Friday, March 29, 2013

7 Quick Takes, Volume 17

{story of a soul, condensed}

Visit Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

1. I hope you're having a fruitful Holy Week!  Andrew left for a conference on Wednesday.  Even though he was only gone for two days, and though we've been married for almost two years, I still feel like the newlywed who can't stand being apart!  You know what, though?  I've found that spending even a little more time by myself has really made me consider Jesus' solitude in the Garden on Holy Thursday and as he climbed the hill to Calvary the next day.  I watched The Passion by myself  and found myself better able to enter into the experience than when I've watched it with other people, even my husband.  There's definitely something missing in my life when Andrew's away, and though I know that in my life on earth, it's my husband who's not there, I think it's helping me, in whatever small way I'm able to absorb, to understand the ache of these next few days in the divine sense, too.

2. While we're on the subject of Holy Week, I'd love to know about your family and married traditions!  If you missed my post on ways to enter into the Triduum with your love, you can read it here.


3. Do you decorate eggs for Easter?  My family always had so much fun with it growing up, but after seeing so many cute craft projects out there, I think I'm ready to graduate from the old dipped-in-vinegar method!  I am completely in love with these gold leafed eggs and would love to turn out a batch to put out as decorations every year!

4. Sometimes I go on a rampage where in I write a bunch of blog posts in advance.  I like the feeling of not having to worry about deadlines, and having designated features makes it easy for me to plan ahead.  As I was brainstorming lately, I felt like I'd exhausted my list of books on marriage, sexuality, womanhood, and authentic love for my Lectio series.  I know this can't be the bottom of the barrel, though!  I love reading recommendations; do you have any for me?

5. Remember how I told you a few weeks ago that I was trying out the Oil Cleansing Method?  Some 12 days later, I'm happy to report that my rebellious skin looks noticeably calmer, if not perfect, and my hated acne scars are starting to fade the tiniest bit.  If you've heard of this method of washing your face and have been considering it, or even if you haven't, this article gave me a ton of confidence about how to go about it in the best way for my particular skin type (I learned a lot in the comments!).  The hardest things are being patient for results while understanding that no skincare regimen magically works overnight, and having to wash tons of washcloths that I've been using to wipe the oil off!

6. I cried buckets when I saw Les Mis in theaters a few months ago.  Since buying the movie when it came out last week, I've already watched it again twice, and was surprised to notice that in the context of Holy Week, the moments of despair, hope, redemption, and literally walking through hell felt that much more profound.  So, this is my way of humbly suggesting that if you want to enter in on this holiest of days, this movie is such a beautiful way to do it.

7. And lastly, a song for your Good Friday, one of my favorites for Lent.

I pray that you experience today's agony and Sunday's glory to the full. Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lectio: 33 Days to Morning Glory

{recommended reading}


Did you catch Monday's post on Marian consecration?  I've heard of people getting groups together to make a consecration, but you can do it by yourself or with your fiance, too!  Fr. Michael E. Gaitley's 33 Days To Morning Glory is an amazing preparation resource that explains growing closer to Jesus, through Mary in an accessible way that gets you so excited to deepen your devotion to her.  There's Scripture and reflections, and the language draws from the Marian spiritualities of St. Louis Marie de Montfort, St. Maximillian Kolbe, Blessed Mother Teresa, and John Paul in a way that illuminates each of these great saints' personal relationships with Our Lady.

A few months ago, Andrew and I said the consecration prayer at the end of this book with two of our best friends as we stood in as godparents at their daughter's baptism.  It was a moment I'll always treasure, and I am totally stealing the idea of consecrating my future babies to Mary, too!  I've only read portions of this book so far, though I suppose that's not so bad since it's meant to be read in just a section a day, but Andrew is planning to make a consecration soon and I think I'll read it along with him just to re-immerse myself in Our Lady's tremendous love.

What do you think?  Have any of you made a consecration, and did you use this book?  I'd love to hear about any other good resources you've found!




Monday, March 25, 2013

Totus Tuus Maria: My Marian Consecration Story


Happy Feast of the Annunciation!  Today is, hands down, my favorite feast day in the Church, partly because Our Lady is the patroness of my alma mater (I love that in this sense, the "loving mother" meaning of alma mater means her love!) and I have such fond memories of singing my school's re-written version of "Immaculate Mary."  I'm somehow both proud and ashamed to say that I only know the words we used, not the real ones!

For me, today also marks six years since I consecrated myself to Mary.  During my freshman year, I joined a prayer group called Militia Immaculata, a Marian devotion group founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe (boss).  Once a week, we'd pray the rosary together for each others' intentions and do a short spiritual reading, lectio divina, and discussion.  We also spent hours playing volleyball and sometimes eating together before our meetings, played so many games of Mafia afterwards, and went on three amazing pilgrimage trips to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and St. Mary's City.  Over those four years, the seminarians who led the group became wonderful spiritual brothers and friends to us college students, and it was amazing to see them progress all the way to their ordinations and celebrate their first Masses as priests!  I carry those days in my heart.

Anyway, the best thing I took away from MI wasn't the trips or the games, but the process of completely giving myself to Mary.  If you've never heard of Marian consecration, it's basically a period of spiritual preparation through reading and prayer that culminates in a promise to Our Lady that everything you are is hers, usually on a Marian feast day.  If you have Catholic friends who wear a chain around their wrist or ankles, they're probably consecrated (St. Louis Marie de Montfort used the image of being "Our Lady's slave," and the chain is a visual reminder).  There are a few different consecration devotionals, most notably by de Montfort and Maximlian Kolbe, that use slightly different language, but they each have the same end result, that you belong to her and that through you, she dispenses so many graces to the world and the people in your life.

If I'm being honest, I was terrified before I made my consecration.  The book I was reading to prepare wasn't sensationalized, but several testimonies stated that people's lives had been completely changed and that nothing was the same for them.  That scared me so much--I was happy enough with my life and didn't feel like I wanted or needed anything in particular to change.  Was some huge test of faith about to happen?  Also, I wondered if I was being selfish and wasn't good enough for this: I'd heard that through consecration, any graces you merit for yourself, through indulgences, the sacraments, and the like, belong to Mary, not to you, for her to dispense as she sees fit.  I wanted to keep my own graces, thank you very much.  I can remember praying in an empty chapel a few days before my consecration, though, looking up in tears at a statue of Our Lady, and suddenly being overcome with peace.  I imagined her wrapping me in her mantle and holding me close.  Even though I still had practically no idea what I was signing up for, I got the sense that this was good and that everything would be fine.

All these years later, I'm happy to report that everything is more than fine.  It's only in hindsight that I can see the fruits of my consecration, not necessarily in only major ways, but I'm able to see how Mary's hand has guided so many of my decisions, and I have the sense that even my continued devotion to her and her major influence on my spirituality are graces in themselves, and are such a gift.  Now that I understand it better, I think it's beautiful, not scary, that none of my graces or good works belong to me--she is so much smarter, so much more merciful, and so much more closely united to the Father's will than I'll ever be, so who better to entrust them to?  St. Maximilian's consecration prayer that I still say every day contains the line, "I humbly implore you to take me, with all that I am and have, without reserve, wholly to yourself as your possession and property," and I've come to love not just belonging to myself.

Her possession.  So happy to be hers.  If you find this stirring your heart, I can say that I've never regretted my consecration, and it really has changed and shaped my entire life.  Go for it. Check back on Wednesday for an amazing consecration preparation!




Friday, March 22, 2013

Love Notes: Holy Week Traditions

{small ways to show great love}


Andrew and I had a long-distance engagement, and one of the things I was most looking forward to as a married couple was starting our own religious and holiday traditions.  We'd spent Easter Sunday with each other's families before, but never the rest of Holy Week, and I loved our first married Triduum last year.  Growing up, my family always went to Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, which I loved, but the rest of the time, I tended to forget about the solemness of Holy week.

It wasn't until I met Andrew's family that I realized what a beautiful opportunity the Triduum is for entering into Jesus' last hours.  My husband's family lives right near our college campus, one of my favorite places in the world, and goes to the Good Friday service there.  After, they have friends over for matzoh ball soup.  Oh!  They also take cold showers on Good Friday (much as I try, I'm not that hardcore yet).  It was so nice to finally take part in something I'd only heard about for a few years beforehand.  Andrew and I were able to add our own new rituals, too: prayer in the main campus chapel, which is always nearly empty since the service is in another chapel further away, and a rosary walk through the replica of the Grotto of Lourdes.  This year I'd also really like to spend a part of Holy Thursday in Adoration.

What about you?  If you're lucky enough to spend Holy Week with your fiance, here are a few ideas for traditions you can make yours:
  • Spend the week reading a portion of one of the Gospels each night.
  • Make yourselves a Lenten playlist.  I love Jon Foreman, Josh Garrels, Mumford and Sons, Mike Mangione, and Mat Kearney for music that digs deep into sin and redemption, the ache, and suffering.
  • Come up with an extra penance that you can both do this week.  A spending fast?  No meat any night of the week?  No TV?
Holy Thursday:
  • Pray a Holy Hour together, before the Blessed Sacrament if your church offers it.  Spend some time keeping watch with Jesus.
Good Friday: 
Holy Saturday:
  • Dye eggs (I realize this isn't exactly a religious thing, but it's still fun, and helps you anticipate what's coming the next day).
  • If your family makes a big Easter feast, help cook and prepare.  I've loved picking up family recipes while I help our grandmas!

What do you think?  I know that there are so many special cultural traditions within the Church, and just from family to family.  I'd love to hear yours!



Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Five Favorites

I mentioned my mixed feelings about linkups a few days ago, but for today at least, I'm joining Hallie and the ladies at Moxie Wife in their weekly Five Favorites roundup!  Click here for more, and meantime, here's what I've lately loved...

...The gorgeous antler art in Kari Herer's Etsy shop.  There's something so pretty about the mix of masculine and feminine, isn't there?  I covet.

This article about Francis' first 24 hours as Pope.  It's the little things...I feel like this man, in his gentleness and humility, will have such a loving, powerful ability to change people's views of the Church and the papacy.  Love him already.

Sheridan French, sheridan french clothing line, preppy with a twist, catholic marriage blogs, catholic wedding blogs, catholic wedding planning, catholic bride
Twirly skirts in bright prints for Spring.  Dreaming of everything from this line (and seriously, with the prices, it's only a dream!).

An impossibly sweet, new-to-me love song.

And lastly, a braised African-style kale recipe that reminds me of our favorite Kenyan restaurant.  It's on my to-make list for this week!

What about you?  Tell me your take on these babies, and enjoy everyone else's picks!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Like a Lily: Kendra

{what she wears}

I doubt today's guest wedding stylist needs an introduction.  Meet Kendra, one of the ladies behind Fine Linen and Purple!  She has a love for bold colors and twirly skirts, and was sweet enough to share her own wedding photos with me as inspiration for other brides.  Be sure to visit the site for more on fashion and authentic beauty, as well as Kendra's personal blog, The Nerdy Wife, to read about life with Stephen, her handsome hubby, and Henry, their adorable peanut!


Making the Moment Photography
Isn't Kendra and Stephen's wedding just gorgeous?  Here's her take:


Purple has been my favorite color for many years. I knew right away that I would use it as the main color in the wedding. I never wanted anything else until it was suggested to try some pinks as well, in the flowers and decorations. We added silver for balance.  I love lace, and even tried on a full lace dress, but it didn't seem to fit for a June wedding. So instead I chose a 'lighter' dress (literally, those lace dresses are HEAVY!) with lace and beading detail, and incorporated a little lace into our table decorations. I kept my hair half down because I never ever put my hair up in my everyday life, and I didn't want to look drastically different. I'm so glad I did!

Some of the best parts of our wedding were gifts. The biggest one was our beautiful cake, made from scratch by my husband's grandmother! She has been making cakes since her own sisters' weddings, and certainly didn't disappoint for ours.  My bridesmaids wore knee length halter dresses.

Overall, we saved where we knew we could or didn't care as much, but spent where we felt it mattered. Our largest budgeted item was actually the photography, and I am glad we did. I won't look back and wish we had fancier invitations or more expensive flowers, but I would regret not having beautiful picture memories of our special day. Our photographer captured the beauty of Christ and our vows at the ceremony, and the love of family and friends at our reception. There was absolutely no price tag (to us) on having him there to do such an awesome job. 


Kendra's Style:
Describe your personal style in 5 words.  Practical, dressy, colorful, fun, feminine.  

What's the secret to punching up an outfit on the days when you're tired of everything in your closet?
  I’m the kind of person who thinks of my clothing in “sets,” like a certain tank top goes with a specific cardigan, or this scarf goes with this sweater, etc. So on days that I feel like I’ve worn everything a hundred times, it helps to mix things up! I’ll take my clothes and put them  together in a way that I haven’t before, which is oftentimes a fun process in itself. I’ll also do things like alternate wearing glasses or contacts, or experiment with different hairstyles, which can make the same outfit look very different.

Name a few of your wardrobe essentials.
  I’m big on layering, so I buy basic tanks and cap sleeve shirts in various plain colors, as well as cardigans in different colors, to mix and match. I think every woman who wears pants needs a good quality pair of skinny jeans, as they transition well to the different seasons: fitted shirt + sandals or flats in the summer, sweater + boots in the fall and winter. I am more of a skirt person, so I like to have at least one basic skirt (mine is gray), and one fun skirt (I picked out a magenta one from Target), which will basically get you through spring, summer, and fall!  I also think you can’t go wrong with buying a few fun knee length dresses. There are so many ways to change them up for each season, using cardigans, scarves, leggings, flats, boots, sandals, or heels. 

Favorite shoes: Depends on the season! Right now the everyday weather here is mild winter, and I think a good pair of flat ankle boots are the most versatile for daily wear. I love my black ankle boots from Kohl’s!

Favorite places to shop: I like H&M for basic clothing essentials. Ruche is a fantastic online shop for unique vintage-looking stuff.  NY&Company for jewelry and accessories, although I’ve drifted towards Etsy lately for that sort of thing. I actually found my wedding jewelry on Etsy!

Favorite nail color: Pastel pink. Not too flashy, but it makes me feel very feminine.

Every girl has days when she struggles with her looks and her worth.  What do you do to remind yourself you're a beloved, beautiful daughter of the King?  It’s so easy to focus on the thousands of harmful messages out there and forget the most important one: that God made you and I in His image and likeness. I’m exactly who I am on purpose, by God’s design, which makes me beautiful. 

What's an item you can't live without?  If I had to choose just one thing that I could not live without, it would be my maxi skirts. I alternate between my maxi skirts every single day in spring, summer, and fall. 

How can a bride reflect her everyday style in her wedding day style?  It’s completely normal to want try fun and different things when planning your wedding, but you definitely don’t have to abandon your personal, everyday style. It’s fairly simple to incorporate who you really are into even the most formal of weddings. Are you normally a ponytail gal? Maybe you could do a fancy braid for your hairstyle. If you normally like a lot of detail in your clothing, you could try a lace dress, or one with intricate beading. The cake, the music, the table decorations, and nearly everything else can be easily customized to reflect your favorite colors, your hobbies, or who you are as a couple. Just because a wedding is a formal affair doesn’t mean you have to be a completely different person!

Fashion, evangelization, and the Feminine Genius: your thoughts?  I love fashion. It’s a wonderful hobby for me, in fact. I look at it as a craft....carefully scouring stores and racks for unique items, and putting together different combinations until I get a lovely outfit.  What does this have to do with evangelization and the Feminine Genius? I think it’s important, as a Catholic woman, to be happy with my body and my appearance. Taking the time to look nice, even in my fairly boring everyday life, is important to me because I think it sends a positive message. I care how I present myself to others, and I notice that starting the day with taking care of myself, both body and soul, cultivates a positive mental attitude within me. I want to show the world that faith is not anti-beauty, but rather faith, beauty, and joy go hand-in-hand.

 
Such sound advice, in style and in weddings, right?  Visit Kendra at her blogs, and leave her some love in the comments!



Friday, March 15, 2013

7 Quick Takes, Volume 16

{story of a soul, condensed}

ever so studious
{1} Can I please brag about my husband for a minute?  Andrew got into the PhD program of his dreams this week!  Come summer, we'll be moving (closer to our families, thankfully) and starting a new adventure as he starts the road to becoming a Doctor of English Literature!  I've been beaming for four days.  So proud of my love.  The only thing, though, is that we can only go unless Andrew receives funding for his program, and right now, he hasn't received any scholarships and we'd have to pay for school entirely out of pocket.  If you get a chance, please, please say a prayer that things work out according to the Father's will!  We've been praying a lot to St. Jude.  Although, if I were being completely honest, I'd have to say that I really, really hope the Father's will is the same as our will...

{2} Have you seen this linkup over at Moxie Wife?  I'm always finding articles I love, inspiring design, pretty clothes, and dreamy photos that I wish I could share with everyone I know, so naturally, I love that Hallie's linkup invites us to share Five Favorites each week.  My only question is, do I need to participate in another linkup?  I love how many of you I've met through these Quick Takes and through What I Wore Sunday; I just want to be sure that my blog stays focused on its intended purpose (Catholic engagement and marriage are more of a niche than a general Catholic thing, I've realized, and I'm okay with that) and that I don't seem like I'm begging for extra visitors and comments.  In addition, I guess with all its specific wedding-related features, my blog is a little more rigidly structured than most.  I'm fine with that, too (I like it, in fact), but that also makes it hard to schedule extras like this one.  All that said, what do you think?  Do you ever get the same sense I do, that it's a little too easy to get linkup-happy but that they don't always foster a more genuine sense of community?  Do you even care what my favorite things are every week or two?  I love hearing what you have to say, so don't be afraid to be honest with me!


{3}  Remember when I swore off grains a few months ago?  That ended up not being the best thing for my body, personally, but I'm still trying to limit them.  We can't stop eating these yummy grain-free, two-ingredient pancakes


{4} Did you catch my post on dealing with a rough Lent on Ignitum Today this week? You can read it here.

{5} Speaking of posts, I try not to hammer you over the head with mine, imploring you to read this or that and talking about them all the time, but I just want to tell you how amazed I've been by your responses to last week's article on preparing for your wedding night.  Your honesty is such a gift to me!  Thank you so much!


{6} In addition to getting ready to move in a few months, I'm striking out in another way...washing my face with oil.  I know it sounds weird, but the underlying principle is that like dissolves like, so adding oil to your skin can actually balance it out, rather than stripping it like a lot of harsh cleansers can do.  It's also said to pull out all of the dirt and hardened oil that can hide out in your pores, which has to be better than my nightly Q-tip popping habit, right?  I'm a little nervous, honestly, but after doing a lot of research and ordering a few things, I'm ready to take the plunge this weekend!  Any oil cleansing ladies out there?


{7} Pope!


Have a great weekend!  Tell me what you're up to, and visit Conversion Diary for Quick Takes from other bloggers!


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My Spirit Rejoices: The Spirit and The Bride and Love On Top

{sweet sounds for your Mass and reception}


Weddings, of course, have a way of bringing pretty different people together--obscure relatives from both of your families, old friends, maybe co-workers, and at the end of the day, it will have brought you and your new spouse together!  The thing about having so many people all at one Mass is that everyone's coming from at least a slightly different place spiritually.  Some of your guests might not go to Mass regularly, some might have been praying for you and your vocation since you were born, or some might be practicing the faith without really understanding it.  Some might be broken.

Celebrating a new marriage is a beautiful thing, but for someone single, divorced, widowed, or hurt by the culture, it's sometimes painful to be reminded that there's a certain absence of authentic love in one's life.  No matter where your guests are, and even if it hurts, humbly know that your love is a gift to everyone who witnesses it, and compassionately understand that it's not always easy. 


Matt Maher gets that everyone's hungryThe Spirit and The Bride invites everyone, not just the perfect or the righteous, to Love's banquet.  "The thirsty in need of the river," "all the hurting souls running from their healer," "the skeptics," "the fatherless," and even "the Pharisees."  

No matter what you've been through, he sings, "The Spirit and the Bride say, 'come.'"  It's a gentle, loving invitation, one that I think invokes the imagery of marriage in a beautiful way while emphasizing that the Father is the ultimate wellspring of true love.

I have to admit, this Beyonce fan is still kind of mad at her for the Super Bowl (this article articulates my feelings perfectly--it's well worth a read!), but there's no denying the girl's got talent.  Love On Top is a singable, joy-filled expression of having finally found love with someone who knows you're worth it.  Sounds exactly like how you should feel on your wedding day, right?  Listen to B. here.


Toss in your two cents!  What do you think of these picks?


Monday, March 11, 2013

Catholic Wedding Program Templates

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photo
Having trouble finding a way to create a customizable, maybe downloadable, specifically Catholic wedding program? The week before my wedding, I made a huge mistake.  I had been to enough wedding Masses, I thought, and I love graphic design, so I figured Mass programs would be an afterthought; a quick little project I could throw together and then check off my list.

Not so.  How the heck, I eventually wondered, did I number the pages of my computer document so they'd come out in the right order when folded?  How could I explain the guidelines for receiving communion in a sensitive way?  And how could I possibly condense readings, song lyrics, information, the wedding party, reception directions, and beyond into just a few pages?

I wish I'd known Claire two years ago.  Until last month, we were strangers, but this sweet reader recently sent me three wonderfully informative programs she designed for friends' weddings, completely out of the blue and straight from her generous heart!  Here's Claire's take:

Many of my husband's and my guests weren't Catholic when we got married, so we made our program a "guide to the Mass" along with giving all the typical info.  Since then, many of our guests have asked me to duplicate our program, with various emphases, for them, and we've done it as their wedding gift.  Several priests have read through them.


I learned the hard way what a pain it can be to design the perfect program, so I'm incredibly, gratefully excited to share these with you today! Click here to access three versions of the program.  You should be able to download and edit them for fonts and content. Thanks so much, Claire!

Do you have any other program or Mass planning advice?  Share it in the comments, and if you missed Mandi's post on kindly explaining Catholic wedding traditions to family and friends, check it out here.



P.S. If you haven't seen Moonrise Kingdom, the movie from whence came the photo above, I can't recommend it enough for your next date night!

P.P.S. My newest monthly column is up on Ignitum Today!  You can read it here.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

What I Wore Sunday, Volume 15

Happy Sunday!  I'm so content typing this from my desk at my own apartment--for the last two weekends, Andrew and I have been traveling all over our state teaching an NFP class and giving a talk to engaged couples.  We're scheduled for one next weekend, too--I love this work, but it really can get exhausting, particularly when your entire state is one diocese, meaning that the area it covers is huge.

I'm not saying this to martyr myself or appear falsely humble; I know we're blessed to get to do this ministry and I genuinely do enjoy sharing my passion for God's plan for sexuality.  Sometimes talks go really well, and other times, couples are unresponsive, and I have to remind myself that it's not about me.  I think Lent is such a suitable time for being mindful of emptying myself in the best way I can and allowing the Lord to work in me, while also knowing that it's only through grace that I can do that in the first place.

Here's what I wore for our talk last night and again for Mass today.  Visit Fine Linen and Purple for more style inspiration!

Hers: Top, Old Navy.  Jeans and earrings, Target.  Flats, Shoemint.  Nails, Fiesta by Essie.
His: Shirt, Target.  T-shirt, Ralph Lauren.
Hope you're having a wonderful weekend!  Tell me what you're up to!

P.S.  In addition to this one, I'll have another Lenten reflection on Ignitum Today tomorrow!

Friday, March 8, 2013

DIY: Printable Reception Menus

Somehow I missed out on this, but from what I've heard, tasting all of the options for your reception meal is one of the best parts of wedding planning (instead of a tasting, we just chose each course from our catering menu).  Even better, for a constant, happy hostess like me, is sharing that delicious meal with your guests! 

Having menus printed isn't entirely necessary, I'll admit, but I do think they add such a nice celebratory touch to your tables and sense of anticipation for guests.  Getting them from a stationer can get expensive quickly, so I say make your own!  I wanted to design a few for you, but somehow I ran out of time and just wasn't feeling super inspired this week, so instead, here's a collection of the prettiest printables I could find.

Click the captions for a link to each download!


Something blue
Rustic and elegant
Sweet tooth
These next three downloads aren't from an English site, but keep scrolling and you'll find translations!  Love the old world touch on this stationary suite.
In bloom
Hand-lettered style

What do you think?  The foodie in me is dying to know what dishes you have on your menu!   Have a wonderful weekend!


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Project 2013: March

{a month-by-month shine-up}


I know, I know, it's already a month into March, but nonetheless, I'm so excited to introduce to you two new monthly projects today! 

As Captive the Heart turned a year old, I wanted to spend February refining it and learning as much as I could about design, photography, and branding.  It's just a pipe dream right now, but I think one day, God willing, I could really enjoy turning my blog into a business.  For now, here's how I fared:

Redesign my blog.  Captive the Heart got a little face lift a few weeks ago!  In the process, I learned a smidgen of HTML and CSS coding that I actually enjoyed, and that I hope serves me well for future design projects.  I still feel like the look of my blog is lacking a little something, but I'm really happy with the slate as it looks right now!

Schedule Facebook posts that aren't just my own writing.  
Though I've been a little negligent for the last two weeks or so, I loved getting on this train.  Like Captive the Heart on Facebook for quotes, articles, song suggestions and graphics that didn't make it onto the blog, and plenty of pretty wedding images!

Spend time each week resesarching photography, marketing, and branding tips.  I feel like I've learned so much lately about blogging and business, as well as just how to put the best content out there as possible.  I don't feel called to use my blog to make money right now, but it's nice to know that if I discern that later on, there are so many resources out there.  I've included a few of my favorite resources in the Blogroll tab at the top!

Look for writing opportunities outside the Catholic blogosphere.  I actually haven't gotten around to this yet!  I love design, style, literature, and cooking and would love to do a few guest posts here and there in the coming months, so here's to furthering this adventure.

Stay humble, thirsty, and grateful.  Even writing each of these bullet points about how I think I've improved my blog lately are making me self-conscious!  I'm proud of my work, but I never want it to be about me.  Thank you, from my whole heart, for every visit and comment--your support and affirmation mean the world to me.



After going on vacation last month and shelling out for some serious car repairs, I'm looking forward to the challenge of spending as little as possible in March.  Every once in a while, I like to do a periodic spending fast, buying only essentials, and it each time, it feels easier and more satisfying the longer I stick with it.  Three weeks without buying anything uneccessary?  Such a good feeling.  I'm also hoping to get our taxes in order, save up some pennies for a new camera, and, as Andrew applies for PhD programs, come up with a long-term plan for paying off student loans.  And, I'd like to read a book on basic money management for young people--any recommendations?



In addition to this resolution, I'm so excited to introduce you to the Encourage Beauty project this month, thanks to Anna of In Honor of Design and Hilary of Dean Street Society.  Essentially, this is a daily, monthlong opportunity to inspire, compliment, and affirm each other as women.  "The compliment may be about her exterior," says Anna, "but it always will encourage interior dignity, which runs far deeper than we can see."  Love it!  

Click here for a downloadable list to fill out with the women you'll encourage over the next 31 days, through your words or your actions, and join me in sharing Anna and Hilary's manifestos!

What do you think?  Ready to take on March with me?



Read more about my monthly projects here:
One  Two

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Inspired: Honeymoon Essentials

{wedding candy}

You know what I think every girl needs after months of planning one of her life's biggest, most-worth-it-but-most-exhausting events?  A vacation.  Hopefully, you're getting one!  Relaxing on your honeymoon can be just what the doctor ordered and such a special time.

Packing necessities can vary from place to place, depending where you two are headed, but what basics are you bringing?


1. Bandeau Tank, J. Crew.  2. & 3. Fedora and Sunglasses, Target.  4. Sunscreen, Burt's Bees.  5. Sarong (similar).  6. & 7. Bra and Undies, Urban Outfitters.  8. Book, Amazon.  9. Journal, Design Darling.  11, 12, & 13. Earrings, Necklace, and Bangle, Pink Pineapple.
I'm a lazy traveler.  I don't like lugging around tons of stuff, so I try and pack things that can multitask.  Hands down, I think the best item for a beach vacation is a big, colorful sarong that can pull double duty and beyond (there are some great ones here!).  Besides a cover-up, it can be a scarf, a head wrap, a blanket, a skirt for dinner (maybe with the help of a few safety pins), and in a pinch, a beach towel.

Aside from bringing a giant piece of fabric, one of my other travel musts is plenty of jewelry, which can change up your basic outfits and takes up less space than extra clothes, and another is a journal I keep especially for trips.  It's fun to write down the details of each day--I'm always surprised by the small things I forget about when I'm back home and I reread what we've written!  I think your honeymoon would be the perfect time to start a book of your adventures.

And, don't forget practical things like sunscreen and batteries for your camera, and pretty things like the lacy numbers above!

There's a great checklist here with destination-specific items!

Are you going on a honeymoon?  Do you have your destination picked out yet?  Spill all the details in the comments, and share your best travel tips!



Monday, March 4, 2013

Be Not Afraid: The Sex Post

catholic wedding night, wedding night preparation, wedding night nerves, virgin on wedding night, catholic wedding, catholic couples, chastity, catholic marriage blogs, catholic wedding blogs, catholic marriage prep, catholic brides
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 Today's post has been on my heart for a while, but I think I'm just now finding the right words.  I've gotten a few emails recently asking about preparing for your wedding night, specifically when it comes to nerves and inexperience.  It seems to me that among our generation, there's plenty of talk about sex in a general sense, both in the Church and in the culture, but not a lot of discussion about, well, the nitty gritty of lovin'.  I've stumbled across a few Catholic sex blogs here and there, with well-intentioned advice, yet in my opinion (and it's just my opinion, mind you), they leave something to be desired.  They sometimes link to sources that are problematic or not credible, and the tone can strike me as lofty and elevated at a time when just getting real might be more effective. 

So, this is my very, very humble attempt to do something a little different.  I just want to share my heart with you.  Mostly due to grace, my husband and I were virgins at the altar, and though we weren't nervous, there were still plenty of things that prepared us along the way and that we found out at the beginning of our marriage, things that I hope help you in whatever small way I can offer.

Pray.  Maybe this is an obvious one, but really bring your wedding night to prayer, especially if you're feeling shy or apprehensive.  Ask the Lord to cast out your fear.  Ask Him to bring parts of your heart to light that might need healing or re-orienting.  It's different for everyone, but when I consider it, the thing that brought me completely joyful anticipation and no fear at all was studying John Paul II's Theology Of the Body.  Some of the late, great Pope's basic ideas are these: our sexuality is who we are and how we are created as men and women, and the fall caused the disordered view of sex that has caused some so much heartache.  But, when we strive to love purely, holding nothing back and desiring nothing but to revere, not to use, the other person, we can get back a piece of the Garden as it was meant to be.  No shame.  Married love is only a tiny image of the amazing divine love of the Trinity.  Incredible, isn't it?  This only scratches the surface, and there are plenty of resources out there that explain TOB far better than I can (Christopher West and Jason and Crystalina Evert have some wonderful books on it).  I really have come to believe that viewing marriage and love through this lens has tremendous power to heal many wounds and to help one approach sex with joy and trembling, in the best way.

But, don't take yourselves too seriously.  All of the prayer and the theological stuff is wonderful, but it's seriously okay if that's not what's running through your head every second--I mean, it's your wedding night!  What I'm trying to say is that there's definitely a "head" aspect of sex that sees the bigger divine picture. It's certainly noble and worth contemplating, but don't forget that there's the "heart" aspect, too--the more earthly, sensory, and emotional experience.  That's such a good thing!  Just because we're not in Heaven yet doesn't mean that our time on Earth should be joyless.  God created sex, and if everything of Him is inherently good, then of course sex is good.  The body is good.  Pleasure is good.  Enjoy each other's beauty!  He rejoices in a husband and wife delighting in one another, so don't put too much pressure on yourself to see your first night together as just singing choirs and flapping angel wings.  Yes; a spiritual reality is taking place, but remember to find a balance so you can be present in the earthly one, too.

Be patient with each other. Just like it takes time to build emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy at the beginning of your relationship, it also takes time, we discovered, to adjust to sexual intimacy.  It makes so much sense to me in hindsight.   Magazines and the culture can make it seem like if you're attracted to each other, then--bam!--your sex life will instantly be blissfully simple and complication-free.  We've learned that it's so important, though, to talk honestly as you learn one another in a new way.  In my opinion, vulnerability and honest communication are what simplify things, and the natural attraction you already feel will follow.  It's okay, and good, in fact, to talk about what feels good, what you like, what hurts or isn't comfortable, and even what turns you on (physically or otherwise).  Honesty is sexy, right?

Try not to view sex in terms of rules.  Someone told me she felt really strange going from being unmarried one day, when abstinence is a priority, to being married the next, when it's suddenly not.  I can definitely understand the anxiety--it can seem like there's not much difference between unmarried and married than just some words and a big party.  If you're feeling this way, I'd encourage you to pray about seeing sexuality as more than a set of rules.  True; abstinence ends in marriage, but chastity doesn't.  It's not a rule; it's a path to true freedom.  Chastity is all about purity in your thoughts, words, and actions and about ordering sexual desire properly so that you aren't enslaved to it.  So, it's natural that marriage brings a different approach to desire, but as long as purity and respect are present, sexual desire is nothing more or less than a new expression of the same love that's always been there.

Another word about rules: The Church requires that every marital embrace be both unitive and open to life (though not necessarily resulting in a new life each time).  That said, I know how tricky it feels to navigate a new sense of freedom when it comes to married love and certain acts.  There can be questions of, "Is this okay?" "Is that?" and "Did we mess up?"  While it's true every sexual act requires that the husband climax only during intercourse, you might be surprised to find there are few other directives about what's permissible.  So long as both individuals feel their dignity is being honored, and so long as the climax rule is upheld, very little is off limits.  Be open to new things, talk about them, and pray together. 

Additionally, while sexual morality is certainly important and while I'd never profess to know the state of someone's soul, I'd encourage you not to get too caught up in scrupulosity about certain acts or premature climax, particularly in the beginning.  If your intentions are pure and are coming from a state of innocence, then trusting your husband and giving him the benefit of the doubt should foster an understanding that things finishing prematurely are unintentional.  In my opinion, the sense of purity that's still there in situations like these means that this wouldn't be a serious issue of culpability.

It's okay to take things slow.  If you're abstaining for NFP reasons or even if you just don't feel ready, there's no requirement that you have to go all the way on your first night.  When you're experiencing each other intimately for the first time, there's still so much that's new and special to discover about your spouse, and it should feel like a moment to savor, not to rush.  A few ladies I know, myself included, needed to abstain on our wedding nights, but we've agreed they were still wonderful and beautiful and gave us even more to look forward to.

By the way, I highly recommend the book Holy Sex by Dr. Gregory Popcak, which discusses the nature of sex in a theological, but approachable, voice and includes extensive sections on the more technical, physical details of lovemaking in a reverent way.

What if you're bringing something different to your marriage?  If you've had sex before, or if you've been hurt in some way, know that there's nothing, nothing, that the Father's mercy and the graces of the sacrament can't ultimately heal.  Since that's different from my experience, I've asked my friend Rebecca to share her story of healing and how it shaped her wedding night and her relationship with her husband.  You can read it here.

Until then, consider this an invitation.  Maybe this was helpful to you, or maybe it sounds crazy.  Either way, tell me what you think!  I love hearing from you and would absolutely welcome your thoughts.  And if you feel like some girl talk, you can email me anytime at stephanie.captivetheheart@gmail.com.



Friday, March 1, 2013

7 Quick Takes, Volume 15

{story of a soul, condensed}

For as much as I talked about it beforehand, I'm only just now getting around to telling you about Andrew's and my trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico a few weeks ago!  My husband was presenting a paper on Alfred Hitchcock at a conference, and since I've always wanted to see the Southwest and since the conference fell on Valentine's Day, I tagged along.

Poor Andrew was so nervous beforehand, given that this was his first big professional thing--he wasn't hungry, and he wasn't talking much, either.  All of his nerves and his constant practicing paid off, though--I wasn't there to see it, but I heard he gave a funny, engaging talk (most people just read their papers instead), got lots of compliments, and the director of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. told Andrew a comment he made on the director's presentation was "super-sharp."  So proud!

I could brag about him all day, but instead, I'll share with you the rest of our trip, in the form of this week's quick takes!  Click here to read more, thanks to Jen!


1. Here begins a recurring theme of our trip, that of the paper-grading husband.  Andrew had to bring a lot of his students' work with him, but he managed to grade dozens of assignments while still going on adventures.  Our journey involved a layover in Dallas and a 10:30 p.m. flight, which somehow got pushed back to after 1:00 a.m. due to plane complications.  Here we are waiting, and here's husband making use of the extra time.  And, here is the oh-so-charming B&B we stayed at.  We loved the fresh flowers in our room, the gorgeous views out the window, and their homemade granola!


2. We were exhausted when we finally arrived in Albuquerque, but what with arriving in the early hours of Ash Wednesday, we dragged ourselves up for morning Mass at a beautiful church called San Felipe de Neri.  At over 300 years old, it's the oldest in the city, and it was so sunny and beautiful inside.  The church as an accompanying school, and one of my favorite things was seeing the kids as they walked up to receive ashes and as they left.  They were so cute!  Except I saw one of the little ones spit on the floor of the church.  Don't tell anyone, but somehow, I found that cute, too.



3. One of the hardest things about traveling during Lent, we discovered, is sacrificing yummy food.  Andrew and I love to cook and, of course, to eat, and when I travel, I try never to eat at chain restaurants I could visit elsewhere, preferring local choices instead.  The thing we found is, when one day of your four-day trip is Ash Wednesday and another is a Friday in Lent, and when eating out is the only available option, you feel the sacrifices of fasting and abstaining from meat more strongly than you do when you're just going about a normal day.  What's more, most of the promises I've made for this Lent have involved chores around the house, so since we weren't at home, it was hard to feel like my Lent had really started.  Honestly, given that our appetites were a little thrown off by the time difference and that we were tired, we weren't as strict with the "two small meals" Ash Wednesday rule as we could've been, but we did stick with just coffee for lunch.  I first had Cuban coffee in Miami two years ago, and it is so, so good--nice strong, bitter espresso with way more sugar than is necessary.  At this cafe here, The Guava Tree, I had a similar version in latte form.  I also discovered I liked sweetened condensed milk, which I've always professed to hate, when it's blended with espresso and topped with foam.  And so, husband graded, I read, and we whiled away the afternoon drinking our coffee.


4. I was so excited to find an all-organic, locally sourced restaurant called Farm and Table, and it was perfect for our Valentine's dinner!  It's in the prettiest valley area outside the busyness of the city, with a beautiful candlelit atmosphere Andrew and I shared some delicious French Fries with smoked paprika sauce, (some of the potatoes were blue!), ginormous scallops with white bean puree and Brussels sprouts, and a Black Forest cake and butterscotch pudding for dessert.  Since we still couldn't have meat that night, we got their lamb entree boxed up and ate it the following evening!

5. One of my favorite things about blogging has been making friends who hail from all over.  While Andrew was at his conference, I was lucky enough to meet up with Deme from Crinion Clan and Fresh Coat Of Paint!  Over a delicious breakfast and some serious adorability on the part of her sweet youngest son, James, Deme and I got to talk about how we met our husbands, fashion, Lent, Albuquerque, and so many things under the sun.  It was my first time meeting a blogging friend in real life, and our time together was a complete delight and gift to me.  I loved that I felt like I already knew her in so many ways, but didn't know many details of Deme's offline life, and it was wonderful to talk about those things, rather than just focusing on the common fact that we are both bloggers.  Deme, thank you for feeding me and for sharing your heart and your town with me!  My only regret is not taking a picture.



6. I got to spend some time on my own while Andrew was off wowing the crowds, and realized that I'd never explored a new city completely on my own before.  It was more fun than I expected!  I went to Mass, bought some New Mexican spices to try my hand with at home, did a little boutique shopping, and admired the architecture.  Part of the city runs through old Route 66, from the days of family road trips, and there are still hotels and diners along the road!  



7. There's a trail in Albuquerque that winds all along the Rio Grande river and past some of the city landmarks.  We rented bicycles (please observe and enjoy the yellow tires) and gave ourselves a little tour!  The landscape of desert and mountains is so beautifully different from what we're used to on the East coast, and although we were a little underdressed for the weather, it was such a pleasure to spend the morning in the sun.

Have a wonderful weekend; I'd love to know what you're up to!


P.S. Check back later this week for the next installment of my monthly resolutions!

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