Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Legend of the Candy Cane: A Book Review

This was such a delightful children's Christmas book! The book itself is a sturdy board book-- safe for little hands! My favorite part hands-down was the illustration. I could look through this book over and over just for the beautiful pictures. I can only imagine how much a child would enjoy it-- especially the pages with the candy store pictures! The story itself was shorter and simpler than I expected when I first ordered the book. In some ways, the detailed illustrations and the meaningful story seem like they would be more appropriate for an older child audience, yet the board-style book and short length would fit a younger child. Other than that, I'm so excited to share this book with my precious niece and nephews for Christmas, and to read it to my own children years from now. I firmly believe you can never have two many Christmas books, and this is a lovely addition to my collection.

[Thank you to BookLook Bloggers for my review copy at no charge to me! These are my honest and original comments.]

Sunday, December 14, 2014


A few weeks ago I shared with you my struggle this Advent about the clutter in my stable. My soul-searching questions on what to do with the messiness of my life and heart this season.

I considered giving up Facebook or Pinterest. (umm...ok. I take that back. I didn't actually consider giving up Pinterest, not even for a brief moment.) I tried decreasing my cell phone use. I bought Scott Hahn's new book Joy to the World. (hashtag: favorite Catholic author.)

And those were good things to do and to give up.

But I ended up taking a different route this Advent...a different path to Bethlehem, perhaps.

I chose a word.

Just one word. My thoughts and goals and desires stripped down to one single word to simplify my season and focus.


(Now since you are reading this instead of hearing it, I can't use the play on words that I did at an Advent presentation for my parish the other night about presents vs. presence. Just pretend and we'll move on.)

I want to be aware of God's presence in my life. In my day. Because that's Emmanuel, God with us. He really is with us every moment. He with us right now--you at your computer, me at mine...He's with us. We forget that, don't we? We're never alone. He is present. He is with us. He loves us. 
In our busy lives, how often do we pause and remember that God is with us? It's a gift. And I think if we paused more often this month to remember that truth, it would help guide the choices we make, the gifts we buy, the ways we fill our schedule and spend the time.

I also wanted the word Presence to remind me to live in the present moment. I so often am thinking about the future, whether it's planning homemade Christmas gifts, my wedding next May, or even what I can find to make for dinner tomorrow night. I miss out on the gift and grace of the here and now. I forget to be grateful. There's only ever enough grace to live the moment. God has the rest in His hands. I think we feel less rushed when we live one day, one moment at a time. Instead of worrying or planning for tomorrow, I'm committing to simply accepting the gift of this day and living it with gratitude.

Finally I want the word Presence to call me to be more fully present to others. Maybe that's the cashier at Walmart (because I hate shopping there this time of year, you guys; too many people and carts, and too. much. stuff.)...maybe God is calling me to make conversation with her because she just lost her mom and is dreading the holidays. Maybe it's the patient I had last Monday who was recovering from a stroke. Her mind was healthy and hard at work but there was a disconnect as she struggled and tearfully stuttered her words. Watching her and helping her made me slow down and be more fully present to her than I had realized I could be. Afterwards, I noticed my whole being was more at peace, because I had slowed down, lived in the moment, been fully present to her, and saw Jesus in her.

Choosing this word and reflecting on it this season hasn't changed my life, but it has changed moments. It hasn't given me a spotless, decluttered manger-heart for Jesus to enter, but it has helped me look for Him more in my day and make more room for Him in my life.

Today may you be aware of God's presence with you personally right now, His love for you, His desire for you to experience Him and his hope, peace, and joy this Advent. Be in this present moment. Let Him speak to your heart. He always speaks with love. And being filled with Him, may you find moments this season to be more fully present to the hurting and needy around us.

Happy Gaudete (Joyful!) Sunday, dear friends. Life doesn't have to be perfect to be joyful, and neither do the holidays!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Clutter in the Stable

Stuff. We can't seem to get away from it. We're so blessed with stuff yet we trip over it at the same time.

It's this paradox I struggle with. The boxes of Christmas decorations on my kitchen floor, the piles of dishes in the sink, the endless mountains of mail and paperwork, the tornado aftermath of glitter and glue and cardstock from my attempt at making Christmas cards.

It's driving me crazy. All this clutter.

And it's driving me crazy that it's driving me crazy! Because I'm thankful too. I really am. The stuff is also the blessing. I'm thankful for holidays and festive touches, for the time and money to cook at home, for the sweet cards people send in the mail, for the fun hobby of crafting.

Of course, let's not even talk about the clutter of my mind. You know, all those woman-thoughts we juggle every day as we plan, ponder, worry, and solve everything in the world. I'm pretty sure I live everywhere but the present moment. (Well, and there's the wedding planning perpetually on my mind. There's the little-girl-princess dreaming of a fairy tale wedding but also the adult-saint-in-progress overwhelmed by the materialism of it all and trying to keep it simple and holy!)

Even this post is clutter-y as I lay it all out there in no form of organization. (Has anything I've said yet really made sense?!)

So. I'm wondering.

Does the outer clutter cause the inner clutter? Does my cell phone, my social media, and my own perfectionist expectations cause the messy mind?

Or do I need to clean my heart out before I clean my house?

It's Advent, friends.

So I'm thinking about these things. About the my own messy stable. The manger of my heart. Is it clean? Is it comfortable?

More than anything, is it available?

Or is it full of stuff? So full to where I too often reply to Jesus like a crowded innkeeper? Too much going on today, no room to speak to Him, to see Him in others, to receive His love and listen for His voice. My stable is cluttered. My manger is messy. I need help this Advent.

Lord Jesus, my Savior, help me please. Help me make room for you this month. Help me quiet my space, simplify my schedule, prepare my heart, and invite you in.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Hello, beautiful friends. I'm so thankful for you!

It's a blessed Thanksgiving day here. My heart overflows with gratitude. Mass with P. and my family, precious time cooking with P. and setting up the Christmas tree. On our way to my parents for celebrating with dinner and time together.

At Mass, Father T. reminded us that we can't stop at enjoying the day with family or celebrating with food and football even though those things are certainly blessings. (eh, football...that's negotiable.) This is a day for thanking the Giver of all good gifts (James 1:17). Our Father in heaven who loves us so deeply and lavishes upon us His grace and mercy every day.

My holidays haven't always been picture-perfect like today feels. For five years in a row, I went through some type of breakup, including a broken engagement. I know what it's like to feel keenly the emotions of loneliness, disappointment, grief on a day like today. In the midst of my joy and thankfulness this year, my heart hurts for those struggling today. Those without food, without family, grieving the death of a family member, going solo to the get-together, those who do not know Jesus and His love for them. So I pray a special prayer for you today, that you will feel the presence of God with you. That you receive His outpouring of love, strength, comfort, and sufficient grace. And hope.

He has given us good things. And He has good things in store (Sirach 2:9)! He prepares our paths with love and care, and He walks each step beside us.

Let us give thanks together for this day, this moment, and the simplest of blessings contained in them.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Little Bit O' Homesteading {my successful attempt at baking pumpkins and squash}

We had a Thanksgiving potluck at work last week and as most of the meal dishes already had cooks signed up for them, I decided to snazzy up our coffee in the morning by bringing Copycat Starbucks Pumpkin Scones.

But alas! The day I was to make them, I opened up the cupboard, dug through the, uh, perfectly organized cans of course...but no pumpkin was to be found. What's a girl to do? Call her sister, of course...who had no canned pumpkin either!

Desperate times call for desperate measures. She suggested sacrificing my Fall decorations. The prairie woman within was awakened.

So I solemnly took my cute little pie pumpkin near the candle and potpourri and brought it to the kitchen, adding a butternut squash for company.

Want to try your hand at making real pumpkin puree and butternut squash? Follow along...

Here are my cute little guys.

First, slice off the tops and bottoms.

Cut each in half so you can then see the seeds to scoop out.

For the butternut squash, you will want to cut the sides off like you would a pineapple.

Scoop out the seeds and pulpy stuff of each. Remember to save your pumpkin seeds for roasting!

I chopped the butternut squash in chunks but the pumpkin I left in fourths, with the outer skin on.

I baked them in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes. No oil on them or the pumpkin will not make a good puree.
This is how it looked when I removed it from the oven.

As you can tell, I will never be a food blogger. First, because my pictures are sadly inadequate. Secondly, because I forgot to take a picture at the very end!! I packaged the butternut squash chunks in a freezer bag and froze them until I decide to make a soup or pasta recipe with them. The pumpkin I mashed in a bowl until it resembled puree (a food processor would do the job really well if you have one!).

And there you have it. My fairly successful attempt at homemade pumpkin puree (with some tips on butternut squash just for fun, too).

Many thanks to the real Pioneer Woman for helpful hints along the way.

Happy Thanksgiving week, friends! Did you know I'm thankful for you?!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

When It's Hard to Find the Strength to Go to Him

Yesterday morning, I was reflecting on John chapter 11, specifically verses 17-37. The story of Lazarus' death and when Jesus goes to raise him from the dead. But I wasn't thinking about Lazarus. Or even Jesus.

I was thinking about the sisters.

Their grief and the way they dealt with it. Their friendship with Jesus and how their brother's death affected it.

When their brother was ill, they called upon Jesus because of their faith in Him.

"So the sisters sent word to him, saying, 'Master, the one you love is ill.'"

He stayed two days longer in His current town before traveling to their rescue. Because He knew--He had another plan, one that would bring greater glory to God and greater faith and trust in Him.

In the meantime, Lazarus died. And sometimes the unexpected happens in our own lives, when we've cried out to God time and time again to save us from an outcome, heartache, pain. But it happens anyway. I don't know about you, but I've wrestled with this at times. The question "Why?" Eight months ago, I sat alone in the back of the church during Sunday Mass, overwhelmed by my grief but soaking in the Scripture readings. John 11 was being read and this tiny hidden verse hit me as it had never done before. Because I related to Mary:

"When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home."

Even though I still believe in Him, still trust Him with my mind...I just don't have the strength or the words to pray. I sit there but my heart struggles. Is that okay? If I had greater faith, would I be Martha, going out to meet Jesus, boldly and actively continuing on knowing He will make all things right? Instead, sometimes I can't find the strength to go to Him. I sit at home.

But this is the God we serve, dear friends. The One who doesn't hold our weakness against us, but instead pursues us in our grieving. He seeks us out to heal us, even when we don't have the strength to go out and meet Him. He will come to you. He will call your name.

"When [Martha] had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, 'The teacher is here and is asking for you.'"

So let Him find you as you are. Fall at His feet and tell Him all your fears and doubts. He knows already anyway.

"When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.'"

Your tears matter to God.

"When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, He became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said 'Where have you laid him?' They said to Him, 'Sir, come and see.'

"And Jesus wept."

Even though He knew He was about to perform a miracle, Jesus cried. Our God...wept.

He didn't hold it against Mary that in her grieving she didn't go out to meet Him. He came to her. He cried with her. And then He brought good from bad, beauty from ashes, victory over death.

I texted a girlfriend these verses yesterday because of a heavy cross she is carrying right now. She replied with "God is so good" because she had been meditating on a verse from this very chapter for the past few days!

It stirred me to share my thoughts with you. Because maybe God wants you to know this. That He's not holding it against you if you're struggling in prayer or growth because of pain or suffering in your life. He's meeting you where you are. He's coming to you, sweet friend. Take whatever steps you can to meet Him but He will close the gap. Fall at His feet. He has a beautiful plan for you but for now, He is simply holding you in His arms.

I'm praying for you.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

N.A.S.--How Do You Pray at Home?

I'm linking up with the N.A.S. girls this week! I loved their topic:

How do you pray at home? Do you have a special place in your house? How do you make that area special? Comfy chair? Prayer cards? What suggestions do you have to make a home altar? If you don't do this, in what ways can you begin?

Prayer is one of my favorite topics! Not because I'm particularly good at it, but because I want to be! I think it's one of the greatest gifts to us from God-- how amazing is it that He not only brought us into being but that He wants to continually commune with us. This infinite, powerful God allows us to talk to Him any time!!

My main prayer time would be in the morning. I love to start my day with prayer. I used to pray in the car on the way to work, but a few years ago I challenged myself during Advent to get up 30-40 minutes earlier and pray at home by the light of a candle with a cup of tea. It pretty much changed my{prayer} life. I've done it ever since! (with an occasional miss here and there after a late night or on a rushed morning-- you know, always keeping it real!)

Even though prayer is simply raising our minds and hearts to God, I do find that atmosphere and outer circumstances can be more or less conducive to that. I love to have a cup of tea or coffee and curl up under a blanket...the same way I would be less distracted catching up with a girlfriend than if we were in the middle of a loud, crazy party. We're more likely to connect with God if we take the time to remove distractions, calm our minds and hearts, and prepare to focus on quality time with Him. 

I do actually have a "prayer spot" but I generally just use it for morning prayers, although sometimes I retreat to it after a crazy or stressful or emotional day. It's a corner of my couch in the guest room, where the end table has a basket of devotional, printed prayers, and books on my favorite saints. Several of my religious pictures hang in that room and help me focus as well. 

My favorite aids to prayer are the rosary, the Litany of Humility (Laura P., it gets less intimidating as you pray it, seriously! Sometimes I find myself actually desiring those things, haha!), the Mass readings for the day, and a list of intentions from my women's group. I also honestly just love spontaneous prayer. It helps me feel connected to God when I just talk to Him from my heart or pause and reflect on His truths and promises about His love and care for me individually. 

Despite my love of prayer, I definitely get distracted or allow other things to take priority! My goal for improvement would be to be more intentional during my prayer (and not get habitual or monotonous) as well as to challenge myself to lengthen the time I set aside to pray in the morning and evening (too often I find myself cutting off 5-10 minutes here and there, waiting until I'm too tired, and so on). 

I just went to a spiritual retreat a few weeks ago and purchased this book on prayer by one of the speakers, beautiful and Spirit-led Sister Ann Shields of Renewal Ministries:

I look forward to being challenged and inspired to go ever deeper with the Lord.

Looking forward to reading all of your thoughts, too, ladies!

Check out the other posts on prayer at Jen's blog!