October 11, 2013

7 Quick Takes - hello's, goodbye's, and memories

It's October!!!!!!!  Ok, that's not news.  We're 11 days in.  But blogging has not been at the top of my priority list since the start of the month.  So here's my celebration.  Hooray!  I love October so much.  It's my favorite-est month of the whole year.  The air is crisp.  The trees are gorgeous.  The time to snuggle up with a hot bowl of soup next to your favorite person is here and now.

One of the pretty tree-lined streets in our neighborhood

But October is more than just these tactile delights.  It's also my preferred time for change.  To renew my convictions, to freshen my goals, to look back and appreciate my accomplishments from the past year. For many people that time is around the turning of the new year, but throughout my entire life I have always marked notable change in October.  Maybe I'm inspired by the changing in season, or perhaps I'm subconsciously connecting a "new start" with the beginning of school.   But I definitely have a pattern of change and new beginnings in the month of October.  i.e. 8 years ago, I met my husband in October; 5 years ago he proposed in October; 4 years ago I embarked on a lifestyle change to be healthier, to lose weight and change how I approach life; 3 years ago I started my first full-time job; last year I announced our pregnancy; and this year.....
We bought a house!  Oh my goodness, that is the biggest, scariest most exciting "adult" decision we have ever made.  I'll compile a collection of lessons learned for other first time home buyers in a post later this month.  Stay tuned!  

Good thing we're taking this step in our lives now because our rental house was just put on the market. The process has been another element to this whirlwind of change that first-time home buyers don't typically experience.  We have to balance the sale of our current home with the purchase of our new one (fortunately, we don't have the financial contingency that would typically be present).  This week a professional photographer captured our home.  At first I was a bit self-conscious, but this exercise was actually quite fun!  I was able to see how my design and presentation of the home would appear to the masses.  The photographer and listing agent complemented our staging and how nicely the house shows.  So nice to hear our house feels like a lovely, welcoming home!

Last weekend my family came to visit.  Amidst watching football and eating lots of yummy food, we decided to try our hands at crafting once again.  Back in the day my sisters and I were avid 4-H-ers and let me tell you...do we ever have a collection of treasures.  So, we thought we'd resurrect the good ol' days.

What do you think of my grown up version of this fall craft?  Cost comparison (because I can't help but share a good deal): making this wreath myself cost me $17.  If I were to buy on Etsy: $55! Maybe I should go into business...

Lately, I've thoroughly enjoyed trying new recipes, and having some pretty good success. :) That's not always the case, hence the qualifier.  I was trying to decide which was my favorite of most recent line up...and it was almost a tie, but I think this recipe is the winner, hands down:

photo courtesy of Rita at Pink Bites
I found the recipe via Pinterest (of course), and most people who collect recipes on Pinterest have found this one.  So I'm not sharing anything new and special, but it was SO. GOOD. A few notes:

Not only was this YUMMY, it was quick.  And inexpensive.  I always have these ingredients on hand (part of the reason it was so inexpensive).  I did use a flank steak, which can be pricier when purchased at the grocery store (especially since we eat organic animal products), but we bought a side of beef earlier this year so our meat has been much more reasonable. I paired the dish with orange-scented brown rice and a green salad.  Made great left overs, too!

Let's see.  Oh, I had read/heard at some point that October was the best time of year to take care of your car maintenance.  This didn't really come to mind as I was shopping around for the best deals for our mileage tune-ups.  Both cars were getting up there in mileage, and per the maintenance schedule (likely found in your glove compartment if you are not familiar with this little book already) we needed to get some work done.  So I called Toyota.  Got a quote.  Called Firestone.  Got a really GREAT quote (lots of discounts & promos).  And called Les Schawb and Oil Can Henry's.  The verdict?  Each company was offering deals throughout the month of October.  We took the best deals offered for our needs and went with Firestone (I am in no way sponsored by them, this is just my personal experience).  Not only were we able to get EVERYTHING, I mean the whole shibang--tires, alignment, balance, full auto inspection--discounted, the service in our area was fantastic.  So. My conclusion, October is the best time to maintain your car.  And yes, it's confirmed that October (and September) is also the best month to buy a car.

One last little thing.  This month is Respect Life Month and, fittingly, it is also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. On October 15th--next Tuesday--my family and I will be remembering Samuel David, our little boy who died at 12 days old from Trisomy 13 this past May by lighting a candle at 7:00 PM for one hour.  We will also be remembering our little nie-phew who was lost via miscarriage last December.  Our hearts have been forever changed because of these lives.  We love more deeply and live more intentionally.  I want to invite you to remember these little people with us next week by lighting a candle in your own home, 7:00 PM across all time zones.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

September 25, 2013

The Value of Art

My whole life I have been pegged as an "artistic" one.  I was viewed to be full of creativity, full of emotion, and quite capable of expressing myself--for better or worse.  Some even went so far as to blame my bouts of irrational behavior and/or thoughts on my artistic nature.  As young people, and even as adults, people use others' analyses, or judgments, or feedback as a gauge for who he/she is.  What others say about us and how others respond to us is a huge part of confirming our identities.  In fact, I dove deep into this theory upon researching how performance anxiety develops from a very young age for my undergraduate thesis, the mirror theory being a very real factor.  But I digress.  Perhaps more on this topic another time.  Between my own enjoyment of the arts and the feedback I received from the adults in whom I placed my trust helped me believe in myself as a free-spirited, expressive artist.  I launched into this "pursuit of the arts", for the arts better humanity.  They bring to light truths that logic cannot. Claims I had read countless times, yet I spent less than a breath of a moment trying to understand what those phrases actually meant.  My negligent interpretation of this pursuit amounted to simply developing my gift as a musician.

Oh my goodness, did I ever lack humility.  For three years I pursued the arts, striving to be the best musician I could, for reasons I didn't quite understand.  On the surface, I sought the praises of my audience and I held tightly to my responsibility as a performer to express what the composer desired to be expressed.  Beyond that, I never took the time to understand what it meant to be an artist. What my responsibility to the world would be as an artist.

By my senior recital, I finally started to see my lack of understanding.  For the first time I realized my true reasons for "pursuing the arts."  I wasn't pursing the arts at all--I was pursing perfection.  Three years of intensely practicing and studying and fretting over the perfection of my performances, the approval of the audience, all led to a sudden feeling of wasted time. What was I doing this for?  Why does any musician spend countless hours in the practice room continuously perfecting this phrase and that pitch? Humans can never achieve perfection and thus will never conquer this pursuit!  It's not a pursuit of the arts, it's a pursuit of perfection.  And quite frankly, in order to achieve that state of perfection I felt I had to sacrifice the things that mattered most to me: time with those I loved, time giving back to the community, time developing my faith.  All in order to achieve this pointless and impossible goal of perfection.  I concluded art was not enhancing the experience of humanity, it was simply a waste of time.

Still, this understanding of the "pursuit of the arts" and its value was greatly skewed.  Yes, I had finally looked outside of myself, but I was still missing the value of art.  After all, why would great minds write so highly of the arts if they were truly a waste of time?  Upon graduating with my bachelor's of music I considered what I would do with that part of myself.  Would I continue to play?  Would I continue to teach?  I had absolutely no desire to continue on the path of perfection--I didn't want to perform in such an environment and I didn't want to promote it.  That path was destructive to my soul. Time to move away from it.

So I did.  I occasionally picked up my flute to play--really, just to see if I still had it in me.  I surrounded myself with logical thinkers.  I read only non-fiction.  I found a way to logically approach my emotions.  I finally thought I had a sense of peace in my life.  A sense of order that allowed me to focus on the things that mattered most.  Yet the arts still called to me.  I found great joy in creating.  In designing.  In perusing the visual art museums.  In watching a well-scripted movie.  I recall watching Up with David about a year after I walked away from being a any sort of professional musician.  As Carl floated along in his house up in the air, the movie's main theme gently sounding through the vibrations of the violins.  The rich tones were joined by none other than a delicate piccolo and an oh so silvery greeting from a flute.  The score spoke to me so deeply, it moved me in a way I hadn't been moved in a very long time.

My soul woke.  And I started crying.  David, alarmed and probably quite confused, paused the movie and asked what happened.  I didn't really know.  All I could say was that I missed playing...but I couldn't understand why.  I had learned that performing music was a harsh, harsh world.  Why would I want to go back to that?

Nevertheless, the arts were seeming to have a positive affect on me.  They were making me feel things in such a raw and real way, in such a way that I could experience life on a more authentic level.  A few months after watching Up, we attended the Broadway tour of Next to Normal.  If my soul was sleepy before, it was no longer.  Next to Normal, for those unfamiliar with the show, is a story about a family struggling with a mother's bipolar disorder and depression which was initially triggered by the death of their infant son.  It's a story that hit home hard with David and I, long before Samuel was even a twinkle in our eye.  We both knew all too well the challenges, the stress that mental health complications can pose to a relationship.  The show was provocative.  It was raw.  It was real.  And it stirred emotions within David and I that we hadn't felt in a very long time.  It sparked conversation.  It encouraged connection between the two of us.  It reminded us of our personal strengths and weaknesses.  This piece of art spoke to our humanity.

Huh.  Didn't I just conclude two years prior that art was simply a waste of time?  Funny how it was ART that moved me to reconsider that conclusion.  And by funny, you know I mean ironic.  Since that encounter with the beauty of humanity--the raw emotion, the struggle, the will to overcome hardship, the courage, the joy--since all of those things, I (and David too) have found it of great importance to continue to expose myself to the arts.  We attend the theater as often as we can.  I spent hours in the art museums at the Smithsonian.  I still love non-fiction like a habitually sleepy person loves a cup of coffee, but I dabble in fiction as well.  Because that fiction takes me to a place of imagination that my heart wouldn't otherwise go.

Art, as I know it now, has a way of awakening the soul to live in the present, to live in reality.  It is important for one to expose him/herself to art so as to discover ourselves, to learn more of the creation that we are.  We are human.  We are individually unique, yet universally alike.  What makes us feel and how that thing makes us feel is perhaps alien from person to person.  But we all feel.  And we cannot know our deepest selves without coming to know our hearts, that is to say our emotions.

Most days, I don't feel strongly about the loss of my son.  I feel at peace.  It is true he is not with me, but I haven't lost him in spirit.  I know he is with our Father, our Creator.  But then...then I hear a song, or remember a song ("Without You," Rent), or remember a stupid musical (Next to Normal) that triggers such sadness, such loneliness, such despair and fear that the pain of my loss is ignited with such ferocity I am taken by surprise.  My tree is shaken.  And I remember how I've changed.  How this once innocent person is no longer innocent, how she's aged, how she's had to learn how to hold the joy in one hand and the grief in the other.  It is the deepest of human experiences, an experience that draws me closer to God.  

When art touches me in such a way, when it makes me feel in such a raw and real way, I come alive. I see more clearly the person who God has created me to be, and see His surrounding creation more clearly.  How could I have abandoned such a beautiful part of humanity so readily years ago?

The only regret I have from the loss of Samuel is this: that I never shared my artistic abilities, never played my flute while I was pregnant with him.  That he never heard his mama play.  Honestly, I'm tearing up as I write that. When I was pregnant, I felt so confident in my decision, confident in letting that part of me go.  I was at peace with not keeping up my musical abilities.  I thought there might eventually be a time when sure, I'd start it up again.  Perhaps my baby would ask me about the instrument, "Mama, what's that?" And we'd have a nice little learning moment.  Nothing more than that. Baby wouldn't know that mama was once a soloist for the local symphony.  Baby wouldn't know that mama used to play Holst, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and the like.  Now, long after it's too late, I realize that this part of me--a part of me to which I dedicated hours upon hours developing--is something I do want my kids to know.  I don't really yet know how I'll introduce that part of me to my kids.  But I do know this: the next time I'm pregnant, I'm going to be playing my flute as an expression of the human spirit, not for the performance.

I find a great sense of peace when I allow myself to experience art.  When I allow myself to walk right into that fiery wall of emotions the art might trigger.  Perhaps one of these days I'll share a list of pieces that have truly moved me; perhaps they'll move something within you too.  Have you had any particular experiences where you were deeply touched by a piece of art or performance?  Something that has changed you?  Let me know--I'd love to experience it too.

September 5, 2013


Oh, it's my first one!  My first Pretty-Funny-Happy-Real.  Yes, this is actually kinda hard for me.  I don't always think about taking pictures of my every day happenings...but I managed this week (well, kind of over the last two weeks.  Forgive me, yeah?)  Here we go.

- Pretty -

Last weekend David and I visited his family for a beautiful little celebration: his parents' 40th wedding anniversary!  I just love these casual flowers on our simple but pretty banquet table.  Not only was the table beautiful, but it was a gorgeous day.  Three children, two daughters-in-law and two grandbabies later, my mom- and dad-in law have been shining examples to David and I for what it means to love unconditionally.  Congrats to them and we wish them many more happy years together!  

- Funny -

Oh, the little things in life that make one laugh!  This pic is a couple weeks old, but I LOVE it!  A few weeks back our college friends (the St. Tommy's family) went camping.  The nights were late and mornings early.  After two nights, babies started fallin' like flies.  One of the St. Tommy's cousins totally zonked while mommy was puttering around the campsite.  Poor babe, all of us were laughing our little hearts out at how precious he was (and how tired, sweet guy!).  As soon as Melissa's older son saw this, of course he requested to also be held.  To count how many times I've seen my friends and family juggle their children--I'm sure one day I'll be in a similar situation!    

- Happy -

Hello, old friend!  Gosh, I can't tell you the last time I just played

Yesterday I pulled out some of the solo pieces I first performed in college.  This one, Andante et Scherzo by Louise Ganne, was the first piece I performed in convocation at the School of Music while earning my performance degree. I haven't missed performing publicly in the least bit.  But I have missed working toward a goal.  It kept my chops in shape!

- Real -

Drip drip drop little April showers, beating a tune as you fall all around.
Except it was August.  And I was trying to get ready to leave on our camping trip.
But it's a nice song, isn't it?  Probably the nicest part of Bambi.

Note the waves rushing UP my driveway!  Torrential rains came with torrential wind.

And yeah.  The gutters couldn't handle it.
Then there was TODAY:

I only discovered this because I heard water splashing on a hard surface.  What is that mysterious splashing sound?  Splash. Splash.  Drippity drop.  Splash. Splash...ah hah!  Woah.  Apparently the thunder storm maxed out our gutters' capacity.  Thank goodness the waterfall was not indoors.

That's all for this week my friends.  Check out more P.F.H.R. over at Like Mother, Like Daughter!
round button chicken

September 4, 2013

Missing You

My dearest Samuel,

Today I am missing you as much as always, but more poignantly than ever.  God must want me to see more clearly the effects you've had in my life.  He must want me to remember more clearly all the love you brought into our lives.  Since last Friday, you have been on my mind and I've been seeing you in every detail of my life.

See, last Friday, little Savannah was born into this world.  It reminded me that you were supposed to be her playmate, her companion.  You were supposed to grow up with her and all of your St. Tommy's cousins.  When her mama, Amy, went into labor, I started praying so hard that she would have a smooth labor and delivery, and even more desperately I prayed that her baby be healthy.  I know you were praying, too, my son.  Thank you for praying.  I have to confess, though.  I felt a little silly praying for Savannah to be born healthy, for her mama to be kept safe.  After all, it's not really uncommon for moms to have a healthy baby...it really isn't.  But it still seemed necessary to ask God for those things because you've taught me just how delicate life really is.  How nature can sometimes get a little screwed up.  In fact, now I know that three out of four times nature does not screw up.  Three out of four times, a perfectly healthy baby is born.  But there's that chance--that one in four chance--that something could go wrong.

So, since Friday I have thanked God with all my heart that every one is doing well, that Savannah is doing well. When she was born, I felt your love once again.  So very strongly, Samuel.  Seeing the perfection of this new life reminded me of the perfection of yours.  I was reminded that with each new life God enters this world.  Whatever journey God has planned, we do not know.  But I am incredibly thankful that your prayers and ours were answered.  That everyone's hopes for this baby, for this new life, are off to an incredible start.  That Savannah and her mommy are safe, thriving and healthy.

Mama and baby :) 
But my gratitude does not come without sadness, of course.  I miss you terribly, Samuel.  I cannot help but wish that I had more than 12 days with you.  My heart is aching with an emptiness that seems like nothing but you can fill (yes, I logically understand and do believe that God can fill that emptiness...it's just a little more abstract that holding my sweet little boy).  I can't help but wish that you didn't have Trisomy 13.  That you could play with Savannah here on this Earth.  That I could see your eyes, hold your hands, rub my nose through your hair.  You would be 4 1/2 months old by now. You would be able to hold your head, laugh with me, enjoy all the colors the world has to offer. Perhaps you would be sitting, or at least getting very close. We would sing, dance, and go for runs in the Bob.  I probably would be making you a Halloween costume right now...my little pumpkin.

Grandma B made this little hat for Samuel's baby shower.
With a great sigh, my Samuel, I know these things were not meant for us.  I am reminded of God's plan over these past six days--welcoming little Savannah into this world, watching my nephew play with his father and grandfather, and playing with some of your other St. Tommy's cousins.  These children have reminded me to see God's face.  To see His love.  To feel His love.  I am reminded that our 12 days with you had incredible meaning: that was for us to know God through loving you.  To give us a greater sense of His ultimate plan for all of us--all of His children--to one day rejoin him in Heaven.  

Shortly after you died, just about when I started writing your story, Amy's cousin sent your daddy and I a little note.  We hadn't heard from him in several years, but his thoughtfulness was so perfect, so needed.  It wasn't much, just a short and sweet note sharing an article from Focus on the Family, and this video:

"You were born in a very special way. You are wonderfully made.  To me, you've always been and always will be perfectly full of potential.  You see, even a long life is short.  And a short life can be full of meaning." 

Dearest Samuel, your life--though a short one--was full of meaning.  You changed so many lives in your 12 days.  You shared God's love in a way I never realized possible.  Knowing how one small life can truly impact the world, I am encouraged and hopeful for the newest life among our family of friends, little Savannah.  Her life is beautiful.  It, too, is full of meaning.  It is full of potential and hope and joy.  She, too, will impact her world in a way that only God knows.  It is through this hope for Savannah that I am reminded of my own hope.  A hope that one day, Samuel, you will have a brother or sister. A hope that one day our family will continue to grow so that your love and the love of God will grow within our family.  I thank God every day for that hope for new life--hope inspired by new life.

You are so loved, my little boy.  I will always love you.  Always have a space in my heart for you. May I have the strength to share that love with others through the rest of my life.

With much love,

August 21, 2013

Football = Pizza + Beer

Yes.  It's that time of year again.  Football.  Of course it's only pre-season.  And why would one waste his/her time with such nonsense, especially when that nonsense has no significant influence on the REAL season and all the "good" players are played on the field just long enough to tease the sports fans?

Oh, we have our reasons.

See, we've waited SO. LONG.  Patiently tolerating basketball season, and really stretching ourselves through baseball season... Of course there's March Madness, and it's always fun to catch a baseball game here and there with those who really enjoy the game.  This past year the waiting was especially difficult since our 2012 football fix was...muted.  Honestly, east coasters, how do you maintain a regular sleep schedule if you want to keep up with your football?  The games usually ended well past our bedtime.  Nevertheless, we put up with the eastern time zone, staying up late to catch the whole game.  And forget about keeping up with our Seahawks.  The local channels only feature the eastern conference.  How rude.

But what exactly are we patiently waiting for?  What is it about football that is so wonderful?  It's not the news or drama associated with various teams and players.  It's not even the curiosity to see which team will reign supreme this season.   And it's certainly not about the hitting.  Even David would agree with that.  I think we look forward to football season all year because it's a wonderful activity gather around with friends, the game is casual, it's complex, it's a sign that fall and winter are coming.

Even more than the game are the rituals to which I've been introduced since marrying my husband. His love for football also includes a set of rituals.  Traditions.  I did not know of these traditions when I first married him.  But let me tell you, that did not last very long.  I was quickly schooled in the world of Football = Pizza + Beer.

The problem is I don't really like delivery pizza.  I think it's far too expensive for a greasy mess that may or may not taste delicious.  And it's a gamble whether or not my stomach will approve of my source of nutrients later. Lately, the distaste for it has been mostly the cost.  Delivery fees are RIDICULOUS, folks!  Thank God I can make me a mean pizza with my own two little hands.

There are a couple pizzas I've made that are David's favorites: 1) BBQ chicken, ham, and pineapple and 2) turkey pepperoni, chicken and zucchini.  I made the latter last weekend.  So I thought I'd share it with you!

A good pizza really depends on the crust.  I have been successfully using Betty Crocker's recipe as long as I've been cooking for myself.  But a delightful little gift from David's brother and sister-in-law a few Christmas' ago has improved that crust even more.  Yes, I highly recommend a pizza stone as a standard kitchen gadget thingy.

Before I cook anything I gather all my ingredients.  I find I become distracted by too many things--other people, thoughts, laundry buzzers--when I'm cooking.  My results are far better when I don't forget to add the sugar.  Or yeast.  Yes, most importantly the yeast.

Sugar, all-purpose flour, olive oil, salt, yeast (and water...not pictured)

Combine all the dry ingredients.

1 c. flour, 1 T. sugar, 1 tsp. salt, 2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
Heat 1 cup water to activate the yeast.  Some folks, like my mom and grandma, can tell the perfect temperature with the back of their pinkies.  I cannot.  So I use a thermometer :)  120-130° F seems to give this recipe the best results.  I just nuke the water for about 45 seconds.  Sometimes that's too much time, sometimes it's not enough.  But I'm a perfectionist.  So I wait until the temp is juuuuust riiiiiight.  I'm Goldie Locks, too.

But I digress.  Pour in the warm water.  And 3 T. olive oil.

How about takin' the little hand mixer for a whirl and beat everything for 3 minutes?  

hmm...what do bananas have to do with pizza dough?

Ok.  All done.  Now add some more flour (1-2 more cups) gradually...I started with 1 more cup...

Nothing.  Ignore the bananas.

Mix in the flour with a wooden spoon.  The flour will be completely incorporated into the dough. I then measure my second cup of flour.  But it just sits there, longing for me to use it.  Calling my name. Don't do it, Beth.  Use your willpower.  Resist its calls.  Over-flouring is bad.

But you can add a little...just a little from that pre-measured cup. Mix some more. Add some more flour.  Mix some more. Just until the dough comes together.  About one more 1/2 cup later, my dough was ready to knead.  

My goodness!  The bananas are multiplying! 

Now, if I had added too much flour and the spoon wasn't incorporating it into the dough...that would not have been that big of deal (I've done this many a time before. My dough was not a failure).  I would have simply dumped the whole floury mess onto the counter and start kneading to incorporate that flour.  Deep breath, little grasshopper, it will all come together. **If I were a really-amazing-always-thinking-about-my-blog-blogger then perhaps I would have a picture for you from this morning's happenstance. But I don't.  So please just trust that I do in fact over-flour my dough :-)** 

But here was this beautifully cooperative dough, ready to knead.    

Ah yes. My mama would be so proud.

Using the remaining flour from my pre-measured cup, I sprinkled a little flour on the counter and over the dough.  I set the timer for 8 minutes.  And go!  I started kneading.  Sometimes I'd add a little bit more flour, especially when the dough stuck to my hands.  

I kneaded until the dough became nice and elastic.  This particular dough didn't need the entire 8 minutes, I think I only gave it about 6.  Honestly it depends on the day and the humidity.  But 6 minutes passed and I had a nice round pizza dough ball.  

The dough is still sticky-ish at this point.  So to prevent it from sticking to the counter (or bowl) after it's done rising I spread a little olive oil on the surface, then a little more on top of the dough.  I place either a damp tea towel or plastic wrap over the sucker and wait.  

That was MORE than enough olive oil.  Perhaps a lighter hand next time?

K, 30 minutes to prepare my pizza goodies.  Efficiency! 

Like I said earlier, one of David's favorite pizzas is topped with turkey pepperoni, chicken (I just pan-fry up a breast with a little S&P or use left-over chicken), zucchini and a combination of cheddar and monterey jack cheeses.  I make my own tomato-based pizza sauce in large batches and freeze it for future use.  I pulled a portion out of the freezer to thaw. 

Oh my gosh, look how old that sauce is!  Clearly I haven't made pizza in a LONG while.  The sauce was just fine.  I bet it would still be good for another 3 months ;-)

While the sauce thawed I chopped the zucchini--1/4 inch slices. 

I shredded the cheese, then sliced my pan-fried chicken breast across the grain.  

Oh!  I heard the timer.  Perfect.  I turned on the oven to pre-heat at 375.  Time to play with my dough! I took half of it and formed a nice round crust, pressing the dough with my fingers from the center to the rim, rotating along the way.  I sometimes picked the crust up to stretch it, then I'd lay it back down and perfect the sucker.

Some of that cornmeal (yeah, I store it in a quart mason jar) gets sprinkled on the pizza stone, then I moved the crust on over.  Time for toppings!

Sauce, little cheese, pepperoni, zucchini, chicken
I sprinkled a little more cheese over everything before popping the pizza into the oven.  That way the toppings don't fall off when you try to eat it!

While the pizza was baking....

the hubby made himself comfortable
18 minutes later our pizza was done!  I definitely scored brownie points last weekend.

I haven't the slightest idea which team won the game.  I can't even remember who was playing.  But it was SO nice to have the sound of the game back in our home.  The casual coziness of pizza and beer. Mmm.  It was a long time comin'.  Happy happy girl. :)  

August 16, 2013

Happy Friday!


Well, I thought I'd try out this 7 Quick Takes thingy today.  Where shall I start?

- 1 -
For the first time all summer, we've had a number of dreary days!  This is more like the summers that I experienced growing up, far more normal than the rain-free 80+ degree days.  For once I'm not fighting to keep the house cool.  Lovely!

- 2 -
I tried a new recipe this week that was a brilliant hit with the hubs: Balsamic Roast Beef French Dips. Oh. My. Heaven.  I have to give all the credit to Robyn at Add A Pinch.

Photo courtesy of addapinch.com
I first found the recipe on Pinterest (of course!), keeping it for a dreary day in the fall or winter.  But I realized a crock-pot dinner works in the summer, too!  Why had I never considered this?  We were gone allllll day on Sunday and wouldn't be back until dinner time.  It just made sense to have dinner waiting for us.  So.  I grabbed a beef round roast from the freezer, plopped it in the crock pot along with a cup of chicken broth (I haven't made my beef stock yet, so I just grabbed one of my frozen chicken broths), balsamic, Worcestershire sauce (ran out of soy the day before, so just subbed in more Worcestershire), garlic, red pepper flakes and honey.  Bam!  Tender pulled beef with ready made au jus for dipping.  Wow.

Now if only I was better at capturing these moments on my own camera....

- 3 -

I FINALLY saw Le Mis (the film)! David and I love, love, love that show.  Actually, he was the one who really loved it long before I did.  But now it's a mutual love.  We saw the 25th anniversary tour two years ago (gosh, has it really been that long? yeah, guess Fall 2011 was two years ago...wow). I still get chills from my memories of that performance.  Just wow.  Anyway, so finally saw the movie production.  It was... okay.  I was disappointed in Russell Crow's depiction of Javert, but Hugh Jackman was a pretty good Jean Valjean.  I expected to be disappointed with "Bring Him Home", which made it easy for Jackman to surpass my expectations. :)  I really couldn't stand Amanda Seyfried as grown-up Cosette. Very disappointed in her pathetic little voice.... harsh.  I know.  But I recall feeling the same way about the 25th Anniversary Cosette.  So maybe that's just how the directors interpret her character?  *shrug* Oh well. The movie was still entertaining.  I might as well also comment on Anne Hathaway: her acting was raw, and therefore moving.  I thought she did a beautiful job.  No wonder she's been so highly praised and awarded.          

- 4 -
My "Mom-Badges-of-Honor" are fading.  I'm talkin' stretch marks and that (hideous) dark line down the middle of my bell-ay.  And I'm actually sad about this!  I hated them so much just a month ago. They were a painful reminder of what I didn't have... but now that they are almost gone I am surprisingly sad.  Every one of my mom-friends had offered reassurance about the greatness of these badges.  With that I found acceptance, seeing my stretch marks as proof that I'm a mom.  With them gone, what physical reminder do I have of Samuel?

- 5 -
Hmm, what else.  Oh, I've applied for a couple volunteer opportunities.  Hopefully I can pass as a 55+ year old.  :-/  Apparently part of the criteria for being a math & reading tutor for kids at the local elementary school is to be 55 or older.  I also need to be that old in order to help manage the food flow at the local food bank.  One opportunity I have also applied for is to be the country 4-H office assistant (my mom is totally laughing right now.  She "slaved" away in a similar volunteer position for almost 10 years).  I'll keep you posted on the outcome.  What do you guys think, can I pass for 55+?

- 6 -

Did you know that hospitals must toss all equipment, even if it's NEVER been used, once it's been associated with a patient?  How wasteful!  Needless to say we have a good-sized collection of tube feeding equipment sitting around the house.  Never been used.  But guess what?  There is this nonprofit organization called MedShare that will accept any donation of medical equipment, even used!  They will then sterilize, organize and ship it out to locations in need.  Pretty cool, yeah?

- 7 -
One of my sisters-in-law has had a pretty--actually, an incredibly tough year.  I won't share too many of the specifics, but she experienced her own sudden loss, then was diagnosed with cancer, then we lossed Samuel, and her grandmother just passed away earlier this week.  Even though this woman has been dealt quite the crappy hand lately, she's one tough cookie.  She doesn't give up.  She is the true example of perseverance.  If you think of it today, or this weekend, or any time, would you join me in keeping her in your prayers?   

That's it for my first 7 Quick Takes!  For more sweet 7QT's, hop on over to Conversion Diary. Happy Friday everyone!


August 14, 2013

Ready for Baby #2?

I've been debating for quite some time whether or not I wanted to share this part of myself with the world.  It is so personal.  So private.  So much a decision that is just between David, myself and God.

I have thought of a few angles in which I could write about this.  I could share with you the beautiful process that is Natural Family Planning.  Alternatively, I could give you the status of my "baby-time" clock.  Or, I could tell you about the journey since Samuel died, pondering, imagining, preparing for the possibility of having baby #2.

What?!  Think about having another baby so SOON after your first diiiiied?!?!  Yes.  Yes, I am.  But it hasn't been, and isn't always a "yes, let's have another baby!"  For example:

June 26, 2013 (7.5 weeks after Samuel died)

I'm so afraid.  Not to be pregnant again.  Not of the possibility of complications with a second pregnancy or baby.  But I'm afraid that I won't ever reach the point of "being ready" to welcome a second baby into my life with total openness, total fullness of heart.  I am not sure I will be able to love a second baby with the same capacity that I love(d) Samuel.  It would not be fair to a second baby for me not to love him/her as much as I love Samuel.  I don't want to constantly be thinking of Samuel, day dreaming of what he'd be doing at a certain moment with my second baby...I want to be present with my next baby.

But there's something my mom said, and I reheard it while I was sleeping last night: just as it would be a challenge to balance my love between two living children, it will be a challenge to balance my love between my child in Heaven and my child on Earth. 

With that in mind I know I can and will love a second baby with total fullness of heart.  I was very unsure about loving Samuel before I met him, worried through most of my third trimester.  But I had SO much love. I surprised myself.  I am sure this will be the same with baby #2.

That was almost two months ago.  Since then, I've had days where I feel like we could try again now. There are other days that I feel less sure.  But either way, that's where Natural Family Planning comes into play.

**Bam! You see where I decided to take this post?  Yeah, total hook, line and sink.**

Oh, I know.  NFP has its stigmas.  i.e. NFP obviously doesn't really "work" since you see all these Catholic families parading through the grocery store, tarnishing the planet with their large eco-footprint. I mean, c'mon.  Really?  NFP is just a load of crap.  Besides what a draaaaaag to have to abstain from sex for 9+ days every month (and really, it's waaaay more than that because who really wants to have sex while she's on her period!  EEEEEEWWWWWW).  Talk about a wet blanket for the libido.  And honestly, who can really control him/herself for that long?!  Oh, and don't get me started on how avoiding having sex completely goes against human nature.    

Am I right?

But those stigmas are SO. WRONG!

I'll start with the parade of children tarnishing the planet.  There are two points I have on this.

Number 1!) not every family is called to have 19 children. One of the beautiful aspects to NFP is that it opens the door for the couple to discern if they are called to welcome a new soul, a baby, into their family each and every month.  After all, God created woman to be fertile for a (roughly) short 24 hours once a month.  A couple must discern together and with God how to approach that fertility. If they feel moved to welcome a child into their family, the couple may choose to pinpoint the day that they try (generally, the date of ovulation) or simple acknowledge the green light and let go of all precautions. This aspect of NFP is identified as "Responsible Parenthood."  David's and my NFP teachers, Chris & Christine, have been shining examples to us.  We felt so blessed to have God place them in our lives to show us what "Responsible Parenthood" truly means.  Their story, Are We Done?, is beautiful--one of conversion, heartache and steadfast faith.  I won't give anything away about their story, but I will say that we witnessed how practicing NFP truly keeps the heart open to God's love, as seen through Chris & Christine, and in our own experience.

Point #2) large families do not necessarily have a larger footprint than a family of four.  For example, a family of four may have a large 3,000 sq. ft. 4 bed/3.5 bath house.  They have to have a guest suite, you know!  Meanwhile, the family down the street also has a 3,000 sq. ft. 4 bed/3.5 bath house.  But this family has 6 kids.  The oldest two share a room, as do the next two.  Number 5 has his/her own room (for now) while the baby is in with mom and dad.  Are there more mouths to feed?  Yes. And I do understand that this can be an issue for the world, namely contributing to the demand of more beef/pork/chicken/lamb farms and therefore increasing the amount of methane released into the atmosphere; soon all the forests will be gone to make way for more fields 'cause you'll need more corn fields to feed those animals... oy vey.  I did not mean to go there.  So sorry.  Let me just reiterate my point: having many children does not necessarily indicate environmental irresponsibility.  

Okay.  The second stigma, which I think is a little more taboo to discuss, is the idea that practicing NFP leads to a lame and stifled sex life.  Ahem.  Yes, just typing that sentence for the world to read makes me squirm a little in my seat.  Heart beating pretty fast with trepidation.  But seriously!  Let's talk about it. Throughout my reading (of various articles, books, blogs) and conversations (with Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Mormons, agnostics, and even a few atheists) I have learned that many people believe:

1) those who practice NFP don't have sex unless they want to get pregnant, and

2) those who practice NFP are--how shall I put this?--unadventurous.

Yes, my mother is probably reading this whole thing.  I know.  Scandalous. For for goodness' sake, it's true that people think this about devout Catholics practicing NFP!  In fact, Catholics think this about practicing NFP!  Not that I need to prove whether or not my sex life is fantastic, I just want to share that NFP is not the cause for a boring sex life.  So let me try and elaborate.

Consider this.  If you have decided that postponing pregnancy is best for your family this month, you have decided to abstain from fully giving of yourselves (as opposed to using contraception) out of respect for each others' bodies and personhood while she is considered fertile.  While abstaining for 9+ days (more likely a full two weeks), the wait is intense.  Hormones are raging.  Her body says, make a baby now!  Together you desire to connect in the most intimate way possible.  It's tough.  But through mutual respect for each other, out of your mutual love for God's creation, you somehow find a way to be patient (and yes, this takes time to figure out.  That's part of the art of NFP).  And then...then the butterflies start fluttering deep in your belly as the green light draws nearer and nearer.  Remember what it was like as you grew closer and closer to your wedding day and/or honeymoon?  Ok, there were probably quite a few nerves, but excitement too!  Imagine having a honeymoon once a month. Yeah, once a month! Pretty cool right?  Furthermore, imagine the intimacy you would experience as you give yourself 100% to your spouse, fertility and all because you can.

The real kicker about practicing NFP is that it starts to mold our minds, so that we end up offering ourselves more fully to our spouses.  Oh yeah.  It's sneaky alright.  See, by remembering that the possibility of life is a very real outcome of two people having sex--an act so sincere, so vulnerable, so intentional that is it reserved only for those within a marital bond--that the couple's entire mindset could change.  The reason married persons have sex changes. Hearts are opened. The married couple becomes more and more intimate with each other as they focus on why they are abstaining, and therefore focusing on other ways to be intimate.  Hearts are freed outside of the bedroom, and therefore within the bedroom (this in no way is meant to suggest sex must happen within the bedroom. ;-) Its all metaphorical, folks).  Now, I can't possibly share alllll the wonderful benefits of NFP for your sex life, but you know who has done a pretty fantastic job?  Dr. Gregory Popkak.  Yep, he's the awesome Catholic psychologist who wrote Holy Sex: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.

And guess what?  After that study came out announcing that devout Catholics have the best sex out of anyone on July 17, Popkak's book climbed to #8 on Amazon's Best Seller list.

Quick little review: it is a fantastic--though in depth--read for you and your spouse. In fact, it is meant to be read together.  Well, separately then you can come together and discuss.  Like a book club. Only better because what you then put into practice...well.  Use your imagination ;)  You may discover some things about yourself that are tough to come to grips with, some things about your spouse that may be disappointing, and some things that may very well shock the socks off your feet.  I felt that Dr. Popkak explained sex as it is intended to be in a simple, yet thorough manner.  All with a slice of humor.  One last little note: may I also suggest pairing it with some light reading on Theology of the Body?

Perhaps Christopher West's Good News about Sex and Marriage?  There are a few sections of Holy Sex that could use more background information from Theology of the Body, and this is the most straightforward book I have found regarding the matter.  


Well, that was quite the digression, wasn't it?  :)  Glad we could have that talk.

What I'm really trying to say is why NFP has truly been a blessing within our marriage.  For me, well for both David and me, our mindsets about sex, about marriage, about personhood, about the creation of life as introduced to us through NFP has made our ability to find healing in the loss of Samuel so much more peaceful.  It taught to me incorporate God into my decision making process regarding our family. By design, it encourages me be open with David about how I'm feeling in regards to welcoming another child into our family, to be honestly discerning every month.  It encourages David to do the same.  Together we are being responsible parents.  

Photo courtesy of Aaron Barna Photography

NOTE: There are several resources to further educate yourself on the ins and outs of Natural Family Planning:

I am in no way sponsored by any of these organizations.  I will disclose that we were trained through Couple to Couples League and had a great experience. 

N.B. For another great read on NFP or Theology of the Body check out Real Catholic Love and Sex, written by a couple of fantastically educated people.  Kate is a wife and mom to several kiddos.  James is a Catholic revert and NFP revert, married and no kids.  They offer great answers to tough questions.

August 7, 2013

Busy busy busy....and SILENCE.

Well, let me tell you, the last three months have been quite the whirlwind!  This week I am finally catching my breath.  Earlier in July, my youngest sister got married, so many days in June were spent preparing for that exciting occasion (though in the throws of the preparations it was more stressful than joyful, to which anyone who's planned a wedding can relate).  There were bridal showers, bachelor parties (okay, only one bachelor party), a bachelorette party...

Basking in the sun with homemade facials purifying our faces.  Yum.
...rehearsals.  It was all very fun and exciting, but busy, busy, busy!  My sister made a GORGEOUS bride, and I've never seen her hubby (who just so happens to be one of David's best friends from college!) smile as much as he did on their wedding day!

Beautiful bride and her handsome groom with his godchildren

Finally at the reception.  I just love the elegance of her veil :)
The weekend after my sister's wedding we went to one of David's childhood friend's wedding reception. The reception was quite the drive for us, so we made it into a mini road trip. Gorgeous I'm telling you. We saw four of the Cascade volcanoes in the one weekend (Hood, Adams, St. Helens, Rainier) and toured the Columbia River Gorge.  Just beautiful.  

The following weekend my cousin got married--another wedding with which I helped extensively.  

Another beautiful day! 
Last week my in-laws spent their vacation with us.  An incredibly wonderful time, but still...busy, busy, busy!

And now.  Now it's quiet.  No plans.  No expectations.  No commitments.  Just quiet.  Huh.

I am alone with my thoughts and (this will come to no surprise to those who know me well) an extensive to-do list.  I work on that to-do list...slowly.  But the to-do list does not fill the silence.  While finalizing my August meal plan, the silence handed my thoughts a blaring megaphone.  HEY!  HEY, BETH!  WHAT KIND OF PERSON ARE YOU?  YOU JUST SIT AROUND ALL DAY CLEANING THE HOUSE, PREPARING MEALS, WORKING ON YOUR SEWING PROJECTS, PLANNING OUT THE FAMILY FINANCES, GOING TO THE GYM...HOW IS THAT MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TALENTS? SINCE YOU DON'T HAVE YOUR BABY SHOULDN'T YOU GO BACK TO WORK, OR AT LEAST VOLUNTEER SO AS TO CONTRIBUTE TO SOCIETY IN SOME WAY OR ANOTHER? YOU DON'T HAVE YOUR BABY LIKE YOU EXPECTED. YOU'RE NOT MOTHERING.  GO FIND ANOTHER WAY TO MAKE YOURSELF USEFUL!  

Man, don't be so mean!  Shut up you silly voice-in-the-silence.  Go away.  I don't like you.  Enough of this "should this, should that" crap.  Quit should-ing on me.

But these thoughts, finally able to be heard as I pushed the pause button in my busy life, certainly made a good point--a bit harsh, yes--but good.  See, I really do need to critically look at myself, at my new identity; that is, mom without a baby to mother.  I thought I had a good idea of my roll in the world.  Just over a year ago, I intentionally chose to quit my full-time job and move out east with my wonderful hubby.  I took on the role of housewife (in a hotel...hah), mom-to-be, and community volunteer.  Over the nine months that I grew our Samuel I prepared to be a SAHM.  I expanded my repertoire of quick, easy dinner recipes.  I found workouts I could do at home with baby.  I read as much as I could about caring for babies so that once baby got here I could simply follow my mama's intuition in caring for him.  I practiced my weekly routine of doing regular laundry, spreading out the cleaning chores, and running errands, all in preparation for any sort of regular routine going out the window upon the arrival of baby.

That night when David and I left for the hospital to birth Samuel, I said good-bye to my days of routine, my days of predictability.  That night I was fully prepared to accept my new role in the world: MOM.

So, today, life on pause, I have the chance to truly think about how all of that has changed.  Who I want to be/how I want to contribute to society now, after the loss of my son.  Someone once told me our identities can sometimes be understood if we consider them as pie charts.  NERD ALERT!  I love this!  Anything in chart form is totally up my ally.  So.  Here is how I would describe my pre-Samuel self (disclaimer: the lines BLUR.  Hah.  Blurred Lines...hey hey hey...anyway, dumb song.  My point is this chart isn't black and white. But I digress):

Then I expected my life to look something like this...

As with many expectations or plans, they change.  So, in this sudden moment of silence, my life on pause, I finally take a breath and realize....

I could really benefit from adding Volunteer back in the mix.  Stay tuned on that front.  I guess this silence is wonderful blessing.  It gives me the opportunity to really think about who I am after such a dramatic (I hate the word tragic.  Don't call Samuel's death tragic.  At least not to my face), life altering event.  It takes time to grow.  It takes patience.  I'll be prayin' for lots of that.  I always have prayed for patience...it's always the thing I seem to need.  If you'd like to send some prayers my way that God grants me some more patience, that would be greatly appreciated! :-)  

P.S. Samuel, would you pray that God grants me some more patience, that I may accept the growing pains, that I may be patient for the day when both David and I are ready to add to our family again, that I am patient with myself when I still have moments of missing you?  Thanks, son.  Love you much.    

In a few weeks, my life will be once again loaded with activities and events.  But for now, more silence. More time with God.  More time getting to know myself again.      

Hubby & I before our hike up Multnomah Falls