Top Ten of 2016

Two posts in three days? It’s the end of the year and I’m on a roll! In other words, I don’t have to think of something to write about, because I do these same posts every year.

Today? The top ten posts of 2016. Yes, I did write more than ten posts, and while none of them were actually in the top ten most viewed posts this year (all those were older posts), I’ll still share with you the round up of the most popular posts that I wrote in the past year.

#10 A Little Update – 7QT

Nothing really exciting about this post. It was just something in a sea of nothing, so it got some love. And it had this picture:

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I love our family foot washing tradition on Holy Thursday.

It also had this one:

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That girl melts me.

#9 Baby Boy’s Birth

Because birth story!

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#8 Preparing

This was my first experience of pregnancy and L&D as a believer. It made the preparations for labor a little different and the mind-set different too. It made me smile (and get a tiny bit misty, if I’m honest), to look back at this one and read about my thoughts in the last days of what was most likely my last pregnancy.

#7 My Favorite Catholic Books – From Conversion and Beyond

In case you’re looking for some good spiritual reads for the new year.

#6 Down the Homeschool Rabbit Hole – 7QT

It was fun to look back at this one to see what my homeschool dreaming was in the summer. Halfway through the year, I have implemented some of the things I was hoping to, like SQUILT, but haven’t used other things yet, like the Shakespeare book (though that’s coming very soon!) and the KONOS units (also probably to be added soon since this post reminded me of it!).

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I’m still listening to Your Morning Basket as new episodes come out, and I think our morning time has definitely improved from last year so far, but I just grabbed Pam’s new Winter Morning Time Plans to kick it up a notch. I put 29 books on hold from our library yesterday!

#5 A Homeschool Day in the Life

This was another fun post to read from last spring. It reminded me that part of the reason I blog (and need to get back to doing it more regularly) is that it’s a way to keep a record of our lives.

I felt a tiny twinge of dread when I saw the picture of the read-alouds we used to do in our morning time (I have a name for it now!).

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I just really didn’t enjoy the majority of these books. It’s amazing how much better our days start out now that our reading is more enjoyable (and we start with music and singing).

#4 Three Girls and a Boy

People still comment on the gender make up of our offspring. All the time. It’s gotten so that I just expect it, and now feel almost surprised when someone doesn’t mention it.

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As the weeks roll by, my girls get more and more helpful, and Bubba gets more and more adorable. I’m still trying to savor all the things. Especially the milk-breath smell. Moms, you know what I’m talking about. Now that he’s eating some solids, I’m dreading when it’s gone!

#3 The Fruits of Lent

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It’s always good to read about Lent during other times in the liturgical year. It’s like a good little spiritual kick in the behind. I have been terrible about carving out time for prayer since Bubba arrived. I haven’t been getting up early anymore, which makes it really hard to have a specific time set aside every day. I’ve taken to doing a lot more on-the-go, in-the-moment prayer (including frequent offer-it-up prayers), which has its own benefits. But this post is also a good reminder that I really need to get back into the practice of early rising, now that the little man is (usually) sleeping through the night now.

#2 Thoughts on Pre-ultrasound Worry, and a Gender Reveal

Of course the gender-reveal post gets lots of traffic. I love the memory of the moment when we first saw that Bubba was a bubba.

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And of course:

#1 Our Rainbow Baby

This post still gives me chills and makes me almost cry. It’s one of my all-time favorites.

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2016 has been quite a year. There have been several painful losses and scary illnesses for family and friends. May was an especially difficult month, with grief over the loss of two loved ones piled on top of some intense, kind of shocking and very frightening health issues for two of our parents, crammed into approximately two weeks time, and compounded by the fact that, since I was nine months pregnant, my husband and I could not travel to be with either of our ill parents.

But then June came, and with it came this little Rainbow Baby miracle:

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A lot of people are cursing 2016. In many ways, it was a tough year. But man, that little bundle outshines every bit of sadness and fear.

It seems perfectly fitting that the Gospel reading for today is John 1:1-18, which includes the lines:

What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The darkness has not overcome it.

This reminds us that Jesus is The Light. No matter what hard things happened this year, the darkness cannot overcome The Light. It never will.

God’s promise endures.

Wishing you a beautiful and blessed 2017. Happy New Year!

Our Rainbow Baby

When I became pregnant with our baby boy, I decided that I would not allow myself to be fearful about my pregnancy or the possibility of loss. I told myself that I was going to be joyful and not hold back my excitement out of fear of another miscarriage.

In spite of this, I still had moments of anxiety and many fears crept in.

I first heard the term “Rainbow Baby,” when I joined a Facebook group for Catholic women who are pregnant after experiencing loss. I joined the group thinking it would help me in my efforts to defeat fear. I figured that being part of a group where people were posting about being pregnant after having had miscarriages would be a positive experience.

Instead, this group only sparked and fueled a great deal of anxiety. So much so that I hid the group from my newsfeed and never clicked on the items that frequently popped up in my “Notifications.” There were so many women in the group posting about their own fears and past experiences of losing babies at all different stages of pregnancy, and I just couldn’t hear those things. I felt kind of guilty about it, but I just couldn’t.

Unfortunately, this group and my own experiences with loss had increased my knowledge and awareness of all the potential things that could go wrong during 40 long weeks of pregnancy.

Anxious thoughts came to my mind in spite of my efforts to avoid them.

I was fearful of losing my baby in the first trimester.

I was afraid we would see something terrible during the 20-week ultrasound.

I was worried that any brief period of time during which I didn’t feel him moving meant something had happened to my baby (fortunately this was rare for him).

I was fearful of stillbirth, cord accident, some sort of trauma during delivery, etc., etc.

I repeated to myself over and over and over again my favorite prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you.” Every time an anxious thought would come to mind, I would immediately pray this. And it always helped. Always.

And so did the idea of a “Rainbow Baby.” I just loved thinking of my son this way.

To me, a rainbow is a sign of God’s promise and of His immense, merciful love. It is a reminder to have faith and to know that He is with me in all things.

Almost two years ago, right after leaving the ultrasound appointment in which I had learned of my second miscarriage, a detour forced my route home past a Catholic church. I saw the sign and immediately pulled over to go inside and pray. I made it to a kneeler where I wasn’t able to do much more than look at the tabernacle and sob. I couldn’t get my words to form a coherent prayer, but my heart was reaching out and Jesus heard me in my brokenness and He answered. In that church, before Jesus in the tabernacle, I received an answer to my unformulated prayer. It was, “Don’t give up.” I heard these words spoken to my heart as clear as a bell.

That was in July of 2014, and I have never forgotten that moment. I reflected back on it during many of my fearful times during my pregnancy. It seemed to me like something of a promise.

I remembered this promise on the day I went for my second OB appointment. In spite of having seen the baby on ultrasound at my first appointment, those fears had crept in, and I was very nervous that something might have happened and there would be no heartbeat when I went to my second appointment (the month between appointments in the early weeks of pregnancy always seems so long!).

When I arrived at my appointment on that day, anxious and eager to hear my baby’s heartbeat again, I pulled into the parking lot at the hospital, and I saw this:

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I instantly felt less afraid. I knew it was a reminder for me to have faith. I went into my appointment, and rather than just hearing his heartbeat, I got to see my little guy again on the hand-held ultrasound. Such relief.

Last Wednesday, our Rainbow Baby arrived, happy, healthy, and perfect.

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The day after we brought him home from the hospital, this picture was taken from behind our house:

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When she saw it, my five-year-old said, “Mom, that’s just like the rainbow God showed Noah!”

God’s promise.

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Our little Rainbow Baby is here. He is a miracle. A precious gift from God.

I literally sit and stare at him for long stretches of time and marvel at his very existence. I realize that, on that day almost two years ago, when I was experiencing such deep grief and despair, God knew that this little boy was to be our baby that we would get to hold on earth. I didn’t know it, but He did.

Our son is a reminder for me that God can do anything. That His plan is always for good.

That fear is no match for faith.

The Fruits of Lent

I love Lent. I do. I am quite a novice Lenter, as this is only my third year observing the season, but I love how, so far, the 40 day period always seems to bear much, and different, fruit each year.

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The first year I observed Lent was when I was going through RCIA and looking forward to receiving the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and First Communion at the Easter Vigil. That year I was pretty overwhelmed. There was just so much to know and learn. So much to try to teach to my kids. I was reading like crazy and soaking up so much. It was a very emotional time for me, and I cried at the drop of a hat (during Mass, when a certain song would come on in my car, as I pulled up to the church on Holy Saturday morning for my RCIA retreat, etc.). I felt like I was on fire with my faith, and it seemed every bit of me was growing and expanding. It was a whirlwind, interspersed with moments of amazing grace and peace like nothing I had every experienced before. I decided Lent was awesome.

Last year was different. I felt less on fire and less emotional. But I was still learning and growing in my faith. I gave up a lot of things – spending money (other than on food and gas), Facebook, reading books that are not spiritually focused, ice cream… I started to have a little bit of an understanding of fasting and self-deprivation. I increased my prayer time and made a point to spend time in adoration. I tried to help my kids understand the importance of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. I struggled along with my kids as they had a hard time with the things they gave up for Lent (Miss in particular had a very hard time with giving up coloring). I decided to journal through Lent, and realized that keeping a daily journal is really not my thing (but I did it for the whole Lenten season anyway!).

My growth felt less intense, but perhaps more focused. I gained a little bit of a better understanding of the purpose of Lent. I loved seeing my kids’ growing appreciation as well, in their increased understanding of Jesus’s Passion, and the joy of the Resurrection. Last year’s Lent set the stage for some changes that we made as a family and have kept throughout the year, such as more frequent Confession and not eating meat on Fridays all year.

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This year feels different still. I decided not to give up so many different things, but to select one main thing to do from each of the three areas of focus for Lent, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.

My fasting has consisted of giving up sweets, which has been even harder than I thought it would be. I mean, I like sweets, so I knew it would be a little hard, but I’m almost embarrassed by how hard it has been at some points. It’s amazing how many little opportunities there are for indulging in a treat, like going to visit family and having tons of homemade goodies on hand, giving up dessert at our parish’s fish fry each week, and even driving home and not stopping at the handy gas station where we often grab ice cream along the way. Being pregnant has made this even harder, Im sure.

BUT, this little sacrifice has borne great fruit. One thing I have gained this Lent is a greater ability to offer it up each time I resist the temptation to stuff my face with something sugary and delicious. “Offering it up” is a concept that is fairly new to me (as a new Catholic), and I have struggled with implementing it into the small moments of every day life. It just doesn’t usually occur to me. This Lent, I’m finally starting to get the hang of it, though. When I’m at a baby shower and the gorgeous little cupcakes seem to be just calling my name? Offer it up. When I’m walking down the aisle at the grocery store and feel a longing to stop and squirt a bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup straight into my mouth from that end-cap display? Offer it up! When I remember that I can’t escape for a moment during our homeschool day to my pantry to shove a handful of chocolate chips in my mouth? Yeah. Offer. It. Up.

I am so happily surprised with how freeing it is to do this. It’s an immediate smack down on temptation, and it serves the even better purpose of offering my small suffering as a prayer for someone else. Double win. AND, I’m starting to remember to do this more in other situations too. Yay Lent!

That in itself has really improved my praying-throughout-the-day experience this Lent, but I also have added in a commitment to a daily rosary and Examen prayer. For the last six months or so I have done a pretty good job of praying the rosary almost every day anyway, but I often squeeze it it when I’m doing something else, typically driving somewhere. This is fine, but I find it harder to really focus on the meditations of the rosary when I’m driving. So during this Lent, I have made a point to try to set aside quiet time every day to do nothing but pray the rosary. Usually this happens first thing in the morning, and I’ve found it to be a wonderful way to start my day. And a peaceful end my days this Lent has been the Examen, which also helps keep me focused on noticing God throughout my day.

We have also started doing a family rosary during this Lenten season. We haven’t done it every week, but it seems to be shaping up to be a new family tradition on Sundays, and I have been loving it. Last night we prayed a family rosary and then had game night. The perfect way to wrap up a Sunday.

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For almsgiving, this year I decided to put less focus on financial giving and donating of “stuff” (like to St. Vincent’s, for example), and more on giving of myself. In particular, I am working on being more giving to my family, my kids especially. I’m trying to be more generous with my time and attention. Saying “yes” more often, making a point to spend more one on one time with them, playing with them more, and so forth. As a homeschooling mom, I spend tons of time with my kids, but I don’t spend it doing things that they want to do nearly as often as I should, so I am really trying to do better about this for these forty days (and hopefully beyond), as well as just being less grouchy and making a point to give them my best in other ways. I’m experiencing so much peace through these efforts. And we’re still taking plenty of stuff to St. Vincent’s, too.

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So, again, this year Lent is different, but still wonderfully fruitful. I feel like I’m a little more mindful of my Lenten commitments throughout each day, and being mindful of these helps keep me focused on Jesus more, which of course, is the whole point of all of it. I’m looking forward to Holy Week and the culmination of the season, with Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, and of course, Easter!

I hope Lent has been fruitful for you, too.

Working on Forgiveness

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about anger and forgiveness, love and selfishness, holding grudges and letting go. For several years, but in the past several months in particular, I have been trying to figure out how to deal with it when some people are doing wrong toward others that I love (and to a lesser degree toward me). I’ve tried to be the peacemaker, I’ve tried to talk sense and reason,  I’ve tried to simply be kind and hope that things will get better. Lately I’ve been feeling like it has all been for nothing.

And I’ve been pissed. Oh man, I’ve had some serious righteous anger going on over here. Roiling, gut-wrenching, at-times-preventing-me-from-sleep anger. I loathe the feeling of impotent rage – when someone is doing something so obviously, hurtfully, terribly wrong, and there’s nothing I can do about it. And I’m not going to go into detail in this post about what the others’ hurtful behaviors have been, because this post isn’t really about them. It’s about me and how I am trying to figure out how to respond to it.

So here I sit. Struggling with my own glaring imperfections that make it difficult for me to let go of anger, and I think about how I want to be. A few years ago, I probably would have just let myself stew in this sense of righteousness. I probably would have been mad and stayed mad and liked it, in a miserable sort of way.

But now I know that I don’t want to be that way. I don’t want it for myself, and I don’t want to set a bad example for my kids.

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So every time I get to thinking angry thoughts about being hurt and having my loved ones hurt, I try to turn my thoughts toward forgiveness and love. Usually I fail pretty miserably, but I keep trying. And here’s why:

When I’m focused on being angry at someone else for being selfish and mean and unforgiving and hurtful, I’m not remembering the grace and mercy of God. Instead, I need to focus on what Jesus taught us about how to treat others. He said to forgive “seventy times seven times,” to “turn the other cheek,” to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

He also said, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” This is one of my crosses to bear. And as such, if I let it be, it’s a way for me to grow, and become more faithful, more loving, more forgiving.

And really, part of the reason I’m writing this is to remind myself of these things. Because it’s so easy to forget, and to go right back to relishing that angry voice in my head, to thinking, “how dare they?” and rehearsing would-be conversations in my head in which I really tell them off.

So I’m trying. At least a few times a day I’m reminding myself to be forgiving, to work on feeling love toward others, even when they have hurt me. I’m offering up my frustration and sorrow. I’m going to confession and admitting my anger. I’m praying for those who are doing wrong, who are hurting me and my loved ones, and for all of us to find it in our hearts to be forgiving.

And I’m doing all of this very, very imperfectly and with a lot of struggle. I wish it was easy for me. But then it wouldn’t be such an opportunity for change and growth.

2015 Recap in 12 Photos

2015 was a year filled with joy and change. It had ups and downs, but mostly really wonderful ups. Here’s a quick recap of the year in one photo for each month (and BTW, it’s really hard to choose just one pic per month!):

January

My husband and I had our marriage sacramentally blessed in the Catholic Church. It was one of the most memorable and beautiful experiences of the year, made extra special because our girls and closest friends were there to celebrate with us.

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February

Miss turned six and Lass got glasses.

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March

Lass turned three, I turned 39, we had lots of fun celebrating feast days, and we learned a lot through our observation of Lent. I cleaned out this closet (below) and many other baby and maternity items. It was a painful process to give almost all of it away, but it felt like the right thing to do.

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April

We did lots of work on our house to get it ready to sell. We went to visit my parents in Kentucky right after Easter and had a wonderful visit.

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May

Miss broke her arm and lost her first tooth. Miss and Lass started soccer. My husband and I ran the Dam to Dam, a half marathon in Des Moines. We took a big “field trip” to Chicago and visited the Shedd Aquarium and Lincoln Park Zoo.

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June

Miss had her last day of school away from home. We put our house on the market. We wrapped up our homeschool year and hit the road. We went to band practice in Iowa and visited the amazing Grotto of the Redemption. And we took a great vacation to the farm, our only one of the year because of the construction that started there around the time of our trip.

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July

I made the decision to not send Miss back to school away from home for the 2015-2016 school year. It was a huge relief (for both of us I think). Super Friend and I went to the Edel Gathering. My family spent lots of time at the pool and started a new weekly tradition of heading straight to the pool after 9am Mass.

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August

We traveled to Iowa for a family wedding, at which my husband and I and several of his family members performed in the band for the reception. Lass turned five. The girls got adorable haircuts. We started gearing up for our homeschool year, but managed to squeeze every last bit out of summer first.

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September

Miss started first grade, Lass started kindergarten, and Sis started preschool. We hit the ground running with lots of field trips, including a big trip to Louisville, where my Mom met us and spent two days there with us. While we were there, I found out I was pregnant.

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October

We moved!!!

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November

We said goodbye to our old house for good and finally closed on its sale. We took a fun trip to Iowa to visit with cousins and so my husband could butcher our hog.

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December

We celebrated my husband’s birthday by baking him a cake and keeping our tradition of having the girls choose gifts for him at the dollar store. We tried to celebrate Christmas and the special liturgical days of the Church in every way we could. The girls screamed “WOW!” every time we drove past a house with even the slightest bit of Christmas lights decorating it. It was a great holiday season.
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Overall, 2015 was a pretty fantastic year. I kind of loved 2015. Even the parts that were kind of a pain (like getting our house ready to sell, and having it on the market, and dealing with the people who bought it for many months before the closing finally happened) were ultimately for good, as they helped us get to this amazing place where we are now.

I’m happily anticipating what 2016 has in store for us. And on that note, I’m going to add one more favorite photo, just because I can’t not include this one:

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I’m linking this post up with others who are doing 2015 recaps with monthly photos at Revolution of Love. Check it out.

Happy New Year!

Praying for Our Nation, 14 Years Later

Today during school, I taught my girls about 9/11 for the first time.

Our lesson started quite naturally after we said the Pledge of Allegiance. Lass asked if the Pledge is a prayer.

“No,” I said. “It’s something we say in the USA to show that we love and are loyal to our country. We say it to show that we believe our country is the best place to live and that we will take care of it.”

That provided a fairly natural segue into our discussion of the events of September 11, 14 years ago.

I told them about the twin towers and how incredibly tall they were. I showed them pictures. We talked about the airplanes and the men who made them hit the buildings. I told them about the Pentagon and the people who fought back on the fourth plane to keep it from hitting another building.

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I was pretty nervous about having this conversation with them. I didn’t want to scare them. But I thought they were old enough for a basic description of the events of 9/11. I wanted them to begin to understand patriotism. I wanted them to see that people sometimes do evil things, but that good and God are still more powerful.

I’m glad I talked about it with them. They didn’t seem scared. They were very curious about the men who had taken over the planes. They wanted to know why they did it. We talked about how some people can do very terrible things if they let hate take over their hearts, and that that’s what those men did. They hated our country, and so they did something horrifying. We talked about how we should pray for them and for people like them.

As we were having this conversation, I was dismayed to find that my conviction faltered a little bit on some of my patriotic comments. I felt a little false even. My love for our great nation is still deep and strong and true, but right now I really don’t like Her very much sometimes. I hate to type this, but I feel like my own patriotism has waned of late.

I’m shocked and saddened and angered by so many things I see going on in our country. Things like how people don’t seem to care one bit about Planned Parenthood selling baby parts and that our president hasn’t even watched the videos showing evidence of it. Things like people being sued and losing their businesses and even being jailed for following their beliefs.

I get this sense of impotent rage, alternating with helplessness, because I feel like so many things are wrong here in our country, but I don’t feel like I can do anything about it.

Today, when I talked with my girls about 9/11, I wrapped up our conversation with the story of St. Paul’s Chapel. I just learned about this church today. I told my girls about its rich history and the fact that it is right next to where the towers stood, and yet when they fell, not even one window of the chapel was broken. I told them about how it was used as a place for rescue and recovery workers to rest and find some comfort during the hours and days following the tragedy.

We talked about how God must have protected that Church, and how He is so much stronger than any bad things people do.

I ended by telling the girls that, even though those men attacked our country and did something that hurt us very much, we were not broken or ruined by it, and in fact we came together to help and serve each other even more after that happened.

During the course of the lesson with my girls, and in my reflections on it and my own feelings afterwards, I managed to realize that no matter what laws are made, no matter what trash is spewed all over Facebook and TV, no matter how things may seem to be wrong in this country, it is still the country that I love, and I would not want to live anywhere else.

On this date 14 years ago, our nation came together in such a remarkable way. The attack on our country only served to make us stronger and to reinforce within our hearts what our we stand for. The men who flew those planes that day hated us, and they hated the religious beliefs that the majority in our country hold. It seems this is not very different from some of the issues we are facing today, except now we are attacking each other.

I told my girls that we can pray for the men who hurt our nation fourteen years ago and others like them. We will also be praying for a return to American strength and unity, for an end to divisiveness and hatefulness and persecution of those who think or act or believe differently than we do.

Let us never forget 9/11.

On Becoming a Runner. Again.

My husband came to visit me once when I was in graduate school, in the very early days of our courtship. That was back when I used to smoke, and stay up until three or four every night, and hit the bar scene hard, and sleep until noon most days, and so forth. At one point during his visit to my apartment, he got himself dressed in exercise garb and said he was going for a run. I blinked a few times at him while I took in such a foreign notion, and then told him to have fun while waving and lighting up a cigarette from my spot on my couch.

A few years later, I went to DC with him and cheered him on while he ran his first marathon. It was such an exciting event, and I decided I wanted to run a marathon myself.

So I did. Twice.

We did the Grandma’s Marathon in the summer of 2007

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Standing in Lake Superior after the race made our feet and legs feel so good!

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It was really cold.

And we did the Disney World Marathon in January 2008.

I did not much enjoy the Disney World Marathon, so after doing it I decided to take a break from running for a while. I had no idea it would be for over seven years.

Within five months after the DWM, Ben and I got married, and then I got pregnant. I then ended up being pregnant and/or nursing for the next five years, and though my husband has continued to run various events, during that time running just wasn’t on my radar. I had zero interest in it. I was focusing more on survival than on going out for an “invigorating” run when someone was available to watch my kids for me.

After I weaned Sis, I started to toy with the idea of running again. But it was really hard to get back into shape after my third baby in so many years, and I just couldn’t seem to get myself in gear to do it.

I even made a specific goal for 2014 to run some sort of event. Even if it was just a 5K, I wanted to do something. And then I got pregnant. And then I lost that baby. I had gained a lot of weight during that brief pregnancy, and I just lost all motivation to think about races, and training, and running in general.

Actually, if I’m really honest, for the past two years I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a run but not going through with it  in part because of thinking, “But what if I get pregnant?” I’ve been avoiding signing up for any sort of race because of this possibility. Registering for such a long race is a bit of a commitment, and I kept thinking maybe and what if? and this could change things.

Well. A few months ago, my husband told me he wanted to run the Dam to Dam Half Marathon again in his home town area of Des Moines. He challenged all of his siblings to run the race with him, and he casually mentioned that perhaps I’d like to do it too.

I debated. I thought (again) about the what if? of potentially becoming pregnant. I told myself I wouldn’t have time to train because of the girls. I thought about the logistics of the race day and how it might be difficult to have someone take care of our girls and our dogs while we ran the race.

And then I decided to stop making excuses.

I realized that, if I did get pregnant, I would only be out fifty bucks or so for the entry fee. And that would not be a big deal.

I acknowledged that I wouldn’t be able to spend hours running every day like I used to. And then I decided that I could commit to doing enough. I knew that might not get in lots of long training runs (the longest I managed to do was seven miles), but I would still be able to train enough to finish the run.

I reminded myself that, of course my in laws would help with the girls and the dogs and it would be fine.

So I signed up for the run. And then I started running.

The majority of my runs were only about two or three miles, because that’s about as much as I could stand to do on my treadmill at one time. I did one four, one six, and one seven mile run (all outside). I did CrossFit to help strengthen my muscles and get my lungs in shape.

I knew I would be able to finish the race, though I would probably be slow and it would likely be painful.

And I did. And I was. And it was.

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It was hard and it was painful, but it was also fun and very, very rewarding, just like my first two marathons.

This time, I had a few new strategies for getting through. Throughout the two and a half hours I was running (yes, it took me that long to run 13.1 miles, I got passed by a speed walker at one point), I focused intently on the fun of the experience and the beauty of the run and the people around me. I laughed at the antics of some of the other runners. I said “Thank you!” to the spectators. I offered up every ache and pain that I could (the stitch in my side, the ache in my thighs because I did too much of a squat workout three days before the run, the blister forming on my left foot, the pebble in my shoe for six miles, etc.). And I thought every. step. of the way. about my girls waiting for me at the finish line.

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Maybe at some point, I can use my running as an example to them of how we can do hard things and have fun doing them. Or of how it’s okay to do something for the simple joy of accomplishment. Or how you can have fun doing something and not feel embarrassed even when you aren’t the best or fastest at doing it (did I mention I got passed by a speed walker??).

After I completed the run, they all asked me if they can run with me when they get bigger. And that’s the best motivation I could ever have.

Completely Unplanned Thoughts About Running and Spirituality and Writing

I haven’t really been much in the mood for blogging lately. I don’t know why. My head seems full of lots of ideas of things to write about, but then I come to type them out, and I’ve got nothing. Or I just choose to do other things instead of even sitting down here with my fingers on the keys.

So, I’m sorry I’ve been absent a bit lately. I decided this morning that I just had to sit down and start writing something, and I’m not entirely sure what this post is even going to be about at this stage of the process. But you have to start somewhere, and frankly, I miss blogging when I don’t do it enough, so typing, typing. . .

We had a wonderful week at my parents’ house. I haven’t mentioned it here, but my husband and I have signed up to run a half marathon at the end of May, which means I’ve been spending a lot of time on my treadmill lately. It’s a little strange, because for my past marathons (the last one was in 2008), I did all of my training outside. We lived in North Carolina and had mild winters and a few nice trails to run on near our home. And we didn’t have any kids, so it was easy.

I obviously can’t just pop out and run in the great outdoors whenever I feel like it anymore, so the treadmill during nap time it is. I’ve found an appreciation for the treadmill. I don’t hate it (anymore). I’ve found that I enjoy praying the rosary while running, or listening to audio recordings from Lighthouse Catholic Media. These things help me to not focus on the drudgery of being on the treadmill or the tiredness of my body. And of course they’re good for my soul too, so that’s a bonus 🙂

But really there’s nothing like going for a run in the great out of doors.

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I got to take my first long outdoor run while visiting my Mom and Dad last week, and it was so lovely. The Rosary (counted on my fingers) and an audio CD still accompanied me, but this time they were enhanced by the backdrop of God’s creation.

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I got chased a bit by some enormous dogs, and met a friendly donkey and a few horses.

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And I found myself even appreciating the hilliness of the road. It is utterly flat here, and I tend to only run flat on the treadmill (because the treadmill doesn’t have downhill!). But this run was wonderfully hilly. I never used to be grateful for the hills when I ran in North Carolina. I mean, who likes running uphill? But my husband mentioned how much he enjoyed running the hills in Kentucky, because without the uphills, there are no downhills. And I realized he’s right.

I don’t love running uphill. Often I walk up the hills, to be honest. But really, the uphill is so worth it to have the downhill. Running downhill is so fabulous. It feels like you’re flying! The ups and downs are way better than always staying flat.

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I think this is kind of the way I feel about life in general and spirituality too. I wrote this post a few months back about feeling frustrated by a spell of spiritual blahs. I think those times of dryness are like the uphills. I don’t like them. I tend to trudge through them without much excitement.

But when I get to the other side, when, through my effort and persistence I get myself to the end of the hard part, the reward is so awesome and so worth it and so much more appreciated.

The ups and downs have to happen.

I think it would become painful to always be running downhill. And I’m not sure if it is possible to maintain a constant state of being spiritually “on fire,” either. The fabulous cannot be kept up indefinitely.

But I would rather have the uphills and downhills than run flat all the time. I’d rather have some spiritual lows and wonderful highs than be in the middle and humdrum all the time.

Maybe blogging is like that too. Maybe I’ve been in a bit of a low, working my way uphill, only to come back with a renewed love and appreciation for blogging. Maybe.

Five Most Popular Posts and Five Favorite Ones from 2014

When I wrote my 12 photos in 2014 post last week, I spent a lot of time looking back over the past year, rereading old posts, and remembering things I had forgotten. I remembered some of my favorite posts that I wrote. Then, just for fun I looked at my site stats from the year to see which of my entries were viewed the most. I promise I’ll move on to current/new posts soon, but I’m not quite done reflecting on 2014 yet. Bear with me 🙂

Here is a quick recap of the five most popular posts (of those I wrote this year) and and then my five most favorite ones.

#5 Beginning at the Beginning – My Conversion Story, Part 1

This post was really hard to write. It was the first post where I shared the painful experiences that were the spark to my conversion. I debated for a long time whether to write about my first miscarriage and my husband’s vocal cord paralysis. It seems like I opened the floodgates with this post, as I’ve since written about plenty of personal experiences since.

#4 How I Really Found God

Like I said, I opened the floodgates with the first post about my conversion, as evidenced by this post (and several others since then!). This post was basically the third part of my conversion story. So the first part and the third part ended up as two of the top five most popular posts. But the second part didn’t even make the top ten. Weird?

#3 When Your Friend is Infertile – The Dos and Don’ts

This is a post I was very hesitant to write. It rattled around in my thoughts for months before I finally felt like I just had to sit down and type it out. I think because it’s such a personal and individual issue, I was reluctant. But the response to it was amazing. I got messages from women in the combox, via email, and in person that let me know that it was a post that felt helpful to many. Based on the conversations I had after the fact, I probably did miss a few things, but I don’t think I offended anyone (at least not that I know of). I’m glad I wrote it.

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#2 Edel – A Different View

This is another post I was reluctant to write, about how I felt being in the unusual position of looking pregnant, and technically being pregnant (with a non-viable pregnancy), in a room full of lots of pregnant ladies and new babies at the Edel Conference last summer. I’m sure a lot of the popularity of this post was due to Jenny sharing it on her blog Mama Needs Coffee in this post (thanks Jenny!).

#1 Why I Don’t Threaten My Kids with the “Naughty List” at Christmas

This post had more clicks in two weeks than any other post I wrote last year! I’m certain that was because Kendra from the wildly popular blog Catholic All Year shared it on her Facebook page (thanks Kendra). Again, I was unsure about whether or not I should write this one.

It’s interesting (to me at least) that so many of the posts I didn’t want to do ended up being favorites. I am often hesitant to write about topics that I think will be controversial or might offend someone. I don’t like to sound judgmental or be a downer. Maybe I should make a resolution for 2015 to just write what I feel I want or need to write and get over all the hemming and hawing about it.

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On that note, I’ll move on to my top five posts. If I’m honest, most of the posts listed above, with the exception of the Santa one probably, are among some of my favorite entries. But, there are several more that were not hugely popular, that are at the top of my mental list of posts that I most enjoyed writing and like to revisit still.

#5 Come Join the Wild for a Moment – A Labor Day Party Recap

This type of post is never going to be terribly popular. I usually get a ton of hits on my Labor Day post right after I put it out there, because everyone in my husband’s huge family wants to see the photos and relive the party again. I love this post and all the memories it contains. And the photos. It’s one of my favorites to revisit.

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#4 Received into Full Communion

This post about my experience of the Easter Vigil last year is another favorite to reread. I don’t want to ever forget what it was like to be baptized, confirmed, and receive first communion with my husband at my side.

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#3 On Prayer and Getting it Right

About how hard it has been for me to learn how to pray and how to teach my children to pray. I really liked writing this post, and it’s something I’m still learning, and still feel uncertain about.

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#2 Adoration and the Kindness of a Stranger

This was one of my favorite posts to write ever. It still makes me cry when I reread it.

#1 Untangling

My Grandma has taught me some amazing lessons in my life. This one was definitely the best. I need to reread this post at least once a month to remember that hour with my Grandma and what I learned from it.

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Are there any of these that you liked? Hated? Which was your favorite??

I’m linking this up with Jenna at Call Her Happy.

12 Photos from 2014

I’m really enjoying all the end-of-the-year posts I’m seeing around the internet right now. I’d like to join in with another one. Dwija from House Unseen (Life Unscripted) has a yearly link up with 12 photos from the year.

12 in 2014

Photos? Yes please. Here we go.

January

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One of my goals for 2014 (which I failed miserably on, I’ll write more about that later) was to get back to having fun with cooking and trying new recipes. The first effort toward this goal was the above pictured attempt to make gnocchi from scratch. It wasn’t my first attempt at gnocchi (with the first one, the potatoes never got cooked through, and I had to abort the plan entirely in order to throw together something my people could actually eat). This was a better recipe, but I didn’t realize that by allowing the girls to help, we would be over-kneading the dough and making it into an ugly mess. The gnocchi were more like dumplings. Fail.

Shortly after that photo was taken, we experienced Flumaggedon, a different type of ugly mess. Happily, we rounded out the month of January with a trip to Florida to visit my Grandma, to enjoy the warm weather, and to go to Disney World.

February

February was a bunch more sickness and freezing cold, with a skiing trip and a five-year-old’s Brave-themed birthday party thrown in the mix to keep it from being too awful. I even made cars out of cardboard boxes for the party.

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Going through these photos and posts from last year is making me shudder for remembering all the sickness and COLD that kept us inside all winter long.

March

In March we began our first experience of observing Lent. I met the bishop, and we tried our parish’s fish fry (a lot). We were finally able to get outside, and the snow started to melt.

DSC_0141This girl ^^ turned two! (and I turned 38)

April

We spent a week with my parents, Damma and Tuppa as Sis calls them. We went through our first Holy Week. The big event was that I was received into full communion in the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Mass.

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^^ The water was really cold.

May

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We planted a garden, celebrated six years of wedded bliss, and visited my parents again.

June

June was a full, full month. We went to the Farm, I ran a 5K for SMA, we visited family in Minnesota, and I started my Baby Catholic Answers All the Things series (which I have neglected terribly recently, sorry!).

DSC_0182July

We had friends over for dinner, went to a 4th of July parade, and had our annual trip to the Dirty Weird Zoo. Super Friend and I went to Edel. And we broke ground on our new home!

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August 

Okay, I’ll be honest. July and August basically sucked. I tried my hardest to make it not suck, and we did have lots of fun raspberry picking, eating ice cream, cooking out with friends, and going to the Iowa State Fair. I got stuff ready to start our homeschool year and for Miss to start her part-time kindergarten. And then the big day happened. My big girl started school! And my sweet middle child turned four.

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September

Much better than July or August, September was full of homeschool field trips, soccer, hay rides, our first Michaelmas celebration, and of course, the Labor Day Party.

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October

We decided to get some puppies, played in leaves, had fun with my parents, and went on more field trips. I made cupcakes for Miss’s school Halloween party, we trick-or-treated, and had lots of fun outside during the height of my favorite season.

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Outdoor dance party ^^

November

Ah, November. November saw a sharp decline in my blogging (I only wrote five posts!!). Also in my everything-elsing. I went and got our sweet little puppies, and they have been sucking the life out of me ever since. They are good dogs, and I’m so happy we got them, but they aren’t quite house broken yet, so the hovering over them and taking them outside frequently has eaten into my time to do anything else. See? I can’t even remember what else we did in November!! Oh yeah, we went to the farm for deer hunting. We had an awesome Thanksgiving dinner with our friend-family (The Super Friends).

DSC_0166December

As usual, December was full of holiday fun and activities. I took the older girls to see The Nutcracker, we went to see Santa and met the Sugar Plum Fairy, and we’ve had lots of sicknesses, travels, and celebrating. We celebrated my husband’s birthday with our tradition of having the girls select gifts for him from the Dollar Tree. I promised to write about it, but then I got the stomach flu the day after his birthday. Here’s a precious shot of Sis giving love after he opened her gifts of a “bouncy ball,” a piggy bank, some scotch tape, and a pack of thumb tacks.

DSC_0022Lass selected a basket for collecting produce from our garden next year, a pack of pens, and a shower sponge. Miss’s gifts were a pair of scissors, a small mother-and-child figurine which she determined was Mary and Baby Jesus, and a pair of fuzzy orange (ladies) socks.

12 photos from 2014. I tried to select pics I haven’t posted before. It was fun to look back over the year in photos and posts. 2014 was a year of very high highs and very low lows. I’m looking forward to 2015.

Happy New Year to you all. Thank you for reading and particularly for sticking around through the past few months of minimal posting. I truly appreciate each of you. May you have many blessings in the new year!