Thumbkin Turns Two

Thumbkin turned two last week.  It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since his birth, but he (and the other kids) have certainly kept us hopping.

Since his birthday falls in Easter season (actually in the Octave this year), the celebration just keeps on going.  It’s fitting, then, that his favorite word is “Alleluia,” which he says every chance he gets.  Actually, I’ve heard him say it in his sleep while napping.  Yep, he’s our Easter boy for sure.

The older kids were on spring break, I took the week off work, and his grandparents came for a visit to help celebrate.  Since he was turning two, I gave him his first haircut, calling it a “big boy” haircut.  It’s basically a bowl cut (done without the bowl), but it does make him look much older (and, incidentally, like his older brother).  The day before his birthday, we took trip to the zoo where we made sure to stop at the lions (his current favorite animal).  On the day of, we had pancakes for breakfast and pizza for dinner (his favorite foods, both of which we did not do during Lent) and a banana cake (recipe at Smitten Kitchen), decorated with a lion, of course.

I believe he felt adequately feted, especially for a two-year-old Alleluia boy. DSC08010




Baptismal Garment Sewing

I mentioned that Thumbkin’s baptism took place on May 13, Feast of Our Lady of Fatima.  I took on the challenge of sewing his baptismal garment.

After doing some research (hello, Google!), I decided to modify a T-yoke style gown and make the yoke into a cross down the front.  This necessitated raglan sleeves, and a back yoke that matched the top of the front cross.


My paper napkin mock-up on the top left.

It was a challenge to get the corners sewn precisely, and I ultimately went with hand sewing since it was faster than trying to maneuver the whole thing around under the needle.


Pinned, but pinning is sometimes neater than the sewn product.

The back closure wound up with a simple button and loop, rather than a button hole.  This makes it easier to get on and off, as well as to allow for anointing the chest.  Sorry, no pictures.

The extra width in the back got sewn onto the yoke with a couple of inverse box pleats.  Again, a little easier than trying to get even gathers, and looks quite polished.


Mock-up, garment in progress, and back yoke going out of frame on the right. 

I did cheat–the gown part (That is, other than the front and back yokes) is a flour sack dish towel, so I used one of the finished edges for the bottom hem.

Today being Pentecost, also known as Whitsunday, he got to wear it for a second time.  OK, he isn’t technically a Neophyte who would wear white according to the tradition, but it at least made us smile.

Sacraments Galore

There’s still a little bit left to Easter season (Ascension Thursday Sunday [for most dioceses, it’s been transferred] is next week, with Pentecost the following week), but it’s worth reflecting on all the sacraments that I had the honor of witnessing this year.

I taught religious education to 12 youngsters who were received into the church this Easter (two at the Vigil, ten on Easter at the Spanish mass).  Although it was a struggle at times, all of them have at least the very basics of the faith.  I can only hope that they come back next year for continuing instruction, or find other sources to continue to learn about the faith.  As I tried to tell them repeatedly, there’s always more (much more) to learn.

Ikinji made his first communion (first confession was during Lent.  Not a coincidence) in early may.  His godmother made the trip from Colorado to help celebrate, which certainly made it special.

Finally, our fifth child (Thumbkin, because he rounds out a handful of fun) was baptized on the 100th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady at Fatima.  Because of the significance of the date, we actually scheduled it prior to his birth, but were fairly certain he’d be around by then.  Tumbkin was born late enough in April that his birthday will always be in Easter season, rather than in Lent (OK, sometimes in the Octave, when Easter is really, really late).   Good thing we scheduled in advance; our parish priest apparently had baptisms scheduled all day at half hour intervals.

This Easter really did take advantage of the opening of the gates of Heaven and the pouring out of God’s grace that is mentioned at the blessing of holy water at the Easter vigil.  I was lucky to witness, and have a very small part, it some of it.  I hope some of those graces rubbed off.

The Ever-changing Durable Schedule

I’ll admit it…it took my wife and I a while to figure out that kids need (actually, thrive) on schedules and structure. It’s important that they have boundaries, within which they are allowed freedom to try out different things without fear of serious negative repercussions from failure. Not that kids’ thought processes actually think this through, but they sort of have a build in need for knowing where the bounds are (in some cases, just so they can test them).

It took us even longer to actually implement the structure idea in our lives. I’ll make the excuse that life in the Foreign Service is never quite fully settled because every two or three years (sometimes less), you’re moving to a new place where life has a new and different rhythm. Of course, the reply is that this sort of semi-nomadic existence absolutely requires a schedule for the day, or at least a scaffolding on which you can build a schedule based on local circumstances.

That’s a really long way of saying that, over the last year of nearly six months of separation, a semester of school in Liberia, a trip back to Colorado, a couple of months of summer vacation in Liberia, and my wife starting a new job teaching for an online school, we’ve finally got something approaching a daily schedule for the kids. What finally did it was the new job for my wife. We realized that we would need another adult/babysitter to come and be with the kids for the part of the day when she was teaching. To make this actually manageable for someone outside of the family, we needed a clear schedule to make sure that they get outside and play as well as do some academic-type work and chores everyday. Left to their own devices, it would be Legos or dress-up/make believe (or both simultaneously) all day every day. The framework is more or less 45-minute blocks of time, with 10 minutes (or so) of transition, alternating inside and outside (or active and reflective) activities (necessitating the transition time). Ideally, once everyone really gets into it, the transitions will become less of an issue and the kids will have more time to play and do what they want to do (yes, they do have a vested interest in it. More cooperation means more “free” time.). We’ve only been at it a few weeks, but I will say that it’s gone surprisingly smoothly. Not perfectly, but pretty smoothly.

Of course, there are more changes coming up, to include the school year starting at the end of the month, the random early and late days at my work, ditto the wife’s, school breaks, and, in about a year, leaving Liberia for a new posting. At least now we think we’ve got an ok framework on which we can build a schedule. Until we decide it needs to change (again).

A Lack of Silence

Or, “I wish the walking bass would walk out the church door”

My wife and I were discussing all sorts of things today, but one topic that came up is the lack of silence, especially the quiet that allows one to focus on prayer.  This particular thread started from the realization that while our kids know the words for prayers, actual prayer only takes place by happenstance.  For us, too, it can be hard to focus in and actually pray, rather than just go through the motions and say the words.  Of course, four kids equals ample opportunity for distraction unless you get up early or stay up late (which are my particular tricks, along with while commuting to and from work or waiting for meetings to start).

We see this in the church we attend.  The choir continues to try to keep up with the Pentecostals and other protestant denominations by using “Praise and Worship” music rather than hymns or, even, the actual parts of the mass.  In the past few months, they’ve added a full drum kit and an electric bass.  The keyboardist continues to get creative with which instrument voices he uses.  Sigh.  Even if you chalk all this up to a matter of taste (although the fact that they haven’t sung the actual words of the Gloria in the two years we’ve been here gives you an idea that it might be more than just stylistic differences), the lack of silence for prayer during the mass is really troubling.  Today’s specific example is that they strung together three songs for during the offertory, rather than playing a simple hymn and letting the congregation pray to collect themselves for the Consecration.  Also, the time after communion is filled with songs and music (sometimes even legitimate Catholic hymns!), rather than allowing people to dwell in the mystery and to pray deeply.

So, back to family.  If the liturgy doesn’t give us opportunities or examples of holy silence, it makes it doubly or triply important to have those opportunities in the home.  And we’re just not there yet.  We did talk with our kids about ways to wait quietly, and that every moment does not need to be filled with chatter.  The hope is that as they develop the practice of quiet waiting, they will be ready to hear the voice of the Lord in the whisper of a gentle breeze (1 Kings 19:12).

Cats and Bagpipes

We did a small Burns Dinner just as a family.  OK, really, it was just reading the Address to a Haggis to a vegetarian haggis that Yakum carried into the dining room while I bagpiped.  We’ve done more elaborate in the past, but given jet lag and adjustments back to Liberia, this was all we could muster.

Benson was not terribly amused by the sweet strains of the ‘pipes:

Hmmm...a box...what's that noise?!

Hmmm…a box…what’s that noise?!

Continue reading “Cats and Bagpipes”

Notes from Colorado

I arrived to the U.S. on January 6.  After the requisite entry interview about what I had been doing in Liberia (No, I did not touch any dead bodies, nor was I in the same room with an Ebola patient), I was allowed to enter the country.  They issued me a handy packet of information, including a thermometer so I can take my temperature twice a day, and a phone preprogrammed with the CDC’s Ebola hotline.  I was a little annoyed at first with the probably unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer funds, but walked myself back because 1) the thermometer and phone aren’t actually that expensive (it’s a flip phone, in case you’re wondering) and 2) it seems a reasonable public health measure to make sure that potential Ebola patients have the resoures they need to contact the CCDC if they develop symptoms.  Also, if a traveler does develop symptoms, you’ll be able to take the phone and identify a good number of contacts.

My suitcase failed to make it on the last leg of the trip with me, and finally made it here on January 9.

The county public health department paid me a visit on the 7th, and I get to send them an e-mail every day with my twice-daily temperature readings.  I feel sorry for them, because it must be tedious.  At least they don’t need to come and watch me take my temperature.

Colorado weather is…highly variable.  On the 7th, it was 17 degrees.  On the 8th, in the 50s.  For the 9th, back down to the low 20s, with snow, and the 10th was in the 60s.  For someone coming from the tropics, it’s all cold.  The temperature swings do make it sort of difficult to really adjust, though.  Keeps me on my toes.

The kids are all glad to see me.  Its been fun to see how they’ve grown, but sad at the same time that I’ve missed it.  My wife is amazing for dealing with some really difficult times and challenging, strong-willed kids.  We’re doing ok, though, and family prayers have definitely helped.  There’s no way we can do this without some help from above.

And, finally, we’re still waiting on word if the evacuation will be lifted so we can all return to Liberia together.

Twenty-one Days

Twenty-one days is the maximum incubation period for the Ebola virus.  As of yesterday, my family has been out of the Ebola zone for that long.  Nope, no one developed symptoms.  

It should be safe for them to tell people that they were in Liberia.  Hopefully others won’t freak out too much.  Actually, it seems that Coloradans have been pretty relaxed about it, especially compared to some of the reactions other embassy evacuees got on the East Coast.