Monday, September 29, 2014

Two Years


Two years. Did you know that a LOT can happen in only 2 year's time? Michael and I are living proof that this statement is true. In fact, it seems to be a running theme within our lives ever since God first brought us to one another's attention back in the spring of 2011.

On this date two years ago (Happy Michaelmas! Ss. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, pray for us+), Michael and I professed our marriage vows before God, a wonderful Dominican priest, and about 170 of our closest family members and friends.

But do you know where we were 2 years before that? In September 2010 Michael and I didn't even know of one another's existence. After we met and began dating, we fell in love, got engaged, and became man and wife within a mere 14 months.

In the 2 years since our wedding day (September 29, 2012) we have begun to learn what it is to be married, experienced the joys and crosses of pregnancy, delivering a baby boy into this world, and have embarked on a lifelong journey as parents together. We have lived in 3 different states in 3 distinct regions within the United States...which means we have learned and grown together through packing boxes, organizing our belongings and our mailing addresses, traveling 1000+ miles with all our earthly possessions in tow (once when I was 38 weeks pregnant, once with a 5-month-old son), and setting up 3 different homes.

We have visited loved ones, hosted them in our home(s), and have found ourselves in new communities in which we didn't know a soul - more than once. We have developed new hobbies, passions, and enjoyed countless movies/shows, outdoor adventures, and meals with one another. We have begun establishing a family culture taken from our shared and individual experiences within our own respective families and added our own unique twists. We have also been steadily compiling a list of tried and true recipes for our growing, little family.

We have experienced our fair share of harsh words, apologies, and forgiveness, but more than anything we have experienced love in ways incomprehensible to us only two years ago. 

We have experienced so much LIFE in our two years together as husband and wife and I cannot wait to see what God has in store for us in the many, many, many more years to come!

Happy Anniversary, Michael! I'm so sorry that I accidentally elbowed you in the eye the other night, but two years later I'm still so excited and grateful to wake up to your face beside mine each day. ;)

You can read all about our first year together right here.

"Wherever you go, there shall be my journey. Wherever you live, there shall be my home. Your people shall be my kin and my companion and your God I shall call as my own." 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall


Fall is finally here!

If you've been reading for awhile, you already know that this time last year we were living in South Florida - which for this Midwestern girl felt a little bit like the Twilight Zone any time we tried to partake in "seasonal" festivities. There was something about drinking apple cider in 85 degree heat that just didn't seem to compute with me....

The year before that, Michael and I were brand-new to this marriage thing (our anniversary is less than a week away!), so I was eager to move to Michigan in early October to finally be with my love. Autumn in Michigan sounds like a Midwestern dream come true, right? Wrong. Maybe that year was a fluke, but as soon as I arrived it got C-O-L-D and suddenly a 6-month-long winter was upon us. I will never forget that time we visited an apple orchard in Ann Arbor; it was bitterly cold, windy, and practically no one was there. We were so frozen we grabbed some hot apple cider and high-tailed it out of there as fast as we could.

As you can probably tell, the last two autumns have been somewhat unusual and just a tad bit disappointing considering my FAVORITE season of them all is fall. Now that we're in Pennsylvania you had better believe I am going to be living it up this year...which finally brings me to what I really wanted to write about: this past weekend's adventures, which I like to refer to as "Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall."

The weather was gorgeous on Saturday and considering it was the final weekend of summer, we were dying to get outdoors and soak it in. We decided to check out a popular garden that everyone around here raves about. Honestly, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into!

Michael and I have visited our fair share of arboretums, parks, and botanical gardens together so we thought we had an idea of what Longwood Gardens must be like. In some respects, we were right; however, we underestimated the sheer size of this 40+ acre place. We arrived thinking that we could see almost everything in the 3 remaining hours before it closed. Boy, were we wrong. At one point, Michael announced that it felt like we were at a "theme park for gardens." Later on, he proclaimed that it was just as big as the Toledo Zoo...and I must say that I felt both his theme park and zoo comparisons were on par.

I adored this Italian Water Garden

If you ever find yourselves in the western suburbs of Philadelphia with some free time, you should definitely check out Longwood Gardens. Unless you hate flowers, fountains, meadows, trees, tropical plants, greenhouses, tree houses (!), topiaries, and historic buildings - then you shouldn't waste your time. Because they have all of this and more.

We also happened to visit when there was a flower show going on
Did you know there are actually a LOT of varieties of water lilies? I seriously had no idea.

In three hours we managed to see many of the largest gardens and displays, but we didn't stay too long in any area. If you wanted to, you could spend all day exploring the gardens and enjoying nature without seeing everything this place had to offer. Now I can understand why people might consider becoming members there - because it wouldn't be that difficult to go 3 or 4 times a year. We've also been told that the Christmas lights in winter are breathtaking (but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves - let's get back to the final weekend of summer and the beginning of fall!).

Clearly we didn't do a lot of research before arriving at the gardens, but I think that created a wonderful atmosphere of surprise. For example, we had no idea that within the conservatory there is a Children's Garden! Everything about it was enchanting - from the child-size fountains to the several tunnels and small doors. It made me think of fairies, enchanted woods, and all kinds of fantastic things a child's imagination should be fed with. Gabriel was a bit young for most of it, but he definitely enjoyed all the little fountains.

This boy LOVES water wherever he can find it. Future swimmer, perhaps?

You'd think that sums up our weekend pretty well, but Sunday was an equally gorgeous day filled with the subtle chill and breath of autumn...which means we couldn't resist visiting a nearby apple orchard!

We got there a bit late in the day (this tends to be a common theme lately thanks to one very important little person's nap schedule), so the apple picking had already ended. However, we were still able to visit the goats, the playground, and the farm market and bakery.

As soon as I saw this I thought to myself, "NOW fall has arrived!"

We stocked up on what was probably way too many apple-themed sweets for our own good, but we had no idea when we would find ourselves at an orchard again and I think the disappointment of the last 2 autumns subconsciously caused us to want to devour ALL the fall things in sight while we could. Besides, we got to introduce Gabriel to some yummy apple cider donuts, which he loved:

In addition to our apple goods, we sprung for a tiny pumpkin. We intend to get larger pumpkins later in the month, but there's something about little, baby-sized pumpkins that never fails to tug at my you can only imagine the ridiculous ways in which this mother's heart now MELTS at the sight of little pumpkins...because...babies...and baby-sized pumpkins...!!! SO MUCH BABY CUTENESS. See? I told you - ridiculous.

Only adding to my giddiness over our little pumpkin was what happened when we brought it home. Gabriel was holding onto it and I asked him if he could "show Mommy his pumpkin." In response, he proudly held the pumpkin out for me to see...which only caused my heart to melt in a million new ways as I swallowed the hard truth that perhaps my baby is better described as a toddler these days after all....

This weekend was definitely one for the memory bank with its gorgeous weather, breathtaking gardens, the sights and smells of a promising autumn, baby-sized pumpkins, my growing baby, and quality time with my little family. It doesn't get much better than this. After this weekend's adventures I am so ready to say goodbye to summer and hello to fall!

“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.” 
-Jim Bishop

Friday, September 19, 2014

How a Nightmare Helped Set Me Straight


Do you ever come up with an idea to blog about then experience something that causes you to completely change what you were going to say? Hi, that's me today.

It all began when Gabriel, who currently tends to sleep from 8 or 8:30pm until somewhere between 5-7am (at which point I typically nurse him & he goes back to sleep for a brief time...though that's ending soon - more on that later!) woke up last night at around 9:30pm. The boy had only been in bed for about an hour before he woke up crying. At 13.5 months old, he is definitely sleep-trained and fully capable of soothing himself, so we endured 10 painful minutes before he quieted down and fell back asleep. His crying session at 9:30pm made me a little worried that he wasn't going to have a good night...and boy, was that the case.

Gabriel proceeded to wake up crying screaming at least 3 more times last night between the hours of 3 and 5am. I mostly tried to let him fall back asleep on his own, but all 3 times he cried long enough that I knew I needed to go check on him. I honestly have NO IDEA what was going on because he didn't have a stinky diaper, he didn't seem cold (and I placed his blanket over him each time I went in), and he didn't seem to be crying because of something like teething pain. In my (limited) experience, teething pain is recognizable by him chomping on his hand, biting his crib, and not calming down at all even if I were to pick him up (which I don't do unless he really does seem in pain or sick). Each time I soothed him for less than a minute before leaving. Naturally, he screamed louder and harder each time I walked out, but he eventually calmed down and fell back asleep.

Basically every time he fell back asleep I could not fall asleep for the longest time - so it felt like I had been sleeping for barely 5 minutes before he would wake up less than an hour after his last crying session. I'm someone who typically needs to think about things in order to fall asleep (as opposed to my husband, who needs to completely clear his mind first), so it was only natural that at one point I began thinking about some blog I wanted to write about "fear" (bear with me).

The gist of the would-be post was something about how, as a mother (and wife, young woman, etc.), I choose not to live in fear. This might sound silly, but lately I've noticed how many people (especially mothers!) I know just seem so incredibly anxious about everything under the sun. Personally, I like to think I worry a healthy amount (and there are definitely circumstances that require hyper-vigilance), but the kind of endless paranoia that threatens to take over so many mothers' time with their kids just isn't for me. Mind you, I'm not saying that I'm never anxious - but the type of worrying I'm talking about usually goes hand in hand with helicopter parenting...which is something I do not ever want to do. Let me just clarify really quickly that I know much of how cautious you are with your child has to do with your child's stage of development - because one month ago I still had to follow Gabriel around telling him "not food" when he tried to eat mulch. What I'm talking about are the parents that can't even let a 4-year old gently fall down and scrape their knee [the horror!] without freaking the freak out and babying them.

As I tried to sort through how I wanted to say all of this in a blog post, I eventually fell asleep. At last...I was going to get some peaceful sleep (spoiler alert: I was WRONG).

Instead of being awoken by my baby one more time, I began having one of those half-awake, half-asleep dreams that seem eerily realistic. You know, the kind that feel like you're awake when you're really not. Well, I suppose my subconscious wanted to serve me up a whopping bite of humble pie about this whole "fear" topic, because what happened next was downright TERRIFYING.

I dreamed that I heard footsteps approaching after they visited my baby's room - and it even appeared as if I could see a person's shadow creeping through our living room en route to our bedroom. In reality, our bedroom door was closed and there's no way I could have seen such a thing even if it had existed - but sleeping Stephanie didn't know this. Next, I saw the shadow of a man standing in our door frame, slowly entering our room and - seriously, this is terrifying - then raising their arm...which had a gun.

I was paralyzed with fear and I tried so hard to talk, but because I was half-asleep I only felt myself struggle to make a soft grunting sound. Then, I thought I saw the person walking around the edge of the bed towards my husband's side - where the person just stood, staring. At this moment my brain decided to horrify me even further with the notion that while this "person" had a gun in one hand, in their other arm was our baby...!!! I finally snapped out of this nightmare and said out loud, "is someone there?!"

No answer, but I still thought I saw this scary person's shadow. Then,  I quickly tapped on Michael's back frantically telling him to "wake up!" My poor husband. Bless his heart. He was startled awake and I told him I thought I saw someone walk into our room. Without hesitation, he jumped out of bed and flipped the switch of our bathroom light on, revealing that (thankfully) this was all in my head.

He climbed back into bed pointing out to me that our front door is locked (with a deadbolt and a chain-lock, no less), which meant this wouldn't have been possible. I told him he was right and apologized profusely as I tried to calm down.

Adding to the misery of all this was the fact that I had a pounding headache and my body - because of the fright - was completely burning up. I threw the blanket off, cooled off, then headed to the medicine cabinet for some Tylenol. I could see in the mirror that my hand was steady, which took me by surprise, because on the inside I felt like I was shaking...everywhere. It was the weirdest sensation.

Eventually Michael and I both fell back asleep before his alarm went off only a couple hours later.

What a night.

I'm not even sure I got a full 4 hours of sleep with everything that happened.

Long story short, I knew as soon as I had that all-too-realistic nightmare that I couldn't possibly sit down and write about how I do so well to not live in fear. I mean, it just seemed laughable when I had just felt FAR more afraid than the entire year I lived in a gang-ridden neighborhood in Chicago. After all, there are things in this world that are unquestionably frightening, so any claim that I'm somehow a mother who parents without living in the shadow of fear makes me sound a bit too bold for reality. When you're a mother, there will be plenty of situations that can (and dare I say should) scare you. My unfortunate nightmare reminded me of this.

The key, I believe, is to differentiate when it's appropriate to be afraid and when we're simply being irrational about things entirely beyond our control. As Christians, we know that God has plans for us and He tells us not to worry. As mothers, we know that there are times when we need to be by our baby's side as they explore this great big world and learn to get their footing (both literally and figuratively), and hopefully we all learn that there are also times we need to stand back and let them experience a few things without swooping in to immediately scoop them up in our arms. As a mother to a baby on the brink of toddler-hood (who, by many standards, already IS a toddler) I am constantly evaluating where I am on the 'hovering' scale and whether or not I need to be there. I think that is the real message I was initially wanting to convey back when I was thinking about writing about not being fearful.

Let's just hope that next time I need some help clarifying my words that I am not startled into finding better phrasing because of a twisted nightmare....

And please, if you get a spare moment, say some prayers that our baby (and we all) sleep soundly tonight. :)

"So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
Matthew 6:34

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My friend, Sister Elizabeth Ann


I love snail mail. Don't get me wrong - we receive all of our bills and paperwork electronically and I definitely don't enjoy receiving excessive amounts of coupons for stores I'll never shop at or free magazines that I do not and never will subscribe to. What I do enjoy is what Michael and I refer to as "real" mail - the kind that's sent from an actual person we know. The kind that someone takes the time to hand-write, type, or draw just for you. Call me cheesy, sentimental, traditional, or whatever else - but that kind of mail just seems extra special to me in this world that's been infiltrated by computers, cell phones, and social media everywhere we turn.

Last week I went to check the mail, expecting nothing but the "fake" kind of mail that promptly finds its way into our trash can.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the mailbox and saw a package - when I hadn't ordered anything and wasn't expecting something from any family or friends. I had no idea what it could be until I saw the printed return address - Sacred Heart Novitiate in Nashville, Tennessee.

Last month on August 15th my friend, Liz, became a postulant with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. Liz, who is now known as Sister Elizabeth Ann, sent me such a thoughtful, random package that I am just bursting at the seams to tell someone about (besides my husband, obviously)!

At a Matt Maher concert with the future Sister Elizabeth Ann over FOUR years ago! So much has happened with discovering each of our vocations since then....

Sister Elizabeth Ann is basically the kind of friend every girl dreams of having. She is thoughtful, kind, and goes entirely out of her way to maintain friendships and ensure that her friends feel loved. She sees God and His love in the beauty of everyday life - whether that takes the form of a nice nail polish color, good coffee, a hand-written note of encouragement, or the carefully penned calligraphy on an envelope...and she does her part to help others see that Beauty, too.

A little background: we first met during my junior year (her freshman year) in college via campus ministry. I'm not positive, but I think our paths first crossed on the Kairos retreat I was leading that she attended. The next year I was one of the retreat's Co-Rectors and she was on the retreat team. After that our paths were constantly crossing through our involvement in the church and she was even at that Frassati Society conference I went to right before Michael and I became an official item. We had/have a friendship rooted entirely in the Lord and our shared faith, so we naturally began to ask for prayers from one another whenever we had specific intentions.

During my volunteer year with the Dominicans, she was one of few people that I stayed in constant communication with and frequently told me she was praying for me. She and my younger sister are the same age and I'm so thankful that the two of them ended up becoming extremely close friends their senior year. Not only has Sister Elizabeth Ann been a huge blessing in my life, but she has also been a beautiful friend to my sister!

Sr. Elizabeth Ann reunited with one of our other campus ministry friends on my wedding day

During my volunteer year after college I began receiving semi-regular snail mail from her. She always made a point to include extra thoughtful gestures with her notes; whether it was a prayer card or sticker of a Saint she knew I loved or something else entirely, she always took time to really personalize any kind of correspondence we shared. Once Michael and I became engaged she began gifting me all sorts of prayer cards she found about the wedding at Cana, marriage, etc. It wasn't a difficult choice to ask her to do one of the readings at our wedding. Then, after I got married, Sister Elizabeth Ann continued to support and encourage me in my vocation in ways unlike any of my other single friends did (and in more tangible ways than many of my married friends did!). She constantly emailed me links to articles I might appreciate, mailed me prayer cards about married life, shared pins with me on Pinterest, and even sent me a copy of a Catholic Mothers' Manual when I was pregnant.

Long story short, this young woman's friendship is such a treasure. She is constantly thinking of others and doing whatever she can to help them live their vocation to the fullest.

At this point it should come as no surprise to you that last week I found myself opening an unexpected package, wondering what thoughtful gem(s) Sister Elizabeth Ann had thought to send me this time. I began pulling out an assortment of books, holy cards, and a few little treasures that seemed to be from Korea. I looked and looked, but there was no note of explanation. Then, as I sifted through the gifts one by one I saw the magnets we had given her as a wedding Save the Date and later as a wedding favor. At that point I knew without a doubt the reason for her gift: now that Sister Elizabeth Ann is in the convent she is passing her belongings on to her friends and family that will appreciate them. 

Gifts from Sr. Elizabeth Ann's package

This considerate, unexpected gift nearly brought me to tears as I reflected on how many times Sr. Elizabeth Ann has sent me little notes and packages in the mail in recent years.

I'm so insanely happy for my dear friend who seems to have found the path Christ is calling her to. Selfishly, I'm also grateful that I am still able to communicate with her via snail mail during this formative, prayerful time of her ongoing discernment. In many ways I feel as if I could never execute a grand enough gesture to thank her for her selfless friendship and countless and continued prayers...but at the very least I can pray for her and ask all of you to join me. Please hold Sr. Elizabeth Ann, all the other postulants in her class, and all those discerning a vocation to religious life in your prayers.

My friend is just one of several women seeking to dedicate their lives to serving Christ and the Church in this way - but I know that the Church will be incredibly blessed by the joyful, humble, unique ways I know she will live out her beautiful vocation. If you want to learn more about her as a person, her discernment process, or any of the awesome European and African adventures she's been on (including all the times she saw the Pope!) you can check out her blog, Just a Small Town Girl.

+Ss. Dominic and Cecilia, pray for us.+

"Friendship consists in forgetting what one gives and remembering what one receives." 
-Alexander Dumas

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Bit of What I Do Every Day


At some point after Michael gets home from work, he ends up asking me what Gabriel and I did that day. Back when Gabriel was a newborn I was often guilty of getting unnecessarily defensive when asked; too often I responded as if secular society were passive-aggressively trying to insinuate that, as a SAHM, I don't "do anything" all day long - rather than answering an innocent question from my loving husband who genuinely was curious what I might have done that day.

In all honesty, it was hard not to get defensive when asked what I did all day long back then because, when you try and break down what mothering actually consists of, it's sometimes hard to come up with a more specific list beyond keeping a little human being clean, fed, nurtured, and alive. During the newborn phase, Gabriel ate every single hour. Whenever he wasn't eating, getting his diaper changed, or being cooed at by yours truly, he was my arms (the only place he would sleep back then during the daytime). I tried really hard to shower every single day, but I'll let you draw your own conclusions about how often I accomplished that goal before Michael returned from work for the evening.

Fast forward a year. Now that my baby is 13.5 months old we actually do a LOT of things while my husband is at work (beyond diaper changes, nursing sessions, and me watching Law & Order SVU on silent with closed captions as Gabriel sleeps for 20 minutes before his next feeding - whew, those early days were a blur). Thankfully, I've caught up on sleep, my hormones have leveled out a bit, and I no longer respond to his innocent query of what I did each day with a defensive, snarky response about doing everything under the sun for, you know, a HUMAN BEING all day long (I'm sure Michael is just as thankful as I am - if not more so...). Still, I am often at a loss when racking my brain to formulate a coherent response to Michael's question each day.

What did we do all day - and how on earth can I possibly paint a portrait that accurately depicts it all?

More often than not, my reply is something along the lines of, "Well, Gabriel woke up at ____ then he ate, we played, we ate lunch, he napped, we played, he ate...and that's about it," followed up by a brief list of whatever chores or errands I managed to check off my to-do list as well.

I'm sure this answer sounds incredibly boring to all my friends that do not have babies because...well, just go back and re-read it. Surely that reply is filled with all the enthusiasm needed to convince them to hop on the parenthood train ASAP...right? Riiight.

On the other hand, I'm sure you other stay-at-home mothers out there can relate. How often do people ask us what we "do all day" - which causes us to feel like we need to list off tangible we scramble to figure out what to say when those same things just seem boring out of context. This is because motherhood - and what we do all day long for our children - cannot be explained in a New York minute. In fact, most of it can never properly be conveyed in words no matter how hard we try.

Earlier today I was playing on the floor with Gabriel. I layed down on my back and he climbed onto my stomach, where he often likes to sit and giggle. I proceeded to play a tickling game with him which elicited squeals of laughter (from my boy...and maybe a bit from me). As soon as he flashed the biggest possible grin amidst fits of giggles, he suddenly threw himself down onto my chest and began sucking his thumb. For the next few minutes we just layed there taking turns giggling as he happily relaxed into my embrace, all the while sucking his thumb. I continued giggling every so often in the hopes of keeping him entertained - wanting him to just stay there in my arms for one more second as I continued holding him and stroking his hair. These are the moments and the things I "do" each day that are virtually impossible to explain to others. There are no photographs of these moments...nor can they possibly be recreated or posed. They don't really rank on most lists of "what I accomplished" each day...but these are the moments that sum up the heart of being a mom (whether you stay at home or are part of the workforce).

As far as answering my husband goes, he understands pretty well that when I say all we did was "eat, play, eat, play, etc." that the full story is far more extensive. He can read between the lines that, in between the tasks and chores, my day was probably filled with moments just like the one described above (on good days - and significantly more tears on the not-quite-as-good days). After all, he is my husband and an involved father so he knows

But when people without children ask what I do each day, I have no idea what to say. I do my best to string some thoughts together, but it's unquestionably a vocation that is hard for people to wrap their heads around unless they've also lived it. How else can they possibly understand that the hours I spend alone with my baby can simultaneously feel never-ending and manage to pass by in the blink of an eye? How could they begin to know the details of the endless work or the details of the indescribable rewards? 

I can only hope that my inadequate responses help others to see that loving and raising a child is undoubtedly a full-time gig - that can and will make you cherish life, the most fleeting of moments, and even the seemingly 'boring' experiences (because any parent will tell you that things like eating lunch, doing laundry, or watching your child play are ANYTHING but boring when they're home with you). It will cause you to embrace sacrifices for the good of another in ways you couldn't have possibly dreamed before experiencing parenthood firsthand.

There may be too many undocumented moments to count,
but don't be fooled - we sometimes pose for pics, too.

“A mother's body remembers her babies-the folds of soft flesh, the softly furred scalp against her nose. Each child has it's own entreaties to body and soul.”

-Barbara Kingsolver

Friday, September 12, 2014

7QT (Vol. 30)


--- 1 ---

Well, I finally did it. After much consideration (and talking my husband's ear off - bless his heart), I went ahead and created a Facebook page for the blog. Honestly I never did until now because I didn't see much of a point (and was worried it might make me waste more time on FB). I don't use Twitter and I don't link other social media to my blog - and for a long time I viewed having a blog FB page as something that people do when they're actively trying to grow their audience. Sure, some people use it as a marketing tool, but lately I've also come to realize that one huge benefit to a blog page on FB is that it creates a forum to interact with readers in ways I never would on the blog!

Sometimes I have quick questions (not blog post worthy) that I would love to get some feedback on, but don't have a way of asking a group of people in the same stage of life (or close to it) or that have similar experiences. Michael and I keep our personal posts on FB to a minimum and even if we didn't, we don't have a ton of friends where we're at right now in regards to marriage and babies.

Recently it dawned on me that people who read my blog are the perfect candidates for such interactions! If this ends up increasing my readership that's fine, but I'm more interested in getting to know people who read my blog so we can all discuss topics of interest and share tips, tricks, advice, or give support when needed. If that sounds like something you're interested in, then please head over to Facebook and like the new Bluebird Songs page! :)

--- 2 ---
Um, this boy seems to have mastered the 4 years old. Check it out.

--- 3 ---
Pope Francis' got jokes. Seriously. Even if you have the best in-laws in the world, I think he can still make you chuckle with his jokes about family life (click on the link for a brief video). Thanks for the laugh, Papa Francesco!

--- 4 ---
I've mentioned a few times that I completed a year of full-time volunteer service (with the Dominicans!) after college, but I don't think I've written much on here about what I did that year. Well, I worked as the Volunteer Coordinator for a domestic violence non-profit agency that serves the west side of Chicago and many suburbs. Domestic violence isn't a topic that many people are well-educated about (I wasn't until I went through the mandated 40-hour training for the state of Illinois!), so I'm thankful whenever real, educational information about this topic gets circulated in mainstream media. I've seen a lot of terrible, hurtful, ignorant things said about the Ray Rice situation, but thankfully that's not all  that's making its way around the interwebs. My friend (who also worked at the DV agency with me) shared this with me earlier this week so I'm sharing it with you all.

People are right to be upset about DV, but too often their anger gets misdirected at the victim as they blame them for staying in an abusive relationship. The Twitter campaign #WhyIStayed helps shed some light onto common reasons people often stay in abusive relationships. It's easy from the outside to approach it as a black and white issue (i.e. if he hits you, you leave immediately), but this aspect of DV is definitely not black & white. If you ever catch yourself starting to blame the victim or wondering why on earth he/she hasn't left such a toxic, abusive situation as soon as you think they should have, please read this (and share it with others!). I promise it's worth your time.

--- 5 ---
On a much lighter note, here are a bunch of Christian memes. Enjoy!

--- 6 ---
Talk to me about Baltimore and NYC, please. When we first moved near Philly we decided that we'd try and take advantage of our location on the East Coast and take some weekend trips to nearby cities. We've already been to D.C. and Boston, but we're hoping to do a day trip to Baltimore and a weekend in New York within the next couples of months. I've been to NYC briefly a couple of times but Michael never has - and he's been to Baltimore once but I haven't. What do you think we should see/do?!

--- 7 ---
It's almost 9am and my baby is still asleep. He usually wakes up around 6 or 7 at which point I nurse him and lay him back down and he goes back to sleep. He awoke at 5:45 this morning, which would usually mean he would be up again by 7:30ish, so...I have no idea how or why he is this tired but I'm going to wrap up these 7 quick takes and take full advantage of this precious alone time!


Happy Friday, everybody! Make sure you head over to Conversion Diary and check out the rest of all the Quick Takes fun!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

JPII's Words on 9/11


Do you remember where you were on September 11th, 2001? Naturally, I'm sure we all do. Each year I struggle on this day to figure out what I can say or do to honor the memories of all those who lost their lives in such a tragic terrorist attack. Thirteen years later there are nearly 3000 responders that are now fighting Ground Zero-related cancer because of their heroic efforts. Thirteen years later there are still thousands and thousands of people deeply affected by this tragedy in very personal ways. I'm so thankful that I do not have any friends or family that died because of these attacks, but I can only imagine how heartbreaking it still is for those who did.

There's nothing very eloquent I can say on this day to honor the innocent lives that were lost. Nor is there much I can do to help bring peace to those still suffering (though they certainly have my prayers). God alone is the bearer of such healing and peace. However, there is one person whose words about 9/11 I find to be comforting, true, and still relevant thirteen years instead of attempting some clumsy memorial piece about 9/11 I will instead allow him speak to your hearts.

The following words were said by Pope (now Saint) John Paul II the day after the 9/11 attacks:

"Yesterday was a dark day in the history of humanity, a terrible affront to human dignity. After receiving the news, I followed with intense concern the developing situation, with heartfelt prayers to the Lord. How is it possible to commit acts of such savage cruelty? The human heart has depths from which schemes of unheard-of ferocity sometimes emerge, capable of destroying in a moment the normal daily life of a people. But faith comes to our aid at these times when words seem to fail. Christ’s word is the only one that can give a response to the questions which trouble our spirit. Even if the forces of darkness appear to prevail, those who believe in God know that evil and death do not have the final say. Christian hope is based on this truth; at this time our prayerful trust draws strength from it."

What happened on this day in 2001 was tragic, to be sure. However, as Christians we know that darkness may sometimes appear to prevail, but it does not have the final say. As we continue to remember and honor the men and women who lost their lives thirteen years ago let us trust in the Lord's mercy, the healing power of prayer and forgiveness, and - instead of wallowing in despair - continue to live our lives with the joyful hope we find in Him.

"Never forget."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Gifts are Freely Given


You all have heard of The Five Love Languages, right? It's been awhile since I've taken one of the quizzes and I know that my top love languages have changed over time along with life circumstances, but "words of affirmation" have always been near the top of my list.

In case you're unfamiliar with the concept of love languages, they are basically different ways people tend to give and receive love. For example, a person who speaks the love language of "receiving gifts" is the type of person to leave little notes, surprise you with flowers, or pick something up at the store just because it reminded them of you; this is because their top love language is receiving gifts, so they're more likely to also demonstrate their love in this way. That person is more likely to receive a love message loud and clear if it comes in the form of a gift because it's a "language" they practice and understand well. Obviously it helps to understand your spouse's top love language because it might not be the same as yours - which means that a good way to make them feel especially loved is to express it in their love language instead of yours. I think you get the idea.

Anyway, words of affirmation has always been near the top of my love languages list. Being told something sweet is a simple way to make me feel loved and appreciated. Personally, I think words of affirmation are easy and take much less effort than some of the others (i.e. quality time, acts of service, etc.)...but my husband doesn't come by that love language very naturally, so expressing his love in this way isn't that easy after all.

Because of this, I feel like I sometimes have to spell out what I might need to hear in a given moment in order to be reassured...which can easily make the reassurance feel a bit forced and makes it lose some of the effect. After all, it's much more encouraging (in my mind) for my husband to say something like, "I like the way your hair looks today," as opposed to me trying a new style and asking whether he likes it or not. Who wants to fish for compliments? Not me.

Since Michael and I have been married, I like to think that I've found a healthy and realistic approach towards this particular love language. When I'm looking for my husband to let me know how he feels about something I said/did/wore I understand that I will probably have to be direct about it and ask - because he doesn't often just tell me without being prompted. And that's okay. I know that what he says is genuine regardless of whether or not I had to bring it up.

Whenever we move somewhere new and I decorate our place, I get really excited to show Michael. I have so much fun asking him things like, "Do you like what I did on this wall? What do you think about this?!" But because I get so excited, I often jump at the opportunity to show him my efforts and ask what he thinks instead of letting him notice and appreciate it in his own time.

Yesterday I was sorting some baby clothes in Gabriel's closet when I came across some boxes. I remembered that one of them held our seasonal decorations and I excitedly pulled out our white pumpkin. I know it's still technically summer, but I was so excited to decorate for autumn that I went ahead and pulled it out. A few minutes later I had this simple little display making our dining room table look festive and ready for fall:

The wreath is from our wedding table decorations, which means this setup makes me ridiculously happy. Sentimental much?

When Michael got home from work we had a lot going on...which meant I didn't rush to show him the humble pumpkin display. In fact, I had forgotten all about it. Later on, when we were all sitting down for dinner, Michael casually said three little words: "Nice decorations, babe."

I almost didn't hear him and asked him to repeat what he had said. He repeated himself and I - somewhat surprised - followed up with, "Oh...thanks!"

Those three words were so simple yet so meaningful to me. Not only had my husband commented on something I had fun doing to decorate our home, but he noticed it entirely on his own and - completely unprompted - complimented me on it.

Hours later his words were still with me and I realized that I don't seem to give my husband many opportunities to compliment me on his own. I'm so used to him not noticing or thinking he won't realize what I need to hear that I often ask him for his thoughts before he can tell me in his own time. Too often I ask for the proverbial cookie in his hand without first allowing him to freely offer it to me.

I still think that, with Michael's personality, there are times when it just makes good sense for me to go ahead and ask him rather than waiting for a comment that might never come...but this little scenario with the pumpkin made me realize that there are also plenty of times that perhaps I should just...wait. Let it go, don't seek a response, and...wait. When I do this, his words of affirmation are unquestionably genuine and not forced in the slightest...which makes it a true gift he can offer that I will receive most happily. What an important reminder that gifts, by definition, are freely given.

“Love is always bestowed as a gift -freely, willingly, and without expectation. We don’t love to be loved, we love to love.”
-Leo Buscagalia

Monday, September 8, 2014

Two Birthdays & Korean Thanksgiving


What a day of celebrations! Most of you are probably already aware that September 8th is the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mother; happy birthday, Mary!

Coincidentally (though let's be honest - I believe coincidences are really "God-incidences" aka Divine Providence), Michael and I had a nice conversation all about Mary yesterday. Somehow we began discussing how many Christians that are not Catholic are so confused about our love of Mary. At best, they know we place a lot of emphasis on Mary (but don't understand why) and at worst, they think we worship her like she is a goddess (totally false). So, on the off chance that I have any non-Catholic readers out there I'm going to take today (Mary's birthday) to make a quick PSA about why us Catholics hold Mary in such high regard:

We do not worship Mary; we venerate her. We honor her and respect her greatly. Why? Simply put: because without her fiat (her faith-filled, resounding "yes" to God's plan for her) we wouldn't have Jesus Christ, our Savior. Think about it - for Jesus to be born into this world, live the life he did, and make the ultimate sacrifice for us he needed Mary to say "yes." God gives us free will and Mary could have chosen to forgo this great plan of His - but she didn't. This holy woman, full of grace, humbly agreed to be the handmaid of the Lord and she became the earthly mother of Jesus Christ. We love and thank her for this and we know we can always look to her example as we embrace God's will in our own lives.

Additionally, we trust that Mary will act as a spiritual mother to all of us and we ask for her prayers from heaven, where she has a special place of honor as the Queen of All Saints (another confusing thing for non-Catholics: anyone in heaven is called a saint and because they are in heaven [very close to God, wouldn't you say?] we often ask for their intercessory prayers).

Not only is it the day we celebrate Mary's birth, but it's the birthday of one of my very best friends from college (and beyond). I don't often use my friends' names on the blog, but if any of you happen to remember how Michael's and my love story initially began then you already know who this is. ;)

So many good times together.

Happy birthday, Theresa! I am so blessed to have you in my life. I love and miss you dearly! I wish I could celebrate with you in person, but since I can't, I hope you will accept the above collage that I had way too much fun putting together as well as this happy birthday message from a certain special someone who I think will make you smile:

You're right: that sign does not say "Theresa"...but I'm pretty sure we're not the only friends in the world that use nicknames.

You'd think that's all that's happening today, but there's still more! Today also happens to be Chuseok, aka Korean Thanksgiving. Michael's family has never really celebrated this harvest festival, but (minus the Buddhist aspects) it might be something we'll consider in future years to help keep our family connected to their Korean roots. We'll see. For now, we'll just celebrate by cooking some yummy Korean dishes that we bought all the ingredients for during yesterday's trip to H-MartHappy Chuseok, everybody!

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee to we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Singing for Jesus


You would think this title is a joke, but it's not.

One of the first things that tipped me off that I might have been pregnant (with Gabriel - no new baby announcement here) was not tiredness, morning sickness, or whatever symptoms most people's minds automatically jump to. Instead, it was breathlessness. At the time, I was working out at least 3 or 4 times a week doing cardio and lifting weights...but I'll never forget that time I had to climb up on the step ladder to retrieve something from the shelf in the coat closet and I stepped back down feeling completely winded. I was so short of breath that I had to take a moment to recuperate. Then, it began happening at church. Every time I tried to sing, I felt light-headed and literally had to save my breath. 

Thus began several months of not being able to sing most of the songs at church. If I was lucky I could muster enough air to perhaps sing the Responsorial Psalm or maybe even a quick Agnus Dei, but I basically had to give up on all the hymns.

I consider myself very blessed that shortness of breath was one of my most noticeable pregnancy symptoms in the first trimester (because trust me, I am well aware of the other crosses many pregnant women must carry that are far more burdensome). However, this was a difficult thing for me - spiritually - to experience. I have never been someone who identifies herself as a singer (because my years of dancing always lead me to call myself a dancer first and foremost if I must choose a label), but I do love to sing. 

My family is incredibly musical and singing in church has never been a question. In fact, as I grew older and stopped regularly playing instruments, church was the one place I could always express my love of music outside of dance. Even if I wasn't the type of person to belt out songs I was listening to on my iPod, you'd better believe you could hear me singing come Sunday. Church was the one place I always felt confident about singing because the music was intended to praise the Lord. Because of this, I volunteered to cantor for a few years in college and even joined the collegiate choir my final year at the parish that contained the Newman Center.

What I'm really trying to say is that I love singing at church more than anywhere in the world and not being able to participate in this way when I was pregnant was incredibly difficult for me. Later on in the pregnancy I was not so short of breath and I, once again, found myself able to participate fully in the musical aspect of the liturgy.

Obviously now this is not an issue, but motherhood has brought with it some other limitations when it comes to participating at mass. Sure, I am able to sing from my pew and I love every chance I get to introduce my son to song, but there's no way (at this point in time) that I could offer my time or talent to volunteer with the music ministry at mass like I used to. Breastfeeding required me to always be by my baby's side when he was young and even though he now eats plenty of solid foods and never needs to nurse during mass, I still feel the need to be with my husband and help him with Gabriel (plus I love being able to worship together as a family).

For months I had wondered if/when I could ever get involved with music ministry at church again and I had started to resign myself to the fact that this simply wasn't a way I could give back to the church now or possibly for the next several years while we (God-willing) have more little ones. Then we moved here and began to get involved with the local Catholic Young Adult group. Within a couple of months I found myself accepting a leadership position on their core planning team. Then, within a couple of months of being at the team meetings I learned that more voices would soon be needed for the monthly Praise and Worship Adoration session the group hosts.

I didn't exactly jump at the opportunity to sing at Eucharistic Adoration like one might think - because as a wife and especially a mother there were so many factors to consider.

Was this a way I could and should get involved in ministry right now? Would Michael be on board with watching Gabriel on the evenings I would be singing? Would the timing fit with Michael's work schedule even during his busy seasons? Perhaps most importantly, would it fit with our family's needs - especially regarding family dinners and Gabriel's bedtime?

Last night as I scarfed down a quick dinner, juggled getting ready while helping Michael figure out what to feed Gabriel, and rushed to the church (knowing I would be a few minutes late to practice with everyone) I felt a little dismayed. Was this wrong, Lord? Was this not something that would work for our family right now? Did I need to take a step back and reconsider getting involved in this monthly ministry? After a few moments I grew tired of questioning it all and simply told God I would let Him show me. I couldn't figure it out on my own, but surely He would point me in the right direction and let me know.

Last night was everything I could have hoped it to be and more...and oh, I am so thankful that this beautiful opportunity to sing for the Lord is currently working out so well for our family. 

Once I arrived everything flowed more smoothly than I could have imagined. For one hour I was able to focus and lift up my voice in prayer before the Lord. For one hour I did not need to worry about what Gabriel was doing or eating because my husband had it all under control. Michael even showed up with Gabriel during the last half hour, which made me even happier about it all! Gabriel didn't make a peep and had so much fun seeing some of our friends while I sang. Our entire family made it to Adoration for the first time in a few months and I was able to feel like I was giving back to the church through song for the first time in far too long to count. Additionally, the timing worked out for dinners and even getting Gabriel to bed at a decent time (it was a tad bit later than usual, but considering the weaning progress we've made I can't imagine I will be nursing him before bed for much longer - which will give me even more flexibility).

As I drove home from Adoration last night I was happier and more at peace than I have felt in awhile. Thank you, Lord, for bringing us to this place - both literally and figuratively. Moving around for my husband's job often means that we cannot get too involved or take on responsibilities at church - and even when it's a possibility we always have to evaluate whether or not it will create too much of a burden for our family before diving in. I have been so blessed to finally be involved in ministry work once again and the fact that I have found a way to be part of a music ministry (that works with our family life!) makes it all that much sweeter. I would be remiss if I didn't mention how grateful I also am to have a husband who understands and supports my desires to get involved in these ministries and helps make it possible. You're the best and I love you, Michael. :)

"He who sings, prays twice."
-St. Augustine

For more about song, prayer, and how I have managed to tie it all in with being a mom you might also be interested in this old post about praying with my baby.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hibachi, Whale Sharks, and a Wedding: Labor Day Weekend in ATL


Did you all have a happy Labor Day? I don't even know how to begin to share about what we did the past few days, so I'll do what I always do and (try to) start from the beginning.

This weekend we had plans to witness the best man from our wedding tie the knot with his bride near Atlanta, Georgia. At nearly 800 miles away, Atlanta is hardly a day trip for us. Nor is it a trip we could easily drive in a weekend without exhausting ourselves (and frustrating our 12-month old son to no end, I'm sure) we booked tickets for flights awhile back and decided to make it sort of a mini-vacation (because when's the next time we'll have a reason to visit Atlanta?).

Thankfully, attending a vigil mass was the only thing on Saturday's to-do list, because delay after delay after delay (you'd imagine I mean with the flight, but that actually happened according schedule) tried to bring us down. We seriously almost missed our departing flight because the Philadelphia airport did nearly everything within their power to keep us from getting to Atlanta - but I won't dwell on all of that. Instead, I'll simply make a mental note to never ever park in the economy parking lot at the Philadelphia airport ever again. Once we arrived in Atlanta we encountered another unexpected sort of delay that came in the form of a rental car shortage. Had we waited for the company we booked with, we easily would have stood in line to pick up our vehicle for three hours; praise the Lord we were able to snag something from another rental car company at the last minute! Several people in line tried to do this with no success, so I have no qualms about saying this was probably a small miracle.

Once we got to our hotel north of the city, everything was beautiful. We made it just in time for the vigil mass at a nearby parish we had scoped out online - and wow, was that church massive. Not only was it unexpectedly huge, but it was gorgeous and the actual mass reminded us so much of our beloved parish back in Ann Arbor. Maybe it was the joyful relief of somewhat weary travelers finally getting a chance to just be...but that mass was one of the most rejuvenating experiences I've had at church in awhile (which is really saying something, because lately I have been overwhelmed with blessed experiences at our new parish)!

The photo I hurriedly snapped on my phone afterwards simply doesn't do it justice. The picture alone cannot properly convey the immense love, joy, and peace I experienced inside that church during that particular mass, but that's part of why I have a blog - so I can attempt to put it down in words. If you're ever in Roswell, Georgia make sure to stop by St. Peter Chanel.

After church we hit up a hibachi restaurant we saw near our hotel. It was Gabriel's very first hibachi experience which made it so much more fun! He absolutely loved it and had such a great time smiling at the family sharing our table and giggling and all the fancy tricks and happy rhythms as our food was cooked before our eyes.

Then came Sunday. Our friends' wedding was Sunday evening, which meant we had all day to check out the Georgia Aquarium! 

Before this weekend I had been to Atlanta twice (in '96 for the Olympics and in '05 for NCYC), so I had already been to the Coke Factory, CNN Center, Georgia Dome, and Centennial Olympic Park. I would have had to do some research to come up with something new for us to explore, but thankfully my husband already knew that the Georgia Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in the world. Additionally, it's the only aquarium in the entire Western hemisphere that has whale sharks - and they currently have 4! Michael was so eager to see the whale sharks, we both love aquariums, and I was grateful not to do any research for this vacation whatsoever - so the aquarium it was!

Ergo hip carry for the win.

Honestly we thought that it would take us all day to see everything, but that wasn't the case. Part of this is because we've spent a lot of time visiting aquariums, though, so we didn't need to spend hours reading all the signs. The Georgia Aquarium had a very nice, easy-to-follow layout and they win major bonus points in my book for having a ballroom with a view of the beluga whales! We didn't know this was a thing - but as we headed upstairs from the cafe in search of somewhere to eat our lunch, an employee told us, "Head straight through those doors to dine with the belugas." 

Dine with the belugas?! Yes, please. 

Before we get to that, though, let's back-up for a moment and talk about their dolphin show. Personally, I love dolphin shows. They are almost always my favorite part of zoos and aquariums alike. Had I not been a parent, I think I would have watched their AT&T sponsored "Dolphin Tales" show with glee - delighting in the fact that they were trying to create a Disney-like atmosphere with their show that featured an interactive, musical plot line. However, as a mother to an infant bordering on toddler-hood I had such a hard time with it. I'm amazed that Gabriel did not jump, whine, or scream his head off crying because their flashing lights, strobe light (yes, strobe light. What dolphin show has strobe lights?!), and fake ocean thunderstorm (featuring crashing waves, lightning, and booming thunder) probably would have terrified most young children. Miraculously, Gabriel sat through the entire show, fascinated by the water, lights, and dolphins. I made sure to hug him tight whenever things happened that he might find scary or startling, but he was fine. Overall, Michael and I agreed that we enjoyed seeing the dolphins but think that their show was way over-the-top and completely unnecessary. 

Now back to the belugas.


We quickly ate our lunch then spent some quality time in front of the viewing window - where I happened to capture some of my all-time favorite photos of the trip:

Yes, we were really this close!

Isn't that beluga whale so cute?! Because we spent so much time watching them up close after lunch, we were able to fly through that exhibit and head to the much-anticipated exhibit that we had saved for last. 

I am so glad we saved the Ocean Voyager exhibit until the end of our visit because it was hands down the best. Right when you enter you find yourself in a tunnel, completely surrounded by fish. We stared - mesmerized - for a couple of minutes before I realized that the tank we were standing under housed all the whale sharks and giant manta rays!

This Giant Manta Ray was swimming directly above my head...!

One of my favorite things about the exhibits at the Georgia Aquarium was that you often got to view certain tanks from multiple angles. As we walked through and looked at other things we could pass by the main tank again with the benefit of having another vantage point. After passing through the tunnel I didn't think we could possibly have such a great view again - but I was wrong. Towards the end, we walked into a massive room and saw this:

Despite the fact that Michael and I have been to multiple aquariums, this trip offered us some brand new, unique experiences. In addition, we had the joy of introducing our baby boy to his first big aquarium visit. I know he won't remember any of it, but 12.5 months was such a fun age to take him!

After our already fun-filled day at the aquarium we headed back to the hotel to rest and (thankfully!) Gabriel took a much-needed nap. Then we were off to watch our friends tie the knot in a quaint, local cottage!

Initially we were surprised at how few guests were in attendance, but the venue was perfect for such a cozy gathering and it only made us that much more grateful that we could be there. After all, it's pretty special that my husband had the privilege of being one of the the groom's only college friends to witness their marriage (in case you're curious, the groomsmen were the groom's 4 brothers and 1 future brother-in-law).

Some of the groom's former co-workers and Bloomington friends were there which also meant that one of Michael's groomsmen from our wedding (and his wife) were in attendance. We hadn't seen any of them since our own wedding, so I know Michael had a fun evening catching up with everybody. I definitely had fun, too, but feeding and tending to a very overly-tired little boy (who handled everything like a champ and shed zero tears, by the way) kept me pretty busy most of the night. 

The wedding ceremony itself was lovely as was the reception. I could tell that the bride had designed and (probably with the help of her family and girlfriends) created so many personal touches that - as a former bride - I definitely recognized and appreciated. Most importantly, though, our friends made sacred vows to one another before their family, friends, and the Lord and began the journey of a lifetime. We are so happy for them! 

Monday morning we headed back to Philadelphia and were blessed with basically the opposite experience we had traveling on Saturday. Everything went smoothly and we got a huge break when the 3rd person in our row of 3 never showed up. Having 3 seats all to ourselves was such an unexpected but very welcome turn of events and Gabriel probably had the most fun he's ever had on an airplane. 

Enjoying our plane ride!

You'd think the weekend stopped there, but we arrived home in the afternoon which left us with half a day to finish out our holiday. While Gabriel napped I was able to sneak out for a rare, solo(!) poolside experience before we all got dinner in the borough with a friend. We did a lot in only a couple of days and Gabriel needed to catch up on some precious Zs today, but there's no doubt that it was all worth it. 

I feel so blessed that we were able to journey so far to celebrate with our friends. I'm sure we would have had a quiet weekend at home if we hadn't made the trip to Georgia - but instead we had quite the adventure and made lots of great memories! I can only hope that all of you also had holiday weekends that were abundantly blessed!

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
-John Steinbeck