The Wild Goose Chase of Fulfillment

Have you ever completely and totally struggled with direction in your life?

Which daily tasks to first accomplish? Or do you simply throw your to do list out the window and drink in your children? Or how to possibly manage doing both?

For some time, I felt as if I had done well to manage both; letting some tasks go to enjoy my boys. Other times, I have encouraged independence in the boys, so that I can at least manage to remove a few things off of my plate.

And, then, there are those questions that deal with those tasks to accomplish outside of the duties of home. Notions of fulfillment notwithstanding.

I have found myself at the intersection of all of these things and feeling entirely restless.

View from Monte Krizevac, medjugorje

Anybody who knows me knows that I enjoy creating. It has provided me a beautiful outlet for years, as I pursued academia and athletics. However, it always was placed on the back burner. I placed music and ballet aside to pursue athletics. It seemed as if I excelled, but I still felt as if something was missing. Then, sidelined by injury, I was forced to re-evaluate it all. I thought that my focusing on a career in law would bring the clarity and fulfillment I needed.

And yet, things never quite felt right, until I stepped into a new life at a magical little flower shop in East Falls, Philadelphia (@fallsflowers). It was here that I really found my talents in creating, that I stopped feeling restless. So, I thought.

I was doing something that I loved. Something which brought others joy. I was able to enjoy God’s creation each day and marvel in the beauty of the natural world.

Then along came one beautiful little boy and an eventual move out of the bustling city and life I had come to love. With this came new joys, new realities, and new realizations.

After I gave up working in the shop to pursue a new frontier of life as a stay-at-home mommy, I find that I am constantly oscillating between fulfillment and abyss. Being home is, without a doubt, the most difficult job I have ever undertaken. These little people are awfully difficult to predict and extremely needy. And completely perfect.

Each day brings with it a new challenge to overcome and a new developmental milestone to navigate in my boys.

It is still in creating that I find joy. I try to carve out time each day to make something. Whether it is a new recipe, painting a watercolor or print to give to a loved one, or working around the house. I constantly question myself whether I should more seriously pursue any certain craft. Despite all of this, the notion of fulfillment seems ever-fleeting. The moment I have a paintbrush in my hand, or clippers making an arrangement, or working in a cloud of flour dust, I have fulfillment– or so I think. And as quickly as it comes, this feeling of contentment leaves.

It is because I am looking for fulfillment in all of the wrong places.

Fulfillment can only be found in relationship. In the relationship with our spouse, with our children. Yet, only these relationships make sense and have any foundation when we enter more deeply in a relationship with God the father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit. From this realization has come a true peace and fulfillment.

I don’t NEED these other outlets. They bring me joy, yes. They bring others joy, too– I hope! Maybe one day I will open an Etsy shop. It is a decision I am prayerfully considering. Because, as is in my nature, I am too scatterbrained to figure out any sort of offerings or portfolio to begin another side project. Or maybe I will take up my pen and write a book (on which subject remains a total mystery).

Or should I perhaps first rest in this realization of contentment in relationship. And maybe all else will follow in due course, with the discernment I so desperately crave. And, just maybe, through discernment in Him will I grab ahold of that wild goose.

On Marriage

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This month marks six years that I have been married to my husband. I find it so hard to believe that six years have passed by. So much has happened in a little over a half of a decade, and I cannot imagine a better person to go through this life with. We met in college and fell in love instantly and married shortly after I graduated.

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Looking back upon that blessed day, I see two kids at 25 and 22, and endless promise. Six years later, we are still kids at heart with one kid and another on the way, but the promise is still endless. The evolution of love is what I have found most surprising these past years. I could not have imagined that I would adore settled love more than newlywed love. Marriage requires work, as true love is willing the best of the other, above yourself. As difficult as this is, there is no love more pure and worth pursuing than that of self-sacrificial love.

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The details of the day were perfect, but looking back, do not matter. All of those details were fleeting. What does matter are those two kids, and their love for each other… how God brought those two together and is continually working through their marriage. Here’s to another 70 years with the love of my life full of laughter and babies.

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See more about our extraordinarily talented photographer at Ora Photo Studio.

New Beginnings: The Second Chapter of Home

Sometimes you get lucky. And sometimes you just really hit the jackpot. So often in my life, I feel like the latter has happened. Meeting my husband, raising my son, the once in a lifetime opportunities I’ve received in my life (like an expedition to Antarctica 8 years ago) are just a few glimpses of moments that I hit the jackpot. Another moment? When we had our offer accepted on our dream home. There have been so many countless moments in between.

Why has God blessed me so much? One of those mysteries that I don’t understand and may never understand. Granted, with blessings come expectations.

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“From everyone who has been given much, much will be required.”

Nevertheless, I am so excited. 2016 has already proven to be a beautiful year for our family and March is only just coming to a close. I cannot wait to see what else is to come.

In a little over a month, we settle into our dream home. It has been a year in the making- between deciding to sell our little row house in the city, to actually putting it on the market, to deciding on moving into the in-laws (as virtually no houses were on the market), to present day. 6 weeks ago had you told us this is where we would end up, we would have raised our eyebrows at you and said that you are totally crazy. But, God had other plans for us. He slammed the doors we hoped to pass through, and nudged us toward the ones we were meant to enter. In the end, we realize that this is where we are meant to raise our family. It is maybe a mile (if that) away from where we intended to buy, but in so many ways, it’s a world away.

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And let me tell you, party people, we are completely blown away. It has been a long journey, but we are nearing our destination. The First World problems I find myself facing is remembering what the heck stuff we have in storage (I literally can’t remember what we own), picking paint colors (which, let’s face it, is kinda stressful– zero people like to re-re-repaint– and we’ve done that plenty in our old house), and planning my cutting garden.

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Stress. Full. Okay, so not really. It’s actually a lot of fun, especially when this house needs zero renovations, unlike our first home.

So stay tuned, dear friends, to look into the pages of what I am calling our Second Chapter of Home. I can’t wait for you to make this journey with us!

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Kids’ Kitchen: On Cooking with Your Toddler

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Toddlers. Aren’t they just the most wonderfully paradoxical little beings? Baby snuggles meets teenage egotism. They are strong-willed, they are adorable with their little faces and language grasping (and the colorful use of the word “no”), full of boogers, and completely fantastic.

Dinnertime can be one of the most stressful times of day. You’re scurrying in an attempt to feed hungry bellies at a decent hour while the little loves (who are under foot) demand a snack, a piggyback ride, or reading their favorite story– all at a shriek.

What’s a gal to do? Ignore? Holler? Give in? How about a new strategy– invite your kids to cook with you.

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It is not as scary as it sounds. All it requires is a bit of patience and creativity. A stool or stepstool. And a collection of DULL kitchen tools.

One of my favorite go-to kitchen tools is a cheese spreader. You can use it to serve CHEESE, which is a perfect no brainer way to a good day. And, since they aren’t sharp, my little man can use it to make little dents into a bell pepper (as you can see below) and feel involved in cooking dinner. At his age (almost 2), he really doesn’t know that he isn’t slicing the pepper… he just realizes that he is being included in the process, feels important to be trusted, and is not ignored. The best part? He is in my line of vision and I know he isn’t R-U-N-N-O-F-T making trouble!

One amazing thing I have noticed is that he is more keen on trying the meals he is helping to create! Any person who has a daily interaction with a toddler knows that getting them to eat is a cause for celebration!

Cooking with Toddlers- Bacon is the Way to Happiness

Please note that the grouping of cut bell peppers was my doing! If your little love is using a tool that can do THAT, it’s probably much too sharp and little fingers could also be added to the pile of chopped food.

Ways that my son loves to help in the kitchen that involves no tools? Putting cheese on pizza. Oh my. This makes him so very happy. And he sneaks in a lot of bites of cheese, so it’s good to have an excess on hand! He loves to add already chopped veggies to a big bowl, or to stir just about anything into a big bowl.

Another activity in the kitchen that my son loves to contribute to is the making of scrambled eggs! Now, this takes a bit of patience! I let him crack the eggs into a bowl. Granted, some end up on the counter, but hey! this is where the patience part comes in! Fortunately, the counter was clean and I just gently pushed the egg from the counter into the bowl with the others. The rest of the day, he was so happy to tell anyone that was willing to listen that he “crackkk eggsssss” with motions included.

How about you? Have you tried inviting your kids into the dinner-making process? What has worked? What hasn’t worked?

 

Taking Inventory at the Year’s Close

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As one year comes to a close and another begins, one is forced into a state of retrospection and introspection. It may seem cliche, but it is arguably important. The need to take inventory is not just for retail managers.

Resolve for corporeal resolutions so often fail, as they rightly should, since they fall short in tackling the real issue: our faults. Instead, we should (myself more than most) take inventory of our behaviors and respective kryptonites (ahem, cookies, Pinterest, and so much more) and discover why it is that we allow ourselves to overindulge, not indulge, and everything in between. Most likely, it is a result of something within ourselves, within our souls that we are neglecting and ignoring. We endlessly strive to fill this void. And, at each year’s end, we endeavor upon the same resolutions which forever repeat and remain unsuccessful. I challenge you to seek why.

For our family, 2015 was both a trying and joyful year, but this is life, isn’t it? One could make this claim each year. We see triumphs wax and wane throughout life’s happenings. The trick is learning to find joy despite trying circumstances. As the clock strikes midnight on January 1, we are filled with the new hope of a clean slate. But what is it that we will do with this new beginning?

I am fortunate to have a sneak preview of blessings to come in 2016, as these have begun to unfold at this year’s close. It is going to be a year of great change for our family. Our house search continues as selling our house did not line up with purchasing our forever home. It is a subject of much prayer and we are so excited to see what God has in store, as we know it will exceed our expectations.

As I look at this past year the greatest blessing is this little gentleman.He has taught me so much about love, patience, and joy. What is your greatest blessing?

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Let’s resolve in this new year to dig deep. To grow. To heal. To forgive. To give. To be thankful in all things. To count our blessings each day. To empty ourselves completely. To be vulnerable. And most of all, to love.

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“I Was Not the Only One Crying”

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I was not the only one crying

The World Meeting of Families held in Philadelphia this September had a profound impact upon me. There were key moments that I truly think were the saving of me. I didn’t realize how I had begun to slip away.

It was in listening to Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle’s keynote address at the World Meeting of Families Congress and a chance encounter and blessing from a Nigerian Bishop the day before that caused me to stop in my tracks. I realized that I was hanging on by a thread. (You can watch Cardinal Tagle’s address here.)

Grief has a funny way of quietly robbing you. The most obvious of its loot is your joy, but it often places your true self into exile. This September, I suffered my third miscarriage. In 2012, I had a late missed miscarriage that ended up being a partially molar pregnancy, which comes with a whole host of worries. To say the least, that experience was rather traumatizing. To say the very least. After 9 months of close monitoring and one surgery later for an unrelated mass on my Fallopian tube, I found myself overwhelmed with joy as I was expecting again! Thanks be to God I gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby boy (at 41.5 weeks gestation, but, hey- who was counting?). We named him Gerard, after the patron saint of expectant mothers. He is hurrying his way to two years of age and brings us such joy every day.

After this rather miraculous occasion, I believed myself to be immune to this sort of loss again. After all, it is rare to suffer more than one miscarriage, so they say. Shortly after my son’s first birthday, I was pregnant again. I was so happy. So overjoyed! My son would have a sibling- close in age, too! What a gift! On Valentine’s Day, which marked the beginning of my 6th week, I miscarried. I was heart sick. I became numb. I felt so hurt. Why would God allow this to happen to me not only once, but twice? I fell deeply into a world of disillusion.

My faith suffered greatly. It wasn’t until after several financial miracles and a family pilgrimage to Medjugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina did I fully regain my hope, my faith. In the stillness of my heart, I knew that God would take care of me. That he knew the desires of my heart (Ps. 37:4). I received so many graces on that retreat, so many glimpses of pure joy. In September the joy continued, as I found out that I was pregnant once more! Oh, happy day! Surely, I would be blessed enough to meet this child face-to-face.

It wasn’t so.

At 5 weeks, I lost that baby as well. Three? Three miscarriages? How could this possibly be? How could I possibly have three children so cruelly taken from me? Taken from a mother who loved them so deeply from the very moment I knew they had life! Especially to be taken from a woman who so desperately wants a home brimming with children in a world in which so many babies are unwanted and cruelly treated as such. How could God allow this?

Silence.

Absolute silence. I have realized that sometimes there is no rhyme or reason. Sometimes there is both rhyme and reason, like my very first loss. The two consecutive losses just were. They occurred because they happened. They were sensical only in the realm of genetics, but remain entirely nonsensical in the heart of a mother.

Fast forward two weeks to the historic World Meeting of Families and Papal visit in Philadelphia. I am completely shattered. Coming apart at the seams. I pray, but only from a place of anger. I lament having any faith or hope, as it has only allowed me to have heartache. What a fool I was to have hope in something completely hopeless. Yet, still, I am there. White knuckled. Clinging onto hope.

I took the train into Center City for the World Meeting of Families event that took place at the Convention Center. I went alone, so desperately hoping to catch up with friends. I was unable to find any one. I felt so horrifically alone. Not only was I alone with no life growing in my womb, but I felt so alone amid hundreds upon hundreds of people. And then, I saw her at the end of Mass: the woman who has been my saving grace ever since I lost that first little love: Sr. Veronica Susan, the beggar for the Little Sisters of the Poor.

I don’t believe my feet could have carried me to her any faster. At the moment of her embrace, my hurt subsided. We decided we were going to spend the day together. We chatted and decided which of the talks we would attend as we sat within the main hall where Mass had just concluded.

A jovial man in a collar walked past and greeted us and thanked Sister for giving her life as a religious. We stood and talked to him for so very long. He was a bishop from Nigeria! In the middle of our wonderful conversation, Sister spontaneously interrupted His Excellency and explained my story and my pain and asked that he give me a special blessing.

His words broke the silence of my heart.

He said, “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, and we have no idea why… but maybe one day, one day, it will be clear… and it may never be while we are on this earth… it’s all in the Lord’s time… but He knows… He knows.”

I knew this. I’ve always known this, but as he said this, I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit surround me. The scales fell from my eyes and I just knew. I knew that he was right. My anger subsided, my fear dissipated, and my hope was restored. I saw everything in a new light.

The following day, I had to come back. I felt my heart crying to go back to the Congress. This time, I took my son along with me. The day came with its mortifications and trials, but I was there and with my miracle, Gerard!

The keynote address given by Cardinal Tagle changed me. In his address, he talked about a gal who was separated from her family on account of a war. She was unable to return home and it caused her great pain. When disaster struck the Philippines, she volunteered herself to aid those in need. She realized, as she saw those she served, that she was “not the only one crying.”

SHE WAS NOT THE ONLY ONE CRYING.

Cardinal Tagle continued on to say that the Church is a field hospital, caring for the wounded in the battlefield of life. He repeated what she said once more, “I was not the only one crying. The Church is the home for the wounded heart.”

Despite the simplicity that all people are wounded, it particularly struck me in that moment. Perhaps it has been my journey that enabled me to truly grasp this truth for the first time.

I am not alone in my suffering.

Tears fell down my cheeks and landed on the sleeping angel in my arms. I am not the only one crying. These seven little words opened Pandora’s box of emotions within me. I am one who stuffs my emotions, in avoidance and self-preservation.

Everything Bishop Ezoukwu had said the day before was flooding back into my mind. I had been desperately clinging onto my own will. My plan for my life and my family. I left no room for God. I realized that in avoiding my hurt, I was only further adhering to my own will. I was not divorcing myself from my will and refusing to accept of God’s will, despite it being shrouded in mystery.

And, even though every fiber of my flesh screams, I realize that suffering is so very beautiful.

Acceptance of suffering is an admittance of our own brokenness and a realization that we are not in control.  Losing something so precious (no matter what the loss is- child, parent, spouse) creates a certain empathy that you would not have otherwise. It is only through our wounds that we are able to unite ourselves with Christ, as it is the only time we allow ourselves to seek Him.  When all is well, we remain in a state of self-reliance. It is through our suffering that He perfects us. He who endured the greatest suffering of all. God condescended Himself so that we may become more like Him (St. Athanasius). Through Him humanity is perfected. Perfected only by the way of the cross.

Never should we forget His  Sorrowful Mother, who intimately knows the pain of losing a child.

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Suffering without God creates isolation. I have so often permitted myself to suffer silently, quietly, alone. We all have wounds, but we each have different afflictions. You see, suffering is not pointless. It binds us together and draws us nearer to the only One who can heal us. He makes us more beautiful because of our wounds. Acceptance of our suffering greatly aids others who are wounded.

Only in suffering do we become fully human. Suffering creates empathy and charity, which– in turn– creates unity.

Even though Cardinal Tagle was addressing a room full of people, he was truly speaking directly to my heart. A heart whose walls were knocked down by the Holy Spirit through Bishop Ezoukwu. I was no longer able to avoid the silence, the pain, and, consequently, God’s healing.

Bask in the silence of your heart. Do not seek to fill the void with noise. It strips you of your humanity, your ability to have empathy.

I have come to despise October, a month which I once dearly loved. I have for so long hated all of the “awareness” that comes on October 15th (I’m pretty aware that babies can die before they are born!, so let’s stop reminding me of my pain, please… I’m just going to go eat a donut). But, all of this time, I have been depriving myself of my humanity. It is in learning the beauty of my wounds that I might be able to help one other woman by sharing in her heartache of losing a pregnancy. Or two. Or three. Or share in her heartache of losing a parent, a job, a spouse, anything.

I am not the only one crying. 

I pray every day that God might bless us with another baby. Or two. Or five. But, mostly, I pray that, despite the outcome of each day, I rejoice in having been created. And I rejoice in being able to experience the joys of pregnancy and taking part in God’s creation (even if, sometimes, it was just for a short while), the grit of childbirth, the unconditional love that burns within my heart each time I see Gerard; and for the love of a husband who lifts me up through all of the heartache. If I reach heaven, it is only because of his hard work.

Sure, bacon is a palatal way to happiness, but it is only through Him that we can attain true happiness in joyfully picking up our crosses, in learning how to give thanks in all things, and having empathy for all of life’s soldiers, as we are all the walking wounded.

Please pray for me, and know that I, too, am praying for you because you are not the only one crying. 

Parmesan Crisps

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“Raindrops on roses…” As working with flowers is my main profession, I do love the sight of dewy drops on delicate petals. However, there are so many things I do love that were never delicately sung by Julie Andrews.

Christmastime conjures up so many a feeling, but despite all of the hustle and bustle, we should all remain thankful. As we are in the height of the 12 Days of Christmas, I wanted to take a minute and note a few of my favorite things, all for which I am very thankful.

IMG_7405For thoughtful Christmas presents. And for coffee. And thoughtful Christmas presents that involve coffee.

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For family heirlooms and cherished memories. IMG_7418 IMG_7421

For Christmas tree farms and the fresh smell of evergreens. And for tripods and camera self-timers.

christmas treeFor felt ornaments that won’t break and harm little hands. {This one is from Falls Flowers.}
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For my husband and my son. IMG_7285

And for cheese. I am guessing that this is something that we have in common. That’s because cheese is amazing.

These cheese crisps are divine. Really. You can adapt this recipe to include any hard cheese. I’ve done both Parmesan and cheddar, as well as a four cheese blend. They are fabulous to eat solo or put onto a sandwich.  The best part is that they are easy to make and look very impressive! (My favorite combo).

Oh, and it consists of just one ingredient: cheese!

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word.

 

Parmesan Crisps
Time: 5 minutes
Yields: 8 crisps

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Ingredients:

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (or feel free to substitute this for any firm cheese)

Directions:

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Place parchment paper, or a Silpat, onto a rimmed baking sheet.

2.Sprinkle the cheese to create 8 round circles, making sure they are relatively uniform in size, and spaced about two fingertips apart.

3. Bake for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the edges slightly brown. Allow it to cool, and place on paper towels to remove excess oil. The crisps will harden as they cool.

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Bacon is the Way to Happiness

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I am a gal who wears many hats. I am a wife and a mother. I work in a flower shop. I write. And I cook.

Because of the way life took me in 2012 (loss and new career ventures), I found myself unable to write about food any longer.  I had lost my voice. I was unable to walk into the kitchen, pick up a knife with gusto (don’t worry, I’m not psycho), and cook from the heart. So, I decided to let the blog go.

Since then, so much as happened. I had a baby. The flower shop I work for went from the owner plus one employee (ahem, me) to a booming business that does upwards of 150 weddings each year with seven employees. I have scaled back from full-time at the shop to working weddings and managing the shop’s social media. And I have begun writing again.

I was approached by ShopRite to rejoin their blogger panel entitled Potluck.  I adored contributing in the past and jumped at the opportunity to do so once again. However, this brought forth a new reality: I was going to have to resurrect the food blog.

But how does one do that exactly? I originally imagined it required some sort of voodoo or Harry Potter magic. In reality, all it takes is a few words and some clicking.

Well, I suppose it does require a bit more than that.

To those of you who were so kind (and more likely bribed) to follow my blog in the past, welcome back. Thank you! I am sure you have noticed that I decided to make some changes. One major change was the name of the blog.

I’ve decided to change the name of my blog from “Cleanliness is Next to Godliness” to “Bacon is the Way to Happiness.” Half-whim, half-contrived. Inspired by a touching moment I had (alone) while cooking bacon. The house smelled amazing as two slices sizzled on my grandmother’s cast iron skillet. I realized that bacon is perhaps the way to happiness. It was in this moment that my house was clean, I had on makeup, and my son wasn’t trying to hurtle himself toward injury.

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And bacon.

Here you will see some recipes I have shaped, others I’ve tested. As well as other little glimpses into my world. I have also kept all of my old posts, dating all the way back to my humble (read: embarrassing) beginnings.

So, hello to old friends and new! It is so nice to see you.