Monday, June 29, 2009

Mode of Dress

One comment on my previous post, "Bikini Builders," asked me to explain the following statement:

"Overall, my appearance is important to me, as I believe a put-together and at least somewhat stylish mode of dress is an important part of my witness as a Christian wife and mother."

I realize that there are a number of Christians who do not agree with me. The prominence of the one-size-fits-all jean jumper and floral print prairie dress in church circles are evidence of this fact. If you don't know what I am talking about, just attend a homeschool conference and you will see the wide gamut of interesting dress choices among Catholic mothers and their young daughters.

Dressing without concern for modern style or beauty greatly diminishes our ability to impact the world for Christ. Unlike a nun, who wears a habit to separate herself from the world, we are called to live in the world. We are called to be an example of holy, Christian living and our family is called to be an example of a holy, Christian family. Our bodies speak a language to others, and the way we dress ourselves and our children is our first statement to the world. In many instances, it may be the only statement we can make.

St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, makes this point in a far more eloquent manner--
I believe You should dress in accordance with the demands of your social standing, your family background, your work... as your companions do, but to please God: eager to present a genuine and attractive image of true Christian living. Do everything with naturalness, without being extravagant. I can assure you that in this matter it is better to err on the side of excess than to fall short. How do you think Our Lord dressed? Haven't you pictured to yourself the dignity with which he wore his seamless cloak which had probably been woven for him by Our Lady? Don't you remember how, in Simon's house, he was grieved because he had not been offered water to wash his hands before taking his place at the table? No doubt he drew attention to this example of bad manners to underline his teaching that love is shown in little details. But he also wants to make it clear that he stands by the social customs of his time, and therefore you and I must make an effort to be detached from the goods and comforts of the world, but without doing anything that looks odd or peculiar. (emphasis mine)

As Christian mothers, we must strike the difficult balance of detachment from worldly goods and yet presenting ourselves in a manner that is appropriate for our state in life. At a very basic level this means you should shower and make your hair presentable before leaving the house! Most of us will also need to own some formal dresses and jewelry. When we have a playdate with a friend or run to the grocery store, we should dress in manner that is appropriate for a casual gathering (for example modern slacks/jeans/fitted tops). Wearing a floor length floral print dress to the supermarket or a playdate at a local friends house would strike most as odd or peculiar. In general, our goal should be to dress in a manner that respects our femininity and beauty, but at the same time does not draw attention to our appearance. Dressing like we live in the Victorian era, not making time to shower, and/or pulling our unkempt hair up in an 80's style banana clip, are not likely to inspire others to follow Christ. We live in a secular world. If you want your faith and your values to be listened to, respected, and taken seriously, it helps significantly to dress the part.

In addition to our duty to present Christ to the world, we have an additional duty to take care of our appearance for our husband. St. Josemaria Escriva, in advising married couples, reminds wives of the following:

Another important thing is personal appearance. And I would say that any priest who says the contrary is a bad adviser. As years go by a woman who lives in the world has to take more care not only of her interior life, but also of her looks. Her interior life itself requires her to be careful about her personal appearance; naturally this should always be in keeping with her age and circumstances. I often say jokingly that older facades need more restoration. It is the advice of a priest. An old Spanish saying goes: 'A well-groomed woman keeps her husband away from other doors.'

I realize this may sound very harsh but there is great wisdom and truth in St. Josemaria Escriva's words. I can think of countless women, myself included, who neglect their appearance and think little of how this affects their husbands. Whether it be through excessive weight gain, not taking the time to shower, or regularly wearing sweatpants, many of us neglect our appearance and forget that this has an effect on our marriage. When we love someone, we should want to look nice for them, do our hair, wear a little make-up, and dress in an attractive manner. Love is in the details. It is amazing how a little attention to detail can go a long way toward growing a happy and joy filled marriage.

Suggestions, Please :)

Ladies, once again I am asking for your expert opinion on a Monday morning! I am looking for a Catholic women's Bible study for the mother's group at our church, which will meet a total of 10 times over the course of the school year. Last year we did a Christian study called "Effective Parenting in a Defective World," and it was a hit because there was no preparation involved, so moms felt like they could show up even if they hadn't read a chapter in a book. The other nice thing about this study was that we watched a 20-minute video segment where the speaker was dynamic, engaging, and educational, and at the end of the segment our moderator used the questions in our book to facilitate discussion. I feel that it can sometimes be awkward for a group leader to be "leading" peers in a Bible study, and I think that this format was helpful - our group leader, a fellow mom, had someone else doing the instruction, and her main job was to facilitate discussion.

This year, our priest would like us to choose a Catholic-based Bible study, and I would love some suggestions! What have been your positive or negative experiences with particular studies in the past? Were there any that lended themselves more or less to group discussion? If there was preparation involved, which books were the most engaging and the easiest to read through? Were there any that were particularly helpful in your vocation as a wife and mother?

Thanks in advance for your help, ladies! God bless all of you as you being the last week in June!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

B_mama and Tex, Ignore this...

I am constantly buying and losing hair bows, so the money might as well be going to a good cause. Danielle Bean pointed out this website, I have not ordered yet, but it looks like a great idea. I do plan to order from them and I will let you know how it goes!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Family Vacation

The classic family vacation. Ours was a vision of minivan madness: the car packed to the hilt; cartop carrier overloaded with goods; kids sprawled throughout the vehicle sleeping, eating, listening to headphones, annoying one another with some antic; parents in front arguing over directions or listening (loudly) to talk radio; frequent stops for cooler-packed lunches or potty breaks or ice cream; countless rounds of "Are we there yet?", name-the-next-dog games, state license plate sightings, and Ad Libs, of course.

They were the best.

Some of my greatest childhood memories are of time spent during family vacations. Like the time we were vacationing up in Maine at Acadia National Park. After a day full of hiking, exploring, and my sister and I creating our own synchronized swim routines in the motel pool, we settled in to sleep. I then proceeded to sleepwalk out of our room, to the elevator and down to the motel lobby, waking only to scurry back to our room and begin crying at our door. Can you imagine the fear in my parents' hearts upon waking to hear their child crying outside the room? Oh my!

Or the time when we were in Jekyll Island, Georgia and I hastened to the ocean waves without first applying sunblock to my back. 2nd degree burns, fever, chills, and multiple ice baths later, we were able to salvage the last few days of the trip and still enjoy ourselves.

Or the time when our whale watch boat had the rare sighting of 5 Right Whales, including a nursing mama and baby.

Or the time when in Philadelphia observing much of our nation's historical sites, we had the world's most delicious Italian ices. They saved the day just in time for us to visit the US Mint, our favorite stop of the day in addition to touching the Liberty Bell crack.

Or waking at the earliest dawn with my mom to head down to the beach in Florida to get first dibs at the shells. Olive shells became my favorite and still awe me with their rolled shape and glassy sheen.

Whatever it was, whatever we did, it was worth it because we did it together. My memories show that vacations don't have to be grand or novel or even expensive. They are about getting out and having shared experiences. This idea bodes well for our family this summer. We have little on the schedule, but nothing holding us back from day trips to the mountains or the orchards. For fresh air and fun. The only requirement: doing it as a family.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bikini Builders?

Today was the first day of warm weather in the Northeast and so my mind has turned to the topic of appropriate swimwear.

Let me start by saying that I don't dress like an Amish-Catholic. I wear non-tapered pants, and somewhat stylish tops. I wear make-up, and regularly shower before leaving the house. While I am not the most trendy dresser in the room, I will never be caught dead in the one-size-fits-all denim jumper or floral print prairie dress.

Overall, my appearance is important to me, as I believe a put-together and at least somewhat stylish mode of dress is an important part of my witness as a Christian wife and mother. My goal is to blend-in with my surroundings, all the while dressing in a modest manner so as not to cause an occasion of sin for my brothers in Christ.

And so I just don't get those Christian women out there who wear a bikini. Every year, I come across another woman in my life, a woman who I know shares many of my deeply held beliefs about faith, and she surprises me by wearing a bikini.

Here are some possible justification I have heard, or can think up, for wearing a bikini--

1. There are bikinis that are more conservative than one piece bathing suits.

2. I look good in a bikini, how else can I show off my superior physique?

3. I look bad in a bikini, I'm not tempting anyone.

4. Christopher West has approved of the practice in his recently released CD, "Bikini-Clad Without Shame," or something like that.

By discouraging bikini's I am not encouraging the Pamela Anderson Baywatch one-piece. There are obviously non-bikini style bathing suits that are problematic. By ridiculing one form of beachwear, I'm not approving of all other forms (e.g., nudity). Overall, my point is simple--I cannot come up with a good reason for wearing a bra and underwear in public. Can you?

Fruit Flies and the Fourth of July


The best thing about the early summer (other than long afternoons at the swimming pool and early bedtimes) is the challenge of eating mounds of inexpensive farmer's market fruit before it becomes overripe in the fruit bowl. Then baking with it.

The worst thing is the fruit flies. How do you control them?

Vengeance comes when my kids get old enough for home science experiments. What ninth grade biology student doesn't enjoy anesthetizing and gene-crossing colonies of fruit flies? Their first meal in my fruit bowl will be the last meal of their lives as they know them.


We're celebrating July 4th at the home of our good friend's very classy parents. It's always a lovely occasion, and we want to come prepared. (Plus I'm hoping this discussion will coax Red to drag her pregnant self and her family across the river to the same party.)

What kinds of fireworks are appropriate for 3 and 4 year olds, with adult supervision? We dropped into the shop today and saw some of those small firework army tanks; my 3 year old son is ready to rock and roll. In addition to those, I'm looking for something a little more jazzy than glow sticks and a little less dangerous than Roman candles. In the deep South where I grew up, we were fireworks experts by age 3.

Any amazing fourth of July dessert inspirations you can pass along? The white cake with cool whip, strawberries, and blueberries is patriotic and summery but loses its charm after several years (decades), plus its fatal flaw is its lack of chocolate.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Got Texas?

If you live in Texas, apparently you've chosen well in this uncertain economic climate.
According to a recent Brookings Institute study, Texas has 6 of the top 15 recession-resistant cities, including 4 of the top 5! San Antonio was rated #1. In the study researchers examined economic criteria such as changes in employment and home values for the largest 100 metropolitan areas in the country. Texas clearly came out on top.

Kat and Texas Mommy, hats off to you!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Robin Update

I just wanted to share that our robins continue to grow and thrive. The children have been amazed and remember to check on them everyday through the dining room window. They have feathers now and their eyes are open. It has just been beautiful and amazing to watch them. I am so thankful for the gift of having them in a place where we can really observe. It is funny, we had been planning to take out that bush because it has really intense thorns, but someone who knows the property told me that a robin nests there almost every year -- for this, we will leave it alone! I may add a bird bath and feeder to some other windows so we can continue to observe nature. We have a pair of cardinals, too, who visit whenever there are crumbs on our porch, which is often!
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We just returned from the Blueberry Capital of the World, and an amazing organic blueberry farm. The berries are just 60 cents a pint or only $3.00 for a huge can (about 10 pints!) The farm is a very small family owned operation. In lieu of a cash register, the farmer places a small box on a table listing the prices of the berries. You pick up your cans, pick, and then pay on an honor system.

The farmer greeted us as we arrived, and let us know that any berries my children ate were free. The children LOVED this, and giggled as the farmer searched around for small cans that would be easier for them to carry. He only found one can, which Charlie (age 3) took and filled. Gianna (age 5) settled for the large can, and she was determined to fill the entire thing by the time we left. To my amazement, she succeeded. The blueberries definitely built up quickly when there is more than one person in our family picking! Augustine (17 months) spent his morning eating a lot of dirty fallen berries. He was so dirty at the end of our outing that the farmer's wife offered their family hose to clean him off. The battery on my camera died, or else I'd post a picture.

We have returned to this farm to do all our blueberry picking for 4 straight years because of the Farmer's hospitality, AND because the berries are cheap and organic. I told him he should charge more for the berries, especially for those of us picking with young children. He smiled in a way that seemed to say he loved the children and didn't care about the money.

The blueberries we picked today are delicious, cheap, and healthy. We are consuming them guilt free, and we might have to make another trip next week!

Upon returning home, we spent our afternoon reading Blueberries for Sal, and then making blueberry cobbler AND whole wheat blueberry muffins. The muffins are a great and healthy breakfast option. The cobbler is amazing for dessert with whipped or iced cream. I thought I'd post both recipes below. Enjoy!

Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins--

Combine Wet Ingredients--
1 1/2 cups of milk or rice milk
1 cup butter or oil
1 cup honey or sugar
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons grated lemon rind
2 teaspoons vanilla

Combine Dry Ingredients--
4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or 3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup flax seeds)
2 Tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt

Then add 3 cups blueberries

Mix dry ingredients with wet ingredients, then add blueberries. Preheat oven to 375, bake for 20-25 minutes.

Blueberry Cobbler--

Grease bottom of 8 X 8 inch pan
Lightly toss--
2 cups blueberries
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 - 1/2 cup sugar ( I use the smaller amount)
1 Tablespoon butter

Spread this mixture on bottom of pan

Then mix--
1/4 cup butter softened
1/4- 1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup milk

Combine dry ingredients and add to wet mix
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Drop by spoonfuls onto top of cobbler. Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes. Enjoy!

Monday, June 22, 2009


The Annunciation, according to my kids:

"Mary, you are going to have a baby, and you better be nice to him, becuase he is the Son of God."

Kelly Clarkson and Preschool Life Lessons

Bella often plays while singing sweet songs to herself. Here's my recent favorite, inspired by and sung to the tune of Kelly Clarkson's "Because of You" (I've already confessed on this blog to loving Kelly Clarkson):

Because of you, I will never stray too far from the sidewalk.
Because of you, I learned to stay where my mommy can see me.

Thank you, Kelly Clarkson, for bringing cool music into our home and for helping me teach child safety lessons to my four-year-old.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Profound Post for Fathers' Day

I just want to share an idea I will be debuting around our house this week.... the "refrigerator leftover tracker!" That's right, I am sick of finding small tupperwares of uneaten who-knows-what at the back of our fridge. I have devised a three column Excel spreadsheet that will now hang on the side of our refrigerator and help us keep tabs on what lurks inside. The columns are: Food Item/ Container Type/ Date Placed in Fridge. The rules are that every leftover container that goes onto a shelf must be logged, and then, if you eat it all you get to cross it off. This will be like a really easy to-do list type pat on the back for my swell leftover-loving husband or myself. That's all I've got from across the Atlantic this eve, folks. Have a blessed week.

Friday, June 19, 2009

I Need This, Right?

It is hot in Texas, so we are taking refuge at our neighborhood pool quite often. Our 3 and 2 year old splash away the heat while the little guy rides on mommy, as per usual.

I have found myself tucking the sling fabric in odd places and trying to stay in shallow enough water so that the sling can stay dry for use later in the day (the ergo doesn't let him reach to the water). But little Incredibaby wants at that water to do some serious splashing, so I usually end up taking him out and holding him meaning my hands are no longer free to tend to all sorts of water calamaties, like capsized boats, sunken rings and getting that really cool june bug out of the pool filter (yuck).

Which is why I started to get giddy when I got an email with the TaylorMade Water Sling. A water sling? Brilliant! Oh, and my birthday's coming up, right? Maybe a belated Mother's Day gift?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Public Service Announcement: Father's Day on the Horizon

If you're (1) a procrastinator and (2) gift-giving is NOT your love language, you might (like me, every year) be very consciously ignoring the fact that Father's Day is this Sunday.

But chances are, if you're not a gift-giver yourself, you married someone who cares at least a little about being recognized with a thoughtful gift. Opposites attract.

I already put the handmade kid cards in the mail to my dad (grandfathers are wonderfully easy to please). The only thing left is to carve out a little errand time tomorrow morning to buy something special for the love of my life and the father of my children. I know I'll be glad I did on Sunday.

Have a VERY Happy Father's Weekend, everyone! God bless all you dads.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Gift of Prayer

Ever since the birth and death of my daughter Therese, I have had a special place in my heart for sick babies. Each night I pray for the general intentions of all parents caring for sick children. Unfortunately, I also pray for some of these children and their families by name.

This past month, I had to add another baby boy to my ever growing list. My friend's beautiful, smiley, 11 month old son (who I will call baby F) was diagnosed with SMA. SMA is like Lou Gehrig's disease in children, it is a degenerative and fatal neuro-muscual condition. The news brought me to my knees in prayer.

Any time I get the news that a baby is sick or dying, it touches a very broken part of my heart, a part I feel will never fully heal. I am not normally the type to shed tears over the joy and sorrow of another. Empathy is not a natural gift. And yet the face of baby F, and other babies like him, is with me regularly. Each night I lay awake and pray for baby F and his parents. I know too well that there are few things I can physically do to help my friend and her family. While I can offer some help with their practical needs (things like meals, babysitting for her other children, or fundraising), I cannot help them sleep at night, and I cannot take away their tears. When my friend lays down to sleep each night, she is very much alone in her grief and fears. Only God can comfort her broken heart. Only God can give her the strength she needs to wake up each day and face the reality of caring for her family. Only God can give her the grace she needs to choose love over fear.

I know this too well, and it is why I fall to my knees in prayer. For an overly practical person like me, a sick child is a real reminder that the most important thing I can do is pray. And by that I mean remember to pray. It is easy to go on with my own life, and forget their very real need for prayer. Months or even years from now, baby F will still be sick, and their family will still need prayer. Through my prayers, I can help this family carry the very heavy cross they have set before them. But I have to remember to pray.

When I was pregnant with Therese, the prayers of others gave me the grace I needed to love my daughter for the short time she was with us on earth. Prayers sustained me in the first weeks after Therese's death. But only two short months after her death, I felt a real drop in the day-to-day level of grace in my life. At the time, I thought I was just going through the normal grieving process and feeling really depressed and down. In retrospect, I realize that many of our dear friends and family had stopped praying. It wasn't as if they didn't love us, or didn't care, it was just that everyone else had very naturally moved forward. And yet we still needed the prayers.

As time passes, it becomes easier to forget. It is hard work to think about and pray for a sick baby and his mother each day. Baby F reminds me that like my short time with Therese, I am not guaranteed a tomorrow with any of my children. Each day is a gift to be lived and cherished, because another day like it may not come along. Such a reminder is amazingly true and beautiful, but can fill my heart with fear. It brings up emotions in me that are not always easy to control. With time, I have grown to see these emotions--the empathy I feel for sick babies--as a great gift, one of the many lasting gifts our sweet Therese left for me.

It is a gift I will now give to baby F and his family. Following the advice of a wise priest, I will feel the sorrow, pray, and then place the burden on the shoulders of Jesus.

Living Science

Above is the nest in a bush right by our back porch. The robin has been kind enough to make it in a place that can be scene from our dining room windows, so we can often look on without disturbing her. This picture was taken just a few days ago, you may be able to see that one bird had hatched. There were four eggs. As of today, there are three chicks and they have gotten quite large, we can make out their wings and it is so neat to see their little beaks stretch up for food. The mother still sits on them often, or stands on the edge of the nest and just watches them. I feel quite sympathetic towards her, I would like to gather up all of my children and sit on them sometimes, too, and they keep her busy with their demands for food just like my brood. I will try to put up more pictures, I am hoping that we will be able to watch them learn to fly, though I may just cry when they all leave the nest.

The science lesson below began when Texas Mommy posted about cups of seeds in the kindergarten classroom. I shared her fond memories, and got my kids filling some cups the very next day. We had set up a makeshift garden box that would hold our plants once the frost was past, and we went out there to fill our cups with dirt and seeds. The kids must have dropped some seeds, and while we were having a great time watching our plants sprout inside this lettuce appeared in the mulch outside. We have enjoyed it in several salads! Sadly, many of our seedlings did not survive the transfer to the bed as we have had several very intense storms. The tomato plants are still growing, however, and I am hoping to add some other things to the bed. The children were so excited that a pumpkin seed sprouted and was beginning to flower as we have studied the life cycle of a pumpkin each fall, but that one was a victim of the heavy rains, too. Perhaps I can get some more seeds into the ground soon and still have pumpkins by fall.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

For B-Mama

My day ended like this -- get home late, start the bath, get called to the kitchen because the dishwasher is backing up and flooding all over the hard wood floors, grab (fresh, clean, white) towels out of dryer and throw directly onto dirty floor, hear baby crying, run back to bathroom to find that he has gotten into the bath fully clothed. I had to laugh and grab my camera, while my daughter kept saying, Mommy, poor baby, don't you think we should get him out of there, all I could think was that I had to document it!
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Equating a Day

One unfixed vehicle returned to the mechanic after already spending 3 days there
One 2yo with a bread ball shoved up his nose (O Lord, not this again!)
One escaped, collarless (and beloved) yellow lab found two hours, two neighborhoods, and a forest later
One PMS'ing, frazzled mama
One very stressful morning!!!
How's your day gone? I hope better. :)

Today I am praising God for offering me the Grace to step back and laugh about all of this. That's really all I can do looking back over this list. lol. What a morning!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Manners, manners...

We have made it a little family tradition to stop by our local "donut and kolache" shop on our way home from Sunday Mass. The order is almost always identical, sometimes with one or two substitutions: one cinnamon roll, one cherry kolache, one donut with pink frosting and sprinkles, and one donut with vanilla filling. Our tab is always under $2 - not bad :)

In any case, yesterday morning I was standing in line with two customers in front of me. It's a small shop and one can't help but overhear other customers' conversations. I listened as customer #1 said to the man behind the counter, "I want two of these, three of those, and what are those? They don't look like what I'm used to...Okay fine, I want one of those, too." No please or thank you, just "I want, I want, I want." 

Next came a father and son. Surely this man would be more polite, wanting to be a good example for his son...Or not. "Give me three of these, three of those, and two of these." Again, no please or thank you, just give me, give me, give me. 

This isn't the first time that I've witnessed such a lack of manners. I was brought up to say "Please, may I have..." and to answer the phone with "May I please speak with...," but it seems like more often than not, these polite words are the exception rather than the rule. Children will come to my house and say, "I want a glass of juice" or "Give me more graham crackers," and they look at me like I'm crazy when I ask them to use "please" and "thank you". 

I don't mean to over-analyze, but I do believe that we have a whole generation of adults who feel entitled to many things, and I fear that they are passing on their sense of entitlement to their children. The language of "I want" and "give me" inherently indicates that the person feels that he is entitled to the object of his desire, that he feels that he should be able to take something just because he wants it. On the other hand, the language of "May I please" and "I would like...please" inherently indicates that the person understands that she is not entitled to what she asks for simply because she wants it. She realizes that she may very well not be able to have what she wants, when she wants it, and her language is respectful of the person with whom she is speaking. One is a language of taking, the other is a language of receiving. The result may be the same - in my case, all of us received and enjoyed our donuts - but the means are very different.

Am I over-analyzing the situation, or do you have similar reservations? What do you do when you are with your children and observe others who have poor manners, especially acquaintances that you see on a regular basis? Do you say something to your children, or just let it go?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make me a Match

For the last couple of years, I've taken a hiatus from matchmaking. My success rate was a perfect 0%. Demoralizing.

I've always been a romantic, easily carried away by all things eros, guilty of losing hours and hours of time and energy in daydreams. Even before Prince Charming won my heart, I was one of those slap-happy busybodies at the co-ed get-togethers dropping (not discreet) hints about who might be interested in whom, "pretty cute, hmm", "aha, well I'll leave you two alone to talk a bit more". You know.

My zeal is my downfall, and the end of any chance I might have at matchmaking success. I get so invested in matches, and so excited when the time comes, that I spoil the novelty and discovery for the prospective couple.

Well, I'm back in the game and requesting your mature, level-headed advice. My friend (also married with kids) and I have cooked up a mixer for next weekend where we plan to introduce a few accomplished, attractive Christian singles to one another in the city.
What's a foolish matchmaker to do?

How do we set the tone for a relaxed, natural evening of introductions? I'm serious... types of foods? Comfort food? Fancy? Dinner? Heavy hors d'oeuvres? Best kinds of drinks? Any particular games or types of music? Christian-fellowship-style ice breakers like Mafia and Charades, while passing around Pixy Stix to keep everyone totally hyper? Martinis, a disco ball, and a bubble machine? (Kidding about those last two.) How do I get out of the way but without leaving them hanging? Do I follow up after it's over or leave it alone?

I ask for future reference as well, because there are always singles on our radar screen whom we'd like to introduce... Maybe I should just stick to praying for them.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Busy Little Hands

Don't these look delicious! We spent our afternoon picking some green beans from our garden, and then venturing out for a late afternoon walk to the mid-week town farmers market. To my surprise, peas are officially in season--and boy are they sweet!

Removing the peas from their pods was an amazing way for my two children to spend the late afternoon hours. Busy little hands make light work for this mama and I am thankful for the many quiet minutes I had while preparing dinner. Even our youngest--an extremely picky eater --was kept quiet as the elder two shared their yield with him ;-) I can't complain when my children are snacking on fresh peas prior to dinner.

So if you are looking for a productive way for your little ones to spend the late afternoon, look no further than a pea in its pod.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Still Loving Him Anyway

Raising my little angels has been a journey with challenges I never anticipated. Just the other night I was commenting to my GG, "Man, this is the hardest job I've ever done. And I had to take organic chemistry!" Concepts like polymerization and hydrolysis sound energizing? and fun?! O Lord, help me!

I have to be honest, though, it really isn't motherhood as a whole that has been putting me into tangles lately. It's the challenge of mothering one of my children, in particular, that confounds me.

I really am trying. I am praying a lot. I am consistent. I am creative. I am energizing and encouraging. I am mean when I have to be. Every day is a new day with hope and possibility; with opportunity for success and obedience. Though for some reason or another, I lose it. I start each day with new, refreshed patience and by the end of it, I'm toast. I've lost all hope for his future. I'm bummed, whipped, and depressed. This is so hard. It's always been hard with him. And I'm here to report that at age 4, it still is.

I deal often enough with my fair share of mommy guilt, feeling like I'm not doing what I should, slacking in certain areas, raising my voice too often. It can be difficult to wade through and can pull me down into its quagmire. I hate the thought of my mommy self-esteem being pulled so low to the point of guilt. But, really, when one is working as hard as this, shouldn't I be seeing more results? Can anyone out there relate?

I am spent and discouraged. My downtrodden tone pulls others down.

My brain begins to wonder: when will this end? Will it end? Will this be the child we endure for a lifetime? The one that we'll wince at when he embarrasses us by his rude adult behavior?

But, gosh, I love him more than the world.
I will not give up.

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Phil. 3:12-14

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Counter-Cultural Enclave

Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to help one realize the blessings around her. This happened to me recently when my mother came to Germany for a visit.

My family and I live in a refurbished old apartment building full of US Army soldiers and their families in the midst of a suburb of Frankfurt, Germany. Every family that joins their soldier in Germany these days is required to live "on-post." This is a precautionary measure since 9/11 and is also intended to help families have a support network with the frequent deployments of our loved ones. Nonetheless, many of us (headstrong, independent military wives that is) chaffed at the idea of being forced to live in charmless, white-walled apartments amongst Americans in the middle of Europe. Having lived in a beautiful German home with my parents as a child, I in particular felt cheated out of my proper European immersion by this heavy-handed Army policy. I had had visions of a half-timbered home with heated tile floors and a pristine German garden just awaiting my care.

Well that is not what I got. Instead, we live in a 1000 square foot apartment that is atop six flights of stairs. The only outdoor space we can call our own is a tiled balcony just large enough for a single chair and sandboxed kid shoes. We have a small storage cage in the basement that my husband has filled with our excess clothing, furniture and baby stuff as if it were a Tetris screen and our goods the little colored pieces. It was hard to adjust to this. Hard to figure out how to take the garbage all the way down to the street with two young children in tow, hard to keep it semi-orderly. Yet, my mother recently drew my attention to how many blessings surround me in this stairwell of ours.

Military families are grouped into these buildings based on our husband's rank and family size. Therefore, you are pretty much assured to live near families of the same age and Army tenure as yourselves. This has meant that I share my days with a cadre of young mothers and their expanding families. I mean, truly share. You know when someone comes and goes, we take turns driving each other's preschoolers to the library when an infant sibling is asleep, we share playground watching responsibilities in the late afternoon so that other moms can tend to a dinner on the stove. It is all really remarkable. These ladies are the bedrocks of their families. We have all been through deployments, moves, frustrations, and cultural confusion. We all know the frustrations of figuring out family healthcare, schools and even grocery shopping at each new duty station. The wealth of shared experience on which we build our relationships must be quite unparalleled in any other living situation. I can knock on any of the six doors on my stairwell and ask for Baby Motrin at 2300. When someone has a baby, they have meals provided for them for almost a month by the rest of us. We carry trash down for wives whose husbands are away in the States at some training event. We share travel tips and birthing stories from the German hospital. We watch our children forming friendships as strong as our own and can't help but smile.

Military families are a counter-cultural enclave of sorts. We are accustomed to the virtues of obedience, patience, humility and courage. Military chapels are the cornerstone of any post and I do not have a single friend here who has not clung to God and His plan in moments of confusion and the inability to understand a certain twist in our military experience. There is very little talk of limiting family size in order to be able to pay college tuitions down the line. Rather, pregnancies pop up frequently in each building and we all rejoice together at the news.

I am grateful to the ladies that walk alongside me in this adventure of military parenthood. I hope all young parents are able to find the kindred spirits we have here. And Mom, thank you for calling my attention to the immense blessings I have just below the surface of petty frustrations.

Friday, June 5, 2009

B-Mama's Picks for Summer

Reading all the wonderful book suggestions for Texas Mommy's last post, I am inspired to include a few of my latest summer addictions for everything ranging from food to footwear. Since we are all working hard and feeling like we need a break, why not treat ourselves to some wonderful creature comforts that don't break the bank, but add joy to our days? Here are my top seven picks for Summer '09:

1) I am in love with my new sneaker sandals, purchased from Lands End. The best part: their $28 price tag (I got them at 20% off with free shipping). You really can't beat such a great price for a durable shoe like this. They are light and airy, yet have a little more support like a sneaker. I have flat feet and need to wear orthotics in flats--BINGO. These shoes hide my inserts and I stroll around biomechanically blissful. They are a wonderful alternative to my wedge slides that I usually wear everywhere but are completely impractical.

2) The crayon rocks I mentioned in a recent post are AWESOME. No sooner had they made their appearance out of the box, but my boys were drawn to them and coloring away. The crayons' small shape encourage little fingers to have proper grip. I am so pleased! For $9, they already appear to be a good investment.

3) Avocados. Okay, this is rather random, but I could seriously swim in a large pool of smashed avocados, a little olive oil, and salt. Grab some tortilla chips and I'm a happy mama. I even love to wrap turkey around thin slices and indulge. There really is nothing better than a soft, buttery avocado. And they make wonderful baby food--our J loves them cut up and can manage them with only 2 teeth.

4) When I found out our local pool required Coast Guard-approved flotation devices for the kids, I didn't know how we'd find a solution. Step in Puddle Jumpers. With soft styrofoam around each arm and across their chests, my kiddos feel safe and float nicely. The nylon covering also appears durable and able to endure many hand-me-down summers. For $15 bucks (in the Wal-Mart boating section), these might do the trick for you too!

5) Gerard's Light Champagne salad dressing. Once again, I could swim in this stuff. It is SO good and has an amazing taste. You'll just have to try it to find out. Since discovering it, I've found it seems to have a fan following. Call me crazy, but a good salad dressing goes a long way to make me a happy camper.

6 & 7) Finally, for all of our country music-lovin' readers out there, Kenny Chesney's Don't Blink and Rascal Flatts Life is a Highway are favorites playing in our house these days. There's something about good country music that signals relaxation and summer revelry to me. These are a sure treat for any music lover to enjoy.

So there you have it, B-mama's summer picks. Go enjoy the sunshine and drink in the soon-to-be start of a delicious season!

Non Sequitur

Amongst all this high-brow children's literature discussion I would just like to share something.

This morning my 16-month-old son peed in a clean laundry basket. Standing up, without a diaper, peed in this sterling clean laundry basket and then smiled up at me proudly. I can honestly say that I never thought I would be cleaning two inches of light yellow pee out of the bottom of a clean laundry basket. It was kind of cute though, call me sick.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Librarian For a Day

I've taken on a new job. My husband saw it coming when I walked out the door to attend a meeting at our local library. When I returned the first thing he said was, "What did you agree to do?"

We live in a small town of 5,000 people where the very edge of suburbia melds into real farm land. Our community library is a shared endeavor at our local high school. It is a tiny little thing. Which is probably why it took us almost a year to actually visit it given the convenience of the exponentially larger libraries closer to the city which allow books to be placed on hold from the comfort of your own home and then picked up while the boys are strapped into the comfort of their own stroller.

Oh, and our local library has a 3 book limit. I almost passed out when they told me that. The librarian (sensing my disbelief) asked if that was a problem and I told her that we usually have at least 50 library books out at a time. Then she almost passed out.

After gathering a little more info, it became clear why there is a limit. There simply aren't very many books. And remember those little slips in the back where they physically write the due date (before those date-changing stamp things) that were around when I was in grade school?
That's the check-out system. It's kind of charming, except that it would take about 2 hours to check out 50 books. It still might be worth the trip to check out 12 books (if I got everyone, including the baby, a library account ) if there were great books. When I saw the entire Babysitters Club series and Spongebob early readers, my heart sank. Yikes. Maybe it would be a challenge for us each to pick out 3 books.

So I went to the open meeting of the Friends of the library a few weeks ago to see what, if anything, I could do to help our local library situation. I left the meeting treasurer of the organization and had the check book delivered to my door a few days later and was promised that I would be able to purchase some quality children's literature. Before you get carried away and remind me that I have very little free time to devote to something like this, let me give you a number. $800. This is the cash on hand to buy books and more shelving (which is desperately needed). I could spend a good chunk of that on children's books in my sleep (and probably have thanks to one-click). Every book the library purchases gets an entire article in our local newspaper.

So my question to you all is this: If you had to buy one book for the children's section of your local library, what would it be? It would need to be engaging and beautiful and thought-provoking, to inpsire all the senses and make the child (and adult) want to come back for more....

I guess this is good...

Me: Wow, C, those are some really neat Lego creations that you've built. I like the cross that you made...Are those men lined up because they're praying in front of the cross?

C: No, mommy

Me: Oh, are you thinking of Good Friday when we all lined up to kiss the cross at church?

C: No, mom, it's not like at our house where we're praying ALL of the time...

I guess that's a good thing, right? :)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Catholic New Media Awards!

Catholic New Media Awards

We are thrilled to have been nominated for the Catholic New Media Awards! We were nominated in three categories:

Best New Blog
Best Group Blog
Most Entertaining Blog

Nominations took place during the month of May, and voting will take place during the month of June. So go on over and vote! You must register with the site to place your vote, but registration is easy and free.

A special thank you to all of our readers who nominated us for these awards!

Monday, June 1, 2009

God doesn't give grace in advance

As Juris Mater and MaryAlice discussed in their recent posts, many of us Builders have been dealing with adversity lately. Personally, I have been feeling pretty down and overwhelmed and my emotional state has a strong physical componenet. Back in early February, I began the marathon of pregnancy in sprint mode--horrible nausea, hospital IV and anti-nausea meds, and even bedrest due to a large cyst. When Easter rolled around, the fog lifted briefly, I was removed from bedrest, and I started to feel a bit better. But soon other health issues began to plague me-- anemia, hip problems, and general circulation issues in my leg (to name a few!), and I'm only 21 weeks! Having started the marathon sprinting, I'm now dead tired and the distance to the finish line is downright depressing.

I spend my free moments wondering how I will survive the hot summer. What will it be like in August when the heat really kicks in and I'm huge and even more uncomfortable? How can I possibly go through another labor and delivery when my body is already falling apart? What about future pregnancies? How will I ever have another baby? Should I ever have another baby? What about my health? Will my circulation issues ever resolve? As these questions have come to dominate my thoughts, my emotional state continued to spiral downward.

I was sharing all my worries, physical complaints, and general concerns with B-Mama the other day and she gave some great advice. She said, "I have a rule. I don't talk about future pregnancies at all when I am currently pregnant." Great point.

And then I began to realize that I have been spending an awful lot of time worrying about future events, rather than just living in the present.

When I suffer, I tend to look toward the future, toward the light at the end of the tunnel. My forward thinking allows me to see that the suffering is only temporary, as the future usually looks brighter than the present. But this isn't always the case. There are times when our suffering is so intense primarily because there isn't an obvious light at the end of the tunnel (or else that light is so far away we can't even get a faint glimpse of its presence).

6 years ago, I was pregnant with my daugther Therese. Therese had been diagnosed with anencephaly (a fatal neural tube defect), and I knew that the day we said hello to Therese would also be the day we said goodbye. The days, weeks, and months of my pregnancy passed very slowly, and I experienced great anxiety thinking about how I could possibly watch my daughter die. The final days of my pregnancy were spent in a sleepless state, waiting for Therese to arrive, and worrying about how I could ever say goodbye.

And yet, when the time came, the grace was there. When Therese was born and died I experienced the most profound sense of peace I have ever felt in my entire life. I didn't feel one ounce of sadness, fear, or worry. Those moments were perfect and I can honestly say that I have never felt such peace before or since. But the grace didn't arrive in advance. It was there when I needed it, and not a moment sooner.

And this brings me back to my present difficulties. Once again, my sufferings have propelled me into worry and anxiety about the future. But through the guidance of some great friends (thanks B-Mama!), I realized that I don't have the grace to deal with a future pregnancy because I'm not yet there. I don't even have the grace to deal with the hot month of August in my huge, pregnant and malfunctioning body ;-) because it isn't August. But I do have the grace for today. And when the going gets tough, I need to pray harder than ever for the grace to live in the present moment. I need to run the marathon of pregnancy--and motherhood--not one race at a time or one mile at a time, but one stride at a time.

As the late, great Rich Mullins put it: "Step by step you lead me, and I will follow you all of my days."

First Fruits