Saturday, October 18, 2014

{phfr} The Beauty Captured by her Godmother...

Linking up with the lovely ladies over at Like Mother, Like Daughter. Be sure to check out the giveaway they have going for a rosary flip book! And don't is the last day of the giveaway I'm hosting on this blog, too! Click here to enter now if you'd like to win your very own copy of Faith Beginnings: Family Nurturing from Birth to Preschool.

On to some loveliness. :-)

Maria's godmother came to visit last weekend (with her newest addition in tow!) and she brought her fancy camera. She took some lovely pictures of our family, and especially of her sweet little goddaughter.


It is sooo rare to have people take nice pictures of you when you're a mother! Amy got some great ones that I can use as headshots (when the occasion calls for that sort of thing). I never seem to have good headshots when someone asks me to use one!


Seeing these two together always makes me happy. What is it about seeing your husband with your children that just melts a mother's heart?


Is being mischievous a second born thing? This girl is always trying to play with things she's not supposed to!


She could just live in my arms and lap. And honestly? I would happily let her. Alas...starting to just want to move, move, move...but only with Mommy close by, of course. ;-)

Have a lovely Saturday evening! Go Irish!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

How Plastic Toys are Helping Me Grow (in Holiness)

This is kind of following on the heels of why we don't Montessori anymore, but I've recently become more open to the benefits of plastic toys. In fact, I think plastic toys are helping me get to heaven.

What? What? Well, I used to be anti-plastic toys. I mean, not totally anti-plastic toys, but I was quite determined to keep plastic toys in our home to a minimal. (Honestly, I still am a little bit, because I still think that wooden and cloth toys are more beautiful.) But, lately, I've noticed something. Therese is drawn to certain plastic toys of ours in a way that she isn't to some of our wooden toys. I know, I know, the fact that they are bright and gaudy has something to do with it, but regardless, I can't ignore the fact that they serve a definitely purpose for her. Take the dollhouse pictured above, for example. We found that and a whole box full of accessories for $1. Yes, we have a beautiful, large wooden dollhouse, but I haven't been able to afford furniture for it yet (soon!). She plays with it, but without the accessories, it just isn't as fun. But this little dollhouse (complete with furniture, people, and cars0 we found for a buck? Hours of fun.

So, how does this relate to my holiness as a mom? 

It is so easy to approach motherhood the way you do everything else - research thoroughly, and apply your research, making decisions based on the data. It works for so many other big and small choices, right? But it doesn't always work with kids. I can have a definite idea in my head of what I do and don't want for my children, but if it doesn't fit their actual needs...well, then I just find myself stubbornly enforcing a system that doesn't actually work. 

So, as much as I see Therese and Maria drawn to some of the toys that I think are beautiful - some of them are just ones they'll have to grow in to. And in the meantime, those plastic toys - in all their gaudy glory - serve a need for them. 

The thing is, this lesson doesn't stop with plastic vs. wooden toys. It extends to more serious areas of life. As their mother, I definitely have hopes and dreams for their future. But, ultimately, their future isn't just about what I want for them. It's about what God wants for them. And let's face it - I might not be thrilled with God's plans for them. God may be calling them to live and work far from me, to join a super cloistered religious order where I never get to hug them again - I just don't know what God has in store for them. In the more immediate future, I may have to relinquish how I teach them, or even where I teach them (we continue to prayerfully discern how homeschooling may or may not play a role in our family each year). And darn it...I may need to let them play with those plastic toys.

Ultimately, these precious little girls aren't mine. They aren't Andrew's. They are God's. Yes, He has entrusted their precious little selves to us for a time. But it isn't up to us what direction their lives take. We can guide them. We can nurture them. But we can't dictate or control what they will become. 

Leave it to plastic toys to remind me that. ;-)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Why It's Okay If Your Children Aren't Perfect at Mass (Plus a Giveaway!!!)

Linking up to What I Wore Sunday.

So, huge disclaimer here: this is not a post telling you that it's okay to let your children do whatever they want during Mass. This also isn't a post telling you how to get your children to behave well during Mass.

I just want to encourage you to not lose the forest for the trees. Sometimes we are so worried about doing the right thing for our children that we forget why we are doing it to begin with. Ultimately, we don't want our children to just know about God. We want them to know God. So, while it's important to teach your children how to behave at Mass, and it's important to teach them the words to prayers, and it's still important to teach them the teachings of the faith, that all means nothing if there is no reason for them to learn these things.

But, that being said, there is a reason why we need to learn all those things! I'll give you an everyday example. When I was growing up, my mom did bake things, but for birthdays we got to get a store bought cake, with store bought frosting. That was such a treat! (And I still really love store bought cake.) But, when Andrew was growing up, his favorite birthday treat was a funfetti cake with homemade buttercream frosting. Now, I love Andrew with all my heart, but if I said that I loved him but I never bothered to learn what kind of cake he likes to eat on his birthday that wouldn't really be loving him, would it? I would just be loving the idea of loving Andrew. Knowledge of the one you love does matter.

Conversely, let's imagine that I took the time to become a complete expert on Andrew - what he likes and dislikes, how he likes to spend his time, etc. but I didn't love him...what would be the point?! So it is with us and God. Part of loving God is knowing about God. But knowing about God only matters in light of love.

The trick is remembering this when you have a baby loudly babbling and shrieking in your arms at Mass, or a toddler insisting on laying full length on the pew but then falling off and screaming from the resulting injury, or a preschooler loudly whispering her questions throughout the whole Mass. In those moments, with patience running thin, my first reaction is usually just to try and make the noise stop. As important as it is to train a child to be quiet in each of those instances, lashing out in impatience to achieve that takes away from the real reason why I am at Mass with my child. If my child associates going to Mass with Mommy snapping in impatience for an hour, what does that teach her about Mass?

Now, I'm not going to lie - I struggle alot with impatience during Mass. I get so impatient with my girls, and I really do feel badly about that. Here are 5 tips that help me keep my cool at Mass:

1. I pray for patience. There are many Masses where - from start to finish - I am begging God for the grace to be patient with my girls throughout the course of the day (and that includes our time at Mass). I especially turn to Jesus in the Eucharist (especially right after I've received Him in Communion) and just beg for the grace to be patient.

2. I slow down my movements. I remember learning this trick when Therese was a baby. When she was getting wiggly and fussing, I slowed down my movements. I didn't frantically grab her as she crawled down the pew, I didn't turn and snap, I didn't stand up quickly to respond to misbehavior. I responded, but I responded in slow motion. That's not to say you shouldn't rush to grab a toddler who's running down the aisle! But your tone, as a parent, matters. If you act stressed, it won't help the situation. So, I try to act calm. Am I typically calm on the inside? Heck, no. But acting calm tends to lower my blood pressure a bit, and sometimes it even calms the girls ever so slightly.

3. I step out when I need to. One method of teaching Mass behavior is to stick it out no matter what. I think there are merits to that system, but I also know myself, and I know that I shouldn't stay in the pew if my child and I are both on the verge of meltdowns. So, I step out to the back. Sometimes, I pace with the baby to soothe her, but...true confession? Sometimes I just plop her down on the ground and let her crawl. Sometimes I need to be able to pray. On those days, when I feel like I'm drowning and on the verge of snapping, I focus on my prayer and let the baby wiggle and crawl in the back of church.

4. I lower the standards when I feel like losing my cool. This goes with #3. There are times when I focus on training the girls how to behave at Mass (especially if it's a Sunday Mass and Andrew's by my side). But then, there are times when we just need to get through Mass. I'm all for consistency, but sometimes there are some days when you just can't be consistent. There are some days when you need to cut yourself (and your children!) some slack. It's okay if your little ones don't behave perfectly at Mass. Mass isn't manners class. Yes, they need to learn eventually...but they will learn eventually! One Sunday (or 10) won't make or break you.

5. I make sure we blow Jesus kisses. At the end of the day, I try to remember what matters most. I want my daughters to love Jesus, with all their hearts. And so, I not only teach them to be quiet at Mass (with mixed results) but I teach them to blow Jesus kisses. I teach them to whisper "I love you" to Him. I tell them that He is always waiting for them in the tabernacle. I tell them that He is filled with joy to see their little faces there.

So, at the end of the day, my Mass advice is the same as trying to find balance with smartphone use, using TV as a tool,  etc. - cut yourself some slack. Ignore the "experts" who tell you that there is an easy solution, and that your kids would be well behaved if you just "tried this one method." Parenting doesn't work that way. The path to sainthood doesn't work that way. Raising your children in the faith is less about finding a method and more about finding God and humbly asking for the grace you need to keep going.

Oh, and here's what the youngest in our crew wore Sunday....

And yes, that is the same dress her sister was wearing only a few weeks ago. They both had growth spurts. But what's ridiculous is the fact that they're almost three years apart and I sometimes find myself handing down clothes straight from the older to the younger! No wonder I've gotten the occasional person asking if they're twins...

And now, for the giveaway!!!

In honor of Maria's godmother visiting this past weekend, I'm giving away a copy of the book I co-wrote with her! It's a simple and fun read for parents of very young children:

To win, simply leave a comment below! The giveaway will be close on Friday, October 17 at 11:59 p.m. You also can earn two bonus entries if you:


2. Pin this giveaway. (Simply click on the image of the book and select the "Pin It" option!)

Simply leave an extra comment for each bonus entry. And tell your friends! In the words of one of the characters in my latest book binge,"May the odds be ever in your favor."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fall Off the Face of the Earth...

...I did not!

Now say that in your best Yoda voice.

That's better!

I had to pop in here, because I know that when a blogger disappears for a few weeks I either:

a) Think she's pregnant.

b) Think something terrible has happened.

c) Don't notice.

So, hopefully you fall in to the "C" category, because I'm not pregnant and nothing terrible has happened! Just a lot of good busyness. The big project I can't tell you about yet, but keep hinting at (because I'm terrible like that) has had some exciting developments. I seriously can't wait to tell you more about it! Unfortunately, the little bit of time I have to sit at an actual computer has been devoted to that. Once you see what it is, you are going to flip out with excitement! I promise!

I've also gotten lost in the Hunger Games trilogy. I thought I never would, but after seeing the second movie and not being able to get it out of my head, I plunged in to the book series. I haven't been disappointed! My bedtime has been a tad bit later, as a result, though. I could definitely relate to Anne's recent post, though. Any other lovers of The Giver out there? It's one of my favorites, and The Hunger Games can easily be put in the same genre.

I've put aside Mansfield Park for the last week, though, because my reading time is limited. Does that make me a bad person, Haley? (For the record, I actually really like Fanny Price alot, and she's one of the main reasons why I'm managing to slog through the first half of Mansfield Park. Does anyone else have that problem with Jane Austen books? The first half goes so slowly for me, but then I hit the midpoint and the story gets so good!) 

Anyway, enough stream of consciousness. 

Okay, one more addition! Not all of you readers are alumni of the Holy Cross trifecta, so if you haven't ever listened to the Notre Dame Folk Choir and are into binge liturgical music listening like I am, here you go:

We had a slew of patron saint days last week, and I think I'm still recovering. Mine was Monday (St. Michael the Archangel), Therese's was Wednesday (St. Therese of Lisieux), my sister's was Saturday (St. Francis of Assisi), and Maria's middle name one was Sunday (St. Faustina). We don't even do anything too fancy for feastdays - Mass, out to ice cream for dessert, a nice dinner - but I have to commit that I was so patron saint dayed out by the time we got to Sunday that Maria got a "Happy Patron Saint day!" and I called it a win. (And, of course, we went to Mass.) 

Can you do me a favor, by the way? Can you please pray for Mary and Courtney? Courtney is nearing the end, and they need all the prayers we can send her way! Courtney is truly beautiful (as is her mama) and I'm sure I'm not the only one who has been touched by her life.

What a truly disjointed post. I'm so sorry. (Kind of.)

Okay, Maria is doing the thing she does where she crawls to the closed door of the room I'm working in and starts banging on it and alternating fussing and cute noises. Who can resist that?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Why We Don't Montessori Anymore (But Probably Will Again)

So, as you may have noticed, we haven't really had any Montessori-ish posts in quite a while. Why?

We've been too busy following our child.

I know, I know. I just used Maria's Montessori's words against her. But I don't think she would mind!

Awhile back (sometime earlier this year) I finally started accepted that Therese just didn't seem really in to Montessori work. Yes, she does like doing some Montessori activities. Yes, she's super excited to be started her first Catechesis of the Good Shepherd class (which is basically Catholic Montessori) in a few weeks. But have that as our main mode of homeschooling? It was feeling really forced. I would make materials and activities for her to do her work, and then they would just...sit. They would sit undisturbed on her shelves. 

But other things wouldn't sit undisturbed. Her dress-up clothes are played with daily. She is in love with her dolls and her play silks. Play food and her play kitchens get played with frequently. And her books....oh, my goodness! She loves her books.

These beautiful knitted squares were made by one of my good friends who is also a faithful blog reader. They get played with every single day!

And yes, she does seem to enjoy occasionally exploring some of the sensorial Montessori materials that I made or bought for her. (We also do use the sandpaper letters every day with our current preschool curriculum.) For the longest time, I would try to sit her down and get her to do Montessori work, and complete work cycles because this is the best way to do it, darn it! But she just wasn't interested. And then one day, I realized something. I didn't keep trying all the Montessori stuff for her sake. I kept trying it for my sake. I was the one who was in love with the Montessori blogs and Pinterest boards. Therese was learning her own way - and her way was very different than the one I had originally envisioned for her. 

So, little by little, I began to change her preschool space. I put away the "Montessori works" and pulled out open-ended toys and made sure books were easily accessible. I made different play areas. And I made sure there was lots of time in her day for free play.

You'll see that there are still some Montessori materials in her space. I left out the ones that she liked and used frequently enough (like her brown stairs and pink tower, etc.) but I packed up the rest, for now. 

I researched different preschool curriculum, instead. I wanted to find one that would highly emphasize literature so that it would complement Before Five in a Row well. I also wanted one that gave suggestions for classic preschool activities, and had a "Letter a Week" format, so we could work on pre-reading skills. Finally, I kind of wanted one that would include our Catholic faith, so that I would make sure it was a regular part of our daily schooltime. I already shared with you the one we decided to go with.

We're loving this new curriculum! It fits Therese perfectly.

How about long term? Have I sworn off Montessori forever? Definitely not. Maria already seems interested in the various Montessori materials that we've put out, and I still hold to a lot of the "at home" principles of Montessori (i.e. letting the child do things for herself, letting her help whenever she is inclined and able). So, Montessori will still remain a part of our lives, even if it is not our current curriculum of choice.

It took eating a bit of humble pie on my part, but I think we've finally found a good fit for our family right now.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

{phfr} The Gospel According to Instagram

Linking up with Like Mother, Like Daughter. Hop on over there for more loveliness!

So, those of you who follow us over on Instagram know that we binged a bit on "Autotune the Church" the other day. (Pray for the maker of the videos! I think I heard recently that he may be becoming a Franciscan Missionary.) If you haven't watched these videos yet...go! Watch them now! They are a perfect example of what the New Evangelization should look like.

One of them really stuck with me, though. A remake of One Direction's "You Are So Beautiful," featured Blessed James Alberione:

Who is this guy?! How haven't I heard of this saint?! Do you know the thrill of discovering a new saint friend? There is nothing like it. I literally feel quivery with excitement as I type this (nerd alert)!

So, I turned to my super scholarly source of choice to find out more about this Blessed, and discovered who he was and why he would be a great patron saint for me:

"Blessed James Alberione (ItalianGiacomo) (4 April 1884 – 26 November 1971), was an Italian Catholic priest, and the founder of the Society of St. Paul, the Daughters of St. Paul, The Pious Disciples of the Divine Master, The Sister of Jesus the Good Shepherd, The Sisters of Mary Queen of the Apostles, and other religious institutes, which form the Pauline Family. The first two groups are best known for promoting the Catholic faith through various forms of modern media.[1]source

The founder of the Pauline Family! That means he is the one we have to thank for the wonderful Pauline Books and Media and the much loved Daughters of St. Paul. Please say you've encountered this order firsthand?!

At any rate, I think that he is a good patron saint for all of those who use social media, and his words have really got me thinking.

Pictures courtesy of an apple picking trip with Grandma and Granddad! Oh, and a belated 5th anniversary date. ;-)


If you haven't watched the video yet...please do! Right now!

The key line is,

"We need to put down the scissors of censorship, and pick up the camera and microphone.We need to speak in the language of our own time because God is so...God is so beautiful!"

I've heard it said before that, as people who know God's love, we need to live our lives in such a way that other people encounter His love, too, because our lives may be the only Gospel that some people ever read.


And this is where social media can be such a powerful tool.

Yes, social media is often misused. People use if for gossip, for spreading rumors, for bullying, for promoting things that should not be promoted, for judging others, for excessive distraction, for waging "Facebook battles."

Here I'm reminded of an analogy that my dad used to always give when I was growing up. My dad suffered (and survived, praise God) two heart attacks when I was ten years old. Since then, he has had to keep a powerful medication with him that he could take as a sort of "rescue" measure if he were to ever have another heart attack. He would sometimes pull out the bottle and say, "This medication could save my life if I were having a heart attack. Yet, the same ingredients, if misused, could make a bomb." His point? The most powerful things can often be a force for tremendous good or tremendous evil. Social media is an example of one such thing.


What I choose to share on Instagram, on this blog, etc. can uplift or tear down. I have read some wonderful reflections lately (I'm thinking especially of Haley's wonderful post) about authenticity online. Some of my best friends read this blog regularly, and I think they would say that what you see here is what you would get in real life. I tend to be one of those crazy INFPs who tends to look for meaning and beauty in things, even the rough around the edges things. So, the beauty you see here is not me being unauthentic - it's me sharing with you the beauty that I've seen. It's me sharing with you the glimpses I've seen of what is true, beautiful, and good. It's me sharing with you the glimpses I've seen of God.

There are lots of rough edges around my vocation, and around any vocation. Personally, I enjoy sometimes reading blogs and seeing pictures on Instagram that show the messy side of marriage and motherhood. Those messy moments are a part of my life, too, and I like knowing that I'm not alone in that craziness!

But, at the same time, some of the bloggers I know who best capture that insanity also best capture absolute beauty in the everyday moments (looking at you Amy and Grace!). We each have our place in the body of Christ. I, for one, know that when I try to copy others' styles of showing rough edges, I just look like I'm copying them. That isn't my style, so much as reflecting on the reality of my suffering and challenges and the meaning behind them. It's just my personality!

But I look at all these different styles and I see a common thread. Wherever there is a witness to beauty - funny beauty, frustrating beauty, or pretty beauty there is a glimpse of God. There is a glimpse of God's love, of His goodness. Now, there is religious art and there is also art in the world that is intensely beautiful but not explicitly religious. I think that both can lead us to God. I think the beauty of the Church is that we don't just point to songs and paintings and books about Jesus and say, "You have to listen to/look at/read these to know God!" Instead we point to everything that is beautiful and say, "Isn't this beautiful?!" And then, we are in awe of the fact that God is the source of all beauty. (It kind of reminds me of when Jen Fulweiler talks in her book about God being the source of all goodness and the role that played in her conversion)


We uphold beauty. We shine a light on beauty. We let the beauty speak for itself. We step out of the way, and we let God speak through the beauty.

Every picture I post here has a story behind it. Some even have painful, stressful, or anxious stories behind them. That is part of the beauty! Because once you see beauty here... can see beauty anywhere and everywhere. You see beauty even in the moments of suffering, of messiness, of imperfection. You see beauty in the moments that are seemingly perfect, too. And you find joy and hope in both kinds of beauty.

"From heaven, I will look after those who use modern and effective media for doing good - in holiness, in Christ, in the Church." - Blessed James Alberione

Blessed James Alberione, pray for us!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Weekend Reading: Volume 3

Just a little bit of reading for your weekend! Linking up to Jen, the radio superstar. I'm also in the middle of reading her book, and I'm loving it so far!!!


I'm always on the lookout for books to read. It's kind of backfired at this point, as I'm in the middle of or have started reading five different books at once. But I'm still looking for suggestions! There's nothing worse than the feeling you get as you're approaching the end of a book and having nothing to read next! This week, Haley shared the 10 books that have stuck with her, and I found some good inspiration for future reading! And, of course, Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy is always good for a decent book recommendation!

This is embarrassing to admit, but Grace's recent post on how to make the perfect soft boiled egg was incredibly helpful. I'm pretty confident in the kitchen, but I have a couple of weak points, and one of them is timing boiled eggs. I usually just cook them longer to be sure that they've cooked through...but I love it when they're soft boiled! Grace's method works beautifully.


Have you heard about the Declaration of Rights for Children and Families? Read it and sign it. How sad is it that we live in a world where something like this is necessary...


I know I linked to it the other day, but I really think that Amy's post on breastfeeding loss is excellent. Yes, there are probably some women who opt for bottles...but I think there are many, many more women than you might think who have suffered from breastfeeding loss. I am so happy that Amy is raising awareness about this. 


Ikat Bag is one of my favorite blogs for handmade toy inspiration. Her latest one - a hot dog shop - has me itching to get sewing. My girls would LOVE something like that! She has so many good tutorials on her blog, but I think some of the coolest are her the ones where she uses her circuitry expertise and anything cardboard.


I hope all of you are familiar with Bonnie and her son, who miraculously came back to life through the intercession of Venerable Fulton Sheen. If you haven't already heard about what's going on with Bishop Sheen's cause for canonization, click over and get updated! And please, pray and help however you can!


This story is an inspiration for any parents of small children, who go to Mass.  We've had our share of "Grandma and Grandpa" types in our lives, and they really do make all the difference. I hope that Andrew and I are like that when we're older. ;-)

Have a lovely weekend!

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