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In which I am inspired…

Several months ago I received an email about a Catholic women’s retreat sponsored by the Military Council of Catholic Women (MCCW), which I am able to belong to while we are stationed overseas.  I’ve gotten these emails over the years, and honestly, I’ve never given them a second thought.  But something about this one caught my eye, and I was curious to find out if anyone else I knew was going, as I was too nervous to go alone to Germany and attend my first retreat.

  
At the 11th hour, I found out that two women and my parish priest would also be attending, and it was like all the little ducks quickly fell into line.  I would attend my first Catholic retreat, in Bavaria, with friends.  I was excited about the topic, “Totus Tuus, Totally Yours.”  I was ready for 5 days away, in one of my favorite places in the world, with time for reflection and prayer.

  
The weekend did not disappoint, on so many levels.  I got time with one of my best friends Rachel, the recipient of the Perfect Match Blanket who’s preparing to depart for the states in less than two weeks.  I grew closer to another woman from our parish, Francine.  I spent time with our parish priest, Father John, for the first time–and honestly, I learned so much just from spending time with him outside of the chapel.  I met and mingled with women from bases around Europe, including connecting with several women from other British bases.  I grew my network of those staying behind, while so many of my friends’ European adventures draw to a close.

  
I have grown so much in my faith and as a Catholic over the past year, and in many ways, this retreat was exactly what I needed to help me continue on my journey.  The speakers were thought-provoking and inspiring, and I was blessed with some time for adoration, meditation, reflection, and prayer.  It was much needed.

  
I also got to spend time in a gorgeous location, awestruck by how faith-filled the region was, with so many Catholic Churches and road signs that note when you can attend Mass.  And of course, the food and the beer was plentiful and delicious!

  
Coming back from retreat wasn’t easy, I quickly learned.  You go away and have all these ideas and want to change and do so much, but when you come home, the laundry still needs to be done, and you can’t simply decide you’re going to change your entire family structure and focus overnight. So making small changes to grow in faith and lead my children has been my focus.  I’ve read “The Domestic Church” upon my return, and that’s helped me begin to see my calling as a wife and a mother in a new light, though it’s still a challenge.  

  
Finally, the retreat helped prepare me for moving season.  A stronger faith will be able to help guide me through a hundred goodbyes and changes.  

At least that’s what I keep telling myself. 

This retreat truly was a huge blessing in my life, and I know thirty years from now, I’ll look back on it as a life-changing event.  It was inspirational.

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In which there is a free knitting pattern…

Perfect Match Blanket

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For the story behind the Perfect Match Blanket, please read this post.

Size: One Size

Yarn: 5 skeins Berroco Vintage Chunky, Azure colorway (MC) and 5 skeins Berroco Vintage Chunky, Charcoal colorway (CC)

Needles: 6 mm straight needles or circular needles at least a 24″ cable

Gauge: Variable

Other Notions: Darning Needle

Loosely CO 140 stitches in MC. Work 12 rows in garter stitch. **Work 20 rows in stockinette stitch (k one row, p one row), knitting the first and last 6 sts of each row for the entire blanket to create a garter stitch border.

Switch to CC and work 4 rows in stockinette stitch, then switch back to MC for 4 rows.  Repeat twice, ending after the third CC stripe.  Work 20 rows in stockinette in your MC.

Repeat from **, replacing your MC with your CC and your CC with your MC.  The second half of your blanket will be the mirror image of the first.

Work 12 rows in garter stitch in your new MC.

Bind off loosely and weave in loose ends.

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In which there is a blanket…

“To love another person is to see the face of God.” –Victor Hugo

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” –Proverbs 27:17

“The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.” –CS Lewis

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I spent a lot of time over the past 8 weeks reflecting on each of these quotes.  I know exactly how many weeks it was because that’s how long it took me to knit a blanket.  It wasn’t just any blanket–it was “the” perfect blanket.  I designed and knit it for a family so special to me that I honestly don’t even know how I am going to write this blog post without crying.  So sit back and wait for it, because this post is going to be a doozy (which spell check tells me isn’t a real word…I call foul).

I have been blessed in my life with the opportunity to travel and live overseas with Marcus’ job.  It has brought us so much closer together as a couple and we’ve come together as a more cohesive family unit. It has also meant that we’ve had the chance to meet people that might not have otherwise crossed our paths.  I think there was a time where I would have called that “coincidence.”  Now, though, I know it was God’s hand in my life.

I know that God put Jody and Rachel and each of their children in my life to fill a void that I didn’t even know existed.  Like I wasn’t complete until I met Marcus and he and I were joined together, I feel like I can also say that we weren’t complete until we met them.  Marcus and Jody are able to work together and play together, each bringing out the best in one another on personal and professional levels.  Rachel and I do the same, each bringing something to the table that the other is lacking.  Like in my marriage, and in theirs, the extrovert and the introvert have paired up as a perfect match.  And so when the four of us are together, it’s more than friendship.  It’s like family.  It’s like home.

It’s not only Jody and Rachel as individuals (though that’s a huge part of it), but it’s also the connection we have felt and shared with them on a religious and spiritual level.  We’ve grown closer to God through our friendship with them.  It has, and they have, changed my life.  I’m prayerful about what will happen to that change when they leave, in stages, over the next several months.

 I am struggling so much with their impending departure.  The curse of living overseas and working with the military is that people don’t stay.  I absolutely despise that part of this experience.

To pass the time, and as part of my Lenten experience, I decided to knit Jody and Rachel a blanket.  They had longingly admired the blanket I was making for Marcus, and I thought that a blanket would be a nice gesture.  I would knit prayerfully and focus on the good, and not the sad.  When I couldn’t find a blanket pattern that I liked after scrolling through patterns on Ravelry, I knew that I should design one myself.

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The “Perfect Match” blanket was born out of love.  Out of necessity.  Out of prayer and peace and loss and happiness.  Every stitch was considered and deliberate.

There are very few projects that I have worked on in my life that I have been sad to finish.  This was one of them.  I cried as I weaved in the loose ends and folded it up.

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I don’t want them to go.

Rachel is my practical, calm, prayerful friend.  She’s the logical one.  Our friendship isn’t ending because they are leaving.  We’ll see each other again.  The internet, Facebook, email, they’ve all made the world smaller and distances relative.  So true.

And still.

I don’t want them to go.

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In which life is too short for crappy books…

I have been a reader for my entire life.  I have devoured books as readily as some might scarf down a pizza or memorize the words the their favorite song.  I could spend hours perusing the shelves of book stores, never ceasing to find something (often more than one something) that interests me.  Reading is a massive part of my identity.

So imagine my surprise to discover in the past year that not all books are worthy of my time.  I know.  I was as shocked as you are.

If I’m honest with myself, it started years ago.  I’d start a book that had all the right criterion for something I’d love.  Historical fiction.  Trashy beach read.  Bestseller.  Young adult fiction.  Dystopia.  The list is endless, really.  I see it, it grabs my attention, I buy it.

And for a variety of reasons, I wouldn’t get drawn in.  I’d get distracted (I tend to do that sometimes).  I’d get bored.  Another book would become more appealing.  I’m fickle, I suppose.

But I have always had guilt.  I am a reader.  Readers read books.  I can’t leave one unfinished!  I have forced myself to trudge through books I don’t love simply to be able to say that I finished them.

It stops now.  Life is too short for crappy books!  My reading time is limited.  If I don’t want to finish a book, it’s time to stop reading.  Put it away.  Donate it.  Loan it to a friend.  But finish a book I’m not interested in?  Why torture myself?

Life’s too short to read books that are crappy.

It’s too short for friends who aren’t real.

Too short for movies that I don’t enjoy.

Too short to spend a sunny day inside cleaning.

Too short to choose TV over playtime with the girls.

Too short for my iPhone instead of real people.

Life is too short.

Be selective.

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In which we eat cake…

Today is Marcus’ birthday.  I wish I could say that I’m this amazing wife and mother who makes every birthday better than the last, but the truth is, I’m usually coming down from my own birthday week, and when Marcus’ birthday comes I’m like, “oh crap”  and I’m scrambling to put together an awesome birthday, but I usually fall short.  Not to mention that after all these years together, I still find myself putting together a birthday for Marcus that I would enjoy, forgetting that though were a perfect match, he’s my polar opposite in many ways.  A big party?  Table full of friends?  Concert tickets?  They simply aren’t him.  

But this year I had myself organised and prepared. Presents were ordered.  I had a plan for the birthday day he would want, not the one I would want. I knew what he wanted for dinner.  I was going to be “a good wife.”

The birthday cake almost stumped me. Marcus loves my carrot cake, but as the kids have been home on term break, I’m behind on just about everything related the cooking and cleaning. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to whip out.

And that’s when Erica asked if she could make Marcus’ cake.  

Now, I am not a perfectionist control-freak.  

Mostly.

I don’t mind messes…if they’re my messes.  It makes parenting young children…heck, it makes living with others…a difficult task.  And I’ve had to work daily on it.

So when I cook or bake with the girls, once in a blue moon, it doesn’t end well.  I let them maybe pour one ingredient in.  I let them stir but get frustrated  when batter ends up on the counter.  I sigh at the bowls on the counter and micromanage every second.  The agenda is clear–I am in charge and they are allowed to do a tiny bit, just enough so they can feel like they helped.

But this year, this time, I thought, “no.” The girls are getting bigger.  In some ways I give then plenty of opportunities to grow and be Independent, but in many ways I keep then young.  So I let them make and decorate the cake. 

It was extremely hard.  I still helped stir. I poured the batter into the tin.  But I made a very conscious effort to let Erica lead.  It was not easy, but I did it with intention.

When the cake was done and cooled, she and Samantha wanted to ice and decorate it.  Alone.  I was worried about Erica’s reaction if the frosting didn’t spread easily and began to rip the top of the cake.  I had the entire scenario in my mind before anything had even happened.  It would be awful.  She’d kick off and get frustrated and I’d end up with chaos.  I should frost the cake.

But I didn’t.  “Ok,” I said.  I helped them find the decorations and utensils.  I opened the store-bought frosting.  And I left the room.

You heard me right.  I LEFT THE ROOM.

It was so hard.  When I heard the girls rummaging through the cabinets, I almost went back in.  When I heard, “Mom, do not come in here yet,” I *really* almost went back in.  But I didn’t.

And when it was all said and done, we had this:

   

 

This is a game changer, people. For me, and for them.

They probably won’t remember today, when they are older and reflecting back on their childhoods.  But I will.  I’m going to try to remember this day a lot more often.  I will fall short some days.  But, I hope, I’ll fall short less often.

For what it’s worth, it was the best cake I’ve ever eaten.  

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In which I swallow my pride…

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”-Proverbs 16:18

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This bible verse has been weighing on my mind for the past week or so.  After being so poorly for so long, and having to swallow my pride and ask for and accept help from others along the way, it seems only natural.

But it wasn’t the help that caused me to reflect on this verse.  Instead, it was the fact that I was set to run my third half-marathon last weekend.  Before I got sick, I’d been training well.  I was working out 4 days a week, adding yoga in to improve my flexibility, and keeping my long runs at a slow steady pace.  I was going to cut three minutes off of my personal best time for the distance.

And it was going to help prepare me for my first marathon, coming at the end of May.

It wasn’t just a race.  It was a much needed weekend away with some girlfriends.  An opportunity to relax and recharge and shop and sleep.  It was a much needed break before my birthday and after Marcus had been traveling for two weeks.

So getting sick sort of sucked.  I’d only gotten up to 8 miles in training (and that 8 miles was done when I first fell ill, and shouldn’t have done it).  And then I had to stop everything cold turkey.  No running.  Heck, hardly any walking.  No yoga.  I was a lazy sloth.  I was certain that I would not only not be able to run the half, but I wouldn’t be able to run a mile.

I proved myself right, or so I thought, when I started to run again 10 days before the race.  I had a disastrous 5K race.  I tried the 8 mile distance again, on a treadmill, and thought I was going to die.  I had a good 5 miler one day, but couldn’t be convinced that it was anything more than a fluke.  I was a mess.  I was fatigued and tired and still coughing.

Everyone (EVERYONE) told me not to run the Vitality Reading Half Marathon.

And that’s when pride crept in.

No. I can do it.

With every person who told me that I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do it, I felt frustrated.  I could do it.  I wanted to prove them all wrong.  I wasn’t a quitter.  I wasn’t a failure.  I was smart.  I could do it.  I needed to do it.

All they wanted, really, was to keep me healthy.  One friend constantly reminded me to keep my eye on the real goal, the May marathon.  Let the half marathon go–it wasn’t my focus.  Everyone cared.

But I was prideful.

I couldn’t see their words as words of wisdom.  I saw them as discouraging.  I let my pride drive me.

When we got to Reading, the girls and I did the sightseeing and the shopping and the drinking and the relaxing.  It was wonderful.  I tried to put my pride to the side.  I could balance my desire to run the race and my desire to stay healthy, for everyone that cared about me and wanted to keep me safe.

God put my friends there with me that weekend for a reason.  Specifically, my friend Julie.  She woke up feeling a bit blah on race day.  “We’ll run it together,” she said. “We’ll take it slow.  Steady.  Easy.  We’ll plan to walk the water stations.”

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It wasn’t my plan.  My plan was to run and take it easy and to stop when I felt fatigued.  But with Julie by my side, I never got fatigued.  In fact, I probably ran the smartest race I’ve ever run.  And I was able to do it, thanks to her.  I know that I wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful without her.  She saved me from my pride.

My time was a very respectable 10 min slower than my personal best.  I felt great at the finish and even now, two days later, I still feel good.  I didn’t overtax my body.  I played it safe. And honestly, it was probably the best race to have as I train for the marathon.  It was practical, safe training for a woman whose goal is to make it across the finish line at 26.2, not to meet a time goal.

I struggled to swallow my pride.  God sent me a blessing to help.  I am so thankful.

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In which we take advantage…

One of the things that we (I) love the most about living overseas is the opportunity to travel.  When we first moved abroad and I started the blog, I used it to chronicle many of our adventures for family and friends back in the states.  Of course, now there’s Facebook and iMessage and I don’t often take the time to sit down and record every abbey we visit or every new city or country we journey through.  Truthfully, it’s a bit of a shame.  The instant gratification has stopped me from pausing to reflect as much on these experiences that are shaping my family and the life that we live.  So I’m planning to take the time to slow down and journal about our experiences overseas a little more.  If I don’t, I worry they’ll be over and I won’t have anything to show for them but some quick pictures posted to FB while we were huddled in the corner trying to tap into the free wifi.

We recently took advantage of the kids’ half-term break from school to travel to Malta.  In case your curious, Malta is a country (I don’t doubt your intelligence…it’s just that I wasn’t so sure when it first popped up in my search for cheap tickets) between the coasts of Sicily and Tunisia.  Honestly, I booked the tickets having no idea what we’d see or do there–I just knew that we could get there, rent a car, and stay in a self-catering aparthotel for a reasonable price.  I figured that we could make the rest up as we went along.

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So we did.  And actually, we had a pretty great vacation.  I would probably not recommend Malta in February, but as we were restricted by the kids’ school calendar, we made the best of it.  If you can be more flexible, I’d suggest March–a little warmer, but still not crowded.  As it was, we skipped most of the beach/water activities (including the Azure Window and the full day boat trip to Gozo), simply focusing our holiday on historic sites and small local beaches and cities.

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At first, Marcus wasn’t very impressed with Malta.  We stayed in Sliema, which was crowded and congested and…well…a city.  Plus, the driving in Malta was a bit manic, and parking equally insane.  So I know that it stressed him out, though he managed it well.  However, the boats all left from the dock in Sliema, and we had fabulous views into Valletta.  In addition, the aparthotel was gorgeous, and there were loads of restaurants nearby, and even a mall within walking distance (which the girls loved…and so did I…there was a Cinnabon!).

We did loads of exploring, though our favorite cities were Valletta and Mdina.  Both were unique and gorgeous–and we could’ve spent more time just wandering than we actually allotted.  We never made it into St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, which I regret, but we did go into the cathedral in Mdina, which was just lovely.  Mdina is a walled city, and we ate at a cafe on the wall with gorgeous views of the countryside.  It was so incredibly clean–we’ve never seen anything like it!  Valletta was amazing when we were there–there was a parade and tons of entertainment for Carnivale, so the kids were well entertained.  We also got some wonderful views of the harbour and the water.

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In terms of sites, the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples were incredible–well worth the price of admission.  The small museum (including a video) that was at the site was also worth your time.  We opted to skip the Hypogeum, which I know is a very popular World Heritage Site for people interested in history.  However, Jessica was too young, you needed to book too far in advance, and quite frankly, Marcus wasn’t convinced the price (30 euro per person) was worth it.  However, I don’t have any regrets about that, as in addition to the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples we also took the time to visit St. Paul’s Catacombs in Rabat (skip the city, see the catacombs).

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As for beaches, we took the girls to paddle on Golden Bay and Ghajn Tuffieha Bay.  We went on different days, but actually, the beaches were only minutes apart.  The girls loved hunting for sea glass (a tradition we’ve quickly adopted from my friend Carrie), splashing about, and walking along the water.  Marcus and I kept our distance (50 degrees F felt warm compared to England, but still not warm enough for me to get in the water!), choosing to walk along the beach and watch the girls.

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We also built in time to do some kid-centric activities, which was the benefit of staying for a full week.  We weren’t cramming all of our activities into a few days, so we had time to do things that were focused on them.  The girls loved the Playmobil FunPark (though I’d advise it for children under 7, unless you have older children who are happy to play with the little ones, as my girls were).  We also went to the Malta National Aquarium, which was great!  There was an informative video about the coast of Malta and the sea life found there, and we got to watch them feed some of the fish, including the sting rays.  The girls really enjoyed themselves (though again, we weren’t that impressed with Bugibba, where the aquarium was located).  Afterwards, we let the girls walk along the rocky coast outside the aquarium.

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All in all, we had an incredible trip to Malta.  Really…

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