My Girls

You probably think from the title that this post is going to be about these little cuties:

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But not this time.

Today, I want to write about my grown-up peeps. The ladies who have my back, make me laugh, and help me stay sane by just being available, whether in person, via text, phone, or even FB.

I’ve been really blessed lately to have the opportunity to spend some quality time with some of my “girls” recently. Here are some highlights:

In early February, I got to take a trip to Florida with two fabulous friends.

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Our equally fabulous husbands watched the kids (all 12 of them!). We got on a plane and flew to Naples for two and a half days (DAYS!) of amazing relaxation, laughter, food, and conversation. For good measure I made sure we started the trip off right with a pregnancy-related trip to the ER. This could be a whole post in and of itself (if I ever get around to writing it), so I won’t go into details here, but:

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We managed to have a pretty great time in spite of the awful ER (it was really bad) and the disruption to our plans. That’s Super Friend on the right. And though she and her family have appeared in other posts you haven’t been formally introduced yet to our other dear friend on the left, whom I’ll call “The Extrovert” for blog purposes (I’m the introvert, and Super Friend falls somewhere in between, so we make a great team and have lots of laughs about our personality differences). Yes, she was sitting on a portable hospital toilet. Good sports, these ladies. Look how great they were, after 5+ hours at the first ER, while waiting to get in at our second hospital of the day:

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(And BTW, everything is fine with Baby Boy and me).

The hospital trip didn’t stop us from having tons of other fun.

It did however prevent us from going to the beach in the afternoon, so after we had dinner we grabbed coffee and some macaroons (a first for me) and hit the beach at night.

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The next day we made up for lost time with a yummy breakfast, a fun meander around downtown Naples, a long walk on the beach, a lovely Mass, and delicious dinner.

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There’s just something about time away with great friends that really helps to recharge my soul. These ladies just get me. Even when it’s just for a few hours, it’s so, so important. But for two-and-a-half days!! I talked so much, and laughed so hard, and it. was. awesome.

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And as if that wast enough, last weekend, I traveled with my kids to spend some time with some of my family “girls,” my Mom, my Auntie, and my cousin. We were all together for my cousin’s baby shower (some boys were around too, whom I should give some love to as they were wonderful to see as well: my Dad, my Unka, and another cousin).

We stayed up way too late talking. We swapped baby and pregnancy and other stories and “ooh-ed” and “aah-ed” over the cute stuff my cousin received for her baby girl.

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^^ My aunt and cousin included my kids in the shower, and they were enthralled ^^

And after my cousin’s shower was over, the other guests were gone, and most everything from the shower was cleaned up, they sat me down and surprised me with tons of gifts of mostly baby boy clothing (which we are sorely lacking). It was my own little surprise mini-shower, and it was so sweet it almost made me cry.

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I am humbled by how blessed I am to be surrounded by amazing women. My family, my friends, my tribe. There are more than the ladies mentioned here, some even whom I have never met in person, and I am so grateful for each and every one.

I hope I am modeling to my daughters how to be a part of a community. Our community consists of both wonderful men and women, of course, but there is something special about the bonds between women. Between mothers and sisters. I don’t have biological sisters, but I have my sister-friends, whom I think are just as great (we even share clothes, without the history of fighting over them). I hope that seeing these relationships that I have will help my (little) girls to build their own, and to nurture and cherish them.

Families – Holy and Otherwise

I have had family on my mind a lot lately. Family relationships, family blessings, family conflicts…

I have been thinking about how truly blessed I am to have been given this amazing little family I get to share life with every day.

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And I’m so thankful for the many people I get to count as members of my family.

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^Miss drew these pictures, wrapped them, and gave them to me on Christmas. The top one is our family, the bottom one is my family of origin, my Mom, Dad, brother, and me.

At the same time, I’ve been thinking about how family ties can be strained, stressed, or broken. I’ve had these damaged relationships on my mind a lot lately. I have been praying for those dealing with difficult family relationships, particularly at Christmas, a special family time of year. It breaks my heart to know people who struggle in this way.

Bringing these thoughts and prayers even more into focus, today the Catholic Church observed the feast of the Holy Family — the perfect example of family life. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph provide for us the quintessential model of how we should try to be in our own families. They were kind, loving, charitable, and always focused on how God wanted them to live, rather than on their own plans or selfish desires.

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I try my hardest to be this way with all those I love, and I mess it up in various ways every single day. But today’s focus on the Holy Family reminded me that I have help with my efforts. It’s not just me, all on my own, trying to figure this out. I have a model. And I have the ability to pray for the intercession of the Holy Family and for the grace of God to help me live up to this example in my own life.

I also have Mass, and the sacraments, and the Bible.

And the Mass readings for today were especially moving and relevant to my reflections on family relationships of late. The second reading in particular (which in its entirety was Colossians 3:12-21) was beautiful and just perfect for a day focused on family. Here’s the first part of it:

Brothers and sisters:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.

This. Right here is what family life is all about. I want this in myself and in my family. I want this for all families. For all relationships. For all human interactions.

I feel like I might need to print this out and carry it around in my pocket. Maybe we all do.

I know not all family conflicts can be fixed simply by remembering that God has called us to be kind and humble, to forgive and love each other. But it sure is a place to start.

I pray daily for my family. I’ll be praying for yours too.

Enjoying the Work More Than the Break

Saturday night, my husband and I went out for a nice dinner, just the two of us. It had been quite a while since we had done so. It felt like a much deserved break from all of the work we had been doing on Friday and Saturday, cutting and grinding meat from the elk he got hunting in September and the hog he butchered a few weeks ago, to get it ready for packaging into sausage.

Heading into the weekend, I had really been looking forward to an evening out with my husband. And I had really been dreading all the work of helping him process the meat. It was a given that I would help him, but I was not looking forward to it, and I figured it would just be something to offer up.

The funny thing is, as much as I had been looking forward to dinner as a break from all the work we were doing (and we did have a nice time), I actually had more fun with my husband when we were working together. I enjoyed the work more than the break!

On Friday we spent a lot of time out on our screened porch cutting meat into pieces small enough to be fed through the meat grinder. It doesn’t sound like a terribly enjoyable task, but it was actually a lot of fun. We had music playing, and we laughed and talked as we worked.

Saturday, he ground the meat and we got the whole family involved with packaging it. We had around 60 pounds of elk meat to grind and package, along with pork that had been made into about 60 pounds of brats, 40 pounds of chorizo, and 30 pounds of Italian sausage. I feel like I spent the whole day repeatedly washing the grinder and the stuffer and the huge plastic meat bins.

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But the family was working together to get it done, and it was so much fun. The girls marked all the bags, kept the tape ready to seal the bags, and stacked the filled packages neatly into the bins for taking to the freezer (in fancy dress up, even).

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The girls worked with us on the brats yesterday too, and I just loved seeing how proud they were to be able to help.

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Sometimes the things that bring me joy and help me to feel fulfilled aren’t the things I expect. The best part of my weekend wasn’t the fancy dinner with my husband on Saturday night. It was the companionship that came from working hard with him on something worthwhile. It was the feeling of being a team and being happy to support him. It was the joy of watching my girls get so excited about being able to contribute. These are the real stuff of marriage and family.

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After all the work was done, my husband fired our pizza oven for the first time, and we had a pizza party and family movie night.

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It was an extremely exhausting, and thoroughly enjoyable, weekend.

A Wedding, Some Zoos, and Lots of Summer Fun – 7QT

Summer is flying by, and between getting our house ready for showings, picking out things for the new house, and practicing music for a wedding reception we performed in, I have hardly blogged at all (not that I haven’t wanted to!). Here’s a quick little catch up post of our summer happenings. I’ll apologize in advance for the lack of photo quality. I’ve been leaving my big camera at home, sometimes because I don’t want to carry it, but usually because I forget it (it’s tucked away as part of my showing-ready minimalism). So the following are all phone photos. Sorry!

1.

The wedding.

My husband’s cousin got married last weekend. My girls haven’t been to a wedding in several years (and don’t remember the ones they have been to), so they were extremely excited.

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We had lots of wedding dress up and role-playing around here in preparation.

The wedding was lovely and I was excited to get to spend a little bit of time at the farm where my Father-in-law grew up and my husband spend many happy hours of his childhood. The house was built by my husband’s great grandfather (who dug the basement with horses!). I was happy that my girls got to see and experience it a little bit.

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2.

The reception.

I was so privileged to get to participate in the band that performed for the reception. (I’ve posted about the band before. It’s primarily made up of my husband, one of his brothers, two of his cousins, and a friend. I just sing some songs and play some tambourine.)

The bride is the sister of two of the band members, and she and her husband took a chance and let us play the music for their reception. We aren’t a professional band, and in fact only had about two hours of practice time with the whole band together. But everyone spent so much time practicing at home individually, we sounded pretty darned good.

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It was a blast. The music and dancing and family time were perfect. And most importantly, I think the bride and groom were pleased.

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3.

The hospitality.

I have to mention the hospitality of my husband’s cousin and his wife. We traveled to their small town in Iowa twice this summer, once for a band practice, and once for the wedding. Both times, they let us stay with them in their house, fed us, and made us completely comfortable and welcome. It’s so amazing to visit someone and feel like they are truly happy and not put out in the least with having you in their home. Ben’s cousin’s wife took care of everything for us. She watched my kids while I practiced with the band. And she did it all with a genuine smile. I was inspired to do a better job of this myself when people visit us.

4.

The zoo (#1).

Moving on to other summer things, we went to a small local zoo last week with Super Friend and four of her five children. It was a little dirtier and more weedy than I remember it being in years past (to the point that we could barely see a couple of the animals through the tall weeds), but the kids still loved it.

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The highlight of the day occurred when we were walking out to the car. We ran into a zoo employee, who was bringing one of their newest residents in through the front entrance. She let the girls pet their nine-week-old baby tiger!

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5.

The pool.

We joined the pool again this year, and have been spending a good amount of time there.

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It’s our new go-to family activity after Mass on Sundays. We have it nearly to ourselves for a few hours before other people get around to making it to the pool.

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We get in and swim with the girls for a little while, and then relax for some mom and dad time while they splash around in the shallow area. Summer at its finest.

6.

The Dirty Weird Zoo.

Just yesterday, we took our annual trip to the DWZ. It’s still dirty and weird. And unfortunately this year they didn’t allow us to take bags of bread for the kids to feed to the animals while we walked around. That was always the big selling point of the place for me. My kids enjoyed feeding bread to the animals so much, I was able to overlook the dirtiness. This year I wondered if it was worth it without that fun experience for them.

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Surprisingly, they didn’t seem too disappointed about not having the bread to give. I think I was more bummed out about it than they were.

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They still made great memories with great friends.

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7.

The other stuff.

We’ll be trying to soak up the rest of our short summer here before we officially start our school. So far, it’s been fun and fast.

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I hope you’re enjoying your summer too!

Check out more quick takes at This Ain’t the Lyceum.

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This and That – A Quick Update

Just a quick update on why I’ve been absent for almost two weeks:

This week, our house is going on the market.

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So for the past week, pretty much every spare moment was spent cleaning, or fixing, or weed-pulling, or staging (other than the moments when I took my kids to the pool for the first time this summer or when I took my kids for a play date with Super Friend’s kids, both absolutely necessary breaks from the house prep).

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My house is so different now. My school room is now a dining room again.

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There’s no more paint splattered on the wall or play doh smooshed on the floor. The few things that I kept around for us to do art projects and some finishing of reading lessons over the summer are crammed into that green cabinet in the photo above. If you walked in my house right now, you would have no idea that I homeschool my kids.

My kitchen no longer has brass cabinet pulls.

Before:

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After:

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Same pulls + a can of metallic spray paint + a little bit of work = cheap fix for ugly hardware!

Furniture has been moved all around. Tons of stuff got moved out to a storage unit. Everything has been scrubbed and dusted and tidied and polished, and I hate this process already, and I’m glad I will never have to do it again.

And I’m really, really glad to be on vacation this week. It’s only Monday, and vacay has been just delightful already. We started out visiting my husband’s cousin and his wife and daughters for a band practice.

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My husband’s other cousin (the sister of two of the band members), is getting married in a month and a half, and we are going to be playing for her wedding. No pressure. And also, how crazy fun and awesome is that?? It’s going to be the most rocking wedding reception, and I can’t wait.

And speaking of awesome, my husband’s aunt (the mom of previously mentioned cousins) took me and my girls and our hostess and her daughters to the Grotto of the Redemption on Saturday. What an incredible monument to faith, envisioned and built by Fr. Dobberstein for over 40 years in small-town northern Iowa (it was then nearly completed by Fr. Dobberstein’s helpers and successors after his death, with two more statues now needed for its completion). It has rocks from every state and from all over the world, and depicts various scenes showing the fall and redemption of humanity. It is breathtaking and truly indescribable.

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Miss got her first taste of singing with the band. After each song she said, “Can we do another one?” I think she’s hooked.

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It was such a fantastic weekend. Now we’re at the Farm, doing all the Farm things.

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It’s going to be a good week.

Five Favorites – Grandma and Grandpa’s House

Life is always good when I’m at my parents’ house. My girls are happy to be with Grandma and Grandpa. My husband is happy because he’s fishing. My parents are happy because they get to spend time with my girls. And I’m just happy about all of it. Everyone wins.

Today, I’ve got five of my favorite things at my parents’ house:

1. This stove.

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My husband and I are building a new house, and we’ve looked at a lot of stoves over the past year or two. I have never in my life seen anything like this one anywhere else. This stove is older than I am, but check it out. It has double ovens. It has a little shelf at the back, and the stove top slides forward if you need to use more than the front two burners. It’s yellow, for pete’s sake. I have many happy memories associated with this stove. I love it.

2. And along with the stove, my Dad’s cooking.

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Don’t be fooled by that look. He likes cooking (though perhaps not having his photo taken). He was a firefighter and cooked at the firehouse for many years and got good at it. He spoils us by cooking for us all week when we’re here.

3. This bed:

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My Dad made it for me when I was little. This trip is the first time any of my girls has used it. Both of the bigger girls sleep in double beds in the same room, and this one was the last bed available for little Sis. She’s almost too big for it, but I’m savoring her in it for now.

I’m also (mostly) loving that my girls are all sleeping in the same room, which is a big treat for them. As I’m typing this, I can hear them laughing and talking and playing in their room, though they’re supposed to be winding down for sleep. They’re all exhausted, but it makes me happy that they’re having so much fun together.

4. The weather.

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Unless it’s the middle of summer, the weather here is always better than it is at our house.

5. The time.

Time together as a family. Time with Grandma and Grandpa.

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Time for me and my husband to go on an overnight date in Nashville. Time for me to be with my Mom.

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^ Her first ever selfie when we went antiquing this afternoon ^

 Being here makes my heart feel so full.

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Head over to Call Her Happy to see what things other folks are favoriting right now.

Easter-y, Mommy-ish Randomness

We are visiting my parents this week, and I don’t want to interrupt our family time to do a long, or even thoughtful post (you’re welcome?). But I do have a few cute Easter pics and some good ones of my girls having fun at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, so I’m going to get rambly and probably a bit photo crazy for a minute.

If you’re not my mom or my mother-in-law or my Auntie, you may want to just stop here. I won’t mind.

Here goes –

Last week, I had lots of fun Holy Week activities planned. Then Miss got strep throat and we ended up skipping a few of them, like the search for 30 pieces of “silver” (or quarters) on Wednesday and Holy Thursday Mass as a family (Miss was still contagious). Most of the things we did do I didn’t get photos of, like our “Last Supper” dinner (which Miss didn’t feel well enough to eat anyway) or the foot washing on Thursday night after my husband and I got home from Mass.

We did get to the Good Friday service at our church, and the girls did surprisingly well for it being such a long and late event.

Holy Saturday started with an RCIA retreat for me from 9:00 until about 1:00. Then I came home, boiled eggs for dying, put out Easter decorations with the two older girls, gave the dogs baths, and packed our stuff. After Sis got up from her nap, we dyed eggs and my husband and I got ready for the Easter Vigil Mass.

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She said the made ^^ that egg for Jesus.

The Vigil was beautiful, but I didn’t get a single photo from it this year. It was nice to experience it with a little less nervousness and adrenaline than I had last year. I realized that I hadn’t remembered much of the service from last year because of being so excited and anxious about being baptized and confirmed and receiving Communion for the first time (plus being interviewed in front of everyone). It was less exciting and emotional this time, but I probably was able to appreciate it more in some ways.

Sunday morning, we had our Easter egg hunt, I made resurrection rolls, we threw our things and our dogs and our kids in the car and hit the road for the drive to my parents’.

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I was determined to be on the road by 8:00 so we could get here by dinner time and have my family’s traditional Easter and Christmas breakfast of creamed eggs for dinner. We got going at about 8:20, and we made it.

My kids have been enjoying Grandma and Grandpa and the lovely weather and flowers and greenness here since.

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We have many lovely bouquets for Grandma of dandelions, or “Lellow Light-ups” as Sis calls them.

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IMG_4557Someone, who gave up coloring for Lent, is very happy to be able to do one of her favorite activities again.

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As a new Catholic, it amazes me how much Lent creates so much more appreciation of the Easter season and the celebration of spring, and life, and the Resurrection.

It’s Wednesday, but it’s still Easter. What joy. Happy Easter!

A Tea Party Birthday

Sis loves tea parties. So much that she requested one for her third birthday.

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So, I invited a few friends, ordered some tea party accessories, procrastinated on making the food, and everything went wonderfully.

As part of the invitation, I suggested that our friends could come dressed in their finest for the party. I also ordered a few items so everyone could have some fancy additions to their outfits before we were seated for tea.

Pearl necklaces, tea-themed bracelets and purses, white gloves, and some hats they could decorate themselves created the perfect ensemble for each girl.

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For the table, I didn’t want to bring out the breakable tea sets I have (one was my mom’s when she was little, and one was my husband’s grandmother’s), so I found these cute little plastic coffee cups and drew a flower on each with some sharpies.

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I did use both of the tiny and fragile teapots (you can see one of them behind the cups above), because the grown-up teapot I was going to use (an antique) turned out to be not-so-nice-looking inside. I had to make extra tea in my measuring cups and keep refilling the little pots, but it worked out okay (note to self for next time, get a useable, reasonably-sized teapot!).

I found pretty flowered paper plates and napkins at Party City along with a plastic-meant-to-look-crystal sugar and creamer set. I even found sugar cubes at the grocery store, which seemed so much more fun (and less messy) than granulated sugar. I spread out a white table cloth (that really ought to have been ironed), put some fake flowers in a few cheap vases, and the table was set.

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I really procrastinated getting the everything ready, so after cutting fruit and taping hats together until midnight the night before the party, I quickly baked the cupcakes the morning of, and was still making flower-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when the guests arrived. Super Friend and Super Husband put together the last few hats, and then she frosted the cupcakes while I ran out of peanut butter and had to improvise with sun butter on the last few sandwiches, which were all really too small after I cut them into flower shapes.

No one starved though, and I found these adorable teacup molds for the cupcakes:

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Overall, I think it was a successful party. The kids seemed to have a lot of fun. I even have photo evidence of some of our friends tea-partying at home afterwards, so I hope they enjoyed it.

This was definitely my favorite of the birthday party themes I’ve done so far. Tea parties are just magical for little girls. I will definitely do this again. Hopefully with less procrastination next time.

Embrace the Ordinary – A Cure for Righteous Indignation

I tried to do a lot of embracing of ordinary things this week. I love finding the specialness in small moments, and I’m still hosting this link up for Gina all during Lent.

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“…there is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it.” St. Josemaria Escriva, Passionately Loving the World

I ended up being filled with righteous indignation yesterday after a phone call with the not-helpful people at Sirius XM. Without my authorization, they reactivated the radio on the car I used to own, but because I was still using their service on my current car until this past summer, I didn’t notice it on my credit card statement. My husband caught it on our January statement, and it turns out they’ve been charging me for radio service on a car I don’t even own for three years. I thought I had the refund all taken care of when I called a few weeks ago, but it never happened, so I followed up yesterday. The supervisor I spoke to was rude and condescending and flat out refused to give me a refund of the money they charged me without my consent, which basically means they just stole several hundred dollars from me. So I was aaaaall fired up yesterday afternoon.

I have no intention of backing down from the jerks who stole from me and am determined to get my money back. But in the meantime, it helps keep my frustration at bay to focus on the little happy moments of life in our little world. So, here you go:

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Here’s to a lovely weekend with family. Link up your Embrace the Ordinary posts below (you can also add an Instagram link, as my friend Erika demonstrated last week)!

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Merry Christmas and Stuff

Merry Christmas!

We’ve been on a crazy ride of illness, travel, and dog potty training that has led to very few posts this holiday season. I’m sorry.

In spite of the fact that in the past two weeks three of us had a stomach virus, and then three of us had what I originally thought was a really bad cold but was probably a vaccine-dampened version of the flu (yes, I ended up with both of the bugs), our travel plans did not get disrupted, nor did our celebrating. Everyone stopped puking and was fever-free before we needed to leave for the first leg of our travel (we packed a bucket just in case). And I suffered through the flu while my husband drove nine hours on the second leg. No one was sick for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day!

Here are a few highlights of our travels and fun. We celebrated with my in laws last weekend. The girls loved their presents and enjoyed lots of family time.

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The weekend was packed with activities and playing. The girls really made the most of it.

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We have been at my parents’ house this week, where the girls have had more fun playing with more cousins. We spent Christmas Eve with my brother’s family.

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The girls were so tired when we put them to bed. Still, I could hardly believe it when I woke up on Christmas morning, after 8am, and my kids weren’t even awake yet. We had to wake up Sis once her sisters were up and ready to go.

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We had our sacrifice manger, with all the straw the girls filled it up with during Advent, under the tree with our homemade Baby Jesus in it for them.

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Of course, they were excited to run to the tree to see what Santa had left too. Sis had a little bit of hard time adjusting to being awake once the initial excitement had passed.

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The favorite gifts seem to have been the light-up Frozen dresses, Miss’s sewing kit from my mom, Sis’s jewelry, and their Baby Alive dolls.

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It was a great week and a fun and relaxing Christmas.

Because of the sicknesses and travel, we didn’t get to do a few of the fun things I had wanted to do. Fortunately, since becoming Catholic, I have learned that many Catholic folks actually really start their Christmas celebrating on Christmas Day and go at it for 12 days. So, this year I’m going to count the twelve days of Christmas (starting with Day 3 tomorrow because the idea to do this is just occurring to me, I’m still learning this stuff) and get caught up on even more fun Christmas-y things for the next ten days. We have cookies to bake and lights to go see in the park and other cool stuff we can do.

Merry Christmas!