July 25, 2016


Today is my birthday.

Mom + me. 

About two weeks ago my body sent out the memo that this birthday was approaching and automatically sent twenty new grey hairs. I know other women have gone grey gracefully and happily but it was a bit of a hit for me.

For awhile I thought I wanted a big party. Get a cover band, string up twinkly lights, buy a keg. But today was mostly normal. Flowers and cards and a bottle of wine from my husband and kids. Breakfast with my college chaplain. And then lots of errands, chicken nuggets for lunch, made a few phone calls, changed a few dirty diapers. So thirty-five has come with a couple of streamers taped up by L and ended with KFC for supper with my parents.

Nice and simple.

A few years ago I did a list of thirty-one things I wanted to do in my thirty-first year. (You can read the list here, and it's follow-up of how unimpressive I was here.) I wanted to do it again, with four more this year. So here it is:

Thirty-Five Things

1 - Read my Bible every day.

2 - Attend Adoration regularly.

3 - Forgive the slights and insults.

4 - Publish a book.

5 - Potty train my 3 year old.

6 - Eat more fresh veggies.

7 - Go on walks.

8 - Pull the weeds under the pine tree.

9 - Stain the benches that sit outside.

10 - Paint the bedroom.

11 - Transplant the ornamental grass.

12 - Weed the side yard and lay down mulch.

13 - Read more novels (one a month?)

14 - Pay it forward.

15 - Sleep.

16 - Vacuum twice a week for allergy-suffers' sakes.

17 - Stain the playset.

18 - Write more letters.

19 - Bake more bread.

20 - Mop once a week, as opposed to once a month... if.

21 - Attend a conference.

22 - Figure out what's going with my ears reacting to all my earrings.

23 - Have at least five speaking gigs.

24 - Lose the same 45lbs I wanted to lose four years ago.

25 - Make sure Resa knows here letters, numbers, shapes, colors, prayers, address, and how to write her first and last name.

26 - Let the kids bake more.

27 - Help Ben with his reading.

28 - Take L to confession once a month.

29 - Line dry the sheets.

30 - Wash the sheets once a week.

31 - Spend more time with my grandparents.

32 - Organize the pictures and save to discs or whatever.

33 - Help JF with his speech.

34 - Drink more water.

35 - Learn to make caramels.

July 21, 2016

Baby Tee's Baptism!

When sweet baby Tee was not even two months old we called in the troops, headed to the last Sunday Mass of the day, and had our son baptized.

Friends and family came for the event, which was really wonderful - to look out over the pews and see so many of our loved ones. It was laid back, with kids wandering and toddling about. But the deacon didn't mind one bit, and nor did we.

Resa got a good sniff of the chrism right before it was used on Tee's forehead.

Love this moment.

And here's the godparents, our good friends Justin and Ruth, the newest little Catholic, and hubby and me. We're a happy bunch. :)

We followed the Sacrament up with a cook-out at our house.

I ended up loving the little "tablescape" I set up. A sweet little gift from his mormor. Holy water from the baptismal font. Handmade namesake peg dolls: Thomas Aquinas and Fr. Emil Kapaun. A Hatch print that Katrina sent as a "Hello, Baby!" gift. His baptismal candle. A Fr. Kapaun holy card. A rosary from his godparents. And the baptismal gown that was handmaid by my friend Sr. Marie Noelle, OP. (It's too small for my big babies so we use it as the white garment that is laid on the baby instead of the felt thingy from the parish. 

 And, of course, we had to find a way to bring our man Fulton Sheen into the day. I thought this quotes was a good one.

It was a beautiful day. We are so grateful for our faith, our friends and family, and our sweet baby Tee. 

July 15, 2016

Instagrammers you should follow, In This House of Brede, and a few other bits and bobs

1 - I heard this song on Lark Rise to Candleford, hunted it down, and taught it to my kids. It's a fun song to sing, though my husband thinks I'm nuts and typing it all out makes me feel really lame.

2 - Two years ago this August I ran a series called Instagrammers You Should Follow and highlighted the IG account of Anna Hatke. If you didn't begin following her then you really should now. Each summer she and her girls return to the storybook Italian village where her family's roots are. Sometimes her husband, author and illustrator Ben Hatke, comes too but this year it's just the ladies. And the pictures are gorgeous and magical. Follow her.

3 - And while you're over in Instagram land, I am also going to recommend you follow my friend Shana. She's just a mom and a wife and a woman who loves Jesus. She also happens to have a great sense of humor.

The funny thing is I never knew Shana before but I knew OF Shana. She was like a legend, a demi goddess. In high school one of my best friends was LB. Her older sister's best friend was Sarah. Sarah mentored LB and me a bit through a Christian youth program and we both thought Sarah was so cool. Shana is Sarah's older sister and everyone thought Shana was outrageous and amazing and the. coolest. person. ever. Ever.

So enough about 16 year old Bonnie and 21(?) year old Shana. She's pregnant and funny and lovely and real now. You can follow her here.

4 - A few months ago a friend mentioned a brush to me and encouraged me to buy one off Amazon. "It's great for detangling wet hair," she said, and I will admit I did not believe her. I think she sensed that so she bought one for me and she was 100% correct. The Wet Brush is fabulous. It's not as great on dry hair, or at least not on my dry hair, but on wet hair it is better than the combs or picks I had been using. I love it for me and my girls. (That's an affiliate link above so if you click through and buy one I'll get a small kick back at no charge to you.)

 5 - Last night I stayed up until midnight so I could finish the book In This House of Brede. I enjoyed reading the novel tremendously and I sorta saw the end coming but when it got there I was... disappointed. Now let me do my best River Song impression:

Spoilers. ;)

I'm assuming that if you're still reading this take you have already read the book and so I won't be ruining the ending for anyone. So here goes: They get on a plane?! That's how it ends?! With them getting on a plane?! No. (head shake) No. (head shake)  No. (head shake)

I think I wanted to see them there, in Japan. I wanted it to end with Phillipa looking out into the Japanese gardens or something. Maybe that would be tidy, but it felt tidy having Penny and Donald there watching them board. And I don't really understand why McTurk went with them. hmmm... If you've read it what do you think?

PS - I did love Cecily and how she made her choice and how her prayer was answered. That was wonderful.

6 - One week from today I'll be leading a Blessed Is She workshop on Building Intentional Community. I'll be sharing what I've learned from leading, founding, attending, and belonging to various groups, ministries, and gatherings over the years. Personally, I found it to be difficult to find where I fit in as an adult and while I definitely haven't figured it all out I have gotten some things right while learning from few mistakes I've made along the way.

I think this workshop will be really useful if you are looking to join or form a ministry / book club / mom group / young adult group OR if you are already actively involved in one. If you signed up for the BIS Membership you will already have access to the workshop but if you aren't a member you can still watch. To sign up for the Membership click here or to pay the $15 and sign up for the workshop click here.

7 - Finally, I wish I could hug the world. The refugees, the LBGT community, the black community, police officers, and now the people of Nice, France. How can such a beautiful world have so much pain and ugliness? I don't have any answers but I promise that I am trying to become a better person and I'm trying to raise my children to be good people - the kind who fight for justice, who stand up and speak up, who are merciful and loving. And in the meanwhile I am praying with my very heavy heart.
Jesus, I trust in You. Come, Lord Jesus.+

July 11, 2016

A Staycation Trip to the Zoo

Since Disney and other grand vacations are out of our price range we have to keep our fun local and not too expensive. Last week I mentioned all the fishing we've been doing but we wanted to also plan a fun day trip for the kids. A few years back  Travis' mom, grandma, sister, aunt, cousin and I headed to the Niabi Zoo with my two kids. I was big and pregnant with JF and it was one of the hottest days of summer but it was so. much. fun. When the opportunity came for my family to receive some free tickets to return this summer I jumped at the chance because I knew we would enjoy the day. While the Niabi Zoo gave us the tickets for zoo entry, my mother-in-law and I purchased tickets for all other rides and the stroller rental, and I am 100% telling you the truth: it was a great day.

We started the day by feeding the kids a big breakfast and then having them pack up snack bags to eat on the way home. We knew that with our food allergies we would buy drinks at the zoo but not food, but the extra little fun of coloring a brown paper bag was exciting to them. (Which sorta boggles my mind, but it's a win for me so I'm taking it!)

The Niabi Zoo isn't a huge zoo but there was plenty to do and see. Like the giant mist-maker that delighted my kids.

And the train that circles the park. It's a great way to get your bearings and cool off a bit. JF and JP looooove trains so we had to stop and wave every time it went by. The boys also delighted in crossing the tracks occasionally and all the kids loved the ride.

But, yeah, there was a lot of this throughout the day:

Various Junior Zookeepers and other employees were stationed around the park to answer questions and talk about the animals. Everyone was super friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. And when we were on our own L was the official keeper of the map. 

A family favorite was the pond - filled with ducks, geese, giant goldfish, and a couple of swans.

The pony rides were another hit. JP literally had to be pulled off his pony - he did not want it to end. 


We also loved the larakeets. Well, JF freaked out when one landed on his shoulder from behind and Resa was a little leery. But L loved feeding them nectar and my mother-in-law was like a magnet and loved every minute of it.

The carousel was how we ended the day and then it was back to the van for our hour drive home. The kids ate their snack bags, chatted about the day, and eventually a couple even fell asleep. Later, when I asked the kids what they liked best their answers were:
L - feeding the birds
JF - the train!!!!
Resa - the thing that went around and around and up and down (the carousel)
Jofis - the horsey ride!

My favorite part, though, was that that the grounds were lovely. It was clean, well cared for, and beautifully landscaped. I was really, really impressed with it - it was like walking through a garden.

The zoo has actually grown some since the last time I was there six years ago, and I was pleasantly surprised by the improvements. If you live within a couple hours of the Quad Cities I encourage you to take a little day trip to visit. You can learn more about the Niabi Zoo at their website, on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.  

July 8, 2016

A Summer Schedule and What We've Been Up To

I don't know about your kid, but mine can look at a clock and tell me exactly what they would be doing at school at that exact time. They can tell me what they do right before that time and what they will do right after that time. Within the schedule there are plenty of opportunities for surprises and choices and flexibility but there is still the structure that can guide the day. And I don't know about your kid, but mine love that. 

Now I don't know about in your house, but in mine if I don't have anything to do I end up doing nothing. Kids get fed popcorn for lunch... at 1:30. Dishes never get done. Copious amounts of fruit snacks are eaten. And around 3pm I realize we've been watching hours of horrible Ninjago episodies in our stinky pj's and I have no idea what's for dinner. 

For some people that would be a dream day but usually those days, especially too many of them, leave me falling behind and stressing out. I didn't want to spend my summer like that and I also knew that my kids, especially two of them, would need to keep up with handwriting, reading, and basic math concepts or they would struggle in the Fall. Enter: the Daily Schedule. It hangs on our fridge and guides our days.

I knew writing out the schedule would mean the kids and I would both have something to reference and keep us all on track. What I didn't know is the amount of authority it would carry in our home. You want to watch TV? Sorry, it's not TV time. You can go outside and play. And they go outside and play! BOOM! Just like that!

The keys to making this work in our home has been the following rules:
- The kitchen is closed at 8:30.
- Fresh fruit or veggies are the only snacks allowed between scheduled meals / snack time.
- iPad and computer games can only be played during TV time or Free time and only for a limited amount of time (10 minutes).
- Shoes must be left by the front door.
- Play outside first and for as long as possible. 

We don't do school every day and we've missed some reading but my kids are still reading more and getting more books read to them this summer than they have had in a very long time. All six kids are here all day long and still my house is relatively tidy and they are brushing their teeth twice a day. All because a piece of paper on the fridge tells them to! It's amazing!

Anyways, obviously I am a little in love with my schedule, but now I'll share some pictures of what else we've been doing this summer. We've been trying to do fun things for a low cost - like most of America, methinks - and so far, so good.

We introduced the kids to The Sandlot. There was a lot more language than we remembered and once JF said, "Oh shit!" and it wasn't because of me I knew I needed to remove it from the Netflix options. But we ate nachos, popcorn, and hotdogs (baseball food) for dinner and had s'mores at just the right time in the movie. ;) The kids loved it. 

Travis and I attended a Diocesan Institute day that was totally free! My mother-in-law babysat the five older kids and Travis and I had breakfast, lunch, and dinner in between a beautiful holy hour, lessons on Lectio Divina, Mass, and really great presentations by Dan Burke and Peter Howard. Baby Tee got some good tummy time in, too.

Travis introduced the kids to fishing. L ended up spending some of her birthday money on buying herself a pole and the kids like to practice casting in the backyard.

Most of our fishing has been done at a local lake. L and B can bait their hooks, cast, set the hook, reel in, and take the fish off the hook all by themselves. I'm pretty impressed since about all I can do is cast and reel.

I have had on and off success with my daily Bible reading and prayer time. My Scripture memorizing has pretty much fallen off the wayside, which is both bad and good. Doing one a week was too much - I wasn't retaining - and I've noticed that letting the passages come to me has been more impactful.

In the last few weeks JF has gone to the ER twice because of allergic reactions to food and when I was overcome with fear I thought back to my memory verse from a few weeks back: Do not be afraid; just have faith. Mark 6:36

Travis started the summer with sciatica pain so severe he was on all kinds of pain meds, sleeping most of the day, laying on the floor, crawling from room to room. Friends and neighbors helped us through that time, mowing the yard and bringing a couple meals and it was so appreciated. Now he is better and working on a couple of projects for family members. We're doing the summer reading program at the library, along with Lego Club, swim lessons, grilling out, eating popcicles, and tending our small garden. So far, ladies and gentlemen, so good.

July 6, 2016

Finding Your Fiat: a conference recap

One hundred and forty women came from Minnesota, Missouri, Virginia, Colorado, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, and Illinois for a simple women's conference in central Illinois. The game plan was simple: bring in some dynamic speakers, add some fresh flowers and home baked cookies, and put them all in a church hall. Don't charge too much and invite women who love God and want to have a good time. It worked. 

Maybe you followed along on social media. Instagram has a good collection of pictures and I shared a couple good videos on my Facebook page but here's a few more glimpses of the weekend. 

Friday night was a Girls' Night Out. It was a blast. The location was beautiful, the food was delicious, and the wine was fantastic. Local friends loaned me their Marian statues so each table had a different image of our Lady - the woman whose Fiat has echoed down through the centuries. Jenna Guizar spoke about Blessed Is She - the official co-host and sponsor of the event - and Marie Miller gave a concert. Marie kicked off the second half of the night with karaoke and dancing. It was a blast. 

Saturday we started a bit later so women could get in an extra hour of sleep. We had fresh fruit, coffee and creamer, coloring pages, hand-stamped "fiat" necklaces, and more fresh flowers. It was a beautiful, sunny morning and we were so excited to start the day. 

Meg started our morning off with a wonderful talk on the difference between seeking God and seeking God's will. Jenna ended our day by challenging us to say "no" so we could say "yes." Her line "if the devil can't make us evil he'll make us busy" cut right to the quick.

Shanon at Organic Mama's Shop donated the pens. My friend Katie hand stamped each "fiat" and made the necklaces along with making the coloring sheets for us.

Our breakout speakers were Colleen, Annie, Sr. Clara, Laura, Nancy, and Marie. They spoke about missionary work, infertility, finding your "yes," suffering, hobbies, and state of life. They were all fabulous - at least that's what I heard. I was so busy working behind the scenes I only caught glimpses of the various talks. I wish I could tell you that the talks are all available but in keeping with the laid back and simplicity we did not have any equipment to do that. You and I can suffer that together.

At one point in the day Nell - our truly fabulous emcee - grabbed my phone so she could get a picture of me and the conference I helped create. I love looking at this picture of me, wearing baby Tee. I think I have a charism for founding conferences. ;)

To the women who believed in our vision and spent the weekend with us: Thank you. 
To Molly and Abbey who helped me establish this conference: Thank you. 
To the women who helped make this conference a reality: Thank you. 
to the women (and men) who prayed for me and for the weekend and for all the women who attended as speakers or guests: Thank you. 

Our God is good. 

"Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum."
"Let it be done unto me according to thy word."
Luke 1:38

July 5, 2016

Member Access with Blessed Is She

Work it. That's what's coming next for Blessed Is She. Or, more specifically: workshops.

You might have caught the online workshop BIS hosted with guest speaker Haley Stewart on Living Liturgically for the Uncrafty, Busy Family. I watched it live and loved being a part of the conversation while learning from my friend. And I have good news: more are coming! And they're coming in a really amazing way.

In order to really offer the growing, blooming, thriving BIS community more, Blessed Is She is taking an exciting step and offering regularly scheduled workshops, available through Member Access. Members will have special access to monthly online workshops hosted by speakers from around the country + exclusive companion worksheets + Advent and Lenten journals automatically shipped to their homes.

The BIS Member Access is all available for $9.99 / month or $99 / year.

Hopefully you are one of the 12,000 women who, every day, receives an email with the day's Mass readings and a corresponding devotion through Blessed Is She. Hopefully you are already engaged in the Facebook regional groups where we pray for one another, plan meet-ups, and chat about books, vocations, kids, and life. Hopefully you are following BIS on Instagram and Twitter so your feeds have beauty, truth, and love in them. All of that, sisters - all of it! - has been freely given with great quality.

I know that the $10 a month fee might be hard to fit in some of your budgets (remember my chai tea?) and I do want to acknowledge that. But I also want to say that the price is beyond fair and will help to "keep the lights on" for all the other parts of the BIS ministry that are 100% free. So I hope you can make it work for you, especially because...

I'll be teaching the next workshop - the very first one to be offered to our Members!

Mark your calendars, sign up for your Member Access, and join me Friday, July 22nd at 9pm EST for a workshop on Building Intentional Community.