Monday, November 30, 2015

I don't care how you Advent

Do you remember reading Clinton Kelly's little essay on Facebook about how we dress ourselves? It was after he was done filming What Not to Wear and it was such a fabulous little piece, coming from the heart of a very sincere and caring man. Below is an excerpt. You should follow the link to read the whole thing, but I want to be sure that you read at least this part because it's important for what I'm going to say.

"I don’t care what you wear. I really don’t. And I don’t care what you think of what I wear. I really don’t. I care what I wear. And I think you should care about what you wear.

Your style can make you happy, and even though I don’t know you, I’d like you to be happy, because as a human being, you deserve to be happy."

This year I'm seeing a little bit of backlash online, a response to all the posts on "how to do Advent" and "how to celebrate the feast days" and "how to live liturgically."

There's a lot of truth in these posts, and honestly they're things I've tried to stress repeatedly over the last few years:
- find what works for your family
- as the seasons of your life change so will what happens in your home
- don't feel like you have to do it all

Some of the posts seem to target bloggers like me, the ones who enjoy writing about what we do and why, showing lots of pictures along the way. I guess sometimes it doesn't matter if a person writes a big intro paragraph explaining, "When I was a new mom, figuring all this out, these kinds of posts were so helpful to me so here's what we do - take what you like and leave the rest, or leave it all! It's what works for us and we enjoy it!" In the end, a person can still feel overwhelmed by all the options and guilty about all that's not happening in their home. 

And so, following the footsteps of Clinton Kelly, I want to tell you this:

I don't care what you do in your home to celebrate the holy days and seasons. I really don't. And I don't care what you think of what we do in our home. I really don't. I care about what we do. And I think you should care about what you do. 

Making our homes domestic churches can make you happy - building a family culture and bringing meaning and joy to your every day life and faith - and even though I don't know you, I'd like you to be happy, because as a human being made in the image and likeness of God you deserve to be happy.

I am not the liturgical living police, judging your holiness and abilities as a Catholic or parent based on how or if you do St. Nick, if you bake Santa Lucia rolls from scratch, if you even know how St. Lucy is, if Santa comes to your house on Christmas, if you have a Jesse Tree, if you sing around your Advent wreath, if you forbid all Christmas music from your home before Dec 25th, if you do something for Epiphany... and so on.

If listening to Christmas music in October makes you happy then great, listen to Christmas music! If you find embroidering your own Jesse Tree ornaments to be the best thing ever then great, embroider away! If you only give your kids gifts on Epiphany then great, live it up with the Three Kings!

I know that in her wisdom the Church gives us the liturgical calendar, feast days, and the traditions that surround them to help us grow closer to Christ. I want you to grow closer to Christ. I hope my blog has helped you do that. I have enjoyed the conversations here and around the web about our differing opinions and perspectives and preferences.

The only judging I'm going to do is the kind that comes from weighing if your ideas would work for my family. If they do - awesome. And if they don't - awesome. How great that there are so many ways to do this the right way!

PS - If you are looking for a few ideas, here's a few posts to show you how we get through the next few weeks:

St. Nick + Santa Claus = how we do it
Santa Lucia Rolls - a guest post by Grace Patton (we use and love this recipe!)
Advent for Beginners or Converts or Reverts or those who are easily overwhelmed - a Knot Bad Video
Celebrating Venerable Fulton Sheen's unofficial feast day - a Knot Bad Video
Advent Playlist - a mix of carols about Advent and pop songs about winter

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Seven Quick Takes that took a Month to Write

As always, thank you to Kelly for hosting!!!

1 - The plan was to post these quick takes a couple of hours ago. Instead I spent over an hour trying to search for the song to begin this epic post. And by "trying to search" I mean I was actually watching clips of The Graham Norton show on YouTube.

2 - But here is the song I was looking for. Warning to Mary of letlovebesincere: if Ryan Adams makes your ears bleed do not listen to this.

I heard this song once on the radio last year. I don't know how I finally found it, but I know it took a long time. The other day I was driving and it suddenly popped into my head and I had. to. listen. to. it. My husband hates it but I can't get enough. Anyways, thank you, YouTube, for the History tab which led me back to Valerie June.

3 - Today I made a mistake:
Volunteering to cover a 1/2 hour of an adoration time slot.

Our parish has adoration throughout the day on Fridays, immediately following the all school Mass and with Benediction at 3pm. Parishioners attend and classes come over through-out the day, K-8, to spend time with our Eucharistic Lord. However, during the kids' lunch time they are sure to have people signed up to be in the pews. I volunteered to take 11:30-12.

My kids' behavior really wasn't that bad (they're 2, 3, and 5) and if we had been the only people in the church I wouldn't have minded at all. But when others are there - well, it's probably just not a good idea for us to be there. I know I wouldn't mind if a parent and children came in while I was praying but I also know how much the silence means to me.

4 - A couple weeks back I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. So now I'm on a special diet (don't tell anyone about the small Butterfinger Blizzard I got on the way home from Adoration today) and have to do finger pricks 4x a day. One of the most interesting things I have learned is that, at least for me, sugar is not the enemy so much as the carbs found in bread, pasta, milk, and even popcorn. It's a bit of a blessing that I can still enjoy some chocolate candy (in small amounts and only following a good bit of protein) since I really have to limit my beloved baked goods.

But if all this means a smaller baby - I'm in it to win it. (Shooting for 10lbs or less. Because that's what a small baby means to me.)

5 - Confession: I began this post weeks ago. But that's okay. Here's a friendly reminder: gonna order something from Amazon? Use my link (or click on that little button in the sidebar) and I'll earn a small referral fee at no cost to you. It's what buys Christmas presents in these parts - no joke - so thank you for helping our family.

6 - SO. Thanksgiving. James survived yesterday and will hopefully survive today. Mostly this, and the intense pain happening in my S.I. joints / hips, is all I can think about.

I know Thanksgiving = casseroles and things filled with butter or covered in cream of something soup to most people. But any more, to me those things are just death threats. Ugh. I hate food allergies.

7 - My kids love using our fireplace. They will haul the wood in, and build it up, and then sit with me and / or their daddy to take it all in. It's the sweetest.
And in case that sounds just too perfect, here's a look at the family room mess. :)

Take care, everyone! See you in Advent!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Super Easy, Dairy-Free Potato Soup Recipe

This potato soup recipe is something I made up so our family would have a comfort-food dinner that everyone loved, filled us all up, and was totally safe for all members of our family.

This is incredibly forgiving - believe me - and really easy to tailor to an individuals preferences and what's in the pantry.

And now, per Jenna's request, here's our go-to, allergy friendly, family supper.

1.5 lbs potato - any kind
2 bags frozen cauliflower (or raw cauliflower if you feel like chopping)
(optional) carrots
Earth Balance Soy Free Spread
salt & pepper
onion powder

crumbled bacon
shredded cheese
green onion

Fill a large pot 2/3 with water. Add salt and bring to boil.
Meanwhile, wash, peel, and quarter potatoes.
Once water is boiling add potatoes and cauliflower. If you're also adding carrots do so now. Cook until a knife easily pierces the veggies.

Option One - a Chunky Soup: 
Remove 1/4 to 1/3 of the potatoes and carrots and set aside.
Drain about 1/2 of the water.
Use an immersion blender, Ninja, regular old blender, or even elbow grease + potato masher and mash / puree the remaining veggies with the water until it's smooth. If it's thicker than you'd like just add some water to create the preferred consistency.
Add 3-4 Tbsp (or to taste) of the Earth Balance spread; mix well.
Season with salt, pepper, sage, and onion powder to taste.
Stir reserved carrots and potatoes back in.
Serve with topping choices.

Option Two - a Smooth and Creamy Soup:
Drain about 1/2 of the water.
Use an immersion blender, Ninja, regular old blender, or even elbow grease + potato masher and mash / puree the remaining veggies with the water until it's smooth. If it's thicker than you'd like just add some water to create the preferred consistency.
Add 3-4 Tbsp (or to taste) of the Earth Balance spread; mix well.
Season with salt, pepper, sage, and onion powder to taste.
Serve with topping choices.

Serves 6-8

I have often made these bread bowls to serve the soup in, and while not everyone can have one they are pretty delicious and help the soup go even further. Otherwise I serve the soup with grapes or apple slices and call it good enough. My kids are always happy and our bellies are always full.

*A couple of notes about cooking for people with allergies. Make sure you read all the labels to see what is in each ingredient and where it was processed. For example, some Kroger spices contain whey and Aldi spices were manufactured with nuts and dairy. Those spices are not safe for my sons and we often have to buy name brand.

Monday, November 16, 2015

This was supposed to be a head's up, but now it's just crunch time.

My friends asked me to do them a solid and tell my readers about something. And I said I would. And then I forgot. And so this is a week over-due, but let's just pretend that it was all a part of the plan (because otherwise I feel like my life is spinning out of control while my pregnant self keeps nodding off to sleep). We can pretend like it's part of the plan because there's something cool about *today* that wasn't true about last week... when I was supposed to tell you about this.

So: moms, people who know moms, and especially moms of littles here is something special, just for you and your Advent:

Nell, Whole Parenting Family, Laura, Mothering Spirit, and Nancy, Do Small Things with Love, have come together to make this great bundle: a Scripture study, a companion journal, and a lectio devina bookmark you can keep in your Bible.

Here's the gist of the study:
Each week of Advent tackles a different comment challenge we face this time of year: Materialism, Loneliness, Fear and Despair. It is our hope that through this study and the Holy Scripture, God will show you a better way and move your heart to Generosity, Communion, Love and Joy.

They even have a Facebook group you can join to walk through the season with other moms.

You can purchase this great Advent collection of goodness by clicking through to here AND if you order today then Nancy will give you free copy of her Jesse Tree print and color ornaments. (That's the part that we're going to pretend makes this late post intentional.)

So this looks fabulous and really did want to make sure you guys knew about it in case you were looking for something for yourself. And now I finally told you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My five favorite blog reads of late

Today I'm liking up with Ashley from The Big White Farmhouse for #FiveFavorites. :)

This is my Best of the Web version of #5Faves - some of the best posts that popped up in my reader over the past few days. I hope you enjoy them, too.

How to Deal with Little Hoarders at House for Five
Now if Deme could just write a post about how to deal with hoarders when the hoarder is you. ahem. And her story about Mr. Steve is really beautiful - I am inspired by this post on several levels.

Is It His Money or Mine? at letlovebesincere
In a funny move of bloggers inspiring bloggers, Mary's post on tithing is, in part, the fruit of my Financial Hardships and Surprise Pregnancies series, and I found this post to be incredibly thought-provoking.  Also, please do click through to read Colleen's post Giving Uncomfortably at Martin Family Moments. It is another inspiring read and obviously impacted Mary and me.

The 10-Year-Old Trip to Chicago: Part 3 at Team Whitaker
I live in Illinois and have a fairly strong dislike of Chicago. I even refuse to drive in the city, or in any of the suburbs beyond Aurora. But Kathryn's three part series has me thinking I just might be missing out. (Or maybe I just want to spend time with Kathryn - that could also be true.) Either way, her list at the end of this post is really great, especially #7.

A New Chapter at Audrey Eclectic
As a mom who tries to squeeze creative things in during nap time it was so nice to read about how Heather paints and what this new chapter in her life will mean for her - as a person and an artist. I also love the explanation she gives on one of her paintings - what inspired her to create it and what it means to her.

Beyond Candy and Crafts: Living Liturgically with Older Kids at This Ain't the Lyceum
You know what, maybe this post did make me tear up a little bit, I don't even really know why, but I think it is beautifully written, thoughtful, and practical all at the same time.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

God works differently in all our lives: Sex, Money, Suffering, and Grace

Recently I have had several conversations with people about tithing. Several women shared that they are convicted to tithe a full 10% of their money, first thing, and they have seen time and time again that God has been generous back to them. Another friend confided that every time she does not give from the top of her paycheck something ridiculous always happens so that she has even less money.

Now, after I wrote the Financial Hardships and Surprise Pregnancies series, where I revealed that we do not tithe 10% monetarily several things happened:
- We received notice that our mortgage was going up each month because of escrow.
- I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, throwing a wrench into our meal plan and grocery budget.
- My husband had to cancel a dental appointment because we couldn't afford the work.

- Someone sent us $200, which we are putting towards the dental work and Christmas presents. (Thank you!)
- Someone else sent me a whole box of chai tea concentrate (which I have to drink in major moderation now but once the baby comes and the diabetes clears up I will be freely enjoying). (And thank you!)
- Someone else sent us a $100 gift card that we can put towards groceries. (And thank you, too!)

Maybe we were given new difficulties because we don't tithe 10% of our paychecks but I don't think that's how God works - at least not in our lives. I mean, at the exact same time, look at the ways He was inspiring the Body of Christ to be generous! Look at the ways He came through for us!

BUT, I do trust those women in what they said. I do believe that that's how God works in their lives.

This was probably already made pretty darn clear in the FH&SP series, but being this poor can be incredibly humiliating at times. But like I also said in the series I really do think that these are the sufferings and sacrifices God has given to us. They're not going to look exactly like yours nor will yours look like mine.

I wholeheartedly believe that God works differently in each of our lives according to what we need for sanctification. Maybe that friend of mine needs to be stripped of her love of money and needs to learn to submit to and trust in God. Or maybe that's not it at all - I'm just guessing to illustrate here.

But for me, I think I need to be stripped of my pride. I need to learn to put others first. I need to love God above my husband. At least that's what I've figured out so far, I'm sure there's lots more to unearth. Right now my heaviest crosses are the financial worry, the physical toll all the pregnancies have taken on my body, and the fact that natural family planning in my marriage will be nothing more than complete abstinence for several (many?) years. So I guess I need to work on chastity, too, probably.

Are these things fun? Uh, no. Are they easy? Nope, usually not and especially not at first. But these crosses are mine and it's time to stop pretending like I should have what other people have (like savings accounts and normal fertility) because that's not what I need right now to grow in holiness.

A recent article posted at Aleteia says with a great deal of charity and compassion for people just like me, "It can’t be acceptable, from the Catholic point of view, that the marital act is so strictly bound by economic status that husbands and wives can enjoy the divine gift of sexual union only if they can afford the result. The Catholic teaching is not for the middle and upper classes alone."

Do you know what I thought when I read that? "I appreciate what you're saying, but don't take this away from me." If this is my cross, if this is the means that God has chosen to sanctify me then please don't take it way. Don't find an easy out option for me. I don't need a loophole; I need grace.

I need the grace to turn to God in prayer. I need grace to not believe the lie that my husband doesn't love me just because we can't be intimate. I need grace to do what I need to do to heal and strengthen my body. I need the grace to stop worrying about how dingy and shabby the carpet, bathrooms, living room furniture, and kitchen cabinets look and start being grateful. As my Ugandan priest told me, materialism is one of the greatest weaknesses of Catholics in America. My bathrooms may be dated, small, and ugly but I have two of them, with hot running water, and they're air conditioned.

As an aside, if you want to feel like an ungrateful jerk, try confessing your jealousy of everyone else's shiny swagger wagons to a man who as a boy had to hide in the fields of a banana plantation, ended up being bitten everywhere by fire ants but couldn't move because otherwise he'd be killed or kidnapped by the soldiers who had arrived at his home during a civil war.

So materialism, jealousy, ungratefulness - yes I need to work on those things, too. And because of the lot in life that God has given me I can work on them. This vocation - my husband, my kids, my home - this is the path before me and the Good Shepherd is leading me so I fear no evil. The trick is to only remember that His rod and staff are there to guide and save me, not to punish me. Your path may look a bit different than mine - your verdant pastures may have different consolations and there may be different rocks and brambles along your way - but I trust that's how it should be. 

The Kind of Love my shepherd is
whose goodness fails me never;
I nothing lack if I am His 
and He is mine forever...

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness fails me never.
Good Shepherd may I sing Thy praise
within Thy house forever.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Rest of the Story & Pre-Gaming for Halloween

A few years ago, one of our children would awaken to someone calling their first name, telling us the voice sounded like a little girl’s. That same child would also run down the hall in the middle of the night, screaming, crying, heart pounding, terrified of something, something they couldn’t explain but it knew our child’s name. I had always believed in the “visible and invisible” but it was this experience that initiated my desire to understand the difference between the invisible good and the invisible bad.

The invisible evil—demons and Satan himself, prowling about the world seeking the ruin of souls—are just as much a reality as our Guardian Angels and Saint Michael, who will defend us in battle and be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.

Those words were written by me, and were published today for the Blessed Is She devotion. While I go into a bit more detail in the devotion several women have asked for the rest of the story: what did we do to help and protect our child in this situation. So here it is, the rest of the story:

Our home was blessed when we moved in but with this issue we wondered if it should be blessed again. We told a couple of priests about it (our pastor and a family friend) and asked for their thoughts on the issue. Then, armed with their advice; a respect for the situation; and formation we had received in spiritual warfare we proceeded:

When our child would hear the voice again or have a bad nightmare I would make the sign of the cross on the 4 corners of the child's bed, praying out loud, "In the Name of Jesus Christ, nothing evil can touch this bed." Then I would bless and mark my child with the sign of the cross and pray out loud, "This child belongs to Christ and in His Name nothing not of God can come near. No evil is allowed near my child, in the Name of Jesus Christ." I would pray the Guardian Angel prayer and the St. Michael prayer over the bed. I would entrust my kiddo to the care of the BVM and then I would go into the hallway and, again praying out loud, I would announce that only angels of God were allowed in my children's rooms, in our house, on our property, or anywhere near our house or family members. I used holy water and continued to pray in the Name of Christ that anything evil would leave immediately. I told satan and his demons to go back to Hell.

Travis did his own version of all this, too and after several incidents it stopped. Because I am my children's mother I have spiritual authority over them and knew that, while submitting to God and calling on His Name we would be safe. Also, because I had discussed it with priests beforehand I knew that what I was doing was safe and that we weren't working with something scarier or in need of "the big guns" aka an exorcist or even someone ordained. So what I was doing was in my job description, so to speak.

I say that because I really do believe that satan is real and he is trying to get at us and so I don't want anyone to think I  took this lightly or that I am offering advice for what you should do. Just as you have authority over your children, your pastor has authority over you and so do talk to him if something creepy / supernatural is happening in your home.

Now, you can read the rest of today's Blessed Is She devotion here. In fact, I think you should. Once I saw the following tweet from Pope Francis I thought, "The Holy Spirit has a message for today."

You can read about a couple other run-ins I've had with the supernatural in this post, The Seen and the Unseen and St. Michael the Archangel.

And now for the second half of this post: a little bit of pre-gaming for Halloween.

In case you're scratching your head wondering why - after the experiences described above - I would celebrate Halloween in our home I share this excerpt with you, taken from a post I wrote a few years back:

Somewhere between the occult and harvest parties lies what Halloween could and should be...

We’re Catholics, folks. We own weird, bizarre, and even slightly creepy. We reverence bone-y relics, we do exorcisms, we have holy cards of St. Peregrine showing off his cancerous leg. We look death and evil squarely in the eyes and say, “Oh, it’s you” and roll over on our beds to go back to sleep. We do this because we know that Christ has conquered death. Mary’s heel is squashing the serpent’s head. St. Michael has satan in chains, ready to cast him into Hell.

You can read the rest here: Halloween in Our Home.

Queen Elsa, a pirate, a princess, a little lion man, and No Noggin say Hello from the Troll Bridge.

And just for good measure, here's my Halloween playlist: