July 6, 2018

A Potluck Post

What a week this has been! It's crazy how some times it feels like life is going at full speed and we are hustling from one thing to the next only to run into a long, slow pause in the day where grogginess and boredom seep in. 

The slow pauses aren't all bad, though. They are were I have been finding time to read. My current book stack looks like this:
I've been enjoying A Wind in the Door which was given to me by a teacher friend who was purging her classroom bookshelves. 

I read an older edition of Queen Bees and Wannabes a couple years ago but decided to go ahead and get the newest edition for my own bookshelf. This is the book that inspired Tina Fey to write Mean Girls and I have found it very helpful already. 

I haven't started Loved as I Am but a friend dropped it off for me yesterday and I'm looking forward to jumping in since I love Sr. Miriam James' podcast

Finally, Living Your Strengths - The Catholic Edition has been an interesting read! The test says my top five are Belief, Connectedness, Developer, Activator, and Adaptability but I know the last one is dead wrong. I didn't understand some of the questions and so answered them... well not in the truest sense of what they were getting at. I think my #5 might actually be Includer but I haven't finished the book yet so maybe something else will ring more true. If you've read the book and taken the test tell me what your Top Five are. 

(PS - All of these books can be found at your local library or here.) 

Speaking of books...

We are still making our way through the Harry Potter books. Well, L could not wait for us to listen to them - she had to know! - and she finished the 7th book yesterday. Ben is actively listening to the audio books and is on the 5th one. Occassionally the other kids will listen with him, and I often try to when I can (causing me to fall far behind in podcast-listening), but mostly it's Ben. When he's done we will allow Ben and L to watch The Order of the Phoenix movie. JF, who has been having nightmares about "spooky castles," and the younger kids will not be allowed to watch until they are older and have read / listened to the books. I know there's a lot of people who don't like Harry Potter, and I totally understand and respect that stance, but I have loved those books and characters for so long and it's been such a joy to share them with my kids and to really talk about the themes, plots, humor, and such with them.
We've had really fun family movie nights with the first four movies. We even made "wands" as a snack. I dipped the pretzel rods in melted chocolate (Enjoy Life! brand chocolate chips + a bit of Earth Balance "butter" + some coconut milk) and then let the kids add whatever toppings they wanted. It was fun and all the kids enjoyed the added treat to the normal popcorn.

On the 4th of July we went to my in-laws home for their small town's celebration. It was so flippin' hot but we still went to the park and watched the parade. I came home with the two little ones but Travis and the five older kids stayed for fireworks, which were fabulous - or so the kids said.

Earlier this week L went back to the cardiologist to have a one-year follow up appointment. Her echo looked good, she looked good, everything looked good. Interesting fact: before her open heart surgery a year ago L was in the 65th percentile for height and the 35th percentile for weight. Now that her heart is not working triply hard she is in the 63rd percentile for height and weight. Isn't that amazing?!

Oh! One more thing before I forget - right now shipping is free for all the items in the Blessed Is She shop! This deal ends on Sunday and  if you haven't purchased a planner yet but were wanting to this is the best deal you're gonna get! My affiliate link is right here - thank you so much for using it!

So that's that - everything I wanted to get out of my head and down "on paper." I love these little potluck posts where there's a little of this and a little of that and mostly it's just the best parts of my life showing up. You know, like a potluck. 

Have a good weekend friends. xo

July 1, 2018

Untouchable People, Friendships, & Love

Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash

Today's Gospel was about the woman with the hemorrhage. You know the story: for twelve years this woman had suffered but she had heard of Jesus the Nazarene. She believed that if she could just touch the hem of his cloak she could be healed. 

Our pastor preached a beautiful homily then, first explaining how the woman would have been considered unclean, untouchable for all those years. He then told the story of an elderly woman at his last parish who greeted him after each Mass with a giant bear hug. Father always hugged her back, with an equal amount of gusto, and when he was reassigned she told him that single Sunday hug was the only hug she received every week.

Father explained how so many people walk around unloved - untouchable -and he encouraged us to look around us to see who they are in our lives. He asked us to reach out to them, include them, love them. He encouraged us to hug them.

His homily really affected me and I can't shake it. Perhaps I was primed for this lesson. I've been catching up on the Certifiably Catholic podcast and the episode "How to love those hard-to-love people" really impacted me as well. I listened to it. Turned it off and pondered their words in my heart, considering if there are people I could love better. And then I listened to it again.

Do you ever listen to and think about an idea in such a way that if feels like you're picking up the words, turning them over in your hands, and examining them from each angle? It feels slow and almost like twilight.

I know there are people in my life who are hard to love. I know I often pretend I am too busy to love them because that's just easier and in many ways I am still a selfish jerk.

But as I turned this all over in my heart and mind I realized that loving them is an opportunity for my Grinch-sized heart to grow. That might sound lovely but I know it will hurt. It will be full of awkwardness and pain and frustration and relinquishing again and again my will, my preferences, my comfort. Slaying the ugly beasts of laziness and selfishness is a long, ongoing battle.

In his homily Father said that we could bring healing to the hearts and lives of the people who are broken and wounded and I couldn't help but think that by choosing to love someone God really would invite us to be brought into a deeper intimacy with His Sacred Heart. And certainly as that happens I will love more joyfully so that the friendship becomes a reward itself, at least that is my hope.

I am certain there are people who think I'm hard-to-love and want nothing to do with me and I don't think any of this is to say that God is calling me to be best friends with a hard-to-love person. I mean, maybe He is, but I think this is more about changing perceptions, opening hearts, and appreciating people for who they are. I think it is first and foremost about love. It is about God.

But I'm still turning this all over. If you have any thoughts I'd love to hear them.

June 22, 2018

Seven Quick Takes: music + books + summer

I'm linking up with the wonderful Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum for one of my favorite old school blogging events: Seven Quick Takes Friday

 - ONE -

The first time I heard this song I thought it was Peter Gabriel. It's Francis and the Lights featuring Chance the Rapper, though if you listen you have to give it to me: it sounds a lot like Peter Gabriel, amiright?

 Man, do I love this one.

- TWO -

This summer I signed myself and the kids up for the Summer Reading Program at the local library. I count any time spent listening to the Harry Potter audio books, reading to my kids, and these babies here. Along with my Bible, these are the books I'm reading. 

Orthodoxy has been hard for me - it's so dense with it's page long paragraphs - but I'm sticking with it because those truth bombs he drops are so, so good. 

I've really enjoyed re-reading Sense and Sensibility for the first time in years. I often find myself laughing out loud and unable to explain why to my kids. Jane Austen would surely not approve  but I'm just not as clever. 

Who Does He Say You Are? is an incredible book and I'm so glad I picked it up. I highly recommend it to read by yourself or in a group. Super good. 

A Wrinkle in Time is one I read in middle school and re-reading it now I'm shocked that it was part of my 6th grade public school curriculum with all the talk about Jesus and quoting Scripture. I'm gonna guess that Oprah's version of the movie changes some of that. True?

- THREE - 

My friend Nell gifted us with the sweetest little dress for sweet little MJ. The material has a Secret Garden print on it and is soft and stretchy and just lovely. I wanted to share it with you because Nell's re-stocking her Etsy shop - Whole Parenting Goods - with all kinds of sweet dresses just like this. The shop re-opens at 10am CST on Monday with it's limited stock so be sure you check it out Monday morning for first dibs! You can get a preview on her Instagram account and if you sign up for her shop's newsletter you'll get a coupon code this weekend! Everything I've gotten from Nell's shop has been top quality and super adorable. I promise you'll love it!

- FOUR -
Tomorrow morning is the first meeting for the Blessed Is She summer study I'm holding with women from the area. I'm only cleaning my living room and bathroom. That's totally legit, right?

I baked these little rectangular gingerbread cookies so I could pipe sweet little pretty things on them to serve with the coffee. The rectangles look wompy and wiggly and who knows if I'll have time to pipe anything on them in the morning. I'll post it on Instagram if I do and then you can see how unimpressive they turn out to be. ha!

Update: here they are! Roses, Fiats, and Marian symbols. You can almost hear the trombones playing, can't you? Womp, womp, woooooommmp!

And as an aside, if you're looking for a good gingerbread cookie use these from Mary Haseltine. Such a great recipe. We use Crisco and egg replacer and they still are amazing!

- FIVE -

My new planner arrived and I started filling in important dates for August. First day of school, you guys! It's on the calendar! Also, see those pens lined up in a row? That's how I organize my life.
Black = whole family
Silver = Travis
Gold = Me
Purple = L
Orange = Ben
Blue = JF
Pink = Resa
Green = Jofis
Red = Tee
Periwinkle = MJ
So this way I only have to write the what, when, & where on the calendar and not the person because the color tells me the who. It's really nice.

And if you're still looking for a planner Tea with Tolkien did a very nice review of some really popular brands. She was fair and honest about all the pros and cons, and the Blessed Is She planners (regular and mini) are included.

- SIX -
I know I just talked about the beginning of the new school year when summer isn't even half way done yet. We've had a good run so far and I thought I'd share some highlight pictures:

Trying to win a free vacation from a local radio station. We're shameless. 

Sprinkler parks: fun and free. The heat index was over 100 this day so I put on my suit, too. 

Our very dear neighbor volunteers at a local museum and we were so happy to get a special tour from him. 

Corpus Christi procession - Ben was asked to help carry the canopy and he was so honored. Nervous, excited, and so honored. 

The fair came to town and we made the kids clean the whole house and then we took them. 


Just a reminder about the Kickstarter campaign for Catholic musician Matt Faley's next album. Go, back it, and then make sure you let me know so I can enter you to win some of the suh-weet prizes that are special just for my blog readers. You won't be sorry you did!

And a great big THANK YOU to Kelly for hosting!

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!