Monday, December 9, 2013

The Hope Chest

Yesterday we were going though my bedroom and reorganizing things.  I said to my son "Please hand me that sweater on my hope chest" and he looked at me confused so I pointed to it and he handed it to me saying "What's a hope chest?"

I explained the concept of a trousseau to him and that this particular chest had been passed down through generations to me.  I told him about all the things my mother first collected for my future home.  The very first item that went in, hand embroidered linens done by my great-grandmother before she passed when I was 5.  My first edition to the chest I chose was after his father and I were engaged when I purchased our first set of china and placed it into the chest.  The final pieces were given at my bridal shower, a handmade quilt made by my grandmother, her last as she was already suffering with dementia.  The other was a recipe book made by all those in attendance and those who could not come, all sharing precious family recipes - my very favorite of what they made.

He asked me if boys got to have one and I giggled and said, "No, they're for girls honey." I talked with him a bit about the things he had brought to our marriage, securing a home for us to live in as well as some furniture.  Then he asked if his future wife would have one and I explained that very few families filled hope chests by the time I got married and it was very likely her family would not have one for her either.

He thought for a moment and then said, "So that's why you give me useful things for gifts."  I told him yes.  I also told him that as he settled on a bride someday that I would find out if her family had prepared for her being married and if not that our family would help provide some of the things they would need together.  In the meantime, we would do our best to help him be ready with the things a man traditionally brings to a marriage so they are not scrambling for everything they need.  We would encourage him to live on his own before he seeks a bride so he can support her and know how to manage the finances of a household and know if he can support a family or not.  We would help him learn how to take care of his family and cherish them as God wanted him to.

He accepted that and went on with his day.  Then today I noticed he'd taken a bag and set it to the side in his room.  When I asked him what he was doing he said, "I'm starting a bag for when I get married."  In there he had some of the tools we have given him, his Rosary from his Confirmation, and a few other little odds and ends that would be useful in running a home.

So I came to sit here tonight and ponder - do you talk about these things with your children?  Do you plan to prepare them for married/consecrated life?  Were you prepared like this by your family or was I truly the last of my generation?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Food Budgeting Tips for the Holidays

The more I talk to friends the more I am hearing the same thing.  Money is tight from one end to the other and it seems everyone is pinching pennies trying to make this a great Christmas.  While we anxiously await the birth of Christ we also often have anxiety over the credit card bills to come or the age old "will there be enough".  A few days ago I blogged about what past Christmases had taught me.  Today I want to help everyone start developing a strategy to help survive the season with their budget still intact.

1. Cut the cookie baking.  Baking supplies are CRAZY expensive.  Overflowing cookie trays are lovely but they are nowhere near as cheap to make as they have been in years gone by.  Cut down to making the "must have" cookies.  Let each family member pick 1 recipe they REALLY want and then if it makes more than 2 dozen cookies, cut it in half.  If you're a "cookie gifter", stay tuned.  Tip 2 is for you.

2. Learn to bake bread instead.  Bread is cheap to make, stretches meals, and looks VERY impressive.  On Monday I'll be sharing my favorite basic bread recipe I use to make everything from apple stuffed rolls to garlic bread to cinnamon rolls.  You can do almost anything with it and it requires hands, a large bowl, and measuring utensils. :)  SUPER easy and far more frugal than the extravagant baking sprees of the past.  Kids love helping to knead the dough and put baked goods together and you'll love the savings!

3.  Start plotting your meals now so you can plan ahead.  For example, our family Christmas Eve tradition is to have lasagna with garlic bread and a salad.  By cooking extra homemade spaghetti sauce in advance and browning extra meat I can have all that ready and prepped ahead of time. The more you make yourself from scratch, the more you'll save!  Make pancakes the week before and double your recipe so you'll have them already done on Christmas morning!  Little things like this instead of purchasing pre-made goods save you dollars and give you more time with your family.  It's a real win/win!

4. Start remaking meals into other meals.  This is a favorite budget stretching tactic here.  Make a larger roast on Monday.  Then on Wednesday recycle half the leftover meat into a casserole.  Then on Friday take the bones and the remaining meat and make a soup.  3 meals, 1 roast.   To really stretch it out, either serve all the meat in soups/casseroles or serve homemade rolls with the roast to significantly cut the amount of meat that's eaten because tummies are full with all that homemade yumminess.  If you can "stretch" other meals into your breakfast (ham chopped into quiche, those pancakes from #3, etc) and into your lunch (homemade soup!) your budget gets significantly cut.  To make that soup even more special, serve it in homemade bread bowls with your new bread making skills from #2!

5. Pick 1-2 items to "splurge" on for your holiday meal.  Even better, if others are coming turn it into a potluck for the rest of the items.  Make the rest of the items more inexpensive things you can make at home.  For example, we "splurge" on the ham and the chocolate peanut butter pie for Christmas Day and I use good old fashioned frozen veggies I got on sale ahead of time and cheapie baked potatoes along with homemade bread to go with it.  By not overloading on dishes we save money and time as well as sanity. :)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Elf Continued...

Apparently I am not alone in my thoughts regarding The Elf.  This is a good feeling because it's never fun to be out on a limb alone.  Since our last meeting, I have been sent several pictures of various elf informants that have been captured.  I wanted to share them with you here. :)

 Ah the little green Army men.  They're rather active in their adventures. :)  (Photo forwarded from Clearly Candace)

This big Army Man looks like he means business!!!! (source unknown)

 Oops.  A rather inhospitable environment as well - particularly if turned on... (also Clearly Candace)

Well, considering how many photos I got of the elf partaking in the liquid version of holiday cheer, I suppose he would need to dry out... (also Clearly Candace)

The LEGO people attack back!  I think I see Luke Skywalker?

 Yummmm!!!!  A snack for the dinos!

You think this is torture?  Go ahead and try it little man in the funny red suit.  Yet again.  Read the sign.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

10 Things My Prior Christmases Taught Me

I was reflecting today on Christmas Past and what it has taught me.  The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to share my musings with you.

1. Lean Christmases are okay.  I never died from not getting 100% of what I wanted.  While my brother nearly perished from a box of socks when he was 5 he was quickly revived and survived.  It's okay to not be frivolous and crazy - especially when you cannot afford it.  Your children would rather have a place to live in January than bills Mom and Dad can't afford for pretty things under the tree.

2. Biased gifting is not.  Whatever your traditions, keep it fair.  A child watching one sibling get all the "cool" gifts while they open a sweatshirt and water bottle is not the lesson you may think it is.   Please don't put your children in a position that is teaching them bad things in their hearts. 

3. Gifting useful things is not a crime.  I received lots of practical gifts as a child.  Some were extravagant like the set of ski gear the year I learned how to ski.  Others were more frugal but still needed items.  For the past 3 years we've done useful gifts for 50% of our Christmas presents to our oldest who is 10 this year.  He's never once felt deprived.  This year he's getting 100% practical things because that's what he's asking for.  *pat on the back* Well done Mom. ;)

4. Homemade gifts are still the best in the long run.  The quilt my grandmother made me right before I got married is still one of my most prized possessions - even after the dog tried to eat it.  Handmade ornaments still go up on my tree every year that were made by my other grandmother.  We use the blankets I made for my family 5 years ago when it was a "lean" year almost daily in the winter here.  I still smile when I see the kids cuddled up in one because it reminds me of all the beauty something made by hand can hold.

5. Your time is a gift.  Especially to the elderly or those who may not have much.  Taking time to bake a batch of special cookies and bring them to a neighbor is never misplaced.  Going to visit your grandmother in the nursing home is always a good idea.  Donating your time to help wrap gifts for the angel tree is never something you will regret.  Delivering presents to a veteran's home is a priceless memory you will have for a lifetime.  Be as generous with your time as you are with your $$ and perhaps, even more so.

6. Your love is a gift.  Don't waste it on someone who isn't worthy.  This includes friends and how you distribute your generosity.  My goddaughters mean the world to me and I do my best to make certain they know that when I am able to be with them.  My friends are few but VERY dear and they give as heartily to me as I have been blessed to give to them.  Share your love, but not with someone who is not going to return the gift.

7. Laughter is the most precious thing you can hear.  There is nothing in this world that makes me happier than the sound of my children laughing, especially if it's joined by their father's hearty laughter.  I've been a mother of 2 for only 19 months and it never ceases to make my heart race with joy to hear them together and playing.  This year I engineered Christmas just to maximize the amount of giggles and smiles that would float to my ears.

8. Traditions are important.  There is something to be said for "that cookie" and "those ornaments".  "But Mom, we ALWAYS have ham on Christmas!!" Traditions, however small or however weird they began are there.  Please don't disappoint yourself and your children trying to reinvent the wheel.  A little new is good.  A lot of new can be too much.

9. Family is important.  I have had many "hard" Christmases over the years but one of the absolute worst was when I spent my first away from my family.  My husband (fiance at the time) found me curled up on the Dec. 23rd bawling next to the tree because I missed them so much.  Being the wise man that he is we wrapped up Christmas with his family and drove 700 miles on Christmas Eve through a blizzard to get back to mine just before midnight.  I will never forget that gift of kindness from him and what it still means to me, even today.

10. Let kids be kids.  Let adults be kids too.  There is a special magic to Christmas that is just not available in the rest of the year.  Let the kids be kids.  Let them play and get messy and "help".  Let you get messy and "help".  My kids each get a new apron on the Feast of St. Nicholas so they're all good to go for the baking and holiday joy. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Elf

Alright - if you've been ANYWHERE near social media the last few Christmas seasons you know of whom I speak.  That elf.  You know the one.  The one that's part of Santa's own division of the CIA.

Allow me to be blunt.  We are a Santa loving household.  Yes, we're fairly traditional Catholics who do Santa.  Our children are still taught about St. Nicholas and when we had to deal with "the transition" for our oldest this year it went EXTREMELY well.  I am grateful to God for His guidance and the fact that we ALWAYS made it a far bigger deal to give than receive by "helping" Santa every year by adopting a family and helping them get through the season, participating in the angel tree, and making Advent a HUGE daily deal instead of just a "once a week thing at Church".  Santa was never alone in his mission and we have made it very clear that Christ is the center of our Advent season.

Enter the Elf.  A small, beady eyed quiet creature who exists as an informant to the "Big Man" himself.  By the time the Elf initially came around my son was far too old to absorb a new tradition and my youngest was still "cooking".  Something about it bothered me but I couldn't quite put my finger on it until this morning.

My good friend Birgit of Designs By Birgit and her post regarding Santa and this Elf combined with a sheer lack of sleep and exhaustion from fighting with my kitchen sink made it all finally come clear to me.

Why are we inviting Santa's CIA into our living rooms???  Why are we desensitizing our children to surveillance by having this creature constantly reporting to and from the North Pole our child's various activities?  Short of ninja skills this dude could be KGB!

Get where I'm going here???  I'm a fan of the freedom that I have in this country.  My husband fought hard to help bring some of that freedom to other parts of the world while serving our armed forces.  There is no way on EARTH I am going to bring an informant into my home to babysit my children and give him center stage!

I know some people like the elf but he's given me the creeps for years and now I know why.  I don't want him in my living room.  I don't want my children learning that it's perfectly okay to be spied on by some mysterious entity that's going to report their every moment to someone else.

The elf can live on someone else's shelf because he is definitely NOT welcome here.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Day 9: Keep Moving Forward!

I'm REALLY good at hitting brick walls.  Seriously - stellar performances.  I once was hit in the head by a steel door 7 times consecutively, the last 3 being me trying to stand up and get on the other side of the door.  I was at work and believe it or not, the accident report they filled out actually said, "Cause of Accident: Blonde at roots".

If there's one thing I'm good at, it's being stubborn - stubborn and stuck in my ways.  Sometimes we get the motivation to move forward and after the initial few days, you begin to fizzle out.  The kids get sick, the husband keeps you busy, the weekend happens and the next thing you know you're completely off track.

When that happens in my house, I like to go watch this portion of one of my very favorite movies, Meet the Robinsons.

(YouTube hates me today and won't let me imbed the video - sorry, you'll just have to do this the old fashioned way and actually CLICK on the link.)

So, when you get stuck, it's time to "Keep Moving Forward".  We get all caught up in the failure to do something and forget about the successes we've had. 

I remember when I was receiving my first training in sales.  I received an excellent piece of advice. "No is not a personal statement of your self-worth, it is merely the answer to your question."  I propose the same to you.  Falling off the wagon is not a personal statement of your self-worth, your abilities as a wife, your standing in God's eyes, or anything else.  What TRULY matters is where you go from there, not what you have already done.

So, if you've fallen off the bandwagon, "keep moving forward" and if you haven't, good for you!  I hope someday when you need this pep talk, you remember it's still here.

Getting just 1-2 extra things off your list every day will make a MAJOR impact very quickly, so hang in there and stay the course!  Tomorrow we begin the double digits!!!!  Oh, and don't forget, we're still doing the St. Jude Novena for those who hopped on board yesterday!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Day 8: I hope you kept going!

Alright - I'll be rather honest.  For those who don't know me personally, my husband is in the process of being on short term disability due to some medical issues.  Occasionally doctor's appointments mean I may disappear intermittently. 

But no excuses, not for you or for me.  I spent the time I was gone focusing on our living room which is going to be our formal living room by the time this Era is over. 

In the meantime, today I want to focus in on prayer and the internal prayers we focus on.

Have you ever been so flustered, so angry, so upset, sad, or depressed that you couldn't even find it in you in that moment to pray?

I have.  I was earlier today.  Allow me to be blunt, sometimes life throws us curveballs and we just have to keep swinging that bat even when we can't see through our tears.

So tonight, after receiving today's final blow to my heart because I am going to bed soon and simply refuse to receive any more negative information, I set about doing one of the things I do best.  I hit the research piles.

First I attempted to find my favorite directory for saints online, but could not find my usual website for whatever reason.  I looked for a patron saint for depression but couldn't find one.  I looked for one for several other things that came to mind about how I was feeling, but found nothing.

Then I stumbled upon St. Jude of Thaddeus, patron saint of lost and/or desperate causes/situations who also just happens to be the patron saint of my parish.  Apparently, yet again, God had a plan. ;)

Tonight I began a novena to St. Jude.  I pray you will join me - it's at the link above.  Not for me, for someone you know or even yourself because there truly is a point where you begin to wonder and question why you must walk the path that you are on.  There is a moment, or even a period of time where you look up at God and all you can think is "I cannot continue this journey, Lord.  I simply cannot do this any longer.  I don't have it in me.  I don't have the strength" and the tears pour out of your eyes and there is nothing on this earth that could stop them from falling no matter how hard you try.

The next time you have the opportunity to pray, pray for those who cannot pray for themselves.  Pray for those who honestly have hit a brick wall and have no idea how to even begin to continue their life's journey.  Pray for those who, more than anything in this world, just need to feel God's love in that moment and find the strength in Him to sojourn on their path.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Day Four: Soul Cakes and more!

In case I haven't bragged enough over the years, while my upbringing was not Catholic, it was rich in REAL history and I am so blessed to have had it.  A favorite from my childhood? Oh, around this time of year my father and my mother who were both amazing musicians and singers would pull out their guitar and banjo respectively and sing me this song:

Yup - my parents were that cool.  I knew the "Soul Cake" song about the same time I knew how to walk.  My mother also made the delectable little cakes/cookies herself.  For those of you who don't know about Soul Cakes and the original "Trick or Treating", going from home to home on All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day for a cake from the mistress of the home in the words of the great Paul Harvey... "and now you know".

So before you go out today, tomorrow, and Saturday to beg for a treat from the neighbors, just remember, it all started with the Catholics - yup - yet another thing the Protestants can properly "blame" on us.  We are responsible for "Halloween".

Over and above the "extras" in your schedule please remember that tomorrow is a Holy Day of Obligation so if you plan on attending Mass in the morning for your obligation, set out clothes the night before and please limit candy to prevent the amount of long term bouncing off the walls before bedtime. 

And no, I don't mean the kids - be kind to your waistline - those pesky holidays are right around the corner - only pinch a few treats from the buckets and then set them aside or even consider trading out your kid's treats for a book or special treat they've been wanting.

Now, let's start talking turkey - all that Halloween candy in our home becomes the basis for holiday baking!  Anything miniature is often set aside to be melted down and/or put into cookies whole.  Solid chocolate bars are saved for melting and putting into homemade ice cream as well as some of the candy bars which we chop up and add in at the tail end.  Caramels are saved to be melted down and used in a variety of holiday treats.  So, don't be afraid to go grocery shopping in those treat bags.

Now, make sure the few things you plan to tackle over the next few days are reasonable with all the extra things you'll have on your schedule.  Tomorrow is the first Family Mission Friday on our schedule and I'm looking forward to having your families pitch in and help.  For those who are new to Catholic Creativity, Family Mission Friday is when we enlist our families in our efforts to increase the pairs of hands available and decrease the workload on Mom.

In the meantime please know I will be praying for the deceased in your families and I pray that you will join me in praying for the deceased in mine.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Day Three: An Ounce of Prevention

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." ~ Benjamin Franklin

I'm rather of fan of this statement so you're "extra" thing over and above the normal household stuff and your lists today is to go through your medicine cabinet and anywhere else you store your medications.

I want you to do this NOW for multiple reasons.

1. The cold and flu season is now upon us.
2. Midnight runs to whatever store happens to be open might be available in your area, but often those stores charge higher prices and/or may not have the medicine you need in stock.
3. Improperly stored medications have a shorter life.
4. Upcoming refills need to be identified before they are needed.

There's one thing I know as the wife of someone with multiple disabilities who is on a small pile of medications he has to take on a regular basis - NEVER run out of routine needed medications during the holiday season.

So, here's the "game plan".

Go through what you have.  If it's a prescription, figure out how long until you run out of that medication.  If you are going to require a new refill between now and Jan. 15, make a note on your calendar the payday or grocery shopping trip before it is due so you can call in the refill and pick it up while you're already there.

Also, note how many times you will need that prescription refilled between now and Jan. 15.  If you don't have enough refills remaining, let your doctor's office know NOW before they're inundated with kids with the sniffles and the latest strep throat outbreak.

Now onto the rest of the cabinet.  Check the dates of ALL your medications and make certain they are not expired.  Medications do have a shelf life and after a period of time they begin to lose their effectiveness.  That's why those dates are there.  The last time you want to run out of tylenol is when you have a splitting headache because Aunt Ilene just accidentally broke your great grandmother's china.  Check it now and make certain it's all good to go. Add anything expiring or about to expire to your grocery list.

While you're in there, go through a mental list of what your family needs in order to get through the cold/flu/crud season and then make certain you have all of it.  Check not just what you need for you, but for all of your children as well.  3 AM is not the time to find out that you're out of cough syrup with a hacking 6 year old crying because he can't sleep.  Add all of this to your list.

Now, while you're going through that area in your home, let's do a quick run through of the rest of the bathroom cabinets.  Do yours look anything like mine?  Half used bottles of everything under the sun? Gift baskets of "bath stuff" that you never got around to using?  UFOs deposited there by the children, husband, and possibly even you that don't belong there?  Let's take a few minutes and tackle this debacle before the latest round of scents you don't really like from Bath and Body Works show up at your door this Christmas season. 

Pull out everything that's half used, not been touched, hasn't been used in over 3 months, and put it on your counter.  Take a look at it.  Now we're going to categorize.  Yours, each of your children's, your husband's.  Next up?  Put on your lab coat and pretend you are a product tester.

Do yours first.  If you never liked the smell of it, there's a trash can right there, start filling it up.  If you don't like the texture, feel, etc toss it.  If it's changed colors since you put it in there, toss it (this means the "good for you ingredients" are no longer that good for you anyway).  If it's makeup from more than a year ago, toss it (as a general rule, most makeup needs to be replaced at least annually due to contamination and bacteria).

Now take a good look at what you have remaining.  Is there too much of one item for you to use it up within a reasonable period of time?  Start sorting and prioritizing it.

Once you're through it and know what you really want to keep, wipe down the shelves where things will go and then give everything a quick wipe down with a wet rag as you put it back where it belongs and then move onto the next person.

And proceed to follow those steps for each member of the family.  This is also a great time to get rid of that stinky strawberry shampoo you can't stand of your child's and any fragrances "gifted" by well meaning co-workers to your husband that you can't stand.  Once you've gotten first test, then they can check the rest and make decisions.  Mom gets the first veto vote. ;)

Now that there is an IMMENSE amount of room in your bathroom cabinets and your trash can is full, take a deep breath and give a sigh of thanksgiving.  Gather up any special makeup you will need to create "special effects" for All Soul's Day and All Saint's Day costuming (I can make a wicked weeping stigmata after my time as a special effects makeup artist!) and have that ready for Thursday and Friday.

And now, in new and exciting news, we now have a Facebook group to bless and encourage each other as we travel this journey.  If you want to join us, please hop on over to The Blessed Mother's Hangout!

(See the original post for The Era of Preparation)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Day Two - Waxing and Waning

We are in a season of our lives where our oldest (10) is pushing the boundaries of patience and our youngest (18 months) is in the "screeching" phase of life.

I spend a LOT of time praying my Rosary.

Now, let's talk Monday.  How did it go?  Did you accomplish all 10 tasks?  If not, that's okay - add them to today's do list.  We'll have a "catch up" later in the week for when those things happen.  Christ was kind enough to give us the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Penance for our mistakes here on earth - His solution works for us too. ;)  In the meantime I want to talk more about preparing hearts and how we can get ourselves the time we need down the road in Advent.

We all have periods where we wax and wane.  For those not familiar with these "old" terms they mean to grow and shrink respectively.  I'm not talking about the weight loss roller coaster - although I'm nearly 100% certain you know that version of waxing and waning as well as I *eye roll*. 

The holidays become a natural time for waxing, particularly when it comes to the "stuff" in our homes.  "Oh what a's just so UNIQUE!" over and over and we can't bear to disappoint Great-Aunt Martha so we retain "whatever-that-was" and so on and so forth.

The holidays, for many of us, have also become a time of waning.  A time of waning patience, tolerance, and even sometimes, faith. We become frustrated with the crowds when shopping, irritated with sudden "must do" engagements that weren't on the schedule, and often the more upset and flustered we find ourselves, the further we have walked from the purpose of this season - to prepare for His coming.

While Wal-Mart tries to stretch the period of retail Christmas preparations well into September, the Church was far more intelligent about the average person's attention span of a holiday.  How many times have you gotten to Christmas lunch with an attitude of "Thank God this is almost over!" and collapse into bed that night in relief and exhaustion?

This year it's going to be different and that's going to start right now.  We are going to "flip the switch".  It's time to wax in our patience, tolerance, and faith and wane in the "stuff" department.  We're going to wax in love, joy, and hope while we wane in commercialism and greed.

Back to that day planner we looked at yesterday.  Spend a bit more time with it and look at the "required" things on your schedule already.  Which ones bring you joy?  Which ones are things that you are excited about getting to do?  Which ones make you want to go and hide in a corner?

I can't take away all the bad ones and tell you it's perfectly okay to skip your sister-in-law's annual Christmas Party and pretend I did the right thing.  I can tell you to take the ones that don't need to be there off your list.  I can tell you to find ways to really enjoy the ones that bring you happiness.

As for today, you have a few things you need to get done on the "getting caught up" list and also today I would like for you to take a quick inventory of your situation with towels, sheets, tablecloths, napkins, and any other linens you keep in your home.  Give them a good look - you already know what they look like.  Are they serviceable?  Do you wince when someone spends the night at your house and has to use a ratty towel?  How about those dishrags?  Have they seen better days?

I know the budget is tight this time of year but in all honesty, I'm a much bigger fan of getting gifts I can USE than those that will rot.  I believe the same thing for my family as well.  We're very well known for asking for someone to purchase towel sets for the kids than for someone to purchase toys.  Toys they have. Towels I need.  This year, both our children are getting new "more grown up" bed sets for their bedrooms.  I'm making a quilt for each of them to go along with new sheets, blankets, and pillowcases.  Maybe even curtains.  No, it's not a shiny new iPad but unlike that iPad, it will still be serviceable in 5 years. ;)

Start rethinking what you're going to ask for and what you need.  Start rethinking your budget and  how to manage it for the holidays - and while you're thinking, tackle those "to do" items and get them out of the way so we can start getting to the more fun stuff. :)

(See the original post for The Era of Preparation or go to Day 3.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Era of Preparation: Day One

Welcome to Day 1 of The Era of Preparation!  So glad you joined us here. :)

Today is going to be a Monday and EVERY Monday we are going to focus on recovering from the weekend. :)  I know between Mass, social obligations, and extra humans in the house my Monday is always my catch up day and so it will be for us too. :)

So, here's the list of this Monday's "Ten To Do's"

1. Gather up the trash and get it out of the house.
2. Get the dishes done and put away.
3. Relocate the bathroom sink from the toothpaste of "getting ready for Mass toothbrushing" and other weekend atrocities.  While you're at it, gather up all the towels and anything else soft in there that can be washed and run that through the laundry.
4. Pick a cleaner(s) of your choice and run through the kitchen real quick.  Okay - now stop running through the kitchen and actually take the time to clean it.
5. Straighten up the living room and have the kids do a quick run through of the areas of the house that they inhabit.  Even my 18 month old can pick up toys and dust with a microfiber cloth.
6. Gather any items needed for All Saint's Day costumes AND clothes for Mass and get those into the wash today so they're ready on time.
7. Pull out what you need for dinner and get started a bit early so you have some buffer time.
8. Make a list of all the "extra" cleaning things you need to get done between now and Christmas.
9. Find your day planner.  Mine seems to have magical feet that pop out of it when I'm not looking.
10. Sit down with your day planner and your list.  (We'll do this together below.)

Okay - take a look at your list.  Is there more than 30 items on it?  Then you're going to need to do more than 1 a day.  Can you group some of them together?  Do some take longer than others?  Now, make a schedule of these "extra" things that need to get done and get ready to do 1-2 (or however many necessary) and plan out the ones you're going to tackle this week.  Next Monday we'll sit down and handle next week's.

For the remainder of this week, we're going to focus on those "extras" along with surviving All Hallow's Eve and All Saint's Day.

Please comment below if you have some great ideas for these two holy days and how your family celebrates them.  I am ALWAYS looking for ideas. :)

(Continue to Day 2 or see the original post for The Era of Preparation)

And so it begins...

In case you haven't noticed, it's 8 weeks to Christmas.  This isn't meant to inspire fear, it's meant to remind you of a few things.

1. Chances are you have approximately 4 weeks until people start beginning to drop by your home unexpectedly.  This usually begins around Thanksgiving in our home.  (for the record, that's American Thanksgiving)

2. Chances are also fairly good that if you have children, or even if you don't, your social calendar is going to start filling up in the next few weeks making catching up on ANYTHING nearly impossible.

3. Chances are there is a part of you that DREADS the chaos that ensues in the next few weeks and lasts until mid-January.

4. Chances are, you need a PLAN.

Now, the problem with #4 is MOST plans out there that exist are not FOR Catholic families.  They're FULL of "decorate your house in November so you're all set" and taking an entire day off for Black Friday crazy shopping.  They're not dedicated to time with family and time in prayer during Advent, which is to serve as a "mini-Lent" where you should be spending your time focusing on the light Christ will bring to the Earth on Christmas morning, not time spent being nearly beaten to death so you can secure the latest, greatest toy for your 10 year old.

Fed up with the crazy?  Yeah - Me too.

So for the past 2 years I've simply refused to participate in it.  We still celebrate, but we've done it in very small ways.  For one of those years I was 6 months pregnant.  For the other, I had an 8 month old baby.  Our family holiday season focuses on helping OTHERS, not ourselves.  Now that's not to say my kids come downstairs Christmas morning to an empty tree or that I've thrown the baby out with the bathwater.  We DEFINITELY still celebrate - but in a VERY different way.

So this year, I'm inviting you with me on the journey.  We are 8 weeks from December 23, 2013.  Right now it doesn't really have a name - at the moment I'm dubbing it:

I'm literally simply planning to share with you my day planner, how *I* prepare.  My "to do's" and my "don'ts", my cleaning schedule, my prayer schedule and meditations, and simply just my way to say, "I wish you EVERY ounce of love you can possibly absorb between now and Christ's birth."

Every morning I will give you a chance to pray, a list of "what to get done", and a list of "what to let go".  Yes, there will be some decluttering in the process.  You may not be June Cleaver by the end, but by the time Advent begins (actually ON Dec. 1st this year!) the random drop ins will be less stressful and the time of prayer and reflection will be able to occur without you spinning your wheels and just ending up making it worse and then stuffing the clutter into your shower and praying no one opens the curtain while they're there for a holiday dinner.

Let's do this together.  You, and me, and anyone else who decides to hop on board and take the journey with us.  I promise we will laugh.  I can also promise we will probably cry.  I will take your ideas and you can take my ideas and together, we will make it to the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  I can promise you this year you will have clean clothes ready for every Holy Day of Obligation for all members of your home and party and will have new and fresh ideas to incorporate Advent into your home and heart.

We will spent the first 4 weeks preparing our homes for the holidays.  The next 4 preparing our hearts for Christ.  Join me!  I look forward to sharing my journey with all of you.

Day One

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

An Open Letter to My Sons

My dear boys, there aren't words for how much love I have for you.  Neither of you is aware of what is currently happening with Miley Cyrus and her poor choices she made this weekend.  For that, I am grateful and I am doing my job as a parent.

This girl made a mistake and it's a mistake she can never get back.  The world in which you will grow up and live in doesn't give room for mistakes and forgiveness.  Not for celebrities, and not even for little boys who live in the middle of nowhere. 

There will be girls down the road that will try to catch you eye by acting like Miley did.  Don't just turn your eyes away out of respect for the human being inside that display of eroticism who is being abused and degraded.  Pray.  Pray for all you are worth. 

Pray for the person who is being driven to these acts of behavior by whatever means they found themselves in this position because one only comes to that point out of desperation.  Desperate for money, for fame, for glory, for attention. 

Pray for the other people witnessing it for they need to learn to keep custody of their own eyes and hearts, even the men.  Especially the men.  Because men have purity and chastity too and it belongs to the wife they will someday marry.  Images you see in your youth can never be unseen.  They can harm your marriage before it ever begins because you will hold your wife to the things you have seen.  She should not need to be desperate enough for your love that she will degrade herself for you.

Pray for the parents of the person who is doing these things.  Pray that they have the wisdom and the words to help him or her away.  Pray that they can find a way to help that person fill their need so they are not driven to such acts.  Whatever that need is, it can be fulfilled without this kind of behavior.  It is not necessary. 

Pray for me.  Pray that I will continue to have the strength to resist these things and to help keep my own home as you remember it in your childhood, a haven from this kind of sin.  In return, I will continue to pray for you as you fight these battles.

Pray for each other.  Encourage each other in purity.  Men are told this is "normal" and "okay". It's not.  Pray for each other and help each other grow in love and faith, not debauchery and excess.

And if you fall from grace, go to confession and seek forgiveness.  Get back in grace with God and know that you are loved by Him and by me.
I raised you to be men who follow God's word and callings in your lives.  God calls you to be pure, to guard your eyes and your heart for the woman who will someday unlock them with a key God has already given her.  Even when it's not easy, even when it seem like there's no point in trying to remain pure, think of that woman and of how much she will mean to you someday. Think of your own daughters.  That woman is someone else's CHILD.  Think of your own sons to come and how much easier it will be to help them remain pure if you remain pure yourself.

This isn't just about a moment of gratification.  It's about a lifetime of pure love.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

And the days that followed...

We went through the cycle of getting the call, him leaving, and him returning 3 more times in a week before March 19, 2003 - the day America set boots on the ground in Iraq. 

When you're stationed overseas the Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) people provide US programming on a limited number of channels for your television so you can understand what you're seeing and get a piece of home.  Those channels are on a system called Armed Forces Network (AFN).  When we were there, there was AFN News, AFN Europe, and AFN Pacific.  AFN News rotated (at the time) between CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.  There were planned "times" each would be on and then after the "prime" news sections were over, it went to other programming.

I curled up in front of the tv from early in the morning on March 19, 2003 knowing there were embedded journalists and wanting to give my husband the very best idea of what he was in for if our unit ever got the authorization to leave.  I watched hours of the news taking notes on where they were, how far we'd gotten, and what was going on. 

When AFN has "commercials" they aren't like US commercials for rather obvious reasons.  Instead you see bulletins of what's going on in the various communities, reminders to bring your passport, and tips on living overseas successfully.  I had a "love/hate" relationship with these "commercials".  Sometimes they were informational and helpful.  Other times they were annoying and once you'd memorized all of them you just craved when something new would come out.

Halfway through that first day of watching the tv a new commercial arrived.  It was an announcement I would later hear from my husband.  It was a list of planned protests, their dates, and their locations as well as protests already occurring and the pertinent information.  These protests weren't for Americans by Americans.  These protests were against Americans and the invasion of Iraq.

Two days later came the news.  I can't leave our tiny housing area encompassing less than 5 city blocks without checking that list.  Ever.  And if there are protests in our community, well, tough.  You're stuck.  If there are protests in the community I wanted to travel to that day, well, tough.  You're not going. 

At first I didn't understand why and then the reports began to come back.  A tourist beaten in the streets.  A soldier at a bar beaten nearly to death for being an American. 

You become torn between living your life and fear.  Sure, you can avoid the planned protests, but what about the unplanned ones?  How do you live?  How do you survive?

When I did leave our housing complex the writing on the sidewalks got worse.  My rather "American" car (a Saturn) was easy to spot among the far more common European style vehicles on the road not to mention my license plates said right on them USA.  I'd drive down the road and children and adults alike would yell insults and spit on my car.  I couldn't bear to look at them.

This change came over about a week, but it came so fast and it was so hard to adapt to.  To go from being free to being chained, from living in peace to living in fear.  And yet happened in the blink of an eye.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Call that Came...

(for previous articles in the series you may have missed, click here)

And then the day came.  The night before he came home and held me so tight I could barely breathe and he didn't have to say a word, I knew what that hug meant.  He was leaving. 

I had the option to go with him to send him off or leave him at home.  Knowing my pregnancy and emotions we decided it would be best for both of us and my safety if we had  me stay at home.  I helped him finish packing the backpack he would take with him.  His duffel and gear was already loaded up and in with everyone else's gear which they would get when they got to a safe place down range (inside Iraq).

After he fell asleep that night I snuck a note in his bag down where I hoped he would find it when he needed it most telling him how much I loved him and all the things I just couldn't bear to say to his face.  I sat there and prayed in front of the backpack while he slept and asked God to please keep him safe if he could but to give me peace in my heart. 

The next morning I woke with him and we barely talked.  I remember constantly running to the bathroom under the guise of "pregnancy needs" but really was just giving myself a minute to let the tears out and then washing my face off so he couldn't tell.  A deep breath and back out I would go until I couldn't hold it in much longer.

One last hug and whispered "I love you"s and he left.  I watched him walk out that door and heard him get into the car.  As I heard the engine start I knew it could be the last time I heard that noise from the old VW we'd picked up to get around easier and the tears began to fall.  I called my mom and cried my eyes out and she cried with me.  I don't even remember words - just tears and sobs for over an hour and knowing she was there.

I couldn't lean on my neighbors, their husbands weren't in the Cavalry so they weren't leaving yet.  Just mine.  I felt so alone as I sat there in that apartment with the dog and cat both vying to be close to mom.  They knew I needed the comfort and so they sat with me and were content to just be there.

The day went on and I muddled through lunch.  I didn't really want to eat but I somehow managed to choke something down.  I cried myself to sleep sometime in the afternoon and then I heard the door creaking.

Why was the door creaking?  No one had a key!  WHO IS BREAKING INTO MY HOUSE!??!?!?!?

I tried to come up with a game plan for a 6 month pregnant woman to take down an intruder (and in hindsight none of them were very good ideas...) and then as I sat there shaking my bedroom door opened.

Sweaty and exhausted there stood my husband. 

I didn't know a 6 month pregnant woman could get out of a waterbed that fast!

I flew into his arms.  They had been cancelled for leaving today.  I would worry about the rest tomorrow.  For now, I had him back and that was all I needed in the world.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Pre-Deployment Days

(to catch yourself up to now, please stop here first.)

To clarify for a moment, I was 22 years old, 5 months pregnant, and he's going to IRAQ????  We aren't in Iraq, we're in Afghanistan.  What the heck is going on!??!!?!

Yup.  Iraq.

I went straight to bed.  I didn't even get undressed, I just flopped there and passed out.  I was so overwhelmed in every way possible that I couldn't even think.  Deployment.  A war.  Invading forces.  If I'd had the energy I would have been wide awake, but I just couldn't make it.

The next morning I woke up and stretched.  He'd already gone to start the process of getting signed into post and I was just taking my time.  Slowly the tail end of the day before came back to memory and I didn't even want to get out of bed.  I got up anyway, walked to the commissary (military grocery store) and picked up some food to eat for a few meals.  At lunch he came home with a box of "cooking gear" we could use to cook and eat until ours arrived on the big boat.

I wanted to ask a million questions but he asked one first.  "So, do you want to stay?"

I only knew one thing.  If my husband was going to war in 1 day, 1 week, or 1 month, I was going to spend EVERY second with him I could find.  "I'll stay."

The rest of the day was meetings in the housing office and scheduling further appointments.  We were told housing was tight but it was unlikely that we would be able to get something we really liked/wanted and that being picky was not really an option.

10 days later we moved into our new apartment 24 miles from base but still on old military housing from a base that was shut down.

1 day after that my husband walked in the door carrying a HUGE duffel bag.  As he slowly took the gear out of it to take the tags off and prepare everything I sat in silence.  If I could give him strength I would be there.  I would not cry.  I would just sit there.  I took laundry downstairs, took piles of tags off gear.  I found the dog tags with a notch.  You never want to see those with someone you love's name on them.  That means they're expecting large numbers of casualties.  That means there's a good chance they aren't coming home.

By the grace of God alone I held it together.  There's no other earthly way I could have done it.

Until he was trying to put on his flak vest (bulletproof vest) and couldn't get it laced up tight enough on his own and I had to help.  My hands were shaking as I bent down and began pulling on the strings making jokes about how my former time as a Renaissance reenactor was finally coming in handy.  As I stood back up he put his hands on my shoulders and said, "I love you."

I smiled back and said, "You better."

The next day he was off for the weekend and they were expected to leave early the next week.  It would likely be our last time together for many months.  We walked off the installation and into town and as we passed the school he asked me to translate the graffiti.

I refused.  He didn't need to know the horrid things they were saying about him right there on the sidewalk, written in chalk by the children of the neighborhood.  Some things were better left unsaid.  I told him I couldn't translate it because I didn't know the words.

He knew I was lying. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Fast Forward

From Dachau to the next part of our story is a whirlwind that encompassed 5 years and my husband and I falling in love and getting married.  3 months after our wedding we came down on orders for "Europe".  2 days after that, we found out we were expecting our first child. 

What that means is "you're going somewhere in Europe".  It doesn't mean you get to pick where you go, but you're going, so go get your passport, vaccinations, and prepare to remove every ounce of dirt from everything you've ever owned so your household goods clear customs. 

4 months after that we were getting on a plane going....somewhere.  We gave our fish to the guys that moved us as a gift and a bunch of other stuff went away or into storage and across the ocean we went.

After we got off the plane we went to what could best be called a "sorting facility".  My Army husband went into the building to get his orders and tell me which bus we were taking me, the dog, and the cat on to travel to our new installation.  He came back out smiling from ear to ear.  He'd been reassigned to the exact location he'd been at the last time he was in Europe.  We were going somewhere familiar (to him) and even better, we were going to be staying in Germany.  I was ecstatic!

After one L-O-N-G bus ride we arrived at USAG Schweinfurt and were shuffled off the bus into a small room where we got our speedy class and afterwards hopped into the European version of a mini van escorted by a tall black gentleman who helped us load our luggage into that backseat.  He took one look at me and said, "you're pregnant".  Ummm...yup.  Kinda hard to hide that at 5 months...

The next words he said shocked me to my core.  He turned to my husband and said, "you need to send her back.  Now."

Say what?!??!!  I've been dreaming of living in this country my ENTIRE life!  I'm not leaving now!!!!!  My husband looked at the panic in my eyes as I tried to figure out what was going on.  They were speaking "Army" again and as a new military wife I couldn't keep up.  It was like listening to someone talking half in English and half in a foreign language.  The Sergeant dropped us off at our quarters for the next few weeks until we found housing and after climbing 4 flights of stairs I flopped on the couch in our temporary housing utterly exhausted and completely confused.

My husband came and sat down beside me and said, "it's your choice.  We can keep you here or you can go home, but I won't be here for very long.  We're scheduled to deploy into Iraq in two weeks."

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Prelude Continues...

The next day we arrived in Munich, which as I said I had been dreading.  We had to promise one thing to go on the trip.  When we stopped in Munich for 2 days, 1 of those days had to be spent in Dachau.  That morning, we woke up and all shuffled to the lobby for a trip that would change the rest of my life.

While most people have heard of Auschwitz and the 1.3 million people murdered or starved to death there, most are not familiar with Dachau.  Auschwitz's Concentration Camp, to give you a brief understanding, was not even constructed until after September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland.  The first victims were the inhabitants of the small town of Oświęcim, the real name for the town that the Germans already called Auschwitz.  It was completely destroyed to make room for what would become the largest concentration camp in the Third Reich.  It consisted of 3 compounds.  Auschwitz I served as the base camp.  According to Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, Auschwitz II was "the final solution to the Jewish question in Europe" and the first large scale death camp designed solely for that purpose. Auschwitz III served as a labor camp. Because the surrounding town had been completely demolished, there were no "neighbors", no people to help.  Just those who worked at the compound and their families would have been "outside witnesses".

Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany and took office on January 30, 1933.  Dachau, in comparison with Auschwitz, was much smaller and one of the first 4 camps built for political prisoners and opened on March 23, 1933.  Those initial political prisoners were murdered in 1934 and replaced by Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and emigrants.  A new, larger camp was constructed in 1937 with a capacity of 6,000 and more political prisoners arrived along with the first Jewish prisoners, 11,000 of them from Germany and Austria in November of 1938.  In 1939, the Sinti and Roma came to "reside" there as well and in 1940 13,000 Polish came to the camp. Mass shootings of 4,000 Soviet Union Prisoners of War in 1941, 2,500 "invalid transports" were killed by gas in 1942, and 10,000 Jewish prisoners were killed "though work" in 1944.  There were also medical experiments conducted on prisoners for 3 years before the camp was liberated on April 29, 1945 by the US Army.

When you entered the camp there was something in the air that just froze you in place.  It was as if you could feel the horrors emanating from the ground and the very air around you.  Walking the lines of the barracks, seeing the roll call area, and looking at the displays of enlarged photographs was sobering but there was nothing to explain, there are no words for what it felt like as you walked past the rows of barracks knowing you were heading toward the crematorium. 

On the way to the back, there are buildings I was not expecting to see.  After going to the crematorium and attempting to mentally process what I was seeing and hearing I went to these small buildings. I am still humbled at seeing, right next to that crematorium and the barracks 5 religious facilities erected after the liberation.  The first, the Catholic Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel (1960), followed by a Carmelite Convent (1964), Protestant Church of Reconciliation (1967), Jewish Memorial (1967), and the newly built Russian Orthodox Chapel (1995).  I remember going into the Catholic Chapel and sitting in the pew trying to wrap my brain around what I was witnessing and the horrors that had occurred in that spot.

As I walked back up past the barracks to the main building where the memorial is now housed in the former SS Officers building I remember looking beyond the fence and it dawning on me. 

There were houses there.  Houses that would have been there prior to 1940.  Homes that people lived in, where children played.  People that were RIGHT THERE and did nothing.  An elected official took that land from those people and killed tens of thousands of human beings in someone's backyard.

You may have noticed the date of this post.  Today is July 4, 2013, Independence Day for the United States of America.  A day when we celebrate throwing off tyranny and clothing ourselves with liberty, truth, and justice.  In 1932, those same families were free to say no.  In 1933, they were powerless.  It happened in the blink of an eye.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Prelude...

Many of you are not aware that I actually traveled to Europe before I lived there. :)  This first posting of the "In the Blink of an Eye" series is going to be able that trip.  For the record, I visited the countries in June of 1996 while I was still in high school on an "unauthorized" school field trip.

My memories begin in the airport in Berlin, Germany.  Prior to this trip the only other country I had been in was Canada and only in the major cities.  I was excited as our beloved German teacher pulled us all aside while we were waiting for our luggage to arrive and told us with a big smile, "I want you to go out and experience Europe...just don't tell me about it!".  Herr Luke was not just our teacher, he was also someone we really admired and looked up to.  We all knew after this trip we may never see him again because he'd lost his job at our school and many of us felt it was partially because of continuing with this trip after the school said it was not allowed (but France and Spain were acceptable for their clubs).

During the 36 hours we were in Berlin I met up with my boyfriend, a soldier stationed overseas and his best friend (the man I would someday marry many years later).  I also had my first cigarette (given to me by our tour guide while hearing a lecture from her "off the books" about how everything great in the world came from Germany that reminds me now of the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding).  It also included my first legally consumed alcohol and lots time spent just walking around the immense city.  I remember being utterly shocked at how "open" they were about...well...everything.  It seemed like everywhere I turned there was another sex store or poster promoting some club with naked people on it.  The people on the streets looked decent enough but if those streets had been vacant I honestly would have expected people to come out wearing absolutely nothing at all!  I was from Chicago and no stranger to cities, but for it to be this "in your face" was a whole new concept to me.

I cried as I said goodbye to my boyfriend on got on the bus to what would be my favorite city of the journey, Prague.  I fell in love with what was called Czechoslovakia at the time but remember being stunned again as I drove past the Berlin Wall and into what had, until rather recently, been East Germany.  The destruction from Communism was rampant.  Beautiful buildings crumbling in every city we passed, sometimes on purpose, other times by accident.  There was no outer sign of faith on most buildings or even in buildings.  When we made it into the city I went and found this gorgeous old cathedral, Katedrála svatého Víta or St. Vitus Cathedral.  I stayed in that beautiful home of the Archbishop of Prague for hours on end.  Cathedrals fascinated me and this was the first that I ever got to go into since I was not Catholic.  I was befriended by a priest while in there and he gave me an excellent tour as we struggled through broken German, broken English, 0 knowledge of Czech, but a decent grasp of Latin on my part. :)  LOL  (For GORGEOUS photos to show you how I fell in love go here for the interior and exterior of this amazing Cathedral!)

The next country we went to was Hungary and we lived in Budapest.  Hungary was quite the blur but I fondly remember Apricot Schnapps (which apparently you can't buy in this country!  Peach, but not apricot - it's not the same!!).  Hungary, however was being occupied by another country.  Men dressed in black carried large rifles that I now know were AK-47s.  They scared me half to death.  We were told to avoid them and not speak to them for our own safety.  I accidentally took a wrong turn getting off the Subway and ended up lost.  The only people I could find were those men.  I was a terrified 16 year old girl with no knowledge of the country's language and completely alone.  I knew enough to know that made me an easy target.  One of the men in black motioned for me to come over.  I was shaking in my boots but you don't say no to someone with a fully automatic rifle.  Fortunately he meant me well.  In broken English he asked where I was supposed to be and then personally escorted me to the Subway stationed and helped me find the stop I needed to get off at and got me back to safety.  I am forever grateful for that man, whoever he was and was immensely relieved to make it back to the safety of my circle of friends and fellow travelers and regaled them with the tale over even more Apricot Schnapps. 

Next on the tour was Vienna, Austria.  Yet again I peeled off from the group in search of my own solitude, this time to a large park I found in the heart of the city.  I walked the formal gardens, ate a lovely chocolate sundae and then found out that there was rum in the chocolate sauce and ended up being rather tipsy for the first time in my life.  For the rest of Vienna I think I slept, I don't really remember why.  The next day we were in Salzburg, home to The Sound of Music and I loved learning all kinds of trivia and such but we had a brief few hours before we were back on the bus to drive to Munich, the place I was most excited to visit, and also dreaded most of all. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Glimpse of the Past

10 years ago my family lived in Germany where we were stationed for 3 years while my husband was serving in the US Army.  I have often heard people lately talking about how we "are headed down the path of Europe" and surmise what may become of the USA.  They talk about how fast it can happen, how quickly it all can change.  How we are "on the brink". 

I've lived in that brink.  10 years ago I was right in the center of what would eventually become the chaos we now see in that region of the world.  10 years ago the chaos in the Middle East looked similar to what we see today in Europe, just to give you a timeline "perspective".  I don't have all the answers, I don't know all the right things to say, but I feel like I'm being led to share with you some true glimpses into what my daily life looked like during that time.

I moved to Germany pregnant with our firstborn son.  I had been to the country once before in my life and my husband had been stationed at the same base previously so he had a good lay of the land.  I had taken German in high school and college so I had a basic grasp of the language, but certainly nothing highly impressive.  I could "muddle through" at best, but I refused to let that stop me from embracing this lifetime of an opportunity.

When we reached our military base we were to be stationed on we were immediately put into a classroom despite it being rather late in the evening.  We received instructions on how to stay safe, what areas to avoid, and what areas we were explicitly not allowed to go into.  We were told when classes would be available to help us learn how to live in that country.  We were even advised on the best choices of how to dress, act, and behave in public - all in under 60 minutes.  It was "Germany in 60 Minutes or Less" and it didn't do much to prepare one for the realities we were about to face. 

At that time, the US was just a few weeks from invading Iraq and that choice would take the brief class I'd taken and the knowledge I had gained through friends and push it to the brink.  Over the next few weeks, I will share more of these stories of what it was really like to live in that time in a foreign country and how it felt to attempt to have a normal life while also keeping my family safe.  Bear with me as I'm also vacationing, but it's been laid on my heart to share this with you, and I feel it is necessary for you to understand precisely what can happen in the blink of an eye.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Times Such As These

There are times when I think we are called to reflect on ourselves and make improvements.  We are, as a whole, incomplete beings who struggle with various vices.  No one is exempt.  If the Pope has his own confessor, we are certainly capable of straying from the beaten path.

I've been thinking lately on the 7 Deadly Sins.  In our home we usually focus on the Fruits of the Holy Spirit, especially with our children.  We strive to exemplify and encourage them within our home but at times, those little weaselly Deadly Sins sneak back in on us.  Lately I have noticed that it's time to tackle them yet again....and not just for the kids.

So, today I am opening up voting.  I know, silly me.  We're going to take 1 week at a time to tackle each of these Sins.  Each person can vote in the comments here and on Survey Monkey anonymously!  Voting for the 7 Deadly Sins will close on Friday at midnight MST so I can get ready and write the very first post!  Join us and tell us about how you struggle with the 7 Deadly Sins!!! Tell me I'm not alone!!!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

June Planners! And a few thoughts on the side...

I've spent much of my time recently in contemplation.  Thinking about my life, my friends, and grace.  Thinking about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and where to find them in my world.

I have come to the conclusion that you have to grow where you are planted.  You must be the change you want to see in the world.

Over and over in my mind I keep hearing this:

What house are you building?  Are you planning your curriculum for next year?  Are you working on a better life for your family?  Are you losing weight or gaining strength?  Are you spending your days finding solutions for your future?

Did you include God in your plans?

And now for the planners for June:

5 Day Girls
5 Day Boys
7 Day Girls
7 Day Boys

Friday, May 24, 2013

May 24, 2013

Here we go again! :)

Breakfast: 1 c. Fiber One Raisin Bran Clusters (SO yummy) w. 1/2 c. skim milk

Calories: 212
Carbs: 63
Fat: 1
Protein: 7
Eaten at 10:30 AM (I woke up very late today! LOL)

Lunch: Chicken Wrap - Tortilla w. 1/2 c. cucumber, 3 oz. chicken breast, and 2 tbsp of pico de gallo and an apple

Calories: 340
Carbs: 48
Fat: 6
Protein: 24
Eaten at 1:30PM

Snack: Protein Shake w. friends - 1/2 scoop of Shakeology, 1/2 banana, 1/2 c. of milk
 (If you tried Shakeology yesterday and wanted to murder me - try this - It's AMAZING!!!!!)

Calories: 174
Carbs: 28
Fat: 1
Protein: 13
Eaten at 4:00 PM

Dinner: Cheeseburger Macaroni (because I was REALLY low on calories!  This is not something I would recommend but I have a VERY hard time hitting my minimum calories because of my weight and being a nursing mom.)

Calories: 616
Carbs: 68
Fat: 24
Protein: 31
Eaten at 6:30 PM

Thursday, May 23, 2013

May 23, 2013 Recipes

I am embarking on a new road in my life and if there's one thing I know there is already plenty of simply awful "diet food" recipes out there.  I promise to be honest with you.  I promise to tell you if something stinks.  If I can make it better, I'll tell you how I did it.  If I can't - well, I'm sorry - but at least I was honest! :)

For the most part, I will be eating whole foods with the exception of low fat dairy products and dressings.  I am looking forward to this journey and I invite you to join me and at least help keep me honest.  At the end of the first 30 days, I will tell you the results...but not before because I'm not checking. ;)

I will also try to remember to take pictures...but not promising. :)

This AM was a revamped version of my usual breakfast sandwich when I make one: 

2 slices of whole wheat toast
2 slices of fat free sharp cheddar
3 small slices of ham (think canadian bacon sized)
2 eggs
1 cremini mushroom
1 scallion
1/2 sec. spritz of Pam

Toast the toast.  Chop mushroom and scallion in a small frying pan with the Pam.  Heat at med.  Place small slices of ham on top of mushroom and scallion (so they get the flavor of salt without adding more sodium to the dish).  Flip ham.  When ham is hot, place on toast.  Add 2 eggs to pan and cook through.  Place cheese on toast and put eggs on top of it when cooked through.  Ham on top of that.  Squish and eat.

Calories: 309
Carbs: 44 (almost all from whole grains)
Fat: 4
Protein: 26
Eaten at 9:30 AM

Snack: 1 d'anjou pear and 11 almonds

Calories: 165
Carbs: 24
Fat: 8
Protein: 4
Eaten at 11:40 AM

Lunch: 1 c. spaghetti noodles with 1/2 c. homemade meat sauce (leftovers) with 1 tbsp parmesan cheese

Calories: 336
Carbs: 50
Fat: 9
Protein: 14
Eaten at 1:30 PM

Snack: Turkey Wrap - Tortilla w. 1/4 c. cucumber, 3 small slices of turkey, and 2 tbsp of pico de gallo

Calories: 196
Carbs: 28
Fat: 4
Protein: 11
Eaten at 3:00 PM

Snack: Shakeology w. water

Calories: 160
Fat: 2
Protein: 17
Eaten at 5:45 PM

Dinner: Chicken sandwich w. 1 c. broccoli

Calories: 488
Carbs: 54
Fat: 13
Protein: 42
Eaten at 7:15 PM

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Somebody's Got to be In Charge

In life there is the ideal, and there is reality.  The ideal, for a Catholic, would be to go to Mass daily.  The reality is with a 30 mile commute, it's just not possible.  Another ideal would be to never have anger or fear...but sadly, yet again I am human. 

The Church calls us to different places, but she places a high value on vocations, be they marriage or holy orders.  I had never heard of the concept of the Domestic Church until I became Catholic although I had heard the "idea" in Protestant communities, but never in such a profound way. 

"Christian spouses, in virtue of the sacrament of Matrimony, whereby they signify and partake of the mystery of that unity and fruitful love which exists between Christ and His Church, help each other to attain to holiness in their married life and in the rearing and education of their children. By reason of their state and rank in life they have their own special gift among the people of God. From the wedlock of Christians there comes the family, in which new citizens of human society are born, who by the grace of the Holy Spirit received in baptism are made children of God, thus perpetuating the people of God through the centuries. The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state.

"Fortified by so many and such powerful means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect." (Lumen Gentium, 11)

The USCCB's website concludes that Lumen Gentium 11 denotes that "this means that it is in the context of the family that we first learn who God is and to prayerfully seek His will for us" in their own article on the Domestic Church and ideas on how to make your own. If we seek God in our homes first, Christ becomes the Head of the home as we seek to follow His will.  

There is no doubt that in our modern culture, marriage itself is under attack.  To assert even further that a marriage should be a "traditional marriage", one in which the husband is the head of the household and head of the family makes one invariably look like a complete quack - or at least we are taught to perceive them that way at the very least.  

Lately, I have felt the spirit moving in my heart to speak, and to speak what I believe to be the truth - regardless of what you, my potential reader, may believe of me for speaking it.  I am tired of living half lies, hiding in shadows, and keeping up appearances.  While I highly suspect this will be a process that evolves over time, in this moment, I wish to be completely and totally honest with you and declare the following statements. 

My husband is the head of my household.  

Okay, you're still here.  In our home, this means that at the end of the day, the final decision on things, especially in spiritual matters, finances, and raising the children is HIS.  Not mine. 

Wow, you made it that far.  Great!  Glad to have you still with me.  Breathe.  I know - this is radical thinking for our time. 

Now before you go off a cliff, I do have a say - a rather large one.  There are many things my husband trusts my discretion in and in those things I make choices.  When I don't know which way to go, such as with curriculum for our homeschooling, I seek his opinion on what he believes the children should be covering that year and what may or may not be the best options.  I make the meal planning for the family but I also take the time before I go grocery shopping to ask him if there is anything in particular he would like to see on the menu in the coming weeks.  I have my own money and I make my own decisions on how I will spend that money. 

Now, back to the Domestic Church.  You may be surprised to find that the head of our home has entrusted that primarily to me. 

Uh oh....anyone still left?  Because those who were nodding and smiling up until now are probably ready to hurt me - at least based on what I have seen and heard from friends, family, and strangers on the internet in the past.  Apparently you get to be in one camp or the other.  We have our feet firmly in both.  I know....shocking. 

I lead the family in the Rosary because he works and sleeps.  We rarely see him most days of the week due to his job.  I lead the children in their prayers, their religion work for school.  Most weeks I drive to Mass with my children alone because he is not able to attend with us due to his work schedule.  We are lucky to attend Mass as a family once every 2 months.  At times we have been lucky to make it Easter and Christmas together. 

So, after reading that, who is the head of our Domestic Church?  Me?  or Him?

First and foremost, it is Christ.  Christ is the Head of this family.  

Next, it is my husband.  You will note I said above that he has "entrusted" it to me.  Does that mean I make all the choices and decisions?  No.  Does that mean what I says goes and it has to be my way?  No.  Does that mean that if he comes in with a Rosary and wants to lead the family that I throw a temper tantrum and act like a 2 year old?  I would certainly hope not!!!

Even if it has been entrusted to my care by him, he is still the one in charge of it because if he is not liking how it is being handled, he has every right and in fact responsibility, to talk with me about it and help me redirect and reshape our Domestic Church.  My job, as a wife in this marriage, is to communicate with him about these things and follow his will, just like I communicate with Christ in prayer and through the teachings of the Church and Sacred Scripture and allow Him to direct and shape our lives. 

I cannot see Christ every day, but He is always present in my home.  He is always here, with me and my children helping to guide our family.  Many years ago, toward the beginning of my marriage, my husband deployed to Iraq.  Just because he was not physically there didn't mean we didn't still live our lives as a family.  He was still the head of the household thousands of miles away.  I didn't go out and live as a single person for an entire year - I remained a faithful wife, a good mother to our son.  Even now, when he is not here, he is still the head of our home and our domestic church. 

Blessings and Peace my friends.  Thanks for making it to the end of this one. :)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Some Like It Little!

I think you all have decided I need a new hobby! ;) LOL 

In all seriousness I have loved hearing the response and feedback on our 5 Day Planner and 7 Day Planner for Boys and Girls. It brings me great joy to see you all tinkering with the program and many asking for the file.  I <3 it and appreciate all of your support and encouragement.

A good friend was trying to resize the 7 Day Planner to a 5.5"x8.5" size yesterday and hit a brick wall.  She asked if I could figure out a way to adjust the margins.  Sadly, the answer to adjusting the margins on the current program was no.  It did NOT work.  I tried and tried and tried.

And then I just went ahead and made another whole planner set!!!

Introducing the 7 Day Planner in Half Size!!!!! *note* the 7 Day Planner in half size will only download as 2 per 1 page in Publisher.  If you do not have Publisher, I am working on another way and have spent most of the morning trying to find a solution for you.

Also, due to the OVERWHELMING response of people asking for templates, I am providing my May Templates to you all!  Honestly, it's going to be easier than emailing it out over and over for me. :) 

As a public announcement, after this month I will NOT be providing new templates for everyone - all the different styles are just too much to keep up with and I have easily put in over 20 hours just this week working on the templates and doing the research to fill them.  I love doing this for all of you, but the extra time to keep changing the templates is eventually going to become overwhelming.  I will continue to keep searching until we hit something that most people seem to enjoy, but at this moment, I will definitely NOT be making all these templates again next month so if you want them, get them!  The link that is up will be permanent and I do not plan on pulling those templates in the future which are published there.

Here we go!!!!

7 Day Half Size Planner - Boys - Publisher file
7 Day Half Size Planner - Girls - Publisher file
7 Day Planner - Boys - Publisher file
7 Day Planner - Girls - Publisher file
5 Day Planner - Boys - Publisher file
5 Day Planner - Girls - Publisher file

7 Day Planner - Boys - PDF
7 Day Planner - Girls - PDF
5 Day Planner - Boys - PDF
5 Day Planner - Girls - PDF

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

You Asked, We Answered!

Wow have we gotten a TON of feedback on our May Planners we released yesterday!!!  The verdict is in and apparently you love them!  Thanks for all the support!

That said, like all good things there are revisions to be made.  We heard 3 main things from you in feedback:

1. You want a planner with more space to write.
2. You want a planner with 7 days instead of just 5.
3. You want a planner that is VERY Catholic.

We hope you like it because we put the pedal to the metal and gave it our best shot.  The new planner being released today is a 7 Day Planner with room for 3 assignments on weekends of your choice.  It also includes places for AM/PM chores M-F and "chores" on S/S.  There is also a space for kids to make notes about the meetings they will have that day so now Co-Op, Scouts, 4H, CCD, and other meetings have a home.  We kept the Virtue Practice because you loved it and added the Daily Mass Readings!

Girls 7 Day Planner
Boys 7 Day Planner

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

May Planners!

It has come to our attention that our family's favorite planner is sadly by a sedevancist family.  While we would love to continue supporting them, we didn't feel comfortable continuing to use their products.  We will, however, be praying for them to return home to Rome.

In the meantime, this left quite a void in our family.  We LOVED the layout they used as well as the thought put into it and are seeking to create something similar, but for a family using the current Church's calendar.  We hope to have a Mom's planner in the works in the next week or so, but we would REALLY like your feedback on the Boy's and Girl's Planners we created today.

Our entire family worked on this project together and is very excited about it.  We tested both printed in color and grayscale and they worked well on our printer.  Unlike the original planner, we omitted the pictures since our son has sensory processing disorder and said he found them distracting.  This gave us a bit more space for quotes from Saints in a larger, easier to read font as well as room to write comfortably with his dysgraphia.

This is JUST the rough draft and I hope to be able to keep these free to all of you and available for your use.  I really enjoyed researching the Saints and having fun with the project.

For the families out there, including the Dads, the Saints listed on the calendar are directly from the list at American Catholic.  By clicking on that link you can subscribe to their Saint a Day emails and have pertinent information to share with your child and discuss over dinner as a family!  We hope you enjoy these planners and are blessed by them and we greatly appreciate your feedback as you make try them out so we can make them better for everyone!

Boys Planner - PDF
Girls Planner - PDF