Monday, December 22, 2014

What I Want To Teach My Children: You Are Not Special

You see it everywhere these days. Children's books...TV shows...movies...commercials...internet ads...facebook...


Now let me clarify here before you go calling DCFS on me and label me as a terrible parent. I love my children more than anyone, and to me, they are the most special and unique children in the world. But. The key word there is: TO ME.

The rest of the world? Sure, they might think my kids are great. Or even MORE than great. Or perhaps, when Elizabeth is in the grocery store screaming at a decibel level known only to jet engine workers, people might think my kids are less than great. And I understand that. When you have your own kid, EVERYTHING she does is amazing. I think it's just imprinted in our genes to behave this way. "Oh my gosh...LOOK at the way her toe moves when she crawls!! Isn't that the most adorable thing you've ever seen??" And everyone else is slowly nodding their heads, nervously smiling, wondering to themselves when that parent might have reached this level of crazy, and promising themselves that if THEY ever have children, gosh darnit, they will never act this way.

This need to be special has pervaded our culture in a way it has never been before. I believe it is largely due to social media, a place in which we are bombarded with the extraordinary events of people's lives which leaves us to believe our own lives are less than stellar. (By the way...I think social media is great. But this is one negative effect of it).

People who are in my generation and older remember a time without social media. IN MY DAY, we had to use a TELEPHONE to CALL people if we wanted to talk!! None of this typing, texting nonsense! **Clears throat** Sorry...ahem. Anyway, my children will never have this experience. Even though I will probably be a stricter parent than most and not allow them to have a Facebook (if it still exists in 10 years) or a cell phone with texting and internet (if those even do exist at all), they will still be surrounded by this culture. This culture, which magnifies our lives to be something spectacular and exciting all the time, desensitizes us to what the word "awesome" really means.

I want my kids to realize that there is beauty in the ordinary. That they do not have to grow up to be a brain surgeon or a doctor or a world famous sports athlete in order to be happy. That we should have enormous respect for all professions, from the garbage man all the way to President. I want them to know they are no different from everyone else, because we all have a soul that was created by God Himself.

Even the most menial tasks we do can have great value. As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said, we must do "small things with great love." Every time I change a diaper or fold a shirt or clean up a mess, I keep this in mind. That all the small, ordinary things I do every day are meaningful.

We can especially see this during the Christmas season. Mary and Joseph were regular, ordinary people. They rode to Bethlehem on a donkey. Jesus was born in a tiny, meager stable. None of these circumstances in which the Savior of the world came into being were special. And yet, they were what God chose for His only Son.

So if my kids are never blue ribbon winners, or valedictorians, or competition winners, that's okay. If they are, then great. But as long as they are trying their hardest, I hope they realize that aspiring to be ordinary is wonderful. Because really, that's what we all are: ordinary. And that in itself is a beautiful thing.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

How To Help Someone Suffering From Miscarriage

Today, December 13, is a day of bittersweet emotions for me. It is the feast day of St. Lucy...a very important saint in my life. My middle name, Lucia, was taken from Sr. Lucia, who was my grandmother's best friend. My grandmother, after whom Mary Ellen is named, was one of the most important people in my life. I often think of her and Sr. Lucia on this day.

This day also brings great sorrow to me. Today, three years ago, was the day I lost my first baby, who we named Catherine. In the early hours before sunrise, as I lay in bed nursing my infant, I think of my first baby. My girl who had a short life, but a life nonetheless. I have been wanting to write a post about how to help mothers (and fathers) who have suffered miscarriage. So many well meaning people say such hurtful things without even realizing they are hurtful. And likewise, so many people just want to help, without knowing what to do. Miscarriage is a taboo subject in our culture...many people don't quite know how to react to it. It is a lonely cross that parents must bear. So I hope these tips might help the loved ones of those going through a terrible loss.

Things you should not say 

1. At least it happened early.

It always amazes me that "pro-life" people treat miscarriage as something that does not need to be addressed. If you believe that life starts at conception, why wouldn't an early loss be just as devastating as a later loss? It's the same person...the same soul...the same baby. Just a different size. It is, I believe, because of our "seeing is believing" culture. People cannot see that the mother is pregnant. No one but the mother feels the physical pain of miscarriage. And typically, no one but the mother (and father) sees the tiny, tiny baby that has been taken from the womb. So always realize that, no matter when a miscarriage occurs in a pregnancy, the pain (and the baby) is so real.

2. There was probably a genetic problem, so it was for the best.

"It was for the best" is something that no one ever wants to hear when they are experiencing a loss. After going through a miscarriage, you do not care that the likelihood your baby could have survived outside the womb are very slim. You do not care that there was probably something seriously wrong with your baby. The fact is, that was, and is, your baby. No matter what medical state the baby was in while in the womb.

3. God needed another angel.

First of all, theologically speaking, humans do not become angels when they enter heaven. Angels are a different species than humans...all spirit, with no body. But aside from that, this is one of those phrases that well meaning people think might comfort the parents. In reality, it does the opposite. Especially when parents are fresh from the loss of their baby, they do not want to hear that "this was all in God's plan" or "God needed them in heaven." Death was never part of God's plan. God's plan was for people to live in the perfect world of Eden with Him. Death would have never existed had it not been for original sin which resulted from our free will. And even though it certainly is true that our baby can intercede for us in heaven (something I definitely kept in mind during my early pregnancy with Elizabeth), during the time of miscarriage, we want our baby with us here on Earth. 

4. You can always have more children/at least you have children already

This phrase takes away from the importance of the baby for whom the parents are mourning. It implies that this death shouldn't be so bad, because at least you'll have other kids to take your mind off it. I doubt that anyone would ever say this to parents who have lost a child who has already been why is it okay to say this to parents who have lost their child in the womb? 

Things that you should say or do

1. Give the parents space if they need it

After I had my miscarriage, I did not want to speak to or see anyone for awhile. Partly because I didn't want people to know about what I had gone through. Partly couldn't stand facing the (well meaning) comments people would make. And partly because I couldn't handle being around those who did know, acting like nothing had happened and that everything was okay (again, well meaning). I chose to mourn by myself. It was difficult, because it was around Christmastime. I remember opening presents with our families, trying to be happy about Christmas, but simply thinking the whole time about how it was impossible to feel happy after losing my baby.

I also remember it being very difficult to go anywhere in public for awhile. Every time I saw a baby or a pregnant person, I would burst into tears. I specifically remember one time going to a restaurant with my mom and sitting down to our table. I glanced to the side, and realized that literally right next to our table was a brand new mother with an infant who couldn't have been more than a week old. I had to get up and go to another table because I couldn't handle being around the baby.

2. Acknowledge that this baby is real, and that they will always be his/her parents.

The most comforting thing anyone ever said to me while I went through my miscarriage had to do with this point. I had not told many people about it, and chose to tell a coworker at school. I remember that instead of looking at me with sorrow or awkwardness, he broke out in a big smile, and said: "Wow! You guys are parents! That's amazing!" For me, it acknowledged the fact that my baby was real, and that, especially since this was my first baby, I was a mother. 

3. If the couple gives the baby a name, refer to him/her by that name.

We chose to name our baby Catherine. It was too early to tell if the baby was a girl or a boy, but based off a very real dream that I believe was a message from God, we knew our baby was a girl. Since parents who miscarry early do not get a funeral or any sense of closure from the loss, giving the baby a name has helped us tremendously. 

And the most important thing, I think, is this:

Never forget this baby.

As the months and years pass, most people tend to move on. But as a mother, you never forget. My mom sends me messages often, telling me she's thinking about my baby in heaven. I can't tell you how comforting it is to know that someone still remembers. That not everyone has forgotten. 

I think many people are afraid to bring it up, thinking that it might bring me pain. But it's actually quite the opposite. By acknowledging my baby, you are telling me that my baby was real and important to you. And that you want to be there for me, even years later, when even though the pain is different now, it is still there. And it always will be.

My baby girl will always be in my heart. And I will never forget the love and support I received from those who have helped and continue to help me along the way. It is a long and windy that is traveled easier while holding someone's hand.

Friday, December 5, 2014

My Rant About Catholic Priests

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you might recognize this note I wrote about my feelings toward Catholic priests. I decided to post it on my blog, as a reminder to myself and to anyone reading of how amazing Catholic priests really are. Enjoy!

Being a Catholic, I am used to being constantly criticized and judged. I'm not trying to be a martyr here, but it's the truth. Just watch the news, and you'll for sure see SOMETHING on there that negatively depicts the Church that I love so much. It's very rare that you'll consistently see a big uproar about something that a Evangelical preacher, a Buddhist scholar, or a Hindu teacher might say. Why is that? Because the Church angers and confuses people. Because what we believe is not convenient, easy, or in any way "with the times." Why don't we just change and conform to modern society? Maybe then everyone would just leave us alone and let us practice our faith in peace. 

Let's face it. Catholicism is confusing and hard to understand. In a religion that has lasted over 2,000 years, it's bound to be. I don't claim to know and understand every single aspect of it. But, I 100% guarantee you that the people who are "against" the Church are not actually against it. They are against what they THINK is the Church. They just don't understand why we do what we do. And I totally get that. It's complex, sure. But if you are willing to put in the time and energy to REALLY TRY the words of Shaun T..."dig deeper" (teehee), you might be surprised at what you find.

So what I'm writing about today is our priests. Our men who give their ENTIRE LIVES to serve the Church. Our men who decide, on their own accord, that they want to dedicate their whole self to take care of God's people. That's you and me. Wait, does that sound familiar? Didn't someone else do that? Was it Jesus? 

Every time I see a priest, I have an urge to get on my knees and kiss his feet in thanksgiving for what he has done for me and for us. (I don't usually give in to this urge, because I feel that it might freak people out...) I wish there was a universal sign of respect that I could portray to a priest every time I saw one...even if I didn't know him. Something that said, "Father, I love and respect you for making this decision. Thank you for giving your life for me, just as Jesus did." 

Every time I see a priest, I want to just stare at him (in the non-creepiest way possible) because I am so IN AWE. I am amazed that there are still people out there who believe in the Church SO MUCH that they sacrifice everything in order to best serve the Church's people. 

Every time I see a priest, I want to shout to everyone around me: "STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING! COME TALK TO THIS MAN! HE IS HERE FOR YOU AND FOR ME, AND WE SHOULD ALL THANK HIM!" 

Now, am I claiming that priests are perfect? No. They are human just like everyone else, and they have flaws just like you and me. Have some priests done horrible things "in the name of the Church?" Unfortunately, yes. Do some priests preach or act in a way that doesn't reflect what the Church teaches? Yes. Are all priests warm and cuddly and do they all make you feel fuzzy inside? No. The fact is, there are priests out there who have done horrible things or who make us feel exactly the opposite as "being close to Christ." But does this mean that we should judge every priest based on those few? Of course not. Should we say all teachers are bad because some of them sexually assault their students? Should we say all fathers are bad because some of them physically abuse their children? Should we say all movie stars are bad because some of them have drug addictions? No.

So perhaps you can understand perhaps why in infuriates me when all I hear is criticism toward these amazing men. "I saw a priest driving a dare he spend that kind of money on a car when he should be giving it to the poor!" "I don't like that priest...his homilies are boring." Or even worse yet, when their criticisms are based off either untruths or misunderstandings of the faith. "Why can't priests get married?" "Why can't there be women priests?" Those are great questions. And there are logical answers as to why the Catholic Church does not allow for women priests or married priests. But to me, constantly complaining about that is the same as going up to a war veteran and saying "You know, that war was so unnecessary and I don't agree with it. Why would you go and fight for something so stupid?"

So instead of the criticisms, let's first try to UNDERSTAND the teachings of the church. Then, even if you don't agree with it, at least show some respect toward these men. Even if a priest isn't the friendliest or the coolest or the greatest person you know, show him some love. Because I can almost certainly guarantee that these men love you. How do I know that? They are, literally, living proof.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

What My Daughter Has Taught Me About Trusting God

Confession time: I have control issues. Wait, what? That doesn't surprise you? Oh. Well then. Moving on.

I have this idea in my head that *I* know what's best for my life and the life of my family. I have the best plans. I try my hardest to be the best person I can be, and gosh dangit, only I know how to achieve that.

I worry incessantly. About mostly stupid things. But sometimes, my worries are legitimate. And looking back so far, I think one of the biggest worries in my life occurred when I became pregnant with my little Mary.

I knew, of course, that it was possible I could get pregnant again. My husband and I don't use contraception, and we are fully aware that every time we have intercourse there is a possibility of pregnancy. (And, by the way, even if you DO use contraception, there is STILL a chance you could get pregnant if you have intercourse). But it was never in the forefront of my mind. Kind of like how people know it's possible that if they buy a lottery ticket, they could win the lottery. Or that if dark clouds start forming, a tornado might come. One of those things that you know could happen but just don't really expect.

When I saw those two pink lines on my positive pregnancy test, my entire world shifted. All these thoughts pervaded my waking moments...mainly "what ifs." What if I am so sick for the entire pregnancy and I can't take care of Elizabeth? What if I lose this baby? What if I have to go on bedrest and I can't lift Elizabeth? What if my delivery is horrible and I need months to recover?

And mostly: How the heck am I going to handle two babies so close in age?

There are so many people out there who have multiple children close in age, and some closer in age than my two girls. And they always manage. But I wasn't like them...I'm not patient, or trusting, or unselfish. I didn't know how I was going to do it. Every time someone made the comment, "Wow, you are going to have your hands full!" (every 5.2 minutes to be exact) my doubts and anxieties grew even more.


I held her for the first time.

My sweet, amazing, gift from God. I can't really describe to you what an incredible baby she is. All of my doubts and fears and insecurities...all of them were for nothing. Because guess what happened? God had it all figured out. I am in the palm of His hand, whether I want to be or not. He gave me this beautiful, calm, easygoing baby. My life and my heart is fuller because of her. And now, I honestly can't imagine my life without two babies close in age. I am so thankful that it happened the way it did.

If *I* had been in control of the situation, I would have waited longer because I just assumed there was no way I would be able to handle having another baby so soon. But my precious Mary has taught me, just by being herself, that God knows what's best for me so much more than I do. And I notice more and more that when I totally surrender myself to him (which, for a control freak, is the hardest thing you can ever do), I feel a sense of peace and contentment that I never previously had.

Is God's will for us always easy? Haaaaahahaha. That's a funny joke, isn't it? Most of the time, it's going to be the more difficult path. But we can have faith that He will give us the grace to get through those difficult times. And after having Mary, I am trying, one day at a time, to LET GO. Even those small, every day decisions that seem like SUCH a big deal. God's got them all under control.

Here's the proof.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"So What Do You Do All Day?" Part 1

The decision to become a stay-at-home-mom (which, for brevity's sake, I will call a SAHM for the rest of the post) was not an easy one for me. In fact, I would call it almost agonizing. There were many, many sleepless nights, tearful conversations, and desperate prayers involved. Deep down, I always knew it was the best decision for our family. But I was terrified to make the plunge.

I was immensely blessed to get my dream job right after graduating college. I have told this to many people, but honestly, I could not have found a more perfect job for me. I taught band, choir, and general music at a local Catholic high school. One which, ironically, most of my family attended, but I did not. I absolutely loved teaching high school. For me, it is the perfect age to teach. The students are old enough to understand my weird sense of humor, and to discuss real life issues with insight and maturity. They appreciate sarcasm, they love talking about every day topics, and they make me laugh like no one else can. It was truly a great job.

The first two years I taught, it worked out really well with my life situation. I was engaged the first year, and newly married the second year. Being a high school music teacher means that there are many after school, evening, and weekend obligations that take up your time in addition to your day job (and to be honest, it's like this for most teachers, not just music). But I didn't mind, because it was just my husband and me at home.

When Elizabeth was born during my third year of teaching, my school was generous enough to allow me to take an entire semester off for maternity leave (mostly unpaid, but my job would be held for me). For me, it was a great situation because I was able to have 7 months off (second semester and summer) to spend with my baby, getting used to being a mom. Trent and I seriously considered me not going back to school. In the end, though, we decided it would be best for me to return to my job.

Tyranov - Young Housewife.jpgBut I knew that, even though I loved my job so much, something wasn't right. I felt like I was split...I couldn't give 100% to my job OR my family. I spent all day at work thinking about my family, and I spent all day at home thinking about my job. I had many evening and weekend obligations that made it difficult to spend time with my new daughter. Some days, I only saw her in the morning as I scrambled to get everything ready for day care.

My instincts were telling me that staying home would be the right decision. Trent wanted me to stay home more than anything. But fear held me back. What would people say? What if I hated staying home and wanted my job back? I kept asking God for some sort of sign...a sign which I felt wasn't coming.

But then, the sign came. In the form of a positive pregnancy test. At that moment when I saw those two pink lines, even amid my shock and disbelief, I knew that once this baby came, I could no longer return to work. I was still scared out of my mind, but deep down, for the first time, I felt a sense of peace and finality about my decision. 

Much to my surprise, most of my friends and family showed great love and support of our decision. There were a few negative comments and disapproving glances here and there, but overall, I really did feel an outpouring of positive feedback. This helped me feel peace about our decision so much.

Now that I have been a SAHM for almost a half of a year, I have realized many things. Most importantly, I now understand how lucky I am to even have the choice to stay home. Money is tight for us, yes. But we have the means to make it work. Many women want nothing more than to stay home with their children, but can't because of financial or other reasons. 

I also see that being a SAHM does not make you a better or worse parent than being a working mom. Every family is different. I know some moms who are simply better moms when they are able to get out of the house and work. They say they would hate staying home every day. Other moms, like myself, simply do better when we can be with our children most of the time. I think Catholics especially are guilty of being judgmental of other family's situations. When I went back to work after having Elizabeth, there was a well intentioned Catholic friend who asked us why we were going to pay someone to raise our child for us. 

Most of all, though, I see a culture that views SAHMs as lazy leeches who use their husband's money and do not contribute to their family in a productive way. We are asked the dreaded question time and time again: "So...what do you do all day?" 

In a series of blog posts to come, I will talk about why this view is wrong (not to mention highly offensive), where it comes from, and how I respond to it. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 22, 2014

7 Quick Takes: Being Real

This post from Kendra about dealing with a strong willed 18 month old. I pretty much adore every post she writes about parenting, because it validates the instincts I have about raising my own children (those same instincts that a majority if "experts" say are WRONG DAG NABBIT!!)

Seguey into this article. Well I occasionally like to finish a five minute task, such as switching loads of laundry, or chopping a few onions, or changing Elizabeth's diaper. And sometimes while I do that, Mary is screaming. And the screaming doesn't bother me at all. Because I know I will get to her, just not right this very millisecond. So I guess, according to this article, I need therapy to help me overcome some "hidden emotional scars." I think it's a good thing that now, instead of being all freaked out by an article like this and thinking I'm doing something wrong, I just LAUGH. Because it's SO ridiculous.

This post from Hallie. A great post about not letting social media bring you down, thinking that everyone else has a perfect life except you. I am definitely guilty of this sometimes. But I really like her perspective on this.

Real food, y'all. My husband and I are seriously considering taking a 100-day real food pledge. You can find the specific rules here, but the jist of it is that you are only allowed to eat...wait for it...REAL food. Like, no chemicals, preservatives, or highly processed junk. Only whole grains and natural sugars (maple syrup, honey, etc). And none of that LOW FAT crud. I don't like using low fat ingredients anyway. Honestly the only thing holding me back (I say this as I munch on a highly processed, chemical filled, delicious graham cracker) is my worry that it might affect my milk supply. So I might wait until this cow here has a more established supply.

Speaking of food, it's quite amazing how much slower my pre-baby belly is coming back this time around. I am definitely ok with this, and am in no way depressed or upset by it, because I know this is part of having children and I have reasonable expectations for what my body will look like after having 2 children close together. But still...meh.

This ice cream sundae. Not real food. Worth every preservative filled bite.

Sheridan's Pie in the Sky

Mary is 7 weeks old. It is during this time with Elizabeth that my milk supply started to plummet and she got really sick and she stopped gaining weight and I started having serious post partum anxiety issues and it seemed like EVERYTHING was going wrong. So I'm just kind of waiting for something bad to happen again...but it's not. Breastfeeding this time around has been going amazingly well, and I'm incredibly thankful. Mary is nice and fat, my milk is flowing like the land of milk and honey, and everything seems to be hunkey dorey. 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

5 Things You Should Know About People Opposed to Homosexual Lifetyles

It has always baffled me that for some, saying "I disagree" can automatically mean "I hate you." This applies especially to the issue of homosexuality. I don't think living in a homosexual lifestyle is beneficial for anyone. And because I hold this view, I've been called names, I've been yelled at, and I've been misquoted. But most of all, I've found that people make assumptions about me that could not be farther from the truth. I want to clear up a few of these assumptions, and I hope it comes through in a loving, non judgmental tone.

1. I don't hate gay people.
Nor am I afraid of them. The term "homophobe" means to be frightened of homosexuals. I have friends who are gay, and I love them. I don't agree with their lifestyle, but guess what? There are aspects of most of my friends' lifestyles that I don't agree with. Does this mean I don't love them? I'm against contraception. I'm assuming that a great majority of people I know and love use contraception. I don't agree with their choice to use contraception, and I hope and pray that they stop, because I know it's not the best thing for them. But I still love them.

2. I understand that same-sex attraction is not a choice.
Same sex attraction can certainly be built in, and can be no different than my own attraction to the opposite sex. Most gay people don't choose to be gay. In fact, I have found that many wish they weren't, because of the obstacles they must face. I feel a great amount of compassion for my gay friends because of those difficulties.

3. I acknowledge that homosexual activity is wrong. This is not the same as "judging."
Thinking that something is wrong is not the same as judging. I do think, when done knowingly and intentionally, homosexual activity is not good. But guess what? So is using contraception. And heterosexual activity outside of marriage. And acting on anger. And gluttony. And laziness. Who the heck am I to look down on gay people, when I have a list longer than the Great Wall of China of my own problems? I don't look down on anyone who makes bad decisions. Because then I would look have to look down on every person on the Earth, including myself.

4. There is nothing wrong with having same-sex attraction. The problem is acting on that attraction.
Before my husband and I got married, we were attracted to each other. It's normal to want to have intercourse with someone even if you're not married. There is no problem in that. But that doesn't mean that we should act on those wants. So the idea that "being gay is wrong" is incorrect. If a person has no choice in the matter of having same-sex attraction, how can that be wrong?

5. I don't think your sexual orientation describes who you are.
I hate saying "So and so is gay" or "So and so is a homosexual." I don't like associating a person with their sexual orientation. That's not who a person is. It may be part of a person, but it's not the essence of him or her. People may have homosexual or heterosexual tendencies, but that's not who they are. They are much more than that.

So please understand that many people who don't agree with the homosexual lifestyle aren't haters, or ignorant, or mean, or judgmental, or any other negative adjective you might use. There's many of us out there. But to be quite frank, people with same-sex attraction are absolutely no different than the rest of us. Why is it nearly impossible to have a calm, intelligent discussion on this topic, without name calling (on either end)? I think it's because people on both sides of the fence make assumptions about the other that actually aren't true. Maybe it would do everyone some good if we could step back and look at all sides.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

7 Quick Takes: Grateful

I had my 7 Quick Takes post all ready for yesterday. I was about to post...and then, as I was reading through it once last time, checking for errors, I realized that I spent the entire post complaining and griping about stupid things. Now, granted, I did write it at 4am after an exhausting day and night of recovering from food poisoning and trying to get a sleepy baby to just FALL ASLEEP ALREADY! But still. No one wants to listen to complainers. And I am far too blessed to complain about the stupid little problems that I have.

So today, here is my 7 Quick Takes: Grateful Edition!

--- 1 ---

Starting out, I'm realizing that I complain way too much. So I'm taking a new pledge to try not to complain as much. Blessed are those who are meek and humble, they will inherit the earth. This is gonna take a LOT of praying but I'm really hoping to change this about myself.

--- 2 ---

I am SO excited about the change of weather! It's really starting to feel like fall, and getting me in the mood for soup and apples and cinnamon and all things fall related.

--- 3 ---

Speaking of apples, we are going apple picking this morning! First time for Mary, and first REAL time for Elizabeth (she did it last year but was really too young to understand what was going on). Coincidentally, one of Elizabeth's favorite words is "apple" (sounds like AH-PAH, usually said in some sort of gravelly monster-ish type of voice). So she's gonna lose her head when she sees all those ah-pahs.

Apple picking last year

--- 4 ---

I realized while I was sick with food poisoning how thankful I am to have so many people who care about me. I had dozens of people ask me through Facebook or texts how I was feeling, which was great because it made me feel not so isolated. My mom came and brought me gatorade and pretzels, and my neighbor brought soup for me and Chick-Fil-A for Elizabeth.  My uncle Jim and my mom came a few days later and helped clean my house. It takes a village, and I certainly love my village.

--- 5 ---

Speaking of non-complainers, I really respect my husband in this area. He does what needs to be done, with nary an eye roll or exasperated sigh. He does his duties with joy, knowing he is serving God and his family. I need to take a leaf out of his book. I am so thankful for him.

--- 6 ---

I recently finished the book "My Sisters the Saints." I'm in an online book club on Facebook, which has been a great motivator for me to actually finish some books that I wouldn't normally read on my own. What a fantastic book. It has helped me realize how important it is to really study the lives of the Saints and try to emulate them. And how most of them had very difficult lives, and did not have an easy time becoming close to God. Much different from what many people (including myself) realize.

--- 7 ---

My daughter Elizabeth is so much fun. I complain about her a lot, saying how she is a difficult child. And she is difficult sometimes. But she's also incredibly sweet to her little sister, always petting her and kissing her and covering her with blankets. She loves to sing and read and talk. And it's amazing to watch her grow and form her personality.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Me, Me, Me

I'm going to substitute my normal 7 quick takes for a post about humility, and how I need a big slap in the face sometimes when it comes to this virtue.

I am so incredibly thankful that God has given me my husband. Out of all of my gifts, including my children, I am most thankful for him. My list of important things in my life go as follows, in order by importance:
1) God (ideally God is always ranked first in my life, but if I'm going to be real, it's sadly true that this is not always the case
2) My husband
3) My children
4) Family and close friends
5) Chocolate milk*

*sometimes depending on my emotional state number 1 and number 5 are switched

My husband is patient, kind, gentle, and understanding. The exact opposite of me. I look up to him in a way that makes me want to be a better person.

People tell me ALL the time: "you are so lucky to have him. He is such a good father. He is such a good husband." I always nod vigourosly, agreeing. I can't believe sometimes that I am so blessed.

But. When people say these things to me, the ugly monster of pride comes racing into my head. Instead of simply agreeing with them and being thankful for what I have, and then moving on, the thoughts start to creep into my head. What about me? I think. Am I not a good wife? Am I not a good mother? Why does no one ever comment about that? Why do I never hear people telling Trent that he's so lucky to have me? That my children are lucky to have me?

Its true...I've only heard people say this about me a few times, compared to the hundreds of times I've heard it about Trent. It's not at all that I'm jealous of Trent. It's that I'm resentful that people don't often tell me that I, too, am doing a good job. That I am a good wife, and a good mother. Because in the 5 love languages (if you are married and have never read this book, READ IT. It's dripping with truth and wisdom and it WILL make your marriage better), mine is words of affirmation. I need to be told that I'm doing a good job. I'm kind of like a dog. Give me a treat for my good behavior and everything will be just dandy. Trent knows this, and is constantly thanking me for everything I do. 

But when does a need for affirmation become a pride issue? Here comes the infamous Catholic guilt. Why can't I simply be happy for what I have, and not get slightly upset every time someone gushes over Trent and not me? Why does it always have to be about me? Me, me, me. If I wanted to be affirmed, I shouldn't have become a stay at home mom, which is one of the most thankless jobs in existence.

There's not really a concrete answer to my problem. It's something that I have always struggled with and will continue to struggle with for a long time. It will be a two steps forward, one step back kind of process. Stupid pride. Go away.

Now if you'll excuse me I have to go hang a giant mural of my face on our front door wall. Because it's all about me.

PS: just so everyone is aware, I'm not writing this post so people will tell me that I am a good mom and wife...the point of it is to talk about our issues and how to get over them. Just attention seeking 'round these here parts. K thx bye.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Mary's Birth Story

Yin and Yang. Salt and Pepper. Hot and Cold. Chocolate and Vanilla. Mmmmm...chocolate...wait, what?

Opposites: this word describes my two daughters to a tee. Everything about them so far is so completely different. It's fascinating how two people who come from the same parents could be so different, but I guess it makes sense. Dramatic, outgoing, creative, emotional Elizabeth is just like me (Lord help us). Calm, observant, serious Mary is just like Trent. They even look completely different (except for those trademark lips...they both have those).

Right after birth. Left: Elizabeth, Right: Mary
About 1 week old. Left: Elizabeth, Right: Mary

1 month old. Left: Elizabeth. Right: Mary

Their pregnancy and birth stories are no exception. I wrote about Elizabeth's birth story here, and to fully understand Mary's birth story and how different it was from her sister's, you should grab some popcorn, sit back, and read that first.

During my pregnancy with Elizabeth, I was violently sick for about 5 months. To the point where it was difficult for me to function. With Mary's pregnancy, I felt a tiny bit sick from time to time, but it was very tolerable and it only lasted for a month or so. The rest was smooth sailin'. I almost felt guilty when people looked at me with pity in their eyes and asked how I was feeling...inevitably, I'd always respond with a big smile and say "great! No complaints here!" During Elizabeth's pregnancy, I felt her move very early, at about 12 weeks. And she moved like a maniac during the whole pregnancy. I didn't feel Mary until about 15 weeks, and even then, she was always very calm. I never really felt that much movement with her. It even made me worried sometimes.

We started setting up new baby's stuff about
a week or two before my due date...
because we thought we had SO much time.
(Oh...and Elizabeth was a bit confused and
thought it was HER bassinet...)
When July came, I knew time was ticking and my due date (August 1) was drawing near. But I reasoned with myself that I would probably have until the second week of August to get ready. After all, Elizabeth went 10 days late. And I was not going to be disillusioned this time that my baby would come on or near its due date.

I was mentally preparing myself for the worst. That probably seems like a depressing and/or ineffective way to think. But after what I went through with Elizabeth's birth, I knew that things don't usually happen the way we want them to. I knew now that birth is a complicated process and that the ultimate goal is to get a healthy mom and baby. And I knew that sometimes, the process of getting to that goal does not always happen the way we want it to.

I was making lots of plans for the week of my due date. The thought did not even enter my mind that it was possible for me to have my baby close to my actual due date, so I figured it would be fine. The last week of July came and went, and I was starting to get excited that I would probably meet my baby in the next week (but no earlier)!

The evening before my due date, I was baking with my sister-in-law and her boyfriend, having a grand old time. I excused myself to go to the bathroom and noticed lots of blood. Hmmmm...I thought. Maybe this means the baby will come in the next week! Maybe my baby will only be a week late, rather than 10 days! I texted my midwife just to make sure the bleeding was a good sign. Her response: "I bet you are getting really close! I'd be shocked if you didn't kick in in the next 24 hours! Keep me informed."


Um, hey baby. I'm not ready for you to come yet. I was mentally preparing myself for you to be really late. So....WHAT?! I mean, come on! What baby is born on its ACTUAL due date??? No baby of mine, that's for sure!

Mary's first bath
So I spent the rest of the evening in denial, telling my sister in law, her boyfriend, and Trent that they could go on their merry way because there was no way this was for real. I reasoned that just because my contractions were starting to actually feel real didn't mean that they actually were real. I reasoned that just because my baby was moving more in a 10 minute time span than it had in the past 9 months didn't mean that anything was actually changing. I reasoned that just because it was hard for me to go to sleep because the pain from the contractions kept waking me up didn't mean that they were actual contractions. "Don't worry," I told Trent. "Just plan on going to work tomorrow. There's no way this is going to happen yet." And I kept telling myself that as I lay there through the night, having to concentrate more and more as the pain kept getting stronger and stronger.

The next morning, Trent decided to call off work. "This probably isn't actually happening," I said, "But maybe you shouldn't go to work just in case it actually is. Which I'm sure it isn't. But just in case." We called my mom, who was a labor nurse and is now a labor nurse educator. And I must say, it is wonderfully convenient to have a labor nurse as a mother when you are actually going through labor. My mom came over and checked how dilated I was. "4 cm," she told me.


My pitocin/epidural baby meeting my natural
baby for the first time
You must understand that it took me 16 hours, 12 of which were pitocin-induced, gut wrenching, sweat filled mania, to even get that far with Elizabeth's labor. And here I was, at home, pretty uncomfortable, but easily walking around, taking a shower, and eating breakfast. And I had already dilated that far. I could hear the choirs of angels in heaven singing Handel's Hallelujah Chorus.

"Well..." I said, "This might not be for real though." Because I was still in denial. And my mom just looked at me incredulously and said in a way that only moms can, "Ashley. You're in labor." And the matter was closed, closed in a way that only moms can close it.

So I walked around at home, still in unbelief that this was not only happening, but it so far was happening in the exact way that I wanted it to happen. I wanted to stay home as long as possible, and I wanted to do this thing without any meds. So far, so good. But I was not so naive to think that I was home free yet.

My mom called the hospital to see what the labor floor was like. And apparently everyone and their mother decided they wanted to have a baby that day, because there was only one open room left. And Lawdy there was no way in Hades that I wanted to share a room with someone. So, at around 9am, we decided to hightail it to the hospital.

I got to my hospital room, and they checked to see how dilated I was. 5 cm.


Soon after, my water broke. On its own.


My contractions were getting stronger and closer together. The room was dim, there was calming music, I was sitting on a labor ball, and I was free to move wherever I wanted because I was not hooked up to any IV fluids or meds. This was all happening in the way I had always envisioned it.

WHUT. WHAT?! Is this real life??!

It got to the point where during each contraction I had to concentrate more than I had ever concentrated before. As my friend Kim told me after she went through her med-free labor just weeks earlier, I had to remember that the pain was a good thing, because it was getting the baby out. So during each contraction, I repeating the words "down and out" to myself, just like she suggested. I had to concentrate so much that I had to ask my mom and Trent to be quiet when they were talking during my contractions, because it was distracting me.

It was kind of like those labor movies that you watch during your childbirth prep classes, when they show you the stereotypical "natural" labor. The one where everyone rolls their eyes because there's no possible way that the stars would align so well that it would actually happen like that in real life.

Going home from the hospital. Most babies
scream when you put them in the carseat for
the first time. Mary was pretty chill about it all
But it did. It was kind of textbook, actually, in a way. Around 3 or 3:30 (I think) I started to get a little crazy. The pain was getting to a whole new level and I was ready to get that baby OUT. They checked me, and they told me I could try pushing. I don't remember a whole lot of details at this point because I all I was really thinking was "GET THE BABY OUT GET THE BABY OUT GET THE BABY OUT." They told me I would "know" when I was ready to push. For some reason this freaked me out because how would I really know? I wanted them to just tell me when I should push. Apparently I had a "lip," which meant that I was just about fully dilated to 10cm but there was a tiny bit of my cervix that didn't want to cooperate. And I remember that stupid lip. It made things a lot more painful. I think I even shouted, "Ahhhhh, that stupid lip!!!" But I'm not sure. I kept pushing, but I had yet to feel that insatiable urge that everyone had told me about, where your body just takes over and starts to practically push for you because there's no way you can hold it back.

And then, all the sudden, my body just took over and started to practically push for me because there was no way I could have held it back. It was weird, actually. It was like my muscles had a mind of their own and just decided they would do their thang, thank you very much. And once that happened, that baby came out like BAM.

It was pretty awesome because since there weren't any complications so far, my midwife let Trent deliver the baby. She was there, guiding him and telling him what to do. But he was the one who got to bring her out! I obviously don't remember this actually happening, because I was too busy concentrating on AHHH GET THAT BABY OUT OF ME PLEASE RIGHT NOW I WANT TO BE DONE!!!!!

About to go home from the hospital

Daddy with his girls

And then, just like that, at 4:37pm, my precious baby Mary was born. IT'S A GIRL! Trent said. We were all actually shocked. Because obviously we didn't learn the first time that even though we might have a "feeling" that it's a boy, it doesn't mean a darned thing. And I was sooooo happy to have another girl, because that's secretly what I really wanted (insert caveat that obviously I didn't really care, and I would have been just as happy if the baby was a boy, etc etc etc).

She cried two small squeaky cries, and then was done. She laid on me, so calmly and peacefully. I was so much more emotional with this baby and I actually felt that immediate connection that everyone always talks about.

And that's Mary for you. Punctual, by the book, and calm. Born on her due date. With a labor that I always wanted but never actually thought would happen. Sweet Mary. She's my little lamb. (Ehhhh? See what I did there??)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

7 Quick Takes: Chub, Cobbler, and Traumitization

Awkward....a few weeks ago when Mary was 2 weeks old, a woman came up to me at church and asked when I was due. I explained to her that I had given birth two weeks prior, and she was completely mortified. I wasn't actually offended because I knew she wasn't trying to make me feel bad, and after all, that belly doesn't just magically disappear overnight. It made me wonder how I would react if I made that mistake with someone.

Mary is changing so quickly. She's more alert and she's becoming an adorable chubby baby. The chub warms my heart because Elizabeth had so many weight gain, Mary, eat!!!

Christmas gift planning. DONT JUDGE! Yes I know it's August but hear me out for a sec. My goal this year is to be completely done with all Christmas gifts before Advent. That way I can really focus on the actual season of Advent, rather than spending Advent worrying about what I'm going to get everyone for Christmas. Plus, since we are living on one income now, I plan to make a lot of gifts myself. This is going to take time, obviously, so I figured I'm going to kick my procrastinator self in the butt and try to get going early.

This recipe: Berry cobbler. It's not actually real berry cobbler, since cobbler technically means a dish with fruit and sweet biscuits dropped on top. This recipe is actually more of a berry "cake" of sorts. But oh my it is soooo good (it's 3am while I'm writing this and talking about it is making me want to go into the kitchen right now and make some) and it pairs wonderfully with vanilla ice cream. It's also ridiculously easy to make. It's my "go-to" cobbler recipe. I strayed from it yesterday when a friend and my mom came over for lunch, and I tried a different recipe. Gross. I will never again abandon you, my delicious cobbler friend. don't talk to your food? Right. Carry on.

Room decorating...why am I so terrible at it? We are in the process of planning Elizabeth's room decorations for when we move her out of the baby room. I was thinking ocean, just because that's what I like. But then I remembered that Elizabeth really doesn't like being in the water all that much. So perhaps surrounding her with pictures making her feel like she's underwater isn't the best idea. Traumatized child for the win!

There are actually four girls living in our house: me, Elizabeth, Mary, and our 100 lb Bernese Mountain Dog, Cocoa. She is a great family dog. The other day, Elizabeth climbed on her back like a horse and started pulling Cocoa's hair out. Cocoa just sat there and didn't care. The problem recently has been that the poor dog needs exercise. Annnnd it's been grossly hot and humid outside recently. 90+ degree weather + massive dog with fur coat meant to brave the harsh winters in the Swiss alps = not a happy dog. So what are some other ways my horse can get a small workout?  

Nap time, the most important time of day for baby and mom. Elizabeth has always had meltdowns of epic proportions starting at around 4pm. Trent usually does not get home until around 6pm. That's TWO HOURS, you guys...the longest two hours I have ever experienced. And by the time Trent walks in the door I shove Elizabeth in his arms and lock myself in a closet just to be alone for a few minutes. So recently I've been trying to give Elizabeth a later nap, starting around 2:30. To avoid morning meltdowns, I also put her in her crib around 10am for a bit of quiet time (even if she doesn't actually sleep). It seems to be working really well so far. 4pm meltdowns have not entirely vanished but they happen at a much, much smaller scale. So now probably only our neighborhood can hear her scream, rather than the entire city. Progress!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Not Everything Happens For A Reason

I'm sure you've all heard or said at one time: "Everything happens for a reason."

And I say to that: nope. Not true.

Before you dismiss me, thinking I'm trying to depress everyone, take heart! This is actually good news!

Harry Belafonte singing 1954.jpgLet's take a journey back to my college days. I was struggling immensely in my faith. But I was also struggling on a basic physical level: I was having extreme vocal pain every time I sang or talked for an extended period of time (anything longer than 15 minutes). I was seeking vocal coaching and was going to a voice therapist, learning exercises to help, and trying to figure out how to relax my throat muscles. I went on vocal rest, where I couldn't sing or talk for awhile. And let me tell you, vocal rest sure makes you appreciate your ability to talk.

Nothing was really helping. For months and months, I was trying to figure out how to solve the problem. It eventually got to a point where I had to seriously consider whether or not I should continue my degree in music education. Because let's face it...a music teacher who can't talk or sing can't really teach at all.

I began to get angry. I resented the fact that something that came so naturally for everyone else was a daily struggle for me. I didn't understand why this huge obstacle was preventing me from doing what it was a knew was the right path for me: becoming a music teacher.

It got to a point where I became angry with God. After all, He was the one who gave me this burden, right? In my mind, it just wasn't fair. How could a loving God bring harm on anyone, even if it was for a greater good?

I reached a breaking point at a Mass I was supposed to sing at. I knew I was supposed to be resting my voice, but I wanted to try and sing to see if things had gotten any better. As the Mass went on, and the searing pain in my throat became worse and worse, it was clear that things were not better. If anything, they were worse.

It took all the concentration I could muster to not break down in tears in the middle of Mass. Afterward, I ran out and drove home. I needed to be alone.

I went outside and sat down, looking heavenward. I started to mentally tell at God...I couldn't, after all, actually yell, so yelling inside my head was the best I could do. "Why are you doing this to me? What kind of God are you?"

After holding this anger in my heart for awhile, I realized I needed to talk to someone about this issue. I also needed to confess my sin of harboring anger in my heart. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone and go to confession. It is, after all, kind of like free therapy.

I explained to the priest what my issue was. And I said, "I know God is giving me this burden for a reason, but I just don't understand it yet." The priest then said something that completely altered my view on God, and life in general.

"God does not cause bad things to happen to us. He does, however, bring good out of any bad situation. But the root cause of any bad or evil situation is not from God, because God is only good."

I thought about it. And it began to click. God's original plan did not include anything bad or evil. It did not include death, sickness, sin, disaster, or evil. In Adam and Eve's free choice to sin, they opened the door for all this. And we continue today to suffer from those consequences. Some bad things happen as a result of original sin that are out of our control, like natural disasters and serious illness. But these are not from God...they happen because we live in an imperfect world as a result of Adam and Eve's choice. And other bad things happen because of our own choices, not God's: health issues from poor nutrition (assuming we actually made the choice to eat poorly) and lack of exercise, losing a job because we were lazy, relationship problems from us refusing to swallow our pride, etc etc etc.

The point is, none of it is caused by God. He allows bad things to happen, yes. But He does not cause it. He does, however, make good come out of any bad situation if we allow Him to. But it is only because He is infinite goodness, not because He put us in a bad situation only so that He could make something good come out of it.

So what good did God bring out of my situation? Well, for starters, because I went through a period of over a year where I could not use my voice (talking or singing) without extreme pain, I certainly do not take this ability for granted now that I can. Using our voices is something most people don't even think twice about, but I am so incredibly thankful for it. My struggles have also made me a better teacher. I had to learn, from scratch, about how to correctly use my voice and relax my throat muscles. This means that I can better explain to students exactly how to sing and use their voices, which is something many teachers simply assume students know how to do. 

So next time someone says, "If God leads you to it, He will get you through it," think twice. God is not "leading" us anywhere bad. But in His loving goodness, He always finds a way to bring us out of the storms.

Photo credit:
"Harry Belafonte singing 1954" by Carl Van Vechten - Library of CongressPrints and Photographs DivisionVan Vechten Collection, reproduction number LC-USZ62-103726 DLC (b&w film copy neg.).. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

7 Quick Takes: Gardens, Milk, and the Best Chicken Ever

To help me get back into the post-baby blogging routine, I'm going to try something new! I'm linking up with Jenn at Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes Friday. And I'm doing it on a Saturday because I am a rebel like that. Basically, it is what it says: I write 7 short blurps about whatever I want. Random=me, so this should be fun. At least, it will be fun for me. It might make you want to run away and gouge your eyeballs out, who knows? Don't say I didn't warn you.

Newborn sounds are so wonderful. I forgot almost everything about what newborns are like, and all those adorable grunts, squeaks, sighs, and snorts were some of those things. I think God gave newborns the ability to make those sounds so that the cuteness factor overweighs the neediness factor. So when your newborn has been crying for hours and hours, and you're about to march right in and inform your husband that he needs to start wearing thick iron underwear with a lock and key because you are never, ever going to have another that moment, your baby decides to make a little squeak, and your heart melts and you forget (for a moment) about those hours of crying. I really do think newborn sounds are part of what has preserved the human race.


When I first saw this, I was skeptical. I thought my laziness would far outweigh my desire to save every ounce of precious breastmilk that I could. But, without giving too many details that actually will make you want to gouge your eyes out, the leaking I was experiencing began to resemble the breastmilk flood of '93, and ain't nobody got time to do all the laundry after every single feeding. So I got this milk saver thingy, and I put it on the side that Mary is not nursing, and voila! The mess is gone, AND I save between 4-6 ounces every day! Laziness for the win!

Book I am currently reading: A Sinner's Guide to NFP by Simcha Fisher. If you are confused as to what NFP is, and are thinking "what the heck does that mean? Never Fish Plankton?" (Hey now, don't judge my acronym. I wrote this at 4am and it was the best thing my sleep deprived brain could come up with) then wander on over to Ye Old Blogge Post that explains NFP.
This, in my opinion, is one of the best books about NFP out there. It is hilarious, real, and doesn't sugar coat it. I actually LOL every 2-3 minutes when I read it. This sentence I think sums up the book: NFP: The worst method out there, except for every other method. People who use NFP to avoid pregnancy hate it...I mean, who wouldn't hate abstaining? Probably the same people who enjoy saying no a delicious chocolate shake. But they also love it at the same time. If NFP had a Facebook page, its relationship status would read "It's Complicated." This book acknowledges the very real struggles of NFP (in a hilarious way), while simultaneously explaining its benefits.

You absolutely must try this recipe! My mother in law made it for us last week and it is DELICIOUS. It's a simple roast chicken, and I know what you're thinking: "What's so exciting about roast chicken?" But you guys, the flavor in this chicken was UH MAY ZING. I was almost jealous that Mary would be tasting it later through my milk. Trust me on this one.

Visiting with out of town family is one of my favorite things, right up there with whiskers on kittens and warm woolen mittens. Yay for cousin time!

Plans for my garden next year: off the charts! The level of failure my garden this year has reached could possibly beat a world record. I planted corn, green beans, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, and pumpkins. What it has yielded: one tiny zucchini, two cucumbers, and lots of corn. Everything else is dead. So things are gonna be a-changing around these here parts. Stay tuned for the progress! For now, here's pitiful pictures of my mostly dead, weed filled garden:

Elizabeth conquered a fear yesterday: riding the carousel. Those Polar Bears can be pretty terrifying, you know.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!