June 20, 2018

Our Lady of the Legos, the Loo, and the NICU

Thirteen years ago I was using the powder room in someone's home. I had never been there before so when I walked in I was a little surprised to see a large statue of Our Lady displayed on a shelf above the toilet.

As I rejoined my hosts I commented, "I like the Our Lady of the Loo statue you have," a bit of a cheeky grin on my face. They laughed and explained how it was a wedding gift and they hadn't known where else to put it (there was religious art *all over* their home) so they put her in the powder room. It worked!

Our Lady of the Loo has stayed with me ever since, at least the idea of her.

I don't think this is actual theology, this whole making up whatever name one wants for Mary, but it has given me lots of little inside jokes with the Holy Family over the years and has helped me to keep laughter and the Lord in my heart and home.

In the hallway, across from my toddler's door, hangs an icon I have dubbed Our Lady of the Eye Roll because when I'm having a hard time with my toddler I often roll my eyes as a way of communicating to her how stressed out I am. She sees me at my worst.

On my dresser stands Our Lady of the NICU. She holds her Infant, her crown is broken, and her dress is sticky from the residue of hospital tape that secured her to my son's neonatal intensive care unit bassinet. She holds memories of my hardest days and worst fears and prays for the trauma of it all.

I thought of this little way of mine when I was clearing off the dining room table after lunch. I sat the salt and pepper shakers on the buffet, which triples as our liquor cabinet and family altar. When I saw where I had placed them I smiled and said, "Our Lady of the Salt and Pepper Shakers, pray for us."

I hope everyone understands that this isn't me making fun of Mary or her titles. In fact doing this has brought me closer to the Blessed Mother as she meets me in these small, mundane moments of my every day life. The religious art in my home becomes an entry into prayer instead of a decoration and always, always Mary does what she does best and she uses these moments to draw me closer to the Heart of her Son. 

Nothing is too small to be loved by Jesus. Nothing is too boring to be brought to His attention. But it is often in those little moments where I most need Mary's prayers to guide me, I need her presence to remind me. 

And so the serendipitous placing of Lego creations on a shelf so they can be proudly displayed by my older children while protected from my younger children becomes a moment to laugh and then pray.  

Our Lady of the Legos, pray for me that I will delight in my children. Pray for me that I will nurture their creativity and confidence and the knowledge of when to try harder and when to let it go. Pray for me that I will encourage them to share and work together and support one another. Pray for me that I will detach myself from the desire for perfection and will place more value in my children than in a decorated, tidy home. And Lord have mercy when I step on a Lego and curse. +

And then I leave it in her hands, confident that her prayers for me will continue throughout my day. 

Please know that Marian theology and devotion has not always been easy for me. When other Catholics would gush about Our Lady I just didn't get it. I respected her as the mother of my Lord, but there wasn't a ton of intimacy. 

Our Lady of the Loo changed all that for me. She was the beginning of a beautiful relationship which has grown through the years to a place where Mary is friend, mother, confidant, companion, mentor, and prayer warrior. And so I share my names for her with you in case this helps you to love her more, to aid you so that you will let her love you more. Her love has been such a great gift in my life. Thanks be to God.

PS - While writing this post I remembered the beautiful work that Christy Mandin creates. Her images of Mary are some of my favorites ever. You can check her out at A Creative Almanac, though most of her Marian prints are found on her inprnt store. The above image of Our Lady of Solidarity was created in response to the immigration crisis at the border. Christy is donating a portion of the profits of each copy sold to Together Rising's efforts at caring for the children and families there. What's more, inprnt has promised to match her donation!

June 12, 2018

An Easy + Lovely Blessed Brunch

Recently I hosted a Blessed Brunch in my home and I received quite a few questions from women such as "Is it easy to do?" "What are the expectations?" and "Who came?" These questions came from local friends and strangers online but there were a lot of them so I wanted to share what my experience was like in case you, too, have been looking to build some friendships and were wondering if a Blessed Brunch was the way to do it.  

To begin, I went to the Midwest Region Blessed Is She Facebook group and asked if there was any interest in my area in having a BIS group to meet over the summer to do one of the Mystery Studies with me. When I learned that women were interested I signed up on the BIS website to host a Brunch, which I then publicized on my personal Facebook page and in the Midwest Regional Group. I thought a Brunch was a nice way to kick-off the Study but a Blessed Brunch can definitely be a stand alone thing.

And then Blessed Is She did a lot of the work for me. They put the link to sign up for the Brunch on their page and emailed me with info every time someone signed up. With each email I received I would then contact the woman who had registered, telling her how happy I was that she was coming; reminding her of the date, time, and that lap babies were welcome; and sharing my address with her.

The day before the brunch I did my shopping, some cleaning, and some prep work. I bought paper plates and plastic cups, orange juice (I bought two but only one was drunk), creamer, and some chocolates. I used paper napkins that were left over from my son's First Communion, our regular forks, and coffee cups. I borrowed white tablecloths and a long folding table from my mom. I cut some flowers from my yard, cleaned my bathroom and kitchen, dusted my living and dining rooms, and vacuumed.

The morning of my husband loaded up the kids and off they went for about three hours. I brewed some coffee, set out ice water, put on this Spotify playlist, and set out these Encourage Scripture cards. Now, Blessed Is She emails the host a sign in sheet for the guests, a suggested prayer to lead others in, an outline for the brunch so you know what to do when, and suggested discussion topics but I wanted to do something a little extra. Upon their arrival, I invited my guests to go through the Scripture verses and choose the one that spoke to them the most. Then, at brunch we went around and introduced ourselves and shared with Scripture card we picked and why. It allowed women to share parts of their stories that they wouldn't have otherwise and I'm so glad the Holy Spirit put that idea in my head. I then invited everyone to take home their card to frame, tape to their mirror, or stick in their Bible. 

I don't share that with you so you feel like you need to do something like it too but so you know that it's okay to vary a bit from the provided script! If the Holy Spirit nudges us to do something we should follow!

We did use the discussion questions that were provided by Blessed Is She but there was also lots of time to just chat and get to know one another. Just about every age and stage of woman was there - single, married, pregnant, postpartum, grandmother, working, stay-at-home, small family, adoptive mom, big family, and on and on. Some of the women I know very well, some I know casually, and some I met for the very first time. It was so nice to have such a great mix!

Because I knew I wanted to do one of the Mystery studies I set out my copies next to the sign-in sheet. I also put out some holy cards and the chocolates for women to take if they wanted. In the last twenty or so minutes I invited everyone interested in doing a Study to sign in and look at the Studies to get a feel for which one they'd like to do. Then we closed in prayer. Everyone packed up their items and it was done. It was a wonderful morning! Everything ran smoothly and next week we will begin our Summer Study of the Luminous Mysteries.

The Blessed Brunch almost ran itself and was such a wonderful event. If you are interested in starting something in your area I would really encourage you to pray about it and then take the leap if God is calling you to do it! You won't regret it!

PS - If you are interested you can join a Blessed Is She Regional Facebook group here and you can sign up to attend or host a Blessed Brunch here. If you want to buy the Mystery studies for yourself you can do that here.

June 8, 2018

New Music, Marian Art, and Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is my friend Matt.

He's is a husband, a father, a hard worker, a good man, and a musician.

You may remember Matt from my Knot Bad Video where we talked about the Blessed Mother, bad Christian music, and his first album, The Only Light. Gosh, that was a good ep. Didn't you love that one? I loved that one.

Did you hear the good news about Matt? He's got a new album coming, ladies and gentlemen! His first album in five years is called Me + You and is half full of songs about life and love and half full of songs of praise and worship. It's going to be so good, you guys.

Did you hear the other good news about Matt? His wife just gave birth to their third child yesterday!
Yay, Matt and Kara! Congrats to you both! Praise God!

I love babies.

But back to Matt and the music. Me + You will only be made with help from you and me and so I want to invite you to join me in supporting Matt's Kickstarter to fund this album of thoughtful, solid, good music written and performed by the one and only Matt Faley.

Now maybe you're wondering if you'd even like Matt's music, which is a good question, so I had Matt make us a little Spotify playlist. Basically if you like the music on the A Knotted Life playlist you will like Me + You.

And now you have a new soundtrack for your Friday! Happy Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, folks! Listen to some good music, love on Jesus' Sacred Heart, throw a party, and eat some bacon because it's a Meat Friday!

Now here's the fun part!

Matt and I have worked together to build in some extra awesomeness for A Knotted Life readers who support the Kickstarter! It goes like this: When you support the Kickstarter email me and let me know. Then, when there are ten AKL supporters I will choose ONE  randomly to win something from the Bird's Nest tier. That means the winner will get the Me + You album, a mixtape from Matt, a drawing from their daughter Birdie, and a handmade item from Matt's wife Kara. Plus, I will send you a dozen of my famous chocolate chip cookies.

How can you say "no" to that?! These beautiful girls' creations + great music + my cookies! Quick, ten of you go sign up to support the album right now and send me an email so you can have a super good chance at winning this!

Then, when we have twenty AKL backers those names will be entered to win a beautiful print and a handmade rosary from Indy artist Katie Sahm. For example:

I know, I know. Absolutely gorgeous.

And once we reach 35 AKL backers for Matt's Kickstarter we will do a drawing for a free house concert. How freaking awesome would that be!?!? Matt will come to your home and do a concert in your living room or backyard for you and all your family and friends. This is a bucket list item for me, people, and you could win it just because you buy yourself a new album and support a Catholic indie musician!

So just to hash out the details:
- Pledge $15 or more to the Me + You kickstarter and then immediately email me.
- If you do not win the special drawing for A Knotted Life readers you will get only the items that are included in your giving tier. (Example: $15 = digital download. $30 = digital download + signed cd)
- This is open only to residents of the continental USA age 18 and older.
- If the Kickstarter is not fully funded you will not be charged the pledged money and the Kickstarter incentives will not be sent out. However, I will still do a drawing for whoever pledged and one person will get some cookies because I love that you supported Matt and his dream. You can read more about Kickstarter fundraising and accountability here.
- This is not a sponsored post, this is just me supporting a friend in his dream to make good music that you will like and will honor God.

Now go - pledge!

June 4, 2018

Putzing About the Yard

 Putzing about the yard is one of my favorite things to do. Walk around, listen to the birds, look things over, pull a weed here, water some flowers there, get startled by a chipmunk, notice how things are improving, consider plans for the future, feel the breeze, enjoy the shade, enjoy the sun, stop to watch a rabbit, pull more weeds, tidy up.

Let's putz, shall we? I'll show you what I've been working on. In April I showed you the work I had done and still needed to do in the yard. It was pretty brown and scrappy looking. But look what May brought:

My great-grandparents' kettle, which Grandpa turned into a planter.

This was sooooo bad but I ripped out some old landscaping fabric + a great deal of grass that had grown on it, dug out a trench, lined it with the cleaned off landscaping fabric, and placed the rocks. I divided my mums and black eyed susans and added some day lillies that were given to me from a family friend. 

The corner off the porch, filling in nicely with transplanted lillies and all sorts of things I didn't plant. 

Shade garden in the side yard. Lots of hostas, peonies, and a bleeding heart too. Next year I'm hoping to add an edge and lots of brown mulch to this area.  My aunt and neighbor gave me several hostas for this area and the same family friend mentioned above gave me a very small Rose of Sharon that I stuck here, too.

Travis planted grass through here and it's so lovely. The stepping stones lead from the front to the back of the house, under our large oak and next to the shade garden.

Remember who I wanted to bury the broken bird bath and then plant it like a berm? I think it looks good. 

This is the flower bed under the pine tree off our patio. The kids' playhouse is here, too, and I have been slowly filling it with hostas, divided from other people's yards. I found the pump for this fountain so I won't be using it as a planter any more and I'll finally have a water feature! The only problem is the basin has a few cracks in it. 

This was one of my two thistle patches, which I've cleared and made a strawberry patch. At least I hope that's what it will become. Strawberries are finicky and I've never succeeded in growing them... yet! I realize the pile of blocks and wood and fencing don't make this look so nice but I promise it's an improvement. 

Irises, raspberries, and weeds, growing together along the fence. I want to move the irises to another part of the yard but didn't get it done in time. 

These grow along the fence too but I don't know what they are. Do you?

Our vegetable garden. Cucumber, peas, beans, hops, peppers, broccoli, squash, tomatoes, and onions. I cannot wait to eat it's bounty. Bring it!

Herb garden + a gooseberry bush and an elderberry bush. 

My little resting spot. The benches have since been painted but in May they still looked this sad. Resa planted morning glories to hopefully climb up the crooked trellis behind the bench, which would be so lovely.
The look on JF's face cracks me up. What a goober!

So that's it for today. There's not much else to see but I'll post again soon. Thanks for putzing with me and let me know if you know what those purple flowers are! 

May 30, 2018

A Good School Year

The 2017-2018 school year was sooooooo much better than last. Last year we had good teachers and a lot of fun but this year lacked things like incredibly difficult IEP meetings and open heart surgery. There were a few bumps along the way - which is life - but overall we loved 4th, 2nd, 1st, Kindergarten, and Pre-K4.

This year L loved her teacher, broke her right arm roller skating, began altar serving, and earned eight badges in American Heritage Girls.

Ben had a beloved teacher this year, made his first confession, and received his First Holy Communion. He also had a lot of fun in Boy Scouts, got braces, and impressed us with his penmanship and ability to retell Bible stories.

JF spent his mornings at our parochial school for Religion and then headed to the public school for the rest of the day. His teachers and aids were all amazing and he really made ground in speech and reading.

Resa L O V E D kindergarten. She loved her classmates, she loved her teacher, she loved learning, she loved recess. The only thing she didn't love was being hot in the air condition-less school.

Jofis got a lot out of pre-k4 but he also struggled a bit. Some of his classmates were a year older than him and the gap was obvious at times. He had a great teacher and some really good friends last year but he'll be doing pre-k4 again next year so he can really be ready for kindergarten instead of struggling and hating school.

"I am excited about learning. I want to be a Mommy and a baker when I grow up. I love to color and bake."
"My favorite part was EVERYTHING. I want to be a baker. I love all my teahcers, baking, Granma Bert and Papa, Mormor and Grandpa, reading, PBS Kids, Daddy and Mommy, Tomas, Meriam"

"I am excited about First Communion. I want to an engineer, train driver, when I grow up. I love pizza, friends, fishing, and working with Daddy."
"My favorite part was Math! I want to be a priest when I grow up! I love God, playing ball tag, and pizza."

"I am excited to play at recess. I want to be a choo choo man when I grow up. I love to play with cards, play Old 97 with Joseph, fishing and going on a walk."
"My favorite part was Math. I want to be a train engineer. I love hamburgers, sausage, inside recess, Star Wars, Grandma Bert, Mormor."

"I am excited about going to school. I want to be a Mommy and a rock star when I grow up. I love
Thomas, going to Neighbor's house, reading books, and going to Mrs. H and Bill's house."
"My favorite part was Math. I want to be a Mom. I love Jesus, strawberry pretzel salad, playing at school, Mommy and Daddy."

"I am excited about riding the bikes and trikes. I want to be a Dad who's not allergic when I grow up. I like to ride bikes and trikes and scooters and eat. some. bacon! And ice cream with sprinkles and oatmeal with sprinkles."
"My favorite part was playing. I want to be a train driver. I love chocolate bars, ball tag, B from school, and Jesus."

We have some fun things planned for the summer - the library reading program, a trip to a Lodge, and lots of adhering to the Summer Daily Schedule. We'll see how this goes.

May 23, 2018

A Simple Confession

Last week I called my parish office to schedule an appointment for confession.

With Father standing at her side the secretary asked, "What would work for you?"

"Well, nap time is soon but I could come now, be there in 15 minutes."

And fifteen minutes later I parked my van in one of the shaded spots in front of the church, left the kids in the van, and ran to the parish office door. A minute later I returned with our priest.

It was a beautiful day and since the kids were in the van we sat on the bench swing. "Just don't lean back, Bonnie. There's bird poop!" Father said with a laugh.

And there on a swing, in the sunshine, with the two year old occasionally setting off a dying panic button on the car keys, I made my confession. Father nodded and asked a question and gave me some direction. He gave me my penance and encouraged me to pray an act of contrition from my heart. He prayed over me, blessed me, and assured me that my sins were forgiven.

Thanks be to God.

He walked to the van to say "Hello" and "Good-bye" to the kids and then we were off - on our way home for naps and quiet time. I felt lighter, freer, closer to God.

I share this little story with you because I want to tell you that frequent confession is such a gift to me. As I have aged life has not gotten easier, but as my relationship with the Blessed Trinity has matured and strengthened it has gotten easier to get through the hard parts of life. Reconciliation has played a vital role with this. It makes me a better mom, daughter, wife, and friend. It bolsters my prayer and Scripture study. It draws me closer to the Eucharist. It helps me to love, serve, and forgive more generously and graciously. It lightens my heart and clears my mind.

I don't know what I would do without the Sacrament of Reconciliation and I'm grateful I don't have to find out. It is a gift.

Thanks be to God.

May 9, 2018

Five Favorites

This morning started out okay and I was filled with hope. "I'll be able to work on some writing," I naively thought. "Tee and MJ will be happy as clams and I can get things done."

But pretty much all Tee and MJ did was cry and snot and cry some more when I wiped their noses.

Maybe it's the barometric pressure?

This afternoon has been better - long live nap time and Thomas & Friends streaming on Amazon Prime! - but even with Jofis home I've had to do a lot more parenting and a lot less creating. Oh well. I once heard a father say that when our kids are at their worst we need to be at our best. I accept that; I think it's true, beautiful, and hard.

But I still want to chat with you so we'll just keep it lighthearted, howsaboutthat?

Remember way back in the day when Hallie Lord posted her five favorites each Wednesday? I loved that so we'll go old school and I'll share my current five faves. Here goes!

- 1 -

These gaucho pants are thin and high waisted and super comfortable.  You will basically see me in them the rest of the summer. With heels and a blouse: they're dressy! With flip flops and a t-shirt: super casual! Do I look good in them? I don't really care! I'm comfortable, my butt and belly aren't hanging out, and they're not hot!

- 2 -

Cannot get enough of this new Mat Kearney song.

- 3 -

I made some wild violet jelly from violets the kids and I picked from our backyard. It was suuuuper simple and tastes delicious on some buttery toast. Resa also likes it on her PBJs. I used this recipe.

- 4 - 

Spring has come and I can send the kids outside to play for hours. They need baths at the end of the day but the weather is beautiful, their bodies are getting stronger, and my house is staying tidier longer. Everybody wins!

- 5 -
That after tonight's recorder concert we will be done with recorders for two more years. Peace.