Friday, February 28, 2014

7 Quick {Thankful} Takes

Happy Friday, Friends!! This week, I've been pondering the relationship between joy and gratitude, so today's 7 Quick Takes is a summary of a few of the things I'm grateful for this week:

1. Spring Is In the Air!

The occasional near 60 degree days that flit and fleet in and out of our weeks have left me hopeful that spring is indeed right around the corner. On these warmer days, I love to see the boys digging in the garden and challenging each other to hoop games out on our backyard court.  Tiny buds emerging from the trees and flecks of green peeking out from sleeping grass pull us outdoors to enjoy every moment possible without snow, ice and frigid winds! Hallelujah! 
I love the way they all "up" their game whenever I come outside to watch....especially daddy!
“Leisure is only possible when we are at one with ourselves. We tend to overwork as a means of self-escape, as a way of trying to justify our existence.”  ― Josef PieperLeisure: The Basis Of Culture

2.  The One Room School House
With the countdown to baby passing quickly, we've decided (well, I decided - you know with all the preggo nesting stuff and ear-piercing noise that five monkeys in close quarters can deliver) that a little rearranging around the house is necessary before the little one's big arrival.  To make space for baby and still have a guest bedroom, our schoolroom is in the process of being moved out to a shed on our property that was once used as a wood working shop (also a handy detention center for the juveniles). With the floors installed and the walls patched, I'm thankful to have the extra room, and can't wait to show you the makeover after it's finished!

3.  25 Weeks and Still Running 
I really do consider it a gift to be 25 weeks along and still able to lace up my shoes and hit the road. I'm not sure I'd exactly call it running, I'm a little bit more in the "shuffling" stage.  Maybe that's why last week I had not one, but two people stop and ask me if I was okay, and if I needed a ride (to the hospital, maybe they thought??). My 10:40 pace is a good 3 minutes over my normal pace time, which doesn't exactly feel like lightening, but when you can barely see your toes, it feels so good just to keep moving! I just love a good ol' country run, and the other day, I caught my shadow moving along a row of milo stalks, and had to stop and take a pic of the two of us.  I always want to remember the days of running pregnant with each child - my very best running buddies!

4.  Boys Anticipating Baby
Every night around the supper table, at some point the conversation shifts toward the baby, how he/she is growing and what it will be like to have a new little miracle in the house.  This one seems to prefer activity in the evening, and as it stretches and kicks beneath my skin, the boys delight in taking their turn feeling the motion of the miracle inside of me.  I cannot describe how beautiful and joyful it is to see them long for another sibling!  Only God can give such a gift, and my heart overflows with gratitude for it.

5.  Lenten Preparations
Steve and I have been gathering ideas and discussing our goals for Lent, which begins next week.  I'm so thankful for all of the creative moms out there who share their wonderful ideas with the world! It makes life easier for homeschooling moms like me who are always looking for meaningful ways to incorporate the Lenten message into the rhythm of the school day.  Two of my favorite resources are :
One activity our boys will be enjoying this season is the Jesus Tree, a biblical walk through the season of lent created by Jesse Tree Treasures. Jessica's archives are filled with many other great ideas for families to enjoy during Lent.

Catholic Icing is one of my favorite resources for creative lesson ideas that I can use throughout the liturgical season.  We'll be checking out a few new ones for this year, as well as digging into our own archive of activities, which are becoming traditions during Lent for the boys.

6.  Stories That Keep You Believing the Best About People
My sister-in-law posted this little video on Facebook last week, and I think I've watched it at least 10 times, and shared it with everyone I know.  The man in the clip reminds me so much of my dad. Stories like these really do soften my heart toward the world, and keep me believing the best about people!

7.  Good Brew News: 
A Non-Alcoholic Beer That Tastes Like the Real Thing!
I have to thank my awesome friend, Susan, for sending a surprise bottle of St. Pauli's Girl home with my husband, who had run out to their home to pick up one of our boys last weekend.  Oh, she knows me, she knows me good! I really do miss the simple pleasure of an ice cold beer at the end of a long day (or in the middle of one, or basically whenever...I've heard that red beers with breakfast is a real treat).  This beer really does taste so good, and I think it might hold me over for the next three months until I can enjoy the real thing!

Have a great weekend, everyone!!
Thanks to Jen, our gracious host!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Homemade Bread: "Bake" Your Heart Happy!

I remember so well the very first recipe my mom taught me how to bake. It wasn't something from a mix, the typical brownies or muffins that my sister and I could manage to stir up together without help.  It was a real, from scratch recipe for chocolate chip coffee cake, and I was hoping it would earn me a blue ribbon at our county fair.  

As a child, I loved watching my mom bake. Standing beside her, I'd study her every move with admiration - the cracking of eggs, the even leveling of flour, the precise motions of stirring and kneading. In my eyes, the highlight of domestic life had to be hearing the sound of the timer calling us all to the kitchen in anticipation of what the oven would reveal: perfectly risen bread, chewy, chocolaty cookies or a cake that couldn't wait to be frosted.
As a mom, I love sharing the memories I have of helping my mom bake with our boys. And, I've promised each one of them that I will teach them how to make our family's favorite meals, desserts and baked goods, so that when they go to college they can invite friends and strangers over for a homemade meal (or woo a girl!). They can practice a work of mercy by feeding the hungry, and at the same time enjoy the fellowship that is best fed around a dinner table! 
George is always first to volunteer when it comes to cooking in the kitchen.
There really is something in our souls, in our blood that, by nature, nurtures a deep affection for homemade food, especially bread.  Baking calls one into ritual; the mixing, kneading and rising is as medicinal for the heart as it is nourishing for the body.
I think he's soon to earn the title of family baker!
With all of the demonizing of grains these days, particularly that of wheat, I almost feel like there's a stigma that comes from confessing to be a bread consumer.  If your read my post on Monday which was, in fact, about a dietary program which eliminates all grains from your diet, then you might be wondering why my preceding thoughts are on bread.

The truth of the matter is, while I myself might have good reason to avoid gluten or certain grains in my own diet, I haven't found any reasons why my children cannot enjoy the benefits of whole, unprocessed ones.  That being said, I've spent the past year studying grains, particularly varieties of wheat and the many reasons why there's a sudden rejection of wheat gluten amongst a seemingly large number of the American public.

Without going into details about my research, or getting too medical on you, what I've discovered is that when it comes to health and nourishment, buying commercial or organic grains isn't as important as the purity of the actual grain.  When I say purity, I'm referring to a non-hybridized, unmodified form.  
There is an ancient wheat grain called Einkorn that is one of the only non-hybridized wheat grains still harvested in the world today (read about the history of the grain here).  Grown in Italy, it is known to be the same wheat that was harvested for consumption more than 12,000 years ago, making it a true ancient grain.

Why am I a fan of Einkorn? Well, as they say, the proof is in the pudding...or in this case, the baking. After volunteering to be the guinea pig for our family, I whipped up a couple of loaves of bread made only with the Einkorn wheat.  Typically, after eating gluten of any type, I feel tired, achy, bloated and my stomach is upset.  Remarkably, after eating the Einkorn bread, I felt none of those symptoms, in fact, I felt very satiated after enjoying just one slice. I also felt energized and experienced none of the adverse reactions that I usually endure after eating bread.

You can only imagine my delight!! Because of Einkorn's low gluten content, it doesn't act the same as typical high gluten flours. It's taken a little practice incorporating it into muffins, cookies and other baked goods.  But, thankfully, my whole family really loves the flavor of the grain, and I feel good feeding it to them!  
The company that I purchase the flour from also supplies a variety of pastas made from the Einkorn flour which are really delicious (you can also purchase their flour and pasta at and in some health food stores).  Jovial offers the Einkorn in berry form too, for those of you who are purists and like to grind or sprout your own grains.
This is a simple recipe for Einkorn bread, which I have adapted from the original recipe on the sack:
Simple Einkorn Bread

  • 4 cups Einkorn flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 tablespoons dried buttermilk*
  • 1 cup warm water, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 2 teaspoons dry active yeast
  • 2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar

*You may eliminate the dried buttermilk and instead simply use the warm water, or substitute warm milk. I found the buttermilk to give the bread a nice flavor and texture.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and dried buttermilk, set aside.  Dissolve the yeast and honey in the warm water, let stand for 5-10 minutes, or until mixture has nearly doubled. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until combined (mixture will be dry).  Remove dough onto a clean, floured work surface and knead until smooth.  Transfer dough back to mixing bowl, cover and let rise until double (about 30-45 minutes).  Punch down dough, remove from bowl, and roll into a uniform loaf.  Place in a well-greased 8" x 4" bread loaf pan.  Cover with a clean towel and let rise for 30 minutes.  Bake in a pre-heated oven at 375 for 30-40 minutes.  Let rest in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack. Slice and enjoy when cooled!

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Whole30: Why I Say "Go For It!" {MMM Vol. 3}

How many of you woke up this morning and, after scrolling through your Facebook news feed, discovered yet another friend or relative sharing news of a particular illness or diagnosis that they are currently suffering from? Unfortunately, encountering news of illness or suffering among those around seems to be a part of our daily life.

Over the past 20 years, my own personal health struggles have motivated me to dig deeper into the relationship between the care and feeding of my body and the level of overall health I could achieve as a result of that care.  While I'm thankful for great doctors and modern advances in medicine, I believe there is a lot that I can do to help myself, things that will help keep me out of the doctors office and in a place of feeling and living a life of good health.
Nearly one year ago I received a bit of encouragement form my mom to try a detox/diet plan called the Whole30 to see if it would help my Firbromyalgia/Thyroid/Hormone issues. Of course there are all kinds of diet/detox plans out there that guarantee to do everything form help you loose weight to regrow your hair.  After reading extensively about the Whole30, I was convinced that it is not a diet, but a pathway toward clean eating that is meant to become a way of life (I do have my reservations about eating according to Whole30 guidelines for life, and I'll discuss those later)

I never did write a follow-up post on that experience, but I will say that the detox had such significant results, I went through it again a couple of months ago with my husband, hoping that it would help him feel better, too.

So, what is the Whole30? Well, some people would call it a diet, others a detox.  For me it's really a reset button for your gut, for your palate, and for your brain. By eliminating spedific foods from your diet, and embracing a menu of whole, unprocessed foods, your body (and your mind) enter into a process of healing.  In a nut-shell you eat lean meat, unlimited amounts of veggies, some fruit, some nuts, and healthy fats (full list of acceptable foods here.)  That means NO:

  • Grains of any type 
  • Sugar - even natural sugars such as honey or agave nectar
  • Dairy
  • White Potatoes
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar Substitutes
  • Processed Foods 
I know, good times, right?? Sack cloth and ashes sound more appealing?? Are you developing a migraine just thinking about life without chocolate? Trust me, I feel your repulsion.


What intrigued me most, after reading the Whole30 book, It Starts With Food, and scouring the Whole30 and Whole9 websites, was the feedback that had come from people like you and me who suffer from many common illnesses such as allergies and asthma to more severe conditions such as MS or cancer.  Their testimonies alone were encouragement enough for me to give this detox a go.

If you suffer from any type of inflammatory or auto immune illness, including (to name a few):
Arthritis        Chrone's Disease  
Fibromyalgia           Celiac Disease
Asthma          Dermatitis
IBS     Multiple Sclerosis
I cannot encourage you enough to try the Whole30.

I'll be the first to say that this program is NOT easy by any means, especially for those who may not have a great fondness for veggies, since veggies make up the bulk of your daily diet.  The program was much easier for me than for my husband, Steve, but by the end of the 30 days, he had nearly forgotten about his former gravy laden, sugar coated life and was actually enjoying everything from brussels sprouts and parsnips to squash and kale!

Here's a little breakdown, in very general terms, of how our journey progressed from week to week:

Week 1: This is the time when you've got to be hard-headed and determined to stick with the program, because this is the week when you feel the worst.  Your mind and body are screaming at you to go back to your old ways of eating.  Carb deprivation is the worst part of the Whole30.  Your body just won't stop begging your mind for a muffin or piece of chocolate - they are literally at war.  As a result, you will probably feel very tired and a wee bit crabby this week. 

I don't recommend any vigorous exercise during the first week, or even through most of week 2.  Your body is going through a healing process, and you need to take your activities as slow as possible.

Week 2:  By now, your mind/body are starting to accept this new way of eating, but you may still be craving something more satisfying than a salad to eat.  This is when you have to dig in to the Whole30 recipe index, or seek out some really yummy Whole30 approved recipes online (Pinterest is very helpful). By the end of week 2, Steve and I both noticed that we were sleeping more soundly and waking up feeling more rested.

It was also during this week that my husband said he couldn't possibly even look at another egg for breakfast.  Well, some may call this cheating, but I broke out my muffin recipe, which includes only Whole30 approved ingredients and that helped both of us get through the next couple of weeks without cheating.
Week 3:  At this point, you really begin to feel the most common, yet significant benefits of the program, which include increased energy that remains steady throughout the course of the day, greater mental focus and concentration, brighter skin and eyes, balanced emotions/moods and fewer cravings for processed, sugary, flour-based foods.  

For me personally, this was the time when my digestive issues and achy joints and back pain had significantly diminished.  I was nearly pain-free!!  For Steve, he slept more soundly, completely stopped snoring, woke up energized and had greater stamina throughout the work day and during his workouts.

Week 4:  The home stretch! While I don't think Steve or I ever fully lost our affection for a nice glass of wine or sweet piece of chocolate, it was during this week that we realized our attachment to certain foods really had diminished.  We no longer craved our favorite comfort foods, and our palate's had shifted into a preference for fresher, whole foods.  It's a great feeling! In addition, every positive benefit we enjoyed during week 3, was only increased during week 4.

So, what do you do at the end of 30 days?? 

Well, a lot of folks roll right into the Paleo lifestyle and choose to follow those dietary guidelines for life.  Some go back to the old habits of eating, and loose the benefits of the Whole30 program almost instantly (yeah, I don't really recommend going out for a burger, fries and ice-cream as a way of celebrating completing the program. Your tummy will not love you for that!).  

The rest of us (including my husband and myself) go through the "re-introduction" guidelines set out in the Whole30 book, which is a process by which you re-introduce certain foods, one at a time, to see which ones your body can tolerate best without any negative side effects.  (This process is clearly outlined in the book It Starts With Food.)  

The results of the reintroduction phase for Steve was that he could easily tolerate dairy, but sugar and gluten-based grains made him feel tired and sluggish, and he returned to restless sleep patterns and snoring.  Rice, potatoes, quinoa and gluten free oats and legumes seem to have less of a negative effect on him.

After experiencing the Whole30 twice with great success, my current analysis is this:

1.  The Whole 30 is by far the most supportive, well-researched, sensible, care-fully lined out and guided approach to clean eating that I've found so far.  Nothing wacky here, just clean, whole foods in perfect proportion.

2.  If you have been searching for a healthy way to eliminate or at least reduce refined carbohydrate and sugar cravings and increase your cravings for healthier foods such as fruits and veggies, you will find success here.

3.  Before you begin the Whole 30, give yourself some time to prepare.  I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to:
  • Schedule the program around a time when you will have as few interruptions to your diet as possible (vacations, holidays and work travel will make sticking to the plan difficult)
  • Read first - understand why the Whole30 will help you feel and look healtier inside and out.  IF you understand the why,  it's easier to stick to the how. Honestly, just get the book.  I tried to do the program the first time without the book, and half-way through decided to order it.  I'm really glad I did. (This page also offers a host of helpful downloads to keep you informed along the way.)
  • Go shopping (but take the Whole30 list with you).  Stock up on the items suggested on the list of acceptable foods, especially veggies, and clean out any tempting foods from your fridge or pantry.  Your neighbors and/or the local food bank will thank you!
  • Make a folder of recipes and menu ideas.  I found the program to be the most strenuous when I had to throw together a last minute meal.  While I myself will eat pretty much anything meat and veggies in the simplest form, that's not the case for my meat and taters hubby.  Cooking tasty, satisfying food takes time and planning, so be prepared for that.
  • Remember, if you cheat, you start over.  Did you know it takes around 30 days to completely flush gluten out of your system? So, if you dive into a donut on day 15, you begin again at day 1, not day 16.  If you're going for healing from an ailment, disease or illness, the success of this program really does depend on consistency.  If you're simply trying to achieve weight-loss, then okay, a donut won't blow your whole game, but mentally, it might set you back a few strides when it comes to your attachment to less healthy foods.
  • Find a partner.  Going at this alone isn't impossible, I was able to do it the first time, but it really is much easier if you have a buddy at your side to help you through the difficult days and to share your success with as well.  Steve and I both said we could not have made it through successfully without each other!
4.  The positive results, if you follow the program with precision, are exactly as the founders of the Whole30 enthusiastically express them to be: reduced inflammation in the body, increased energy and stamina, brighter even glowing skin, greater mental focus, balanced moods/emotions, decrease in digestive issues (no bloating or gassiness after eating), regular and frequent bowel movements (this is a GOOD thing!), and for those who suffer joint/muscle or headache pain, relief in those areas as well.

5.  Food should always leave us feeling nourished and energized.  I didn't realize, until taking part in this program, that before making the Whole30 changes to my diet, even though I ate very healthy before, I often felt tired after snacks and meals.  The Whole30 foods left me feeling energized and satisfied.
If your idea of veggies is canned corn, peas and beans, this program will really stretch you to try a variety of veggies prepared in different ways.  Roasting veggies quickly became my husband's favorite way to eat them.  This is my go-to recipe (minus the white beans and parm cheese during the Whole30).  Finishing the veggies with balsamic vinegar and crumbled bacon makes them extra yummy!

1.  One of the reasons it has taken me so long to put this post together is because I wanted to do my research first.  Programs like the Whole30, which lead into the Paleo diet, are thought to be the best way of eating according to those who follow their guidelines.    I, however, don't believe that there is one best way for the entire population to eat.  Every person is different from blood-type to genetic make-up to ethnicity, and ALL of those factors play a part of which foods will best fuel and nourish our bodies.  Beware of any "be-all, end-all" diet.

2.  In It Starts With Food, the authors go into significant detail as to why grass-fed organic meats, especially beef, are assimilated by our bodies differently (in a better, healthier way) than commercial beef. Therefore, they only promote these types of meat for consumption on the diet.  The problem with that is that most of us cannot afford, or do not have access to organic, grass-fed meats in our local grocer, and shopping for them online or in specialty stores is expensive - especially if you're feeding a family.

3.  The elimination of entire food groups (particularly all grains), and having those food groups demonized by a particular dietary philosophy doesn't make sense to me.  I think it's important to be choosy about the grains we eat and the way that we prepare them, but to completely eliminate them from our diet may not be wise.  The same is true for beans and legumes (which aren't allowed on the Whole30), which can be a very healthy, economical part of anyone's diet.  If your body simply cannot tolerate grains or legumes, then you certainly have a case for removing them from your diet, but if your body accepts them without negative consequence (fatigue, bloating, allergies, aches etc.), they why not enjoy them in their purest form?

4.  With any zero-grain diet, I think it's easy for a heavy emphasis and satiation to be placed on protein. The danger (especially for men) is that the bulk of the diet too easily becomes favorable to meat, protein shakes or eggs instead of a variety of veggies, fruits.  While this make make a person appear to be healthy because it aids in weight loss, it most likely won't translate positively as to what's happening interiorly, specifically with the heart and other vital organs.

5.  This program is difficult (and expensive if you eat the meat, fish and eggs according to their standards) to sustain over a long period of time, especially if you have a large family.  That being said, I think there are aspects of the program that can easily be maintained and enjoyed for a life time.

Where has all of this left our family? Well, for one thing, it's cemented the importance of our already active pursuit for consuming a whole food diet.  Secondly, I have found that our pantry and fridge is less full of packaged foods, such as crackers and cereal (yes, even the healthy kind), and more full of nuts, nut butters, sprouted grains for baking, and a greater variety of fruits and veggies.  

Do we eat perfectly? Nope. Life is full of reasons to celebrate, and food is an important part of fanily life, culture, travel, fellowship and fun! We will always enjoy birthday cake, bake pies, devour pizza and fry up some chicken on occasion (don't forget the wine and beer!), but when clean, whole food eating makes up 80-90% of our diet, we all feel better. And even more importantly, we hope that the choices we make now will mean that our bodies will be stronger and healthier in the future!

Have you taken part in the Whole30 program? 
Please share your thoughts/experiences with us!

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Great Baby Name Debate Has Begun! Plus: The Stories Behind Every Boy's Name {Linking Up With Team Whitaker!}

Happy Friday, friends!! My beautiful friend, Kathryn, who blogs at Team Whittaker, hosted a baby name blog link-up this week.  I'm a little slow submitting my post, but I loved her idea, and wanted to take part in it!  

Digging through old photos of the boys and remembering stories of our early days of parenting has been so much fun.  It's easy to get stuck in the day-to-day living, to keep plowing forward through life, and so often I forget to look backwards, to see where we have come from, and how blessed we have been.

Now that I'm past the half-way mark, nesting, planning and name selecting are getting serious around here.  Many of the recent evening conversations at the supper table have sounded like this:

Mom and Dad: So boys, let's talk baby names.  We think it would be nice for all of us to decide on this baby's name.  Do you have any favorites?  

Ben: I think you guys should decide, because all I do is think all day at school, and I'm too tired to think about names right now. {Long Pause} But, just so you know, I'm not a big fan of John. Or, Peter. Or, Frank. Or, Ambrose. Or, Isidore. Or..... 

(Oh, dear, we love most of those names.  This democratic debate may end up in a dictatorship. )

Andrew: Welllll.....(says the family comedian)...I've actually been thinking about this for a while, and I think it's time we have some "P" names.  But, only if it's a girl.  May I suggest Priscilla or Petunia? You do love flowers, mom!  But, if it's a boy, I vote we name him Big Mac.

George: I'm only going to share boy names, because I've been praying so hard that this will be a boy, and you said God hears the prayers of children, so I'm confident that he's going to answer my prayers. So, how about Expeditus, after St. Expeditus?

Henry:  Shoulder shrugs.  That's the best we could get from him.
The naming of our children over the past 14 years has been such a fun experience for me and Steve. During our college dating days and engagement period, we both fell in love with so many incredible saints, and we knew, right away, that (hopefully) our children would inherit a few of their names. Our desire to bless our children with saint names, and family names as well, is rooted in the hope that they will find strength and encouragement along their journey toward heaven in knowing that there are incredible souls in heaven praying for them, souls that they can look up to, emulate in their daily life, and ask for intercession during times of weakness and struggle.

We have no special formula for choosing names for the boys.  Sometimes their names have come from our own particular devotion or love for a certain saint during my pregnancies, some names have simply popped into our minds during the course of an ordinary day, and that name has resonated in our hearts. One thing we do agree on is having a name for the baby before  I go to the hospital.  I have to be able to speak his/her name the very moment they are born!  To call our child by name the moment they reach my arms fills me with an indescribable joy!

Here's the story behind their names:
Benedict's name was the easiest for us to agree on.  He is named after Steve's great uncle Benedict LaRocque, who was a very holy Benedictine priest, whom we loved very much.  Fr. Benedict gave both Steve and me spiritual direction during our engagement, he presided at our wedding and baptized both Ben and Andrew.  Benedict's middle names are after his daddy and Steve's dad, Bob.  St. Benedict is the father of Western Monasticism, and Benedict has studied the life of his patron in detail and connects in a special way to Benedict's contemplative spirit and spiritual leadership.
I have loved the name Andrew for the longest time, and knew that one of our boys would be given this special name. One night, while lying in bed, names swimming around in my head, I asked Steve what he thought about naming our second child (if he were to be a boy) after the first two apostles.  I'll never forget him turning to me with surprise and asking, "Did you know that my guardian angel's name is Simon? I've always wanted to share that name with one of our sons!" That night, Andrew's name was permanently etched in our hearts.  As for Joseph, well that's an easy one, who wouldn't love to bear the name of our Lord's earthly papa?  Andrew keeps a little statue of St. Andrew beside his bed, and asks St. Andrew to pray for him to have courage before every sporting event.  
Of all of the boys, George is the one who is most proud of the saints he's been named after. George's name has a three-fold meaning.  First, he is named after St. George, whose story is especially appealing to boys, because legend has it that he once slayed a dragon, rescuing an entire village from fear and death! Secondly, George is named after my dad's father, George, who was also one of five boys (he had a sister as well). Lastly, During my pregnancy with George, after reading A Man of the Beatitudes I fell in love with Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, an Italian saint who, although a member of a wealthy family, lived a life of deep humility, great generosity and zeal for the gospel. Patrick comes from the famous St. Patrick of Ireland, and the name Thomas is in honor of St. Thomas More.
Oh, Henry!! I recall, with great distinction, reading about the 40 Martyrs of Wales and England, and being deeply touched by St. Henry Morse's tenacity, courage and devotion to the people of England. His story stuck with me for the longest time, and so did his name!  Thus, Henry's name was chosen, and thankfully, Steve liked the name, too.  James is the name of Steve's grandfather on his mother's side, and Augustine comes from St. Augustine, the son of St. Monica who experienced a great conversion and eventually became a bishop!
I have to be honest, it was my true desire to give our Charlie the name Gabriel as a first name.  But, Steve couldn't quite get over him being called Gabe his whole life.  Everyone has a different feeling towards certain names, and I wanted Steve to love the boys' names as much as I do, so Gabriel became the first middle name.  Being pregnant during Advent is such a joy for me, and I found St. Gabriel's encounter with Mary to be one of profound beauty, so I quickly became very fond of Gabriel.  Charles' first name honestly bloomed out of a pure love for the name Itself. But, St. Charles Borromeo, patron saint of learning and the arts, will one day be a champion saint for Charlie to look up to.  As for Francis, well, who among us does not love the incredible story of St. Francis of Assisi? When Steve and I went to Rome to have our marriage blessed by then Pope John Paul II, we took a train ride to Assisi, and it was on that trip that my love for Francis truly bloomed.

What name will be given to Husband baby #6?? 
The family conclave is still in session over that one!
Want to join us?? Share your favorite boy/girl names in the comments!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

14 Years of Maternity Fashion: 5 Not-So-Favorite's From My Past + 5 Favorite's From the Present

I've been wanting to write this post since the very moment I tore the top off off of the enormous Rubbermaid treasure box containing my 14 year old collection of maternity clothes (that would be 24 weeks ago or approximately five minutes after two lines popped up on the stick). Let me tell you, I've got some real dandies in that box! 

Oh, how far maternity clothes have come in just 14 years!  When I discovered I was preggo with our first little angel, I couldn't care less about what I wore (embarrassing visual aids to come).  I was just so excited to know that I would be bringing a new life into the world, therefore, shopping for anything high-style was completely off my radar, and off our budget.

I know you guys really do want to walk down maternity memory lane with me, don't ya??!! If this is your first or even second time expecting, you can thank your lucky stars that you will never, ever have any snapshots of your pregnant self in any of these. Let me just show you some of the beauties that came forth from my maternity closet back in the day:

The 5 (Un)Favorites:
1.  The (I'm Over It) Overall
Oh, yes, did I ever embrace the overall.  Whose idea was it to elevate pregnancy to Beverly Hillbilly status?? My pair was retired to the Goodwill bin after bebe #3.  If you just can't live for 9 months without some mega-denim, this pair can be yours for only $11.99 on eBay.

2. Ja-Ja-Ja-Jumpers!
The jumper. Kind of like a moo-moo with a peek-a-boo tee for a little extra sumpin' sumpin.' Guilty here.  You can't see much of my frock in this photo, but blue gingham really says it all. It looks like it came from that retro pattern above.  I think I let one of my friends borrow my jumper a long time ago....whoever most humbly took it off my hands, I'm sorry.  I hope you were able to Pinterest a project out of the yardage.

3.  Tent Tops
{Thanksgiving at my parents.  I'm clearly under pie hypnosis.}
Bow-chickie-wow! No top charged to the Visa from 2000-2008 had any style what. so. ever.  The triangular shape of every single one made me look like I was wearing a tent, and my baby was camping out beneath the cotton panels. Sneaking some serious travel "necessities" past airport security under that thing pre-911, would have been a cinch. Somewhere around 6 months the tents tend to feel a bit breezy. But, never fear, the 20" tummy panel attached to an attractive 42" crotch inseam on most of my poly pants kept things well covered underneath.

4.  Man Sweaters
Raise your hand if your winter maternity wardrobe looks exactly like your husband's.....because it is your husband's.  Well, even though I actually bought this big ball of yarn from who-knows-where, I did in fact donne a decent amount of Steve's Eddie Bauer and American Eagle sweater apparel back in the day.  That's just one of the lovely benefits of marriage - what's yours is mine, right?

5.  Your Husband's Gym Jewels
I'm really thankful that the days of working out at the YMCA in my man's sweat-stained selection of Nike and K-State t's came before the age of Facebook and Instagram.  I'm pretty sure I would have earned a nomination for "What Not to Wear" back then. 

Now, 14 years later, I can honestly say that I am so thankful that maternity clothes have evolved into quite an attractive and admirable category of clothing.  I hate to give them credit, but Hollywood celebs might have had something to do with that.  Young female stars who refused to embrace the gingham jumper demanded something more.  I, for one, am thankful for their insistence, because it has brought a remarkable beauty to an element of the feminine world that was long overdue.

One thing that makes the long months of on-going shape change a little more bearable is wearing clothing that speaks to the dignity of femininity and the joy of motherhood.  Yes, we moms want to be comfy, but really, is there anything more noble than bringing another beautiful human being into the world?  If we embrace such an honor with true conviction, then we dress accordingly. I'm not suggesting getting decked out every day, or breaking the bank for the latest fashions, but I am suggesting perhaps a fresh perspective, on that sees pregnancy as a privilege, an event to be celebrated.  Why not dress for the occasion? 

For me, personally, when I go out in public as a pregnant woman with five boys at my side, I get a lot of mixed reactions from others.  While I don't really care what onlookers have to say about me, or my life choices, I do care about the hearts of those who have a general lack of zeal for children or a disdain for large families in general.  If I look frumpy and downtrodden, I am doing little to promote the extraordinary beauty of family life.  However, if I am able to enter a restaurant or store with my husband and kids looking positive and pulled together, I'm speaking a message of gratitude and joy, and I hope that others are drawn to that, and hopefully conversations about family may bloom.

5 Favorite Maternity Fashions:
1.  Shapely, Feminine Tops 
Plain t's or those tent shaped blouses are, thankfully, no longer the only tops of choice.  I love how today's tops have more shape and soft details, are slightly fitted and can be layered with cardigans and worn post-pregnancy.  This sweet flutter-sleeve tee is from Destination Maternity.

2.  Cardigans
Cardigans are my #1 maternity apparel item.  They are so versatile, worn belted or open, with tights and boots or your favorite jeans, dressed up or down, they are modest and oh, so comfy! Pink Blush Maternity has the best selection, but you don't have to just look for cardis in the maternity section. The one I'm wearing here is from a local boutique, one size up.

3. Tailored Dresses and Maxi's
Fuchsia Tie Front Dress (Yes, this is the one Kate Middleton wore!)
Even though I don't have many occasions to wear a dress during the 9 month pregnancy journey, nothing makes me feel more like a lady, or more attractive for my husband, than a really lovely dress (and shoes, don't forget the shoes!).  Maxi skirts and dresses are amazingly comfy, and that lace shift up there? Oh, how I would love to welcome spring with that one!

4. Athletic Apparel
I am so happy that women are being encouraged more and more to exercise throughout their pregnancies.  Being able to workout with every single baby has been such a blessing for me.  I'm even more grateful that I don't have to borrow Steve's duds anymore, now that athletic apparel for expectant moms is available. These tops and bottoms are from For Two Fitness.

5.  Adorable Denim
Stylish boot-cut jeans or a pair of comfy skinnies have kicked overalls and polyester slacks in the pants!  Great denim is every girl's wardrobe staple, and I have found some really fun, affordable styles Old Navy's Online Maternity Store .

Along with Old Navy and Target, I'm loving so many of the looks from these fun maternity shops:

What's your favorite maternity look or shop??

Sunday, February 16, 2014

An Update on My Mom & a Little 23 Week "What I Wore Sunday" Ensemble

Happy Sunday, Friends!! As I sit and quickly type this, my dad and I are laughing at the boys who are running around the backyard in t-shirts, shorts and BARE FEET! Even though it is 57 degrees outside, I can't decide if my kids are truly pining for spring or if we're all a little hillbilly at heart (probably both)!
{If it gets above 45, it might as well be summer for Henry!}
Having my parents here for a visit this weekend has been so much fun.  We usually spend our time telling stories, drinking wine and eating way too much, laughing hysterically over all the funny interactions between the boys (the things that usually drive me crazy, but make my dad chuckle so much I can't help but join him), and cheering them on in their sporting events. 

No matter what we do, though, one thing is certain and that is that our family cherishes the presence of grandparents in our lives.  So many of you have been incredibly kind to ask about how my mom is doing, and I can honestly say that she is doing fantastic!
The most difficult time of her cancer diagnosis was the period of waiting on test results and the doctors' decision as to what her treatment would be.  There was concern that she would have to endure chemo on top of radiation, and that a mastectomy would also be a part of her treatment. It was during that time of uncertainty that your prayers truly annointed her in hope-filled graces. They brought her peace, strength and a deeper faith and confidence in the Lord's plan for her life. 

Ultimately, I believe that your prayers truly were answered when the doctors reviewed her panel of tests and concluded that no chemo or surgery were necessary and that radiation and oral chemo (taken for 5 years) would be the promising protocol that would help her body heal.

She just recently finished radiation treatments and will remain on the chemo medication for the next few years.  Besides feeling tired and a little sore, the side effects so far have been very manageable. (Praise the Lord!) She looks wonderful, doesn't she?? 

I am so proud of how positive she has been throughout this entire journey.  Her unwavering confidence in God and quite endurance of the most difficult moments has been a great witness to me and to our entire family. 

Thank you, thank you for reaching out with your prayers, kind words of supports, cards sent in the mail and phone calls that you have offered in loving concern.  We are all more grateful than you'll ever know!

My ensemble for this Sunday....the wardrobe is getting bit more snug as Wednesday I'll be 24 weeks! I'm dreaming again of kissing tiny toes and a button nose!
 | Cardigan: Hartley's Boutique | Tank: Target | Trousers: Gap, Circa 2003 |
| Shoes: (Leopard Mary Janes) Payless | Necklace: Gift From My Mama |