Friday, August 29, 2014

7QT: training, nursing babies, and my new momiform

1. The momiform. Here 'tis, folks. At the tender age of 31, I think I've finally settled on a daily uniform that doesn't involve obvious amounts of spandex and/or sweat-wicking performance fabrics.

Flats, studs, skinnies, flowy top, repeat.

Optional seasonal mix ins to include scarves, riding boots and flip flops.

There. Done. Do I look like a grown up? I feel 100% better when I leave the house like this, and shockingly, I still manage to make it to the gym around 4 pm even when I don't strap on my workout gear first thing in the morning. Don't believe the lie, ladies, don't believe the lie...

2. I'm starting work with a personal trainer at said gym next week, 2x's weekly for one month. Inspired by Heather's fearsome results and hoping to do more to combat the chronic back pain that child bearing and child hauling seem to have sentenced me to, I've been promised big results. I tend to believe the spritely, 114 lb girl who will be training me, because she's really nice and has a blinged out miraculous medal ring on her finger, and because I fell down the stairs the day after our first 30 minute session because my thighs gave out. If you can make me fall down the stairs in muscle spasms, you have my business. I'll let you know how it goes.

3. Breastfeeding: the saga continues. Seriously, I had all but thrown in the burp cloth and had even sent a few SOS texts to Grace and to my bff Eliz (no blog, sadly) fabulous formula feeders both with big, healthy babes, and then I decided to try one last resort and scheduled a session with my friendly neighborhood lactation consultant Mariann (literally she's in my address book. Such dairy. So milk.) and what do you know, she told me that Evie might just be teething, that she's 8 months old and eating 3 squares of solids a day, and that if I wanted to keep nursing her I should go ahead and nurse her when I felt like it, as long as it was comfortable, and with the expectation that babies her age can take a full feeding in under 10 minutes. Also she told me to go ahead and use formula too, if it helped me.

What the what? I think the takeaway was that I'm the mom and can decide what's best for baby and me, both. Earth shattering.

Seriously though she's the most amazing woman, and she helped save breastfeeding for me not once but three times. So now Evie is happily snacking in limited amounts of time as long as she promises not to nibble or pull, and as soon as she starts misbehaving, pop goes the bottle in her mouth. Win/win. Oh, and a nightly Guiness is helping my supply recover from our hell week.

4. Which is not strictly Paleo, mind you. Okay it's not even loosely paleo, but my sister in law brought some for Dave's birthday last weekend and it's just taunting me from the fridge. Just like the Chicfila I served to "the kids" for lunch somehow ended up in my mouth, too. Oops.

5. On that note...starting a brand spanking new Whole 30 tomorrow. Why tomorrow? Why, because it's the beginning of Labor Day weekend! And won't it be fun to not eat any chips or buns or beer or cookies at any of the parties we'll be attending?

I figured it would be a good exercise in mental and physical discipline, you know? Because there's always a reason to cheat. Plus, I'm tired as hell every single day even though I'm not pregnant and I'm sleeping 8+ hours a night. Seriously I feel like death by 4 pm every day. I even tried a month of super expensive vitamins and supplements, to no avail. It's got to be the naughty nighties that have crept into my routine (ahem, Guiness. Chocolate that my boss left for the boys after a dinner party the other night (hi Uncle Ollie!) The insanely aromatic banana bread that our wonderful nanny baked with the kids yesterday afternoon.

But no more. I'm putting my foot down for a solid month. I figured that by synching up with my 4 weeks of training at the gym, I'll be giving my postpartum body the biggest push I can muster. Plus, once Fall begins in earnest, I tend to lose major health motivation in the face of an endless stream of holidays and birthdays. So it's now or never!

6. Haley's running a Whole 30 on the Carrot's Facebook page, but I don't know if I can access the closed group without a personal FB account, so I think I'll just troll along on my own. Anyone in? Solidarity?

7. I got nothing, 2/3rds of the household is now awake because their wildly optimistic mother put Evie down for her "morning" nap at 11 am and oops, there goes the afternoon edition. Oh, wait, there is this:

We met Matt Maher this week at a conference and he was gracious enough to take this very awkward photo with a very excited fan. (I am so stupid when I meet famous people. So stupid.) Anyway, I have loved his music for forever. Seriously he's one of the only Christian artists I like, and not just like, but absolutely adore. Speaking of that, he led worship for Adoration and it was beautiful. Real. Brought me back to Steubenville in a good way, in an honest and refreshing and unpretentious way.

Okay, duty calls. See you at Jen's.

p.s. we're not really doing school this year, per se, but this killed me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

PSA: mom jeans

... minus the mom jeans part.

But seriously, all ye of postpartum shape or anyone who would like to present the illusion of trim and toned to the outside world.

Pick yourself up a pair or two of these (at $25 bucks a pop, plus 30% online today, why not?) and cruise your way into fall looking like you worked out occasionally this summer.

You're welcome in advance.

(Trust me, your husbands will thank you.)


Here's some in vivo evidence of the fit and stretch that will rock your world.

Srsly, they feel like yoga pants that hug you back, are appropriate for public use, and button right smack dab over your deflated belly button. Perfection.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

This is my mission field

I laughed when I clicked open a reader's email this morning (can you believe I still have readers after my last few posts? Me neither.) to the subject line "just what the world needs, another mommy blogger."

She's right, I laughed to myself. And then I thought a little longer about it and actually, you know what? That's exactly what the world does need.

I work in the news, which means I wade daily through the endless cycle of blood, suffering, horror and abuse that qualifies as attention-grabing. I read all the headlines, and I take note of all the trends cycling out there. I don't have to tell you that it's grim; 5 minutes of channel surfing will make that clear to anyone.

Here's the thing though, despite the tired old adage about how if it bleeds, it leads and the sad reality that horror is endlessly fascinating in a broken world: we need good things to put into our bodies. We need good food, clean water, and, just as desperately but perhaps less apparently, we need good news.

Ultimately, we need the Good News, but we need little 'g' good, too. We need to read stories about how moms are holding their children tight at night and simultaneously cursing the nap-striking phase while marveling at the soft, sweet baby skin still covering their big strong toddler's body.

We need that shot in the arm that reading about another woman's experience with childbirth/schooling/potty training/depression/marriage/illness can give. In our virtual village here on the web we can give - and receive - the kind of support many of us don't have in our physical villages.

Beyond that though, the world needs to see the truth, goodness and beauty of motherhood and family life. And while I'm under no impression that the world reads my blog, nor that I particularly exemplify those big three most days, I do feel a certain civic responsibility to put it out there. (I mean yes, I guess I must also be an attention-seeking over-sharer, but that just makes this particular medium a natural fit for me.)

Maybe your medium is creating meals for friends with new babies or challenging illnesses in their families. Maybe you create beauty by throwing fabulous parties in your warm, artistically and lovingly decorated home (I'm looking at you, Meg). Maybe you are an amazing conversationalist who doesn't mind chewing the fat with the lady behind you in line at Target, or, (horrors) maybe you actually seek out strangers with whom to converse pleasantly.

Here is my point (what a relief); we all have something beautiful, life-giving and necessary to contribute to the world. It might seem little or insignificant to you, or even redundant. But beauty is redundant. It's the breathtaking over-and-over again of the sunset that keeps us looking up each night, marveling over the colors and the clouds. And let's be honest, pretty much all newborns arrive sporting the same red 'n wrinkled look, and yet a glimpse of the innocence in their squinty eyes and the tiny, mewling cries coming out of their mouths before the epidural fully wears off are enough to bring a grown man to tears.

So what I'm saying is, if you feel like you have something to say, you'd better speak up, because this world could surely use another voice proclaiming something Good. God knows there's plenty of bad news coming from every direction. And there's no such thing as too much beauty.

Friday, August 22, 2014

7QT: Thrifting, non-pregnant nesting, and the epic saga of breastfeeding woes continues

Ciao, tutti. It's time for another rousing rendition of what's going on inside Jenny's nursing bra.

Just kidding.

Well, mostly. How about 7 quick takes mostly unrelated to lactation? Mostly.

1. I must have caught something from my latest re-read of the Nesting Place, because suddenly I've gone full on guerrilla mode on our humble abode and no piece of furniture is safe (nor is it securely in place) in this home. I hit up my favorite of favorites, my local Savers yesterday with all the bambini in tow, and out we walked with the coffee table-turned-crafting-space of my dreams, a standing floor lamp not from Target and not sporting an upside-down dog collar for a shade, and a giant ass Thomas the Train expandable play tent which has been journeying throughout my house over the past 24 hours and can be thrown satisfyingly down the basement steps at a moment's notice. Best $2 I've ever spent, I think.

2. Isn't this hideous?

3. How about now?

4. I'll tell you what, once I get going with a can of spray paint, I tend to get a little out of control. I'd asked a friend earlier this week to meet me after bedtime at our place for a little crafting and after I spied this beauty on Pinterest I decided there were enough droplets of turquoise paint left in the can to coat our wreaths. We also followed this simple felted flower tutorial and with our hot glue guns and a couple bottles of Stella, we had ourselves a good old fashioned girl's night in. The great news is that when we're both 65 years old, we will already have the template for what qualifies as a "good time" down pat.
I'm in love with this wreath. I'd like to take it out to dinner.
6. Speaking of being old and fabulous and domestic, would you guys like it if I did some kind of weekly or bi-weekly thrifting post? I know it's not the "tone" of this blog, per se, but I take so much delight in finding worthless crap and giving it a second chance at life. I also take joy in finding J Crew lovelies with the original tags still on, but that's not quite the same thing. So what do you think? Should I branch out from bodily fluids, Catholic apologetics and s-e-x and give you more frequent glimpses into the deep, dark world of my Goodwill addiction?

5. But let's talk about what you really came here to read about today: Nipplegate 2014. Let's start with the good news. The good news is that I have the very best hookup with the sweetest IBCLC on the planet, and after a 911 call to her voicemail earlier this week, she counseled me over the phone (in Target, obviously. My deepest condolences, fellow shoppers in the lamps and home goods department) and she was encouraging + compassionate and just the right touch of "well, 8 months is a fantastic amount of time to nurse, and if you want to to ahead and try the one-sided route, that's a great idea, and if not, that's great too."

(Basically she's the perfect combination of confidence, professionalism and compassion. If you live in Denver or the surrounding area and ever find yourself in need of such services, I'm happy to point you her way.)

This is an unrelated picture of a reindeer. Never will I ever invite the neighbors to the lame-ass birthdays we throw for our own toddlers.
The bad news is that while I was letting things heal up on the injured side, the uninjured workhouse, old right n' reliable, got an overuse injury or something and now I'm having a doubly uncomfortable time replete with all manner of unmentionable horrors (Dave already is aghast I've said so much on the blog. But you all are so helpful! How can I hold back?). The bottom line is that as of last night, I'd gone 24 hours without nursing or pumping on one side, and my supply is tanking. I'd all but decided we were officially broken up in the breastfeeding department but then around 10:30 pm I burst into her room in a fit of hormonal angst and dream fed her. So, I don't really know where that leaves us. She's probably taking 90% of her liquids by bottle now, but I'm resolved to keep nursing her first thing in the morning and last thing at night, if she wants and if my supply can rise to the challenge. Ugh, motherhood is just full of feeeeeeeeeelings and stuff.
Evie be like "I don't give a bleep just feed me. Anything."
7. Whichever one of you brilliant people recommended Peg + Cat is my very favorite, because my kids can count and add and subtract...and I've done nothing. Now this is my idea of homeschooling.

See you over at Jen's place.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

An experienced mother becomes a hand-wringing idiot

Hi there, just checking in for a quick second tonight whilst I gulp my illegal beer down (definitely not Whole 30 approved) and wait for dinner to finish simmering. (Deeply ironic paleo beef stew, since you didn't ask.)

So about that boob injury I referenced last week on the blog's Facebook page. Yeah, go head and cover yo eyes, male readers, because it's about to get real.

Evie is 8 whopping months now and while she is of course old enough to wean to formula and of course there is nothing wrong with formula feeding your baby. NOTHING. I'm just...reluctant. You see, about a week ago something went horribly and terribly wrong one one side of her nourishment delivery system and suddenly there is like blood and cursing and all kinds of writhing in pain at every feeding.

It's been difficult to know what to do, because while my brain (and my very supportive husband) are like wean that baby you're squirting blood in her mouth and oh the suffering (sorry for that detail. Just...sorry.) my mother heart (and I suppose my oxytocin-addled mind) are like nooooooooo, must nurse the baby until she decides she's done and my particular favorite, THIS IS SUCH A BONDING EXPERIENCE! HOW MUCH DO YOU FREAKING LOVE YOUR BABY RIGHT NOW?! which is a totally true statement, but it feels weirdly amplified by the very real hormonal hit that accompanies each nursing session.

So. That leaves us here, on Tuesday, one week into the great boob trauma of 2014, whereby I have decided on 4 separate and consecutive days that I am going to a. wean her, b. wean her to one side only (is this possible? It doesn't feel possible), c. call my $$$ lactation consultant who is literally on speed dial and drop another Benjamin on a cozy private conversation, or d. go to Whole Foods and buy all the organic formula made from the delicate tears of pastured, free range celestial cows.

Here is where the rant ends and the questions begin.

Mothers of the nursing variety, have you ever/has someone you've known weaned a baby to one sided feeding? Did you look like a sideshow specimen in your clothes? Did the awful one-two punch of nipple trauma + engorgment finally abate and you found yourself left with one sufficiently productive breast? Can you explain to me why it's fine to write "breastfeeding" but when I write "breast" I feel like I'm 13 years old and male on the inside?

Any comments or anecdotal accounts are welcome, but just know that I've tried all the lanolin, all the pumping, all the weird natural concoctions and all the healing compresses. There's still a situation resembling the San Andreas fault, and I'm pretty sure that I will never, ever look or feel the same on that side.

(Dad, I hope you stopped reading a long, long time ago.)

Monday, August 18, 2014

It doesn't have to be perfect...

I'm re-reading the Nesting Place and I know, I know, everyone and their mom has heard about it and read it and implemented it but I'm just so stoked about how transformative it has been for my home decorating abilities. I would typically have modified that last sentence with some snarky little one off like "or lack thereof" but I'm newly convinced that I do, in fact, have some sort of authority in the style and decor world: namely, the mandate to deck my own halls however I see fit, using the resources and pieces I've been entrusted with.

I have a pretty distinctive style when it comes to home decor. I think it's best encapsulated by the term "minimalist chic" or maybe "timeless, bare ass walls and floors." The bottom line is this: I hate clutter, and if I haven't used something in the last week or so (and if I haven't seen you use it either, sweetheart) it's going to Goodwill. I've also been known to donate items of children's clothing simply because I'm tired of washing them. (When you outfit your young almost exclusively in thrift store couture, you can be ballsy like that. You're welcome.)

Imagine my surprise then when I found myself re-reading the it homemaking book of the summer and finding the following advice resonating within my soul: don't wait for the perfect house, don't put off decorating because you're renting, and don't use something you hate simply because it's on hand or "good enough."

Guilty, guiltier, and guiltiest, as charged.

But then she goes on to talk about her favorite activity being furniture rearrangement and my heart skipped a beat because me too! Second to dropping bags of s at the curb, building new rooms out of old pieces in new places is my favorite!

So as I drifted off to sleep last night I envisioned multiple rearrangements of our sad, sterile living room where little to no living was ever done and whose beautiful bay window sat unloved and ignored day after day. No morning coffees were being enjoyed on our single common area new furniture purchase: our pretty leather (okay, bonded leather) couch. No sunlight was being soaked up through that pretty window. I decided that all had to change.

It's a great window, amiright? And mama Mary deserves fresh flowers, even though a cat bit off her thumbs. 
So, when Evie bounced me out of bed this morning at 6:25 or so, (still riding the injury list in the breast-feeding department, fyi, but we're soldiering on) instead of moaning and dreaming of more sleep, I flew into the front room to start my extreme home makeover. A few minutes of pushing and sliding and a shot or two of espresso later, bam, the transformation was complete. And finally, after a year of living in our current rental (and we've just signed on for another year) I have a living room that I actually want to do some living in. It still wants a piece or two of art for the walls, and I'm not in love with the very expensive but very not-my-style Oriental rug we received as a wedding gift, but considering this was accomplished for the very low price of zero dollars, I'm pretty satisfied with the outcome.

Mind you, I'm no photographer, iPhone enabled or not. I took not one single art/photo/crafting class in all my years of life. I mean I suppose there was mandatory art in elementary school, but I remember it not. Consider your eyeballs forewarned.
Family room/kiddie watching/reading/crafting area: airy and decluttered (and washed out. See above.)
Myquillen (no idea how that's pronounced but I feel like it might rhyme with Nyquil?) talks about re-purposing assigned spaces that you don't have a use for and lassoing it for space you do desperately need and I guess I'd already sort of intuited that because goodbye, formal dining room, hello mommy's office:

Everything be thrifted, everything be fabulous. (Oh, except the rug. HomeGoods 4 life.)

I especially love this little wall. I feel like it's the most (only?) pinterest-worthy space in my home and not that I give a particular damn about that (maybe a very tiny one), but it's nice to feel like there's at least one area you wouldn't really change, even if you had the budget to do so:

Check those wedding photos from Lucy O Photography. See that cute little Jude Landry print in that thrifted frame? I love. Also, globes. Probably the reason my 3 year old reads atlases for fun is genetic in origin.
She also talks about how beauty is not useless, or something to that effect. So fresh flowers, why not? Why is it better to spend $4 on yet another sisyphean gallon of whole milk than to buy a bouquet of slightly past their prime carnations?
Look how nice that looks! And that's on a dirty, hand me down kitchen table with a Bumbo in the background.
So at last we come to the piece de resistance, the formerly unliveable and unloveable living room. Let me scrounge around for a before (clearly not a home decor blogger; rookie mistake)

Sorry, I got nothing. So here's the after, anyway. Just picture the before as bland, couch shoved against the wall immediately facing the front door, and seating for only 3 very cozy adults.

Blurry front view.
Natural view with toddler photo bomber.
From the side 
Looking from the front door. 
So is it perfect? I mean, is it ever? Obviously I'd add some gorgeous, $600 window treatments if I could, and I'd love to have some non-religous art on my walls so that our neighbors don't think we're even bigger weirdos than they suspect, but for now, this makes me 100% happier than the old setup ever did, and I achieved it with no money and no time spent in Target. That's a big win in this mama's book, both from a budgetary and spiritual perspective.

Spiritual, you ask? Yes, because you see, (or maybe you don't, but I'm about to do a little confessing to you so pull on your stole) sometimes I shop out of a place of emptiness, and I don't just mean the bare walls kind. I mean sometimes I really, truly believe that something I find at Target or TJ Maxx or Nordstrom Rack is going to make it all better. Is going to make me feel happy/fulfilled/peaceful. So imagine my surprise at how incredible it felt to buy nothing, to grasp for nothing, to simply make do with what was already on hand...and to have it turn out so utterly to my satisfaction.

I think that's been my biggest takeaway from the Nesting Place: love where you are, and be grateful for what you have. And for the love of chevron and jute rugs, don't consign yourself to living in a half-assembled dump just because you're not commanding a Pottery Barn budget and dwelling in a 3,000 square foot palace. And if you are dwelling in a half-assembled dump? Or, say, a refuge camp? You can work with that, too.

Check this out:
There's beauty everywhere.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Parenting in the Digital Age: Let Me See Your Face

(I'm over at Catholic Exchange today embarrassing myself while I talk about trying to parent from behind a screen. And, an important disclaimer; as I sit here typing this introduction, my two year old is making noises like a cat in heat while trying to get me to shut the laptop, so clearly this was written out of a deep place of conversion and personal piety.)

“Mommy, make a happy face at me.”
I look up from the glow of my laptop, irritated, hearing for perhaps the tenth time, that day, my three-year-old son’s persistent request.
“Mommy’s working, honey. Please go downstairs and play legos.”
Tantrum, flailing, stomping, sibling pinching ensue. Consequences are meted out. Justice is served. Repeat cycle.
It has, of course, occurred to me that I spend too much time engrossed in screens and interacting with virtual characters when the very real characters in front of me are melting into figurative puddles of spilled milk and clementine peelings. But come on, who can give their full attention for 9 + hours a day without any kind of break? I deserve a little down time. I’m just going to check in, I’ll be quick.
All of which is true, of course. Parenting in twenty-first century America can be ridiculously isolating – particularly the stay at home variety. And even the most extroverted parent on the block (which I emphatically am not) needs a little mid-day recharge in order to finish the solo shift strong and at a pleasant speaking volume.
But that isn’t what I’ve been doing behind my screen for minutes stretched embarrassingly into hours, hiding in plain sight in the glow of a laptop or a smartphone, accruing bits and pieces of stolen “me time” whilst the kids flail about at my feet, begging for attention...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

St. Maximilian Kolbe and Living in the Present Tense

{In honor of Thursday's feast day, a little something I whipped up in honor of one of our family's patron saints -- Joseph Kolbe is named for the angel of Auschwitz. Let's beg the intercession of a man who died a heroic death at the hands of the Nazis in a particular way for our brothers and sisters who are suffering terribly right now in Iraq, Syria, and around the globe. New conflicts, same old evil.}

On August 14th the Catholic Church celebrates the life of a man who died wearing the notorious stripes of Auschwitz. He lived a life of professed celibacy, poverty, and obedience, and he met his martyrdom not at the end of a sword on a battlefield, but in a dimly lit bunker filled with the stench of human waste and decaying flesh. His death was meant to make him feel powerless. It was his humiliating death, however, which would engrave his name in the annals of human history, and in the trophy room of heaven.

St. Maximilian, born Raymund Kolbe in the kingdom of Poland, joined the conventional Franciscans with his brother, Francis, at the age of 13. He enrolled in minor seminary after illegally crossing the border between Russia and Austria-Hungary and was accepted into the novitiate when he turned 16. He took the name Maximilian Maria to honor Mary, whose cause he would champion all his life.

During St. Maximilian's doctoral studies in Rome, he become convicted of the need to fight the growing influence of Freemasons and other demonic forces warring against the Catholic Church, and so he founded the Militia Immaculata, a movement dedicated to the spread of devotion to Mary's Immaculate Heart. At the peak of the MI's influence, their magazine circulated to one million monthly subscribers, thanks to Kolbe's media savvy and use of cutting edge techniques in radio and publishing. 

His health was not great. He'd suffered a bout of tuberculosis in his youth which left him frail, and he routinely pushed himself beyond reasonable human limits even for a person in good health. This was not a man who lived in the future; his concern was solely for the good he could do in the present moment.

St. Maximilian's efforts in the MI took him around the globe to Japan, India, and finally home to Poland where, at the outbreak of WWII, he was able to shelter more than 2,000 Polish Jews from Nazi aggression. When the Gestapo discovered his efforts, he was taken into custody and imprisoned at Auschwitz. It was May of 1941.

A few months later, toward the end of July, there was a break out in the camp. To give an example to their captives, the Nazis randomly selected 10 men to be executed in retaliation for the escape. They were to be starved to death in an underground bunker. One of the men selected to die cried out in anguish at his sentencing: "my wife, my children!" 

Fr. Maximilian stepped forward.

"I am a Catholic priest," he stated simply, "I wish to die for that man."

Living in the moment. Embracing his present cross as simply the next right thing to do, St. Maximilian willingly entered the underground bunker that would become his tomb.

Reports from the prison guards tell the rest of the story. Each morning when they checked on the condemned men, Fr. Kolbe would be found kneeling or standing cheerfully in the center of the group. As hunger and thirst drove the prisoners to madness, forcing them to drink their own urine and lick the walls of the bunker for moisture, Fr. Kolbe was there, accompanying them. He was one of them and yet somehow calm in the midst of the horror. He encouraged them, he prayed with them, he heard their confessions if they so desired, and then, at the end, he alone remained conscious, watching over them and walking with them into the valley of the shadow of death.

His heroism didn't display itself in the face of a firing squad. When he stepped forward to save the life of Franciszek Gajowniczek, he was simply doing the next right thing. He lived in the moment, accepting the challenges of his situation as they presented themselves. He didn't think about 2 weeks without food or water trapped in a small room filled with panic and death. He simply saw a need, recognized his capacity to do something about it, and stepped out in faith.

When at last, on August 14th, 1941 the Nazis decided they needed the starvation bunker for new victims, Fr. Kolbe was given a lethal intravenous dose of carbolic acid to stop his lion's heart. He held out his left arm as the doctor approached him, offering himself up, until the very end, as a willing victim. His body was cremated without ceremony or reverence, like so many other millions. But his heroism echoed throughout the camp, a beacon of hope in a dark hell of suffering and human misery.

Fr. Maximilian Kolbe was canonized in 1981 by Pope St. John Paul II, who declared him “a martyr of charity.”

And Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man whose life St. Maximilian Kolbe ransomed? He made it home to Poland, where he lived to be 95 years old. But every year on August 14th he returned to Auschwitz to pay his respects to the saint whose life consisted of a series of choices for the present good, culminating in a sacrifice of the highest order.

Friday, August 8, 2014

7 Quick takes: sibling harmony, Whole 30 in real life, and a 180 on schooling choices

Welcome, Friday. You are most welcome here, indeed.

(Linking up with Jen, who spotted a very sweet photo-bomber in our picture of a group of us taking a picture.)

1. All my kids are playing together. I'm sitting mere feet from them on the couch, minding my own business and click clacking away and so far (knock on a timber-filled forest) nobody has asked me for anything for the past 5 minutes. Is this the mythical light at the end of the tunnel I've heard so much about? Play on, small people. I'll just be over here not touching or being touched by anyone. ThankyouJesus.

2. I woke up before the boys this morning and, rather than rolling over and going an extra 45 in dreamland, I got up like an adult and drank my coffee and ate my loathsome eggs and as a result, I haven't spent the first half of the day feeling like a hungover servant with a persecution complex. It's fantastic. We've been to the gym, I've mopped all the floors, and lunch has already been served and eaten. 

3. Oh, speaking of food...well, this happened last night.

And while I'd normally be wallowing in my perceived failure (and possibly some sea salt dark chocolate almonds) instead I'm just savoring the delicious memory and eating paleo today like it never happened. I mean, I suppose my cravings are a tad stronger because of my dalliance with MSG, but it's fine and more than that, it's realistic. A friend and I are both making a big effort to shed our baby weight and are using similar means to get there, along with texting each other for support and accountability. After hearing her plan to eat very similarly but to incorporate one "cheat meal" into her week, I decided to do the same because it's brilliant! And it's realistic, as it allows for life to happen. Got a party to attend or a big feast day to celebrate? Enter the cheat meal. It feels very balanced.

4. I weighed in on Monday and was deliriously happy to see that I'm down 11 lbs overall, and I've lost 6.5 inches total since we began less than a month ago. This is with a healthy amount of the above-mentioned cheating, nothing more strenuous than walking (though I'm logging a minimum of 4 miles per day) and a whole lot of eggs. And lettuce. I'll take it.

5. Fall is coming. Yesterday I was at my parent's house and my mom lit a pumpkin spice candle and I almost sprouted riding boots and a patterned scarf just from inhaling the aroma. Hold me back. Helpfully for my restraint, it's still 85 degrees here and I bought the kids a slip n slide off the clearance rack at Target. Because back to school shopping has trumped the thermometer, and all the beach gear is 50% off.

6. Speaking of back to school, guess who's not going back to school? Yeah, us. Despite years of protest and a firm belief in my own mental deficiency in pretty much anything math or science related, I've decided to try my hand at pre-schooling Joey at home this year. We really liked our parish school and he mostly liked being there, but I couldn't quite get the hand of the driving thing. 40 minutes in the car twice a day for a 2.5 hour program was a bit excessive. 

My other motivator was the fact that, despite having been in the classroom for 5 months (January-May) his end of year report indicated that he had zero letter or number recognition. Zilch. Nada. Naturally, my very measured reaction to this information was unbridled panic and the assumption of massive learning disabilities and cognitive delays. Never mind that he was the youngest child in his classroom, that he possesses the vocabulary of a 50 year old man, and can operate every electronic device in our house with aplomb. I panicked and dropped like $30 on alphabet magnets, bathtub letters and flashcards but what do you know, after a summer home with me, he can count, do some basic adding and subtracting, and knows a whole bunch of letters by sight. We just started working with this book this week, per the recommendation of several homeschooling moms I know, so we'll see what kind of progress we can make. He pretty much hates it so far, so I'm thinking he's either not ready or I need to break the lessons in half? Idk, completely blindsided by this plot twist.

7. And that $2,000 we'll be saving on preschool this year? I'm thinking of spending it entirely on babysitting and tequila. Happy weekend!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Sarah and the Saints

A little over a week ago a family a few degrees of separation from ours lost their mother and their youngest unborn sister. I'm sure many of you have seen stories of Sarah Harkins floating around the internet -- just this morning the Washington Post did a beautiful write up on her life. I didn't know Sarah, but I did know her brother, and we had probably a dozen friends in common. She and her husband graduated from my alma mater the year before I transferred there, but Franciscan is a tight knit alumni network and you can never completely escape the 'Ville.

Although we didn't know one another, her death has rocked me to the core. For the first few days after the news broke I was incredibly anxious and on edge, looking around me in disbelief at my perfect life, waiting at any moment for the phone call or the accident that would change everything.

I don't know if this makes sense, but the death of this woman, this lovely friend-of-friends, seemed to momentarily knock the spiritual wind out of me, so to speak. I could not see how a good and loving God could have allowed such a tragedy.

Yes, but Ebola. But Israel and Syria and Ukraine and Boko Haram and Maylasia Airlines and homelessness and poverty and SIDS.

Yes, I know. So much suffering. So much evil.

But this was personal. It wasn't something far away, happening to someone I'd never met. I mean no, we'd never met. But I felt a connection to this dead woman that I could not shake.

Every time I came across another tribute to her life, I clicked. Every time another fundraising opportunity popped up, I felt compelled to give and to share on social media. And in every one of the pictures of her sweet, innocent children accompanying the story of her tragic end, I saw a future of fathomless grief for a family not very different from our own.

I wept against Dave's shoulder, railing against a God who would take a pregnant mother and young wife from her family. I scrolled through her blog backwards, reading post after post from a woman whose faith was clearly lightyears ahead of my own, and whose love for life radiated off the page.

I couldn't understand.

I still can't. The Harkins family didn't just lose a mother. Her husband lost his best friend, his lover, his partner, and his greatest earthly consolation. Her children lost their caregiver, their teacher, and their primary catechist. The void her death leaves is massive.

In all of my clicking and scrolling during last week, I came across something beautiful written by a friend of hers, something that switched on a light in my brain in a kind of 'aha' way.

I cannot understand this kind of suffering, she said (or something close to it, forgive my paraphrasing) and so I'm praying to Sarah, asking for her intercession for us all as we try to cope with her loss.

What a simple solution. And what a preposterous idea. (Non Catholic readers, stick with me here. You're about to get a crash course in the Communion of Saints.) And yet it was the first thing I'd seen in connection with her loss that made any kind of sense.

Of course we should be begging for her intercession. I thought, who better knows the specific needs of the family she left behind?

I realized that the anger I'd been feeling towards God was misdirected. He doesn't cause our suffering in this vale of tears. But only His mercy can make any sense of it. Sarah's seemingly senseless and random death was simply the end of her earthly narrative; but her influence on the still-unfolding story of salvation history just hit the big time.

So I started praying to Sarah Harkins, right then and there. And I believe with every fiber of my being that she can hear our prayers, and that she is presenting them before the throne of God, and that she has a powerful interest in interceding for tired, overwhelmed mothers trying to reach and teach their little people and love their husbands well.

I've talked to a couple other friends in the last day or so and they have enthusiastically informed me that they, too, have been asking Sarah's intercession in these particular areas. These were casual acquaintances of hers, and women who'd never heard of her before reading her obituary, and yet each one of them confessed to feeling a powerful and particular connection to her.

This doesn't explain her passing. It doesn't make sense of the loss of a 32-year-old woman in the prime of her life and the middle of her vocation, striving to raise a happy, healthy, holy family with her husband.

Death is ultimately the most unnatural thing that will ever happen to us. We were not designed to die. We were not created for dirt and ashes. The fractured reality rent by sin has condemned each of us to suffer its fate, though we have a Savior who opened the way into the next life by the shedding of His blood. Still, I think I can speak for the majority of human beings (now there's a statement) when I say that few look forward to the end of their mortal toil.

The dread of death, the fear of the unknown, both are evidence to me that it wasn't meant to be like this. We are longing for a return to something that none of us remembers, and yet, we each of us will suffer death. Why then, should it be so surprising and so disturbing when it comes?

Sarah's death has called me back to life in a real way. The sudden here-now-there of her story has jolted me from a sort of creeping pragmatic agnosticism, giving God cursory nods and an hour on Sunday but little more beyond that.

But that isn't His plan for me. That isn't His plan for anyone, to live as if He is in one place and we are in another, and eventually the twain shall meet but only after 80+ years of satisfactory time on earth.

He wants more.

Sarah knew that. As her fingers fashioned the beads of the clay rosaries she crafted, she must have pondered the mysteries each one represented.

This morning I went to send an email to another girl named Sarah on my phone. I began to type "Sarah H" into the address bar, and Sarah Harkin's name popped up on my screen.

Stunned, I scrolled through a series of 4 emails we'd traded back and forth. More than 2 months ago she had commented on a post here on this blog, and I'd responded to her. I couldn't believe it, and I certainly didn't remember it. I want to share a small portion of something she said. It was real, and it wasn't sugar coated, and I pray her family won't mind my sharing it here:

"After 4 kids spaced close together and homeschooling thrown in the mix, I am hardly the poster child for mommy bliss. It is hard. Hard is not fun. But that's ok. There are times when it is fun - but God forbid the rest of the world sees the hard times on your face!"

It is hard. But that's ok.

Thank you, Sarah. I hope you'll continue to pray for those of us in the trenches from your heavenly vantage point. I pray for the courage to live the kind of life you did.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Booty bombs and clickables

Joey and John Paul have been engaging in a fascinating new pastime for the last 2 weeks. It involves climbing to the highest elevation in the room and launching off in a semi-squat position and landing with a sub-floor shaking thunder in the middle of the carpet. Did I say I was fascinated? That's probably not the right word.

Over and over again, JP in particular will shout to me, "Mommy, watch me jump! Look at this booty bomb!" (don't ask). And over and over again I have to look up, cringe, and wait for the seemingly ankle-crushing landing after increasingly long periods of mid-air hang time.

Little boys are terrifying. And endlessly entertaining.

I have all kinds of reflections and thoughts rumbling around in my head about this and how it is keeping within the very essence of their masculine nature to do things that are bold, potentially life-threatening, and limit testing. And I just have to sit back, sipping my coffee, and wondering whether or not I am indeed going to have to pick up that frequent flier punch card that the ER nurse warned me about at our last visit.

(It's been at least 4 months since then, injury fates, so I'd best shut my mouth.)

In lieu of anything more substantial to offer you this fine Sunday morning, I'll leave you with some of my fav clicks from the past week. And, if I could beg some of your prayers for my grandfather, who is dying, I'd be grateful. Most of our extended family was able to gather in his home last night for a private Mass and it was incredibly peaceful. I'm praying he doesn't have too much longer to suffer, and that he experiences a peaceful and happy death filled with reconciliation and forgiveness.

Onward to clickage:

Mary AMY (reeeeeeally bad with names, proof positive) from Motherhood and Miscellany (who I am pretty sure I met last weekend and who was absolutely delightful, if I'm remembering the right sweet face) wrote an excellent piece on a subject I'm mostly unfamiliar about, and, frankly, uncomfortable over. It's so important to remember that our crosses do not look the same! And that something that I perceive to be a struggle and a cross in it's own right (super fertility, to be precise) is actually, ironically, what other women are praying fervently to receive. Life is crazy.

This book was a gift in our swag bags last weekend, and while I rolled my eyes at the title, I found myself deeply and almost immediately engaged. I ripped through it in 3 days of bedtime reading, and I strongly encourage you fellow mamas to do the same.

This piece from Bonnie, recapping Edel and her own (identical to mine!) fears and anxieties about attending was so great. Plus, the playlist she compiled for me? Solid gold. Songs #1 and #2 are my fav so far.

probably laughing at something said by Bonnie. Photo credit: Kevin the awesome.
This song is catchy and basically awful. But you know who isn't awful? Hilary Duff. My little sisters and I have been fangirling over her since circa 2001, so please enjoy her really embarrassing return from retirement. (Props to her for not going the slutty n' sultry route, however.)

Happy Sunday to all! May your day be punctuated by cold beer, warm sunshine, and silent children in the pew.