completely separate post. I think I will do it; the list is very impressive. And our counselor wants us to think about all the positive things that are coming of our experience. She told us that even though we feel like it is impossible to even get up in the morning and do our stuff, people look at us and are filled with hope because, if we can overcome the monumental loss of our baby enough so that we are even able to drag our butts out of the house, then they can surely overcome whatever trials they have in their lives. So, we’re supposed to think about things like that. Hope. Inspiration. Are we inspiring? I don’t know. I don’t feel that inspiring.

Anyway, it’s very good that we are meeting with a grief counselor and having these conversations face to face. She is trained to ask the right questions and draw out what we really need to say. She is encouraging and receptive, affirms our feelings and tells us we are totally and completely normal for feeling the way we do. She helps us to see all the sides and she helps us draw comfort from our memories rather than pain. Face to face. A living, feeling person is far superior for this sort of thing than a glowing screen bearing a vague promise that someone might connect.

On a slightly related note, I just want to mention that we are pretty excited because the monument company called us this week to say Agnes’ burial marker is finished; the cemetery will install it soon. This is huge because every time we go visit Agnes’ grave site we’re like, “….I think this is it…maybe…or over here?…This looks right with that tree there….I think I remember these other names being near her…” It’s a nightmare! When I say a prayer over the place where Agnes is buried, I want to be darn sure she is where I think she is! Plus, we’re excited because her stone is really pretty. We’ll definitely take a picture once it’s installed and I’ll put it up here. No worries.

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An old picture of Agnes I wanted to share again. Because she’s cute!

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