Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Third Sunday of Advent (in which I seem to suck at all the things)

By the  end of the Third Sunday of Advent we were totally failing at Mass-going this season. It is not quite as bad as last winter, I think, but between the downpours (and no car!), the growth-spurt tantrums (I'm guessing it's a thing?), and the never-ending lack of sleep it seems that we're meeting an epic fail despite the number of Mass times available to us in this metropolis. So that's a disappointment but it's also life with two toddlers.

As for the novena, totally sucking at that also. But in good news, I've managed to get the Advent candles lit on Sunday each week so that's quite an improvement over previous years. Small steps, my friends, small steps.

All that said, last Tuesday (December 8th) was the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (Holy Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee). In most places it's a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics, meaning that they're supposed to treat it as importantly as a Sunday and get to Mass. In Canada things are very lax so there's no obligation. But I try not to let that stop me, especially now that I've discovered a 7:15 Mass at the Cathedral downtown. I can get there and back to my work shuttle on one bus ticket and it doesn't even make me late for work. So off I went to enjoy a peaceful and quiet Mass. Of course nothing seems to come easy lately so my fancy new umbrella with its auto-open-auto-close feature broke and wouldn't close, no matter how much button pushing, force, or cursing was directed to it. And it was downpouring. To say I was in a bit of a fluster would be putting it mildly. But it didn't matter, because there was something soul-deeply-calming about being in a candle-dim church, listening to the sounds of the rain and the voices praying, feeling like I was being held close in Mary's heart. It's totally worth the 6am wakeup time to go.

In order to try and give a nod to the feast day at home, I went for a white-themed meal (to symbolize purity). We had a thai chicken-coconut soup, garlic bread, and lemon snow bars. It was a lot of fun.

I spent the rest of the week trying to gear up in order to survive the weekend. Walter has his Ukrainian dance class every Saturday at 9:30am in downtown Vancouver, which means that we leave the house at 8:30am, which means that IF no children wake up early I get to sleep in by about 10 minutes compared to my normal wake-up time. And this week was even more hectic, because I was taking Annie along with us AND it was dress rehearsal day AND all the adults were corralled to help set up the hall for Sunday's recital. But I survived and thanks to the magic of crayons the children behaved during the setup and Annie even made friends with a baby at the class.

Later that afternoon my brother came over to help make Christmas shortbread. He is much less edgy with the kids than I am when it comes to making stuff so it's always nice to have him around for kid participation time. It ended up being a tonne of fun! We made our batch of cookies, got them all suitably decorated, and I don't think that I yelled once. It probably helped that John brought a case of cola with him because man oh man was I running on sugary caffeine all weekend.

Then came Sunday. Not just any Sunday, but Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for "rejoice!" and it's the day that we light the pink advent candle and the day in my house that we start hitting the Christmas festivities with the same hardcore zeal as the rest of our culture. Usually it's the day I put up the tree and really start indulging in my favourite Christmas albums. As a nod to all things seasonally liturgical, Annie & I wear pink and we all try to get in a very joyful mood. This year? Mostly epic fail.

The toddlers would! not! stop! screaming! So we changed our plans of going to a morning Mass at the Cathedral and opted to stay at home until Dance Recital time and then go to one of the three evening Masses we could easily do on our way home. And then a certain Sir threw an hour-long fit when his cruel parents tried to dress him before leaving the house. And then the sprinkling of rain turned into a downpour that ended as soon as we reached the stage in our journey that no longer required being exposed to the rain. And my poor sick husband got soaked to the bone, and is subsequently much sicker now, and the toddlers would! not! stop! screaming!

We did make it through the Dance Recital with a minimum of upset. I count it as a success that I got Walter into his costume, sans hat (he was supposed to be a magical mushroom from Baba Yaga's forest), because he was mostly adamant that he'd wear it "tomorrow". The recital itself was great fun, because Ukrainians are AWESOME. From the minute the music started the hall was full of stamping feet and clapping hands and good, positive energy. After the recital there was a sa potluck, carol singing, and a visit from Grandfather Frost (who had a present for each child).

The journey home was less successful, as the crying ramped up again (thank you, Baby Annie) and we ended up missing Mass again because of the screaming and crying and general inability of Certain Small Humans to cope with social situations. The children mostly misbehaved until bedtime, the Advent candle didn't get lit until well after they were tucked away, I didn't find the third Sunday of Advent prayer, and it was not the joyful Sunday I'd been hoping for. So I ranted and raved and added to the general misery of the household. And then I ordered Chinese food and put my feet up and remembered that tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Second Sunday of Advent

It’s the second Sunday of Advent and I’m working hard at trying to fight the Christmas rush, while realising that I’m not just imagining the pressure. Somehow we’ve ended up with an incredibly busy two weeks, after which point we’ll be leaving Vancouver (yay!) to head to the Island and David’s parents for Christmas. Do you have any idea how happy I am that I don’t have to work this Christmas? Do you know how hard it is to work on Christmas when it is not only one of the biggest holidays of the year but also one of the holiest days of the year for your religion? It was a double whammy of suckitude. Don’t get me wrong – the work that I do is important and I felt some solidarity with other professionals who provide “essential services” and have to work on the holidays because evils in this world don’t recognise holidays, but it was hard.

I digress.

The first thing on my radar for this past week was something that I hope will become a new and awesome Porter Family Advent Tradition. November 30th was the Feast of St Andrew and there is a beautiful Christmas novena attached to his feast day. Technically a novena is a 9 days prayer, whereas this Christmas Novena is supposed to be said 15 times a day between now and Christmas, but it’s a relatively simple way to change our daily prayers to reflect the season. In the Perfect World we would be rocking this Novena. In actual fact, I don’t have it memorised which makes it a lot harder to say 15 times a day. Work’s been crazy busy as the holiday season is the busiest time of year so even my plans of saying the prayer at my desk have been scuppered because I’m running around so much. But I’m saying it at least once a day, most of the time with the children, and that’s a good start. It really is a beautiful prayer:

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

The next thing on my radar is the Feast of St Nikolas. St Nikolas, better known as Santa Claus, is a pretty hardcore 4th century saint who happens to be the patron saint of children and who, in popular traditions around the world, secretly gives gifts to them on his feast day (often leaving them in their shoes). Coming from an anti-Santa household, this has been a good way to reintroduce the tradition into my own family. I’m pro-Santa, by the way, but I like celebrating this feast as a way of introducing my children to the historical Santa. And this year it is awesome, because his feast day falls on a day which just happens to be the day we had already planned to go to Metrotown to get our pictures with Santa. I'm so pleased with this that I might just make it our normal Santa-photo day, assuming work schedules can jive with Santa schedules in the coming years.

Our very somber Santa photo. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one smiling. Both kids were on the verge of meltdowns so we were pulled into the picture and I guess paying donating for only one picture made us persona non grata because they hustled us in and out of there very quickly (unlike last year when we requested 2 photos and ended up with 4). 
I do like to keep the feast simple, so the kids are getting a chocolate Santa, a book, and their Christmas-Mass outfits. The adults will also get chocolate and will make merry once the children are in bed by toasting St Nikolas with a round of "Bishop's Helper" (spiced wine).

Walter's face! This was taken at the precise moment he learned that he couldn't open his present until we'd taken a photo AND he'd have to sit next to his sister. She's being wary because...punches. 

They're actually happy here, but Emily just plain refuses to smile for the camera.
This Sunday also happened to be the dedication of our cousin “Baby Avelynn”, so we trekked over to East Vancouver for the pre-dedication party. My cousins are fantastic hosts and the beer & appies kept coming, including a lovely sausage, cheese, & pickle platter that Tara had on hand as a nod to all things Ukrainian Canadian. It was wonderful to meet Paul's side of the family and to meet my cousins' closest friends.

If I am being cheeky I will tell you that a baby dedication is an Anabaptist response to infant Baptism, although that is not really accurate because there are too many theological differences to draw a true parallel. Suffice to say it is an opportunity for parents and their church community to dedicate their baby to God and to dedicate themselves to helping to raise the child in their faith. My brother and I were both dedicated when we were babies. As an aside, I remember my brother’s dedication being A Big Deal. My dad’s parents came all the way from Abbotsford (and I’m pretty sure that my GroƟmutter must have been ill with leukemia at the time) and I seem to remember mum being very excited over his blue velvet(?) romper and wandering around the house all misty-eyed and excited. My attitude was one of indifference and boredom...although in my defense I was only 6.5. Anyway, at the time it was impressed upon my brain that this is one of the Things We Do and then of course I converted to Catholicism and it became one of the Things We Don’t Do because we baptize our babies which, of course, as an Anabaptist was one of the Things We Definitely Don’t Do so the whole “what to do with my new baby and my religion” question really becomes quite a complex one for me.

All decked out for my Dedication in the family gown made by one of my aunts. 
That was this week’s busyness. So now we come to this week’s rest, a time to say the Advent prayer and to remind myself that with all the busy preparations for our Christmas celebrations there is time to rest, pray, and draw from the well of peace.

Lord, our God, we praise You for Your Son, Jesus Christ, for He is Emmanuel, the Hope of all people.
He is the Wisdom that teaches and guides us.
He is the Savior of us all.
O Lord,
let your blessing come upon us as we light the first and second (purple) candles of this wreath.
May the wreath and its light be a sign of Christ’s promise of salvation.
May He come quickly and not delay.
We ask this in His holy name. Amen.