Thursday, October 23, 2014

My Faith Was My Parent's Faith Until I Fell In Love - Celebrating St. John Paul II


On Wednesday we had a little party at our house!  It was a party I had been waiting for 9 years to celebrate! A party in honor of St. Pope John Paul II, whose feast day we honored with Polish fare, cold beer and an ample amount of joy, storytelling, and fond memories.
MENU
Polish Sausage (minus the kraut, because, boys)
Sweet Potato Fries
Kale Chips
Polish Cookies
Beer (because, it's the right thing to do)

Celebrating the life of John Paul II with our children is really important to me, because he is the person to whom I can truly credit my conversion.  Now, when I say conversion I'm not talking about anything mind-blowing here.  No juicy story filled with scandal, no miraculous healing etc., etc.  I was just an ordinary sixteen year old girl, living in my own little world, a world comprised of family life, school activities, friends, a job, and all the little happenings of the small town where I grew up, when something inside of me came alive.

Growing up, I had a great love and respect for my parents (still do!). From that love and respect came the desire to embrace the values that they taught me as well to love and participate fully in my Catholic faith.  Naturally, though, my faith was, to a large degree, their faith.  It wasn't until I had the privilege of attending World Youth Day in Denver, in 1993, that my faith truly became my own.
{Chillin' in Denver with the Bishop. Man, was I tan! That should explain the sunspots and wrinkles. Hello, Missy. Have you ever heard of SPF??}
I went to Denver not knowing what to expect, and not knowing much at all about Pope John Paul II, although I was terribly eager to "meet" him and to hear what message he had for us, his young flock. There are two wonderfully profound moments from that trip to the mountains that I will never ever forget, two sparks that would burst into flames of love for Christ and His church, flames that continue to burn brightly within my heart today.

The first moment was when we were gathered together in Mile High Stadium listening to the Holy Father speak to us for the first time (read his entire homily here).  He said, "Be not afraid!" Be not afraid to be saints, to share the gospel, to celebrate life and to defend it, to say yes to God's call for your life, even if it's difficult, even if you must suffer.

I felt incredibly encouraged by him.  He spoke to my heart as a father who encourages his child.  His words filled my soul in such a way that I couldn't help but soak up all of the love and encouragement he had to share. And, the fruit that came from actually paying attention and listening to him was -get this - that I wanted to know, love and serve Christ forever and ever and ever. That was a big thing for this little small town teenager!
The second "spark" moment took place at Cherry Creek Park where we had camped out the night before the Holy Father came to speak to all of us.  When he approached his seat on the stage and sat down, he covered his face with his hands and wept, completely overwhelmed by the cheering and chanting of the crowd who was so deeply moved by his presence, so dearly longing to show their love and affection for him.

He wasn't a celebrity, he was our Father, our Shepherd, and he loved us, he truly loved us.  I was deeply touched by his humility and sincerity.  He had spoken truth, and whether I understood the theological and catechetical roots of his preaching didn't matter. I knew that what he had to say to us was real and true and good and beautiful. I knew I could trust him.  Through him I heard the voice of Christ. His words resonated within me as a light casting out darkness, doubt and fear, and suddenly I could see life in a way I had never seen it before.

I'm typing this and that Sara Groves song "Something Changed" is rolling though my head. She sang it right (love her!):
Something changed inside me
Broke wide open, all spilled out
Till I had no doubt
That something changed...


I will always be grateful to my parents for encouraging me to make that trip to Denver so many years ago.  My faith journey from that time up until now certainly hasn't been a perfect one, but it is one that has been strengthened and enriched by the beautiful writings and teachings of St. John Paul II. He turned my plans to become a missionary and then teach in the inner city until the age of 40 (after which I might entertain the idea of getting married) upside down. Down. Down.
{Proof of Love. Proof of Truth}
I read Love and Responsibility and Muliaris Dignitatum (The Dignity of Women) and well, here I am celebrating the author himself with 6 kids and one fine husband!

It's really special for Steve and me to be able to share our mutual love for this beautiful saint with our children.  To show them photos of our marriage being blessed by him, our wonderful library filled with his wisdom, and to impress upon them the real tangible desire our Lord has for each and every one of us to become saints. He's some awesome proof of that.

I have to admit I was a little ill-prepared for the party.  Especially, because I should have THOUGHT to make the Pope's favorite dessert, Polish Papal Creme Cake.  (Look for that one next year!)  But, we did have somewhat of a Polish inspired dinner, and during school we:
- Colored this picture and also this one 
- Watched a You Tube clip of him speaking and
- Baked Polish cookies for dessert.
(FYI - these are NOT kolaches. Thanks to my daddy, I'm 50% Czech, so I know these things, trust me. I'll post more details on that very important culinary point of view later, because I owe it to my Grandma Blanche, who is in heaven and has probably met the pope and told him about her 
ah-mazing kolaches.)
The highlight of the party was watching the Royals beat the Giants in game #2 of the World Series. The boys had read in the Holy Father's bio that he was an adventure seeker. He loved being outdoors and was a great sports enthusiast.  Reminding them that our beloved saint was watching the game with us from heaven made them smile.
{Can we just pause for a moment of silence here for that smile?? Gosh!!}
Even Joey, who just so happens to have been given the middle name Karol, after Karol Wojtyla, had a splendid time!  But, maybe that's because he's basking in Grandma's love. Grandma, who is here helping me this week (cue the angels singing). Grandma, the one who "made" me go to Denver to meet the man who changed my life forever. Thank you, Grandma!
Happy Feast Day, Papa! We love you!














Tuesday, October 21, 2014

When Your Baby Leaves You (On His Birthday) For the Mountains - Celebrating 12 Years With Andrew


The night before our childrens' birthdays, I lay awake in bed and try to remember every detail of the beautiful day of their birth.  Going back to the very moment they entered the world brings tears to my eyes. I cannot help myself. Time with our children is moving by at a pace that I cannot seem to slow down, and the sentimental part of me never wants to forget the most precious times with them.
Big brother, always taking care of someone!
Last weekend was our son, Andrew's, 12th birthday. But, for the first time in 12 years, I was not there to celebrate it with him, because he was on a big hunting/camping/fishing trip with his daddy in Colorado.  {I know.  Weep with me.}

Trying to celebrate a birthday in proper fashion during the week in our home is a bit like trying to sip a martini in the middle of a hurricane. And, you know we had to celebrate before he left, because I couldn't possibly leave 100% of the party procedures to a bunch of dudes trying to survive out in the wilderness.  A hot dog and a broken Oreo. That's what he would get.
True to his nature, Andrew was incredibly grateful for every {little} thing we did for him that day. When I asked him what he would like for me to make for his birthday supper, his response was, "It doesn't matter, mom, just keep it simple. I know you are up at night with Joseph and aren't sleeping much, so I just don't want you to work too hard."

You know at that very moment I would have given that boy anything he wanted.

After convincing him that I was more than happy to cook his dish of choice, he requested chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn and biscuits.  "Nothing green, Mom! The boys are gonna love it if I ask for that!"
He must have thanked me twenty times for supper and for the hunting themed lemon cake that took me a century to frost, because Mr. Fussy Pants was not in the mood to be put down. The post party K.P. duty was all about me scrubbing green and blue frosting off of Joey's toes and chiseling chunks off of the kitchen cabinets, but we made it happen, and that's what counts!

The morning of Andrew's actual birthday, I could not sleep. I really felt like there was such a great empty spot in my heart that needed to be filled up with his presence.  He is truly a dear soul, wise beyond his years, and I know that if you should ever have the opportunity to meet him, you will be wonderfully blessed by his goodness and friendship.
Andrew never asks for anything.  Trying to figure out what to give him for Christmas, or for his birthday, is always a challenge because he rarely makes requests. Thankfully, he happened to mention one day that he was saving up for a few accessories for his bike, so I knew just what to get for him.  Honestly, though, I could have wrapped up a paper clip and he would have been happy.
George pulled off his famous I'm riding my bike to the library, but actually I'm going to the quick shop to buy stuff. Dill pickle sunflower seeds??! He was probably shaking with excitement trying to wrap it up for Andrew.
Apparently he drug Henry with him on his last outing, because I don't know where those Mentos came from.  See that smile?? Andrew really is that happy. He teaches me to savor the little things.  A thankful heart is a happy heart indeed.

I wonder, sometimes, if Andrew realizes that we recognize and treasure all of his wonderful qualities. Of course we are proud of what he can do, he's an amazing athlete, scholar, and comedian, but it's who he is that shines through every one of his accomplishments that is truly special.

One very specific example of virtue that I always want to remember about Andrew is how he is how truly selfless he is.  I am deeply influenced by his lack of regard for himself.  He's the first to give up his seat so that someone else may sit, first to abandon his own goals and plans so that someone else might have their way, first to notice when I need help and to graciously offer assistance.  

The other boys in our family are drawn to his goodness, too.  Henry tells everyone that Andrew is his best buddy.  He was completely lost for the six days that Andrew was away camping.  Even Charlie sneaks out of his room at night only to be found snuggling up beside Andrew fast asleep.

Although it feels as though the days between now and when Andrew will leave the nest are falling off the calendar at lightening speed, Steve and I are terribly grateful for every moment we get to spend with this very special person.  We are blessed and changed by his life - and that is really the beauty and joy of celebrating his birthday!



















Sunday, October 19, 2014

Big Breakfast + Big Nap = Big Sunday Bliss! {WIWS}


Happy Sunday, Friends! 

Today after Mass we decided to head to the local cafe to enjoy their hearty breakfast fare. Squished together at the narrow table, watching the boys devour pancakes, biscuits and gravy and three hogs worth of bacon made me thankful for the joy and leisure of Sundays.
I found this pic of me with Andrew hammin' it up at the cafe last year on Henry's birthday.

One of my favorite memories from my childhood was when my dad used to roll up his sleeves and help my mom cook breakfast in the kitchen after Mass on Sundays.  My mom is an amazing cook and kept us all very well fed during the week, but Sundays were special, because dad jumped in to help. There was something so grand about seeing him whip up a big batch of scrambled eggs or dance around my mom to flip the pancakes just in time.  I took great delight in watching the two work together, and delighted even more in the delicious results of their teamwork!

All these years later, the tradition of the Sunday breakfast continues.  Even though it's nice to eat out on occasion, I really do love making breakfast for the boys with Steve. We turn up the praise music and just take our time, sipping coffee, and chatting while we cook.  It's the little things, really, that I hope our children remember and treasure about our life together.

Do you have a favorite Sunday tradition? 
I'd love to hear about it!
I haven't linked up with Fine Linen and Purple for What I Wore Sunday for several months now. But, thanks to Bonnie's encouragement, I thought I'd give it a go this weekend.  I feel like my wardrobe is a bit limited, since I'm still trying to wiggle my way back into my clothes post baby #6.  Thank goodness it's sweater season! Sweaters and jackets can hide a lot of pancakes!
 Skirt: T.J. Maxx
Jacket (Silver): Maurices
Tank: Target
Boots (Bjorn): Zappos
Necklace: Maurices
Earrings: Anthropologie



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

When You've Had Enough of the Dark Side ~ She Reads Truth Scripture Study


Well, here we are livin' up Wednesday, and have I blogged yet this week? Nope.  I hate to blame le bebe Joseph for my absence here, but he's totally dominating the hours of my life from 8 p.m.-1a.m. (the time when I usually blog). A fussy teething baby simply must be held, and his arms of preference just happen to be mine!

Anyway, I am giving the boys an "extended recess" this morning so that I can take a moment to tell you guys about something wonderful that I've found.  It's fun to share great findings here on the blog, and since I've pretty much maxed out my cocktail recipes and running shoe recommendations, I figure you can handle something more uh, shall we say, noteworthy?
{Love this print! Find it here.}
I woke up this morning with the old Amy Grant tune in my head, Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path, which I thought was funny since I've recently experienced a deep desire to get back into reading the scriptures on a daily basis.

Lord knows I need a light right now, because as I shift around in the sometimes difficult, dark days of motherhood, I keep tripping over things like self pity, frustration, exhaustion and ingratitude.  The big crippler in that list, the wicked little stabbing Lego in the arch, is ingratitude. And, you guys know that without gratitude one can only see the imperfections of life, and that's not exactly a sunny vantage point from which to view your vocation.

A deficiency of gratitude causes a slow kind of blindness that, over time, can really handicap the heart. Instead of living freely in God's love believing in His truth and trusting in His grace the heart is bound by anxiety, fear and pride. Pride and fear don't really motivate me to seek out God's truth, they just drive me to higher levels of whining and swearing (yes, I confess.)

Read it like this: I get sick of myself.  Does that ever happen to you? Or just me?

Do you know what I mean? It's when, at the end of the day, you realize you've frowned more than you've smiled, criticised more than you've praised, complained (even if only in your head) more than you've expressed gratitude, mulled over the negatives of life instead of taking pause to ponder all the good stuff, and you just feel like - well, you feel like crap.

I can say all of this, because I've been in both the places of darkness and light.  Light feels good, light feels right (despite circumstance - despite circumstance) and darkness feels narrow, suffocating, exhausting and poopy (pardon my lack of adequate adjectives - the boys are brainwashing me.).

Last week, as I was wondering around on the dark side, feeling a little bit kicked around by a teething baby, missing my husband, who had been working very loooooong hours, fibromyalgia flares and a few other things, and I just knew deep down that something had to give.

I think sometimes I try to take care of everyone and everything on my own and forget that there's a good and gracious God who wants to help me. The perfect, real, tangible reminders of this very truth are in in the Word, in the light.
While I can't help but long to attend a group bible study, there isn't one being offered in any of the parishes near by.  And, I'm the kind of person who needs a guided study.  My Daddy knows this about me, so He worked a little Facebook intervention on me. Call it Providence or coincidence, but one afternoon, while folding laundry and guzzling down another cup of joe, I took a pause from the day to scroll through my news feed.  The first thing that popped up was an invitation from my awesome friend, Stacey, to join her in  - get this - a bible study.

Yayes!! I rejoiced amongst the non-listeners of the house.  Sign. me. up.  Without even blinking, I found the She Reads Truth resource online and ordered the current study on 1st and 2nd Peter. The day it came in the mail, I jumped right in, and must say that (so far) I am loving it.

The study is simple: Read the scriptures. Write out your thoughts, compose a prayer, put the verses into action (it's all mapped out in the study guide), and read upon the online reflection if you like.

The study is really perfect for those of you (us) who, for whatever reason, cannot attend a study outside of home.  You don't have to worry about starting late or falling behind, because you can begin anytime and go at your own pace.
If you order the study packs, they send you these lovely watercolor prints, which is a major bonus, because, for me, pretty things are a motivational force.

So, what do you think? Have you heard of She Reads Truth? Do you need this little light, too??  
Let me know your thoughts....I'll be checking back after recess, um, I mean school. 










Friday, October 3, 2014

7 Quick Takes - Joseph is 3 Months!!

Happy Friday, Sweet People!!

I really believe that you guys really are the kindest readers on the planet.  When I find comments such as "You have the sweetest boys!" and "Your boys are so handsome and so good!" in the comments, I must say it truly warms my heart.
{Chess and quesadillas over lunch is how I sneak into the pantry and shove chocolate chips in my mouth while they're distracted.}
But, I have to be honest with you: Don't think for a second that it's all Mary Poppinsville around here. I'm pretty sure that if you could be a little ol' fly on the wall for just one minute in our house, you would see that woven in between the lines of all the positive posts I write about the boys are an equal amount of stories that could be composed on the chaos and dysfunction of every day life.

That being said, I'm sure that as mothers, our hearts are much the same in that we may have the worst day ever with our children, fall into bed at night feeling a bit beat up, and still our are hearts are able to look past the struggles of the day and reflect more on the goodness and beauty in our little people. Yes?

Steve and I can hardly believe that our sweet Joseph is already 3 months! (Well, 3.5 to be exact.) We love to stay up at night and talk about him together. Actually, he's probably developing a serious ego from hearing us chatter on and on about him, since he's not willing to go to bed early with the rest of the gang.
Having a newborn brings a quite the roller coaster of highs and lows.  These past three months haven't lacked once ounce of intensity.  I must confess to feeling pretty overwhelmed at least seventy-two times a day.  One minute, my heart is bursting with love and affection for our babes and the next minute I'm trying to come up with subtle ways to discuss the topic of perpetual abstinence or how to squeeze a three week hiatus from this gig into the budget with their daddy.

Let me share with you a brief testimony of the precious experiences I have on a minute-to-minute basis here in our testosterone flooded home.   A sampler from Thursday:

As I was trying desperately yesterday morning to get Joseph, who is teething and prefers NOT to call it a day until 12:30 or 1:00 a.m, to go back to sleep at 7:00 a.m., I hear a boisterous:
You got mud on yo' face
You big disgrace
Kickin' your can all over the place
Singin'
We will we will rock you!
We will we will rock you!
 Queen was booming from the kitchen.  After begging my husband to shut down the jam session, (Boys, your mom is trying to get Joey to sleep, so take it down a notch), there is a pause of silence. Ahhh.  Then, just seconds later a melodious version of John Denver's, "Sunshine, on my shoulders, makes me happy..." comes rolling through the house at 800 decibels. But, you know, they were "singing him to sleep."

Later that afternoon....
Charlie was laying down beside Joseph with his pointy finger hovering over Joey's crossed eyes.  I get a little closer to see exactly what he's doing when I realize he's showing him his booger.  "Hey Jofis, see my booger? See it? See it?? It's a reawy big one, Jofis.

Oh, the life, the life!!

Well, between Queen, John Denver and the "show and tell" booger sessions, I must say that I feel quite relieved that our sweet Joseph has survived 3 months with 5 big brothers and one frazzled mama. Since the past few months are a bit of a blur in my memory, I feel a need to write just a few things that I don't ever want to forget about Joseph at this stage of his infancy, as he is growing much too fast.
He has the sweetest disposition.  I wish I could put into words just how expressive those bright blue eyes are.  He loves to be spoken to in the many charming and affectionate voices of his family, and always "talks back" to us with the most precious babbling you've ever heard.  He also loves to be tickled right under the chin, and most of all, he just loves to be held by me.
{I snapped this pic with my phone during one of our early 4 a.m. parties. I love his toes!}
{No matter where I'm at in a room, Joseph has to find me. I took this pic last night as Steve was holding him while watching the Royals battle it out with the Angels.}

This stage of the game is personally, for me, where having a baby gets really fun.  Mostly because I'm starting to feel like I have a pulse again, but also because Joey is easing into a schedule, and is becoming easier for the boys to entertain, so that I can do things like brush my teeth or shave both legs.
Steve and I take so much delight in hearing the boys talk to Joseph, their little conversations are truly endearing.  They also like to ask a lot of questions like, "Did I do that when I was a baby?" Were my legs ever that chubby? Did you really kiss me that much? Can I feed Joey some my chips? (Yeah, that be Charlie).
The 7 Quick Takes of this post was supposed to be seven pics of Joseph, but I only had time for six, because you know, there's a boxing match going on in the living room and I have to find my whistle.

Have a great weekend, everyone!!

XO











Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Apple Picking Adventures - and - A Recipe That will Double Your Love For Fall!


Oh happy fall!! Isn't this time of year glorious?? Several years ago, I read this quote by William Cullen Bryant: 
Autumn, the year's last loveliest smile.
His words seem to capture every pure and perfect joy of the season.  Last week several families from our homeschool group met for apple picking at a local orchard.  When I saw the announcement for the excursion on our Facebook page, I was beyond excited, and couldn't wait to spend a few glorious hours outdoors in nature with the boys.
The day was cool and overcast, even sprinkling at times.  The crisp air and light precipitation made the apples on the trees sparkle, the lanes of deep, dense foliage glow.  Steve and I both noticed that there was a lovely feeling of calm, a sort of gentleness to the orchard that was so inviting and wonderfully relaxing.
The very kind and generous owners of the orchard gave us permission to eat as much as we wanted, which filled the boys with an eagerness to try each and every variety.  We were all very tickled at Charlie, who must have eaten a dozen apples, biting into one after another, juice dripping down the curves of his little chin, and stuffing the cores deep in the pocket of his hoodie.

Oh, sweet innocence!
It was quite a site to stand under the arching branches and look up into the boughs of twigs and leaves weighed down with great masses of fruit.  I loved the way the boys took their time carefully scanning each tree for the perfect piece of deliciousness, then strategically shimmying the apple picker beneath their fruit of choice, tugging gently until it popped off the branch.  Victory!!
A few of the varieties we enjoyed picking and sampling were Braeburn, Pink Lady (very crisp with a tart, lemonade like finish), Gala and our favorite, Criterion.  I had never heard of that variety before. Criterion are green, like a Granny Smith, but sweeter and very crisp and juicy. I wish this variety was available in stores, because I would buy them often.
One of the great highlights of the outing was that Steve was able to come with us.  This is such a rare occasion, as his responsibilities with work don't afford him many daytime opportunities to join us for school events.  
The boys loved having him along, and I did too! Holding Joey for the entire morning, he gave my arms a much needed break, so that I could walk freely along the lanes with the older ones.

As we strolled out of the orchard to the owner's homestead to pay for the apples, Andrew mentioned to me that his experience at the orchard made him want to grow all of his own food, because it would be much more fun than going to the grocery store.  All of the boys chimed in then, and eagerly requesting that Steve and I fill the yard with fruit trees so that they can pick and eat all they want!
We all tried to guess just how many pounds of apples we had picked.  Henry's guess was spot on - twenty pounds!  The owner let little Charlie stand up on the scale, too, which he thought was quite fun.
On the drive home, the boys laid out all of their requests for baking with the apples - pie, muffins, applesauce and most of all our family favorite, Warm Apple Cake with Cinnamon Bourbon Sauce. We make it every year, and always say we should have it more often.  I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as we do!
Sauce: