When There is No Money Tree: Stewardship in a Large Family

piggy bank (1).jpg

Several years ago, my daughter and I stood out in the rain looking out across the yard. I wasn't facing her but I could feel her strong presence and her eyes looking down on me, waiting to find out why I had brought her there. She has been taller than I since she was ten. She's now a teenager. She took off her socks so they wouldn't get wet and waited for me to speak. I hesitated to explain, hating the way I had to disappoint her. I didn't know the right way to say it, so I just said what I knew..

We can't afford it. We don't have the money. I'm sorry. You can't play this season.

She stood as still and quiet as a statue. A beautiful statue. The only movement I saw was the slight flicker of pain in her eyes and a tear that gathered there, not quite ready to fall. I kept talking but mostly just to fill the space and to try to somehow comfort her. In the back of my mind, a memory was playing of a conversation I had just had with another mom at the gym. We were talking about the expenses that seemed bigger than our husband's paychecks. The woman said:

Oh, I know what you mean. It's so much money. But it means so much to her that we just find the money somehow.

I wanted to ask her what she meant. I have heard that phrase many times over the years and I really don't know what it means. How does a family just find money? Do they find it under a mattress? On a money tree? Rob a bank? From generous family members? Do they take on more debt? Or find it in their healthy retirement account or their kids' college funds?

How do I explain to my talented daughter that we looked and looked and we cannot find that money... but somehow, everyone else can?

This is one of those moments in parenthood when a husband wonders why he can't provide certain things for his family... even though he provides everything essential. And when a wife wonders if it's time to get a job, even though her hands work so hard at home. It is a moment when all priorities are hastily thrown into a huge pile and carefully and painfully put back into order.

The temptation is to redesign the order. To bump things up that should stay down and to demote those priorities which seem to be holding us back... but are actually the glue that holds us together.

The girls had already been practicing and scrimmaging together. The coach had already given her an integral place on the team. They already cared about her and they'd made t-shirts together. They had prayed together and picked prayer partners. Then they told us about the added tournaments. And...

... we can't find the money.

We live in a middle class culture that doesn't understand those words. We pick up debt like we pick up a dirty sock off of our living room floor. We throw it in the laundry basket hoping it all turns out okay in the wash. Easy. Until we find that debt is not like dirty socks but more like a cancer that denies what is life-giving and steals from the future. In my family, we fight debt like cancer. And when we have it, we work diligently to repay those to whom we are indebted.

So we stood in the rain and cried in each other's arms, knowing that sport is not the center of life... but hurting like crazy all the same. If guided by my emotions, I would give her everything. Thank God for the safety net of Biblical wisdom and long-sighted husbands. She wouldn't be the strong and grace-filled girl she is today if I had my way.

My confident and strong girl. With the beautiful nurturing heart. Who longs to give support and grace to souls. My mini-me who has already surpassed her mama in so many ways. The girl who is constantly inspiring me to be better than I think I can be.

She told me that she understood and that it was okay. And then she stayed up late writing me a love note and attached a picture of her smiling face. She was letting me know she was okay. I opened it in the morning and cried in gratitude.

I couldn't help but think about the popular women’s conferences I had longed to attend but could not. And the retreat that I would pass up and opportunities that I let fall by the wayside. The truth is that I crunched the numbers to see if it was possible for me to do these things even while knowing that it wasn't. I thought maybe I could find it somewhere. And like my daughter, I wondered how it is that all these other people can find it precisely when they want it.

We are not destitute. We have all of our needs met and much more besides. I often feel like a princess in my nice home looking out on wooded acreage. It was always my dream. My husband is a good provider and has kept us above water and one of the ways he has done that is by saying no to what we can't actually pay for. Because of that, it sometimes seems that we have less. We never went on a honeymoon. We rarely vacation. A good portion of our clothes are secondhand. We have never owned a brand new vehicle. We waited for years to put some carpeting in our concrete-floored family room. We went without a shower for months while we saved to pay for a bathroom reno. First world problems. Our hope is that in the end, we will find that we have made the right investments... and that the reward will have multiplied.

Stewardship seems pretty straight forward... but it is a hard, hard lesson learned in the rain and through the tears.

The one and only thing that should ever be at the top of our priority list is to do God's will. Perhaps it is is His will that my daughter have the experience of high school sports on a Christ-centered team. But if it truly is God's will, I know that He is big enough to provide the means for us to do it. Since He has not, I think the answer is pretty clear.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

1410933260676.jpeg

How to Heal Broken Motherhood and Change the World

Six women walk together along the road, silent in their thoughts. Each one is lonely, suffering, and yet comforted by the presence of the others. They are sisters - although they come from different homes - and they hold hands as they walk. Occasionally, a tear slips down a lowered cheek and a grip tightens in encouragement. Beautiful sisters. When one stumbles, the others keep her strong and straight. They support her until her heart can bear its own weight.

Unique. Loving. Suffering. Lonely in their own ways but united in the gift of their femininity and the call of motherhood; physical and spiritual. They are pouring themselves out to nurture the world and to  bring humanity closer to the heart of Christ, like Blessed Mother, one heroic step at a time...

The first woman is infertile. The harshness of that word grates at her soul and her arms ache to hold a life that springs forth from her womb. It is a longing that cannot be satisfied even as she lives life fully, using her unburdened arms to serve the needs of the world; an ache that persists even during happy times. The world is impatient and insensitive. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. I am a woman seeking my motherhood. Sweet Jesus, where are my children?

The second woman is fertile and has born children. She is confused by the paradox of joy and suffering in her motherhood. She loves her babies and yet stumbles under the weight of the beloved little ones. The world does not see the pain of her failures and weariness. It sneers at her messy life and mocks the mystery of spousal love. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. I am ill-equipped, Lord. How can I go on?

The third woman is a spiritual mother, a consecrated religious. She has given her motherhood and spousal love to God and has countless spiritual children. He is her beloved and she gladly offers her life for him, but the heart sometimes yearns for the loving touches of flesh. The world does not understand such sacrifice and strikes at the wound. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. You are enough, Lord... why do I still yearn?

The fourth woman has embraced the children of others. Adopted them to be her own. She knows both the longing for love and the heaviness of sacred treasure in her arms; a heart mama who gives her body to sacrificial love. The world sees a romance while she builds a kingdom with her blood, sweat, and tears. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. My own. Not my own. Father, how can I replace what they have lost?

The fifth woman has lost her children. Her womb was full but now is empty and she breathes through the aching like a woman perpetually in labor... and the world expects her to silence her cries of agony. She serves others heroically and gladly even while the loneliness pierces her heart. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. Why are my arms empty, Lord?

The sixth woman has lost her child to abortion. She regrets giving over her motherhood to the hands of liars and grieves deeper than eyes can see. She has children at home but is missing one. The pain is staggering and silent but it is not her desire to forget her own... and so she embraces it, loves passionately, and stumbles on. The world rejects her grief. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. Dear Lord, when will my soul be at rest?

If the women walk alone, they risk sinking into their pain and losing sight of joy and eternal things and the dignity of their nature. God beckons and loves and blesses... but the heart has a tendency to turn in on itself. The eyes are easily blinded by pain. A woman so easily crumples to the ground and despairs. But if she is walking side by side with her sisters? Her path is different but parallel… and she will not be left behind.

We are sisters. We belong together. If I cannot see your cross, I trust that it is still there... or that it is coming to you someday. Our Lord does not withhold the cross from any of His beloved because he wishes us to share in His Easter. Do not despair, my friends. You are not alone. And your Easter is coming.

Do not be deceived by the hollow call to be Superwoman - it is a worldly lie designed to tear you down - but be refreshed in your title of Beloved.

You are called to love with everything you have. Get up and walk. Again and again. That is all He asks. It is the path to your healing and the beginning of freedom. He is Grace. He is Mercy. He will not let us fall farther than His grasp. He treasures the gift of our womanhood and made us to thrive. We are beautiful and gifted, not because we have struggled for it, because He has willed it. Just open the door, let Him in, and trust that His dream for your life is perfect.

Your motherhood is not about what you have missed, lost, or broken... it is about the pouring out of your love; pouring out what is beautiful and nourishing to a parched and lonely world. Pour it out, ladies…

Pour it out!

 That is the gift of our femininity. And that is how we can be healed of our own brokenness and ultimately, change the world.


Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

Printable Summer Reading Log for Kids and Adults

summer reading log3.png

Summer is a short but healing time in the Northeast and a little bit of planning can help maximize the impact. Combine the cathartic effect of reading a good book with the power of the sunshine, nutritious foods, and good rest… and we’ve got the potential for a powerfully restorative season.

The school year is just wrapping up here for my kids and a couple of the more ambitious among them have started making their Summer book reading lists. My high school aged daughter is particularly excited to have more time to dive into all of the books that she’s wanted to read but which have been squeezed about by the Ancient Greeks and Biology texts.

Since one of the books she wants to read is a book that I am scheduled to review, I asked if she would like to write a short review of her own that I can include in my write-up. She enthusiastically agreed and decided it would be fun to write a brief review (for personal use) for each of the books she reads.

I headed to the computer to put together a reading log that she can use as a cover page and that her siblings can also use. Then I added three more designs just for fun (and so that the boys would have non-floral options). Then I thought…

I bet some of my readers would enjoy using these as well! Please feel free to print off as many as you like for free and share this post with others looking for simple solutions to the fleeting and fruitful days of Summer.

Summer reading log2.png

Fill them in, color them, doodle on them… however they fit your life… do that! I will be printing one off for myself as well and putting it in my planner. I read less often than I used to and need some accountability.

I’ve included my 14-year old’s Summer book list at the bottom of this post. Some of them are her requests and some are my recommendations. She does not need additional motivation to read but I know that some kids do… and having a record of accomplishment and effort can definitely help the reluctant.

Summer reading log.png
...

Tentative Summer Reading List for my 14-year old daughter:

I’ll preface this list by saying that this kid reads voraciously and has read a large portion of our library and beyond. So this list has been curated to both challenge and entertain, with the goal of increasing knowledge, goodness, and comprehension.

She’s starting with 9 (in any order she chooses) and if she does more, will start another record sheet!

How to Throw a Lord of the Rings Party on a Budget

{This post contains affiliate links. More info Here.} 

My idea of a really good party is curling up in front of a roaring fire with a good book and an empty house. So when I tell you that I hosted a theme party for my kid, complete with costumes and *gasp* guests, you will have a full appreciation for what it took to get me there mentally. The last theme party I threw was 3 years ago at someone else's house (which is a good deal easier).

Never mind that I postponed this one about 6 times and celebrated 6 months after his actually birthday... we got there. And I think my fellow Lord of the Rings geeks are going to like it. I know that most people’s LOTR these days are based on the movies but ours is based on the literature. A brief note about we we love Lord of the Rings specifically (and exceedingly) is at the end of this post.

(Note: This party was originally hosted in 2014 and I haven’t hosted another theme party since… so I’m feeling guilted by my own blog into hosting a Narnia party in 2019… stay tuned!)

COSTUMES

I'm going to take you through our cast of characters first. The kids did a great job putting these together on a tight budget. And I got away with very minimal sewing...

EOWYN

image.png

I had great plans for making this costume from scratch but relieved and delighted when we came across a $5 costume at a garage sale. It was a medium women's gown but I did some heavy last minute costume editing and we made it work. The head piece came with the dress. We washed, parted, and braided Button's hair the night before to get the waves. 


ARWEN

image.png
image.png

I picked up a gorgeous silver embroidered formal gown for $7 at a resale shop many months ago with this party in mind. It was perfect for Cookie and the embroidery was remarkably similar to the Evenstar necklace which I found on Amazon. The cape was a cream colored crushed velvet. No sewing involved. We just tied the ends of a large rectangle (in a last minute attempt at a little more modesty) and it perfectly completed the outfit.


GALADRIEL

image.png

Again, I had wonderful plans for a fully handcrafted gown but was saved by a last minute discovery. A few years ago, I picked up a $3 First Communion gown at a going-out-of-business sale and in a desperate closet search for something (anything!) that would prevent me from having to sew all night, I found it. I added a glittery blue sash and a silver cape and topped it off with a handmade crown.


GALADRIEL'S CROWN

I'm rather pleased with the way the crown turned out. I used a soft and thick florist wire (found at Joann Fabrics) to fashion it since it is so flexible and forgiving. I started by measuring her head and making one loop of the wire to fit. Then I added a second, making the twists and turns I wanted as I went. (Yes, this was hastily done.) We found a beautiful glass bead and affixed it with jewelry wire and then I took a hammer and lightly tapped the front wire to flatten it and secure it. Doing this too hard will break your wire so take care if you try it yourself. The back of the crown is secured by curving and hooking the ends. Nothing fancy.

LOTR crown.jpg
image.png

We fixed her hair by washing, parting and braiding (many little tiny braids) her hair the night before. We simply brushed it out shortly before the party.


FRODO AND ARAGORN

image.png

Here is the birthday boy (Crash aka Aragorn) and his little brother. I love this picture. Cub actually looks like a little hobbit under Aragorn's protective presence. 


ARAGORN

image.png

Crash found most of his outfit the morning of the party (we know how to make things exciting) at the local thrift shop...

  • Pants and shirt: Thrifted.

  • Boots: Hand-me-downs from a relative. 

  • Cape: Made by me from a heavy grey stretch knit. 

  • Sword: He purchased this Medieval Broadsword with his own snow shoveling money. It was smaller than he thought it would be but other wise has been very pleased with it.

  • Elf Stone: Crash crafted this (to be worn either around the neck or on the forehead) from costume jewelry and a decorative glass stone (both found around the house). 

  • Leaf Brooch: Amazon for a couple bucks. I have looked since and the price has doubled but you know Amazon... up and down. It was pretty cheaply made but perfect for the job.

  • Staff: Made by Crash

Aragorn costume.jpg

FRODO

image.png
  • Full outfit: This Frodo costume was the only costume that we flat out purchased. I had Amazon credits from the blog (thank you to all who purchased through my links!) and it worked out. Not super duper high quality but complete and perfect for the purpose. Adorable, in fact.

  • Dagger: In addition to the costume, Cub had his dagger (Sting) which was purchased for him as a gift from Alejandro's shop the year before.

  • Pipe: Handcrafted by Crash 


ELANOR

image.png

Okay, so this was a bit of a cheat. We just stuck a pretty dress on the baby and called her Baby Elanor. Here she is being given a balloon by Rosie Cotton.

image.png
IMG_2294.2014-07-26_211251.JPG

Group shot of all who attended in costume. I've already identified most of mine but see if you can find cousins Goldberry (can you believe she made the dress herself!!) and Samwise. The guy in the suit is mine but he decided that putting together a Gandalf costume was a bit over his budget so he was our self-appointed sommelier...



On to the party details, the first of which is a major cake fail which worked out in the end...

This is Mount Doom. 

image.png

I was running low on time and originally trashed the idea of a theme cake. I'll be glad if I can crank out any cake at all is what I was really thinking. So I picked up three boxes of gluten free brownie mix and planned a layered brownie cake, not recalling that gluten free brownies do not hold together well. So I made three layers in a round spring form and they all fell completely apart. So I transformed the mess into Mount Doom. Added some color by adding food dye to powdered sugar glaze and drizzling along with chocolate like flowing lava. Then I added three tall red candles found in a drawer and some sparklers... and end up with something close to success.

Don't let the small size fool you. That baby was rock solid brownie. (Thank you, Hannah, for lending your carving skills!) And delicious. Here is the “before picture just to keep things real. This is often what my party prep looks like and am happy to say that I’m a relatively adaptable person.

mount doom cake.jpg

EYE OF SAURON

image.png

It is so fun when we get to smash the bad guy. And really, the only pinata I know how to make is a balloon shaped one... so the Eye of Sauron it was! 

image.png

Directions: 

Blow up a large balloon, apply newspaper and glue mixture according to internet directions, apply paint until it sort of resembles the look you're going for. I’m being intentionally vague because I found the process a little tricky and mine started to shrivel… and I don’t really know how to do a better job. So I leave you to the internet!

When you’re done, stuff them with…

Gollum’s Goodies:

The pinata was filled with treats I was very proud of but that were inhaled before I could take a picture. I printed out labels that said: “GOLLUM'S GOODIES” and stuck them on individual bags filled with gummy worms and swedish fish. They were adorable but the kids were only concerned with the candy, not the crafty awesomeness. Someday, they will have their own Pinterest accounts and they will understand the offense given.


INVITATIONS

The invites were nothing complicated. Just some inexpensive parchment colored paper with a black and white map (found on the internet) printed on one side and the party details on the other. We used a free LOTR font found on the internet. Of course, the edges had to be singed because boys always need a reason to play with matches…

LOTR invite.jpg
LOTR map.jpg

The text read:

You are hereby requested to join

INSERT NAME
a.k.a Aragorn

and the Fellowship of the Ring
on a noble quest to celebrate
his 12th birthday

Insert Date
Insert Time
at the shire
Insert Location
middle earth

second breakfast will be served
(middle earth attire is welcome but not required)

Please RSVP…
etc. etc. etc.


PARTY GIFTS AND FAVORS

image.png
image.png

As any LOTR fan knows, Hobbits give gifts on their birthdays. Aragorn is a clear fan of Hobbits and so we went to town putting some special things together for his guests.

Everyone received a handcrafted gift labeled in Elvish. (Instructions for writing and reading HERE) Once they decoded their name, they were able to have their gift...

*Handcarved daggers, staffs, and pipes.

These were all made by Crash. It took him many blisters and weeks to work through them, but it was worth it. The sheaths were made out of duct tape and cardboard and have a loop to be worn on a belt. I’m sorry that I didn’t get a photo of the knives out of their sheaths but hope to unearth a pic and add it soon.

Hobbit birthday gifts.jpg

*Handmade fairy dolls
I love making these little dolls and we whipped up some woodland lovelies for the girl guests.

Fairy doll.jpg

*Handcrafted flower jewelry
My daughter made glass pendants using real pressed flowers and these were given to the ladies.

*Favor Boxes contained: 

A ring pop and homemade green "glass" candy (supposed to remind people of the Elfstone)
The boxes were from the Martha Stewart wedding collection. Pricey from the store but I found them brand new in the package for a song at a thrift shop.

image.png

LEMBAS

image.png

I had great plans for the lembas. I was going to come up with a great GF recipe and cut leaf shapes out of fabric. But time just flew by and rice krispy treats and green napkins ended up working out just fine.


DECORATIONS

image.png
image.png

My original plans included decorating various areas to look like different LOTR locations. I wanted a Lothlorien and Shelob's Lair and a Prancing Pony. We simplified out of necessity. This Prancing Pony sign was a must though and I hung it in the kitchen area.

To make the sign I used foam core poster board as the base. I sketched a pony on a separate piece of regular poster board. I googled images and chose my favorite one and eyeballed it. Then I cut out the pony and glued it to the foam core. (That effort was largely to avoid messing up the more expensive foam core but it ended up "popping" in a cool way.) After that, I got out all my paints and used what I had to make it decent. I had no brown and ended up using gold and black for the wood. You can't really tell from the picture but I thought the shimmery effect was nice. 

Prancing Pony.jpg

GAMES

We borrowed white lights and hung them in a couple places. And then we created a party room where we set up a "speech table." The picture is so-so because I don't have a flash but it gives the general idea...


image.png

The Party Speech game

This is a Hobbit-ish version of the classic Toastmasters 60-second speech exercise. Rules:

1. Everyone writes down a word on a small piece of paper. Any word at all.

2. All words are folded up and placed in a jar.

3. Participants choose a word randomly from the jar. Words written down included words like “grapes” and “philosophy.”

4. The speaker must then give a 60-second speech. The speech must include the word on the paper plus a reference to the birthday or the birthday boy.

I wish we would have recorded some of them. 

Elvish Name Game

I already mentioned this but we had people translate their names from elvish to identify their gifts (pictured in the guest gift pics above). If we had more time, we would have had people try their hand at writing.


GIFTS RECEIVED

I had to stick this in here because Crash really did receive some fun and creative gifts which I highly recommend for 12-year old boys:

Lord of the Rings Risk

Lord of the Rings Pez 

Wood burning kit

Wood carving Kit

Protective Kevlar Gloves (Yes. Get these. You can avoid a trip to the ER and nauseous mother. I speak from experience)

Whittling Book

Tac Force Folding Knife


WHY WE LOVE LORD OF THE RINGS

We love the fantasy world of Tolkien but we also make sure that the kids are aware of the deeper thees of the books and the Catholic ideas woven tightly throughout. Fantasy for its own sake can be problematic for a young mind (that is a much larger discussion)… but if it has a deeper Christ-oriented to which to point, fantasy can be an excellent source of delight and good formation throughout life.

Lord of the Rings falls into this category in our household and we do our best to make sure that it is read in a proper context. For the older children (or as soon as they are able), we encourage the lectures and writings of Joseph Pearce who brilliantly expounds on these ideas. There are also a few other works that we recommend and enjoy.


Originally published in August 2014

Fitness Meets Faith in a Catholic Alternative to Yoga {SoulCore Review}

1453944340784.jpeg

There is so much in life that draws us away from our primary purpose. When I find a resource in any category that draws me straight to mine, I cling to it. As a Catholic, that primary purpose is always Jesus Christ... and if a thing doesn't draw me closer to Him, it probably doesn't belong in my life. 

This is where the meeting of the secular and the sacred often causes confusion... because it isn't always clear cut. Excellent homeschooling materials (for example) don't always have to explicitly mention the name of Our Lord in order to help a person develop in His service. But boy, when you stumble upon a really excellent and thoroughly Catholic resource... it's a lot like winning the lottery.

I have always been committed to fitness in my life (body, mind, soul) and yet the last few years have demanded that I focus intensely on what it is that I need to do to be well. Healing from chronic illness and immune dysfunction can be a long road and I’ve chosen to share much of the journey publicly.

I want to introduce you to a challenging and beautiful Catholic fitness series called SoulCore. It's not yoga but it uses some of the same principles of movement that people find so effective... "a combination of core-strengthening exercises and isometric exercises, stretching and overall strengthening of the entire body." The biggest difference is...

Jesus Christ. 

Overt, joyful, focused, prayerful, physical and mental movement toward the Savior of the World.  The SoulCore project is consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. That's really the core of who we are. Beautiful. 

The exercises are set to a full rosary so it's a really fruitful way to spend time when you have little to spare. It is a full workout and a full slow rosary. But there are additional benefits to that method: 

1. The prayers are the counting method. You move and pray. As a Catholic, I know the Hail Mary so well that it's like breathing. In this workout, I find myself easily entering into that prayer... sometimes less focused if I'm struggling with an exercise (but I know the prayer well enough to keep it on my lips) and sometimes more focused as my body and soul are both oriented toward work and heaven. Ora et labora indeed.

2. This is not just work and prayer but work as prayer. Our bodies are designed to serve the Lord. And the real gift with taking care of them with right purpose is that the care becomes a service to Him as well. It is not just a way to strengthen us for vocation but is actually a part of our vocation. SoulCore draws the mind to this reality directly.

As I said before, the exercises can be challenging even for those who are accustomed to working out. But they are also easy to adapt; lighter weights (or no weights), fewer reps, knee push ups. When I’m pregnant, my belly forces me to make some of those modifications, but the workout is still wholly accessible to me. 

So is this just “Catholic Yoga” with all the elements of yoga just wearing a Catholic label? I don’t think so. There are many similar movements to yoga but frankly, there are only so many ways that the body moves! The way the creators combine the movements, organize them, and combine them with the Rosary creates a unique workout that is wholly Christ-centered and sufficiently disrupts yoga connections and sequencing. I also recognize elements of many common fitness movements (like pilates) which have no connection to yoga.

Multiple formats for the workouts are currently available. There are DVD’s for sale as well as digital downloads. And then there’s a wonderful Online Studio which gives subscribers access to a library of workouts at the touch of a button. These include prenatal workouts, chair workouts, and many workouts related to the Mysteries of the Rosary. The website is full of inspirational material, accessories, local class info, and the inspiring story of the mission of the founders.

For those interested in learning more about why I no longer practice yoga, here is a brief overview of my experience and my Catholic Perspective:

Weaning with gentleness

weaning-2.jpg

This post is from 2013 as I was weaning my 7th child, and find that every bit of it still rings true...


I have begun the weaning process with Cub and it's shaping up to be a different sort of thing than I've experienced before. With my first kids I was brutal...

You're done. Deal with it, kid.

But a large part of that approach was motivated by cultural pressure and a faulty idea that there exists an objectively perfect and correct time to wean. I was afraid of going past that point because I was afraid, frankly, of being wrong. After a few more children, I've become a little more humble, flexible, and gentle with each child and I've found that parental sweet spot that brings child and mama optimal peace. 

I prefer to stop at two years (or pregnancy) but I think gentle weaning is kinder to the child who so naturally loves and trusts and clings to his mother. It tends to take a little longer but it seems more natural to my motherhood, which is inclined toward relationship and not calendar watching.

Cub is still one but his second birthday is closing in on us and the poor child has no clue that he will be forced to wean in the near future. It simply has never crossed his mind that this particular source of nourishment and comfort will someday come to an end. We've talked a little about it but he mostly just ignores me and keeps nursing. Telling a child that you are going to take away something he loves does not cause him to relinquish it, but only makes him cling to it more tightly. The conversation goes something like this:

You know, Cub, big kids don't nurse. (I then rattle off the names of all the other people in the house who do not breastfeed.)

Cub nods at me while he continues to nurse.

Your brothers and sisters are big boys and girls. And you are getting to be a big boy, too.

More nodding.

That means that you will be just like them soon... and you will stop nursing.

The little head is still and silent for about 60 seconds as it absorbs this thought. He finally lifts his eyes to mine for a moment and, to my everlasting astonishment, announces...

I'm a baby.

1436227356212.jpeg

Which brings me to another point. Which is that it is more complicated in some ways to nurse an older child who is verbally advanced. While younger children are still pointing and squeaking to get what they want, this child says very clearly:

Mommy, I want to eat. Can I please eat? Get the monkey blanket, Mommy. Can I nurse? Please? Sit down, Mommy. Let's go.

It is at those times that I look at my husband and say: It's time to wean. Today.

Even at this young age, my little guy can verbally communicate almost anything he wants to and when his precious heart pours forth into words, I am rendered largely helpless...

I want to nurse, Mommy.

Not now, Cub.

Yes, Mommy.

No, dear. Wait until later.

I'm cryin', Mommy.

Yes, I see that. Would you like some scrambled eggs?

No. I want a hoc gog.

No hot dog. How about some eggs?

Okay, Mommy. And water? Can I have water?

Yes.

Can I nurse, Mommy?

No. Not right now.

Yes, Mommy. I want to nurse.

You may nurse later.

I'm a big boy?

You're a big boy.

Can I have a hoc gog?

Yes.

Toddler Genius. There are smoke and mirrors and confusion and then all of a sudden, mother is sitting down and eating the hot dog that she said that she wouldn't make for her child... while he snuggles happily in her arms and nurses when she told him he couldn't.

When Cub was born, I made a resolution that I would not let the days slip away carelessly. I know how many times I let "busy" steal my attention from the babies. I was there, but not there, know what I mean? So I decided that I would cherish the moments and breathe this baby in. And I have done it. And the time still flies by distressingly fast. Now that I have come to this point of weaning again, I notice something different about myself: I simply don't care what anyone else thinks.

I can see that the relationship is good and that breastfeeding is healthy and rightly ordered. There is a time for weaning but it always does seem to break a child's heart. All six times I have done it have been sad and confusing for them. They simply don't understand. Although it isn’t my intention to nurse a child for several years, I do understand why some moms do. Because they know the relationship is pure and good... and they don't wish to make the child cry. But there is a way to wean without completely breaking little hearts...

Slowly. Considerately. Affectionately. And when the day does come and the child cries from the loss, it's okay to cry with them. Because this most precious, innocent, and safe moment has passed... and the harshness of the world is one step closer.

A few minutes ago while writing this post, I heard a tiny, sleepy voice calling me from upstairs.

Mommy!

I heard it through the baby monitor and started to hustle upstairs. When I reached the middle of the staircase, I began to say what I always say:

I'm here. I'm coming. I can hear you.

But before the words left my mouth, I heard...

Mommy...You are here? You are coming? 

He was sitting up and waiting for me and held his arms out to me as I approached.

Yes, I am here.

Can I eat? Can I nurse?

I hesitated as I recalled the words I had just been writing. I thought that perhaps tonight should be the night to tell him no. And then I thought that it was not a good night for us to cry. Not yet.

Yes, you may nurse. Just a little while.

Just a little? 

Yes. and then you need to go to sleep like a big boy.

Okay, Mommy. Okay.

And I wrapped him in my arms until he slept.

It occurs to me now that this ability to converse with a weaning child is a precious gift, a great opportunity to communicate hearts and minds. Weaning will be a loss in some ways and we can talk about it together. And it will be a celebration in other ways and I will tell him how proud I am that he is so big and brave. Eventually, he will rest his little head on my shoulder and sigh with big sad eyes... but he will not ask the question anymore.

It is a stupid and callous culture that mocks the nursing relationship and tarnishes the purity of the bond between mother and child. I know that now and simply refuse to consider it's opinion about when I should wean my children.

JUST to clarify... this post is not about you. It's about me and my little guy. I promise I don't mind if you nurse or not or for how long you do it. And I trust that you love your little people and know how to take care of them. :)

2015 UPDATE: As I said at the beginning, I am now in the process of weaning another child; my youngest, who will be 2 in just a couple of weeks. We are having conversations and our hearts are breaking just a little. Last night, she cried and turned her big, sad, damp eyes to her daddy. What's wrong, little one? he asked. Mommy not nurse me. 

He held her tight and she put his forehead between her hands and kissed him with a big sloppy kiss. Then she scooted over to me, rested her head on my shoulder... and slept. By that time, her tears had dried. But mine flowed freely.

2018 UPDATE: My youngest is approaching his third birthday and we still have not yet weaned. I realize how much my previous decisions have been impacted by a culture that sexualizes everything having to do with the human body and shames what is right ordered. I will wean him when it is time. It is almost time. But not yet.

The Hard Truth About Raising Catholic Teens

Hard Truth Teens.jpg

Everyone tells you not to blink... because your kids grow up that fast. What people fail to point out (because they are probably just being polite) is that while our kids are applying for college (about 5 minutes after you changed their last diaper), you are getting OLD. I ought to know. I've leveled up this year to being a mom of two adult children and with two high schoolers hot on their heels - and I'm noticing for first time that I'm moving into grandma territory with alarming speed.

The point of this post is not to highlight the ways in which I am feeling the strain of having slipped past 40; it is more about the changes that I have seen in my 21 years of motherhood. How culture has changed. How I just never expected it to, especially within the Church, and why it's important for young (and middle and old) parents to know.

When I was a young mother, there were a lot of little families like ours, praying rosaries and boycotting Disney and talking about modesty while our kids played. We chatted about homeschooling and which curriculum we were using, and had All Saints' Day and St. Valentine's Day parties at which we actually prayed together.

As the years have flown by, our lives have changed (mostly because our children have grown) and we have had to decide how to respond to the pressures of the culture. I'm not going to lie. It gets messy in both families and communities. It isn't really enough to go to daily Mass and pray the rosary and bake feast day cakes. I'm not saying that Jesus isn't enough. Just that, as parents, we are not enough.

Let me explain…

We can pass on the faith to a point, but we can never force a soul to receive it. A child has to develop that relationship with Jesus and begin to personally embrace and love His Word. Otherwise, all those hours of family adoration are just one-sided and our tallest kids might be approaching the Eucharistic table unworthily, with hardened hearts, and a growing antagonism toward the things of God.  

We don’t know what is going on in their hearts.

I have spent years pondering the secret to really passing on the faith; to presenting it in such a way that it is more inviting than all the attractions of the world. Personal prayer is essential... but it must be accompanied by heroic actions that allow Christ to work strongly within a family and keep the lures of the world at bay. My motherhood demands sanctity. My vocation is made for it. And as we know, the saints had to battle the world, many of them only achieving popularity in the hearts of the Catholic faithful well after their deaths. It is not my job to mold my children into saints. It is my job to give them every opportunity, motivation and protection to allow them to say yes to Jesus. Then He is the one who will make them saints.

I'm in the midst of my vocation which means that I am a rough work in progress. Before I continue my rambling, I want to make three points. I bother to make them at all because if we are going to raise up a new generation of faithful Catholics, we have to start turning our American Catholic cultural ship around...

1) PAY ATTENTION TO A SHIFTING CULTURE

First, I see that the trend in Catholic families has shifted in the last 20 years. Instead of encouraging each other to keep the culture of death at bay, exhorting one another to practice heroic virtue, and helping to keep each other accountable, many are falling into the mindset that we can have our cake and eat it, too. That we are so secure in our personal journeys that the music, media, movies, books, clothes, and lifestyle we consume will not harm our ability to keep Jesus at the center of our lives. 

My perspective as a mother of teens is that it is hardly possible to keep the secular culture from consuming the hearts of our children if we do not stand up and deny it entrance to our activities and homes. That post is bigger than I'm able to write but I'm living it and I want to give you that warning. Jesus promised us we would be persecuted for righteousness sake. If you are not feeling that pressure as a Catholic parent, I guarantee you that you are doing it wrong.


2) IDENTIFY OBSTACLES TO GOODNESS

My second point is actually a short list of the primary means through which a culture of death reaches our children. Before you denounce me as a Puritan wannabe, examine your family culture for holes. Go through your kids' phones and rooms and your own and ask: Do these influences honor and glorify Christ?

PEERS - In my estimation, this is the single biggest contributing factor to the loss of faith in our young. If your kids are not homeschooled, your immediate obstacles are greater than mine in this regard. But homeschoolers are not shut off from the world and negative peer influence can have a profoundly damaging effect. Don't underestimate it. It sometimes happens that bad kids will change for the better because of your good kids. But human nature being what it is, that is not the typical the result.

MUSIC - Music is a powerful force on our minds, bodies and souls. If our kids listen to music, they are being mentored and formed by it. Pretty much every kid listens to music... so how are their choices forming them? Most pop culture music teaches them to accept (even passively) a culture of death.

INTERNET - Oh, heaven help us. I don't have the answer to the problems this marvelous beast creates. Let me just say that there is no such thing as "moderate" internet access. The door is either open or it isn't. I am not impressed by security features and whatnot. Eventually, the door opens, often even before we realize it has. And then you'd better be a praying mama who isn't afraid to lose household popularity.

MOVIES/TV - The kids are learning. Absorbing everything. Do we teach them God's commands and then undermine it with garbage on the screen? They learn quickly that we don't really mean what we say. We are hypocrites if we don't live out our love for Christ by setting proper boundaries for ourselves and our kids. They see everything.

BOOKS - Fifteen years ago, moms I knew were banging on the doors of the local Catholic school wanting to know why trash was in the school library. That rarely happens anymore. We have lost our collective identity, our sensitivity, and our nerve. 

Making saints.jpg

3) DISRUPT THE ENTRENCHED PATTERN OF BAD CATECHESIS

Younger families, please pay attention, because you don't know yet what a difference the next decade will make in the life of the Church and you should be prepared for the sake of your kids...

My generation, the JPII generation... has failed to properly catechize younger Catholics.

We thought we had it all together and that our kids would catch the same fire we had. We thought we had fixed the errors of our parents' poorly catechized upbringing and that we would do it differently with our own kids. And then they would fall in love with the Church just like we did. Some of us still believe that is what is going on - and perhaps it is in small pockets around the country. But the broader truth is not as pretty.

We are now seeing a new generation of failed catechesis. Worse than the one before. Because let's be honest, the ones who poorly formed us (before we caught Holy Fire) are still teaching... and they taught the teachers... who teach our kids. And us? We are still working through our own limitations, especially if we had later conversions or were poorly catechized ourselves. We too heavily rely on a support system that has not fully recovered from a near death blow. The ship is full of holes but we just cheerfully keep repainting the hull.

Many of the young people I am seeing grow up in the Church (who fill our youth groups and Catholic colleges) can be marked by a defining characteristic: Their faith is only skin deep.

They love being Catholic in all the fun and cool ways. They appear devout and attend youth group and go to Steubenville conferences every year. They go to all 42 chastity talks put on by their church and school. But they aren't really living the moral teachings of the Church. And if they are, they drop it as soon as it is no longer convenient. They are becoming the next cafeteria Catholics, with a minimal understanding of what it means to pursue virtue and almost no understanding of a real spiritual life. And they have a lot of people completely snowed, including their youth group leaders, their priests and their parents. This does not exclude homeschoolers. In fact, homeschooled kids with wandering hearts are often exceptionally good at playing the role of dutiful child.

I'm generalizing. Obviously. But, by virtue of being a mother of teens, I have unwittingly entered the drama of youth and I'm going to be very blunt here about what I see. It is difficult beyond what I imagined to find holy friendships for my teens; friendships where there is a mutual effort towards sanctity and faithfulness. I thank God for the blessing of friends in my children's lives but it does not look at all like I thought it would. I thought it would be somehow... bigger. I thought there would be more families who hadn't given up the fight. I thought my kids would be perfect. I thought I could make it happen.

So I'm getting older. And part of my oldness is that I don't care nearly so much about what other moms are doing anymore because I'm just busy fighting like heck for the souls of my children and climbing my own mountains. I was that mom who thought MY teens would be different. And they are. I have good kids who I love and like (well, usually). But it’s not what I thought it would be.

When young moms publicly share their struggles with having multiple small children and their deep desire to just get a shower and a few hours sleep... and about reading Green Eggs and Ham for the hundredth time while all the kids are crying at once and the baby pees in her lap and the toddler accidentally swallows the miraculous medal he ripped off her chain... well, I secretly kind of wish I had those days back with my older kids. If I did, I would do some things differently…

I would slow down. I still have little ones around me but it's different now and I can't really ever go back to that treasured time. Time is flying and we are getting older. It is a breathtaking, exhilarating, beautiful adventure. And wow... I just wish I had been a little better prepared.

To all you young families who are relying on your Jesse Trees and daily rosaries to get your kids to heaven, I have hard news for you. There will come a day when your best weapon will be your knees hitting the cold floor. Like a reality game show where you create your masterpiece going a mile a minute and then the buzzer sounds and... hands up!... done. Whatever you left undone remains undone. And you start learning a few more things about prayer and long suffering. Because your kids have free will. And the culture is a devouring lion. Do what you can now to instill not only a solid liturgical rhythm in your home, but also a strong culture of Christian mission. Of radical discipleship. 

Does it honor Jesus? No? GET RID OF IT. Tell your kids why. And build them an alternative that outshines the allure of sin.

I'm not writing just to rant for others. I'm writing for selfish reasons. Because I need a Catholic community that is courageous in virtue and radical in discipleship to catch my kids when they step out of the nest. I am an imperfect mother and long for support. I am not content with what exists right now. We were made for something greater. 

How to Rock Confirmation Celebrations (in 7 Quick Takes}

{This post contains affiliate links. I may receive compensation for purchases
you make through my links. More info
Here.} 

HS banner-2.jpg

As we head into another Confirmation season, I dug into my archives to remember some of my favorite ways to celebrate. Kiddo number 4 will be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit in a few weeks and so we will be busy about things like spiritual preparation and counting plastic forks. The spiritual and material inevitably collide and thankfully, we usually managed to celebrate sacramentally and materially without much stress. (Just a little. Not more than usual. Perhaps a little less. Mostly.)

Diving into the memories and my 7 top favorite ways to rock a Confirmation celebration in my big Catholic family…

1. DOUBLE THE GRACES

We once managed to get the timing just right and get two kids Confirmed at one time. It was so fun, so lovely, so fruitful, and so... so efficient that we'd love to have the rest of the kids sealed with the Spirit in pairs. It won’t happen this time around but since my current Confirmandi has asked her older sister to be her sponsor, it still feels like a sweet pairing. And they clearly were a very fun pair.

1434048950007.jpeg

We don’t break the bank for sacramental apparel since it is the overall appearance of respect and celebration that we are going for and not brand names. We picked up the jacket for the 13-year old (above) at Goodwill for $6. My daughter’s lovely dress (you can’t see the white lace overlay in my blurry photo) was 40% off at Lands End. Finding modest, contemporary, high quality lovely dresses for teen girls is not easy. This was a true win on all counts.

Probably the biggest expense of the event was finding a last minute pair of shoes for my daughter which would fit the gigantic bandage from a toe injured the day before. What would a celebration be without a little bloody excitement thrown in?

My son has since traded in his bargain jacket for lace… obviously also the work of the Holy Spirit…

IMG_5655.JPG

2. FOLLOW THE RULES

Hey, when the DRE says that they really prefer that you not take pictures, what she probably means to say is "It's okay to take grainy pics of the back of people's heads standing in the aisle with your phone as long as you don't disturb the Bishop." So... we're good.

1434049416798.jpeg

3. BE FLEXIBLE

Cakes implode. It happens. Especially when it's a gluten-free recipe that you haven't tried before. (Gluten is a phenomenal binding agent, by the way.) When it happens, beg Facebook to fix it for you and all of your friends will come to your aid within minutes. My deepest gratitude to CharlotteEllenKatieJanaMary, Meredith, Lena, and Kendra for the cake rescue help. (Good cake clearly takes a village.)

My daughter and I took the inspiration and ended up with cakes in cups that looked Pinterest-y (more or less) and tasted pretty darn good. Buttercream, yellow cake, whipping cream/cream cheese topping, a little edible gold spray (not visible in my low quality pic but pretty in person), gold and pearl sprinkles... done. And remarkably easy to serve. 

1434049721860.jpeg

The kids really wanted to reproduce these cookie successes from our previous celebration but I had to choose between cookie making and cleaning the house. This photo is regular cookies but we now make them with a gluten free 1-to-1 flour and they turn out perfect. Not health food but that’s not the vibe most party-goers are going for anyway. Recipe and more pics and tips can be found here: The Essential Sugar Cookie Recipe

1434052585631.jpeg

Also, yes… my icing is runny. I’ve gotten better at that over time but I think it suits the fire effect… kinda wild in a Holy Spirit way. Overflowing hearts with grace and passion!

1434052727500.jpeg

4. ORDER GOOD WEATHER

When you forget to feed your toddler and you need to make a hasty exit in order to correct that increasingly noisy problem… you will be so glad that you planned for a sunny day. And since I live in Northeast Ohio where the odds are (at best) 50/50, we were fortunate to get the sunshine. Toddler was pacified. Mama got to see the actual Confirmations.

1434050137722.jpeg

5. HAVE CHOCOLATE. REALLY GOOD CHOCOLATE.

From the word go, I was fully committed to the idea of some kind of decadent chocolate dessert. I found a wonderful recipe and made several batches of Raspberry and Chocolate Cheesecake Trifles. Wow. Recommended. Instead of fresh raspberries, I drizzled some raspberry syrup on the top and it was perfect. I modified the recipe to make it gluten free by replacing the chocolate cookie bottom with crumbled gluten free brownie. I replaced the Dove chocolates with chocolate chips to save money and it was still amazing.

I can no longer find the recipe on the Dove website or their Pinterest page and so I’m just going to drop my notes here in case anyone wants to try. The number of servings is not listed… sorry!

1434050372024.jpeg

RASPBERRY & CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE TRIFLES

  • 4 oz. DOVE PROMISES SILKY SMOOTH DARK CHOCOLATE, 16 pieces (or equivalent)

  • 8 oz. CREAM CHEESE, room temperature

  • 3 Tablespoons SUGAR

  • 1 cup WHIPPING CREAM

  • 8 CHOCOLATE SANDWICH COOKIES, coarsely chopped (or crumbled brownie)

  • 1 cup FRESH RASPBERRIES (or just drizzle raspberry syrup or jam)

  • Additional chocolates for garnish

Instructions

  1. Place chocolate in microwave safe bowl, heat at 30 second intervals until almost melted. Stir until smooth. Allow to cool slightly.

  2. Beat together cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add cooled chocolate and mix well.

  3. Whip cream until stiff peaks form. Add half of whipped cream to chocolate mixture.

  4. Assemble - place about a tablespoon of chopped cookies in the bottom of each 8 oz. jar, layer on 2 tablespoons of chocolate cheesecake mixture, 4 raspberries, a tablespoon of whipped cream. Repeat layers ending with whipped cream.

  5. Garnish with an additional unwrapped DOVE Promise. Cover and refrigerate until serving. These can be made up to 1 day ahead.


We also made up little favors with Dove dark chocolate and Swedish Fish. Get it? Dove? And the fish as a symbol of our profession of faith. 

1434050558982.jpeg

6. BE PREPARED

We are a homeschooling Catholic family with a lot of faith-based resources on hand for sacramental preparation. There's everything from the Baltimore Catechism to Lighthouse audios lining our shelves so there's plenty to choose from. In spite of that, we added an additional Confirmation resource this year called Decision Point, a program designed by Matthew Kelly. I'd like to write a full review in the future but I'll just say this for now:

It isn't the Summa Theologica. It isn't a complete presentation of the entire deposit of faith. It isn't sufficient on it's own without a richer context. But... it's a pretty rock solid program that inspired my entire family to love more and dig deeper into our faith. Kelly presents the Truth with so much real joy that it's difficult not to respond from the heart.

The material is not difficult but neither is it fluff. I've seen the program trashed by some who call it vanilla garbage. I don't agree. I think it's simple, but not simplistic. And I think that, especially in a broader parish context, it is the right combination of meat and refreshment to draw in some hardened hearts. I wouldn't rely on it alone but I'm very glad we added it to our homeschool program. 

A final positive note: Last I checked, the entire program - with DVD’s, student book, and manual - was only $16 shipped.

IMG_3753.JPG

 7. ALWAYS DIY

More low quality pictures of lovely things. I made this banner for Professor's Confirmation and was so excited that I didn't have to make anything like it again this time around. It was an easy project the first time and a finished project the second time. A great relief. Here’s how I made the banner…

1434050737929.jpeg

I used a Joanne fabric gift card that I'd been hoarding to purchase fabric for a Pentacost/Confirmation banner. I found a sturdy pretty (clearance) red fabric in the home decor section and used a lightweight printed cotton for the letters. I printed letters for "Veni Sancte Spiritus" off the computer in the desired size and font and traced them onto the fabric after I had ironed on a layer of Heat 'n' Bond. The ribbon (which is not very visible in the photos) is white satin with gold swirls. A little cutting, a little ironing, a little sewing later... I had a rather nice reusable banner.

VENI SANCTE SPIRITUS!!!

Holy Spirit banner.jpg

*BONUS TAKE*

I couldn't post this without telling you briefly about the greatest blessing of the party preparation. It came at the price of humiliation and a wounded heart (not mine) but if that's what it takes to bring me to my knees, so be it...

I did pretty well overall about staying even tempered while trying to get a pretty messy home ready for a lot of company. It's always a funny contradiction; a stressful household preparing for a sacramental celebration! I wasn't too uptight but I was rather tired. And in spite of my general success, I lost my cool with one of my littles.

I repented immediately, scooped the child up, and ran to the nearest cuddling couch. I told her that it wasn't her. I told her that she meant more to me than any party. I told her that I would rather have our guests come to a messy, stinky home than to burden her heart with my sharp words again. She cried and I cried and we sat there for a long time, leaving all the urgent things undone. 

My whole day changed in that moment. I didn't forget my priorities again (at least not that day). She's more important to me than any party. She's just as treasured as our most honored guest. It's not worth it. The pride-based stress isn't worth the bruised hearts of my children. And I went into the rest of the preparation with a sad, humbled, and rejoicing heart. He allowed me to see my priorities and set them straight and I would not dismiss the gift. Thanks be to God.

Linking up with Kelly for 7 Quick Takes Friday

The Essential Gluten-Free Sugar Cookie Recipe

{This post contains affiliate links. I may receive compensation for purchases
you make through my links. More info
Here.} 

graduation cookies.jpg

If you are expecting this to be a healthy cookie recipe, well… not this time! This is nothing of the sort. It is gluten free and that is the best I can say for it other than that it makes beautiful and delicious cookies! I am sharing it because it is our go-to party cookie to make feast days and special events a little more colorful… and to provide a make-ahead dessert for a crowd.

Last time I made these cookies, I made 200 of them and they all went. So… I figured you’d want the recipe, too. The recipe is at the bottom of the post and in between are a few pictures from our celebrations over the years with notes about making them.

ICING

There’s no fancy (and awful tasting) Royal Icing for these. Just a quick and super colorful and delicious glace. Even your kids can do it. Vary the thickness of the icing to get different consistencies for piping, drizzling, dipping, or spreading. They can also roll out the dough because (with a little care) it rolls and cuts beautifully even with the gluten free flour. Easy measure and stir recipe at the bottom.

GLUTEN FREE

I have been very pleased with the gluten-free version of this recipe. It is literally a one ingredient swap, trading regular wheat flour for Bob’s 1-to-1 Gluten Free Baking Flour. I don’t know if other brands work as well because I’d rather not mess with success on frantic baking day!

COOKIE CUTTERS

Any cookie cutters will do but my favorite are the Wilton Colored Metal cutter sets (see pink flower below). They get a nice crisp edge but seem to hold up a little better than the plain metal. Maybe it’s my imagination… I don’t know. But I like them. There are endless shapes including Spring flower sets, tea party sets, garden sets, baby themes, princess theme, Autumn shapes, etc. The choices are endless.

If you are looking for an unusual shape, you can almost always find a tin cutter by googling or checking on Amazon. Among shapes I have searched for in the past are dinosaurs and swords.

IMG_5803.jpg

We started making these for Confirmation parties and then advanced into Easter, graduations, First Communions, and Christmas. They make pretty place setting decorations, gifts, and basket stuffers. I’ve included some pictures of ours over the years. Please forgive the quality… I usually took the photos while standing exhausted in the middle of my dark kitchen and covered in flour.

Per usual, I’m a little loosey-goosey when it comes to making familiar recipes. I stick to the game plan when it comes to the cookie but do whatever feels good in the moment with the icing. If I’m trying to make desperate haste (because it’s midnight and I still have 100 cookies to decorate for Christmas) I might just let that icing get a little runny.

But let’s be honest here… I’m almost always rushing. And you can probably tell from my photos which were more carefully crafted and which were born of panic.

Christmas cookies.jpg

We made SO many Christmas cookies last year because we just. couldn’t. stop. When we ran out of one color, we’d just mix up a new one and add to our beautiful collection.

The cookies below were wrapped up and used as place settings or little gifts. My vision for the green wreath was different (not runny) but I was in a hurry and just went with it. I also wanted to pipe full names onto each cookie but again… super runny mixture. They still turned out pretty!

Christmas initial cookies.jpg
Christmas 2 cookies.jpg

Confirmation cookies were one of my first attempts and again, I ended up with some runny flames of fire! No big deal… I’ve gotten better at that over time but I think it suits the fire effect. Kinda wild in a Holy Spirit kind of way. Overflowing hearts with grace and passion. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

We had doves, tongues of fire, and sword cookies (not pictured).

dove cookies.jpg
Fire cookies.jpg

These Autumn leaves were part of my plan for a Miss Suzy birthday party decor and spread. If you don’t know who Miss Suzy is, just stop what you’re doing and go buy the book HERE. She is so beloved in our household! Piping thicker icing around the edges of these leaves made filling in with swirling color so much easier (and more fun!) later on.

Miss Suzy Cookies.jpg

These graduation cookies were a little non traditional which is exactly how I wanted them. A little sweet, a little sassy, and lots of pretty color. They seemed to fit with her theme “Act justly, Love mercy, Walk humbly with your God.”

graduation cookies.jpg

Enjoy your cookies!

The Essential Sugar Cookie Recipe

How and Why to Grow Broccoli Sprouts Even if You Don't Garden

{This post contains affiliate links. I may receive compensation for purchases
you make through my links. More info
Here.} 

Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 5.33.53 PM.png

If you want to pack a huge amount of nutrients and disease fighting properties into the smallest possible food, then you will want to learn about growing your own broccoli sprouts! Since the management of both lupus and lyme is largely directed by my intake of large quantities of vegetables, it’s great news when I don’t have to spend as much time chewing. As much as I love eating, there is something to said for efficiency, especially when you are eating consciously to heal the body.

Why broccoli sprouts? Let’s break it down…

NUTRITION

Good news for both broccoli lovers and haters: sprouts have all the nutrition of broccoli and even higher amounts with certain important phytonutrients. For example, the anti-cancer and anti-diabetic properties are much higher in sprouts than mature broccoli thanks to a nutrient called sulphoraphane. The heart benefits are also huge. Go here for a more detailed breakdown: Broccoli Sprouts Vs. Broccoli It’s all very impressive.

ABSORPTION

Nutrients don’t do us a whole lot of good unless we can absorb them and use them! Sprouts have a much higher absorption rate of sulphoraphane than broccoli… 74% versus 19%.

NO DIRT OR BUGS

I’m a wannabe gardener with a lupus-induced sun allergy. I want to garden but I cannot… yet. In the meantime, I grow sprouts neatly and successfully on my kitchen counter with zero dirt, zero bugs, and zero gardening knowledge. Plus… it’s really hard to kill a sprout in the 4-7 days it takes to grow. This is the ultimate confidence building project!

WHY NOT JUST BUY THEM?

You certainly can. But you will pay a lot more than the pennies it will cost you at home. More importantly, the greatest nutritional benefits in sprouts are found in 3-4 day old sprouts. That’s farm to table age and your typical grocery store probably isn’t able to provide something like that.

HOW TO EAT SPROUTS?

Easy. Any way you want to. A little handful on top of a salad or in a sandwich are obvious choices. But they can literally go on top of any dish you want. Top a potato or bowl of soup. Put them in a smoothie. Or just eat them plain.

HOW TO GROW BROCCOLI SPROUTS…

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • Organic broccoli sprouting seeds

  • A sprouter

  • Water

Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 5.34.43 PM.png

It really doesn’t get simpler than this! You provide the space and a little water… the seeds (designed so perfectly to do this by God) do the rest.

The most complicated this ever gets is figuring out which sprouter to buy. I would love to buy this gorgeous $70 clay sprouter I found on Etsy but let’s be real… I have many kids and they break my pretty things. And sometimes in my haste, I also break my pretty things. Since it is not yet my season for fragile decor, I opted for a frugal option that still grows lots of sprouts, is easy to care for, and has a small countertop footprint.

I buy Organic Broccoli Sprouting Seeds from Handy Pantry in bulk (because I’m in this for the long haul) and I use this inexpensive sprouter with a small countertop footprint. It washes easily with vinegar and houses plenty of sprouts. No complaints! I also gave one to my sister-in-law for a birthday present with seeds… and I hope she still loves me. How could she not? Sprouts are a universal love language, aren’t they?

Handy pantry also has jar kits (which are adorable and not plastic) and complete starter kits with a variety of sprouters and seed selections.

Sprouting involves rinsing the seeds and sprouts daily 1-3 times for up to 7 days depending on the temperature. Direction vary slightly according to the sprouter you are using and do come with the spouters I have linked and direction also came with the seeds.

Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 5.34.53 PM.png

I am a little silly with delight when my sprout babies start to grow. And no, my sprouter isn’t pretty. But that is quickly excused when I see the beautiful sprouts!

Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 5.35.45 PM.png
Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 5.34.26 PM.png

It is an amazing feeling to grow what you eat! When the sprouts are ready to serve, I just swish them around in a bowl of water to knock most of the seed pods loose. I don’t mind having a few so I’m not uptight about this.

And that’s it! If you are serious about health and beautiful food, you should definitely sprout! Enjoy!

how to grow broccoli sprouts.png

Catholics and the Medical Medium: Channeling, Celery Juice, and the Wrong Way to Heal

medical medium.jpg

Should Catholics read and follow the advice of the popular internet wellness guru, the Medical Medium? Or let me ask it another way…

Should Catholics read and follow the advice of someone who channels spirits to gain knowledge about healing?

No. The obvious answer to both is a resounding no. Both Scripture and Church teaching condemn the practice and make it clear that involvement with such practices poses an immediate danger to the soul. There is no gray area here… it’s a huge no.

I assumed that this would be self-evident for most Catholics but, as more time passes (and more people keep recommending that I drink celery juice), I am seeing the influence of Anthony William (aka Medical Medium) spread throughout the Catholic world. This is especially true in the world of Catholic natural wellness where celery juice and Epstein Barr virus (EBV) are the new buzzwords for healing, thanks to a spiritual being who speaks through Anthony William.

Let me be clear… I think it’s fine if you drink celery juice (although there can be downsides to drinking too much) and I do believe that EBV is responsible for some health problems (though not all). But it is not okay to believe these things based on the authority of a guy who channels spirits.

Again, I really did not think that this needed to be fleshed out for most Catholics but, after witnessing a lot of confusion first hand, I’m going to address it briefly. It is up to the reader to become fully educated in the Catholic faith and to fall down all the appropriate rabbit holes.

But I’m putting this post together so that it can be shared with those who haven’t made the connection yet between William’s spiritual practices and his advice. Some people truly don’t know who he is and what he does. Others truly don’t know their faith.

So here are the things you need to know:

MEDICAL MEDIUM CHANNELS A SPIRIT TO GAIN KNOWLEDGE

I’m not making this up or guessing or inferring. I’m going on the exact words of Anthony William, whose name was made popular by Hollywood celebrities who fawn over him and his spirit friend/guide. In the words of singer-songwriter Debbie Gibson:

“Anthony William is the real deal, and the gravity of the information he shares through Spirit is priceless and empowering and much needed in this day and age!”

In case you’re wondering who “Spirit” is… Spirit is the being that Anthony William channels for knowledge and who has been with him since the age of four. “Spirit” is shorthand for “Spirit of the Most High.” Anthony William describes this being’s relationship to his work on his Facebook page this way:


”Anthony William Medical Medium is given information about his clients from a source that has identified itself since his early childhood as the ones from the Most High, connecting him with powerful spiritual wisdom. Spirit of the Most High holds a wisdom and clarity that is closest to the Holy Source. Anthony describes this as “an ancient brother- and sisterhood of the most devoted saints, prophets, and other admired ones of the Holy Source.”

“This is in direct contrast to the more common spirits that reside underneath the Holy source, which Spirit calls the Sea of Confusion. Spirit has compassion, sympathy, and empathy that will surpass any human being and any other spirit underneath them. This form of compassion is the strength behind their direction and will never lead to misguidance or destruction. Spirit understands pain and suffering and becomes a complete source of healing energy in the face of suffering. They understand when one loses faith, hope, or love for one’s self due to illness or disease.”

“The Spirit works day and night with Anthony to help provide his clients with as much information and guidance to aid in their healing process. Anthony William holds a love and devotion for his clients, which opens their ability to receive the information from the Holy Source and to heal. Healing becomes a reality for all, facilitated by this wisdom.

That description should be enough to alarm any Catholic who knows the faith and believes it. For the most part, I think that Catholics are not researching this guy at all before they dive in… not reading his bio, FB intro, website, or books. This info is everywhere. He clearly states that the healing of his clients comes directly through channeling.


HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Here are excerpts from his book “Medical Medium”:

“My story begins when I’m four years old. 
As I’m waking up one Sunday morning, I hear an elderly man speaking. 
His voice is just outside my right ear. It’s very clear. 
He says, “I am the Spirit of the Most High. There is no spirit above me but God.” 

So far, this info from the spirit guy isn’t meshing with Catholicism at all but is consistent with what we might hear from the demonic. He goes on to talk more about this strange visitor…

“In the evening I settle into my chair at the dinner table. With me are my parents, my grandparents, and some other family members. As we’re eating, I suddenly see a strange man standing behind my grandmother. He has gray hair and a gray beard, and is wearing a brown robe. I assume he’s a family friend who’s come to join our meal. Instead of sitting down with us, though, he keeps standing behind my grandmother . . . and looking only at me.”

And then comes the first time that William is given direct knowledge from the spirit…

“He takes my hand and puts it on my grandmother’s chest while she’s eating. 
Grandma backs away with a start. “What are you doing?” she asks. 
The gray man looks at me. “Say ‘lung cancer.’” 
I’m at a loss. I don’t even know what lung cancer means. 
I try to say it, but it comes out as a mumble. 
“Do it again,” he tells me. “Lung.” 
“Lung,” I say. 
“Cancer.” 
“Cancer,” I say. 
My entire family is staring at me now. 
I’m still focused on the gray man. 
”Now say, ‘Grandma has lung cancer.’” 
“Grandma has lung cancer,” I say….”

I have met many Catholics (specifically women) who have read this book and really don’t find this section alarming. My suspicion is that they just kind of skimmed and didn’t engage with what they were reading, otherwise they would be a little more wary. I also believe that when dealing with manifestations of the demonic, our spiritual vision is easily obscured. Evil confuses all senses.

Could this be an angel of God? Possibly. But the entire context suggests not. It has all the hallmarks of the demonic and not only isn’t any Catholic context present, but basic Christian context is lacking as well.

Can a four-year old be vulnerable to spiritual attack? Yes. It’s difficult to reconcile the innocence of childhood with such a thing but adults have the darnedest habit of making spiritually unsafe circumstances for children. I don’t know what his upbringing was like but clearly he was exposed to something at home or elsewhere at a very young age.


THE COMMITMENT (SELLING HIS SOUL)

As alarming as the introduction to this spirit is, William’s adult devotion and commitment to it is much more so. He tells the story in his book about how he consciously promised obedience to this being in exchange for saving his life. This happened when Williams was attempting to rescue his dog from a river and found himself in danger of drowning.

“Spirit says, “You’ve done it now. You cannot turn back, and you cannot go forward. This is it.” 

“Really? You rob me of a normal, peaceful life, I dedicate my whole being to your work of healing, and this is all I get from you? You say, ‘This is it,’ and leave us to die?”

All the angst and anger I’ve suppressed since I was four years old comes pouring out. I let Spirit have it about my years of pent-up frustration over this continual torture I’ve always had to accept as a “gift”: being set apart from everyone else, knowing too much about everyone at way too early an age, and being told what I had to do with my life instead of given even the slightest choice. 

I tell Spirit, “I put up with a lot — sacrificing my childhood, experiencing everybody’s pain and suffering, taking responsibility for healing thousands of strangers, and draining myself physically and mentally every day. And now you’re telling me I can’t even protect my own family?”

As the danger to his life increases, William is given an offer by the spirit…

“Spirit says, “I will get you to your dog. In return, you must commit to me. We go through this life the way we’re supposed to. You accept that it is by the holy power of God you are destined to do this work for the rest of your life.” 

“Okay!” I shout. “Deal. Let me find August, and I’ll work for you with no complaints ever again.”

You must commit to me. This is not the language of the angels. This is the language of the demonic. But William has been connected to this spirit his entire life and now he consciously gives his life over to it. It not only gives him the power to save his dog and his own life, but becomes the impetus for his work as the Medical Medium.

“Even before this point, people in need have been coming to me in droves.

With this pledge, I wholly dedicate myself to helping them, without qualification and for the rest of my life.

I don’t have to pretend the abilities I’ve been granted are a problem-free blessing. Yet I stop complaining and finally accept who I am. That’s when I truly assume my role as the Medical Medium…”


One interesting side note is that William complains against the spirit and is angry about the oppressiveness of this spiritual presence in his life. It is interesting because psychics, mediums, clairvoyants, etc. often eventually confess a lack of peace, often to a degree which robs sleep and mental health. William’s words echo those of many who have found themselves in a kind of bondage to their spiritual “friends”… the same companions who are ultimately revealed as powerful oppressors.


THE CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

I assume that if you are reading this article, you are a mature, intelligent, faithful Catholic and that you know that you are free to discern and pick out the good amongst much junk in the world of natural wellness. In the case of the Medical Medium however, there are specific reasons why you should always seek out other resources. You don’t need this man (and his spirit being) to tell you to eat vegetables and seek the root cause of your illness. He offers nothing that isn’t available elsewhere.

Even if he did have something unique to offer, I would still say… stay away. The spiritual danger is not a good exchange for a healthy body.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear:

2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

The work of the Medical Medium falls clearly under that admonition, especially since the spirit claims to be above every spirit except for God alone. Sounds like the spirit of lucifer himself.

2117:  All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others – even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. 

Scripture is also clear:

"Let there not be found among you anyone who immolates his son or daughter in the fire, nor a fortune-teller or soothsayer, charmer, diviner or caster of spells, nor one who consults ghosts and spirits or seeks oracles from the dead. Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the Lord." (Deut 18:10-12)

We know that, not only does the enemy prowl around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, but he also disguises himself as an angel of light. (1 Pt 5:8, 2 Cor 11:14) No one would follow this guy if he wasn’t offering some kind of good. “Be alert and of sober mind.”

The demonic can sometimes heal the body. The demonic can appear as your greatest desire. It is in these times that we must know our faith, believe in the Word of God, and throw ourselves on His truth and mercy.


THE DANGER

Most Catholics do stop following William after they learn about the source of his work. They simple didn’t know and then corrected their direction once they learned. And I know that many will read this article and wash their hands of him forever. But there are a good number of people who continue to follow him after knowing everything. I have found that they tend to have one or more of the following obstacles:

  1. They don’t have a healthy fear of the demonic. They still think about demons as cartoon characters instead of a spiritual realities and have never experienced any exposed manifestation of evil and felt the accompanying terror. They do not believe they are vulnerable and they are lulled into a false sense of security.

  2. They are poorly catechized and don’t have a proper understanding of the spiritual battle that is real and ongoing in the life inside and outside the soul. They think they are on solid footing and are not prepared to recognize the enemy even when it appears plainly before them.

  3. They are deeply involved in and impacted by risky spiritual practices like spiritual yoga or energy work such as reiki. This results in defensiveness, confusion, and perhaps also a spiritual blindness.

  4. They have experienced healing and positive fruits from the practice or source in question and either cannot reconcile that positive experience with the idea of danger… or they simply don’t want to give it up.

The truth is that the demonic does not look at you and me and say “Oh hey… you look like a good Christian… so I’m going to just move on to someone a little less in love with Jesus.” The prowling enemy targets those who love the Lord and desires our spiritual and physical destruction. He wants us to be fooled into leaving Christ… and then he wants us to die isolated from Him, in terror and pain. He hates us more than we can imagine hating anyone.


THE SOLUTION

The answer to this problem is to leave Anthony William behind and pursue a healing lifestyle based on God’s design for our bodies, minds, and souls. We must be willing to sacrifice even our health to follow God’s will… but I don’t think you have to in this case. Eat lots of veggies and juice a bunch if you want! Definitely see a functional medicine doctor and find your underlying causes like lyme, SIBO, chemical poisoning, etc… and yes, even EBV.

But don’t do it because a spirit told you through a pop star medium.

My own background includes involvement in non-Christian spiritual healing. That story has only been told in bits and pieces because I’m not ready to tell the whole thing yet. But I will say that most Catholics I have met do not have a healthy fear of those spiritual dangers which can separate us from the love of God. We don’t even need to fully consent — sometimes we just choose to walk through the wrong doors.

You are fooling yourself if you think you can play in that realm and not get burned.

The spirit of the demonic tried to destroy me and almost succeeded. It was a terrifying, oppressive time in my life and I almost succumbed to the complete despair and torment. There is a range of demonic influence that can impact a person’s life. There are people with mild oppression who can walk courageously through with strong faith and commitment to prayer and virtue. And then there are heavier things. Much heavier. All are crosses which threaten our security in Christ because they confuse, obscure, and can lead incrementally down a hellish path.

From my place of experience, I will share that I will not even go to the Medical Medium website to poke around. I do not want any part of my life influenced by the demonic. I do not want to read its words, see its images, or listen to its mouthpieces. It is a defensive move but also strategically offensive…

I belong to Jesus Christ alone and will not make myself vulnerable to His enemies. I already know I am not strong enough. He is Lord and I submit my whole life to him. My mind, my soul, my body. Since he is my strength, I have to give my senses and intellect solely to Him so that He can lead me in battle.

I will not go to the mat with God over celery juice.

It’s not that simple, I know. And yet… it is. It is a million little and big choices in life that form us into who we wish to be and strengthen us into saints capable of white or red martyrdom. It is the little and big choices in life that lead us slowly, almost imperceptibly, to a place where we can no longer recognize the signs of Jesus Christ… or the red flags of the enemy.

If you still cling to Medical Medium after reading all of this evidence, just know that you are clinging also to his spirit buddy. You can no longer say that you don’t know.

Six False Claims About Essential Oils

essential oil plants.jpg

As a certified aromatherapist and someone who regularly uses essential oils for my health and household needs, I have pretty much heard it all. Some of it is true and some of it ain’t! After seeing both an increase in good information and also an increase in quackery, I decided to tackle a few of the common false claims that continue to plague essential oil education.

Please note… I love essential oils and God’s gift of plant-based medicine. I love aromatherapy. I love them so much that I even sell them so that I can help provide my clients with the best oils possible. Yes, yes, I know that some of you will instantly disqualify my perspective based on the fact that I make money off of doing what I love and what I’m good at. That criteria will disqualify almost every professional in every field… but I understand the skepticism.

For the rest of you… I hope that I can help you sort through the mountains of information out there and identify some of what is legit and what is downright quackery. I run a Christ-centered business and believe that I will be held accountable for every breach of ethics before the judgment (and mercy) of Jesus Christ. That doesn’t make me perfect… I just want you to know where my head and heart are.

Also, please don’t use my article to go hating on your friends who don’t agree with me. Just make informed choices for yourself and gently share what you know. It doesn’t serve others to blow up their businesses by making them look stupid in front of their friends and family. We all grow and stretch and learn and we do so best with considerate friends. Definitely share my article… and definitely do it with love and consideration.

So let’s just dive in…


6 FALSE CLAIMS ABOUT ESSENTIAL OILS


1. ESSENTIAL OILS CAN CORRECT CURVATURE OF THE SPINE

False. Essential oils applied to the spine will not correct scoliosis. I don’t care what your company says, it simply isn’t true. What IS true is that receiving a massage with essential oils will help relax your muscles and consequently, help decompress the spine. It is certainly possible to measure a little bit taller after that! But it is not correct to say that the application of oils alone will add height to your body. I have met aromatherapists who believe this and use pre and post-therapy height measurement to prove the value of the oils.

I can give you 101 reasons why essential oils are beneficial to the body (including the spine) during massage and therapeutic treatments but this is NOT one of them.


2. ESSENTIAL OILS WORK BECAUSE OF THEIR ENERGY FREQUENCY

There is a lot about science that we know and a lot that we don’t know. One of the things that we do know is that the chemistry of essential oils is biologically beneficial to plants, people, and animals. One of things that we don’t know is if or how the energy frequencies of oils impact our biology. There is no standard of measurement for this kind of “energy work” other than how we feel after the application; and to be honest, those results could certainly be from the scientifically measurable chemistry of the oils!

I’m not saying that you can’t believe in frequencies as a healing modality. I’m saying that it falls under the umbrella of belief and not science at this point since what we can know through study and observation doesn’t support the method.

What we have is a lot of people running around talking about the quantum physics of essential oils and the “magic bullet” concept of healing. The reality is that hardly anyone knows what they are talking about in the realm of energy healing. The greatest harm in that (other than that it is wrong to mislead people) is that it takes people further away from a concrete understanding of their own God-designed biological cues and needs.

I imagine we will someday know (not likely this side of heaven) how all the frequencies of the natural and manmade worlds have harmed or healed us. But not all information is accessible to us and it seems that not all is meant to be. Unsupported claims about energy healing with essential oils are not only unnecessary in light of the knowable and highly practical benefits… but they are also misleading many people and proving to be an obstacle to good care. Which leads to the next false claim…


3. ZYTO SCAN CAN SHOW YOU WHICH OILS YOUR BODY NEEDS

There are several popular devices on the market which claim to be able to read a person’s body using things like “quantum theory” and “biophysics” to assess needs. I’m not going to get into the details of the science since that info is available elsewhere and leads down a mega rabbit hole. But there are some points I want to address that impact our health and pocket books directly as consumers and sellers.

First, these scan machines are the ultimate sales tool. For a moderate investment, I can buy one that is specifically designed for my company (essential oils, supplements, etc.), have the customer touch the device, and BAM! All the info is spit out like a prescription.

I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to hear their story. They don’t have to pay attention to their body because Zyto knows! Instead of leading to a better knowledge and stewardship of the body, it becomes the “magic pill.”

The results are not reproducible (because of something called “quantum indeterminacy”) which makes them impossible to study in any scientific fashion. Your reading will be different every time you have it done.

Do the recommendations ever help? Sure they do. Because essential oils are beneficial to the body in many ways, and also because placebo is a legitimate avenue of healing. But as a Christian aromatherapist and someone who sells many products I recommend, I am not in the business of selling the “magic pill” but only in helping others towards a lifestyle of self-directed care and healing.

I have nothing against marketing tools. Every single company uses them as a practical means of getting their information to the public… and can certainly do so ethically. But this is more than a marketing tool. It is a scam.

Quick story:

When I was going through my aromatherapy certification, we spent the majority of the time learning the chemistry and usage of essential oils. At one point however, the class got briefly sidetracked with the introduction of a machine similar to the Zyto. The student who brought it up assured everyone that the $800 investment (plus monthly fees) was worth it because all we had to do was to have a customer place their hand on the device and their needs would instantly be matched to our product.

In fairness to the woman, she absolutely believed that the science was legit and established and she believed she was offering good care to her clients. She was a believing Christian and I do not think that she meant anyone harm.

But I was appalled. Suddenly, everything that we had been studying and discussing meant nothing because of this little magic machine. It was a consolation that the woman sitting next to me turned and said quietly, “I don’t think this is the right direction to go. The goal should be to help our clients to be more familiar with their body cues, not less.”

And I would only add that it would be absolutely immoral for me to ever use this machine in order to make a few bucks because I do believe it to be quackery… but I think most people using it are simply deceived by false marketing and are not bad people.


4. LEMON OIL WILL FRY YOUR ESOPHAGUS AND VITAL ORGANS

There’s a popular aromatherapist online who makes her living convincing people that she knows a lot about essential oil safety. She does know a lot but she also has some areas in which she probably needs a science refresher.

She is opposed to internal use of essential oils and claims that lemon oil will rip up the mucous membranes in the digestive tract. She backs this up by reminding people of what lemon oil does to styrofoam (it eats a hole right through).

This is relatively easy to debunk without being a scientist…

First of all, lemon essential oil is food grade and approved by the FDA for that purpose. It is the same oil that we use when we use lemon zest in a recipe and the same oil that remains on our hands when we cut or peel a lemon. It is the same oil that gets squeezed into our tea and lemon water along with the juice of the lemon slice. It is not fundamentally harmful to your body.

Second, lemon essential oil has a neutral pH which distinguishes it from the acidic juice of a lemon. Once upon a time, I consumed too much lemon juice to ward off pregnancy nausea. It worked, but I also permanently lost some enamel on my teeth. Lemon oil is a fantastic alternative that isn’t corrosive.

Third, the chemistry of lemon oil reacts with the polymers of plastic differently than it does with our body. (This is also true with oils like rosemary, thyme, eucalyptus and others). The styrofoam experiment is pretty cool but does not prove that the oil will do the same thing to the esophagus or stomach lining. It also doesn’t prove the purity of an oil as so many on YouTube claim.

When I was a kid, I used to drop nail polish onto pieces of styrofoam to watch it bore a hole right through. Fortunately, the nail polish did not also put a hole in my nail or skin! Similar principle… it’s a chemical reaction specific to the material. Ironically, it is the d-limonene in the lemon oil which causes the styrofoam reaction AND it is the limonene in all citrus which is nourishing and beneficial to the stomach lining!

There are millions of people in the world currently using lemon oil (and common sense) in their beverages and food without harm. However, since most essential oils on the market have been shown to be fraudulent or contaminated with synthetics, I would only ingest oils from a trusted source.


5. A BAD REACTION TO ESSENTIAL OILS IS JUST DETOX. PUSH THROUGH!

No. As a professional, I would never tell this to someone. I have a personal story related to this and then I’ll move on to a deeper explanation…

The first therapeutic grade essential oils I used were from a large well-known company (the same one that has told people that oils cure scoliosis, by the way) and my first reaction to smelling the oils was a strong histamine response. I assumed that it was just me… that my sensitivity to smells was what caused me to develop a migraine, slight nausea, and runny nose. I still tried to push through and started diffusing. My children hated it and I continued to react. So I closed up the box and put it on the shelf, repeating the experiment 3 more times a few weeks apart, trying to see if I could use them.

Unfortunately not. So I went to the company’s FB groups that I joined as a customer and I told my story. Their reps were quick to answer each time: “It’s detox. Just keep going. Your body is just detoxing because the oils are so awesome.”

As a pretty body-aware individual, I just said no. I took a sniff of the oils. It’s not detox. It’s a reaction. And I’m done.

One year later, I was reintroduced to oils while researching a natural alternative to antibiotics. I purchased oils from a different company and did not have the same reaction. I was absolutely shocked and thrilled that I had zero negative response to the oils.

Now there are a very small number of oils that I do not like and that are clearly not a good fit for my body. My new essential oil mentors told me…

Stop using them.

My subsequent aromatherapy education confirmed that wisdom and I am a strong proponent of diluting and patch-testing. I also know that it is easy enough to simply stop using what doesn’t work. Unfortunately, there are still many people out there who believe that their symptoms are something they just have to push through.

After having experienced many oils in the last few years, my opinion is that the first oils I reacted to were either poorly distilled (allowing allergen proteins through the distillation process) or they were synthetically contaminated. I do not have another explanation as to why I react to the oil of one company but not another, and independent lab testing has since confirmed the latter.

But let’s talk detox a little more…

Certain people and companies push the idea that even the smell of an essential oil can cause a “healing crisis” in the body and cause a “detox” reaction. That’s supposed to be a good thing. What I find more probable is that the reaction is a legitimate sensitivity to the oil chemistry and should be respected. Sometimes a person may simply need a stronger dilution or to use in a less sensitive area of the body; but there is no harm in simply saying “This is not for me today.

I have Lyme Disease and so do know a few things about actual detox. Detox is a major aspect of my recovery since treatment causes what is known of as “die off.” The Lyme bacteria, co-infections, and fungal (mold, candida, etc.) toxicity produce large amounts of toxins as they die during treatment. This is called “herxing” (short for Jarisch–Herxheimer reaction). If this process is not properly navigated, a person can experience varying degrees of illness and in extreme cases, even organ damage. So the detoxification process is important since it is the process of moving those toxins safely out of the body.

I do believe that people can experience die-off when they have underlying infectious issues and are also using anti-microbial oils in heavier doses. The regular daily use of oils that are not targeted for specific disease (such as peppermint for headaches or tea tree for the skin), will work gently against microbes of all kinds in the body because of their chemistry. That is one beautiful aspect of oils! And it is possible that the regular use of an oil (such as oregano) for an ordinary purpose can cause an unanticipated die off. However…

This is not a common response to the normal use of essential oils. And it is not what I would properly call “detox” which is more accurately the elimination of the toxins and not the die off itself.

The elimination of toxins (“detox”) is a process of the body that centers around the kidneys and liver. These organs can be overwhelmed by a toxic overload and the body can experience illness as a result. If you are in a toxic state, you may very well be more sensitive to essential oils and everything else that you come into contact with.

But if you put a drop of essential oil on your skin and develop a rash, it is not likely to be related to “detox” at all. It is probably simply a sensitivity to the oil (diluting will often solve this issue) or to contaminants if you bought from a dishonest company (which is sadly the majority on the market today).

When in doubt… dilute, patch test, and if something makes you sick and it isn’t supposed to… stop using it. Every body is different.


6. YOU CAN’T USE ESSENTIAL OILS SAFELY WITHOUT AN AROMATHERAPIST

Wrong. I invested time and money to earn my certification with a NAHA approved school, and I’m telling you that you don’t need me to learn to use essential oils safely and effectively.

I know… that seems a little like I’m shooting myself in the professional foot, but hear me out. I’m not saying that you won’t benefit from good teachers (and I try to be a good one), but please know that essential oils are safe enough — and you are probably smart enough — to navigate use on your own.

And I’m going to tell you a secret about aromatherapists…

They don’t always agree with each other even on fundamental aspects of their specialty. Surprise! We’re no different than any other specialists including those within the medical profession. As the study of essential oils continues to expand, these knowledge gaps are closing… but differences still remain.

In my certification program, I sat in a room full of wildly different women who would all ultimately leave with their certifications in hand (I assume). Some of them espoused beliefs and practices to which I am strongly opposed, and my approach may have been annoying to them as well.

Some were focused on the bottom line ($$$) and some had a deep seated desire to serve others. Some were ready to change the world with energy flow charts and zyto scans, and others were excited to help people change their lives through biologically consistent plant-based medicine.

Essential oils are ultimately a more user-friendly form of herbology. You don’t need a certification to use plants for healing and household care. You don’t need to be an aromatherapist and you don’t need me. But sometimes it does help to have gentle guidance and someone to point out concerns.

Ultimately, essential oils are a gift from God and I use them safely and happily every single day… and it is one of the greatest joys in my life to help others learn to do so as well! Thanks for entering into the conversation.

essential oil false claims.jpg

Go Activist or Go Home: Why I Came Back to Catholic Blogging

static1.squarespace-2.jpg

I wrote this in the Summer of 2014 after taking an extended blogging break to just live and to discern. I revisit these words from time to time and I find that I still mean every word of it. For those of you who are new here... welcome! This is why I blog. This is why I have occasionally quit. And this is why I keep coming back. Since I wrote this, I have ushered two of my teens into adulthood and two more young ones into their teens. And it’s all still true.

——————————————————

Go Activist or Go Home: Why I Came Back to Catholic Blogging

I'm supposed to be on long sabbatical… but I changed my mind. I came back to support a friend, to share life-changing books, and for fellowship. I stayed because I have teenagers. Teenagers really change everything...

I used to have a family with several adorable little people. I was a Catholic mom; open to life and living in our little domestic church where nothing could touch us.

And then they grew up.

It happened so quickly that we almost got blown off course. One day, my son was taking swimming lessons at the local Y, and the next, he was swimming every day of the week and breaking records. Another day, we decided to have the kids play CYO volleyball (just for fun) and shortly after that we were making hotel reservations for national tournaments. One day, I  was reading Dr. Seuss all. day. long. and the next, I was crying in a natatorium (that's fancy for "big pool room") because swim moms are mean.

And remember the kid next door whose parents gave him booze at parties when he was three? Yeah, well, now he's driving and he thinks your daughter is hot. Good morning, mama... Drink your coffee black. The battle used to be in the streets but now it is on your driveway, your front porch, and in your home.

I woke up one figurative morning and had a loud thought that I was just tired of being a Catholic always fighting the world on the world's terms. So we left enemy territory for a while and returned home to strengthen our small army. We quit a bunch of stuff and patched up our wounds. We returned to our cloister to regroup and we emerged as something slightly different than we were before.

We came face-to-face with silence again. With ourselves. With God. I wouldn't say it was the most comfortable time but it was fruitful. We learned a lot about who we really were as individuals and as a family...

My son was a fast swimmer. Then he was more. My daughter was starting setter. Then she was more. My little ones were gym/pool rats. Then they were more. 

And me? I'm a mommy. A wifey. A dreamer. A talker with a keyboard. And more.

And...

I'm an activist.

A Catholic activist. I'm a traditionalist-charismatic-vernacular-liking-Latin-loving-praise-and-worship-singing-Holy-Spirit-petitioning kind of Catholic activist.  I don't wear a mantilla but my teenage daughter has... because she wanted to. I don't kneel to receive Jesus when there's no altar rail, but my kids often do. They just got it into their heads that God is awesome and showed me a thing or two about love. I do wear bathing suits to swim and a miraculous medal everywhere except the pool (until the babies break the chain... they always do.) I don't eat fish during Lent (or mostly ever) but I like to make a mean grain-free chocolate chip cookie for feast days. 

I have a soft spot for priests and bishops but I hate when they peddle pablum, compromise on the Church's moral teachings, and abuse or overlook abuse. I worship God, not men. I follow truth, not silver tongues. I tell my discerning sons that if they grow up to become that kind of priest that I will haunt them after I die. And my rather literal teenage son frowns at me and tells me that's impossible.

Which is impossible? I ask. Both. I laugh out loud but he does not... because he just doesn't think it's funny.

My kids are growing up and our cloister is... well... it's different now. Those first magical years are really gone for good; we averted some heavy storms and now, we stand at the door together and face the giant world. 

My kid once started a pro-life youth organization because he was tired of just speaking love of life instead of doing. 

They are killing babies, Mom. 
Yes they are. 

We need to speak up and stop it. 
Yes, we do. 

We need to pray and work for justice for these little ones. 
Let's go then. I'll follow you.

I’ve written many times about scandal in the Church and how good people are looking the other way while evil happens. I know why this happens... It happens because pro-life is HARD. Harder than repeating a few slogans. Harder than holding a sign. Harder than going to a nice pro-life dinner or giving a pro-life keynote or writing a pro-life blog post.

The pro-life message IS the Gospel message. And it says...

"Don't you even think about hurting any of My precious little ones. Ever. And don't you let it happen either."

The real scandal of every horror and corruption in the Church is not that people pretending to love the Church are doing evil things. The real scandal is that believing Catholics are doing NOTHING to stop it. I would have come back to this blog just to say that. If we are comfortable pro-life Gospel-livers, then we are doing it wrong.

So I'm here writing because I have teenagers to raise into men and women of God. And I want them to know that love means activism. Even a cloistered nun is an activist. She gives everything for the cause of Love and perpetually petitions the highest Authority for justice and mercy. 

Because I want my children to know how to speak their love with confidence, I must speak when I lack confidence. They know my limitations but they also know my passion. I have obligations and limitations that keep me from being out there... however, I can come here to be a witness.

It is my testimony to God's blessing in my life and it is what I owe Him. I have a platform and I'm using it so long as it is consistent with God's will for my life.

I have made a spectacle of myself in some ways over issues that many people don't even care about. But I'm a Catholic activist. I am fighting and advocating for Love. For those babies who are never born because of our bishops' corrupt foreign aid program. For the younger moms who are about to get painfully blindsided by the culture of death as their babies become teens. For victims of any kind of abuse. For my own babies. For the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For the dignity of all human persons. For a restoration of Catholic culture.

For many years, I thought it was enough to have a large family. Isn't that pro-life enough? But while we are busy with our littles, the enemies of life are active. They are activists. They are changing laws and cultural tides and overcoming the weak. And they are waiting for the day when your children are older and take their first steps outside your cloister. Don't just teach your kids how to live, show them how to do it. 

So here I am. A bumbling activist. With a good looking husband, a busy homeschool, a passion for natural healing, and a fascination with beautiful things. My little pleasures are reading, theology, writing, speaking, creative projects, and blogging… with a side helping of microblogging on Instagram and a tendency to poke around on Pinterest. Welcome to my digital domicile... and to my life of blossoming joy.

How to Forgive Anyone

forgive2.jpg

When you look at me, who do you see? Do you see the woman God made me to be or the broken sinner bent on thwarting His beautiful plan?

When you look at me, what do you feel? Do you feel gratitude for how He has worked in my life? Or do you feel the pain that I have caused you with my words and actions?

Does it have to be one or the other? Can we see both... looking through the scars and woundedness to a place of innocence and joy?

You see me as I am now. As I present myself to you. As I hurt you or comfort you, show my face or hide my heart. But do you see me as I was meant to be? And will you call me forth to come into my own?

If you struggle with forgiveness, I can offer you a way to find it... an opportunity to uncover that place in your heart that can't fight mercy. It's a little exercise. I can't promise it will work. I can promise you that God will work... even if you can't feel it yet...

We don’t necessarily feel forgiveness - we choose it - and yet our emotional memory is often firmly linked to our choice. If it wasn’t… perhaps we could forgive anyone.

Sometimes the body needs to make the first step to lead the soul in that same way we genuflect toward the tabernacle even when our heart and head are not in it. Our actions, done as an act of faith, help return us to a place of belief. So…

Find a photograph of the one you wish to forgive. Not just any photograph but a very early one... or maybe two or three if you can manage. One of infancy, another of toddlerhood, perhaps another at about 3 or 4 years of age. Baptismal photos are good or of being held in the mother's arms. If you do not have an actual picture, imagine a small child. If you do not think in images, find a picture of an unknown infant and imagine that the child in the photo is the one you are trying to see.

Now close your eyes and pray. Beg the Lord to help you SEE. Beg Him to help you have COMPASSION. And MERCY. Ask the Holy Spirit to flood your mind and soul and vision... that you  may only see now through God's eyes. And that you may be able to forgive.

Open your eyes and examine the pictures before you. Imagine holding that infant. Look into the eyes of the child and see the innocence and the beautiful plan that God intended. Think like a mother. Think of all of the hopes and dreams that you would have for such a little person. See the little one smiling up to you and reaching. See baby fall... and the tears... and running to dry them and kiss them away.

God's baby. God's little one. At this moment, that little heart is in your hands. Now, even if you don't feel it, Say out loud:

“You are His beautiful child and I forgive you for His sake.” 

I have done this a few times. All times but one it was an accidental (providential) moment. Once, I was sent a childhood photograph by a person who had hurt me. Perhaps she knew me well enough to know the effect it would have. It was her First Holy Communion portrait and her eyes were shining with a beautiful innocent joy. I could SEE her for the first time and all bitterness left my heart. Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation but it is still necessary. The brokenness and division might remain but I cannot see the radiant face of God's little girl and withhold my forgiveness. The image from that photograph has not left me.

I found a picture of my own childhood one day and really looked for the first time. And I wept at what I saw because I saw what I thought was lost. Then I knew that God still sees and loves and forgives His little girl. He always has the face of my innocence before Him.

We ought to do this for each other. We should continually see each other through the Father's eyes and recall each other to our purpose... to the image in which we were made. We should practice seeing what may be hidden and calling out to the little soul in hiding.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta habitually saw our Lord in every person. I am not so good as that. The mother in me sometimes needs to start with a baby picture.

Originally posted in 2011

Sorry.jpg

How Generalism and Skill Stacking Can Free Your Homeschool from the Tyranny of Perfection

{This post contains affiliate links. I may receive compensation for purchases you make. More info Here.} 

When I began my homeschooling journey as mom/teacher almost 2 decades ago, I had grand plans in mind. My head was filled with visions of dominated spelling bees and prima ballerinas. Because with all that time and ability to focus, why not just become the most amazing human beings possible?

To be fair, what I wanted more than anything was holy, happy, healthy children, and our early years were filled with lots of non-focused play and time with family. I believed that children should have a loving and gentle childhood and didn’t do any formal extracurriculars during those precious early years.

But about the time that my oldest turned 7, we started to get the itch to get him involved with something. That seemed like what we were supposed to do and we chose swimming lessons since water safety is important to us. Several years (and a few more kids) later, we were at the pool 5-7 days a week (sometimes 40 plus total hours if there was a tournament) and traveling to compete. He was winning championship races alongside his younger sister who was at one point ranked #1 in the country in her age group. We had fallen into the trap of specialized excellence; a trap not because excellence is bad, but because we were sacrificing everything else (including some of the most important things) in order to narrowly focus on one goal.

The hard truth is… there isn’t as much at the top as you always think there will be, there will always be someone better, and the losses can often overpower the victory in the long run.

So we replayed that scenario multiple times with multiple kids in multiple ways; burning the candle at both ends and blowing through resources so that they might achieve their goals. And then…

We quit. Cold turkey. Because the price wasn’t worth it.

When I recently picked up the book “How to be Better at (Almost) Everything,” I knew within the first couple chapters that this book was going to resonate with me. The author’s ideas about “generalism” and “skill stacking” as habits of the most successful people not only made sense objectively, but were something that I have observed in the lives of my own children and what I think we were inadvertently living.

Because the kids weren’t spending all of their time on one specialized skill, they were free to develop in other areas of their life. It made them happier, healthier, and better equipped to tackle the later challenges in life. Instead of being exceptionally good at just one or two things, they developed a high level of proficiency in many things.

Author, Pat Flynn, would call that a version of “generalism” and “skill stacking.” I wish that I would have had this book to years ago in order to concretely identify the good of our choices instead of harboring an incorrect notion that we were just directionless. That feeling of “we should be doing something special and amazing at all times” can overpower a homeschool parent’s sense of reason… and this book provides some much needed perspective.

I think many homeschoolers instinctively apply Flynn’s principles and that is really the genius of homeschooling; that we have the time to become excellent at certain specialties while still becoming well rounded. But I also think that deliberately applying his principles can help restore some peace of mind and sanity to homeschool parents thinking they are obligated to mold their child into the next Michael Phelps.

In Flynn’s book, he breaks down generalism and “the principles behind getting better at things” as follows:

  1. Skill Stacking > Specialization

  2. Short-Term Specialization

  3. The Rule of 80 Percent

  4. Integration > Isolation

  5. Repetition and Resistance

Just going over that list after reading the book reminds me that we are doing okay by bucking the specialization trend. In fact, we are doing great.

Before I go further, I want to be clear that this is not a homeschooling book and I don’t know if it has occurred to Flynn that it could be. It’s a book for anyone who wants to be better at anything. It’s for those who have health specific goals or business goals… it applies to everything. That makes it perfectly suited to the homeschooler since the homeschooler really is about embracing general excellence in personal education and formation.

This is not about how to be mediocre at everything, but about how to be great at a lot of things!

Flynn writes:

“Simply put, it is better to be better (than most people, at most things) than to be the best at any one thing. Skills in combination are more powerful than individual skills by themselves, even if they aren’t fully developed.”

I know this through my own life experience but it is tougher as parents. When we pulled our wildly talented kids out of swimming, people thought we were nuts; they were angry that we were ruining their chances at scholarships and “throwing away” their talent. Since then, we’ve quit a number of things for similar reasons to the reasons we stepped away from competitive swimming. We had to… because our kids natural abilities inevitably put them on the hyperdrive track of success in many things they tried. And the culture of youth activities is often, frankly, insane and unhealthy.

I confess that it sometimes felt like we were stacking failures. Perhaps if I had been able to read a book like this years ago, I would have been consoled. I would have seen that my children were actually collecting successes, not abandoning them. They were practicing short term specialization, not failing at excellence. And I would have seen more clearly that their hodge podge of experience was not a mess… but an adventure in skill stacking.

As I read through the book, I was excited to make these positive associations with what have been some difficult choices. And I am also excited going forward to apply the principles in a more deliberate way; with less hand-wringing over what we might be missing out on by not being specialized in one thing.

One thing I loved about this book was that although it is written in a funny and casual style, the heart of the message is intelligent and deep. And as the book progresses, there is an almost palpable energy felt from the author that builds toward the end — youthful in the healthiest way — as if he’s just bursting to tell the reader about the discoveries he has made about the most important things in life and love and eternity.

Although the book is written for a broad audience (including the 18K followers he has on his YouTube fitness channel!), I wasn’t surprised to find out later that it was written during his conversion to Catholicism. His joy of philosophy and references to St. Thomas Aquinas… those were tip-offs… but I guess the undercurrent of joy was the real telltale sign.

One of the best parts of the book is his discussion on the Freedom of Excellence where he turns the subject of self-discipline from “you can’t have the doughnut” into LOOK WHAT YOU CAN HAVE! He injects youth and delight into a subject most people ignore as the killjoy of life.

He also really hammers home in a fun way a fundamental principle of my healing journey: It’s the little choices which make the difference over the long haul. And the short term sacrifice produces the most incredible dividends. If we can’t be the best in the world at one thing, we can still be the very best version of who God made us to be. That journey doesn’t have to be dull. And it doesn’t have to look at all like the world expects it to look.

**One final note for all the homeschooling moms like me who love to pass all their self-improvement books on to their kids: Flynn does include a quote at the beginning of chapter 2 which includes an F-bomb… and a couple other references which are not young kid friendly. So if you’re kids are precocious enough to read self-improvement books at a young age (mine have been), then take note.

The Best $20 I Ever Spent for Homeschooling: Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

{This post contains affiliate links. I may receive compensation for purchases
you make through my links. More info
Here.} 

c88188b4-560c-41ce-987e-2cf78cf0f44c_1.791ecce6908766754a37f7bbef94e076.jpg

In spite of the many (MANY) purchase mistakes I have made for our homeschool, our reading program has never lost its place as the jewel in my curricular crown. Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons is the best purchase we have made in the education of our children, and I recommend it without hesitation. Back in 1999, I read a great review and purchased it immediately. One book. $20. A real steal for the value it has brought to our home.

No program is a magic pill. We do not flip a switch or say a word and find that our children can suddenly read or write or do word problems. Teaching and mentoring is vital to this process. But there are some learning systems which do make teaching and learning easier and this is one of them. Each of my kids has a different learning personality and they are all excellent readers, well beyond their grade levels, not only in technical skills but also comprehension. I believe that their strong foundation and positive early experience has been pivotal in that success.

At the completion of this program, my kids have been at about a 2nd grade reading level. This allows them to jump immediately to short chapter books. It isn't long before they are able to dive into much more advanced literature.

It goes without saying that there is no program which suits every child, every teacher, and every family. In fact, I am a firm believer that, given a reasonably good selection of decent options, the biggest factor in student success is how comfortable the teacher is with the program! I know moms who do not like this method and it comes as no surprise that their kids don’t either. It suits my personality and teaching preferences perfectly so it ends up fitting my whole family like a glove. This is particularly true when teaching very young children because they learn best in the lap of a happy mom. Student preference comes into play much more in later years.

I do have some words of advice for those interested in this program:

  • 100 Easy Lessons does not use the traditional alphabet order for teaching sounds. Nor does it even introduce the names of letters until the second half of the book. There are excellent reasons for this but it is difficult at first for a parent to resist adding the alphabet method with which we were taught. Read the forward information thoroughly and commit to it and you won't be sorry. It has always been a little awkward when my pre-K students can't sing the ABC song with peers but it pays off when my 10-year olds are reading Shakespeare. 

  • The program is designed in 100 lessons but this does not mean that it must (or should) be done in 100 consecutive days. In fact, I recommend making or purchasing sound and word flash cards that can be used to reinforce lessons in between book days. Some kids need more of this than others. You'll know how much time they need as you go along.

  • Take as much time as your student needs in review time but avoid repeating lessons. It really tends to demoralize the kids, especially if they struggled the first time. The book instructions do warn against this but it can be tempting to do it anyway. Don't. If the child is not ready for the new lesson, review until they are; but repeating lessons is a drag and feels like a failure. If the lesson is a total disaster for one reason or another, just stop, focus on review (or allow a day off) and just begin again another day. There are some children who LOVE to go back and read everything again. I'm not talking about those children. 

  • The program uses a particular method of writing sounds that differs slightly from traditional lettering. This is designed to get the kids reading faster (which is highly motivating) and does work. But there is a point toward the latter part of the program when the transition is made to standard lettering. This can be a bit challenging for the kids. My advice is to just be patient and recognize that the primary obstacle (in my experience) is the fear of something unknown and not an actual inability to read. My more conservative children stumbled a little over this transition. The more adventurous just plowed ahead!

There are many program aids available through the publisher. I used none of them for the first two but did purchase the flash card supplement for my third which I have found to be extremely helpful. I made my own sound cards prior to that but never had the patience to write out all the words. The purchased cards include the sounds plus hundreds of words organized by lesson. The only downside is having to cut them out yourself… but that's a lot easier than writing them out, in my opinion! I don't remember how much I paid but the website now lists options between $10 and $35. Find them HERE under “Support Material.”

So...a $20 to $55 investment yields a priceless treasure!

The average cost for teaching my kids to read is currently just over $8 a piece. I paid $20 for the original book and found another at a used book sale for $10 just because I love the book so much. I purchased the support package at $35 and have used the program to teach 7 kids so far and will teach my 8th in a few years.

The book is now available at Amazon for under $15. Even if it’s not a good fit for your family, that’s a small price to pay to find out!

Full Knowledge: Abusing Theology of the Body

velizar-ivanov-502066-unsplash.jpg

I first published this article in 2016 in response to Christopher West’s unapologetic public participation in the viewing of the pornographic movie, Deadpool. I am resurrecting it in direct response to the recent scandal at Franciscan University in which a professor disseminated blasphemous literary porn to his upper level student for the purpose of academic study.

In spite of his defense of academic freedom and the necessity of a well-rounded education, I maintain that there is no justification for exposing students of any age to pornography. The University did issue an apology, calling the material “directly pornographic and blasphemous” but the Catholic community is divided.

Frankly, I am stunned that faithful Catholics must even have this debate. I am alarmed at the confusion among people who otherwise know and follow the Church’s teachings. The core of this issue is not the petty squabbling over political agenda (where much of the discussion seems to have stalled) but a grave offense against Our Lord and Our Lady and a grave spiritual and material offense committed by a professor.

Below is further explanation (if really needed) about why we don’t need to read sacrilegious porn in advanced literature classes and also a quick refresher of why Catholics can’t morally dabble in porn.

———————

Full Knowledge: Abusing Theology of the Body

I'll begin by making one thing very clear: I am not judging your soul. I - like you - have full access to the teachings of the Catholic Church. If I reference a moral absolute, it is her authority I'm leaning on, not my own. If you feel uncomfortable under her maternal gaze, it is not I who am making you uncomfortable... it is your conscience doing what it is supposed to do. 

This post is written largely in response to Christopher West's recent internet treatment of the movie Deadpool and the growing number of his followers (mostly men) who seem to be drifting away from the firm teachings of the Church on pornography. In short, West publicly acknowledges the pornographic content of Deadpool in one post and then posts again about how he went to see the film regardless. I am not judging souls... just sounding an alarm for an increasingly permissive approach to a matter which is (and always has been) a slippery slope to hell. 

N.B...
I'm deliberately not linking West's Deadpool posts. I normally would but he includes details which might be a stumbling block for some and unnecessarily upsetting for others. He is direct about some of the worst content. The first time I read reviews on the movie, I was saddened and sickened. It's porn. It's deviant. That's all I wish I knew. I doubt this post follows St. Josemaria's guideline below precisely, but I'd like to stay as close as I can and hopefully convince readers to just stay the heck away:

"Never speak of impure things or events, not even to lament them. Remember that such matter is stickier than pitch. Change the subject or, if that is not possible, continue with it, speaking of the need and the beauty of purity — a virtue of men who know the value of their souls." {St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, 131}

Moving on...

I married a moral theologian. Consequently, I am well aware of the complexities and nuances of in-depth theological thought. It can rattle the brain and my brain is easily rattled. I recognize objectively that the study and practice of theology is necessary and important and even recognized in the Catechism. Good theologians are very much needed. But I also know (and have witnessed many times) that the pursuit of intellectual excellence, without the hedges of obedience or proper formation, will often produce bad fruits in the soul and also harm others who rely on that "expertise."

To put it in my non-theological sort of way...

  • We don't need to be theologians in order to become saints.

  • We don't need to even be literate in order to become saints.

  • We don't need JPII's Theology of the Body in order to become saints.

  • We don't need Christopher West's interpretation of JPII's ToB in order to become saints.

  • We don't need Christopher West to go see a porn flick and then report back to us in order for us to become saints.

  • We don't even need access to a computer in order to become saints. 

  • We can be blown off the path of sanctity by consuming bad theology from people with good intentions.

God did not create such a complex system of moral nuances that we cannot become holy without having it filtered through a pop-Catholic professional. In fact, His design is so beautifully simple and accessible that even children can enter into the kingdom of heaven with no more than their simple, fervent, obedient love.

Obviously, the problem is more with us adults... who aren't content with that simple fidelity... and who are constantly seeking to justify our preferences and desires and restructure the moral universe accordingly.

Saint Maria Goretti didn't need Theology of the Body in order to cherish her dignity and to desire God's will. And to be frank, I can't imagine any circumstance under which she would have willingly been subject to the diabolical spiritual and emotional violence of a movie like Deadpool. In her simple faith, she would see the evil of the action on it's face and turn away.

"Purity of heart brings freedom from widespread eroticism and avoidsentertainment inclined to voyeurism and illusion." {Catechism of the Catholic Church 2525}

St. Thomas Aquinas was one of the greatest Catholic theologians of all time, and his defense of holy purity fierce. It seems unimaginable for him to have purchased a ticket to something like Deadpool or to have defended the idea of doing so. 

The great error that some followers of Christopher West (and perhaps West himself) regularly fall into is the idea that our level of spiritual maturity permits us a greater (God-approved) ability to tolerate such horrific displays without falling into sin. One doesn't need to be an intellectual powerhouse to know that simply choosing to sit through such a thing can be a sin in itself. Fortunately, our path to heaven will be by way of faithful and obedient love, not theological prowess. And for those of us who don't have any impressive degrees, we know that we only need fall back on basic Church teaching and the example of the saints to know the way to holiness. 

To clarify for those who are rusty in the basics...

The Church's definition of pornography can be found HERE {CCC 2354}.
In order for a sin to be mortal, there are three requirements that must be met:

  1. Grave Matter.

  2. Full Knowledge.

  3. Deliberate Consent.

That's straight from the Catechism. And that's really all we need to know about whether or not to see a pornographic movie like Deadpool. If you are reading this post, it is probable that the question of whether or not you should see that movie is easily resolved...

  1. Grave Matter? (Yes. Pornography is always grave matter. Period. Read the Catechism)

  2. Full Knowledge? (Yes. If you didn't know before, you do now! Deadpool is pornographic. And West fully agrees with that assessment, by the way.)

  3. Deliberate Consent? (Did you have a choice whether or not to watch? It will be the rare bird who doesn't. Certainly not the ToB fans - mostly men - who have so casually written about the movie all over their blogs.)

Again, I'm sounding an alarm not judging a soul. I have observed West's actions through his public writing and lament the scandal that he has caused by even purchasing a ticket to this movie knowing full well what it contained. The world does not need West to see movies so that we know what's in them. He did us no service. 

We don't need Deadpool in order to understand the beautiful mystery of of God's gift.
We don't need any movie in order to know the Church's teaching on the dignity of each human person and the scourge of pornography.
We don't need West to keep reminding us (through his consumption and sharing of diabolical garbage) that there are searching souls behind the bodies on the screen. 

The Catechism is clear. And our God of Mercy and Love has gifted us with a simple way to heaven that does not ever fit with the consumption of porn. Was West a "consumer" of porn" when he saw Deadpool? Absolutely. He knew it was there. Paid for it. Sat through it. Listened to it. Whether or not he was tempted by it is irrelevant to that discussion. It was wrong. Catechism 101. 

I am not interested at all in some complex defense of hell in the movie theater... even with personal testimony complete with disclaimers of head-hanging during the raunchiest parts. And I deeply resent the watering down of the clear, beautiful, freeing, and marvelously concise gift of sexuality given by the Catholic Church through such witness. 

Deadpool is diabolical. Avoid it. And if some theologian comes along and tells you that there exists a justification for any man to take part in that kind of evil... buy him a Catechism and rescind your dinner invitation. That's not the kind of guy you want bloviating in front of your children.


Quick note to readers who might be angry or confused...

To those whose lives have been positively impacted by Christopher West...
His human errors do not negate the power of God working in your lives. Nothing in this post can reduce the magnificence of what the Lord has done for you. I am addressing a particular error, not reducing the blessing and gift you have received. I rejoice with you over that blessing.

To those who think that Theology of the Body was invented by Christopher West...
It wasn't. The original Theology of the Body was written and spoken by Pope Saint John Paul II through a series of papal audiences. Christopher West's teachings are an interpretation of JPII's work. There are many differences, and a reading of both reveals inconsistencies in content and context. If you want to learn more about Theology of the Body, I recommend  reading the works of the original author. 

To those of you who think that JPII's Theology of the Body gives permission to view pornography in any form according to the individual conscience...
It doesn't. In fact, you will not even be able to find allowance for nude photography or modern nude paintings, let alone live actors. Please read this excellent article by David Clayton (co-author of The Little Oratory): Why JPII's Theology of the Body Says that Nude Figure Drawing is a Bad Thing.

To those of you who will send me nasty grams because I'm a "stupid prude" and "don't understand" Christopher West...
Count to ten. Then pick up the Catechism. Read it. And if you aren't able to find justification for purchasing a ticket to a porn flick (however cleverly disguised as a superhero movie), then save your energy for more noble purposes.

static1.squarespace.jpg

How to be Happy When You Don't Feel Christmas

Christmas Emotions.jpg

My husband’s relationship with donuts has taught me so much about happiness at Christmas. Hang with me for a minute…

You see, he is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to weight loss. He’s never been overweight and is always within 15 pounds of his ideal, depending on desire and need. Since it is volleyball season for him and being a few pounds lighter helps his vertical and eases the stress on his (aging) joints, he decided to lose a few pounds. And he did.

He cut out some unnecessary calories, put in a couple extra workouts, and lost a few pounds. Just like that. I marvel at the ease with which he does that. There’s no emotion. He doesn’t hand-wring over the donut on the counter that he can’t have or the craving for a late night snack. He just acknowledges the pang and moves on.

Hello donut. Looking good. Have a nice day.

Totally detached. He doesn’t emotionalize the thing but just does it, while the rest of us are in the death grip of the drama of guilt, failure, regret, and all the wild highs and lows of… donuts.

Christmas emotion is like my special donut in that way. I crave it, reach for it, can’t have it, and fret over it endlessly and fruitlessly. I have convinced myself that I have a right to it and have incorrectly identified emotional satisfaction with joy.

I want my happy Christmas. I want it big. I want it now.

Over some difficult terrain of my young mothering years, I came to associate Christmas with certain negative emotions as I battled through difficult pregnancies and chronic health conditions. As things got tougher, Advent and Christmas became a source of physical and emotional pain…

“Dear Jesus… I do not know how I am going to survive this. I hurt everywhere from my toes to my soul. I can barely think. I can barely move. My children are waiting expectantly for joy to come… and I’m kind of in charge of facilitating that. I am a failure. And I have been left out.”

“Fake it ‘til you make it” is the ultimate practical survival tool in these moments. It works. But it costs something, too. The struggle of forcing my way through so many Christmases of pain pushed me into numbness necessary for survival. Each time I opened the door to my emotions, I was overwhelmed with pain and grief and so… I reflexively shut the door.

I will never forget the first year that numbness took over the holy days. I was used to pain but that nothingness was even more alarming to me. For the first time, I felt nothing at the beautiful Midnight Mass. Nothing in the morning. Not depression.... just a protective covering and fog over everything.

A new wave grief swept over that emptiness… Like a lost childhood. Like waking up from a lovely dream and finding darkness. Like learning that most earthly Christmas delights are the ones that you are too tired to prepare. This is Christmas? This is Christmas.

And so began a very late education in what Christmas is really about even though every middle class Christian knows that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” We think we know... because we can afford to purchase our endorphin rush with all the smells and bells and giving. We think we know… because we bought the bumper sticker. We think we know… because we helped set up the decorations at church and had Father over for dinner. But when the consolation of our own glittery preparations is gone, we fall hard and learn fast that we don’t really possess the peace of Christmas at all…

Because our attachment to the emotion of our celebration is stronger than our attachment to Christ. We have prepared the meal but have neglected the relationship.

This is especially true for Christians. We expect more from Christmas because we feel entitled to the emotions… it belongs to us. We want to uncover the glory and swim in it, celebrate it, share it. We grieve deeply when we cannot feel those things or when we feel the “wrong” emotions like sadness or loneliness.

I am not suggesting that emotions are bad, only that they easily become a god when we seek them instead of true encounter with Christ. Dr. Alice von Hildebrand writes about emotional sensitivities this way:

“Hypersensitivity becomes an illegitimate source of suffering when it is self-centered;… a sensitive heart is given to us to feel for others, and to love them more deeply and more tenderly. But since original sin, it tends to degenerate into a maudlin self-centeredness that is not only disastrous but also causes great pain for the sensitive person.”

My own pain pushed me into a self-centered shell. But as I moved past the alarm of the absence of feeling Christmas (except a vague sad ache), the intellectual fog began to clear, the grace of the sacraments acted, and I reawakened to the simple, undecorated truths of Christmas. I was not blinded by my emotions because I had few to grapple with. I was forced to look my disappointment in the eye and admit:

You’ve got it wrong. You’ve always had it wrong. You’ve been crying over the donut.

Then an incredible thing happened…

As I moved through the motions of Christmas, unfettered by the ups and downs of my complicated emotional chemistry, I found the steady hand of Jesus Christ walking me through the middle of the highs and lows. I looked to the right and saw the heights of Christmas cheer; the parties, the wrapping paper, the lights. I looked to the left and saw the deep valley of fatigue, disappointment, failure, and pain.

My own feet were on a narrow path right in the middle guided by the hand of Christ. I was given the grace to view the highs and lows with a third party objectivity… like my husband looks at a donut. The hand of Jesus felt like the weight of a million stars. Steady. Deeper than emotion. Beyond pain. Beyond consolation.

I acknowledge that am an emotionally sensitive person and I have allowed that gift to become a stumbling block to Christ. The grace to see that truth plainly was a healing gift that hasn’t made me perfect but has allowed me to grow a little.

As Christmas approaches, I am reminded once again that I must not worship Christmas and emotional consolation… but Christ alone.

Having an emotionally healthy Christmas is about engaging in a real relationship with Christ and allowing feelings to exist without allowing them to control our understanding of the truth. If you feel the emotional joy, welcome it but do not cling to it. If you feel a depression, don’t panic but walk with it calmly until it passes. Do not cling to it. Sometimes we don’t realize how strongly we cling to our sorrows and encourage our own melancholy.

The emotional Christmas donut simply has no legitimate authority over our relationship with Jesus Christ. The goal is not to restore emotion or eradicate it, but to put it in its proper place, subservient to authentic relational love.

If you struggle with emotions at this time of year, I encourage you to take half an hour and watch (or rewatch) the original Dr. Seuss version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It is the one of the simplest modern depictions of an emotionally healthy Christmas.

At the climax of the story, morning comes and the viewer knows that the residents of Whoville are awake. We know, without seeing, that they have found their trees and presents gone, their feasts missing, their decorations torn away. They don’t know who did it and they don’t know why.

The lights go on, a couple seconds pass, and then... the singing begins... 

They gather with smiles in a circle in the center of town and immediately begin to worship. At least that’s what I see them doing. The bright star appears before them and rises with their song and rejoicing. They didn’t have to be worked up into joy… they simply never lost it to begin with. (Watch the clip HERE)

Screen Shot 2018-12-20 at 12.02.39 PM.png

They knew that someone took their “donut” and perhaps they felt the sting of disappointment; but they didn’t allowed it to disrupt their relationship with the Heart of Christmas, who we know to be Jesus Christ.

Then - without any explanation given to him or drawn out drama - the grinch was immediately transformed. It was an almost ridiculously fast conversion. Cartoonish in its speed but also representative of the power, not of Christmas, but of the very Presence of God. That conversion is exactly what we spend all Advent (and our lives) seeking and which can certainly be accomplished in a moment when in the Presence of Divine Love.

I love this movie because it shows me how reflexively we are called to give all. In a moment. To choose love now and forever.

My own Christmas experiences have matured a little over the years. One result of my forced period of detachment has been a steady reconnection with a gentler emotional happiness. Since I am not as easily rocked by the raging emotional sea, I am more free to embrace the milder, deeper path. I don’t generally feel Christmas euphoria but neither do I usually experience a true depression. I’ve settled in with gratitude for every consolation and a more measured response to disappointment.

I don’t write this because I am spiritually advanced (I assure you that I am not and my loved ones can confirm!) but as someone who has been through (and am still going through) the school of Christmas hard knocks. In other words, I’m getting older and inevitably experiencing more... and I just want you to know...

Don’t fret over the donut. God has bigger plans for your happiness. In fact, He is the plan. He is your happiness. Rejoice!

purified sensitivity (2).jpg

DIY Saint Lucia Crown and Costume (Beginner and Intermediate Tutorials)

St. Lucy Banner.png

Since St. Lucy is the patroness of one of our little girls, we’ve had the opportunity to DIY a couple versions of Lucia and her crown over the last few years. The first version was for our girl when she was about 2 years old and could be considered a beginner tutorial using mostly felt.

The second was when she was 5 and requires a little more patience with artificial flowers, leaves, felt, and stretch lace. However, both crowns are relatively easy and can be used for younger or older girls.

Both are perfect for All Saints’ Day costumes, saint reports for school or church, and of course, for the Feast of St. Lucy on December 13th. (Find some lovely ideas for celebrating St. Lucia’s Day at Shower of Roses)


One note about my tutorials…
I'm the kind of crafter who fiddles with something just until it looks right and then sticks it together with whatever works.  Consequently, my tutorials are perhaps more vague than some prefer. So... up front... I don't have any more details than what I’ve written. This is it! And I still think that you can do it. Yours will probably look different than mine and that's completely fine. That’s actually how it should be. Carry on! 


SAINT LUCY CROWN AND GOWN (#1 Beginner Felt)

I initially made this crown while stuck on the couch with pregnancy nausea. Ah, memories! Working for two minutes, pausing to let the waves pass, cutting, stitching, nausea, using some Christmas felt that I already owned... but it worked out nicely.

I didn't use a pattern at the time, just cut and hoped for the best. When a friend asked me to share a tutorial, I said "sure!" That was 3 years ago now… I’m a little slow… but better late than never!

WHAT YOU NEED FOR THE CROWN:

  • One strip of green felt, 3/4"-2" wide and as long as the circumference of the child's head. (you can find felt-by-the-yard at your local fabric store)

  • One 2" piece of soft elastic. I used folded over stretch lace similar to THIS. FOE (fold over elastic) is also a great soft option.

  • 15-25 green felt holly leaves. Mine has 17 but I might have made it fuller if I had more time and less nausea. I divided the leaves between two shades of green to give more dimension and also used 4 different sizes of leaves. A template is below for those who need it. Drag and drop into a document and adjust the size to your liking. (Aren’t you just bowled over by my tech brilliance?) I cut mine freehand because I had no patience for tracing and cutting along lines.

  • Red felt for Berries. Cut however many you want from red felt. I used 5 but could certainly have used more. 

  • White felt for candles. I used five because my girl had a toddler sized head but you can use as many as you like. I used 2" x 3" squares of white felt. Most felt tutorials I have seen have flat felt candles and I wanted mine to be a bit rounder. So I designed these to roll up. You can make these taller or fatter if your child is older or if you just want bigger candles!

  • Flames. Red, orange, and yellow felt flames for each candle. You don't have to use those colors. I wanted to give a bit more of a dimensional feel to mine so I varied the sizes and colors. 

  • Thread or hot glue (or both). IMPORTANT: You can glue this instead of sewing it. Glue is a wonderful tool for getting things to stay put and works great on felt. However, the last step that I used was a running stitch straight through the length of the headband to reinforce strength and secure everything. You will NOT be able to do that step if you have hot glued everything. That is because you will break your needle and jam your machine! So just choose your path ahead of time.

WHAT YOU NEED FOR THE DRESS:

  • A white dress or tunic of any kind. This one was a castoff from an angel costume over a white turtleneck. I bought it off a local family for $5.

  • A red sash. If you want. It’s not strictly necessary. The white of the dress represents purity and the red sash the blood of martyrdom. You can use a strip of satin like I did or any fabric at all. A red scarf or ribbon might also work.

St. Lucy Costume 1.png

HOW TO MAKE THE FELT CROWN


1. HEADBAND

I started with a simple strip of green felt for the headband. The width can be as wide as you like but mine was about 3/4" since I didn't want any of it showing past the leaves (I’m particular like that) and because her head was small. Measure your child's head around where you want the crown to sit. Use that measurement as the length.

Cut a two-inch strip of soft elastic (FOE, folded over stretch lace, or whatever you have on hand). 

You will be attaching the ends of the felt together with the elastic so this has less to do with measurements than it does how it feels on your child’s head. Pin the elastic when it is at a comfortable place on her head (being careful not to pin her head, of course) so that it stretches enough to be comfortable, but it snug enough to stay put. Stitch in place.


2. LEAVES

I made my leaves to look like holly leaves the ones below. It doesn’t have to be holly but it fits nicely with Advent and is easy to reproduce. I made various sizes and a couple different shades of green.

There really isn’t a way to do this wrong. All of God’s leaves look different in nature and yours will, too. If you want to add extra dimension and fullness to your leaves, you can add the following step:

Fold the leaf in half and machine or hand stitch very close to the folded edge through the middle section of the leaf (indicates by the middle lines in my sketch below). When you unfold it, it will look like the middle vein of a real leaf. If you look closely at my photos, you can see the result.

St. Lucy leaves.png

Hand stitch or hot glue the leaves into place around the headband. I stitched mine.


3. FLAMES

I completely forgot to draw you some little flame templates BUT… I think you can figure it out. You will need one red, one orange, and one yellow flame “petal” for each candle. The shape is roughly a tear drop but with a point at both ends.

If you make each color successively smaller, the individual colors will be more visible. Cut these out and make them ready to attach to the candle pieces (below). You can draw your template first but I just cut them all differently. Have you ever seen two flames alike? Neither have I!

St. Lucy costume 2.png

4. CANDLES

I used five because my girl had a toddler sized head but you can use as many as you like. I cut 2" x 3" squares of white felt. Most felt tutorials I have seen have flat candles and I wanted mine to be a bit rounder and slightly more realistic. So I designed these to roll up into a tube shape. You can make these taller or fatter if your child is older or if you just want bigger candles!

There is no secret sauce to stitching so that these stay in place. Just use white thread and do what you have to do to keep it all together. If you are a gifted sweet, you will know what to do. If not, just put the needle through until it stays.

You can also use hot glue but that will make it difficult or impossible to stitch onto the headband later. In that case, you will have to use hot glue to affix the candles to the headband.

Before you roll the candle up, stitch (or glue) your red, orange, and yellow flames in the middle of each rectangle… right about where the top of the 3 is on the diagram. After you roll up the candle, your flames will be flickering right out of the top.

St. Lucy Candles.png

After the candles are constructed, arrange them around the wreath and stitch them to the inside. The base with flatten somewhat with stitches and then with the next step.


5. SECURE THE CROWN

If you haven’t used hot glue for anything on the headband so far, you can run a straight stitch right through the middle of the crown to make sure that candles, leaves, and band are all secure. The crown will be somewhat floppy when held (the price to pay for a soft and comfy crown) but should perk right up on the head. Almost done… just one more step…

Saintlucycrown.jpg

5. BERRIES

The finishing touch. These are pretty straight forward. Just cut out some circles and glue or stitch them wherever you think they look pretty!

St. Lucy berries.png

And that’s it! If you end up making this crown, I would love to see the fruits of your efforts. Feel free to send along a photo so that I can ooh and aah over your work (and adorable children).


SAINT LUCY CROWN AND GOWN (#2)

St. Lucy crown DIY.jpg

On her 5th All Saints’ Day, she wanted to be St. Lucia again and her old crown was a bit too small. Also (and to be completely honest), I was excited to try my hand at a more mature version using artificial leaves. The challenge this time was that I knew she would never tolerate anything that felt like leaves. It had to be as soft as the felt version or it would end up in my purse.

The crown was a success on all counts. Not only was it simple to pull together (and just as I had pictured it), but it was super soft to wear. In fact, she didn’t take it off even once during the festivities.

Also, this dress was a winner. So modest, soft, and feminine. All the details are below. I give you fair warning… my crown tutorial is loosey goosed. But generally crafty people should be just fine.

WHAT YOU NEED FOR THE CROWN:

  • Artificial flowers and leaves. I keep my eye out for particularly pretty and unique flowers at the Dollar Tree and then I take them apart. We use them for so many projects that the dollar is always well spent.

    I used 4 or 5 different kinds of leaves that I had in my stash plus gold and red metallic leaves that I cut from a bunch of Christmas themed artificial flowers. Use as many as you like. St. Lucia’s crown is traditionally made of evergreen but I never have been one for letting the perfect get in the way of the good so… we use what we have.

  • Stretch Lace. You can also use elastic but I knew this headband had to be the gentlest, softest base possible for my little sensory sensitive kiddo. This 2.25” lace isn’t exactly what I used but it is similar.

    When it isn’t on the head, this crown is super floppy… but it perks right up when it’s worn. The key is to make sure everything is secured with hand stitches in a balanced fashion.

  • White felt for the candles. You will also need small rectangles of felt to secure the candles to the headband. 

  • Needle and thread

  • Hot glue. Most of this crown will be hand-stitched but there will be places where a glue gun will be helpful and appropriate.

St. Lucy Crown 4.jpg

WHAT YOU NEED FOR THE DRESS:

  • An Amazon account. I purchased this dress for about $15 after researching the multitude of Chinese companies which sell it. I finally came across this low price (I found it as high as $70 on ebay!) and made the purchase. We will be repurposing it for Easter by dying it a pastel color. It is thin but so classically beautiful and comfy.

    Prices are constantly fluctuating on Amazon so the best price I have found recently is HERE for $20 with free shipping. You can bargain hunt by searching “girls flutter sleeve chiffon dress”.

  • A red sash. We chose to keep it simple this year but it would be very easy to tie a strip of chiffon or satin around the waist.

  • A note about footwear. My girl wears cowgirl boots with everything. I’m okay with that.

St. Lucy Crown DIY 1.jpg

HOW TO MAKE ST. LUCY’S CROWN


  1. Measure the stretch lace or elastic to fit your girl’s head comfortably yet securely. The stretch lace works best if you double it. You can use two layers of 2” stretch lace or fold over a length of 4”. Stitch cut ends together to form the band.

  2. Choose the leaves and petals you’d like to use for the crown foliage and stitch a first layer onto the elastic. This is a little delicate since stretch lace generally has holes in it and doesn’t tolerate a very tight stitch. This is why this is an intermediate project… because you will need to find that fine line between securely attaching and leaving the stretch intact. You will add a second layer at the end with a glue gun or stitches.

  3. Make your candles using the instructions in the previous tutorial except increase the height of the candles for an older child. These are 4” tall x 3” wide rectangles.

    I only made four candles because that’s all the white felt I had left. It gave the correct general impression so I was content. 

    Instead of felt flames, I used one gold and one metallic red petal layered together. I also used a glue gun to make the candles instead of stitching because the candles will eventually be glued to the headband anyway.

  4. Use a hot glue gun to attach the candles to the OUTSIDE of the stretch elastic... where the leaves are. Find places in the foliage where it will be mostly hidden. The hot glue will seep through the inside of the stretch lace (the part that will touch her head). I did not want that scratching her head and I also wanted the candles more secure… so I cut small rectangles of matching felt and placed them on the inside of the headband. When the glue seeped through from the front when gluing on the candle, I pressed on the felt to the inside. (See images below)

  5. Hot glue a second layer of leaves and petals over the first, arranging them to hide the candle base and stretch lace entirely. I made sure that I only glued the second layer to leaves or candles so that no glue would touch the stretch lace. I added a few gold leaves in this layer because… Tolkien made me do it.

  6. Add berries if you like. I had planned to add glittery red berries from a Dollar Tree fine but it looked so pretty without that I just left it alone.

  7. Remember that this crown will be all kinds of floppy until it is on the head. The floppiness was a challenge as I worked with it and I was nervous that it wouldn’t hold up. But… it’s perfect. 

St. Lucy Crown DIY 2.jpg
St Lucy Crown 3.jpg

If you’d like to show off the results of your own crafting, I’d love to see your pictures! Feel free to email them to me so that I can give thanks to God with you for His work through your hands.