Friday, July 25, 2014

7 Quick Takes :: What's New?



~1~

I mentioned last week that my husband Greg got a new job. Well, he was in Eau Claire, Wisconsin this week for training. He hasn't had to travel for work in 5 or 6 years, so this week was an adjustment for me and the kids. I decided to stick to a pretty structured schedule, including this cleaning schedule(Sometimes I just like to follow a plan rather than creating my own, you know?) It kept things flowing and worked fairly well. I am proud of myself for not freaking out when what happened wasn't actually on the schedule. I used it more as a guideline, to keep us moving and grooving through the week. I have to say, "mission accomplished." And I also have to say that we are really glad to see Greg again today!



~2~

Last Saturday, before beginning his new job, Greg gifted me with a day off. I had a wonderful, relaxing day away from the hustle and bustle of family life. I entered the silence of the library's "Quiet Room," and for two hours, I journaled about what's been going on in my heart over the past month (since my silent retreat), and then I planned out our Week-Without-Dad, including 4 workouts at the YMCA and "restorative activities" to nourish and refresh in the midst of crazy-busy. (I didn't get to all of my refreshing activities, but at least I now have a quality list from which to draw in the future. I had always meant to make a list like this.) Afterward, I went to Panera for lunch with a good book. And then I went to the paint store to get samples for a future painting project. It was a heavenly break, and it put me in the right frame of mine for being solo this week. Thanks, Greg!



~3~

I learned the hard way why God gave us the third commandment: Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day. I had ordered some new furniture (working on my nesting-inspired home projects), and it arrived last week. Nothing major, but a couple small cabinet-type pieces that I was hoping Greg could put together before he went out of town, so I could work on my projects, while he was gone. Well, he wasn't super excited to put them together on Sunday (and rightly so). But I told him I'd help him pack, if he quickly put these cabinets together for me. And so he reluctantly agreed. Well, the first one that he opened was damaged, and he ended up spending his time putting it all back in the box and calling Target to get a replacement. By this point, there was no time for more work, and that put me in a bad mood. And I couldn't shake it. My disappointment ruined my whole Sunday, which was so dumb. If we (I) would have remained true to God's command, a lot of crabbiness could have been avoided. I guess I learned a lesson in the end: it's really, really not a good idea to do unnecessary work on the Sabbath. Trust God on this one!


~4~


Have you ever raised a Monarch Butterfly at home? We did this for the very first time a couple years ago. I have a neighbor who is an expert. She got us started, and it was such a magnificent project for my children to experience. Really, all of us were blown away by the opportunity to help bring a butterfly into the world!

Well, this summer, instead of raising butterflies from the egg stage, the kids found some already-grown caterpillars, and we raised them to full butterfly status this week!

What a joy to experience this with my children! If you ever have the opportunity to do this at home, I highly recommend it!


~5~

This week I hosted my first-ever blog giveaway! It is currently going on (through tonight at midnight), so please enter, if you haven't done so already. The giveaway is for a fabulous book called Catholic Family Fun: A Guide for the Adventurous, Overwhelmed, Creative, or Clueless by Sarah A. Reinhard. You can read my review and enter here.




~6~

Speaking of giveaways, there also is an amazing Summer Fun giveaway going on right now at CatholicMom.com! But hurry, this one also ends at midnight tonight! I would be happy with any of the prizes, but I especially have my eye on some of the books and that adorable Madonna and Child softie!



~7~

At the beginning of the new year, when many people pick a "word" for the year, I found myself drawn to the word hope. I haven't written about this at all, but it has been a theme for me in 2014.



It's a theme for me, because I struggle with a lack of hope. But over the past seven months or so, I have received many beautiful reminders of the importance, the necessity of hope. These reminders are my glimmers of hope, my moments of hope, and I treasure them, because they don't always last long.

I recently discovered Hope*ologie, a membership site that encourages its "hope*ologists" to intentionally turn toward hope no matter how things appear. Each month, the theme changes and members receive hand-lettered printouts to display, articles about family, home and personal renewal, podcasts, tutorials and more. It is delightful and peaceful, and after one month, I am encouraged that it will help me with my struggle with hope. I would say it is Christian, but it is not overly spiritual, in order to reach a broader audience.



And there you have it! Another week of Quick Takes! I hope you have a happy weekend! And I'll see you again soon, I hope!

For more Quick Takes, please visit Carolyn at Svellerella, who is hosting for Jen today.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Small Success Thursday :: It All Adds Up


It's Thursday and time to share our small successes of the week with CatholicMom.com!

I believe whole-heartedly in celebrating our small successes, as I've said here before. But sometimes, I admit, I have to rack my brain to come up with successes worthy of a blog post.

What success have I really had this week? Of all the things I did this week, what is really worth mentioning here?

Do questions like that ever enter your mind and heart? Those doubts that make us question the value of what we do, day in and day out?

And then I wonder if I am just not thinking small enough! For I do a bunch of small things all day long; they fill my days and weeks! No, maybe I don't have big accomplishments, as defined by the world. But when I do these little things, they add up! And maybe, just maybe they amount to something great!

Here are my three little successes of the week:

1. I went to the gym four times—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday! Two Zumba classes, one step aerobics class and one Mat Pilates class.

2. I posted my first-ever blog giveaway, which I'm really excited about! And there are a couple mini successes within this small success. One is that I experimented with adding a watermark to my photos, and the other is that I figured out Rafflecopter, which was super easy! (And hey, there is still time to enter the giveaway, if you are interested!)

3. The kids and I maintained a consistent order to our days. We followed a realistic routine of doing a few chores each morning to maintain a fairly clean house. And then we were able to have some close-to-home fun in the afternoons. We checked out a farmer's market, yesterday, and because all of our chores will be done by today, we are planning an outing to the zoo tomorrow!



Your turn: What are your small successes this week? I'd love to celebrate with you! And for more Small Success inspiration, please visit CatholicMom.com!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

3 Reasons Why I Love Catholic Family Fun {and My First-Ever Blog Giveaway!}

Catholic Family Fun Giveaway

{Full disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Catholic Family Fun: A Guide for the Adventurous, Overwhelmed, Creative, or Clueless in exchange for an honest review.}

"If it helps, keep a rosary in your pocket and picture Mama Mary walking right beside you as you struggle to look past the domestic imperfections and embrace the smiles and pleasure that await you."

This quote, hidden among the array of wonderful ideas for family fun in Catholic Family Fun: A Guide for the Adventurous, Overwhelmed, Creative, or Clueless by Sarah A. Reinhard was music for my weary sole. These 35 words allowed me to sit up and relax and believe that this book is the real deal.

I don't know about you, but as a wife and mother, I make decisions all day long. I decide what time everyone needs to wake up. I decide what we're going to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I decide if we can go to the library or if we need to go to the grocery store instead. I decide if the kids are dirty enough to require a bath or if we can get by one more day. So often, as moms, we make decisions without even thinking about it. It's just something that we do.

But often this constant decision-making mode leaves us exhausted. Our brains are on overload, and our bodies are fatigued. And when we get a lull in our day or are presented with a free Sunday afternoon, we can easily be all out of decisions. We are presented with time to do something fun, and we can't think of anything to do. So, we deem it board game day or movie night and call it good.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love board games, and our family has movie night once a week. But what about the other times that we spend together? What can we do?

Wouldn't it be nice to have a quick guide to help us along during those what-should-we-do-next moments? A guide that can simply tell me what to do and what I need in order to do it, so I can take a break from decision making?

Well, we have such a guide in Catholic Family Fun: A Guide for the Adventurous, Overwhelmed, Creative, or Clueless. Here are three reasons why I love this book:

Quick and Simple
Notice what words I used to describe this ideal guide: quick and simple.

In 2014, we are bombarded with images of the nearly impossible. Quick and simple have lost their true meaning. And yet, because the so-called quick and simple ideas are featured on a glossy, high-trafficeted blog or pinned 1,376 times on Pinterest, we think we should be doing them. That our lives, our families, our homes will be so much more blissful if we just DIY something so quick and simple, it will only take us two weeks to complete. Many of these ideas can leave the average mom feeling a little defeated. And as much as they might be pretty to look at, these ideas certainly aren't for me and my family. Because at the end of the day, I need simple and quick to retain their true definitions.

Enter Catholic Family Fun: A Guide for the Adventurous, Overwhelmed, Creative, or Clueless. This handy guide is for the tired-of-making decisions mom (or dad). It is a book filled with fun quick and simple ideas for the whole family to enjoy. And the reader gets to determine just how quick and simple she needs an activity to be.

For example, if you are having a particularly busy, hectic week, but some downtime or comic relief is in order, select an activity that requires little or no prep time and takes less than one hour! Something like Silly Story, where the family sits together and comes up with silly stories! Sarah even provides some story starters to help you out. This could be done anywhere: at the kitchen table, on the road, around the campfire. My husband and I have incorporated Silly Story into our family meetings. By ending the meeting with Silly Story, the kids keep focused during the important chat about family life, because they know there is a fun reward at the end!

What I love about the Silly Story idea (and many of the other ideas in this book) is that it brings laughter into the family! So often, life can be so busy and hectic that we forget to laugh and have fun. But it is one of the most essential aspects of family life, not only for our children but for ourselves, too. If we don't lighten up once in awhile, the weight of the world and of our to-do list will get too heavy, and we will break.

Many of the quick and simple ideas in Catholic Family Fun take less an hour to prepare. Some take 1-2 hours, and only a select few require more than that. The ideas are organized in the back by prep time, duration and cost.

For the Creatives-at-Heart
When my oldest children were really little, I wanted to be the mom who crafted the day away with her kids. I wanted to be the mom who was spontaneous and carefree and loved glitter. But trying to be someone who I'm not just ended up being frustrating. Crafts rarely go as planned, and rather than going with the flow, I would feel anxious and frazzled. So, I have learned to leave the painting and creating to my art-major husband.

Sometimes, however, on a rainy day when my husband is at work, the kids and I need a creative outlet. And so I turn to Sarah's doable craft ideas for inspiration, because she admits she is not crafty either!

It is hard to pick a favorite craft idea from Catholic Family Fun, but if I had to, I'd probably pick Homemade Greeting Cards, because it is something my kids and I have done and have found to be so rewarding, not only for the recipient but also for the creator. Sarah takes it a step beyond birthday and get-well cards, and she gives us so many more ideas about what kinds of greeting cards we can make. I especially like her faith-based card ideas, which brings me to the final reason why I love Catholic Family Fun so much!

Weaving in the Catholic Faith
Most of the ideas in Catholic Family Fun are ideas any family could do. They include nature hunts, picnics, obstacle courses and trips to the zoo. But throughout the book, Sarah provides "faith angles" to many of these general activities, in order to give parents ideas on how to incorporate the Catholic faith into the ordinary and everyday aspects of our lives.


More Than Enough Mary Garden
Planting a Mary Garden is just one of many wonderful ideas for family fun in Catholic Family Fun: A Guide for the Adventurous, Overwhelmed, Creative, or Clueless by Sarah A. Reinhard. This is my family's Mary Garden.

For example, one of Sarah's ideas is to have an Unbirthday Party, which basically includes things you would expect at a birthday party, like cake and balloons. But an unbirthday party obviously takes place on a non-birthday day. And if you add a twist of faith, you can easily plan an unbirthday party to coincide with a baptismal day or favorite saint's feast day.

This simple idea renewed our family's commitment to celebrating the patron saint feast days in our domestic church. There have been times where we have been really good at this, and other times that we have missed some. But with a little planning (i.e., writing my kids' feast days on my calendar) and preparing a favorite dessert, we have family fun that also celebrates our Catholic faith!

In addition to adding a twist of faith to everyday activities, such as scavenger hunts and backyard circuses, Sarah also devotes an entire section of her book to specific faith-building ideas, including planting a Mary garden and finding several uses for holy cards. There also is a section of service project ideas, so we can put our faith into action.

How about you? Could you use a little help in the family fun department? Would it be nice to have a resource, so you can take a little break from decision making and let this book be your guide?

Thanks to Sarah's generosity, I am offering the chance to win a free copy of Catholic Family Fun: A Guide for the Adventurous, Overwhelmed, Creative, or Clueless for you and your family to enjoy! This is my first-ever blog giveaway, and I am really excited about it! Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway below, and be sure to tell your friends about it!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, July 18, 2014

7 Quick Takes :: Saving the Best for Last


~1~

Summer is zooming by! It's not going exactly as I planned, but it's going ... This week included basket ball camp for two of my children and run club for my four daughters. I am learning that my younger children are content with running and playing outside, while my older ones require a bit more structured activity. Is this common or just unique to my children?


~2~

My husband Greg had this week off from work, because he is between jobs. Last week, he finished a nine-and-a-half-year stint at Target, and next week he begins a brand new chapter in his career at a software development company. If one didn't know it, he landed this new job rather quickly, but it has taken several years of patience and prayer for God to bless him with just the right job for him. When you watch someone wait on the Lord, you cannot help but be overjoyed when those prayers are finally answered! I often feel like I am going to burst with excitement for my husband's new job! I am SO happy for him!


~3~

As much as I am trying to appreciate the leisurely schedule of summer, I am starting to think a little bit about back to school, too. I love fall for many reasons, but one reason is that we can get back into daily routines that we just can't seem to keep, no matter how hard we try, in the summer. So, after a month-and-a-half of vacation mode, I am ready to get back to the comfortable, cozy rhythm that sharpened pencils and new crayon boxes bring to my family.



I also am thinking about back to school, because I don't want to save the preparations for the last minute. It is a BIG job purchasing school supplies, shoes, socks, outgrown uniform items, etc. for five children. Oh! And we can't forget hair cuts! The to-do list for back to school is quite long, so I hope to work on it over the next several weeks, so we can have fun with it and feel peaceful during the days leading up to the first day of school! I purchased this Back To School Survival Guide to help me along.


~4~

Meal planning continues to be a really big obstacle for me. I admit: I don't love to cook. I do it, because I need to feed my family, and it's not like I'm bad, but I struggle with wanting to do it. Can anyone else relate? Anyone? And if you can relate, what do you do to get over it?

Yesterday, I signed up for eMeals with the hope that if I can just follow a meal plan, eventually I will be able to create a meal plan, too! I've tried it before, and the meals are delicious and kid-approved! I am trying the Aldi plan this time, because that is where I do about 80-90% of my shopping these days.




~5~

This week I was blessed to have coffee with a new friend! Her name is Michelle, and she is such a lovely, faith-filled woman! I was totally edified by our conversation, and I am grateful that God has put her in my life.


~6~

Today, we visited the Toy Exhibit at the Minnesota History Center. The display featured toys from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. It was wonderfully put together, with the vintage furniture and classic toys. I loved how there were ash trays on just about every end table. (Not really loved, but boy did it take me back!)



What touched me the most were some of the quotes by people who loaned their toys to the exhibit. Toys were so much more precious to children back in the day. They didn't have an overabundance, and when they did receive a toy, it was treasured. They knew it was a big deal for the parents to give them something so frivolous, in that it was not a basic necessity. One gentleman wrote,

"Back in the early '50s, we did not have excess money, but my parents were overly generous to us at Christmas. They scrimped and saved the rest of the year. At Christmas, we were allowed one present that 'if it is the only present you received for the rest of your life ... what would it be?' My wish was for a train."

Wow! Have times changed! This really made me think about the toys my own children have ... and their gratitude toward them. Hmmm.


~7~

Last, but certainly not least, we were honored to have a very special guest over last evening for light fare and dessert. Bishop Cozzens is newly ordained to our Archdiocese, and we knew him back when he was Fr. Cozzens. He oversaw our marriage preparation as well as presided at our wedding Mass, almost 13 years ago. I will always be grateful to him for truly investing in us and guiding us through everything we needed to know to begin our life together. To this day, his advice and words of wisdom continue to come to mind, from time to time.



We had such a nice time visiting with him. The kids asked him all kinds of fun questions, like "what is your favorite color vestment to wear?" (Red) And "what is your favorite Mass to celebrate?" (Easter Vigil and Holy Thursday)

What a wonderful time we had with Bishop Cozzens! We are grateful that he was able to take time out of his busy schedule to spend the evening with us!


Happy Weekend!
For more Quick Takes, please visit Conversion Diary.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Small Success Thursday: Everything is Awesome


One day, about a year or so ago, I was venting to a friend about my never-ending to-do list. As if she (or anyone else for that matter) didn't have one just as long as mine. She obviously understood my woes, but she also suggested the brilliant concept of the "done" list, which includes writing down the tasks (even the littlest ones) that I actually did throughout the day. Because, let's face it, we do so much more than what's on our to-do list, and we often don't take credit for it! Some of those things are give-ins, like tying shoes, putting on a band-aid or folding the laundry. But when the list is endless, sometimes we actually have to recognize those tasks as just as significant as those written on the list. Celebrating the small successes is really important. Because if we don't, we can tend to focus too much on what's not successful in our lives.

With my busy June and the Fourth of July in my happy memory, we have had a pretty normal week. But a few things come to mind that are highlighted successes in my book, and here they are:

I took all six of my children to The Lego Movie.
This is successful for two reasons:

1) It was fun! So often, my husband is seen as the fun parent, and I'm seen as the practical one. For the most part, it's fine and it works, but sometimes, I need the chance to be the fun mom! And what says "fun mom" more than taking the children to a movie at 10 a.m. and buying popcorn, pop and (sneaking in) candy!?

2) I remember after having my third child, I was overwhelmed by doing errands or going out by myself with all three of my girls. It was too unpredictable, and the cart was too crowded, and it was just easier to go by myself. Adding three more to the mix, I continued to be uncomfortable going places with all of the kids. But now that I have a tween who can go and get popcorn refills by herself and a 3yo who is almost potty trained, it is getting a bit easier to go out and about with all six of my children in tow. I still prefer to grocery shop by myself, but I didn't even think twice about taking them to the movie on Tuesday. Victory!


I researched window treatments and throw pillows at Target and took pictures of them in the process.
(The taking-pictures-in-Target part is what makes this a true success. I felt so fancy, like I totally know what I'm doing! Ha!)

Ever since I finished The Nesting Place, I have been thinking quite a bit about my house and how much of it is "undone" and why. I have been thinking, dreaming and planning about little things I can do now to complete the rooms in my home. I've even talked about painting and doing some bigger projects with my husband, but I also just want to do a few simple things to build my own confidence in the area of home decorating.


Pictured here are just a few possibilities, and I'll keep you posted on what I decide!

I added social media icons to my blog side bar.
I have wanted to do this for months, but to be honest, I had no clue how. But lately, the more I visit some of my favorite blogs and am introduced to new ones, the more I realize how sophisticated and pretty many blogs have become. They are beautiful! And I still have a simple blogger blog.

So in an effort to update and beautify, I decided to research how to add social media icons to my blog. I found a wealth of information, and it took awhile to sift through it all, but I finally found a great video tutorial by Blogaholic Designs, which makes adding social media icons to your blog totally simple! What a fabulous tutorial! I found my icons simply by searching for "free social media icons with goodreads." I am not on Twitter or Instagram, and I have considered leaving Facebook. But I love Pinterest and Goodreads! The whole process of searching and reading posts and finally finding the video did take me awhile (like most of the day). And I had to actually do the process of adding them a couple times to get the icon size just right, only to realize I could just make my sidebar slightly wider to make them fit nicely. (I am not very techy, as you can see. Thankfully, my DH is, but I don't always want to bug him with little things like social media icons for my little ol' blog! Not when I really want him to help me put up curtains!)

I am very happy with how the icons turned out! And I felt so accomplished when I completed this little project! Yeah!

So, what are your small successes this week? Remember, no success is too small to be acknowledged and celebrated! Not among us mamas with our never-ending to-do lists!

For more Small Success Thursday posts, please visit CatholicMom.com!
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