St. Monica, Motherhood, & Absolute Hope

Before I catch you up on leg three of our big Summer road trip (which admittedly is not nearly as exciting as the first two legs,) I thought we’d take a little break and I’d just throw out a little thanks to Monica who accidentally (must have been an accident, right?) got me the most views in a single day that I’ve ever had so far. Who knew bragging about what great kids catechesis crafts stuff she comes up with would pay off for me too?

I promise you that it’s merely a coincidence that I’m bragging about my own new favorite Monica in a post about her great namesake.

We’re selling this new book on St. Monica in our store right now. It looks wonderful and this image just captures her so well.

I’ve always felt so drawn to the beautiful St. Monica whose steadfastness, persistence, and simple example of Christian womanhood have never failed to inspire me when I’m feeling my lowest. St. Monica is someone that I strive to be, especially in the workplace each day.

I run a Catholic bookstore, which is simultaneously one of the most fun, exciting jobs I can imagine, and one of the most emotionally and spiritually difficult. As a store, we exist not just so people can swing by and pick up a miraculous medal or baptism gift (although of course they can,) but also as a spiritual soft place to land, a support network, a counselling center, a cheerleader camp, a library and a set of shoulders to cry on. We see people in our little store every day that are suffering and surviving through tragedies and losses far more intense than I can even imagine experiencing. We also see people brimming over, exploding with joy in their happiest moments. It’s an emotional roller coaster every day as we fill the moments between heartbreak and celebration with stocking the shelves, placing orders, restarting the CD player, and checking email.

My job, really, is to help people get to Heaven, however I can. That’s what every task of my day from answering the phone to holding a sobbing customer who recently lost her child in my arms, to selecting the right books, to teaching a new friend how to pray the Rosary is all about. It’s a beautiful and wonderful thing to be blessed with such a vocation. It’s a vocation to do a million little things a day that seem like logistics, but are really acts of great love. It’s a vocation to comfort, to mourn alongside others, and to acknowledge their pain by sharing in it in some small way. It’s a vocation to put a copy of My Catholic Faith into someone’s hands who doesn’t know they need it yet (Ask your local Catholic bookstore for that one please!) It’s a vocation to pray fervently that every person who walks into the store making jokes about being a cafeteria Catholic (I was guilty of this for years) will some day see the light and bask in the fullness of Truth.

It’s a lot like motherhood. I’ve mentioned before that we haven’t been blessed yet with children, but I like to think that Our Lord has given me this job as a way of both practicing for future motherhood and as a way to actively live my vocation as a mother in a way that models His own mother and St. Monica. He challenges me every day to dig deeper, no matter how exhausted I am, to bring consolation, or insight, or at least a smile to the face of every person that He sends through that door. He’s given me a way to care for others and to learn how to love more generously.

Just like the motherhood that I see exampled in all of the women I’ve met online and whose blogs I read, I am called to example love, patience, steadfastness, humility, and simplicity in the same way that St. Monica did each day of her life. St. Monica exemplifies a motherhood spent waiting in absolute hope. I pray that I can learn from her example not only as a mothering caretaker of souls at work, but as a woman who is waiting to fulfill her vocation to love as a mother of children. I pray that I can learn to patiently wait for God’s perfect timing and perfect plan for our lives, all the while remaining steadfast in an absolute and trusting hope. I pray that I might remember always that my every action, no matter how quiet or simple, has the potential to draw me and others closer to Our Lord.

Oatmeal bread is simple, strong, and solid, like St. Monica.

Oatmeal bread is simple, strong, and solid, like St. Monica.

I’ll tell you about our adventures in bread-making soon, but I wanted to share a picture of this oatmeal bread that we made using a recipe from my new favorite cookbook. Baking bread is an excellent way to honor St. Monica on her feast day because very little that you can do in the kitchen requires more carefulness and patience.

St. Monica, ora pro nobis. Please make us good waiters.

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Epic Roadtrip Part 2 & 7QT at the Catholic Marketing Network

Last we spoke (read? wrote?) my husband and I had just arrived back from leg one of our Epic Late Summer Road Trip. That was our anniversary trip to West Virginia. I mentioned at the end of that post that I was actually writing while on leg two of said Epicness. Here’s how it went down:

When we arrived back home on Sunday night, we made a horrible discovery: our air conditioning had gone out at some point during the weekend. It was probably a toasty 86 degrees on the lower level of our townhouse and who knows how much hotter upstairs. Not fun, but thankfully it was a pretty nice night outside so we managed with fans and enjoyed the rest of our evening while frantically unpacking/re-packing into a larger suitcase so we could set off the very next afternoon immediately after work (and reporting the broken ac to our leasing office bright and early) for leg 2…New Jersey!

Why were we so excitedly venturing to New Jersey? To attend the wonderful and oh so glamorous Catholic Marketing Network trade show. I’ve mentioned before that I run a Catholic bookstore/giftshop and that it’s pretty much the best job in the world. I get to do a million things a day including filling the store with all kinds of magnificently solid Catholic goodies. And it’s so amazing and fulfilling to know that every decision I make is focused on what will help the people who come to our shop to grown closer to Our Lord. Seriously, best job ever.

A picture from last year’s show. The woman in the red shirt is actually my sales rep from Ignatius Press whose name is also Therese. She’s really thrilled that this picture of her butt has been on the CMN website for the last year.

So try to imagine how much fun I was having in a conference center in New Jersey packed to the gills with beautiful statues and pictures, handmade rosaries, books, books, books galore, and hundreds of amazing new kids stuff just waiting to be scooped up and placed on our shelves. I have a very serious suspicion that Heaven might look like this for about an hour at a time (unless, of course you can’t get sick of good things in Heaven…at which point in the theological debate I’ll pass you over to Jen.)

I feel like I could probably go on ad nauseum about all of the amazing stuff I found there and what a fun time I had on day one (when I actually got to explore and browse instead of running around like a maniac skipping lunch trying to get all of my orders placed before the show floor closed and I had to drive back home right away.) I’ll try to keep it to just a couple of fun things, ok? Feel free to skip past if you’re soulless and don’t like totally awesome shiny new stuff from fun new companies that will make beautifully organized new displays in the children’s area of our store.

LIGHTBULB! Since it’s that time of the week, let’s do this 7 Quick Takes style and cheat a little. Deal? (Sorry, there’s probably no scrolling past this now.)

–1–

Father Juan Pablo Vocations Doll

If you are Catholic and have small children, I absolutely encourage you to check out this new company called Wee Believers. They have dozens of adorable products that are great for even really small children including these vocations dolls. Fr Juan Pablo wears a full cassock (or as I call them, Priestly super hero outfits) and Sr. Mary Clara is just plain adorable. They’re plush and come with great books to encourage children to become comfortable with the idea of vocations to the religious life. Plus they remind US (not just kids) that priests and nuns (and brothers and sisters) are fun!

–2–

I’m cheating here because this is from the same company, but it deserves it’s own number and I don’t think you’ll blame me.

Plush MASS KIT. Seriously.

Yeah, that’s an entire Mass kit made out of soft materials for children to play Mass with at home. When I was a kid, all we had to use as a “host” was an Oreo. Seriously. This set has candles, a crucifix, and a thurible for crying out loud! It’s a thing of beauty. I wish I had a four year old boy to play with this with right now. Their website is here, but I wholeheartedly recommend that you use their search function to find a local Catholic bookstore near you to order this stuff from. Help out the little guys so you’ll still have a place to pop in and grab a couple of holy cards or a new miraculous medal from at the last minute.

P.S. I would LOVE to hear some great funny and/or adorable stories about kids playing Mass. There might even be a prize in it for the person with the best story.

–3–

Who needs a Cootie Catcher when you can have a kid’s Catechism Catcher?

This was probably my favorite new booth of the year: Arma Dei. I made fast friends (well, I thought so) with Monica and fell in love with just about every single one of her products. I didn’t even realize she ran a blog, I swear! All of her products are fun, color-able, inexpensive to make, and most importantly full of great Catholic “meat.” She has tons of great books and craft ideas that I spent a solid half-hour drooling over. A board member who came with me had to drag me away. I bought a bunch for the store including a set of playing cards that teach fundamentals of the faith (everything from 2=the two natures of Christ to 9=the nine precepts of the Church.) Amazing, right?

–4–

Battle Saints bracelets kick tush

You know those great saints bracelets that everyone wears? Well, this company was called Battle Saints and they make saints bracelets just like those, except the saints on them are specifically chosen because they’re the patrons of each of the branches of the military and of warriors in general. The idea is that a) you can purchase them and send them to a service man/woman that you know to give them some extra protection and b) you can purchase them for yourself and anyone else you can talk into wearing it to remember to pray for the service members through the intercession of the saints on the bracelet. Each bracelet comes with a folded up paper explaining the different patrons found on them and the mission of the organization. An especially wonderful part of what they do is to make a donation from each sale to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund which helps wounded warriors when they return with physical rehabilitation, TBI, and post-traumatic stress.

–5–

Our Lady of Guadalupe from the Shining Light Dolls Collection

This company is brand-spankin’ new and is making the most wonderful new line of hard vinyl dolls. Right now all of the subjects are different apparitions of Our Lady, but she’ll also be making a line of favorite saints! (We ordered the Our Lady of Guadalupe, Fatima, Knock, Czestochowa, Lourdes, & Kibeho for starters.) Since the dolls are a single piece and made of tough, durable plastic, they’re perfect toys for any age–even infants! I think they’d make great tub toys (there is a tiny air hole in the bottom that could potentially trap water in there…but you never know until you try,) and should be very easy to clean mud and/or drool off of. They also come with a great booklet and prayer card to teach your family more about the subject and come in really attractive packaging. Apparently they’ve become a collector’s item for lots of people. And they’re just so sweet! (P.S. I know they’re called Shining Light Dolls, but they do NOT light up. Don’t be confused!)

–6–

One of my favorite Catholic movies!

If you haven’t heard about Navis Pictures yet, you’re in for a treat. We already carried their movies, but this is just such a great apostolate that I had to share. Navis Pictures is an apostolate for young people that basically developed because one father in a homeschool group in CT had a professional background in film and a desire to get his kids actively involved in learning their faith. This is a production company that ONLY uses children 18 and under as actors to film amazingly solid Catholic films. The one I pictured above is one of my favorites because it really makes the beautiful faith of the martyrs of the French Revolution (that I–and most people–had never heard of) come alive. You’ll spend the first ten minutes of each film figuring out how old each of the characters is supposed to be, but you actually forget that you’re watching a group of relatively untrained homeschool kids and just become enraptured with the stories. There are a number of truly moving scenes in there too that words just won’t do justice. (i.e. the scene on the cover where they’re offering Mass on the field before battle and during the moment of consecration one of the older main characters looks so reverently at the Host and says, “My Lord and my God!” and if you watch carefully for the small children behind him who are probably barely old enough to totally grasp that their friend playing the priest is not, in fact, a priest and that this is only a pretend Mass, you’ll see the sheer love on their faces as they look upon Our Lord.) Sorry for the run-on sentence there. Just so you know, it hurts me too.

–7–

Our first batch of Glory Stories CDs and books!

Another one that you probably already know about: Glory Stories CDs by Holy Heroes. You might notice a trend here that most of these favorite picks are children’s products made by family-run apostolates. This is another started by a convert and her family. All of the kids help with the voices on the audio CDs and the stories are really top-notch. They gave me a demo of the Blessed Imelda Lambertini and Juan Diego CD to listen to and I was actually in tears on the drive home, it was so beautiful. Every family that I know that’s started a collection of these CDs has fallen madly in love with them. I actually had a group of nine year olds jumping up and down in the store with excitement (one almost knocked over some statues) when I told them we would be carrying them from now on! They also have lots of neat weekly Mass prep resources and activities. Enjoy!

Two other points of personal interest: While at the CMN show I was surrounded by Catholic celebrities (Fr. Michael Gaitley, Fr. Don Calloway, and Mother Dolores Hart for starters.) Among about 3 dozen other authors that I met, I got Teresa Tomeo to sign one of her books for me. I’ve never read her books and I’m not sure that I’m particularly dying to, but I do love to listen to her radio show on my way into work in the mornings. It puts me in the right mindset after schlupping through the Today show to get my weather report and Al Roker fix. It was pretty great to get to see her. Even if she was super busy and could only even look at me for a few seconds. I get it, Teresa. We’re cool.

Also, Dale Ahlquist held the door for me. Be jealous.

Coming…soonish: Part 3 in which my husband almost punches a DJ and we’re still really sweaty.

Mea Culpa & Epic August Road Trip Pt 1

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, guys. I know that a week and a half two weeks is supposed to be an inexcusably long time to go between posts unless you’re actively in labor/bringing home a newborn, saving the world from almost-certain doom, or just really really distracted by something shiny. I have none of those excuses, so I’ll blame it on a combination of still being relatively new to the blogging world (it isn’t a habit yet, I guess) and the fact that the husband and I have been on the first (and second) leg of our whirlwind Epic Late Summer Roadtripapalooza. Yup.

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This past weekend was our first anniversary (mushy and hopefully accidentally insightful post to come about that later) and to celebrate, we went away for the weekend. To West Virginia. Why West Virginia you ask (like everyone else in the last week)? Because it was close. And less expensive than the beach. And all we really wanted to do was to get the (pardon me) hell out of dodge and relax in a nice hotel room with air conditioning, clean sheets that we didn’t have to wash, our favorite shows, maybe a pool, and an unlimited supply of tolerable coffee.

What we got was possibly the most awesomely simple and perfectly us vacation ever. It was sublime, I tell you. When we arrived late on Friday night (I had to work late at the store until about 8, but we headed out from there,) our room didn’t seem to have the advertised microwave and fridge (which was necessary due to leftovers from dinner along the way–we waste NO food in this family.) So we called down to the desk and instead of just sending up an extra little microwave and fridge like I expected, they upgraded us to a whole new GIANT room! With a jacuzzi tub. A big one. That’s what I should have taken a picture of.  It was magical. The service at this place was unbelievably wonderful. They even dug up a vase for me to put the single biggest bouquet of flowers I have ever been given (2 dozen huge, lovely roses) into so I could enjoy them all weekend. They’re almost as amazing as my husband. Well, they were pretty great.

As if procuring for me the world’s largest and most breathtakingly beautiful flowers wasn’t enough of a reminder of why I love him, my husband handed me our itinerary while we were in the car on the way there. Don’t misunderstand and think that I’m one of those people who needs every second of every day completely planned out. I’m not. Especially not on vacation. But there’s also nothing I hate worse than the frustration of not having the information you need exactly when you need it. And until a few days ago, I have never owned a phone smart enough to gather that information for me.

So my thoughtful sweetheart of a husband made me an itinerary that was exactly my favorite kind (that I didn’t even know was a possibility until he started making them for me) and a perfect example of why we work together so well. It was simple and consisted of the addresses and phone numbers for the hotel, restaurant for our dinner reservation for Saturday, the church we’d picked out for Mass on Sunday, and a couple of ice cream shops in the towns we thought we might visit. It had only two times on it: our reservations for dinner and the time of the Mass for Sunday. It was perfect. With only one firm plan for each day, but lots of options for things to choose from on a whim, it was just the right amount of planned. And the fact that he had gone through all of the trouble to type it all up in lovely tables and print out not one, but two copies for me made me feel so cared for, so thought of, and so loved. I seriously got weak in the knees right there in the car. Best. Husband. Ever.

What we wound up doing was, to the untrained eye, absolutely nothing. And to the eyes that count, it was perfection. We slept in, we ate a delicious free breakfast downstairs, and took a walk around the tiny mall that we discovered next door to our hotel.  We got coffee, ran through the rain, and had a wonderful lunch at Waffle House. Again, the awful waffle might not sound like romantic anniversary food to you, but to this Atlanta-transplant girl who mourns the fact that there are only three Waffle Houses in the entire state of Maryland, all of which are well over an hour and a half’s drive from us, it was a happy gift from God. Sometime I’ll try to explain it, but for now, let’s just saying having a Waffle House within walking distance of our hotel nearly made my trip.

To a girl from Atlanta, this place just feels like home. Greasy, yes. But still home.

To a girl from Atlanta, this place just feels like home. Greasy, yes. But still home.

After a yummy lunch and a much needed soak in that tub, we relaxed, watched our favorite shows on the DVD player we brought. That’s right–he planned so well for me that he brought our DVD player from home complete with cables and a surge protector. Unfortunately we forgot the remote for the DVD player, so that meant pestering those poor but kind souls down at the desk again to see if they had a universal remote. Miracle of miracles: they had a DVD player and remote we could borrow! Seriously guys, this place was amazing. Boy, are they gonna love their yelp review.

Us watching "His Girl Friday" in the hotel room. Bliss!

Us watching “His Girl Friday” in the hotel room. Bliss!

Our dinner reservations were for an amazing restaurant attached to a vineyard just over the border in Virginia. The food was incredible (definitely the fanciest food this budgeting family will eat all year!) and so was the view. Check this out:

Our view from the table

Gorgeous, right? The rain just made all the colors really saturated and rich.

After a night of leftover cake, more movies, wine (oh yeah, did I mention he brought our own supply of booze and didn’t forget the bottle opener?), and generally resting up, we had another yummy breakfast and headed out to Mass. We’d done our research and found this pretty little chapel in Charles Town, WV run by the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem, an order of priests which, as far as I can tell, only celebrate the extraordinary form of the Mass (which we love and prefer ourselves.)  Mass was lovely and holy and we had a chance to meet with the brothers afterwards. They live in a little house right next door.

Pretty church that they're getting ready to renovate and make gorgeous!

Pretty church that they’re getting ready to renovate and make gorgeous!

We were able to walk from there to main street where we got lunch at a yummy Mediterranean place (complete with free hummus!) where I was able to have a dish that I’ve been searching for since my study abroad days in Greece many years ago. From there we explored Harpers Ferry, I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail in heels (ok, so it was just a little bit and the bridge that goes to Maryland,) and we got ourselves some ice cream and souvenirs. And then we headed home, playing a surprisingly addictive game of Words With Friends with my sister during the drive. (Ok, I found one thing I can do on this new gadgety phone.) We had a lovely dinner and ate our anniversary cake, which was oh so delicious. I’m not kidding. The huge tier of cake that took up most of our tiny freezer for a year was worth it. Check out how we re-wrapped it up and re-froze it since we were leaving for part two of our adventure the next day:

Re-cutting the cake

Re-cutting the cake

Wrapped back up!

Wrapped back up!

We are little pleasures people. And so blessed to be so. It turns out that the world is a pretty wonderful place when you can treat every little win like it’s a big one. A thousand little wins helps to balance out the worst parts of the hard days (of which there certainly are plenty). I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I actually love to make big lists of all the little happy things that make up a day. Like this post, apparently. I’m hoping that what I lack in timeliness, I make up for in lack of brevity. 😉

Coming soon…Part 2 in which we attend the Catholic Marketing Network trade show and get very sweaty.