05 August 2014

A saint for us to turn to

I've sat wondering why and how could it be that God willed last week to unfold the way it did.

I mourned.  I mean truly mourned- just like the rest of my classmates, but I have no real claim to my grieving.  I certainly can't claim my grief like so many who were so much closer to Sarah Harkins and yet so many of us have mourned a great loss.  This is my attempt to process it.

A Franciscan University alumni mother of four children born and one in utero passed away, as well as her unborn baby, Cecilia.  They died due to a tragic series of events from multiple bee stings and a brain aneurysm.  You've most likely read the story because I've posted it several times on my wall this week.

Sarah and I were never actually friends.  Uh, yeah I know, and I took it really, really hard when I heard  she was rushed to the hospital and the outcome looked grim.  I cried for a week straight- no joke, and Lena often asked me why I was so sad.  She and I took many moments to pray for the Harkins family together.  I initially saw her name and thought, "I totally remember her.  I remember passing her in the halls of Marian.  I actually remember passing her on the way to and from classes and strolling past the caf'."  She lived in the same dorm as I but a lower floor and yes, I do remember her.  That's about all our earthly encounter ever was.

But something else tugged at me and then it hit me- my husband works with her husband.  When he accepted his job we were both so excited to learn that several states away there was another Catholic family like us in our now "work family".  Whenever Dan would head to the DC area I thought of them.  He had gotten together with Eric a few times and I always wondered what his wife was doing at home with her littles while he was working.  How did she handle being the wife of someone with this crazy job?  What was she like?  And I prayed for her because I know how this job can take a toll on the family.  I thought of them often and felt so connected to someone I didn't know.  I didn't realize then that I had seen her on campus until this week.  When I realized who she was I panicked- I cried- I called Dan.  He was shaken as well and we prayed.

The night of her passing Dan was out and I called him crying.  He came home and we cried together.  I felt like I lost someone so important, so connected to me.  And I have.

It is so hard to imagine what her family will be going through and how they will move past this.  How will her husband work?  How will he ever go forward from here?  Her dear children will have to adjust to a life at school without their mom, who homeschooled them.  And their littlest, Faustina- a beautiful baby with Down Syndrome who had a momma who embraced her and loved the little gift her daughter was.

And we have all asked WHY?!

Why her?

For those who've read about her this past week, she's already accomplished much.  You see, although this is barely a consolation right now, God brings beauty and grace out of tragedy.  Her death has called us all to a new fervency in our faith.  How would we be remembered if we passed away suddenly?  Life is a precious, fragile gift and we have to live it realizing just how fragile it can be.  On the way to the funeral in VA, my husband "ironically", though I think it was from the Divine, heard on the radio a sentiment posed: "Live your life today as if you're writing your own eulogy."  And there it is.

The Lord took someone incredible from this world to wake us up.  He took a humble housewife.  He gave us our modern day St Gianna to turn to.  And He wouldn't have taken her away from an ordinary family.  Imagine how much God thinks of the family she has left behind.  He never gives us more than we can handle.  In times like these it's hard to see that truth but He chooses the strong and the bold to carry on in the midst of such sadness.

Having had a terrible week with toddlers, I can attest to the grace we receive when we cast away from ourselves and look to Him.  I had multiple sugar bowl sneakings and gritty floors because the potty-training-two year old wanted sugar as a "good job" treat.  That sentence in and of itself should tell you a lot.  And the clingy baby didn't help- at all.  But I was here to clean up those messes, to pick up and snuggle and kiss the baby, to leave the laundry and help the two year old with her business.  I was here to read to the older ones.  I was here to receive their pictures and letters they made for me.  I was here to cook dinner and hug my husband and just simply be with him.  I was here.  My husband was here.  We are both here, together.  And although Dan is away for 10 days, I'm still able to physically talk to him.  Every time I've had a momentary "I'm going to lose it moment", I've begged for Sarah's intercession.  I've asked her to help me be more like our Blessed Mother- to be kind, gentle, patient.

What's more, we prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary on the day Sarah was laid to rest and the Glorious Mysteries the day after, on Sarah's birthday.  Through death comes life.  Through sorrow comes joy.  She who had such a deep devotion to Our Lady has brought us all closer to Mary through the rosary.  Her ministry and devotion to the rosary has touched us all and reminded us what is worthwhile in this earthly life.  She has brought us mothers closer to Jesus through Mary.  We can relate to her as mothers and we can now ask for her intercession.

So even though I don't understand it and am so unimaginably heartbroken and sick for her family and her husband, thank you Lord for your gift of Sarah and an awakening that has been stirred in each one of us.  Sarah, pray for us and help us here below.

"To Jesus Through Mary"
A Sarah Harkins Clay Bead

Read more here for another beautiful articulation of how Sarah touched so many lives and gave of herself.

Go here to help the family my making a donation.

22 May 2014

Our Little Man's Story

A few months ago I read my sweet little nephew's birth story and became all nostalgic wanting to re-read my little guy's….only to find out I wrote most of it but never actually published it.  So here it is, in case you care to read it :)  This is mostly for me anyway, but I love reading birth stories so here is his!

Thirty-seven weeks came- that most beloved day in an expectant mother's pregnancy- the day she knows it's almost over.  She's held her little one within her long enough for this new phase to soon begin.  It's also a day that comes and goes for many of us with not much more than the typical Braxton Hicks and maybe a few hiccups and kicks, although those aren't quite as often since that little one is pretty squished.  I knew not to expect anything that day but was excited nonetheless.  That day always means that within the next month I will be meeting this little one and I will start seeing signs that he or she is getting ready to come.

My pre-labor "getting ready" signs have been the same with all four and I pretty much knew what a certain day's emotions and energy level meant the week before I had him.  I knew this baby would be a little early because up until now, all the signs and the timeline had been the same for the other three.  I had a pretty energetic week halfway into week 37.  I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned some more.  I wiped down every wall and corner of the house with a damp cloth.  I got out all the little boy clothes we had been given and 3 little girl outfits.

I spent about 4 days nesting with a big boom of energy on that fourth day.  I made my Labor Aid and put it in the fridge.  I made a big pot of bone broth, knowing I would need that for the after-birth-shock I experience.  The day that followed brought on a ton of emotions from anxiety about having another baby to excitement to pure exhaustion and weepiness that this baby would never, ever, ever come.  Although I obviously knew this wasn't true, you just can't help but feel like that when you can't breathe and are so uncomfortable.  But I was also extra excited by my emotional state.  In the past it has meant that after that intense cleaning the emotional phase follows and then the baby follows within a few days.  That evening (it was a Friday), I remember being miserable on the couch and almost crying.  We put the older two to bed and our little Sophie stayed with us in the living room.  I was sleeping on the couch towards the end because I felt so nauseous in bed and my husband would claim the recliner with Soph, since she had been having some rough nights sleeping.  I remember complaining to him and then following that up with, "You know this baby's coming this soon!"

My best friends had arranged to have a girl come and clean for me that Saturday morning.  Yes, I already cleaned……for her as much as for baby.  I was excited since the last two days had brought on more messes from toddlers and our house would be fully set for the baby once she did a sweep through.

I lifted my head from the couch at about 8:05 am and felt "funny".  I woke Dan up knowing something was happening, although I wasn't convinced yet.  I sat up and instantly felt that pop and gush feeling I had with Sophie when my water broke.  This time I knew to call our midwife right away.  I was definitely in labor!  (I also called and cancelled our house being cleaned.  As a side note, it was a wonderful gift about 4 weeks later!)  I had about 5 minutes to collect myself, wake up the girls and tell them the baby would be coming, and switch into some comfier clothes.  I called my sister and parents and they came by soon after.  By the time they arrived 15 minutes later, I was in full-blown labor with contractions coming so fast and hard they couldn't really be timed, yet in between each one my husband and I would be laughing and hugging, so I knew it wasn't quite time yet.  My labor went on like this for an hour- which is "long" for me.  I also experienced some pretty intense back labor and let me tell you, back labor is not a joke!  My doula helped me ease the pain and my husband and I were able to turn the baby during a contraction so he was no longer posterior.  (Thank you spinning babies!)

At one point I became so exhausted I just couldn't go on.  I have this certain look I apparently make, a look that my husband describes as the "it's time to push" look- although I rarely believe it's time because it hasn't been that long ;).  With a few sips of my Labor Aid that I've made for laboring with the last two, I was able to push through the pain and exhaustion and continue.  Seriously, that is some amazing stuff!  Homeopathy also helped and since we knew how quick and intense my labors had been in the past, we were continually giving remedies that helped with my after-shock.

I remember having my head on my husband's shoulder as I stood in our room, arms around him as I whispered that I was going to start pushing.  He caught Sophie last time and was planning on catching this baby, but I needed him with me.  The birth pool was all set but freezing cold because for some reason the hot water wouldn't turn on.  I realized I would never get my water birth- again- and realized quickly that I had loved birthing Sophie standing up and that it felt good to stand this time too.  I felt so connected to my husband, as we wrapped our arms around each other and he talked me through the pain.  So there I stood, my doula behind me massaging my back, my sister and Lena looking on, gently encouraging me and my midwife ready to catch the baby.  With three strong but slow pushes he was out.  I scooped him up and pressed him to my chest.  He was quiet and calm like all my babies have been until they realize they're out. Once he caught up with the intensity of what happened he started crying.  Wasn't he just sleeping peacefully two hours ago?

I crawled in bed with my little Marc Robert and snuggled and let him nurse as he started to coo and make baby noises, realizing he was out.  He cried a little but was quickly comforted by nursing and hearing Dan and Lena's voices.  Before I let him nurse, I laid him on my chest to see if what others had said was true- that a baby would find it's mother's breast and begin nursing on their own.  He did it too! It was pretty cool.

Soon after I delivered the placenta my horrible throwing up everywhere and "shockiness" began.  By now my husband's amazing at helping me through this and is such a strong and calming person, as I really am not "grounded or connected".  He already had bone broth on the stove for me- that along with more Labor Aid and some herbal tinctures seem to be what helps me the most.  I had a pretty rough recovery, but was so blessed to have Dan or Lena right by my side the whole time so that every time I threw up I could unlatch and hand the baby to one of them, knowing he was cozy and safe with them as well.

Recovery was rough the first week, mostly because he came so quickly, but Dan took off two weeks so that I could heal and bond with Marc.  That time was so precious to me and I'm so blessed to have such selfless and loving husband.

Lena was immediately drawn to her little brother, and he seemed to take a liking to her as well.  Avila was a bit reserved but warmed up later that day.  She and him are now best-buds.  Sophie, oh Sophie- 18 months later and she is still smmmmoooooothering him with hugs and kisses until he panics.  I like to describe her as gently intense ;)

Eighteen months later and we have loved every single minute having a little boy in our life.  What a difference it has been raising a little boy already!  He has 4 mommas and loves to walk around, chest sticking out, strutting his stuff and doing everything daddy does.  He now sits down on our concrete steps to check his shoes before getting in the car because he saw daddy putting his shoes on on that step two months ago.  It's so stinkin' cute it's ridiculous.  He also has his own play tools now that look like daddy's.  If he sees him or any other guy doing "guy things", he rushes to be a man.  It's so programmed in him.  Yet he's such a sweet daddy to the girls' dolls too and exclaimed, "Me daddy!" as his kissed one and rocked it last week.  :::sigh:::  I love him.  We all love him.  So thank you, Lord, for our sweet 18 month old Marc Robert!

07 January 2014

A little tidbit: Ideas to shape a generous child

I sit here, seeing that I haven't written in quite some time and yet I'm about to give some parenting advice with a glass of wine in hand.  Ironic, no?

It's been one of those days.  Oh, you know the days of which I speak… and yet here I am, hoping to share with you a little discovery I have made.

Let me set the stage for you:  "Hey mommy, can sister and I share my broken candy cane?  I know you already said 'no' to candy for the day, but if I share it and take the smaller piece (it was a very tiny piece <3), I'll let sister have the bigger part".  Sister replies: "Or I could take her bigger half and then we can both take another candy cane and break that, and then I'll have the bigger half of that also".

What the what?!  I burst into tears.

I ran to the hubs and cried.  He chuckled.  I felt like I was failing.  I agonized over this all day.  I knew there was something we could do better as parents, but what?  That night I lay in bed just torturing myself the way we mothers do.  I prayed and begged God to show me a way to show our children generosity and caring for others.  At 2 am I popped up in bed.  Yes, popped!  I scared the hubs and I still can't decide if his look towards me was terrified or utterly annoyed.  Either way, I woke him up and explained my idea. I knew the Holy Spirit had nudged me and I was eager to listen.

Have you ever punished your child and thought any of these thoughts:
This isn't working!
They don't give a darn about this punishment and it's a waste of time.
I think I'm more upset about punishing them than they are about being punished.
Have I gone too far?

If you're anything like the hubs and I, you don't like to use physical punishment and yelling makes you miserable and is rarely effective.  But what is the alternative?  Love and give hugs?  Sure!  But, there must be a middle ground, in my humble opinion.  They can't get off scott-free every time and need "training", although I hate that word.  Anyone have a better word here???

I don't know if I'm right but here is what is finally working for us!

I realized that my daughter needed a good lesson in caring about others' feelings and it was about time she got a lesson in the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Now, every time there is a disagreement or whatever it may be, if it is not an action founded in love and charity, they pull a slip of paper from an envelope and do as it says.  Yes, this does stand in place of "go to your room", "sit in a corner", "you have blank taken away", etc.

Here's what ours read:

Draw a picture of you and the person you hurt and give it to them.

Give a hug to the person you hurt.

Choose a chore to do.

Pick up three things out of place that would help me out.

Say a Hail Mary with the person you hurt.

Do something nice for the person you hurt.  
Make sure it's something you know they'd appreciate.

FREE PASS: Can I give you a hug?

FREE PASS: Draw a picture of how you feel.

FREE PASS: Have 5 minutes of quiet time (of your choice).

The idea behind this is to turn away from our inclination to defend ourselves and think of someone else.  I like to have them choose the chore or things to pick up so they have a say.  And I want them to have a say in their lessons on virtue so they feel respected and like they are partly in control.  I think so much of the time the arguing with a 3, 4 or 5 year old would come from either side trying to be in control, instead of trying to see the other's point of view.  The free passes are just that: they (I hope) let the child who was uncharitable realize that I know their feelings, however wrong or mean, are valid and very real to them.  They don't have to explain them and they are free to walk away from this one and cool off.  The pictures I get are sooo funny.  It's hard not to laugh sometimes.  But it is working.  They are honest with me about their feelings and are very open when they talk to me about what happened.  They are learning they can trust us and tell us anything.  This alone is very important to us.  Our daughters are realizing that they are listened to and that we try to understand them.
And, yes, they are becoming more generous, loving individuals.

And so this wine I mentioned earlier…..I have a two year old.  Enough said.  :)

Please feel free to share ideas you have or writing down other ideas for slips of paper to pull from.

31 May 2013

Keeping Dignity and Chasing Chastity

As young women, we all know what it’s like to have that feeling of worthlessness or being overly critical of ourselves, whether it be our bodies, our looks, our talents, our clothes- and the list goes on.  We compare ourselves to others far too much and can get lost in finding our meaning and self-worth through how we think others view us.  In reality, no one inspects us closer than ourselves, except God, our Loving Father.

If you studied the Baltimore Catechism growing up, as Dan and I did, one of the first things you memorize is: That we are made in the image and likeness of God.  That’s right.  Look in a mirror.  You are looking at someone God loved so much that He created you to be an outward expression of His love.  Growing up, my mom had a mirror on the fridge.  Under the mirror was the phrase: “The face of Christ”, meaning that when you looked at yourself in that mirror, you were looking at Christ.  I always loved this little reminder.  It helped me to act in a more Christ-like and loving way growing up.

We need to respect ourselves.  We need to realize we have self-worth.  It’s not prideful to realize we are beautiful.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.  It is prideful and insulting to respond to someone who gives you a compliment with, “Oh no, not me”.  You ARE beautiful.  We need to shine and let others see Christ radiating in us.

So what is dignity exactly?  Webster defines it as self-worth and goes on to say “dignity” is the quality or state of being honored or esteemed or being of a high rank, office or position, such as a dignitary.  I like this last word “dignitary” a lot.  My husband is a Special Agent in the Secret Service and often protects foreign dignitaries that come in from other countries.  They always act so pompous and important, and most have a complete disregard for those serving them.  However, put into the context of us as individuals, God sees each and every one of us as being worthy of honor.  He loves us and if we wrap our self-worth in Him, and in serving and loving Him by loving those He has put in our lives, He will reward us like we cannot even imagine.

Nobody’s perfect, I get it.  But when we have fallen and sinned, we must walk confidentally, like Mary Magdelene, who, in St Luke’s gospel (chapter 7), enters the home of Simon the Pharisee and washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries them with her hair and kisses and anoints them with ointment.  Her immense faith, believing she is loved and forgiven by her Savior, is astounding and she can challenge each one of us to believe we are forgiven and to walk in faith, confident that He loves us.  God has given us honor and we must give it back to Him.

Now, let’s put this in the context of a relationship.  Because of the sexual, instant gratification culture we sadly live in, it’s difficult to find role models we can exemplify and easier to get caught up in the material and physical.  But before we can truly love another person, we must see the beauty and worth we possess.

Do you know any young ladies who gives themselves away to men freely, as if their sexuality means nothing to them?  Some of you may have come across or heard someone say, “So and so is such a beautiful person.  Why does she date guys like that?  She deserves so much more.”  It is sad so many women today don’t think they deserve anything.  They think they’re lucky to just get a guy who “loves” them and wants to be with them.  But why can’t we demand more?  Why can’t we hold out for someone who will love and respect us like we do, in fact, deserve?  Yes, we deserve love; we deserve respect and we should look and settle for nothing less than this!  Our Creator saw fit to make us in His image and likeness.  That’s a pretty big deal.  We should be looking to date men who see our worth and want what’s best for us.

John Paul II, in Love and Responsibility, speaks of the personalist principle.  According to this principle, a person must not merely be a means to an end for another person.  Meaning, we should never treat the people in our lives like instruments for achieving our own purpose.  We are capable of our own self-determination.  We are each unique individuals.  Just as we should never treat another as an instrument for our own purpose, therefore violating their dignity, we should never let someone treat us like instruments.  JP II also talks about the utilitarian principle: that is, humans tend to seek out relationships that are most useful to them.  We seek things that maximize pleasure and comfort and avoid those things that cause pain and discomfort.  Therefore, going along with this principle, we should pursue whatever brings us comfort, advantage and benefit and avoid what causes suffering, disadvantage and loss.  Many people today approach relationships this way, and rate a person by how someone will help them achieve a certain goal or by how much fun they have with this person.  Once this practice in choosing relationships is adopted, we begin to reduce people to objects for our own enjoyment.

Aristotle believed there were 3 kinds of friendships: friendship of utility (what can someone do for you or give you), pleasant friendship (how fun someone is to be with) and virtuous friendship. The first two forms of friendships are not long-withstanding and will dissolve over time as the thing that person has to offer you changes either on your end or theirs.  In the third form of friendship, virtuous, however, the two friends are not merely united by self-interest but are united by a common goal.  JP II says that the only way two human persons can avoid using each other is to relate in pursuit of a common goal.  Put in the context of marriage, husband and wife must be subordinate to each other and to the good of their children.  They must work as a team and discern together the common aim of their family and how to best make use of their time and resources.  This latter form of friendship is what we should be looking for in any relationship.  As you begin dating, take a look at who you’re dating and why.  Do you two have each other’s best interests in mind?  Do you want to help the other grow personally, so that you can later grow together as a couple?  You must always have the other’s well-being in mind and be careful to make sure he is doing the same for you.

Early on in our relationship, Dan and I struggled a lot.  We were best friends and liked, and dare I say, even loved each other.  So, why was it a struggle?  Well, neither of us truly realized our self-worth.  No really.  I was a 17 year old high-schooler worried about weight, hair and clothes.  He seemed insecure as well, although being a guy I couldn’t really tell you why or details because men are not detail-oriented. :p  As I made my way to Steubenville for college and left him behind, and while we still needed to grow up and mature, the distance was very difficult.  I would mention another guy I talked to and he’d freak out.  He’d say he was busy with a friend and I’d get upset.  It all seems so petty now but in the moment it was real.  We wanted to make sure the other loved us so much that when the other didn’t have time for the one wanting to talk, we became very unsettled.  We placed our self-worth in how the other acted and responded instead of realizing that someone you love cannot always be there at your “beck and call”.  And that’s ok.  In fact, it’s good and healthy.  We needed to support the other one’s friendships and independence they were trying to cultivate.  We both needed to grow and stretch ourselves and take a good internal look at ourselves as individuals.  This took a long time.  We broke up.  We got back together.  We loved hanging out.  As I entered my sophomore year of college, we received news that Dan would be deployed to Iraq for 10 months.  It was the most difficult and challenging part of our relationship.  We endured all the hardships of being apart, lost ourselves when we didn’t talk for weeks, found ourselves in our weakest moments, and relished every letter and every time we did get to talk.  That deployment was one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to go through.  We had family that didn’t get it and weren’t supportive at all.  This lack of support never got in the way of us though.  By this time, I was 20, Dan 22 and we had grown a lot as a couple.  I remember going to a meeting before he came back from his deployment.  Family and loved ones of the Marines coming home were told that the first few months back together would be difficult.  It really wasn’t for us.  We were stretched and refined in those moments apart.  God used those moments to help us grow individually so that we could then grow as a couple.  We had to realize that we were amazing people on our own, with God, first and foremost.  Dan went through a deployment and saw a lot of heartache and pain.  He was amazing!  I had to go through 10 months of very little support, school, traveling and growing up a lot.  I came to realize I could rely on God and that I was good and holy and perfect in His sight.  When we were re-united we had to focus on building each other up and working together towards a common goal.  For us, that was the talk of getting married and our engagement followed soon after.

Dan and I have been very blessed.  We were each other’s first boy and girlfriend and, therefore, never had to go through the experience of dating anyone who didn’t agree with us on faith and morals.  We’ve also been blessed enough to never have had to deal with regret from past relationships.  That said, it was still difficult to remain pure, especially as the years went by and we grew closer, and especially after going through a deployment.  After Iraq, Dan joined me in Steubenville to finish school.  He had an apartment off campus and I had an apartment for 2 out of the 3 semesters he was there.  Because of this we had no one to hold us accountable but ourselves.  By the grace of God we remained chaste but I can’t stand here in front of you today saying it was easy.  We studied together a lot and ate dinner together.  We had many opportunities alone since we both had cars and could easily get away.  As a couple we had evolved and grown closer together- mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically.  It was difficult to keep the physical in check because we didn’t have to monitor how close we were growing in the other areas.  Grow closer emotionally?  Sure.  Grow closer spiritually?  Awesome!  But, grow closer physically?  Ok, but be careful.  Be on guard after not seeing each other for 10 months, and after dating for 4 years- yeah, that’ll be easy.  But we did it.  When one was weak, the other was strong.  We knew if we went too far we’d end up regretting it later and we didn’t want to have regret.  We strove to have a pure and holy relationship.  We loved the other and recognized we were worthy of love and respect and we wanted to give our beloved the same respect.

I think we sometimes think of the virtue of chastity as keeping us from expressing ourselves - we think, erroneously, that chastity restricts us from expressing love to our beloved.  Don't go too far - you can't do that-STOP!

We could try to look at it in a different way. Instead of holding us back, the practice of chastity gives us an opportunity to actively show love. In our relationship, when one of us was weak in the realm of sexuality, the other protected us from falling. Instead of seeing a moment of desire as a struggle to get what you want at the moment, a chaste couple sees that as a chance to protect the other from falling.

For guys, the desire to protect our women is deeply seated in their nature. Guys walk on the outside when on a side walk to protect their girl from an errant car. Guys drive like crazy to get their wife in labor to the hospital. Once, in Iraq, Dan heard some incoming rockets.  He found that when the rockets landed he had grabbed a female soldier and covered her with his body. 
he had no idea that he'd even thought to do that. It just happened.

Guys protect girls. It is against their nature to injure them, hurt them or let them come to harm. Chastity is nothing but an extension of this chivalry. Ignoring chastity could put your beloved in a compromising situation, that could cause heartbreak, emotional hurt, or worse.

More than that, it puts your beloved down a path that leads away from Jesus and Heaven. In all of your relationships, remember we are our brothers and sisters keepers. We need to protect one another from falling. We need to guide each other to something greater, to somewhere greater.

There's no greater love than to give your life for someone else.  Two hours east of Buffalo, in Scio, NY, Dan assisted in the military funeral of a young Marine, Cpl. Dunham, who was posthumanously awarded the Medal of Honor for jumping on a grenade to save his fellow Marines. He was a hero.

In chasing chastity, we can be heroes too. We can sacrifice our bodies and desires to protect our beloved.  It's only by doing just that that we can find true love and honor in our relationships. If we chose not too, and let that grenade go off, everyone gets injured.

Chastity is responsible love - it says, "She is beautiful, she is mine, and come hell or high water, I can and will protect her!" Protect your beloved like a mother bear protects her cubs and expect nothing less from someone you’re dating.

There's a battle going on for our souls. Fight back. One is alone, but two (you and your beloved) is an army. And with God on your side, you'll never lose. I’m not saying its going to be easy. You might get hurt along the way but hey, that means you fought for something.  God doesn't expect you to win every time, 
He just asks that you not give up. Keep fighting and God will not be outdone in generosity.

Our life stands as proof to that.

22 December 2012

My Very Own Sugar Scrub

My sister-in-law made me a homemade sugar scrub last year that made my skin so smooth and, I have to admit, was tasty when it'd get on your lips.  I ran out awhile ago and have been meaning to make my own for quite some time.  Well, today I woke up after several days of no sleep between the baby on the inside and the baby on the outside and looked horrible!  No really.  The dark circles were unbelievable and I decided I was going to make a scrub for my face so I would feel rejuvenated.  That turned into me wanting to add caffeine to the scrub for my dark circles.

Immediately after use I asked my husband what he thought and he said that although it didn't completely take the dark circles away, it absolutely helped lessen their appearance!  So here it is, my very own caffeinated sugar scrub for all you tired momma's (or daddy's) out there.  By the way, this scrub comes out dark so if you get strange looks from your husband, yes it does look like you smeared mud all over your face.  Don't worry. He'll like rubbing your face afterwards.  ;)

I'm assuming you could use coffee instead of tea, but we have a Keurig so I didn't have any coffee other than K-cups around the house.  And, I happened to have an enormous amount of black tea that we never use because someone ~AHEM!~ always thinks she has time to make things like Kombucha when, in reality, she doesn't.  I'm glad I finally found a use for all that tea in the cupboard so I could stop feeling guilty about it just sitting there for the next 5 years.  Anywho, now on to this super easy, 5 minute recipe!

1 cup white sugar
45 black tea bags/ almost 1 cup  (you could use any tea but I wasn't about to use my Chamomille or holiday teas for my face :p)
2 Tbls sea salt
2 Tbls orange peel
2 tsp lemon extract
2 cups olive oil
peppermint extract: I added this because this preggo couldn't stand the bland smell.  Just add until you like the smell of it- you shouldn't need too much!

Now, I don't know about long-term effects of this scrub making a mother look more "with it" but I was honestly impressed with the immediate outcome.  Also here are some little facts about black tea:
Black tea is known to be good for you for so many things, like preventing heart disease, stroke and cancer.  It has also been known to fight the aging process so why not try it in a facial scrub, right?!  It also boosts the metabolism.  I wonder if it would help make my face not look so puffy with this enormous baby growing inside me?  Hmmmm......  One may never know.....

05 October 2012

YOU are a supermom!

          Wow, four months have passed since I last wrote...  I guess it makes sense since things have been crazy around here.  We're now five months pregnant, the summer flew by and we're homeschooling our oldest.  Not sure what grade we're considering her to be in but that's the beauty of it all.   I know, I know, some of you are probably thinking Amanda doesn't have a plan and is cool not having her child's future laid out?! She doesn't know if her kid's in preschool or kindergarten?!  That does NOT sound like her!  I completely agree.  Honestly, I gave up.  We started the year with high hopes and big expectations....that we're still mostly meeting.  Preschool workbooks proved to be way too easy and she was done with five preschool books in one week.  On to kindergarten, I thought.  Well, if you knew my spirited little four year old you'd know that she cannot sit still- ever!  She begs to do school.  She's often seen doing it from 10 am until 6 pm by her choice- the Good Lord knows it's not mine!  And yet I'm constantly pulling teeth and having this tug-of-war with her.  I suppose it's because our ways of interacting peacefully do not include anything concerning "book" education.  We'd much rather shop, bake, cook, read and chat together, but not about anything that has to do with 2+2 or stay in the lines when you color, please.  Heavens, NO!  And so my week has been filled with meltdowns galore (by me, mostly) and shoving pop tarts in the mouths of my younger two to keep them quiet, all the while telling the 4 year old that she can't have them because they have too much sugar to keep her focused.  True, but hypocritical.  And I've wondered how any mother with little ones actually gets any school accomplished amid changing diapers, feeding everyone, entertaining the little ones and keeping everyone sane and happy.  And this doesn't even include being pregnant (meaning tired ALL the time and not having a working brain), a husband often out of town for work, dishes, laundry or a decent meal because we all know that's not happening in this home!  I swear I'm not complaining- just laying it out there.  I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about!
         I see posts on Pinterest containing weeks or months worth of organized lessons and print-outs and read blogs about homeschool families going on nature walks, catching a squirrel, coming home and skinning it for dinner all while spinning yarn from sheep they just sheared, nursing a baby simultaneously and teaching the 18 month old to read, while the other 6 kids are off studying pre-med and volunteering for the Peace Corps....at age 9.  Yeah, that's not real life and yet I get sucked in every time and feel like I'm failing.  I wonder how these women can do it all and still appear to be happy, put-together moms who are always cheerful and love every bit of motherhood.  Then I realized we only put things on our Facebook statues or write posts in our blogs that make us look good.  We only share with people how we want them to view us, but that's not how it is every day.  Those moms don't show us that they actually have bad days where they want to crawl in a hole or wonder if keeping the baby monitor on and leaving the house with the receiver part would be an ok option, just to run to the corner store to get an iced tea and go to the bathroom in peace (I have never once done this and never will, by the way!).  No, we share with everyone our highest points because they're either rare or a better day than most others, even if the others aren't all horrible.
          After sobbing and going on and on about how I can't do this, my husband has made me realize that I don't have to weave my own rugs or, even, cook everything from scratch, milling the flour myself.  It's ok to buy some convenience foods for those "mommy's losing it days", and it's ok to close the books for the day or a week.  And no, it wouldn't be easier putting her in school because I'd have to be involved (and would want to be), and I'd still have 3 hours of homework to do with my daughter every night, among other factors that I don't have do deal with keeping her home. It's not a piece of cake either way.  He's made me realize that lowering my expectations isn't me failing but is more realistic for where we are right now.  Being a parent is hard- period.  There's no easy way out.
          So for all of you who have told me I'm "supermom" and can do it all....HA!  Call my family this week and they'll tell you another side.  On second thought, don't call them.  I've been downright pitiful these past two weeks.  The truth is we moms are in this together.  Some have it harder in general or on a particular day, but we all have it hard.  Life may look perfect on Facebook or blogs or Pinterest but if you peek through someone's window (don't though because that's stalking....) you might be surprised at how much their life look like yours.  So, here's to all you moms who think you're failing, that your kids will be delinquents and belong in a zoo rather than in your home- you're not alone and it's ok to show your less-than-perfect side! And seriously, thank you to everyone who has just let me vent and flip out.  Thank you for listening and thank you for not running away, slamming a door in my face telling me to get over it.  You will be repaid greatly for loving me anyway.  I mean, I'm not about to bake you homemade cookies because, let's be honest, they wouldn't survive an hour with me around, but God will repay you and I'll pitch in and buy you a coffee! ;)
          And I will end this by telling you that in the hour it has taken me to write this, I've rescued the baby from dive-bombing off the couch twice and heard a scream from the 4 year old, who apparently snuck out of bed to use the bathroom.  The baby seized this opportunity to run to her side and throw her shoes in the not-flushed-yet toilet.  Yeah......so if this is incoherent, well it's consistent with my mental capability: raw, real, tired and yet loving those little ones so much it doesn't seem possible!

19 May 2012

Soak Your Oats

We take the term "crunchy" pretty serious in this house.  Meaning: we eat a lot of granola and granola-type snacks. 

However, I had heard quite a few years ago granola wasn't good for you because it blocked the absorption of vitamins.  I ignored this for a long time because we think it's some pretty yummy stuff around here, but the more I used oats to make "healthy" snacks, the more I thought I was totally jipping us.  I did some research, reading of few articles online and cracking open "the book" that I thought I'd never open.  The book that, when my mother gave it to me just before my husband and I got married, my thought was Gee thanks, a dust collector.  There's no way I'll ever use this!  You see, before I had a family I liked my convenient and crappy foods because they were so yummy.  Cheese whiz, anyone?!  ..........No??????  Now that book is becoming quite filled with highlighting, underlining and notes in the margins.  I love this book and have found it invaluable.

So, now that I have been converted to the world of raw, whole, organic foods and a lifestyle of soaking grains, fermenting things and making as much as I can from scratch, I thought it'd be nice for someone to hear me say I honestly love it!  I love knowing what goes in my kids' little tummies and knowing that no matter how many snacks they have in a day (because they're bottom-less pits and would rather snack all day than actually sit their cute wiggly bums down for an actual meal), it doesn't matter because the snacks I have on hand are really, truly good for them!

But, back to soaking those oats.  When I first read about phytic acid I wanted it OUT of my oats!  Phytic acid is bound to phosphorus and if left as is will combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, potassium and zinc in the intestinal tract, therefore blocking their absorption.  Soaking grains such as oats allows enzymes to neutralize phytic acid and increases B vitamins.  Dating back to ancient times up until recently, and by that I mean many of our grandmothers probably did this as well, it was common practice to soak your oats the night before because of the nutritional benefits.
Now you may be thinking but oats have actually helped my digestion.  At first unsoaked oats have a detoxifying effect but you will soon see that the more you consume them unsoaked, the more IBS symptomes, mineral deficiencies and allergies can be found.

Being a busy mom of 3, however, I was quickly annoyed at this thought because who ever has the idea that they're going to need oats on Thursday for the granola that's run out for the yogurt your kids love and soak and dry them out again the Monday before.  ...Well, not me!  And so, I would run out of soaked oats, refuse to make new granola until I had done the whole soaking and drying oats process (none of this a big deal, really, if you're prepared) and, therefore, have 2 crabby kids whining that they wanted "cranola" or their energy bites.  So, here's a tip. When you get home from the store with your oats, pour them in a bowl with water.  They will be ready in about 24 hrs.  It's that simple, as long as you make sure you get them out of the water before they mold a week later.  Not that I know this from experience, but it seems like it'd be gross.  :p  Then when you need them, all you have to do is reach in your pantry for oats packed with a punch!

How to Soak your Oats:
Nourishing Traditions mentions you should buy them from a bag or container because they can go rancid in bulk bins.  I realize it's cheaper this way so it's up to you!  I know one of our local grocery stores seems to re-fill the bins quite often.  Put your oats in a big bowl with enough water to allow for them to expand.  Then put a little apple cider vinegar or lemon juice in and stir.  (Raw ACV is best if you're using ACV, but I don't always have the good stuff and it seems fine to me with regular).  Leave for 7-24 hours.  It helps if you sing "I'm gonna soak that phytic acid right outta my oats" to the tune of I'm gonna wash that man right outta my hair from South Pacific.  I don't know why it helps, but it does.  Or at least it makes it more fun!
Note: This also works for steel-cut (Irish) oats, rye, barley and wheat.
Note: Quinoa also has to be soaked, but I'm not sure if an acid is needed to help neutralize antinutriemts (p 454 of Nourishing Traditions).  Anyone know if an acid is needed?  I've found nothing on this.

When drying out the oats pour them through a mesh strainer a little at a time and rinse them under water so you rinse out the slimy grayish liquid. Ew!  I haven't been able to rinse them until the water runs clear but I'm sure this is fine.  I usually rinse until I get the vinegar smell out.  Make sure you drain them before the next step so you get a lot of the moisture out.  (Singing the song again makes this less mundane.  Feel free to add a little dance too. ;)  Lay them out thin on several cookie sheets, put your oven on the lowest setting and leave for hours.  That's it!  Then, use as you would normally.  The only difference I've found is that they tend to be a be a bit chewier in recipes, but it doesn't seem to be a big deal and so far I'm the only one in my family who's noticed.
Note: I haven't found anything in Nourishing Traditions about drying them out as the section focuses on soaking them for porridges, but I've read elsewhere it can be done in the way described above.

Here are two of our favorite recipes for oats (not including my granola recipe that I "wing" and is different each time so I can't give it to you).  We are rarely without both of these in our house and when we do the kids get sick of bananas, apples and peanut butter really fast so I have to make more for them, of course!

Playgroup granola bars:                                                  
(I have added the gluten-free substitutions as well. You can get gluten-free oats if you need them.)
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup wheat germ  (We use an equal amount of ground flaxseed instead because of being gluten-free)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup whole wheat flour (or 1/3 cup each of potato starch, tapioca flour, sorghum flour and 1/2 tsp of xanthan gum)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup of raisins, semi sweet chocolate chips, nuts (We use choclate chips and coconut)
1/2 cup honey
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350* and grease a 9x13 baking pan (any non-stick spray works great).
In a large bowl mix the oats, brown sugar, wheat germ/ flaxseed, cinnamon, flour, salt, raisins, chocolate chips, and nuts.
In a separate bowl beat the egg and add to it the honey, applesauce, and vanilla. Mix.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Use a wooden spoon or your hands to mix well. Pat mixture evenly into the prepared pan.
Bake 30-35 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes. Use a serrated knife to cut into bars while it's still warm.

Energy Bites:
(Double the recipe right away!)
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup honey
1 cup coconut flakes
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla
Mix, Chill, Roll

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we do!

Have fun soaking your oats and remember, the song helps ;)