The Happy Jar – A Children’s Book of Memories

If you are looking for a great children’s book for the start of summer vacation – I recommend The Happy Jar, written by Jake Frost. I always love a children’s book that draws our little people into a deeper understanding of life and The Happy Jar is just that – a book about family and the little moments that help the world go around. I definitely recommend it! My eight year old daughter read it to my son’s kindergarten class and the children loved the book. It’s a great way to start summer vacation as a family – create your own happy jar.

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Photo Credit: DMHeckenkamp

I look forward to asking my children what they see in their own “happy jar”. Here are a few of my “little moments”:

Snuggles with my children

Kisses from the 19 month old

Drawings from my 8 year old

My husband as we walk together side-by-side each day of our lives

Date nights with my husband

Good friends who are always there for me

A warm and loving home – a secure place for my family

My parents and siblings who love unconditionally

Rainy days and books

Sunny days and sparkling water

The smell of freshly cut grass

Campfires and roasted marshmallows

LOVE

 

What’s in your Happy Jar?

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Photo Credit: DMHeckenkamp

A Whirlwind of Transitions

The past year has been a continue stream of transitions for our family. From the decision to prepare our house to sell last spring to now being in the final stages of building, it has been a total whirlwind. I am grateful for the many, many ups and several downs (as every situation is a learning experience), but through the entire process, I have come to one very concrete and meaningful conclusion for me. It was something that I knew all along, but sometimes (and only sometimes… kidding…) I need a refresher.

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Credit: DMHeckenkamp

Do you want to know my eye-opening experience? It’s really very eye-opening, but after learning to adjust our living style during the purging/packing process, the selling & “staging” process of our home, to the moving, and now the second purging/packing attempt before we move into our almost built home – yes, there has been a ridiculous amount of time spent “getting rid of stuff”. I have come to really dislike unnecessary “stuff” – the things that hold us back from what truly matters, our family and friends.  I have come to truly appreciate the time I have with my family and friends – shamefully, I took that for granted. I am grateful for the time we spend together as we laugh, play games, read, or even clean together. These memories make the days worthwhile even if it’s while we accomplish the most meaningless tasks.

I did have to laugh today as I was listening to the Jennifer Fulwiler Show on Sirius XM while she briefly spoke with Rachel Balducci about organizing and dealing with the “hoarders” within a  family. There are definitely a few hoarders within my family too. In fact, when my daughter was young we would call her the “bag lady”, because she would carry bags of clothes and toys around for fun. She even had a specific bag for her tissues, just in case her nose needed to be wiped (that was her idea, not mine…).  My children have reached a point that if they can’t find a toy, then they assume “mom gave it away”. (I honestly can’t remember everything I give away versus toys they misplace…) At first their comment made me sad, but they quickly moved onto another toy, just as adults move from “toy” to “toy”.

The moral to my rant is rather short and sweet. Through these many “transitional phases” I have experienced over the past 12 months, nothing in life is worth its’ value, except the hearts and souls of the people placed in our lives – particularly of our family and close friends. The purging and hoarding doesn’t mean anything if we continue to purchase more items to fill a void. Happiness cannot be found in this life among these growing piles of “junk”, the piles only encourage us to purchase books about cleaning, organizing, and purging. Then we end up with a mini library of such related books.

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Credit: DMHeckenkamp

 

Our society has become so absorbed with organizational skills, yet we honestly don’t have much to show for the past several years of these Best Selling books attempting to give advice. Instead of focusing solely on items, we need to focus on ourselves and what we are lacking – not in a material sense, but in a spiritual sense. Do we find solace in material goods due to our loss of personal relationships? Or maybe we search so long for comfort and peace that we fail to look inside ourselves. In a culture that is so self-absorbed, we have failed to examine ourselves in the most crucial way – within the confines of faith, hope, truth, and charity. I think it’s time that we put down the countless advice books relating to emptying our homes and start by reading a book that will let us open our hearts to those around us. For this world will continue to suffer if each one of us chooses to focus on our material items rather than our interior lives. So let’s agree to “purge” for the last time and instead, let’s create a home where we can grow together as a family and open our hearts to our neighbors and friends who search to fill a void with the useless “treasures” of this earth – for no everlasting can be found here.

A Mother’s Search for Hope

I found my vocation to motherhood along a rather winding road, but looking back, it was most definitely Divine Providence. God has his plan and sometimes it’s better not to get in his way. Looking back, I am grateful that I accepted this calling. Over the past eight years of struggling and laughing through my busy days, exhausting days, and happy days, I have learned to take each day at a time, but with renewed hope.

The endless love a mother has for each child cannot be explained – it is a gift. With each baby, my love for them grew and I am so very grateful for this love, it has helped me through the long days and short years.

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But I have found another very important virtue in relation to motherhood and that is HOPE. Without love, a family does not grow, but without hope, there is no faith in the future. As I spend my days with my children, I have attempted to remain far from the rambling terrors of the outside world. Yes, it is important to be aware of current events, but if these “events” become a distraction, then it is time to let them go. So, even though I have a love for the law and politics, I have determined that this phase of my life is not suited among that unhappiness. There is very little hope among the unrest in our world. My time is better suited with my family and their immediate needs.

I refuse to focus on the dangers, selfishness, and unhappiness promoted in our society. Instead, I look to the virtue of hope in a desire to have faith for brighter roads ahead for my children, future generations, and for society as a whole.

I recently saw a comforting memorial on Facebook where mothers, from all walks of life, were taking a moment to recognize not only their living children, but the children they have lost early. I’m not an emotional person, but seeing how many mothers have suffered through miscarriage or the loss of a child is astounding. We hide those pains deep within our hearts, because just as our love is overflowing, so is our hurt and pain. There still remains a stigma as women suffer alone through the loss of a child – it is difficult for others to comprehend. As I reflect back on my own three miscarriages, and one rather recently, I desire to focus on the good. I pray that those babies are sitting among the angels and saints in heaven and looking down upon their earthly family with smiles.

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I refuse to hide my loss and push those thoughts into a back corner. I search for hope that in the future, I may one day see those beautiful babies face to face. True hope can be found in the faces of my children each and every day and for that I am truly grateful.

I am celebrating Mother’s Day Weekend and my daughter’s 8th birthday on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima (because I’m Catholic and Portuguese, so this 100th anniversary is an extra special day for our family) with open arms and with prayers for all my children – the four sweet little faces that grace my eyes every day and the three faces that I am unable to see right now, but hope to see in the next life.

There is no one I can thank more than my own mother for her unselfishness love and hope for her family. Thank you, mom!

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Michelle Cascio Photography

I hope that you also have a blessed Mother’s Day

among the faces of your children!

Finding My Place As A Mother

I had a one-of-a-kind experience last week. For those of you who don’t know me well, I graduated with a BA in Political Science and then earned my Paralegal Certificate after college. I worked several years in the legal field, it was enjoyable, yet stressful all at the same time. After giving birth to baby #1, I made a career change and became a stay-at-home mom. Off and on, I still work for the law firm, but mostly by working at home on extreme part-time hours. Last week, I filled in for a paralegal who was on vacation. It wasn’t exactly full-time hours, but it was close and it was an experience I will never forget.

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I have not worked full-time since having children, and on the tough days as a stay-at-home mom, my mind occasionally drifts to a “calm” office environment – free of the tantrums, demands, and disturbances. Yet, after spending four days working busily at a desk, I missed being home with my children, even the demanding 18 month old. It was nice to have a break from the daily routine and to interact with adults for hours on end, but looking back, it wouldn’t be the best choice for our family long-term.

I can’t even tell you the loads of admiration I have for working moms, because I was barely making it through the day. I was doing pretty good, until I picked up my kids and my energy levels were suddenly depleted. I felt horrible that there was barely anything left for them. Everything became an annoyance, and it wasn’t their fault. They were only missing me. I admire the moms who work everyday out of the home and still run an effective house, while also keeping up with all the family activities. I personally know so many of you. You are truly amazing!

Looking back, I know that the right decision was made when I chose to stay home with the kids. Yes, I miss those moments of completing work assignments and interacting with adults on a professional level, but ultimately, I personally need to be with my children, because that’s what is best for me. We all make choices in our lives, and no matter what any other mother chooses to do (whether work outside the home, inside the home, or to be solely a homemaker), it’s a beautiful choice and I hope that every mom out there is able to truly understand and be appreciative for their role in society. Because, no matter your job, degree, or social standing, all mothers (biological, adoptive, step-mothers, or foster mothers) are remarkable. Mothers make the world a better place, and last week has taught me to appreciate where I am with my family, for it all passes away too quickly.

boysPhoto Credit: @dmheckenkamp

Thanks to that experience, I am more grateful for my role as a stay-at-home mom than ever before. It is truly a gift.

  • I am grateful that I am able to fold piles of laundry during the day, rather than after the kids are in bed.
  • I am grateful that I can change the dinner menu at a drop of a hat, because it’s easy to run to the store during the day. I hate crowded stores!
  • I am grateful that I can wake up and only get myself half dressed before dropping them off. I can always take a shower later.
  • I am grateful that I don’t have to drive the extra distance each day to drop my kids off at my parents’ house during a work day. The additional 2 hours of driving each day was killing me.
  • I am grateful that I can drop off and pick up my children from school. I can be involved in school and after school activities. It’s a luxury!
  • I am grateful that I can have a mini writing session for my book while the 18 month old takes a nap and the 3 year old watches a show.
  • I am grateful that I can do homework with my kids before dinner and then have time with them after dinner to play or read books.
  • But most of all, no matter if I worked in the home or outside the home, I am grateful for the gift of life – my children’s lives. I am blessed to have four amazing children who are so different in their own way, but each exemplify the beauty of God’s greatness through their daily actions, hysterical laughs, or tantrums. For they are truly my world and they are such a blessing to my husband and me. We could not imagine life without them and I am grateful to be at home with them – watching them grow through each milestone.

Surviving Motherhood: It’s Not What I Envisioned…It’s Even Better

Motherhood brings so many different phases. Places we never thought we would go, decisions that seemed so far away when the baby was born, and dreams we thought were simple to attain. We all have dreams and goals for our lives as mothers – whether working out of the home or working in the home. As my oldest reaches her 8th birthday in three and a half months (yes, she has been counting down the weeks), it has brought a sense of reflection for my role and place as a wife and mother.

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It took me a long time to truly value my role as a mom. Yes, it was exactly what my husband and I had wanted and we were so excited to begin a family, but until baby number 4 graced our family, it was a whirlwind experience. Each pregnancy was so different and each child was even more different. I look back at those early years and I was just surviving. Surviving to wake up for the 8th time in one night to nurse an infant. Surviving to stay awake until nap time and entertain the toddler. Surviving to stay on top of the laundry, the cleaning, and the cooking, while also wishing for the next step of motherhood. But what was that next step? Have you noticed that we always wish for the next phase in our lives, but we never know what that entails and somehow we still desire it?

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Looking back, those early years of toddlers and infants were extremely difficult. It was all a new experience for me. My beliefs of what motherhood really included were only slightly true. Somehow, in my dreams, I failed to imagine the screaming two year old who only chose to express himself with a long, loud wail. I envisioned laundry, but somehow I forgot it has to be put into the drawers or hung on a hanger. The thought of cooking for a family sounded creative and fun, but I never thought of the little picky eaters who wouldn’t appreciate the effort (luckily, my husband is very appreciative).

But I eventually learned to call these disappointments “graceful moments”. Small moments of my life as a mom are not what I envisioned. Instead these are moments of self-sacrifice – a true act of love for my family. I don’t have much to give the world through material items, but I can give my love. And isn’t love the greatest gift of all? It is what we all desire in one way or another. We seek love in our spouses, our family and friends, our children, our neighbors, and even from a stranger. A kind word or smile goes a long way.

So through all these small moments, I have realized that motherhood is even better than I imagined. Those sweet kisses and hugs from my children wouldn’t mean as much if I was never tired. Even that screaming two year knows that his mama needs a kiss (even if it’s on my knee while I’m cooking dinner). The self-sacrifices that mothers give and give more each day of our lives is what makes this world beautiful – it continues an ongoing story that has lasted through the ages. So don’t view frustrations and exhaustion as disappointments, they are only small moments of time, but they give us the opportunity to embrace the experiences of motherhood. This may sound like a dream, because in the moment of doing the 5th load of wash with a screaming toddler, it’s difficult to find joy. But we must remember that eventually the laundry will stop, the cooking will slow down, and the screaming toddler will become a 2nd grader and we will look back at those struggling days with joy, because motherhood wouldn’t be such a beautiful vocation if it didn’t involve hard work and self-sacrifice: a true act of love.

 

 

 

Creating a Life for the Common Good

An organized life is a beautiful life – a ripple-effect for the common good. Every now and then we all have those days, or weeks, where everything feels like it’s spinning out of control.  There are just too many things to check off the list, too many appointments in one week and of course this is all equaling to a boat load of stress and tension.  So how can we overcome and get pass this stress, this fast-paced uncontrollable lifestyle.  Well, there is one word to live by that will help organize, de-clutter and slow down this crazy world.  Simplify.

I have learned with life’s experiences that it’s time to simplify and choose priorities.  I know, I know, everyone talks about this, but do we ever actually take a step towards this process?  We are here to give you a few suggestions, steps that have worked for us!  Take what works for you and personalize it for your own lifestyle.

As a mom of four little ones, most of my days feel like this, but then I snuggle with one of those noise-makers at the end of the day and all is right in the world. The craziness truly doesn’t matter, but it’s up to me to find my priorities and create an organized life for myself (as much as possible). When my daily life is organized, I am more at peace, and therefore my family is also happier. It’s a beautiful ripple-effect that will touch every person we com in contact with. It’s time to focus on finding the common good for ourselves, our families, and for the whole of society.

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Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

1. Keep a Schedule.  Day to Day and Month to Month.  This will help you keep track of events, meetings, appointments and day to day tasks.

2. Each day write a small list of your goals.  Keep this list simple and reachable.  If you are able to cross off everything for that day, it will keep you motivated to continue with this the next day and the next day.

3. Keep a cleaning monthly schedule.  This way you won’t forget to wipe the blinds, clean the fans or wash the curtains.  Do one major task each week to spread it out.

4. Remove the clutter and organize your material possessions.  Eliminate what you haven’t used or worn in over a year.  It’s not worth keeping and someone else may be able to use it.\

5. Keep the social events under control, including play-dates, lunch dates with the girls, nights out, happy hours, fundraising events, etc.  Spend more quality time with close friends and family.  Those are the people who matter the most!

6. Admit when your schedule is full and learn to say no.  You can’t do everything and be fabulous at everything, so learn what will fit best into your life and your family’s life.

7. Make family life a priority.  Yes, you may have passions outside of family life and that’s great, but never let those take over your daily schedule.  Your children, husband and close family/friends come first!

8.   Keep your spouse as a top priority and he will do the same for you!

9. Your children are important, as a parent they are your daily gifts and miracles, so take care of them: emotionally and physically.  Not only by clothing them and giving them the daily necessities but providing emotional and loving support.  You are their everything, you are their world!

10. Spend time on yourself.  Whether this means taking a weekly exercise class, fifteen minutes of daily reflection, a walk in the park or a monthly spa date.  Keep a healthy diet, exercise often and drink a lot of water, flush out those toxins.  You need to rejuvenate yourself, often.

Beginning the New Year with Patience

Most of us would think that the idea of crossing a road should be pretty self-explanatory, if not, then you should have learned that as a pedestrian, crossing the road when the cars have a green light is mostly likely not a good idea. It’s actually probably a horrible idea!

Yes, of course I have a story to back up this post about crossing the road. Several days ago, while waiting for a light to turn green I noticed a woman standing at the corner ready to cross the street. Well, did she decide to cross when the pedestrian light gave her the recommendation? Nope! She decided that it would be smarter to begin crossing a busy street after my light turned green. Because of course pedestrians have the right of way, no matter what…. Nope! Wrong again! There’s a reason the pedestrian light comes on at a certain time, well because that’s the safest time to cross a busy intersection. Not only did this woman cross the road when the cars had the right of way, but she also chose to do so at a very, very, no I mean a very slow pace (age was definitely not a factor to the slowness, let’s just say it was a smartphone). I was not the only unhappy driver to say the least, but I kept my cool and sat and waited for her. Because patience is an active virtue, right?

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What’s the moral to this story? Well there is actually more than one!

The obvious one is that the woman’s inconsiderate approach and choice to ignore the rest of society functioning around her was ridiculous selfish. Who needs to watch for cars when they will watch for me, right? Wrong again!

Another lesson was the response many of the drivers wanted to relay or did display towards the woman. Yes, she was inconsiderate, but screaming at her was not moving her along any faster. Even though I was irritated, and it gave me a great topic for a blog post, it also helped me work on something that I struggle with each and every day….PATIENCE!

Patience is actually one of the most beautiful virtues, after humility! It may be an active virtue that takes some of us many years to obtain, but in this world of chaos, it is one of the most obvious. A patient person can easily be picked out of a crowd. Those are the people who find happiness in even the smallest disturbance. How beautiful! It might be a difficult virtue to teach through words, but it can be learned very easily by example. I may personally be working on this virtue of patience everyday with my four children, but I hope someday that my hard work will have taught them how to be patient and loving themselves.

Have a Blessed New Year!