Friday, October 30, 2015

Water Into Wine, and Hanging Out With Christopher West at Wedding Receptions: The Four Keys to Everlasting Love Book Preview

I'm not sure if this post is cheating, since the book I'm featuring isn't actually out for reading yet.  But, I want to share with you how excited I am about Karee Santos of Can We Cana's upcoming release, The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime.  

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Karee and I became friends through blogging a few years ago and have enjoyed communicating more frequently as we've gone down the first-time author path together.  We agreed to participate in endorsements for each other's projects, where you receive an advance copy of a forthcoming book and write a review for the publisher, parts of which might be featured on the book cover or in other marketing materials.  I had the pleasure of reading The Four Keys over the summer and am so honored to share it with you and put it on your radar before its April release.

Karee and her husband, Manny, have been married for over 15 years and have six kids!  They are Pre-Cana teachers with a passion for JPII's teachings on human love and on guiding couples not just in the ways of newlywed life, but in all the seasons of a lifetime together.  That, I think, is part of what makes their book so awesome: since college, I feel like I've inadvertently become something of a Catholic relationship book junkie, yet this is my first encounter with a book that spans every season of a married relationship, from engagement to young family life and beyond.  So no matter whether you're freshly engaged or have been married for a while, hopefully you'll appreciate, like me, the Santos' wisdom in living out your wedding vows in a complete gift of self.  What I loved is how practical the book is, with  case studies of real couples in each chapter (How many times have you read a book that inspires you to such holiness, but leaves you feeling a little clueless and, if you're like me, down on yourself as to how to actually apply it?  Not the case here) and questions to talk about with your fiancee or spouse.

I learned, for the first time, from the book's introduction that the Pontifical Council for the Family published an entire document on preparation for the sacrament of marriage (you can read it here; it's not too long!).  The council's recommendations for marriage and family life, including guidance on cultivating a deep, face-to-face union between man and wife, creating a prayerful family culture that welcomes life and embraces human dignity, and balancing work, leisure, worship, and service.  These guidelines form sort of the backbone of the book, along with John Paul II's call for marriage to be lived out freely, faithfully, fruitfully, and totally, and with Karee and Manny's intention that their ministry inspires couples to model their life together on the Jesus' first miracle--they point out, in the book, that "the Church, as Mary did at Cana, asks Jesus to change the water of human love into the wine of divine love." 
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Manny's early drawing for the book's design.  Click here to see the GORGEOUS final cover!

Amen to that, yes?  I asked Karee to share more info on the book from behind-the-scenes.

You and Manny co-wrote the book together and take turns throughout sharing personal stories from your marriage.  What was it like pairing up on the writing?
Writing together involved connecting on a whole new level. By putting our thoughts on paper, we learned things about each other that we never knew. Some of it felt very painful. We tell the story of Manny's multiple brain tumors, and reliving those experiences was like being thrust back into that traumatic time in our lives. But when Manny wrote his section on Natural Family Planning, I found out he really didn't mind the abstinence that much--he said he felt like he was waiting, pursuing, and winning me all over again. So romantic!

Christopher West had the honor of writing the book's foreword (Christopher flipping West, you guys)!  How was he chosen for the task, and have you and your husband communicated with him during the process?
We first heard of Chris West back in the 1990s, when we discovered St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body. He's been our hero ever since. After we started writing, we asked people who they thought would be the best person to write a foreword to a book on Catholic marriage. Christopher won first place by a landslide. His book Good News about Sex and Marriage has been a top seller for more than ten years, so he was our dream pick.

Every so often, we would get little hints from God that maybe it wasn't such an impossible dream after all. My brother actually married Christopher's cousin. I got to meet his whole family and wound up talking to him for about half an hour during my brother's wedding reception. But he keeps a strict boundary between his public and private life, so we didn't want to bank on the family connection.

Later on, we found out that Chris' editor at Random House was sending his kids to the same Catholic school as our kids. What are the chances!  His editor offered to forward the book manuscript to Christopher and put in a good word for us. But we weren't ready, so we kept writing and praying.
Finally, our editor at Ave Maria Press told me that she would ask Christopher herself. I drove her crazy making sure that the manuscript was in perfect shape before she sent it to him! When he told her yes, we felt so overwhelmingly grateful and blessed.

The Four Keys offers plenty of guidance, through discussion questions and suggestions for going through the material in a small group, for experiencing the book not just by reading it, but truly contemplating the meaning of sacramental marriage.  Do you have any other hopes or advice for couples to get the most out of it?
The pre-Cana experience happens so quickly for most people. A whirlwind of a weekend and boom; it's done. Our book lets people take their time exploring the Church's beautiful wisdom gathered over the past 2,000 years. Sometimes people don't know what they don't know until after the wedding. It's so easy to get caught up in the rosy glow of frantic preparation and ecstatic happiness. Many times couples will encounter obstacles during the first year of marriage, and they can really be caught by surprise. But it's totally normal to hit small bumps in the road. Our book gives strategies to get past those.  

Through the book, we're really trying to extend the hand of friendship to engaged and married couples who want and need support in their shared journey of faith. It's our hope that couples will read the book together in a group of people who can serve as confidantes, role models, and friends for a long time.


Join me in praying for Karee, Manny, their book and the couples it will reach?  The Four Keys to Everlasting Love is already available for Pre-Order on Amazon, so help me spread the word and share it with couples you know!  You can read more about the book here (and be sure to sign up for the Santos' new e-newsletter!), and follow Can We Cana? on Facebook here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Veritas: Bridget and David

{real-life love}

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Not many couples can say they met while playing a father and daughter in a high school play! But hey, the Holy Spirit. When Bridget, who blogs at Musings of a Queen B and is a Blessed Is She contributor, shared her love story with me, I loved hearing about the beautiful spirit of creativity that infuses her relationship with her fiancé, David. Read on for how their longtime friendship turned into romance and for some wonderfully practical wedding planning advice!

David and Bridget met in high school when they were 16 and 17 years old. They were both cast in the fall production of Little Women. David was swinging Bridget around the stage in their roles as Father March and Jo March. At the time, both didn’t quite know what they were looking for in relationships. 

To Bridget, David was always her Gilbert Blythe. He was (and is), she says, always steady, and she knew she could ask him for advice or talk through a problem. He would offer insightful ways for Bridget to approach a situation or to think about something in a whole new way. David challenged Bridget to think differently and to grow, which she says has always been a huge gift.  

To David, Bridget was always his Jo March. In Little Women, Jo is the sassy, hard-to-get older sister and always a leader in any situation… and it turns out she was cast perfectly. Bridget has a grace and quiet beauty that David says he was immediately captivated by. She was ever a source of firm reasoning and moral support for him in the midst of high school chaos. 

David and Bridget were friends throughout the rest of high school after the play. Although David had expressed interest shortly after Little Women, he was always Bridget’s dearest and most true friend; she knew that she could rely on him as a constant, which she grew to appreciate in their relationship more and more. Bridget was always a refuge and understanding heart in David’s busyness and search for identity during high school. He remembers that anxiety and confusion would fall off him like a jacket when he saw her. Their attraction wasn't immediately romantic, though, and they both dated other people throughout high school and during Bridget’s first year of college, yet always remained the closest of friends. 

As they matured, David became convicted that Bridget may not only be “a” friend, but “the” friend.  At the beginning of Bridget’s sophomore year of college, they took a “mini roadtrip” to visit a friend up north. David gave Bridget an adorable, vintage mini-book on romance as they departed for the trip--it’s still displayed on her bookshelf today! After the trip, they were on a walk and David asked Bridget if she'd like to go on a date with him. Of course, she said yes, and their first date was October 6, 2012, at a sushi restaurant David had once loved eating at with the middle-school mentor who was like a grandfather.

Bridget and David's proposal story involves two more plays and a date filled with surprises. You can read it in full and see photos here on Bridget's blog!

Bridget and David both felt that the moment they became engaged, there was something so much deeper and permanent about their relationship. They both loved that there were no more “what ifs” or “this might happens” about their relationship moving forward.

They say they haven’t found wedding planning too strenuous yet, which they both credit to honesty; it is awesome, they say, having great family, friends, and a loving God to pray with and pray to when things become overwhelming. They spent the summer after their engagement working out some of the big details: confirming a church and priest, booking a venue, finding photographers, nailing down catering, and finalizing the wedding party. 

David and Bridget want to include friends and family members into their wedding planning who can offer their talents in unique and fun ways. One of their friends is a graphic designer and will be designing invites and programs for the wedding. Another friend took their engagement photos, and they know others who work in worship ministry who have offered their services to play music for their wedding Mass.

In fact, there are so many of these good friends that Bridget and David say picking and choosing whom to include in the wedding party and whom to invite to the wedding has been a complication simply due to the size of their venue. Through trial and error, they've discovered and shared two tactics for deciding the invite list: 1) View their friends and family (and each other's opinions) not as two competing parties, but as one community that they will continue to participate in, and 2) Don't make hasty decisions. They advise letting conversations and choices sit for a time before pulling the trigger. 

Another reality they face is maintaining a reasonable, cost-effective budget, yet fun for them and for their guests to celebrate the beautiful commitment and sacrament of marriage. They've already decided that throughout their planning, they'll make an effort to save money by getting creative with Save the Dates, flowers, and decorations.

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Bridget and David have been surprised by the amount of searching they had to do in order to find opportunities for marriage preparation. They'd expected a treasure trove! It is totally worth it, they say, to send emails, use Google and call individuals involved in marriage prep to figure out what is available and identity a few different ways to can grow together during preparation and planning. Through an online search, Bridget found a local parish that holds monthly marriage preparation courses on Saturday morning that follows the Beloved curriculum from the Augustine Institute. This has been incredible, they say, as a way to intentionally set aside a morning each month to focus on marriage in light of Christ. 

These two are amazing at creating rituals to grow together--towards each other--in their faith and prayer lives. They say they've found that prayer and scheduled date nights are a must! They recently went through their schedules for the fall semester and scheduled in at least one date per week to ensure that they weren’t just getting together to talk about wedding planning or going over details. With scheduled date nights, they say theyre' able to enjoy each other and talk about what’s going on in daily life while spending quality time together.

David and Bridget also schedule time each night at 10:00pm to say a set of prayers and read from a devotional book over the phone. Both have found that prayer is a beautiful way for them to grow as a couple and form a habit of intentional worship. Throughout their relationship, David and Bridget would pray together, often after dates, but didn’t specifically schedule in daily prayer. Since this year is so busy for both of them, they've found prayer to be an anchor to growth in holiness, faith, and trust in each other. They also go to Mass together on Sundays, and say it's been wonderful to taste married life in the form of worship together!

Two of their favorite quotes, including one that played a role in David's proposal:

“Alone man does not completely realize this essence [of being a person]. He realizes it only by existing ‘with someone’ – and even more deeply and completely – by existing ‘for someone’…The communion of persons means existing in a mutual ‘for,’ in a relationship of mutual gift.” - Pope St. JPII, TOB January 9, 1980

‘"The weight of these golden rings",
he said, "is not the weight of metal,
but the proper weight of man,
each of you separately
and both together.
Ah, man's own weight,
the proper weight of man!
Can it be at once heavier,
and more intangible?
It is the weight of constant gravity,
riveted to a short flight.
The flight has the shape of a spiral, an ellipse—and the shape of the heart …
Ah, the proper weight of man!
This rift, this tangle, this ultimate depth—
this clinging when it is so hard
to unstick heart and thought.
And in all this—freedom,
a freedom, and sometimes frenzy,
the frenzy of freedom trapped in this tangle.’” - Pope St. JPII, The Jeweler’s Shop

Join me in praying for Bridget and David as they prepare for their August 20th wedding! Want to see your love story featured on Captive the Heart (you don't have to be a blogger!)? Email me at

Friday, October 23, 2015

Inspired: Cold-Weather Bridal Accessories That Won't Cramp Your Style

If we're being completely honest, Fall and Winter weddings aren't entirely fashion-friendly, at least in the keeping warm department.  But that doesn't mean you're relegated to wearing your old stuff that clashes with your dress, with shivering your way through photos, or that you can't take advantage of the weather to add an extra element of coordination to your wedding party.  Can I suggest coordinating items for you and your bridesmaids, like a neutral scarf you can all wear in outdoor photos or cozy socks and robes for your getting ready pictures, and splurging a little on a special piece like a coat or boots you can wear again (my fave is that gorgeous blanket--it's wintry and festive and can later take up residence on your bed or couch!)?

Here, a few toasty picks that could coordinate well with most palettes:

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1. Moroccan Wedding Blanket  2. Trapper Hat (similar)  3. Fur Jacket (similar)  4. Embellished Earband (if you're wearing your hair down!)  5. Boots  6. Infinity Scarf  7. Over-the-Knee Socks  8. Opera Gloves  9. Robe (similar)
What do you think?  Do you have a stay-warm game plan for your colder-weather wedding, and are you planning to pick up anything new to go with your wedding look?

P.S. Here's a post from the archives on warm, modest toppers for your dress (the exact items, obviously, won't be available anymore, but use the inspiration as a starting point for hunting down your accessories).

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Aaron Tobias Turns Two

Andrew and I spent Sunday afternoon watching football and sorting through all our baby clothes, trying to pick out the ones girly enough for our daughter to wear and still have people know she's an actual girl.  Basically, anything without too many sports balls or trucks got the pass.  We kept cracking up, saying how much Aaron would love to see all the stuff (he was napping) as we found PJs after shirts after onesies all covered in diggers, loaders, and dump trucks, which I now know the difference between thanks to my son's obsession and to our having checked out, at some point, practically every library book involving them.

My adorably weird, hilarious boy is two, and aside from trucks, his interests can be summed up by peanut butter, dirt, books, and jumping off of things.  I think what made me laugh so much about the newborn outfits was that when he was first born, it was so hard to see through the fog of just staying afloat to wonder much about what our son would be like, but having survived that and gotten to what I consider kind of a sweet spot in his development (I mean, there are the typical toddler tantrums, but the fact that he can do so much more for himself and communicate so much more than when he was tiny makes things feel much simpler), I just can't get the smile off my face as I think about how much joy he's brought to our lives.

And there ends the sappy; on to the more factual.  Here's what Aaron's been up to…

I realized after uploading this that that's a knife he's eating off of.  Oops.  He
cut it himself, okay? 
Exemplary  table manners, that boy.  

Playing: I feel like his imagination has gotten insane over the last few months.  He'll narrate what he's doing while he plays and ask his stuffed animals questions, and so many of his sentences start with "Maybe…" ("Maybe this trash truck is going to go pick up the trash!" Maybe the dinosaurs want some pizza!").  His favorite toys lately are a set of mini construction trucks that he wheels around with Play Doh and any kind of pretend food--the pizza for the dinos is from this set, and he likes cutting up velcro food with the little girl I nanny for and they feed her princess Barbies and zoo animal figures.  He started to enjoy drawing over the summer and is still into it.  For such an active kid, I love watching how still he is when he's scribbling away, and I also love when he kind of art directs me and we draw pictures together of people we know; usually he asks for drawings of him and his three cousins riding on various trucks.

We live within walking distance of a great library and walk there a few times a week.  There are puzzles and, well, more trucks, that he loves playing with in the kids' section and he hasn't gotten into any all-out wars with other kids yet.  They also have kid-height furniture that's still wide and deep enough for adults, if that makes sense, and he loves running around picking out books and reading them together "on the tiny sofas!"

Sleeping: After 13 months of anywhere from two to six nighttime wakeups, during which Andrew and I were about as nice to each other as a pair of vipers, Aaron finally slept through the night for the first time.  Honestly, I think we created the monster in a lot of ways, with me running in to nurse him every time he made a peep and feeling too lazy in my sleep deprivation to put much effort into changing tactics, but I think making the admittedly really hard decision to let him cry a little and settle himself back down, combined with the fact that maybe he was just developmentally more capable with sleep by that point, ended up being good.  I know sleep is such a sensitive subject and would never tell another mom to do exactly what I did out of pride that it's the best, most surefire plan ever, or to expect the exact same results, but for Aaron's personality and for the desperate need to have a kind and non-zombie relationship with my husband again, it worked.

In the middle of all that cray cray during Aaron's first year, I never would've imagined looking forward to bedtime, since I was just doing the same "bedtime" routine with him every 2 hours all night, but I cherish the end of each day as a family so much now.  He takes a bath while one of us watches him and the other does the dishes (welllll, full disclosure, I hate dishes and usually opt for bath duty while Andrew cleans up), and then we all go in Aaron's room together while he runs around in the penguin bathrobe my mom got for him.  Then it's PJ's, stories, tooth brushing, more running (he and Andrew like to play a game we named Interception, where pretends to run toward me but is actually waiting for Daddy to grab him and pick him up), more stories, prayers, and lights out.  Sometimes we hear him really loudly talking to himself after we leave the room and try to keep our laughter quiet while we listen outside the door!  He usually sleeps around 10 or 11 hours at night and takes about a 2 1/2 hour nap in the afternoons.  No complaints from me.

Demonstrating helicopter sounds.
Talking: He talks and I love it, not just for the ease of communicating what he needs and wants but because the kid is so darn funny to me.  I feel like examples are better than vague descriptions so I'll tell you (and tried and failed 439458405968 times to upload video of this) about the cranky-induced little medley he came up with on a recent car ride home, involving repeated, semi-melodic yells of "Aaron TobIAAAAASSSS! …looking for (a truck, a loader, a tree…)"

Also, meet Potato Ron, a pterodactyl of Andrew's invention whom we make up stories about, and whom Aaron has taken to talking about all the time, too.  He like blueberries, flying high in the Jurassic sky (that's the opening line for all our stories!), dancing, and kicking soccer balls.  We found a pterodactyl on Amazon and gave it to Aaron when he woke up on his birthday morning, and the first thing he did was flap the little wings and have him do a dance.  I won't deny our family is weird but there you have it.

I wanted to do a super small, low-key birthday with both of our immediate families this year, but the scheduling didn't work out, so we had two small parties, one with each family, over the weekend.  On Friday we had Andrew's siblings over for lasagna and pumpkin bread, which was very fun aside from the fact that Aaron helped me cook ahead of time all day and kept getting mad that he couldn't eat anything as it was coming out of the oven--fine, I cracked and gave him a muffin early--he loves watching my mixer spin around (we drag a chair over so he can peek in) and helping dump dry ingredients into the bowl!  And Saturday we visited my parents' house and had barbecue, mac and cheese, and this amazing blueberry cake my sister made.  I didn't want gifts to be too much of a focus, so I hadn't really mentioned to him that he'd be getting any, but plenty of jumping around ensued when he opened his presents, especially the ones involving vehicles (aka three out of four)!

I'm sure only a mother could love this level of detail, but it's tiny details like snacks and storytelling that I want to remember one day!  I am beyond thankful for my son's sweet temperament, sense of goofiness, and the excitement about everything that he has at this age.  Happy Birthday, my baby!

P.S.  Did you catch my announcement on Friday?  I'm so excited to reveal the cover design for my book, INVITED, this Thursday, October 22, in honor of JPII's feast day.  You'll find it on Facebook and Instagram first, a week earlier than on the blog!  Follow along here and here.

Friday, October 16, 2015

INVITED, Uncovered: A Book Announcement

I'm thrilled to tell you that my book, INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner, now has an official cover!  Next week on October 22, the feast of my ultimate homes, Pope St. John Paul II, I'll be sharing it on Facebook and Instagram first!  Follow along here and here, and stay tuned for the blog reveal the following week.

Meantime, my sweet not-such-a-baby Aaron is two today.  How (you can read his birth story here)?  With that, off I go to spend the morning with him and bake lasagna and pumpkin muffins, my attempt to mildly deprive my child of sugar and, hopefully, of birthday meltdowns.  Enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

34 Week Bumpdate

Less attention for the second child, even in the womb, syndrome: it's totally real, you guys.  I suppose the difference in my life from two years ago, namely, that I spend my days playing Hot Wheels and feeding peanut butter spoons to a toddler instead of sitting at a desk with lots of downtime to read about my pregnancy, has made this round of gestation feel much faster than the last.  I've even had to count on a calendar a few times to figure out how far along I am!

Anyway, Aaron's photographically neglected little sis got some time in front of the camera this weekend, and that, along with my being full term (what) approaching so soon, made now feel like a good time to take stock of everything that's going on right now, plus catch up on the things I want to remember about this pregnancy in general.

Weight Gain: Man, you bumpdate inventors don't beat around the bush.  Around 20 pounds, I think.  My weight has been weird this time around.  I actually gained only about 2 pounds in the first four months, probably thanks to throwing up around the clock, and once my morning alllll day sickness subsided, I gained 6 pounds in a month, two months in a row, and have continued on that path of bigger gains at each of my appointments.  Steady on.

Maternity clothes:  Dislike.  But yes, I'm wearing them, at least in places where pants are socially required.  I was able to get away with a belly band, a ratty pair of gym shorts from college that were still comfy, and with pushing down the waists of stretchy bottoms until about a month ago, which I was grateful for since I have neither the space nor budget for a big maternity wardrobe, but it's on to full-fledged elastic and panels now.  So I cling to three pairs of jeans, wear one of these most days, and layer a regular (unbuttoned) button-up or cardigan over top, though I do have a few T-shirts that still fit over everything without getting ridiculously stretched.

Stretch marks? None until about two weeks ago, but my belly is starting to get the tigress look.  Last time I also had some on the bell, as well as my thighs and sides, but to my surprise, they faded pretty quickly after Aaron's birth and aren't really visible anymore.  I like to think these new ones wouldn't bother me if they become permanent, but I also remember how fragile my sense of beauty and worth was in that postpartum haze, so while I'm hoping these marks also go away, I'm also hoping I can be at peace with them should they decide to stick around.

Sleep: Mercifully, pretty good, and definitely better than I recall compared to last time (Two years ago I quite literally wrestled this horrible-to-me pillow to the ground in a 1 a.m. rage...).  About once a week I wake up and can't go back to sleep for about two hours at a time, which I spend peeing, tossing the blankets around, reading, and attempting to pray, but other than that I'm so thankful to sleep through most of the night, most of the time.  I'm trying to soak it up while it lasts!

Miss anything? I enjoy alcohol, but rarely have it, mostly due to my inner cheapskate.  So it's been such a surprise to find myself consistently craving a beer!  As far as dietary pregnancy rebels go, I think I fall about halfway left of moderate and have had things like sushi a few times without really worrying about it.  With the booze though, I have the sense that if I don't often have it while not pregnant, pregnancy maybe isn't the best time to start habitually (moderately!) drinking some, so I've mostly avoided it.  Oh, and basic flexibility…I'm starting to miss the ease of doing seemingly simple stuff like rolling over in bed without crushing my baby honeydew, painting my toenails without also painting my actual toes, and squatting to pick things up without my knees running into my belly!

Movement: I'm 34 weeks.  Let's keep this simple and just call it a resounding yes.

Food Cravings: Well, beer.  Beverage-wise, I've also been guzzling seltzer water with lemon juice as often as I can, thanks to the SodaStream my sister gifted us last Christmas.  Maybe it's a general carbonation craving.  And tart craving.   In keeping with the tart I've joined Aaron in his frozen berries with yogurt habit and almost always want strawberries or an apple first thing in the morning.

Anything making you sick? Not anymore, praise the Lord.

Gender: Still a lady baby, so far as we know.

Labor signs: Lots of Braxton-Hicks, but nothing terribly uncomfortable or frequent enough to make me think I'm in actual labor yet.

Symptoms: Some round ligament pain, which is also more manageable than I recall from my last pregnancy.  I've been taking calcium supplements this time, which evidently are helpful, and have also wondered if being more active this time has helped.

Belly button in or out? Super out.  It wasn't until I saw my reflection when I wore under-belly maternity pants, instead of over-belly ones or my belly band, that I realized how prominent it's gotten!

Rings on or off? On, and I'm hoping with the cooler weather, they'll stay that way.  Also, both my wedding and engagement rings have always been a tiny bit loose, not so much as to to come off or slide up and down my fingers, but enough that the stones sort of fall off-center to the side rather than staying snug in one spot, which has turned out to be handy (accidental hand pun…) for pregnancy.

Looking forward to: meeting this little girl face-to-face, of course, but I think even more so, I can't wait for hers and Aaron's first meeting!  Although I don't expect perfect behavior from Aaron as three become four, I've loved watching his sweetness of spirit be drawn out in this way of him becoming a big brother. He insists his sister read books with us by pulling up my shirt, runs over with toys to show her, and rocks his stuffed animals in the baby swing.  I know for sure I'm going to lose it the first time he sees her…

Baby girl was breech at my doctors' appointment 2 weeks ago, and to see if she'd flipped by the most recent one, my midwife did an ultrasound to check on her position.  I hadn't expected one at all, and the difference in her size and development compared to the one I had at 20 weeks, even at the slightly fuzzy level, was amazing when I saw her on the screen.  Even as she's felt more and more a part of our family over the past 8 months, something about seeing her sweet little face made her coming arrival feel even more real.

Speaking of transitions (of the figurative, not labor-related variety), any wisdom from veteran mamas on helping your first child adjust to your second? And helping you adjust to your second, for that matter?  I love hearing about your experiences!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Crafting a Masterpiece: Personalized Art for Starting Your Life Together

Since we rent our apartment, and since we've been renting for our entire marriage across 3 dwellings in 4 years, I've been torn in the past between kind of neglecting semi-major things like nails in a rental while still deeply wanting to make our home, however temporary, truly feel like it belongs to us.

Which brings me to this, today's post.  The desire to furbish your living space, as a way of visually manifesting your life together, is a good one; one that's particularly exciting when you're engaged.

Sometimes it's hard to wade through the sea of calligraphied, chevron-printed "live, love laugh," heart-shaped map, or monogram on burlap.   Not that there's anything expressly wrong with those; it's just that in my experience, it's tough finding a more uncommon designs suited to my taste.  Anyway, personalized art makes a wonderful gift if you're a wedding guest, a great treat to yourselves if you're newlyweds, or just a nice timeless piece for your home if, like me, you're neither at the moment.  Here's a roundup of some Etsy favorites, any of which I'd love to hang on our walls and would consider worth the Spackling when we move out one day (Andrew, if you're reading this…).  Links are in the graphic caption:
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1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8
Which one's your favorite?  And please tell: have you given or received a personalized piece of wedding art? I love hearing your stories!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

My Renegade, TOB Take on Maleficent

A few disclaimers before we get into this: 1) I'll admit, this has little to do with weddings today, but this is the forum I have for writing so here I write.  2) If I weren't 8 months pregnant, my hysterical crying over this movie might have been just regular crying.  Still, I think it has a lot of emotional merit worth crying over.  3) Spoilers lurk ahead, though I suspect I'm one of the last people in the world to have watched this.

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A few months ago, I read a few posts floating around Catholic blogland praising the truth, beauty and goodness to be found in Disney's Cinderella remake, particularly compared to the lack of goodness in Maleficent, which, of course, is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty.  I'm dying to see Cinderella and haven't yet, but as a lifelong Disney lover, I grabbed Maleficent, in spite of what I'd heard, when I spotted it at the library.  Free movies, people.

To my surprise, I found myself more moved (read: sobbing uncontrollably) by this film than any other I've recently seen.  To my even greater surprise, I seem to be in the minority on this.  After watching, the general secular opinion I read was that Maleficent is visually striking but weak on its intended pro-woman storytelling, and the general Christian interpretations I came across viewed the film as too subversive, with the message that men are weak and true love isn't real.  All due respect, especially to Kendra, whose Maleficent vs. Cinderella post I really enjoyed reading, I have a different take, one rooted in the longings of our fallen hearts and the hope of our redemption.

Maleficent introduces us to the titular fairy when she's a girl, joyful and free in her gorgeous woodland home.  There are some beautiful shots of her flying through the sky, gazing upon the heavens.  Like in the start of Genesis, the world, the garden, is unstained by sin or shame.  

Pope Saint JPII's Theology of the Body points to the Genesis narrative as a lens for understanding the deepest parts of our humanity: daily battles between love and lust, temptation and self-control, and our ache for something infinite, the result of the broken communion between man and God that took place at the Fall.  It's a communion we won't fully get back this side of heaven, but the unitive, nuptial aspects of each vocation give us a glimpse of the Father's divine love, the only love that can ever satisfy entirely.  

The Fall in Maleficent takes place when Maleficent's first love, the future King Stefan and Princess Aurora's (a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty's) father, a poor young man and reformed thief who's set his sights on greatness, secures the throne for himself by fulfilling the (current) dying King's request that Maleficent be destroyed after humiliating him on the battlefield.  Specifically, Stefan returns to Maleficent's wood after years apart have passed between them, drugs her into sleep, and cuts off her wings.  

The scene where Maleficent wakes from this sleep, completely bewildered and in deep physical and emotional pain, is wrenching (this was about where my tears started, and they didn't really stop after that), and marks the start of her path to becoming the glamorous-yet-terrifying villain I remember from my childhood.  Her transformation comes complete with shape-shifting raven sidekick; in this movie he is a man named Diaval whom Maleficent tends to treat like a plaything--to his resentment in several instances--turning him into whatever animal suits her whims and her needs.

Are these exemplary, functional relationships between men and women?  Not at all.  But that's what I think affected me so deeply and so truthfully about this movie.  It's oversimplifying, in my opinion, for morally-minded viewers to draw the conclusion that the film justifies Maleficent's descent into darkness and that it begs us to sympathize with her.  It's undeniable that she's been horribly, painfully wronged, by a perhaps more obvious villain than she in Stefan, yet it remained impossible  to see her in an entirely sympathetic light, or to feel she had a right to her sense of hatred.  I just saw it as a believable, if not virtuous, reaction to being so burned in her vulnerability.  I think Maleficent's resulting mistrust and manipulation of men makes her neither the sole victim of the wing-cutting, nor merely a misunderstood woman whom we should see as morally relatively good just because she was on the receiving end of an evil act.  I wept for the tragedy of human fallenness and of the wounds men and women inflict on each other, and for the actual walls of thorns Maleficent builds around herself.  King Stefan falls for selfish ambition, while Maleficent falls for revenge and isolation, each to the other's harm.

It's an interesting figure of speech, "falling" for something.  The movie speaks to this in a literal way through Stefan and Maleficent's sins, yet the phrase also implies someone has believed a lie they shouldn't have.  In Maleficent's case, she falls for the lie that cursing Stefan's daughter, Aurora, will right the wrong done to her and bring her fulfillment.  The second half of the movie focuses on the surprising maternal pull that draws Maleficent to Aurora as the princess grows up in seclusion, safe from Maleficent's spinning wheel curse.

Strangely, it's only since becoming a mother that I've felt most acutely a woman's desire for motherhood and for giving life, and have mourned most deeply the times when a woman struggles with this, through miscarriage, fertility issues, or otherwise.  I cried a whole lot more as I watched Maleficent's inclination to care for baby Aurora, who's left in the care of three incompetent pixies, and later, to engage her in conversation and invite Aurora into her company.  I found it beautiful that a woman so broken, so walled, still found her feminine heart stirred, subtly and unknowingly at first, and then more fully, by Aurora's new life as an infant and by Aurora's purity of spirit as a teenager.

Can we talk about Maleficent's love for Aurora?  Much seems to have been made of the fact that the movie suggests men are unnecessary, for the reason that it's Maleficent's motherly kiss that wakes Aurora from her cursed slumber, instead of Prince Philip's.  While it's true Maleficent's experience of betrayal is what leads her to make a mockery of true love's kiss when she casts the curse on the baby princess (which, again, is in my eyes an indicator of her imperfection, rather than a call to justify her actions without critical evaluation), I'm not so sure the reality of true love is in question here so much as the reality of love at first sight.

Aurora and Philip share a sweet, shy conversation in the woods at their first meeting, which notably lacks the "Once Upon a Dream" sequence from the original Sleeping Beauty, with its lines like "you'll love me at once."  When Aurora's pixie guardians learn about the prince, they're so excited at the possibility of Philip being the one to break the inevitable sleeping spell that they seem to depersonalize him.  In their understandable desperation to save Aurora, the pixies are happy enough that anyone, that is, the first man to come along, might love the princess, rather than someone.  JPII professed in one of his TOB audiences that "man is unique and unrepeatable above all because of his heart, which decides his being from within"--it makes sense, then, that each person and each couple's love story will be similarly unique. 

I go back and forth on the idea of soulmates.  On the surface, maybe, it looks like Maleficent suggests either that true romantic love isn't real, or that Philip and Aurora aren't meant to be, but I think there's actually another idea at work.  Regardless of whether or not the prince and princess are each other's destiny, the spell simply specifies that the princess be awoken by "true love's kiss," raising the question of whether Philip and Aurora can actually share true love, as in self-gift and sacrifice, after just one short encounter.  It could be just a matter of semantics, but I prefer to see Philip's "failed" kiss as an insight into how we fall in love--it's more than emotion, more than the flutter of feelings that spring from a first meeting, that makes for authentic romance and good will. What's more, the movie makes a point of showing that Philip is an entirely different man than Stefan.  Unlike the king, who drugs Maleficent and violates her body against her will, Philip is hesitant to even kiss Aurora while she's asleep, for the very reason that she'll have no idea, and finally agrees only at the pixies' incessant requests.

I got a little wary at the end of the movie, which shows Aurora and Maleficent on their own, back in Maleficent's newly dethroned forest.  The woods have been restored to their original beauty and Maleficent's wings have been restored to her (which, together, suggest to me a powerful image of a return to the garden in eternity and the resurrection of the body).  Had the film concluded just with that whole All You Women Who Independent business, I would've been disappointed.  After what I perceive as an effort to explore the truth of love as a gradual development--the fruit of coming to see and know another, rather than instantaneous, traditional fairy-tale love--leaving Aurora entirely on her own would've been a little too obviously feminist, too easy an ending for me.  But I don't think this movie takes many easy outs.  Instead, by making a choice to show Prince Philip returning to visit the princess, we're left with a sense of possibility that maybe a truthful, personal love really could develop between these two.  Their first meeting and first kiss aren't the end game, but the beginning.

So that's that, my unexpected reaction to and weird interpretation of this story.  I think secular critics missed the point of the movie by reducing it to a commentary on the injustices men inflict on women, and that it's a shame it was marketed (falsely, in my opinion) in a way that made light of evil.  And I think audiences who care about the moral implications of what they watch also missed the mark, making the assumption, perhaps, that if any plot twist strays too far from tradition, there must be some agenda at work. I know it'd be naive of me to think Hollywood doesn't, in fact, have an agenda, yet the beauty of Maleficent lies, to me, in the truths about who we are, beneath any cultural conventions or media-driven intentions about love, sex, and gender.  Whether the world chooses to recognize it or not, it's the truth that all of us are fallen and walking around with wounded hearts, yet there is grace at work in the world, and restorative love and healing are possible.

What about you? Agree?  Disagree?  What did you think of Maleficent, and did you notice any of the TOB underpinnings I did?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Surviving a Long-Distance Engagement, Catholic-Style

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Andrew proposed to me beneath a statue of Our Lady on our college campus, the summer after I graduated and right as we were preparing to spend a year apart, me for mission work and him for grad school 5 hours away.  We set our wedding date for 13 months later.

Given the choice, both of us would've preferred a shorter engagement.  Yet given the responsibilities entrusted to each of us over the upcoming year, it would have been both impractical and imprudent to get married any sooner.  Off we went in opposite directions, seeing each other roughly halfway between at one of our families' houses every two or three weeks.  And oh hell was it a marathon.  When I think back on that year, the hardest aspects were the mounting panic that our wedding was fast approaching and we had little time to plan, the heightened temptations against chastity that came with not seeing each other often, balancing time alone with family time (since they were hosting us and also happy to have us around), and struggling against impatience. If you're currently engaged long-distance and have similarly experienced at least one of these, and if you'll allow me some unsolicited advice, here's what my own heart could've used some reassurance on at the time:

Don't fall into believing the two of you are all alone.  Sounds obvious, yet I bought into this lie over and over, the one that made me think if didn't control every part of wedding plans and cultivating our relationship across the miles, everything would be doomed.  But it wasn't just on us to take care of all that.  So often, I forgot to invite the Father in and to turn to prayer for even the smallest matters.   Since we'd started dating, Andrew and I had just sort of naturally created our own litany to a handful of saints, and both of us had fallen hard, in particular, for JPII's spirituality rooted in human love.  At some point, Andrew reminded me of the grace and power that reside in saintly intercession, and though I, in my inadvertent pride, took a while to develop the habit of calling on their prayers, there truly was peace to be found there.  If you haven't already, choose a few patrons for your engagement and pray to them often.

Don't expect perfection, but don't stop pursuing it.  Chastity, yo.  It's such a battle--both before marriage, when it asks abstinence of us (though I don't personally consider chastity and abstinence the same thing), and continues to be tough after marriage, as spouses are constantly called to die to self, to live out their sexuality through self-gift in its infinite forms, and to strive for virtue and self-discipline.  But let's talk about the before marriage part.   No matter where the two of you are living relative to each other, it can be seriously hard to discipline the good and beautiful desire to physically express your love, so much so that for me, I sometimes questioned (and hated that I was even asking myself) whether love or lust was the motivation.  Add infrequent time together into the mix, thanks to long-distance dating, and things get even harder.

But listen.  While I fully view sexual sin as serious business, I also view it as so incredibly human.  We are created, body and soul, with a longing for the infinite, an ache whose earthly fulfillment is fulfilled, at least in part, through a properly integrated expression of our sexuality.  For those called to marriage, that expression is physical, so of course those desires are right at the surface during engagement.  While it's true that God is just, it's also true that he is so, so merciful and wants so deeply for us to run to his mercy and to come back to him every time we fall.  Be gentle with yourselves, don't give up the fight (I'm no theologian, but in my opinion there is more culpability in giving in to temptation because you've decided chastity's not worth it than in continuing to seek holiness even amidst occasions of giving in), and go to confession as often as you need to.  Speaking of which…

Seek out spiritual time together, especially time away from wedding planning.  Practically speaking, it was sometimes necessary for Andrew and I to condense into a single weekend some of the wedding planning that we might've had more time for had we been able to see each other more often (you can read about our semi-disastrous registry experience here…).  But, making it a priority to go to confession and Mass when we were together, and to pray with each other in the car and before heading off to bed, impacted our peace for the better, in ways I probably didn't even recognize.  When your time is limited, it's tempting to try and fill every second with managing your to-do list, yet we quickly noticed how much more relaxed and content we felt when we made a conscious effort at leisure and quality time.  Carving out time for prayer and for just sitting down to read or get coffee had the ironic effect of making us feel like there was actually more time than we perceived to get everything wedding-related taken care of, and had two added benefits for our situation.  First, making a point to relax gave us time with just each other, which was sometimes hard to come by when we were visiting each other in our parents' homes and were usually surrounded by other people who were happy we were there (that setup was really good for chastity accountability, but not as good for quality conversation between the two of us).  Second, it gave us an opportunity to trust each other and follow through on our word in a specific way; because it simply wasn't possible, or even necessary, to do every bit of wedding stuff together, we had no option but to delegate tasks to each other and do them on our own, a habit that came in handy after we got married, too.

Don't just make this time about surviving.  For me, at least, there were so many occasions when I wanted to fast forward through our engagement and just get to the altar already.  Normal as it might have been (someone tell me I was normal?), it would've been unhealthy if my entire life was defined by the fact that I was engaged or if I didn't take pleasure in anything outside of my relationship with my fiancĂ©.  I needed to remind myself I was doing work I loved and sincerely enjoying my life's other pursuits.  Time is sacred, for the simple yet profound fact that God freely chose to enter into it, a man among us.  Use it well.  Frankly, counting down to the start of my vocation flat out sucked sometimes,  yet I also clearly remember a sense of sweetness in the waiting and an urge to not make it wasted time, not in my friendships, my work, my spiritual life, and my overall sense of presence.

Last week Andrew had two back to back loooong workdays of student-teacher conferences where he didn't arrive home until I was almost ready for bed, yet by the time he walked in the door, I was so happy to finally talk to my husband that we were up for another few hours.  Even though he'd basically spent the past twelve hours talking, we spent the time asking question after question about each others' days, and I did my usual I'm-so-glad-Aaron's-in-bed-but-let's-talk-about-all-the-funny-things-he-did-and-look-at-pictures-of-him thing.

At one point, Andrew asked me if our conversation, one we'd unconsciously been saving up all day for, reminded me of our engagement.  It did!  Four years ago, when most of our daytime hours were occupied and we weren't seeing each other at the end of the workday, we didn't usually talk until after dinner in the evening and did a pretty similar blow-by-blow of our days, mixed in with all the thoughts and debates the day had sparked.  I love that I get to talk to this man forever.

What about you?  Is your engagement long-distance?  What are the biggest struggles you've faced, and the best ways you've found to deal with them?  I always, always enjoy hearing your stories!


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