25 August, 2014

15 Months + 30 Years Equals Childhood

I always say that 15 months is when my life changes with a baby. Thomas has been no different. At the end of this month we will hit the 15 month milestone. He is walking, indicating needs, calling me mama, and feeding himself. He is as much joy and contentment as he was as a newborn. He brings so much light to our lives.

Next month marks another milestone for us as our beautiful Clara starts school. I will put two of my children on the bus each morning and spend a few blessed hours with my baby and my house. Never before have I had this blessing, challenging as it may be sometimes.

This year would have been so different if it weren't for the unexpected arrival of our Thomas. I would be working outside the home. I would be contemplating a move to full time. We would still have a nanny. The kitchen cabinets would not be refinished...

Because of the open nature of our marriage and my womb, our lives have been changed in such a miraculous way. I am now home with my children. I am now more present to their lives. Because I am now home during the day, my career as a writer and speaker has taken off in directions beyond my wildest dreams. My health has never been better in my adult life.

Today I sit in the visitor center of The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I am preparing to give a retreat for the executive board of Catholic Charities, La Crosse. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine this as part of my life.

But my Lord did.

As I turn 30 this year, so many things have settled in my heart and become the focus of my prayer life. 30 so far seems to be the decade of reflection and reconciliation. We've lost some dear friends this year and come closer to others. We have been called to face the mortality of our loved ones and the mortality of ourselves. The great blessing in reflecting on our limited humanness is the opportunity to remember God generosity, God's provision, and God's fortifying love.

Since losing a dear friend in June I've spent a great deal of time reflecting on those in my life who have impacted the woman I am today. Two weeks before his death I ran into him while dining at a local restaurant with my children and mother-in-law. He bought our dinner, unbeknownst to us, until the bill arrived. I thanked him, Clara gave him a drawing and we went on our way with a light quip about lunch sometime soon. About a week later, I drove past the parish where we'd worked together and saw his vehicle out front. I considered stopping to talk, but told myself I'd do it later. A week later, he had gone to our Lord. It is one of those moments I will never forget; one of those missed opportunities that will stay with me forever.

As such, I'm making it a point to feel more in my 30s. My husband regularly reminds me that I need to trust God and follow my heart, not the way society tells my heart it should be feeling. In the past 20 years I've left so many things unsaid. Raised to move around, I've left so many relationships unfinished. It is only now that I am beginning to appreciate the person God created me to be. It is only in the present moment, stable and supported, that I have truly begun to appreciate the awkward, precocious, curious, and genuine young woman of my youth. My adolescent emotions and anxiety had validity. These experiences make me authentic and I must not go forgetting them or pretending they didn't happen. I've already spent too many years running away and then trying to catch up to whom I really am. I'm tired of starting over.

I want my daughter to know authenticity. I want her to trust her heart at any age. I want my son to recognize, name, and embrace his "old soul" in a way I wish I had. I want my baby to forever live in his simple joy of risk. I want to protect them, but I want them to grow to love their own identity and their own place in this world, unmasked by my fear and trepidation.

God guides our hearts if only we take time to listen. It's easy to talk. It's hard to listen. As a child, I was a great listener. When I found myself no longer heard, my ability to listen diminished, leaving me vulnerable, confused and broken. When I married Kevin, my voice once again took on sound and I am now in a place where I need to practice the art of listening once again. I must re-learn listening so that I can grow in Faith, Hope, and Love.

Matthew 18:1-5 "At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.""

I having been hearing God's call in this passage for the past few months. 30 marks a new childhood for me. I must embrace this time with my young children and husband as a time to not only example, but practice these childlike arts. I am being called to fill myself up with knowledge and experiences like a child. I am being called to practice once again the genuine love, innocent trust, and fearless abandonment of my childhood. It is time to laugh like Christ and the little child.

I am excited and I am grateful. I miss my dear friend, but I'm in debt to him for being an example of Christ's selfless, ever-giving love and for inspiring me to embrace the Christ child within.

"Come, sit, and tell stories of those loved."





Welcome to the Herd!

Family road trip! Complete with at least 3 potty stops (and iced coffee to take the edge off so many potty stops) and at least one newly coined word from Clara. This trip it was, "gooseballs".

I love the Blogsy app! Never before have I been able to type a blog post while on a road trip.

We are on our way to a weekend trip to Chicago to visit with my family and celebrate my beautiful niece Elizabeth's 2nd birthday. I can't help but reflect on how big all of our children are getting! They are growing so beautifully and becoming such wonderful little people. What a joy and immense blessing to be co-creating them with our Lord.

We often quote the movie "Ice Age" when talking about our very unique extended family. Sid the Sloth says, "We are the weirdest herd I've ever seen." And truly WE are. Not only do we have unique upbringings and values set, our family has grown in very unique ways. A family of 3 girls, we welcomed a 2-year-old brother (through adoption) at the same time we were welcoming brother-in-laws into our lives. And just when the lake cabin was the perfect size for our extended family, God surprised us with both my niece Elizabeth and our joyful son Thomas. And the story of Elizabeth's adoption is what brings me to today's post.

Elizabeth joined our family through adoption. Her story is worth telling and retelling as a powerful example of God's generosity and provision. My sister and brother-in-law found out Elizabeth just a week before she was born. Elizabeth's beautiful and generous birth mom has two other daughters and was working to get her feet back under her when she found out she was expecting Elizabeth. She knew that God was not calling her to parent this child. She did not search for an adoptive family until she was nearly nine months pregnant. She found my sister and her husband through a friend.

An uncomplicated pregnancy with good maternal choices, Elizabeth's mom had not had any prenatal care. Shortly after meeting my sister and her husband, she visited the doctor to check her dates. During the examination, the medical staff discovered a tear in the amniotic sac which was leaking amniotic fluid. Fluid levels were so low that they decided an emergency c-section was in order.

My sister was called and she rushed to find a floating replacement nurse on her pediatric critical care unit. In tears, she and her husband rushed to the hospital. They waited in the waiting room for news of their child. Elizabeth arrived healthy and they were told they needed to wait out the recovery time. Expecting a wait, my sister sent her husband home to let the dog out. Shortly after he left, a recovery nurse came up and offered to sneak my sister into recovery. As she entered the room and held her baby for the first time, the tears flowed freely. She was the first person to hold Elizabeth and 3 days later our sweet little Lizzy came home.

I visited my little baby girl the Monday after her birth. I snuggled her up close as I sat in the sunny outdoor swing at my mom's house. Never had my heart been so full. All of the sudden I understood the sheer awesome task of being an aunt. There is something so deep about that relationship.

(Insert flux of mama hormones here...and despite scientific hormonal tracking and charting to the exact opposite, said hormones miraculously led to the birth of our sweet little Thomas exactly 9 months later.)

3 weeks later marked the forfiture of parental rights.

6 months later marked the offical adoption date.

Upon her formal adoption, family and friends received a pink announcement with the scripture passage, "For this child I prayed."

And truly there could be no sweeter answer to our prayers. Happy Birthday my little Dizzy! I love you.

(Blogsy and traffic in Milwaukee is not a good combo for this motion sickness-prone mama...)



17 August, 2014

Stay-at-Home Sacrifice: It's NOT all Bunny Rabbits and Roses!

This is what summer is for!

I probably should have been blogging through our massive family transition, if for no reason other than to record it for myself, but alas, I didn't feel much like writing.

I announced it on Facebook, shared it with family and friends, and processed it with anyone who would listen, but I couldn't write about it.

In November, our dear nanny decided she needed to be spending more time with her kiddos. I respect that and am grateful that we had the kind of relationship that allowed her to say so. Since then she has taken time to spend days with Clara and Thomas and given this mama a break once in awhile. We are so grateful for all that she gave and gives to our family.

As a result, Kevin and I had to figure out what to do. With John Ross in school half days and the two littles still at home, finding help and a workable schedule was not easy. After some trial and error, we decided it was time for me to stay home. Working for the church didn't offer the kind of monetary value that allowed us to hire another sitter and give us any additional take home income. Why work to pay the nanny to raise our children? (There is a whole other blog post in there somewhere...an institution that takes the moral high ground on family life, but doesn't provide a living wage or family-friendly benefits like paid family leave.) In addition, here are some things we had to come to terms with in light of our decision:

Always with the tongue!

1. This was God's plan.I tried to explain this to my pastor. I wouldn't have chosen this. If it had been up to me, I would have stayed working the limited hours and limited responsibility job at my parish. I came in, worked, and went home. It was a good break for my head and a good way to appreciate my children. I didn't make much after paying my nanny, but it was worth it. I wouldn't have chosen this drastic course correction, but it was given to us. Everything leading up to this decision was God. We are very much at peace with our decision despite the monumentous adjustments it has required. We are trusting in God's providence.

My first little love.

2. We are grateful.There has been so much peace in our household. I've completed chores on a weekly basis that hadn't been fully complete since John Ross was born. I've gotten into a routine with my two littles which has been invaluable. I've been able to commit hours each week to my physical and mental health with the gift of a YMCA membership from my family. I can slow down and appreciate these fleeting moments with my children and provide more fully for my husband's needs. We are so grateful for this gift.

3. Contrary to popular belief, staying home is not all bunny rabbits and tulips.This is God's plan, we are at peace, and we are grateful, but this is hard. I have several friends who have walked the journey of working outside the home with me for the last 5 years and I so often hear, "It must just be so much easier. I'm so jealous."

Yes, there are times when it is easier. I'm not pushed out the door by a schedule and I'm not rushing home to get dinner on the table during the famous witching hour. My laundry gets done. I don't always have to shower or get dressed in the morning.

But I am always on. There is no physical or mental break. There is no change of mental pace or shift in the demographic I serve. I can't leave it at the office. At work, projects come to an end. At an office, I can close the door. On the phone, the conversation wraps up. At home, the house is never clean, the kids are never ready, there is always another meal and another load of laundry. The closets don't stay clean. There is always needs and you are considered on the job 24/7. When you're working, you get a few hours where ultimately, you're still the top executive of your household, but you've got a director below you managing for awhile.

Again, thankful, grateful, blessed, and honored to have the "luxury", as many call it, of choosing to stay home. That said, I would contest that it isn't much easier than working outside the home.(And for the record, it's hard to blog about something when the only feedback you get on your thoughts is in non-sense all toddler song, baby babble, or Star Wars speak.)

4. We must live with less.We have had to make a lot of mental and financial adjustments. The small amount of money I was bringing in was our "mad money". It allowed us to do extra things like traveling, eating out, and little shopping splurges. We've had to take a closer look at everything we buy. We've done a lot of repurposing, reselling, and rummaging.

Recently, I received a check for some freelance work that I did with a note saying "Buy yourself something nice!" While the sentiment was lovely and thoughtful, there is no extra in our life. We live paycheck to paycheck, making every effort to keep our savings account intact.

If it looks the same on the outside, that is a huge testament to the sheer amount of work we have done to maintain our life despite our financial changes. It is also testament to the generosity of others, our families and those who have generously given their time and "cast offs" to help our family thrive.

3 kids born in Green Bay, it's about time we get to family night!

I say this not because I care what my blog readers and friends think of us. We have made a commitment to a way of life that God called us to and we are at peace.

I write this because I know there are other moms and couples out there that have made similar choices and perhaps can't put them into words. How many of us have worked tirelessly to create a beautiful, peaceful and loving life, but because the grass is always greener, others believe that we're just "lucky"?

No, we are called. We are gifted. We have responded to God's invitation to co-create, sometimes not knowing the sacrifice He is going to ask of us.

And yet, we are so blessed.


11 August, 2014

CMO: My Piece of Heaven

Below you will find a post I wrote a while back for Catholic Mothers Online. Check out the site as it has been recently updated and looks fantastic!

My husband told me during date night last night that the reason he wants to consult is only to make enough money to move to the Mediterranean with his trophy wife...

Besides the fact that after 3 kids I consider myself pretty far-flung from a trophy wife (although I adore his playful compliment), there is something so enticing, simple and poetic about that dream. If only it could be true. And yet, there is something biblical about that dream. There is something so deep in my heart that yearns for that kind of simplicity. I recently read an article about an island in the Mediterranean with many of these life-giving qualities and I suppose I've been working on this vision for awhile now.

Luscious, tart, fresh olives and their sweet, silky oil draped gently over today's catch. Fresh peppery greens and velvety sweet onions that transform your body from the inside out. Homemade wine and vinegar known for its properties of longeviety. Fresh, creamy goat cheese and pollen-laden honey on freshly baked flatbread. Chewy pasta and pungent garlic settling comfortably at the core of my body.

Living to survive. Growing and gardening to feed oneself. Hunting off the land and learning to every part of an animal or bird to nourish your body. Treating the land with the necessary care to continue its living cycle. Working because it is God's gift, not because you are compelled to compete or to achieve or to buy. Tying my long hair back at the nap of my neck and never again wondering what people think of the frizzy little tendrils that frame my face. Knowing that every mark on my body, wrinkle on my face, and ache in my bones is an outward sign of my story and my journey and knowing that everyone else around me knows it too.

Immense solitude and deep relationships. Time in the olive groves when the only sound you hear is the heat of the sun and the occassional pitter patter of falling olives. Listening for God's voice and the voice of the earth on the wind. In the heat of the day, stopping for a long meal and a nap in the shade with those within walking distance. Conversations of real life, real growth, and a loving Creator. Conversations of silence. A place where death is just another conversation, another step on the journey. It is not something to be avoided, hidden from, or conquered. A life so focused in the moment that death is embraced like an old friend.

There are so many versions and visions of Heaven out there. And yet, for me, this simple, at times challenging, existence that focuses on the simplest of feasts to nourish the body, mind and soul is what I believe Heaven will be someday. Heaven is when we will live to our fullest potential because we will be free from the bonds of sin and society. We will be able to do the work and live the dignity that was granted to us before our very conception.

And yet, as a Christian and a Catholic, I ask myself if there is a way to bring some of that peace and simplicity to our life now. And the only conclusion that I come to is the same one I am often brought to in these moments...conversion of heart. My heart must be converted to that place. To change ones actions or routine only serves to focus one on the new routine. The true transformation must happen in the heart and soul. Moreover, for Catholics, this conversion flows from our source and summit, Jesus in the Eucharist. Then the actions, whatever they may be, will flow from that source as refined, peaceful, simple, loving and disciplined.

With Lent so quick on the heels of Christmas this year, I think conversion is a good place for me to sit for awhile. I invite you to sit with me - what in your life is being called to conversion? Where is your Heaven on earth?

01 August, 2014

Buttercream Frosting (and Other Recipes)

Okay, I promised this post to some lovely ladies in my Foundational Catechetical Certification class and I'm SO behind the ball.

French Buttercream Frosting - I remember this silky, sweet, wonderful frosting from my childhood and I finally had it. I love this recipe, but I find that this guy's instructions are so clear and easy that I suggest you get them directly from the source. Buttercream is no longer intimidating to me. For my fresh wildberry version I just substituted tart cherry juice for the water in the syrup and then added blended (and slightly drained on a paper towel) fresh berries once the frosting was complete.

Also, here is the promised soda bread recipes from another good friend and instructor, Julianne.

Makes one loaf
In place of King Arthur’s flour use Bob's Red Mill Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour. You can use any whole wheat flour, but the coarser the better for this. For those of you in the Fox Valley, The Bulk Foods Shoppe in Greenville carries a course whole wheat flour that is amazing!

1 cup flour
2 cups coarse whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes {plus more for pan} ( Use Kerrygold, I get it from Woodmans)
1/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats {plus more for top of bread}
1 1/4 cup well shaken buttermilk
1 egg white, beaten

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a cast iron skillet, or baking sheet with butter.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda & salt. Mix together with a whisk. Sprinkle the cubed butter over the mixture. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the dry ingredients, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the oats and stir to combine. Pour in the buttermilk and mix until a dough begins to come together. Using your hands, knead the dough into a ball. Transfer the loaf to the baking sheet, cut a large "X" into the top. Brush the top with the beaten egg white and sprinkle a few pinches of rolled oats over the top.
Bake for about 40-50 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. You will know when it's done, if you take it out, tap on the bottom of the loaf and it sounds hollow. Transfer to a wire rack to cool and serve with a generous helping of Irish butter.