Friday, April 24, 2015

Keeping Your Brain Active (as a Mom)

Linking up to Kelly. I love that she's talking about Kristin Lavransdatter. Please, please say you've read it? It's a bit of a beast, length-wise, but it's well worth your time! (I actually don't have my own copy yet, and I think it's time to splurge on one.)

I feel like one of the struggles I hear my mom friends talking about the most is the challenge of keeping themselves challenged intellectually. This struggle is one that both working at home and working outside of the home moms seem to struggle with. The truth of the matter is that once you have children, your brain is busier than ever - but it is busy trying to keep track of those children and their needs! I think that this is especially evident whenever a group of moms gets together. At least initially, all the moms (including myself!) seem able to talk about is their children. Our children absorb our lives, it seems, regardless of what fills our hours. Even when I was working full time when Therese was a baby, I still remember feeling that I would rather talk about her than about my job. Moms just love their babies!

But there comes a time when Moms realize that that kind of low hum of constant mental activity is somewhat draining. It is exhausting trying to keep up with children (small children and babies especially), and sometimes you just want a reminder of what your life was like when you were a bit more intellectual. I don't know if everyone feels this way, but I find that when I commit myself to actually feeding my brain by reading a book (instead of Facebook) or writing an article or blogpost (instead of an Instagram comment) I feel considerably calmer. My brain is fed by that simple exercise of my intellect. We are rational beings, after all! A lot of moms I know bemoan the fact that they can't, say, read a real book anymore. I've been there! The struggle is real! So today, I want to share with you my top 7 tips for keeping your brain active and intellectually stimulated as a mom. 


Read a book.

Sometime last summer, I made it my goal to finally read all the Jane Austen novels. (I finished them sometimes in January or February.) I found it really difficult to focus on them, because the language was definitely more challenging than the online fare I was used to. But I found that if I read them someplace relaxing (like on a coffee shop patio while sipping an iced chai) and committed to at least 15 minutes to half an hour of reading, I walked away so much more relaxed as a result. We'll get to reading e-books in a minute, but I just want to validate the fact that reading an actual book that you can hold in your hands, has real value. Studies have conjectured our brains respond differently to e-books. I think there is much truth to that, and I think we shouldn't underestimate the power of reading from an actual book on occasion, even in short spurts.


Read an e-book.

I used to be super anti e-book. Then, Maria was born. Maria was super colicky, went to sleep easiest if nursed, and would wake up to the sound of a page turning. So, sometime in those early weeks with her, I discovered the wonder that is the e-book. And e-book can be a mother's best friend! I could read in the middle of the night, I could read while Maria napped in my arms - I could actually finish books!! At first, all I had was a Kindle to read on, but once I got a smartphone and downloaded the Kindle app, I could even read on my phone. For a girl who never left the house without a book when she was growing up, the Kindle app is like a dream come true. All that reading, right at your fingertips! Most of the classics are free on the Kindle, and what you can't find for free may be available to borrow via your library's website. And, if you're post-partum, there are some great e-books that will keep you thinking, but still be easy to read. I find books written by bloggers are interesting, informative, but also easy to follow when you're sleep deprived. After I had Maria, I whipped right through Pope Awesome and Teaching in Your Tiara. Both were fascinating, but very easy to read, and it was real boost in my confidence to finish a couple books while post-partum. Some others that are on my list/Kindle are: How She Does It and The Nesting Place. But, if you're up for the challenge, don't be afraid of reading or re-reading a classic! I just discovered Willa Cather and I find her books very readable!

Okay, this is anything but a quick take, but I just have to throw in one more point. When you have an e-book on your phone, or iPod or iPad, or Kindle or whatever - you can read whenever and wherever. My best time for reading the heavier stuff is actually as I'm falling asleep at night. I find it so relaxing, and I feel like my brain can finally focus when everyone else is asleep!


Listen to a Podcast.

I don't know about you, but I feel inspired just listening to intelligent people talk about intelligent things. Two of my favorite podcasts right now are Fountains of Carrots (especially any episode about books or their latest one about G.K. Chesterton), and Read Aloud Revival. I also have been enjoying This Inspired Life and The Art of Simple. I download these and listen to them in the car, while I'm cooking, or while I'm sewing or whatever. Especially for days when I feel too scattered to sit down and read something, these stimulate my brain with minimal effort on my part. (And I'm always looking for new podcasts to listen to! What are your favorites?)


Read certain kinds of blogs.

Not all blogs serve the same purpose. I love reading classic "mom blogs" daily. The writers of those blogs make me laugh and make me feel so normal. I am grateful for blogs like that! But I've found that I also need to follow blogs that make book recommendations (like Modern Mrs. Darcy) or has weekly posts dedicated to linking to edifying articles (I really enjoy Like Mother, Like Daughter's "Bits and Pieces") Some blogs are good at teaching you something in a very accessible way (Jenny has a real gift for that) and some will just flat out being challenging to read (I don't actually follow Kathryn's blog, but I need to! I met her in person once and she is wonderful!). No matter how you go about it, find something that is just a little bit out of your comfort zone!


Have a Mom's Night Out - where you don't just talk about kids!

I've been to Mom's Nights where we just try not to talk about kids, but I've found a more organic way of doing this is just to spend the first hour or so talking about our families, and then watch as the conversation naturally shifts. I've been to Mom's Nights where we printed out and discussed some theological document - but that felt kind of forced. I've also been to Mom's Nights were we spent the first hour or so talking about our kids, then proceeded to talk about everything else - our faith, the state of the family in our culture, the state of schooling and our concerns as we research the best schooling options for our children, what we feel God is calling us to do in our lives, how to grow in a healthy marriage, etc. Those conversations weren't forced, but they were tremendously edifying for all of us. It's futile to try to avoid talking about your families. That's what matters the most to you, at your given state in life (as a mother to little ones!). It's better to continue the conversation long enough that it isn't limited to talk about poopy diapers and nap schedules. It's all about a balance!


Sit at a coffee shop, or in a bookstore, or library.

This is probably the easiest of my tips, but it works! Sneak out of the house one evening or on a Saturday morning, and go sit in a coffee shop, or at a bookstore, or in a library. Being surrounded by people doing research, reading books, having good conversation - it will direct you that way, as well. Starbucks is ridiculously expensive, but I sometimes find it worthwhile to dole out $4 for a coffee, because I know that the atmosphere relaxes me and helps me to think. 


Learn a new skill.

Okay, I'm totally going to put her on the spot here, but my dear friend Amy is the person I have in mind here. Not only is she a phenomenal mom (her home is basically little kid heaven) but she also taught herself a new skill when she became a stay-at-home mom. She taught herself how to seriously quilt, master modern quilting, and even went on to start a successful modern quilting blogdraft a whole host of patterns, and even write a quilting book. She found something she wanted to learn, fell in love with it, and continues to work on it. And it challenges her! Other friends became experts on alternative medicine options and healthy eating, and another friend is about to become certified as a Creighton Practitioner. There are so many different skills you can learn or master, and it's worth seeing if any are ones that may interest you.

This post, of course, is not meant to make you feel bad if you are too overwhelmed to attempt anything new or challenging right now. I do hope that it will help get your wheels turning if you are looking for a way to stay intellectually in shape, and show you that there is more than one way to accomplish that!

Have a wonderful weekend, friends! And stay tuned for book pre-order details, coming next week!!! If you're hoping to win a free copy, be sure to check out the giveaways going on over at "Carrots for Michaelmas" and "A Blog for My Mom."

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Grace to Be Grateful

Linking up with Like Mother, Like Daughter.

It's Infertility Awareness Week. Jenny is running a great series in honor of it. In a way, this week is a relief, because it reminds me that we aren't alone in our struggles with subfertility. In fact, I feel blessed when I realize things could be much, much more difficult.


The girls and I visited dear Amy and her adorable boys last week, and Amy was generous enough to do a photo shoot of the girls and me. But first! I don't think I've shared these beautiful little quilts with you! We used them in the photo shoot. The first one is Maria's and the second one is Therese's. I may need to go back and quilt Therese's more at some point, but she tends to like bulkier blankets, anyway. I just had to get it done, because her previous blanket was ripping! I love how Maria's quilting turned out! I'm working on a throw quilt for Andrew's office right now, and I'm hoping the quilting will be plentiful on that one, too. (If you love quilting, you must check out Amy's quilting blog as well as her newly released book!)

When we got married, I wasn't sure if we would be able to have children. My parents had battled infertility for many years before being blessed with my twin sister and me. Since these things are usually genetic, I figured that biological children wouldn't be a given for us. But I hoped and prayed we would be blessed with babies! Only six (seemingly long!) months into our marriage, we were blessed with Therese.

When Therese was about 6 months old, we were once again open to pregnancy (I mean, even when we're trying to postpone pregnancy, we're always open to life, but we were being more intentional about it). After a year and half - including a diagnosis of mild PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and medication to help treat that, we were blessed with our little Maria.

And now, again, we've been open to another pregnancy for a while. We are definitely hoping to have more children! Yet, again, it seems as if we may have a bit of a journey ahead of us.


Now, granted, having two little girls who are less than three years apart, and having been able to conceive in our first year of marriage...I don't know that I would call that infertility. I would definitely call it subfertility. Pregnancy just isn't a given for us, and even when we are blessed with a baby, hyperemesis gravidarum tends to make pregnancy a challenging time.

Sometimes, I feel guilty complaining about how hard it is for us to get pregnant. Let's be is much harder for others who suffer from total infertility! But, where we live, we are surrounded by plenty of Catholic friends who are exceedingly fertile. Since Maria has been born, I've witnessed a wave of pregnancy announcements and births, and I'm now seeing a second wave beginning. I am so glad for my friends, yet there is always this pang. I feel guilty, because coupled with my joy for my newly pregnant friend is a real sadness, a realization that yet another person is pregnant again, and we are still waiting.  I feel so guilty for feeling that pang, but it is there nonetheless. It is hard not knowing when or even if we'll be blessed with another pregnancy. And even if we are, I know that the odds are high that it will be difficult. (Hyperemesis gravidarum tends to repeat itself in future pregnancies.)

After Therese, I assumed that we would be able to get pregnant within six months to a year. When that didn't happen, it made me realize that subfertility would just be a part of our lives. Now, aware of that, I'm in less of a rush for Maria to move past babyhood. I'm soaking up every minute of it. Therese wasn't weaned until she was two, but that wasn't was just how things worked out. This time around, I'm in no hurry to wean Maria, because I know that weaning her isn't a guarantee of being able to conceive again (I was still nursing Therese when I became pregnant with Maria, so nursing doesn't seem to prevent that for me), but I also know that another future baby to breastfeed2 isn't a given. Maria will be weaned soon enough, but in the meantime, I'm soaking up this time we have together.


(I know I shouldn't love it when they're up to no good, but sometimes it just cracks me up!)

The first wave of pregnancy announcements post-Maria didn't hit me at all. She was still less than a year old, a baby. This second wave has hit me harder. I don't even know if our child spacing would bother me so much, if I weren't surrounded by so much...fertility!

I don't want to be that friend. I don't want to be the one that people avoid because I'm struggling to get pregnant. (Honestly, knowing what a cross hyperemesis gravidarum is, I'm still really nervous about future pregnancies, anyway.) If you're pregnant, tell me! I really do think it's awesome news!

What I'm afraid of is treading on the jealousy path. You know, the path where you forget to be grateful for the good you have and begin to wish others didn't have so much good in their lives? Guilty as charged.

Then, recently, in prayer, I felt as if God gave me a grace. The grace to be grateful.


I'm so grateful because, even if things aren't always timed the way I would like (and even though HG is a part of my experience of pregnancy) I do have these full arms. I have two incredibly beautiful, precious little girls. I'm only 28 years old, and already I have two children! That is a blessing.

And do you know what...they are each a blessing. Their personalities, what they contribute to our is priceless. I think of my own parents, who were only blessed with two girls, and I realize that they never complained about that. Instead, they were filled with this constant gratitude that God had blessed them with not one but two children! I think their example has helped me to have a better attitude.

Children, I've begun to realize, aren't something I can demand. They aren't a right. Just because my friends have many, doesn't mean that they are more worthy than I am. It just means that God has a different plan in mind for them. In the meantime, God has given me these two amazing daughters, and I don't want to get so lost in longing for more that I miss that.

Does that make the aching go away? I wish it did. It is normal and natural for a mother to desire babies. But it does help to put the aching in perspective. It's alright to ache for another child, but it's also alright for my heart to be soothed by the two that I do have.

I know that my experience may be different than someone suffering from total infertility, but I think that it's important to remember that subfertility is very real, and very painful, too. Too often, I think that people see Catholic couples with children spaced far apart and judge them for it, not knowing that that couple may be wanting many more babies than they've been able to have. Be sensitive in what you think and say!

(You may also like Amelia's post on having larger spaces between children. I can relate to so much of what she says, and I take comfort in knowing that even with her large spaces, she still has four children. There is hope for our family, yet!)

Stay tuned for pre-order information on Rosaries Aren't Just for Teething. Pre-order should hopefully be available by the end of the week!

Interested in winning a free e-book copy? Haley of Carrots for Michaelmas is currently giving away one! Go check it out!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Formatting for Time Off Purgatory

Linking up with Fine Linen and Purple.

Okay, this post's title is definitely a bit tongue-in-cheek, but seriously...who knew how much work went in to formatting a book?! I have so much more respect for my previous editors right now.

Andrew (who actually has professional proofreading experience) is pouring over the manuscript right now, to do a final check through. But it is so, so close to being available for pre-order! I'll let you know the second it is. Remember, you'll be able to purchase the book in either paperback or a Kindle edition, and it's scheduled for release on Mother's Day. So get excited! And add it to your wish list!

Fighting a cold after the craziness of last week's travels. Off to bed I go! I hope your Monday was a good one.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Baptism is Everything. And Happy Sunday!

When I gave birth to each of my girls, I remember falling instantly in love with them. I remember the first time I laid eyes on my oldest, after a long and challenging labor. She was so beautiful, so perfect, that it made every minute of suffering worth it. I expected that that would be the case, and although I was surprised by the intensity of my feelings, I wasn’t surprised that I felt as I did.
What did surprise me was the intensity of joy surrounding her baptism. I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming joy and humility I would feel...

Saturday, April 18, 2015

I Survived the Drive

Linking up to Like Mother, Like Daughter. And, what the heck, might as well link up with Kelly, too!


I just got back from a semi-epic trip, traveling solo with the girls. We went to visit some dear friends in Indianapolis, and then were able to drive up to Michigan to celebrate my dad's birthday with him! All was fun, and given their ages and states of tiredness, the girls did alright. Well, Therese did very well (as usual) and Maria didn't scream the whole time. The drive from Michigan this morning was rough, but the time with my family was totally worth it! I love being able to see them. :-)


Oh, and on a creepy and random note, we stopped at a rest stop in Illinois and were going to stretch our legs and play at the playground. After a quick trip to the restroom, we started walking over to the playground (in a row) when I suddenly saw...a snake. Like, a BIG snake, in the grass. I quickly scooped up both girls and rushed them back to the car. Then, we Skyped Andrew and all four of us witnessed the rest stop workers come at the snake, spray cleaning supplies on it, beat it, and hack it with their shovels. It was intense.


I asked the workers if they knew what kind of snake it was, but they didn't know. After looking up some pictures and geographic ranges of snakes in Illinois, I'm guessing it was either a southern black racereastern hog-nose snake (see the North Carolina example), or, if I really want to freak myself out, a cottonmouth snake, which is also known as a water moccasin. Thankfully, I don't think there was any water nearby, but that gives you an idea of how big this guy was. I'm guessing around 40 inches, at least!


On a {pretty} note...

It was really warm in Michigan, but Lake Michigan was still incredibly cold. Despite the fact that my feet were going numb within a minute or so, this girl just wanted to keep walking in deeper. I'm glad she's inherited my love for the Great Lakes, but I'll be more glad when the water temperature is a bit higher. ;-)


Having his granddaughters there made for an incredible {happy} birthday for Dzia-dzia (pronounced "Ja-ja").


Therese is obsessed with my sister. Like, really, really obsessed. Despite the fact that she is waaaay too big for the Ergo baby carrier, she insisted that Auntie carry her on her back. Then, just before we got to the beach, Therese started crying because her legs hurt (presumably because her circulation was being cut off).


It is a {real} blessing to have been able to celebrate another birthday with my dad. When he and I were walking together yesterday, he reminded me that the end of this month marks the 18 year anniversary of when he had two heart attacks and we almost lost him. I am so, so grateful for the gift of his life, and so grateful to be able to share him with my daughters. I love you so much, Dad!

Thank you for the amazing response to the book announcement! I am so, so excited about this book, and I can't wait for you all to read it. I'll keep you updated on when it's available for pre-order. It'll be in plenty of time before Mother's Day (the release date!!!). It's been fun to see some of the contributors promoting it on their blogs! Check out Haley's announcement, as well as Christy's, and Jenna's. There will be more to come!! 

Now pardon me while I go finish up some formatting so the pre-order party can begin!!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

HUGE Announcement!

So, I've been hinting for months and itching to tell you, and now I finally can...I'm coming out with a new book!!!

But the best news is that I'm not the only author!

This book features reflections from a whole host of your favorite Catholic women bloggers, including:

Cari of Clan Donaldson
Christy of Fountains of Home
Jenna of Call Her Happy
Dwija of House Unseen
Caitlyn of Harvesting Home
Mary Helen of A Helping of Home

And that isn't even everyone!

The book will be available for release on Mother's Day, May 10th! So get excited! I'll share the pre-order information with you when everything's in place (in case you need to pass on a hint to people looking to buy you a Mother's Day gift). The book will be available in e-book and print form, too!

I'm so excited, you all! The reflections in this book are fantastic, and the contributors have been an absolute joy to work with. Look for more details in the coming weeks and months!

Aaaand kind of late to the game, but here's what the ladies of the family wore to Mass this past Sunday. The weather has been so spring-y down here!!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Will You Let Me Be Real Random?

Bonus points if you knew to sing the post title in your head to the tune of "Will You Let Me Be Your Servant." Triple bonus points if you go over and visit Kelly for more randomness.


I'm writing this on Thursday night, and we're under a tornado watch, and I am the biggest wimp when it comes to severe weather. My friends down here are used to the occasional tornado siren. When it snows more than two inches I mock them for freaking out. When the tornado sirens start going off, they're nice enough not to mock me for freaking out. Why do I live in the Midwest, again? I saw Bonnie's Instagram update earlier and it definitely freaked me out. 


So, on the upside, the weather was gorgeous today - sunny and 80 degrees. The girls and I were able to bike to the seminary for Mass and lunch with Andrew. Lovely. I even snuck in a little Insta action as I was loading them up.

They were thrilled.


Having grown up in the Chicago/NW Indiana/SW Michigan area, and now living several hours south, I'm still adjusting to having such warm temperatures this early in the season. I was taking a picture of my hair for the following take, and in the process, discovered that I had a sunburn. I have a sunburn? In April??? My Hoosier raised skin is in shock.


So, I'm in the process of trying to grow out my hair but I am soooo bad at going for regular trims. Evidently, you're supposed to get a haircut more than once or twice a year?? Anyway, I have a curly hair product line that I'm using and liking (I think it's finally bringing out the curl that I lost during my pregnancy with Maria) but the humidity down here is ridiculous and my hair gets soooo frizzy. Does anyone use an awesome (and not super expensive) product to de-frizz? I've tried so many things, but haven't found one that lasts all day.


Homeschooling Therese is a lesson in humility. Do you longtime readers remember when I was all, "Montessori or bust!" I even started my own my own Montessori co-op. But no matter how many practical life or sensorial works I churned out...Therese couldn't care less. You guys...she's a super traditional learner. She loves books and - get this - she loves workbooks. I had to run to the dollar store to pick up diaper bags (because our diaper garbage is in our room and if we don't bag them my nose dies a thousand deaths every day) and I had to browse their school supplies. They had some awesome workbooks, so I thought I'd just grab a few. She finished almost half of math readiness one in less than an hour this afternoon, and I finally just had to cut her off from doing worksheets because it was nap time. I think I've discovered her learning style.

- 6-

Bless her heart, but Maria's learning style is to search and destroy. (Just kidding...she actually is obsessed with books, too. But her secondary learning style is search and destroy.) It is so interesting, though, to see how different her personality is from Therese. Therese was a late walker (probably because she was needing extra support, too, we just didn't know it at the time) but she was super cautious. Maria is part cautious, but a lot stubborn when it comes to walking. She doesn't want to do anything she's forced to do...unless Therese asks her to do something. She'd follow Therese to the moon and back.


Sisters are the best. I should know...because my sister is the very best one of all. Biased much?

But seriously...I talked to her earlier this week, and it never ceases to amaze me how we can always pick up right where we left off. It's been fun to grow into womanhood together. I hope my daughters can experience the same kind of friendship. :-)

Have a lovely Friday, everyone!

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