Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 All Saints' Costumes

Yes, I know this is totally out of season...BUT since it IS the Christmas season  that means I am on break from school and actually have TIME to do this!!!

2013 All Saints' Party Costumes...low budget and little effort!

St. Francis: 

Monk costume and wig.  Purchased little wooden birds and had our daughter paint them, and grabbed a stuffed animal from the playroom to pin to his side.  The stigmata markings are red finger nail polish.

St. Clare:

Sewed the brown habit, purchased the wimple(?) and veil with a nun costume.  The monstrance was cut out of cardboard and covered with golden material, which we had in our leftover fabric tub.  I used fabric glue, but it didn't work very well. The host was cut from leftover fabric from St. Maximilian's costume (see below).

St. Cecilia:

The dress is an old dress of mine that our daughter plays dress up in all the time.  The golden cape was an extra piece of material from our costume tub that just needed to be sewn around the edges.  We did purchase the violin.

St. Maximilian Kolbe (my favorite of the year):

Prisoner costume purchased last year on clearance.  The cassock is from the nun's costume purchased for St. Clare's veil.  A rosary laying around the house.  Red and white felt with letter/number printed with black puffy paint.  They are glued with fabric glue to the shirt.  Quote printed on heavy paper and pinned to costume, and Daddy found us some free round glasses (that you can't see since I don't like my kids faces on the web)!

We also had St. Michael and St. Gabriel, both of which are repeats you can see here.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Ham Sandwich

I like to follow the rules.  I'm a little weird about it, and my husband sometimes gets annoyed, and at the very least, likes to make fun of me. If you are wondering what types of behaviors warrant my husband poking jokes at me, read on.  I will share.

Example #1:   Last winter a couple moms and I would take our kids to the local YMCA to swim.  The open time in which we were allowed to swim ended at noon.  At 11:57 if my kids weren't making their way towards the edge of the pool my heart rate would start to rise, and my gentle reminders of, "It's almost time to get out," (which incidentally started around 11:45) quickly transformed into a much more irritated, "It's time to get out, now!"  I don't know what would have happened if 12:01 would have rolled around and they were still swimming.  I realized this was a little strange when I noticed that it could be 12:02 or 12:03 and my friends might still be calmly and happily gathering their little swimmers from the pool, while I stood flustered and panicked from the close call I had getting my kids out of the water on time!    :)

Examples #2 and #3:  Do you need to use your turn signals if there is no one around?   I do.  I turn on my blinker when leaving our driveway, when we're out in the middle of nowhere, and even sometimes to turn into the garage FROM the driveway...where else would I be going?!!!   That one, and the fact that no matter what, I will not, under any circumstances change lanes after the dotted white line turns solid, are the ones that REALLY drive my husband nuts.  The conversation goes something like this:  My husband, "Change lanes."  Me, "The line is solid."  My husband, "So, there is no one around, change lanes."  Me, "I can't the line is solid.  You are not supposed to change lanes when the line is solid."  Life in the van gets really colorful when he's driving.

Example #4:  Sometimes when it's really, really, cold out and there is a 4 inch layer of slush in the parking lot I am tempted to not put my cart back...but I ALWAYS do.  You are supposed to.

Example #5:  My almost 11 year old is still in a high back booster seat...come on, it's the national recommendation for kids to be in a booster seat until they are 4'9", and she's short, like me.  I know it's not the law, but how can I not follow the recommendation???  Okay, even I am embarrassed about this one.  Lucky for me she isn't embarrassed and actually likes it because she can see better.

 I like the rules, and I like to follow the rules.

One day six years ago I decided I was tired of following the rules.  I was pregnant.  I was sick.  I was tired of being sick.  I had gone through two full term pregnancies, and 18 weeks of a third one,  following every rule I could find.  I followed rules people had never even heard of.  Sometimes I felt stupid for following those rules.  That day, I resented following all the rules.  That day, I decided I was going to break a rule.  That's right, I was tired of being the only pregnant woman I knew who avoided cold meat during pregnancy.  We were at a funeral dinner and I wanted a ham sandwich.  I decided it was my day to break the rules.  I was going to break a rule and eat the ham sandwich.  My husband, who doesn't mind my "following the rules" during pregnancy said, "You can't eat that ham sandwich."  I responded with irritation telling him I was tired of being the only pregnant woman who DOESN'T eat deli meat.  I proceeded to tell him I was going to eat the ham sandwich, and did.

Two weeks later our baby was dead.

It was a few days after delivery before I remembered the ham sandwich, and how I had broken the rule.  My husband's plea for me to not eat the sandwich echoed throughout my head.  I broke into hyperventilating sobs.  I was certain that my act of disobedience and rebellion had killed our baby.  I crawled into the confessional, a sobbing mess.  Father talked a little bit of sense into me, but the truth is I would never know if it was that sandwich that killed our baby or not.  Father didn't think so, and my Ob/Gyn actually laughed when I shared my theory with him.  This helped.  He remarked that about 95% of woman eat deli meat during pregnancy, and that he very highly doubted the ham sandwich had anything to do with our son's death.  "Highly doubted," still left room for me to wonder though, and I still do.

I still wonder, but I don't spend much time beating myself up about it anymore.  Reason that was not able to penetrate my mind in the weeks after his death, is now present in my mind, and I too,  really do doubt that it was the ham sandwich.  It doesn't really matter, even if it was.  Nothing happens without God allowing it to happen and He brings good out of every situation offered to Him.  I have never felt closer to Him or more dependent upon Him, than in the weeks and months after our loss.  For a very long time I unsuccessfully held back tears every time I received Him in the Holy Eucharist after the death of our baby.  The tears came in the same way that tears come when you are going through something rough and you see a friend, someone you know who loves you unconditionally.  Maybe it's your mother or father, maybe your husband or wife, maybe your best friend.  When all you need to do is look at them and know that they know just how awful everything is, and you know that they "get" it, and are there for you.  That is what every Holy Communion was like for me during that time.  I grew closer to Him.  I'd count that as something good coming from something bad.

Tomorrow, October 27, is the six year anniversary of the silent birth of our 20 week old son.  I try to allow  the memories of him around this time of year to resurface and I'm not sure why, but this year, that dreaded ham sandwich came to mind again.  Perhaps it's an issue I've shoved aside and the Holy Spirit is prompting me to reflect upon it once again.  Maybe I need to forgive myself one more time.  Maybe.  I don't really know, but I do know that all the crazy things I share on this blog, tend to lead to healing for me, so I'm guessing that whatever the reason is, some ham sandwich healing is in store.

P.S.  Listeria, I don't like you.

P.P.S.  Maybe it's pride.  Maybe I think if I follow all the rules nothing bad is going to happen, and that's just not the case.  Maybe that's what I'm supposed to learn from all of this.  Maybe it's just plain pride rearing it's ugly head in yet another way.  So many weeds, so many weeds...


All Saints' Day

I thought I would share some of the saint costumes we have come up with through the years.  The kids use these as their trick-or-treat costumes, and some years our local Mom's Group has an All Saints Party, and then they get to wear them twice!  I don't know how to sew and usually make the costumes using fabric glue and cheap material.  In the earlier years I would enlist the help of Grandma, and she would sew.  On most years I will go out after Halloween and pick things up on clearance that I think could be useful in future costumes.

Mother Mary and St. Gabriel the Archangel
Mother Mary's dress was purchased at Walmart as part of a princess costume.  I bought the material for the belt, veil, and cape, and Grandma sewed around the edges.  
St. Gabriel's dress was sewn by Grandma, the wings were about $20, but we've used them AGAIN and AGAIN, and they were well worth the cost.  Ave Maria is written in Puffy Paint for fabric, the scroll is extra material from Mother Mary's dress, and the horn I took off of an old Christmas decoration.

St. Rose of Lima
The dress is again a cheap costume from Walmart, the veil is just black material, the chain is the inside of a bicycle lock, lipstick on the forehead, a foam ring with flowers and leaves glued on for the crown.  She is also carrying baby Jesus from her toy tub!

Year One of St. Michael the Archangel
There is no shortage of swords and armor around Halloween time, so those were an easy find.  These originally had dragons on them, which would have worked, but I chose to replace them with golden crosses we had taken off of baptismal cakes.  I used velcro to stick the crosses on to the sword and armor.  The wings are from the St. Gabriel costume, and the little "devil" was a cute stuffed animal transformed with markers into the devil.  The rest is mostly made up of random pieces of material we had in our costume tub.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary
Princess costume purchased on clearance the year before.  The veil is just extra material from an  old costume.  I may have purchased the crown, and the basket was just something laying around the house.

Baby Angel
This is the Mother Mary dress recycled.

St. Rose of Lima, Round 2
She lost the chain, added a rosary, and replaced the mulit-colored flowers with all red.

St. Michael, Round 2
Same materials, underneath clothes were switched up a bit and we just have fun playing around with different ideas.

St. Michael, Round 3 (I tried to talk him out of it), Bl. Pope John Paul II, and St. Helen 
St. Michael, needs no explanations, there are a couple changes if you look closely.  Bl. Pope JPII is wearing St. Rose's white dress, we bought new material for his cape, and the bishop's hat is made from a cereal box with fabric glued to it.  It is decorated with puffy paint.  St. Helen's dress is material literally cut in the shape of a dress and glued together with fabric glue.  Her cape is just material with the edges glued down.  Her veil is a burp cloth, the crown is from St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and the cross is extra wood we had from building our house.

Another look at JPII

And St. Helen 
Daddy carried her cross for her while trick or treating!

St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe
This is my favorite year!  Juan Diego is wearing white sweat pants and a long sleeve white t-shirt.  I bought the material for his tilma at Walmart and just cut a hole for his head.  I glued the other fabric to the tilma with fabric glue, and the picture was taken out of magazine, laminated, and glued to the fabric.  The roses were recycled form St. Rose's crown, and glued onto the tilma.  His beard and mustache were done with brown eye liner.  OLG's dress was cut and glued together.  I don't even measure.  Her veil is also glued together at the edges.  I used glittery puffy fabric paint to do all the detailing on the pink dress and stars on the veil.  Her belt came from Daddy's winter coat.  She drew and painted the image at her feet onto cardboard.  Both of them have black hair paint in their hair.

St. Joseph and Baby Jesus
St. Joseph's dress was purchased from Oriental Trading, and has a lily (from Walmart) pinned to it.  His beard is brown eye liner.  Baby Jesus is sporting the original St. Rose of Lima's white dress (cut off), and random materials found in our tub.

St. Michael (new kid, new look), St. Lucy, and St. Joseph, Round 2 (this kid loves repeats, what can I say?)
St. Michael finally needed a new sword.  His red dress is from Oriental trading.  The blue was originally used with Mother Mary's costume, and the rest is all the same.  St. Lucy's dress was the first one I actually tried to sew.  No glue, and I tried to measure and cut things and do things the right way.  I think I'll go back to the glue.  The crown is the St. Rose of Lima crown with a new twist.  The belt was just random material from our tub, the eyeballs are salt and pepper shakers found at JoAnn Fabric, and the cup was just in the cabinet.  St. Joseph added his tool belt (from the toy tub downstairs), when I insisted he at least change SOMETHING.

Our Pumpkins

Sacred Heart

The Monstrance

This year's costumes are in the works and will include:
St. Francis and St. Clare (Mom and Dad are getting in on the fun this year)
St. Cecilia
St. Maximilian Kolbe
St. Michael (yes, this boy is on the same repeat track as his big brother)
St. Gabriel the Archangel (recycled from so, so, so long ago...we did have to order a new set of wings since we'll have two angels this year!)  

Pictures to come!!!!

Happy Feast of All Saints!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Happy Feast of St. Francis!

The kids in your life might enjoy this:

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Rediscovering the Love

     I wrote this awhile ago and have not published it, because, well, it bares all, and that is hard.  I keep coming back to it though, and some of the recent comments made by Pope Francis during an interview speak so loudly to me on this issue.  Many of his words deeply touched my soul and instilled in me an even greater desire for a stronger conversion in love and compassion.  Like our Holy Father, I stand firmly with Holy Mother Church and embrace all that She teaches, but my approach to living out the faith and sharing it with others is in desperate need of change.  My Papa is speaking and I am trying to listen.

     When I came into the Church I was attracted to the love.  I witnessed a love in people that I had never seen before.  It was so intense that at first I thought it was fake.  There was a woman at my RCIA classes, who was overflowing with the love of Jesus.  Her eyes were shining with His love.  She gave her testimony one night, speaking of her love not only for Jesus, but also for His mother.  I had never before heard anyone speak about God in the way she spoke, filled with so much emotion and love. I was intrigued by her, but highly skeptical.  On the way home, I decided it was time to call the bluff.  I shared my suspicions with my husband, telling him that I really didn't think anyone actually LOVED Jesus like THAT.  His response was silence.  I continued, "I mean, YOU don't love Him like that, do you?"  His reply was soft.  He nodded and whispered, "Yeah, I do."  I can pinpoint that exact moment as one of the most pivotal moments of my conversion.  It was the moment when I realized I was missing something hugely essential in my life.  I began taking my RCIA classes much more seriously.  I listened when the lead catechist advised us to "pray for a desire to love Him."  I listened and began doing everything she suggested.  I prayed, I opened my heart, and He poured Himself in.  After a few months I knew first hand that the woman with love in her eyes was 100% sincere, and I was completely amazed at what God had done in my own heart in following the advice of the lead catechist.  I am forever grateful for the witness both of these women gave me as I was coming into the Church.

     I am also thankful for the warm welcome I received not only after my conversion and during my conversion, but most importantly before my conversion.  I had been in plenty of Catholic churches pre-conversion and always felt like I didn't belong, like I wasn't welcome.  I felt ashamed of who I was, not because I realized all the things I was doing that were against Church Teaching (I had no clue), but because I got the feeling that I was not welcome there simply because I was not Catholic/different.  I felt like this in every single Catholic church I had been in, with the exception of the one in which I eventually ended up receiving my first Sacraments in.  No one gave me a sour look when I remained in my pew at Holy Communion.  People smiled at me, even though I fumbled through most of the Catholic gestures of the Mass.  People were welcoming.  To top it off I went to the mail box one afternoon and found a card addressed to me.  It was an invitation to check out the RCIA.  An invitation sent out to all the non-Catholic spouses in the parish.  Wow, not only did they not dislike me because I wasn't Catholic, they actually WANTED me to consider joining them in their faith.  I took the bait, and here I am!

     At first the same love that attracted me to the faith, filled my own heart, and I wanted to share.  Unfortunately, as time went on my faith sharing transformed from "I'm telling you this because I love you, and want you to experience what I am experiencing (God's love)" to "if you aren't practicing the Catholic faith in the way that I think you should be, than I am not going to hang around you."  I began to think of my little circle of friends as "the ones who had it", and forgot about where I had come from.  I didn't take the time to remember all the warmth given to me in those welcoming smiles.  Smiles freely given in His love, even though they knew I was breaking so many rules.  They had patience with me and waited for Him to change my heart.  We are blessed to belong to a very, very, solid parish, and I would venture to guess that the majority of the parishioners there are daily striving to follow every single teaching of Holy Mother Church to the best of their ability.  We are also blessed with a group of friends outside of our parish community who do the same.  All of this made it fairly easy for me to cut ties with most of my "outside of Church" connections.  Everything worked well for quite a few years.  The problem reared its ugly head when I couldn't live up to my own standards.  When I started asking more out of myself than even God, Himself, was asking.  I had forgotten that He is not asking me to be perfect. What He IS asking for is permission to perfect me Himself. I had forgotten that all I need to do is open my heart, and HE will do the work.  All I could see was my sinfulness and an illusion of perfection in all those surrounding me.  I had forgotten that we are ALL sinners, and began to believe I was the only sinner in the midst of holy perfection.

     It took hitting rock bottom spiritually for me to be awakened to this monster that my own pride had created.  I was in despair.  I found myself on the verge of throwing in the towel, spiritually.  The devil constantly whispered in my ear, "You're not going to make it."  "Who are YOU trying to be?"  "You aren't going to make it, you are going to hell."  Why was I entertaining this conversation?  Well, let's see.  At the time I thought I was failing because I wasn't doing all the "super holy" things I had done in the past.  I wasn't going to daily Mass anymore (by the way there is nothing better than daily Mass, but I just can't manage it right now).  I was very frequently skipping my daily rosary.  I wasn't "feeling" it.  This went on until I one day last fall when I entered the church where I had received my first Confession.  Upon entering the church I experienced the most wonderful thing.  I was immersed in that feeling of love that I had been missing for so long. It hit me in a powerful way and I was so saddened because I had not felt it in so long, and it brought back so many wonderful memories of my conversion.  I went to Confession there and was reminded that our faith is not about completing a checklist of daily devotions, but rather praying with our whole heart.   One really, really well prayed rosary is much better than a half-hearted daily rosary prayed just to check it off the list.  I have held these words in my heart for almost a year now.  What those words have done for me is remind me of why I started praying the rosary in the first place.  Out of love.  I knew it was pleasing to Our Lord and His Mother, and I wanted to do it for that reason.  What my devotion developed into was one not out of love, but out of fear.  I began to fear that if I didn't pray that rosary, I was not going to make it.  After my confession experience I slowly began to find glimpses of joy in praying that rosary again.  I no longer had this huge weight of guilt and fear on my shoulders.  I was doing it out of love again, not out of a fear of going to hell if I didn't.

     I also began to see clearly just how toxic my expectations for myself and those around me were.  I desperately longed for those early days of my conversion when I felt joy and love in my heart, rather than fear, shame, and disappointment.  I knew something was missing, but I couldn't figure out what.  I went back through my memories of those early days and asked myself what was different.  What did I have then, that I don't have now?  The first response was love. The fire of love in my heart was gone.  Fear had smothered it.  The second was humility.  When I entered the Church I knew I was a HUGE sinner, and guess what, I still felt loved.  I felt so, so, so loved.  I could lay in bed at night and literally feel God's love as I drifted off to sleep.  I owned, and in a way embraced my sinfulness, because it made me dependent upon His great Mercy for me.  I knew how much I needed Him and I appreciated all He had done, and was continuing to do, for me.  I knew He loved me.   As I grew in my faith, my pride grew with me. I began to believe that because I was still inclined to a large number of sins, that God did not love me anymore.  I told myself I did not deserve His mercy, and He wouldn't want to give it to me anyway.  Lies, piled upon lies, in my head.

     The blinders are slowly being removed.  I am once again rejoicing in His mercy and am much easier on myself.  I have also spent a good deal of time thinking about how my expectations may have affected those around me.  How many people who were lost did I send a warm smile to during those years?  Not many.  How many felt judged by me, even if I had no intentions of judging?  Probably countless. How many times did people see me and think, "Wow, I should really check out the Catholic faith?"  Zero.   I was so consumed with reaching some unattainable level of holiness (on my own), that I forgot to reach out to myself, and to others, with that same warmth and love that brought me to Him in the first place.  I forgot that the only thing I needed to do to start moving in the right direction is depend on Him, rather than myself to move me.

     Following all the rules and devotions, means nothing without the love.  I wanted everyone to be Catholic, but did not give anyone any reason to want to be Catholic.  In a crowd of non-practicing Catholics you might find me sitting with a frown of discomfort on my face, because maybe someone might use the Lord's name in vain.  Or maybe they might mention what contraceptive they were using.  I was a crab.  No one frowned at me or pouted around me when I was coming into the Church as a contracepting, Lord's name in vain using, big, fat, gigantic sinner.  So why on earth was I not reaching out to people with the same love and patience I was shown?  As the love returns to my heart I am finding a love growing for myself as well as for those who are not in that same little box as me.  People already know where I stand on the issues of the Church.  I no longer feel the need to shove it down their throats, or pout when they don't do back flips (like my heart did) when they hear the Good News.  None of this is going to show them His love.  They need what I needed (and still need), and that is simply to SEE HIS love.
      I think Casting Crowns is on to something.  This song is not saying that we should adopt an attitude of moral relativism, or that Jesus doesn't mind our sins as the title might suggest.  Instead, it argues that we should live the faith showing His love to those who don't know Him, rather than closing our doors to them. Check out another powerful song from Casting Crowns . The message of being open to those who aren't exactly on the same page as us, is speaking so loudly to my heart.  I was that girl, and I THANK GOD really, really, holy people reached out to me and allowed my ugly sinfulness into their presence.  I have also been those who ignore the girl or even the woman who pulls her daughter closer to protect her from just walking past the girl.  I am much more ashamed for having been the woman, than I am for having been the girl.  Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine.  Fill me with your love so I can give it to others, in the same way it was given to me!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Eating Crow

     Ehem.  I have an announcement to make.  That's right folks, sometimes you've gotta eat crow, and I cannot allow this post to remain on my blog without eating a little crow.  Entering into my fourth year of homeschooling I am officially proclaiming that I am indeed a little concerned about socialization.  Whew. There.  I said it.  

     Now, to be clear, Webster defines socialization as:

  "the process by which a human being beginning at infancy acquires the habits, beliefs, and accumulated knowledge of society through education and training for adult status."  

So technically speaking I am still not overly concerned about socialization as defined by Webster. I think my kids are doing okay in that department, and technically speaking I suppose I can still stand behind my original post.  BUT, and it's an enormous but, what I have become concerned about is the lack of frequency of consistent, good quality time spent with their peers.  

The Problem

     We've done, and continue to do, quite a few activities outside of the home, but I have found a longing in my children for something more.  Something with more depth.  Something more "Anne of Green Gables Bosom Buddy-ish."  I am not at all implying, nor am I convinced that school outside the home is a necessity for developing deep lasting friendships, but it certainly creates a multitude of opportunities on a daily basis to find that lifelong bosom buddy.  This is something that I failed to admit in my first couple of years of homeschooling, and for that reason, I'm eating crow.  
     I love homeschooling and this year, more than ever, thank God everyday for the opportunity to do it, but I think sometimes the cons can be heavily glossed over in an attempt to convince society that it really isn't crazy.  It's not crazy.  It's really, really good, and there are plenty of stats to back that up (maybe in another post), BUT it can also be really, really hard, and I think sometimes I have been afraid to admit the challenges.  In assessing our successes and failures at the end of every school year, I try to figure out ways to fix what I perceive to be our problem areas.  I was pretty disheartened and embarrassed this year when I had to admit our biggest problem area was in the friendship department.  After all, I have been pretty vocal about the fact that that particular department was of no concern to me. My voice echoed in my head, "We have loads of activities, blah, blah, blah." 

What We're Doing About It

     God takes care of all things.  I am so grateful for His attention to every detail.  He has opened new doors for our family through our parish school this year.  Our children are now enrolled as part-time students at the school and are having a wonderful experience.  I see the light of joy in their faces not just after picking them up from school, but spread throughout the rest of the week at home.  I feel like I have the best of both worlds.  I love, love, love teaching my own children, but I also love, love, love the environment of the school.  I love greeting the other parents and teachers.  I love the idea of helping to support an excellent school in whatever little way we can.  What I love most of all is knowing that this experience is helping to fill a void in our lives.  I use the word "our" because I needed this too.  Perhaps even more than the kids. 

     So there, I am finished eating crow...until next time.  I still believe homeschoolers are properly socialized, but in light of my annoying repetition implying it couldn't possibly EVER be an issue for ANY family, and then discovering an offshoot of it to be a bit of an issue under my own roof, I felt the need to do this! 


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Our Journey to Homeschooling

     Our oldest child was in her second year of preschool when I first began entertaining the idea of homeschooling.  My heart was leaping at the possibility of embarking on this radical journey.  I began presenting all my pros of homeschooling to my husband (totally downplaying the cons), trying desperately to win him over.  He entertained my litany of lists for awhile before finally confessing to me that in theory it was a good idea, but it just wasn't for us.  He continued, saying, "I just don't think YOU can handle it."  Ouch. Okay, what I really mean is, "OOOOUUUUUCH!"  My degrees are in early childhood and elementary education.  I was so embarrassed.  My own husband did not think I could teach our child.  My homeschool push was officially over.  I shed a few tears and buried my homeschool dreams.  My husband chose a fantastic local school and we promptly enrolled. 

   Kindergarten drop off definitely makes my top ten list of hardest days of my life.  I was eight months pregnant dropping off my firstborn child in a new school where we knew no one (we enrolled in a closer parish school, not our own).  To top it all off the day before school started she had been diagnosed with allergies to corn and eggs in addition to her previous diagnosis of celiac disease.  If you have ever dealt with food allergies you know it takes weeks to figure out a base of safe foods for your child to eat.  I was in a complete state of panic leaving her there with perfect strangers in charge of feeding her.  I dropped her off and headed straight to the Adoration Chapel to bawl.  I returned at the end of the day to pick up my tired, but smiling girl.  She loved it, and no one messed up her food!  Drop off became much easier and even I eventually adjusted to the routine.

     We loved our daughter's school and homeschooling became a vague memory of something that I thought was great, but could not do.  It no longer existed in my mind as an option for our family, and I was pretty comfortable with our life in school.  However, God had different plans.  He always does, and my happy little comfortable world was about to change.

    Halfway through our daughter's first grade year, the school system began sharing a possible model for a tuition change.  God knows exactly what will get our attention, and now He had successfully gathered the attention of my husband.  The change being discussed would have been a very expensive change for our family, and one evening my husband came home from work announcing that he did not know what we would do if this option was chosen.  I was shocked.  I loved her school and could not imagine having to leave.  I didn't say anything, but prayed.  As I was praying, God placed a word on my heart, that I had not allowed for two years...homeschool.  Homeschool?!!!!  Are you kidding me, God?  I was a little miffed.  I argued with God in my head.  My mind voice, remembering my humiliation after our last homeschool discussion, shouted, "Okay, God.  If YOU want us to homeschool, YOU tell him, but I am not going to!"  

     THE VERY NEXT DAY my husband came home from work and presented me with three options.  The first of the options was homeschool.  I broke into tears.  I was REALLY comfortable with what we were already doing and I was REALLY NOT looking forward to getting my hopes up again for something that was not going to happen.  We spent the next few months researching, and this time I let my husband lead the way.  He researched the pros and cons, he looked at the different options for curricula, and he was left to make the final decision.  By the time he announced that we would be homeschooling, the proposed tuition change was no longer even on the table.  Staying in the school would no longer have been a financial burden, but we now knew God was calling us to something different.  

     We began homeschooling the next August and now have three years under our belts.  In general it seems to fit our family well.  There are definitely challenges, and this year in particular, summer break couldn't come soon enough, but in the end we feel like it is worth it.  I am now very thankful that we did not originally homeschool.  I cannot stress enough the importance of having the support of my husband.  There are days when I want to throw in the towel and quit, and on those days, it is he who encourages me and reminds me of all we are accomplishing.  I would not have had this support if I had succeeded in pushing him into homeschooling as I had originally tried.  In addition, and more importantly, God made it perfectly clear to me that this was His will for our family.  He could not have been more clear, or prompt, in responding to my snarky challenge to "tell him yourself if you want us to homeschool."  So, for now, we are here, homeschooling.  We intend to do this all the way through.  However, I always say we are taking it year by year, because as we have learned, you never know what plans God has up His sleeve!!!

The moral of the story:  When making any big decision, first and foremost, seek the will of God, and don't be afraid to ask Him to show you the way (sometimes He does so, very clearly)!!!  Secondly, talk with your husband, pray with your husband, and then step back and allow him to make the final decision.  I have found an indescribable peace in making decisions in this way.  You will not always get what you want using this formula, but you will have peace in knowing that even when you don't understand it, God's plan is always what is best, and you can trust that He is guiding your husband in his decision making process (assuming your husband is consulting with Him)!



Friday, May 24, 2013

Nature's Treasures

      When I was a little girl, I spent a great deal of time playing in the woods.  I loved the peacefulness.  The quiet noises and earthy smell delighted my soul.  I was at home in the woods.  The trees transformed into houses, stones were placed in just the right places for my "tile" floors, exposed roots winding up the hillside became the steps inside my home, leading me and my imaginary guests from my downstairs living areas to my upstairs quarters. It was from the bounty of God's great gifts in nature, that my dad provided for our family.  He did commercial fishing in the summer months, hunted and sold ginseng, trapped, skinned, and sold furs through the winter, and for a few years, dove the muddy waters of the Mississippi in search of clams to sell.  Despite my mother's strong disliking for the taste of wild game, most of our meals consisted of things my dad and brother had brought home from hunting or fishing.  From a very early age, two of my favorite things to hunt in the woods were morel mushrooms and those little red berries connected to the roots that were like gold to my father (ginseng).   Unfortunately when I was old enough for my "real" hunting adventures to begin, I did not do so well.  I am sure Dad was more than slightly disappointed when he took me on my first hunting trip, that involved more than just picking something growing from the ground.  When my moment of glory came I could not pull the trigger and shoot the cute little squirrel.  Oh, I would be glad to eat him for dinner, but I quickly discovered that I was not going to be able to be the one who was MAKING him dinner!!!  Dad never took me hunting again, and I never asked to go again.  My years of practicing my aim at the little pop can (which I thoroughly enjoyed) were over too.

     Dad had given up on making me a hunter, but my love for nature and the woods remained.  Seven years ago when my husband and I looked at the lot we built our house on, he stood picturing where the house would sit, where the garage would be, etc.  I, on the other hand, headed straight for the woods.  I stepped out of the real world and into the quiet peacefulness of the woods.  "Sold!," I announced.  Immediately I began picturing our children making the same kinds of memories I had made myself as a child in the woods, and I very much wanted that for our children.  But, what really sealed the deal???  A few weeks later we came back again.  It was morel season.  There were quite a few dead elms on the edge of woods.  I had to know.  It was raining, and I think I even had on my church clothes, but I didn't care, and off I went into the woods.  I didn't have to look long before finding a handful of morels!  My husband called the owner (who probably thought we were INSANE) and asked if I could pick them (he said yes, btw).  We enjoyed those mushrooms for dinner that night, and were now certain this land was for us.  I mean, SERIOUSLY, who would pass up land that has morels right there, right off of where the yard would be????!!!!

     So now every year I go down to the woods in April and May wondering what treasures we might find.  Some years we find quite a few, and others we find only one or two, but we are always grateful for whatever we find.  This year I have had no success.  I have gone down daily to find absolutely nothing.  Today was the same.  Except for this time I did find what looked to me like a morel which had already been found by someone else:


I also found some other things that interested me.  So after coming back inside I decided to venture out once more, only this time with the camera to take some pictures of those interesting things.

Like this:
By the way, I am TOTALLY afraid of wolf spiders and look who snuck into the picture without me knowing!  I had a slight increase in risk of heart attack after I stood up, saw it, and realized just how close we were.


 and this:

AND...because God is great...ALL THE TIME...out of the corner of my eye...I also saw THIS:

We are not a greedy family and this sole little guy (split into tiny pieces to share) is going to be a delight to our six mouths tonight!

Yum, yum!!!!


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Long Lost Summer Found

    When I think of summer I remember long days of swimming with my friends, chasing fireflies, and wishing it would never end.  Every summer I try to find those days with my own children, but they are lost.  They are buried in the busyness of our lives.  Baseball, soccer, play practice, piano, AHG, Cub Scouts, basketball, lego club, art class, never ends.  SUMMER!!!!  Where are you????  I miss you!!!  Perhaps I just need a different perspective.  In fact, if I look out my window right now I know I will see two boys having the time of their lives, sliding down the Slip and Slide, enjoying the freedom of  "no school", and awaiting their next big game or practice with great anticipation.  I also know that there is a sweet little girl bathing herself after her own adventures outside left her covered in grass clippings.  And the chubby-cheeked boy, who desperately wants to be bigger than he is, has finally surrendered after a valiant battle against his afternoon nap.  Now he is resting his busy little feet, perhaps dreaming of the fun he will have when he wakes up.  Maybe, just maybe,  if I take time to look at life through their eyes, rather than my crabby, pessimistic  "how am I ever going to do all that I need to do" eyes, I will see that my summer has not been lost at all.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

     I have a little over three days before 26 little ones and their parents descend upon our dwelling.  Unfortunately for me (and them), said dwelling looks more like the aftermath of a natural disaster than a home right now.  I am pretty sure some nasty demon found me in the middle of the night and poured superglue on my bottom, because I've been stuck like glue to the couch all week.  In fact, the only thing I have managed to clean out is every last drop of any item containing sugar in the pantry.  Said items are beyond pleased with their new home, recognizable by it's lovely muffin shape, located right at the top of the waist of my jeans.  Everything seems like an overwhelmingly huge chore, and the clock is ticking.  I suppose I could just leave everything as is, and THIS time at the end of the party when I announce that there is no need to clean up because, "It really ALWAYS looks like this," everyone would finally believe me.  I could get off the computer, finish start my lesson plans for R.E. tonight, and then dive into the cleaning.  Or I could just start tomorrow.  If you are reading this, let me do YOU get over slumps like this?


Sunday, March 31, 2013

Empty Tomb Breakfast: Gluten Free

Here is our gluten-free version of Catholic Icing's Empty Tomb Snack (we use it for breakfast Easter morning)!

The Ground:

The Grass:

The Empty Tomb:

The Stone:

The Finished Product!

Happy Easter!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus Papam!

     I was a Protestant baby in diapers when Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, and I don't have any recollection of even knowing of his existence throughout my childhood, or young adulthood.  Despite the unfortunate reality that I came to know and love him so late in his pontiff (if I am very honest with myself I can even say I did not REALLY fall in love with him until after his death), when I did come to know him, I fell head over heals in love with him.  My heart explodes with love for him.  My husband's heart mirrors my own, which is why our four year old answers when we call the name John Paul.

     I was a baby of another sort when Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.  This time a Catholic baby, having received the Sacraments of Penance, Holy Communion, and Confirmation, just one year earlier.  I probably watched the highlights on NBC or some other secular media outlet.  I have a few memories, but not many.  I do remember knowing that it was important, but there weren't any intense emotions involved.  What I did find remarkable was that in a very short amount of time this unfamiliar man, this unfamiliar face, worked his way into my heart and I quickly found myself in love again.  So in early February when my daughter's, "Good morning, Mama," was replaced with, "Mama, we're getting a new pope!" my heart sank and my eyes welled up with tears.  I thought he had died.  I quickly learned this was not the case and my mourning was replaced with a reserved excitement, mixed with a tinge of sadness at the thought of saying goodbye.

    Everything was different this time.  Not only for me, but for the whole Church.  For the first time in 600 years we were getting a new pope and the current one was still living!  I quickly started searching for ways to learn about the process of the Papal Conclave for myself, and for my children.  We watched YouTube videos, we adopted a couple of cardinals to pray for, we downloaded lessons and games (although these sat unfinished on our table).  Excitement filled our home.  As the conclave began we made sure to know exactly when to watch for the smoke and we were glued to EWTN and Relevant Radio.  Our inbox was subscribed to the Pope Alarm so even if it happened at 5:00 am we would still be able to quickly get on the IPAD and watch.

    We had been waiting and waiting for the smoke yesterday afternoon when finally the first puffs emerged.  My heart sank.  It looked dark to me.  However, my ears heard cries of joy and soon it was evident that indeed, the smoke was white.  The bells began to ring, and this time I will never forget where I was or what I was doing.  Nor will I forget the way I felt.  My heart was soaring and I was filled with emotion.  My eyes were quickly filling with tears and although it was just me and my four beautiful babies here in our living room, we felt like we were in the center of St. Peter's Square with the rest of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Kids have a way of bringing a party atmosphere to the most boring of places!  There was jumping and screaming, dancing and shouting.  I quickly called my husband and shared the good news.  Soon after, the phone rang, and a friend and I shared our joy over the phone while our kids celebrated in the background.

   Then the waiting began again, and it was almost unbearable.  Perhaps a little purgatory time could be knocked off for the faithful who spent that hour with a room full of kids (who actually needed naps) who were just as impatiently as their mom, waiting to find out who our new Holy Father actually was!  This COULD be the exact reason there is a Plenary Indulgence attached to that first Papal Blessing (haha!).  Finally, the curtains began to move.  I have to admit, I lost a bit of the excitement.  My English-only ears couldn't even pick up on the name of the Cardinal.  I did catch Pope Francesco though and we waited again for Pope Francis I to emerge!  In the meantime the EWTN hosts shared the name of the Cardinal and I had no clue who he was.   

    When Pope Francis I finally stepped out we watched with the rest of the world, as this very humble man took in his first moments in his new role as Holy Father. I was struck particularly when he asked us, little us, to pray for him.  At that moment I felt an undeniable connection with the entire Church.  Catholics from all over the entire world were united in prayer for our new Holy Father.  We all humbly knelt as he raised his hands in his first Papal Blessing, and I thanked God that I was able to so fully participate in this part of history. The kids and I made signs for their bikes, balloons for the mailbox, and a giant poster to hang in our window.  Never mind the fact that we misspelled Papam, and upon return from their neighborhood ride the kids reported the only living things out that they could share the news with were dogs!  We did not care!  Nothing could squelch the joy!  Even the 2 year old, who says very few words, was still chanting (to the best of his ability), "New Pope, New Pope," until the sun went down and his head hit his pillow.

     After all the excitement faded away, I wondered how long it would take me to fall in love this time.   I am happy to report that I awoke this morning, read one article, and filled with gratitude announced, "I LOVE this man!"



Saturday, February 2, 2013

Our Gluten Free Story and Favorites

     Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, which requires a life long gluten-free diet.  Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and their derivatives.  Oats were traditionally considered unsafe for celiacs as well, but in recent years doctors have found that this was due to cross contamination, not the oats themselves, so a celiac may safely consume oats that are certified gluten-free.  When a celiac sufferer consumes gluten it damages the villi in the small intestine.  The villi are responsible for helping the body to absorb nutrients.  Left untreated celiac disease can lead to malnutrition and a host of other medical problems.  Once on the gluten-free diet, the celiac sufferer's body quickly repairs itself, but the diet must be followed for life, or the damage will reoccur.  In addition to avoiding gluten, the celiac must also avoid any cross contamination with foods containing gluten, as well as any cooking surfaces/appliances that have been used to prepare foods containing gluten.

     Shortly before our daughter's second birthday, blood work and a biopsy of her small intestine confirmed a diagnosis of celiac disease.  I was relieved and overjoyed to finally have a diagnosis and start the process of getting our very sick little girl healthy.  I had never heard of celiac disease before.  There were no celebrities announcing their g-free status, and certainly there were no mainstream labels with gluten-free written on them.  In fact, I spent the first few months strolling the grocery aisles with my toddler and infant, and my trusty thick booklet of "safe" foods to check before putting anything in the cart.  I became the woman standing in the aisle with my cell phone attached to my ear, calling company after company to see if products were safe.  It was not at all uncommon for a representative to have no idea what gluten was, much less to know if their product contained it. 

    Things have changed drastically since those early days.  Within a year of her diagnosis Hyvee added a health market section which included an entire aisle of gluten-free products.  I was in heaven!  Not only did they have the gluten-free aisle in the health market, but they also printed and distributed a packet listing all of their gluten free products. I had another booklet to carry around!  Shortly after that we started noticing the Great Value brand at Walmart was actually listing gluten-free right on the label (they have since stopped doing this, but it was great while it lasted)!  Within a couple years the labels from the allergen labeling laws started  hitting the shelves, and grocery shopping got easier still.  It is so easy now that I cannot even remember the last time I had to call a company!  Eating out is a breeze and no one looks at you like you have 3 heads when you mention it!

     Naturally gluten-free products could always be found everywhere, but now even specialty products, like bread and pretzels, can be found in most stores.  In fact there are so many wonderful products available it can be hard to choose.  So I thought I would create a list of our family's favorite brands/items for anyone who is just beginning to navigate the world of gluten-free, because this stuff is pretty expensive and it hurts to spend that money on a product that tastes awful! 

Prepared Bread Products:  Hands down, my family's favorite is Udi's.  The sandwich bread acts just like gluten bread!  The hamburger and hot dog buns are delicious and are even making appearances in local restaurants like Red Robin!

Packaged Bread (baked at home):  Breads by Anna  Yummy!  My favorite (click here) is top on my list because I am not much of a baker and it is sooooo easy and very tasty!  Just add eggs, oil, and a liquid, and throw it in the oven for a little over an hour.  It also works well egg-free (in addition to gluten-free our sweetie was corn-free and egg-free for awhile too)!  It slices well and can be used for sandwiches, and tastes yummy with or without toasting!

Pancakes:  On nights when mom does not have dinner planned (and nights when I do) chants of, "King Arthur Pancakes, King Arthur Pancakes," can be heard echoing throughout our home for
Daddy to make his famous pancakes.  In my opinion (I am not gluten-free) these taste better than the gluten pancakes they are trying to mimic.

Cake Mix:  I really like Betty Crocker's cake mixes.  They are a bit more expensive than other gf mixes (which are already expensive), but I think it is worth it.  I have found that with many gf cake mixes there is a grainy texture to the cake, and these mixes produce the closest texture to gluten cake that I have found.  I am sure there are great bakers out there who have mastered their own recipes, but for anyone like me, who needs a mix, Betty Crocker is the girl to go to!

Snacks:  Obviously there are many snacks foods which are naturally gluten-free (fruit, cheese, most popcorn, most yogurt, etc.), but I want to include a snack section because we definitely have some favorites!  These pretzels from Glutino are our favorite!  In fact, I like them better than gluten pretzels.  Our favorite crackers from Ener-G are pretty tasty too.

Packaged Cookies:  There is no shortage of great tasting packaged gluten-free cookies!  When she was younger these were really handy because not only do they all taste good, but they also look like what everyone else is eating, and that can be pretty important!  Midel's gluten-free animal cookies look just like Animal Crackers and are super yummy!  Their other cookie products are good too.  I've eaten way too many packages myself so these products are no longer present in our pantry!  The taste of these Orgran cookies remind me of Chips Ahoy.  Again, you won't find them in our pantry!  Actually, they are not a favorite of our daughter, but everyone else in the family loves them.  These Enjoy Life Snickerdoodles are a hit with everyone.  Our 2 year old, who is not gluten-free recently got into a pack sitting on the counter, took out every cookie, took one bite of each, and placed them all back into the box.  Apparently, he was claiming the whole box for himself!  There are many other cookies out there.  Really this is the one area of gluten free where I think it is hard to find something that doesn't taste good.

Low Gluten Hosts:  In the Catholic Church we believe that the bread and wine are truly transformed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.  In order for this change to take place several things need to happen.  Number one, the proper words of consecration need to be said, number two, they need to be said by a priest, and number three, they need to be said over the proper matter (bread made of wheat and water and a special wine). I had just come into the Catholic Church when our daughter was diagnosed.  Immediately I worried about how she would be able to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament when she was older, as I knew the gluten free hosts other celiacs used would not work for a valid consecration and would remain just a simple host after the words of consecration.  We settled for our pastor's answer of having her receive the Precious Blood when the time came, but still worried about cross contamination.  A few years later we were at a new parish and our pastor let us know about a special host made by some Benedictine nuns specifically for those in the Church who suffer from celiac disease.  As far as I know these are the only hosts that are both safe for a celiac (they contain .01% gluten) AND meet the requirements of Cannon Law for a valid consecration.  We are so blessed! 

Pasta:   We most frequently use Tinkyada, and are please with the results.  Quinoa, which is packed with nutrients is another option, but is a bit more expensive.

Mac and Cheese:  Our favorite frozen Mac and Cheese is Amy's Rice and Cheese, and our favorite stove top mac and cheese is Annie's.

Pizza Crust:  Pre-made, frozen: Kinnikinnick  Mix: Full Circle

Frozen Waffles:   Vans

Pre-made Frozen Donuts:  Kinnikinnick ...YUMMY!

     After our daughter's diagnosis, my husband had borderline blood work and went gluten-free. He is feeling much better on the diet, but has never received an official diagnosis. Our 4 year old is following the gluten-free diet too, but has no diagnosis. We plan to introduce gluten and test him in the future, but for now, he is gluten-free. The rest of us have no dietary restrictions and enjoy both gluten containing and gluten-free foods on a regular basis.

     I may add to this list when time allows (right now I need to dress a naked toddler who has been playing with the faucet while I have been typing this)!!  Please feel free to add your own gluten-free favorites!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


       I just fell off the cliff.  Actually, I jumped.  I had my wisdom teeth extracted about a week and a half ago.  Long story short, I am pretty sure there was some nerve damage (I go back in on Friday) and something is wrong with my tongue. It hurts to eat.  It feels like there is a steak fry, fresh out of the oil, laying on the right side of my tongue. So of course it would be okay for me to eat ice cream, right?  Of course.  So eat ice cream, I have done.  Everyday.  Sometimes twice.  There was this little voice in the back of my mind reminding me that yogurt and smoothies are cold too, and that it might not be in my body's best interest to get back into the sugar habit, but I quickly told that voice to take a hike.  After all,  I am barely eating anything else.  This worked.  Except for one thing.  The tongue seems to be getting better so I am eating more and more.  Unfortunately, my recent daily rendezvous with the ice cream has indeed reawakened my sugar addiction.  This reawakening paired with my "poor me, my tongue hurts" attitude, led me to the edge of the cliff today.  There to greet me (since I was desperately searching for my fix...the ice cream has run out) was an almost full container of Pillsbury Funfetti Frosting (an old favorite) just waiting for me in the refrigerator.  I dove over the edge and into the creamy mouthfuls of sweet, sugary frosting.  Spoonful after spoonful, never looking at the label, just enjoying each delightful bite.

      The truth is, I didn't really feel all that guilty and really didn't think it was all that bad until a few moments ago when keeping with my rules, I went to plug in the nutrition information from my binge onto  WHOA!  I had eaten over an entire day's worth of calories IN FROSTING!!!!  No wonder I used to have trouble losing weight.  I had no accountability!  When I ate those spoonfuls today I knew it was bad, but I had no idea just how bad!  I used to do this all the time.  Without accountability the lies I would tell myself were very easy to believe.  The devil likes us to convince ourselves that the harmful things we are doing to ourselves are no big deal.  Each small sin, no matter how insignificant it may seem, leads us one step closer to him, and away from God.  As soon as I saw the total number of calories my frosting binge had cost me, I realized how important it is for all of us to have accountability in all areas of our lives.  To daily be examining our consciences and asking the Holy Spirit to show us where we have fallen, even in those seemingly small areas.  Our family does pray an Act of Contrition each night before bed, but I do not do an actual examine of each day before praying this prayer, even though I know you are supposed to.  There is no better time than the present to start, and this episode is proof that God can bring good out of all things, even a frosting binge!!! 

On daily examination of conscience: