Monday, April 21, 2014

Dear Blogger Moms of Older Kids,

Dear Rachel, Dwija, Mary, Cari, Kelly, Mary Kate, Jessica, Nancy, Kathryn, Susan, and many more,

I've been scrolling through my Facebook feed and over and over again I see your beautiful faces and your beautiful kids. I see your handsome husbands and your cute dresses and all the smiles. And I want to tell you something:

I have five little kids. The oldest is nearly six, the youngest is only nine months. I feel like I have finally hit a good stride and, with the grace of God, I have a lot of things under control. But I wonder and I worry about what will happen as my kids get older.

Will this one ever learn to think of others first? Will that one struggle with school? Will this one resent decisions I've made? Will that one be a flirt? Will they all grow in virtue? Will they love God and their faith? Will they make good decisions about dating and sex and college and parties and friends? 

I am happily married and I have been for over seven years. I really like my husband - I like spending time with him and hanging out with him and talking about things with him. And I really like my husband - see the five kids above. He is an amazing man - a strong leader, a humble servant, a man of many talents and capabilities and a good sense of humor. But I wonder about rough patches that every marriage seems to have.

Will we have one? How will we navigate through it? How do I encourage him and not nag? How do I support and follow him when I disagree, when I'm scared, when I'm nervous? 

 I am eighty shameful pounds heavier now than I was when I got married. Six pregnancies in six years and a NICU stay and all kinds of emotional eating have left me round. Embarrassingly round.

Will I ever lose this weight? Will I have the time to exercise and do school drop off and pick up and attend daily Mass and keep the house clean and read blogs? Will I ever again fit into that Everyone Loves a German Girl t-shirt I've been holding on to for all these years?

All these thoughts, worries, questions: You answer them for me. When I see your pictures, when I read your Facebook updates and blog posts and tweets I breathe out a little sigh of relief.

Your beautiful, handsome, happy children seem so confident, funny, kind, thoughtful, eager to learn, and happy to be Catholic, even though you don't hide the hard. Your marriages seem happy, fulfilling, not without their crosses but also not without their deep, sustaining joys. Your lives seem balanced, even if that means that you are having to shift the balances every few months, seasons, or years.

I see you take the time to pursue things you love and enjoy: running, fashion, photography, chickens, gardens, writing, crafts, pampering and cooking.
I see you take the time to enjoy, encourage, support, play with, read to and love your children, meeting them where they are and raising them to the next level.
I see you take the time to honor, love, respect, care for, date, and enjoy your husbands.
I see you take the time to nurture friendships, to pray with and for your friends, to surprise them with flowers and cookies and phone calls.
I see you live a life pursuing God, finding time for prayer, enjoying and living and celebrating your faith, reading your Bible, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Your presence online is a presence in my life and I am so grateful. You are a role model for me. The words you write, the pictures you post, the quotes you share, the prayers you offer - these are sustaining and encouraging me through these years of little kids, of a still-young marriage, of eighty pounds.

Please know that I appreciate the gift you give. Please know that as you share your life you are giving me hope. Please know that I am so grateful.

So very, very grateful.

May our good God bless you and tell you "Well done, good and faithful servant."


Friday, April 18, 2014

The BEST of the web

Blythe and I recently "met" through our mutual friend Kendra. She's fabulous and this video is FANTASTIC.  It's a Soul Pancake video (like Kid President) and I am so impressed with all of it.

Really, people, this is what Catholicism, embraced and joyfully lived out, looks like! Become Catholic! It's the best! I want you here with me!

And THANK YOU Blythe for putting you and your family out there for Christ and His Church!

Jesus Had a Wife, and I've Met Her is an interesting article about something I didn't know was a thing but maybe it is. Anyways, worth the read.

The Third Secret to Destruction - Proofing Your Family by LMLD was wonderful and horrible all at the same time. Horrible in that it made me really look at myself and I hate doing that. But it is a powerfully and beautifully written article.

Backfired Again! by RyAnne at Good Grief! was really touching. Anyone who's lost a child will appreciate RyAnne's words.

As many of you know, Beth who blogs at A Mom's Life, gave birth to a very beautiful little girl earlier this week and then passed away five days later while in her mama's arms. Good Night, Sweet Baby is her good-bye to little Rebecca. Please continue to pray for Rebecca's family who are grieving her.

My friend Elise has invited us all to pray a novena to St. Gianna along with her beginning Easter Sunday. Please consider joining - St. Gianna is such a wonderful woman and a powerful intercessor.

Recently I learned about an upcoming book called Decent Exposure, written by Jessica Rey (former Mighty Morphine Power Ranger and current designer of totes adorbs, albeit pricey, swimsuits) and Leah Darrow. It sounds like a good one to request from the library - when we move June 2nd and finally live in a town with a library!!!!

I hope you already read Jen's The Saint of the NICU. It is so beautiful.

And if you haven't been to Jenny's place lately be sure to read about her relationship with JPII and how he saved her from herself. Also, that lucky duck is going to Rome for his canonization and she's taking prayer requests.

Finally, there's a chance you can win this print if you share this post on Facebook. But I kinda don't want you to because I want it. But you should anyways because if someone I know wins it I'll be really happy.

Oh yeah, in that video up above you see Hope and her kids. That's the same Hope that I interviewed at Ignitum Today. Her music is great, guys!

God bless you all this holy, beautiful weekend. Love to you all.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A busy life

Life is a thrilling, wonderful, beautiful adventure.

And sometimes it just feels busy.

That's the season of life I'm in now: busy.

Busy avoiding the packing up the house that needs to happen. Busy daydreaming of paint colors for the bathrooms at the new house.

Busy running my kids to school and keeping the house tidy. Tidy enough.

Busy spending time with my husband at the end of the long days and busy saying YES to my kids when they want to snuggle, play Memory, or go for a walk to the park.

Busy nursing my baby who is almost not a baby any more and in a blink of an eye will not be interested in nursing but in running and jumping and coloring.

Busy failing at Lent and busy restarting. Busy with wondering how many additional sacrifices I should be making when I already feel stretched so thin at times.

Busy trying to lose all the baby weight, to be healthier, to have a strong body and a strong heart.

Busy trying to figure out gluten free eating for a boy who is also allergic to eggs, dairy, and nuts. Busy fighting the sinking feeling of buying expensive gluten-free food products and busy cutting up fruit.

Busy reading and researching and working on projects I'm really excited about but have nothing to do with this little blog.

Busy watching the latest season of Doctor Who with Travis, who was converted to a Whovian over Christmas break.

Writing all of this out, though, I see that I'm not busy: I'm living. I'm living out my life and it may feel busy but really it is thrilling and wonderful and beautiful and an adventure.

In the coming weeks - when we pack and move and school ends and birthdays and holidays are celebrated I will not be around this blog much. I have a few guest posts lined up and will be sharing my favorite links every now and again but otherwise ye olde blog will be a bit quiet.

But I'll be praying for you. Please pray for me.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Book Week! and a Bundle of Books

Welcome to Book Week!

Over the last month or so I have read a handful of books that were each so very good I knew I wanted to tell you about them. I decided to set aside a week to do a review each day and, thanks to the generous folks at Ignatius Press and Magnificat, I also have a free copy of Kendra Tierney's A Little Book about Confession for Children to give away at the end of the week. Be sure to go to Monday's post to register to win!

If you have read any of the books I'm reviewing I'd love to hear your thoughts, too! Leave a comment or link to your own post in the combox.

Recently I was given a small bundle of books from Ignatius / Magnificat to review. They each had their own little charms and I'm happy to share them with you. 
First up:

The Way of the Cross
Written by Juliette Levivier
Illustrated by Anne Gravier

During Lent we try to do the Stations of the Cross as a family, often using our Stations of the Cross box, so when Ignatius offered me a chance to see their own book on the Stations I was really excited.

The Way of the Cross has a wonderful introduction to Holy Week, praying the Stations, our belief in the Resurrection of Jesus, and what it means to be a follower of Christ. The book is colorful, kid-friendly, and has wonderful illustrations. I really like that each station begins with a line of corresponding Scripture, then moves to a reflection and a prayer.

When we used this book I announced the station, read the Scripture, and read the reflection, changing some of the words (my kids don't know what "brutality" means, for example). The language is more appropriate for children slightly older than mine (my oldest is a kindergartner) but I like that it's something my kids can grow into.

We didn't read the prayers because my kids couldn't sit that long, but I felt like it was fruitful reflection. I'm guessing that this book would be great for 1st - 4th graders who are doing quiet time on their own but it also works just as a picture book for younger kids to follow along with.

It's a nice addition to a family's Lenten book basket or church bag.

The Illustrated Miracles of Jesus
By Jean-Francois Kieffer and Christine Ponsard
Translated by Janet Chevrier

My family has had a first hand experience with miracles and so I was also interested in seeing The Illustrated Miracles of Jesus and seeing how my children would respond to it.

The book is set up as a series of comic strips, each one illustrating the story of a different miracle. The wedding feast at Cana, the major healings, the multiplication of the loaves, and the raising of Lazarus are all included.

In my opinion, because of the comic strip format the book works better as a something a child would read to themselves instead of a story time type book but that's not to say it can't be read aloud.

With all the clean, bright, attractive illustrations The Illustrated Miracles of Jesus has been a great book for my kids to sit and flip through on their own and it has also been a fantastic book to reach for when I want to do more of a Bible lesson story time with my kids, complete with discussions.

The Illustrated Miracles of Jesus, with it's soft cover and simple wording would make a great addition to an Easter basket for a child aged four or older.  

Peter, Apostle of Jesus
Written by Boris Grebille
Illustrated by Herve Flores
Translated by Janet Chevrier

Peter, Apostle of Jesus is a member of the The Life of a Saint series, which also includes Bernadette, John Mary Vianney, Therese of Lisieux, and Francis of Assisi. St. Peter is a personal favorite of mine, which is why two of my sons bear his name, and I was looking forward to this book. It did not disappoint. Of the three in this bundle, this was my favorite.

The illustrations are soft, attractive, and really well done. The book is divided into three sections: The Fisherman of Galilee, The Apostle of Jesus, and the The Head of the Church, each focusing on the biblical stories about Peter that correlate to those titles, along with a little glimpse of Peter as a boy.

I really liked that the story shows how Peter's relationship with Jesus developed and how he came to become not just a follower of Christ but the leader of the Church. The last page also talks about the line of popes and has a sweet picture of St. Peter's Basilica - I loved that touch.

This book is a fabulous way to spend time reading to your kids while also teaching them about St. Peter, Jesus Christ, and His Church. I highly recommend it!

All these books are published Ignatius Press and Magnificat.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Week! and Pope Awesome

Welcome to Book Week!

Over the last month or so I have read a handful of books that were each so very good I knew I wanted to tell you about them. I decided to set aside a week to do a review each day and, thanks to the generous folks at Ignatius Press and Magnificat, I also have a free copy of Kendra Tierney's A Little Book about Confession for Children to give away at the end of the week. Be sure to go to Monday's post to register to win!

If you have read any of the books I'm reviewing I'd love to hear your thoughts, too! Leave a comment or link to your own post in the combox.

Pope Awesome and Other Stories
Written by Cari Donaldson

I will be honest with you and confess that I kind of had low expectations for this book. I thought it would probably be a bunch of old blog posts rehashed and stitched together. Since I love and loyally read Cari's Clan Donaldson blog I was okay with that and I thought I'd still enjoy it and be super proud of my blogging friend.

Let me tell you something: I was wrong. So totally way wrong.

Pope Awesome is not the recycling of a bunch of old blog posts. It does not read like a bunch of blog posts stitched together. Pope Awesome was a fun and touching memoir, recounting Cari's conversion to Catholicism through stories of marriage, babies, friends, and family.

I know that when the book first came out there were many reviews written for it but I still wanted to share what I liked about Pope Awesome and why I so thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

First, Cari writes in a clear, strong voice. This is true of her blog, too, but while I read the book I really felt like Cari was telling me all these crazy stories from her past over a cup of coffee at a playdate. The writing was so personable yet intelligent.

Since I read her blog I know that Cari has a great sense of humor but I was still pleasantly surprised at how funny her memoir was. Really, I laughed out loud several times. Books usually don't do that for me but this one did. (My mom laughed out loud too.)

Finally, many of the smaller stories that make up the main story of Cari's conversion are incredibly moving. The entire work is very touching and several sections I cried. The balance of laughter and teary-eyed emotion was perfectly struck in Pope Awesome and as a cradle Catholic I truly was encouraged by her search of God.

My recommendation: get it from your library, put it on your Kindle, borrow it from my mom - just read the book. It was a delight.

Pope Awesome and Other Stories by Cari Donaldson was published by Sophia Institute Press.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Book Week! and I'm Bernadette!

Welcome to Book Week!

Over the last month or so I have read a handful of books that were each so very good I knew I wanted to tell you about them. I decided to set aside a week to do a review each day and, thanks to the generous folks at Ignatius Press and Magnificat, I also have a free copy of Kendra Tierney's A Little Book about Confession for Children to give away at the end of the week. Be sure to go to Monday's post to register to win!

If you have read any of the books I'm reviewing I'd love to hear your thoughts, too! Leave a comment or link to your own post in the combox.

I'm Bernadette!
Written by Emily Grace Orgeta
Illustrated by Meg Ross Whalen

I'm Bernadette! is lovely. Absolutely lovely.

The chapter book tells the story of a first grader at a Catholic school. Her name is Bernadette and she needs to choose a saint to portray for her school's All Saints' Day party. Bernadette doesn't know who to choose, her brothers are driving her crazy, and she feels like she has no special talents. With help from her parents Bernadette ends up making a new friend and having a great All Saints' Day.

Now, there are SO many things I loved about this book.
It is very well written. Honest and simple enough to believably told from a first grader's perspective but clever enough that it's not dumbed down literature.
The pictures are wonderful - warm, cute, but not cutesy. My absolute favorite picture is from a scene that takes place at the dinner table. The baby is throwing noodles, the handsome dad is at the head of the table, the mom is drinking wine, Bernadette is in her Catholic school uniform, and there's a picture of St. Peter's Basilica hanging on the wall. It's like they took a picture of *my* dinner table!
Bernadette's parents - both of them! - play an important role in the book. Her dad is not a buffoon, her mom is kind and helpful, and they're both present and married to one another! It's kind of ridiculous that I need to applaud this but I'm so grateful for the portrayal of a happy, traditional family.
It is Catholic but not in a super pious way. This was such a real portrayal of what a Catholic home and Catholic school look like. I'm Bernadette! did a great job of writing about this girl and her family and her predicament in a normal way. I don't know if I'm conveying what I want to say so let me be blunt. A lot of Catholic art is pretty poor quality and I was afraid this might be too. But it's not. It is very well done. Like I said, it's absolutely lovely.

Now, for this review I wanted to share not only my perspective as a parent and adult, but the perspective of a member of the targeted audience. Fortunately my good friend Grete and her daughter Maria agreed to read it and do a little interview for me.

How old are you and what grade are you in?
Maria: I am 8 years old and I am in 2nd grade.

What did you like about the book?
Maria: I like that it had St. Bernadette in it.

Could you relate to Bernadette and her family?
Maria: I think Bernadette would be a good friend to me.

What did you think about having a book about a Catholic girl?
Maria: I haven't read very many books about Catholic girls and I like it.

Did you like the illustrations? Why or why not?
Maria: Yes, I liked them because they were in pencil.

Would you want to read more books about Bernadette?
Maria: Yes I would. There was a "sneak peek" for a new book that will be done 2014 about Christmas. There should be an Easter one, too.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Maria: No.

And Maria's got a good point. There's nothing else to say. I'm Bernadette! is fantastic and you should buy it.

I'm Bernadette! by Emily Grace Ortega is published by Half Moon Bay Publishing.
Don't forget to sign up to win an autographed copy of Kendra Tierney's A Little Book about Confession for Children.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Book Week! and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

Welcome to Book Week!

Over the last month or so I have read a handful of books that were each so very good I knew I wanted to tell you about them. I decided to set aside a week to do a review each day and, thanks to the generous folks at Ignatius Press and Magnificat, I also have a free copy of Kendra Tierney's A Little Book about Confession for Children to give away at the end of the week. Be sure to go to Monday's post to register to win!

If you have read any of the books I'm reviewing I'd love to hear your thoughts, too! Leave a comment or link to your own post in the combox.

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl
Written and Illustrated by Ben Hatke

Ben Hatke

Ben Hatke is my absolute favorite illustrator. We own several of the books he has illustrated, including Angel in the Waters - a book every family should own. If we were rich I would commission him to turn a family picture into a Hatke-ized portrait because I *love* the way he sees the world. So you can understand why, when I recently discovered that Hatke not only illustrated others' work but had his own line of graphic novels for kids, well I knew I needed to get my hands on one of his books. 

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl is the third and newest book in a series with the original Zita the Spacegirl published in 2011 and Legends of Zita the Spacegirl released in 2012. It tells the story of how Zita, a girl from Earth who has been saving folks throughout space, now needs some help being saved herself and saving her home planet.

I read The Return of Zita the Spacegirl to my older children. My five and four year olds loved it, and so did I! The illustrations are great, the characters are wonderful, Zita (a girl!) is kind, brave, selfless, and modestly dressed and looks like a little girl! What a gift to have a sci-fi, adventuring role model for my daughter who doesn't look like a sex symbol! My kids and I started at the end of the trilogy but we cannot wait to go back to the beginning.

My favorite part about reading Zita, as a parent and a book lover, was a moment that happened when my kids and I were huddled on my bed, reading a chapter before bedtime. When the chapter ended I closed the book and told the kids it was time for sleep. My kindergartner, with big, excited eyes, asked if I could read just a little bit more into the next chapter. The cliffhanger was killin' her and she just had to find out what happened. It was such a magical moment for me, again as a mom and book lover, that I of course read on!

With the interesting illustrations and the bright colors even my 23 month old likes to look at Zita. In fact, all of my kids like to sit and flip through the graphic novel, looking at the pictures again and again.

Is this book for everyone? Maybe not. It is a sci-fi book but we love sci-fi here and I strongly encourage this book if your family is like mine in that way. I also want to point out that one of the characters is a friendly skeleton, the words "hate" and "stupid" are each used once, and an adult female character wears a midriff and cleavage-showing tank - if you don't have a problem with Ariel and Jasmine you won't have a problem with this. 

I'll say it again, we loved this graphic novel and I am so excited to read the other Zita books. Also! If you also like Hatke's illustrations and fairy tale creatures be sure to keep an eye out for Julia's House for Lost Creatures. I'm super excited for it!

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke is published by First Second and you should buy it. ;)