Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in Photos and Posts

Asking me to choose my favorite posts and photos is tantamount to torture in my book.  Like going to a mall.  I can't make a decision, people!  So here's my year in review - an attempt at choosing my personal favorite posts and photos for each month of 2013:


Also known as that month I thought you might care about my mediocre Sunday attire selections.


I Should Really Clean My Tub More

I don't know why but the pictures I took of the eggs really make me happy :)



(told you I couldn't pick...)



in which I go through my goth phase...

Turns Out I'm Going to Die

Seven Quick Rules for My Funeral

...also the month of lackluster photography.  This is the best I got...

...the month of many words...



Emmanuel in the Darkness

The One Who Hates Advent Most

The most visited post from the year was by far
The Kitchen Project - Painting the Cabinets and My Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Experience
thanks to Pinterest.  I really hope the post is helping people and they're learning from my mistakes!  I should probably get a better kitchen shot up there, shouldn't I?

The post with the most comments (after subtracting my own and not counting giveaways because those don't count :)  and which I found quite surprising and totally random was
A Lesson in Pumpkin Economics with an Alpaca Bonus
Sarah's Virtual (TWIN!) Baby Shower definitely deserves a mention with all those comments even though it was giveaway related.  How fun was that?!?

The post that was hardest to write?  Oy, that would probably have to be
Me.  Being Real.

Happy end of 2013, friends!

Linking up this mutant version with all three - Sarah, Dwija, and Pam!  Click on over to their places for those who are probably much much better at following all the rules...

***P.S.  Tomorrow is the last day of our Images of Mary link-up!  Just a reminder if you were hoping to participate and also please click on over to see the lovely posts that people have written!  Thank you to all those who participated.  It's been an absolute pleasure seeing your selections and reading your posts.***

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Lost Innocents and Reason to Hope

-I've never reposted something from the archives until today.  I hope you don't mind.  I just felt like I should.-

I don't like today.

Today the Church remembers the hundreds of little babies murdered by King Herod's guards.  The Holy Innocents.  I don't want to think about it.  In the standard modern way I'd rather just pretend it didn't happen or whitewash it in a concise and bleached sentence like in one of the many children's Bibles we've collected on our shelves over the years.  

But once in a while I let myself think.  I let myself think of the terrified screams coming from newborns and toddlers alike as they were ripped away from their homes.  The wailing of mothers whose emptiness is palpable in my throat.  Fathers, powerless to fight the evil of those brutal soldiers.  Perhaps they were begging, pleading, bargaining to protect their precious sons.  I wonder if there were those that fled the way Joseph and Mary did.  I wonder if they were caught because they didn't have a supernatural forewarning in an angelic dream.  I wonder if some of those mothers had heard why their little baby was being slaughtered and hated that little newborn King for the grief that He caused.  I wonder if they were forced to witness the murder and if they were allowed to bury their baby's body.  I wonder if some of those parents ever met Jesus when He was an adult, ministering to the masses.  Would He have known that His birth prompted the death of their baby boy?  Would they have?  I even wonder if some were so consigned to the evil of the time that they didn't put up a fight.  I wonder what I would do in that same situation and just in doing so my stomach turns to rock and I feel my throat close.

I am glad to be a part of a Church that recognizes the loss of these first little martyrs.  One that acknowledges the wrenching grief of a parent whose child has been murdered because of the selfishness of an adult.  At the same time, I'm not sure any of us really get it unless we've been through that unimaginable moment.  But the reality is that it's not over.  I think of the woman in China pinned to a bed, while her child is aborted within her.  I think of the mother in Africa who watches her children executed because they belong to the wrong race or tribe or religion.  I think of the parents whose children are sold to sex traffickers so that they can pay off their debt.  I think of the woman right here in our own nation who is pressured to kill the life within her lest the man who has planted that life abandon her.  I think of the man sobbing with grief because he is powerless to stop the dismemberment of his baby simply because the uterus is not his.  I think of the depth of grief of parents whose child was gunned down while in the supposed safety of a school.  I think of the adoptive parents whose children have figuratively been ripped from their families through surprise legal sanctions.  No, it is not over.  How many times today more innocents are lost because of selfishness, money, emotional scars, politics, and fear.  My heart can barely stand to think of it.    

After every baby I've had, my heart seems to become more aware of the suffering that exists in this world.  When I let myself, my heart feels like it is being squeezed by their pain.  I see their faces and I picture the sins being committed against these little ones.  I want to save them.  I want to rescue them and I don't know how.  My little attempts at donations to various charities and my haphazard prayers seem laughable in contrast to their hurt.  I want to do more and be more to them.  At the same time I know I am not their savior.  He is.  And I know that without Him leading me my efforts would be fruitless anyway.

I know what it is like to lose a child.  I have no idea what it must be like to have another person to blame for it.  I don't know if my heart would become angry and calloused in response but I know I am weak enough that it's a likely possibility.  But even in all of this ugliness, these heinous acts, I have hope.  I have to.  I have to believe that our Lord can bring beauty out of the indescribable ugliness.  I have to believe that these innocents rest in His heart and that they now know perfect freedom and joy the height of which we cannot even comprehend.  I don't know how people of good will can NOT believe that (and I know many who don't).  At the root it seems like it must be a terribly desolate system in which they live.  Truth be told, in reflecting on all of this I was starting to feel pretty hopeless myself.  It just seems that this life is so full of sorrow and misery.  For some, it is all they know.  It is just so very overwhelming and I left this post half written this morning because I could barely stand that I didn't have a sweet little wrap-up to the problem of suffering.  Something that said, see? It all makes sense now!  I want a neat and tidy theological snippet to help me wrap my brain around it all.  Then my friend Theresa just gifted me with this quote at the perfect time...

"The cries of slaughtered children, called so poetically the Holy Innocents, echo loudly through our time.  For those deeply committed to the cause of life this is a day of pilgrimage and prayerful reparation and fervent petition to end the slaughter of children in our own time... Christ's peace is not a passive state of dreamy harmony that one sees in living room paintings.  Christ's peace is the victory prize in a relentless conflict lasting until the end of the world - the day when He will wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain."  - Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, Behold, He Comes: Meditations on the Incarnation

...and while that doesn't take away the pain or the grief or the unfathomable suffering that the innocent have endured throughout history, at the very least it gives us hope.  We MUST continue to work and pray for justice, especially for these little ones, while at the same time knowing that in this world, we will never find perfect justice.  True justice will not exist until the end of the world.  And then.  Then all things will be made right.  And meanwhile those innocent souls rest in Love Itself.  Those innocents are lost to us but they are found by Him.
And it is in that that I hope.

(Originally posted December 28, 2012)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Family Christmas Gifts 2013

A cozy Christmas morning before the sun rises...

We do one bigger gift for each of the boys for Christmas.  This year Brian and I worked together (if by together you mean he spending hours cutting and sanding in the garage and me sitting hours at the sewing machine) on what has already proved itself worth the measuring, the cutting, the multiple trips to Hobby Lobby and thrift stores, the tears and choice words spilled over the sewing machine (Really.  I don't know what I'm doing.), and the agonizing over incredibly vague internet patterns.

Here they are:

Our own little fellowship

I made the cloak, tunic, gauntlets, and thrifted some black dress pants.  Brian forged and painted Andruil.  All the elven clasps were bought from Amazon here crazy cheap and surprisingly well made.

Cloak and tunic sewn.  Belt and pants thrifted.  Helmet made by Brian - the main helmet shell is a plastic costume helmet from the dollar store with the visor removed, the decorative pieces are thick cardboard painted and glued and fastened with a brad, the ribbon from the store.  Brian made that monstrous axe and yes, I said the same thing that you probably just thought.  Oh my.  That is really...big.

This boy is in love with his Frodo outift.  Cloak sewn.  Vest and pants thrifted.  I did find the best brown corduroy overcoat, too, but it's several sizes too big still and he won't wear it.  The ring of power bought here (also crazy cheap) and the chain I had in my jewelry box.  Brian made Sting.  

Vest we had.  Pants thrifted.  He didn't get a weapon but has been more than happy to use the old wooden sword we already had.

They've never seen the movies but Brian is reading the books to John Paul who then narrates the story back to his little brothers the next morning.  They've been having an absolute ball the last few days turning our home into Middle Earth.

A few days before Christmas I thought about having the kids pick names next year for sibling gifts like we used to do when I was younger.  I get such a kick out of seeing the things they make and/or buy for each other but it does weigh on me a bit those last few days before Chirstmas.  That said, after seeing the awesome things they ended up gifting each other, I'm not sure what we'll do next year.  I've never thought to photograph the things they've given until this year and I wish I had done it each year.  It's stuff like this that makes Christmas with kids awesome.

John Paul's gifts for us:

A handmade "explorer belt" for Michael to hold his magnifying glass, lighter, knife, and flashlight
A pair of earrings for me (I know.  Heart melted...also, does anyone know if putting actual paper clips in your ears causes incurable infection?  Thoughts?)
A "bouncy guy" for David
A sock puppet for the Luke
He and Michael also put their shoveling money together to buy a phone case for Brian which was a great idea that they came up with all on their own.

Michael's gifts for us:

For me, Michael and Papa put together some homemade dark chocolate peanut butter cups (and um, yes, that jar was full when I got it.  I have no idea what happened.)
A set of lighters for John Paul.  Yes.  I know.
A peg doll nativity for David.  Jesus, Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, and one wise man.
A little truck from the thrift store for Luke.

David's gifts for us:

Handmade targets for both John Paul and Michael
A bracelet and ornament for me
And a ring for Papa ;)  He had this ready for weeks.
He went in with Michael on the truck for Luke.  (Michael: "But he hasn't paid me yet.")

Luke is still pretty clueless about the whole concept of gift giving so he gets a pass this year.

One of my favorite traditions is getting each of the boys a special ornament each year that captures something about them from that year:

A periodic table for John Paul.  Oh my goodness, he was SO surprised and excited.  Love my little nerd boy <3 

A crayon box ornament for Michael.  He loooooves all the colors and the flip top.  I knew he would :)

And David finally got the green tractor he's been asking for for months ;)  Almost every day he asks Papa that if he sees a tractor store or a man who sells tractors when he is at work if he would please get him one.  The picture is blurry but his face says it all.  

And a St. Luke ornament for our little Luke.

The annual photo calendar for Brian

I normally use stockings for things that they each might need - socks, underwear, pencils, toothbrushes,  etc.

But a periodic table poster did show up in someone's..."Finally!"  (?)

And this year's birthday cake for Jesus - gingerbread cake with cream cheese frosting :)

Brian's been off the last few days which is absolutely wonderful and we were able to get to Mass this morning for the feast of St. John the Apostle.  When we got home the boys were surprised to find games and puzzles sent by Grandma and Grandpa under the tree.  So today's been a quiet (ha! Quiet is  so relative these days...) day of games and snacks and making plans for the rest of Christmas.  Hope you're all having a wonderful Christmas, friends!  

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

May you be filled with the greatest Gift this Christmas season and always!

Merry Christmas, friends!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Free to Worship Him Without Fear

Day 24

"This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hand of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Luke 1:73-75, 78-79

Phew.  Twenty four days of reflecting and posting and plumbing the depths of my heart (or at least as far as I could reach) to prepare for Him.  It's been so good for me to do this.  So so good.  I had no plans or schedule or huge ambitions for this little experiment.  Just a desire to prepare well.  To hold myself accountable and to live this Advent and Christmas with intention and trusting that if He wanted me to write He'd give me the time and words to do it.  He definitely took me from what I thought it would be to a very different place, posting much more from the depths of my heart than perhaps I ever have before.  And you know what?  It's been freeing.  So freeing to come here to this place and share my heart.  And a little bit terrifying, too.  It's vulnerable and humbling.  It'd be easy to be labelled a fanatic or overly pious.  I'm sure some of these posts sounded odd or caused a few eye rolls.  But I think I'm okay with that.  I think I'm currently at a place where I feel free to worship him without fear.  Perhaps if people don't think we're at least a little nutty, we're not doing this Christian thing right.

I'm so humbled by the words of those who have been coming here.  My heart has been filled to overflowing and I'm so grateful for those of you who listen when I ramble on about it.  He is so good.  Christmas is just upon us.  He is almost here.  The dawn is breaking and ready to shine upon our hearts once again and flood us with grace.  He longs to fill our hearts and invites us to come and He wants us to be ready for when He comes again.  I'm ready to kneel before the manger and be filled even more.  I'm ready to rest in the grace of Christmas.  

May you be flooded with His gifts and graces this Christmas and always.  May He free us all to worship Him without fear and bring us to His peace.  May we all be ready to meet Him now and when He comes again.

"Christmas must mean more to us every year, and we must not be afraid of immersing ourselves in its joy.  It is the most natural thing in the world that a woman's heart should be moved to tears at the manger, at the sight of that small Person who is the Redeemer of the world, and that this was the way he chose to come."
-Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.

Let's enter into the mystery of Christmas together, friends.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Emmanuel in the Darkness

Day 23

Emmanuel.  God with us.  I'd heard this word many times but it wasn't until two years ago that for some reason the enormity of its meaning struck me.  God with us.  We were awaiting the birth of our newest baby any day and the men who sing at Mass were singing a beautiful meditative song called...wait for it...Emmanuel, Emmanuel.  The Lord placed in my heart a middle name for our baby that had never ever been in consideration before.  A reminder that God indeed was with us.  With our little family.  That no matter the circumstances, the darkness, the silence, the frustration, the sins, or the fears, HE was with us.  What a comfort that is.  It is mind blowing that we have a God that remains with us, that we can partake in and live in.  His name shall be Emmanuel.  This little baby born two millennia ago, he would BE God with us.  

I think of Mary and Joseph taking that road to Bethlehem.  Nine months pregnant.  How there must have been cold and fear and hunger and aching joints and the lack of lumbar support on the back of the donkey.  (Obviously they couldn't afford the better model.)  I wonder if it felt like God was with them?  I wonder if it felt cozy and Christmasy or if it felt dark and a bit uncertain?  If there were temptations along the way?  I think we could be almost certain that there were.  I mean, she was about to birth the Savior of the world, the one who would dispel the darkness and open the gates to heaven.  Certainly the evil one would have been on the move to stop that?  But despite however cold or weary they were, whatever feelings they had, God WAS there, hidden just under the flesh of the Virgin Mary.  He was there and He was just as much God's presence as a few days or hours later when He laid in the manger for all to see and adore.  I wonder if Mary had to remind herself of that over and over along the way.

He's not always visible but He is here with us.  Emmanuel.  A reminder, a promise, a Person.  Sometimes it takes a great act of faith to believe that.  We might not always feel Him but He remains.  We may be asked to go through the cold, the fear, the hunger, and the aches.  It may be excruciating at times or as black as night at times but He is here.  Whether your Advent has been filled with consolations or whether it's been filled with trials and struggles, He is here.  Keep going.  Keep reaching out to Him.  Remember that He is here with you.  Emmanuel.

Today I'll be bringing the boys to Mass and receiving Emmanuel Himself.  God with us.  God in us.  The feelings may be there or they may not.  The kids may behave or they may not.  But the reality of His Presence will remain, giving strength to travelers and allowing them to finish the journey.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Icy Bloody Sunday


The ice storm last night made the ride to Mass seem like we were in a storybook.  When we walked out the door it was so loud as all the ice was breaking and creaking everywhere!

Flooded yard = potential skating rink?  The boys hope so.


Brian braved the cold and ice to slaughter our Christmas turkey.

The pre-Christmas poultry dissection and anatomy lesson.  You have that tradition at your house, right?

Brian:  I read your blog.  I'm plucking out every follicle of this turkey for Jesus.  

Me not freaking out that there is the severed head of a turkey in MY SINK.

Hope your day is less bloody than ours :)

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