Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Little Mid-Advent Inspiration

So far, Advent hasn't been too great for me.

I have been very lukewarm about preparing for Christ's arrival.

I'm still not feeling quite at home in our new city, and we have been dealing with illness after illness, teething, and night wakings.  It's been exhausting.  I would say that although I have been complaining an awful lot to God, I have been neglecting my relationship with Him.

Thankfully, He is so generous and merciful--always ready for us to begin again.  He is always there, waiting for us to "put down our nets" and follow Him.  Now, finally, mid-way through Advent, I am ready.

Something that helped bring me here was a Lighthouse Catholic Media talk entitled "Love Hurts:  The Truth Behind Redemptive Suffering."  I listened to it once before, but yesterday, while ironing and folding laundry, I listened more carefully.

It was exactly what I needed to hear and ponder upon...


All of us suffer.
But our suffering doesn't have to bring misery.  In fact, as Christians, it should bring us joy.

I needed to be reminded of this.
I needed to be reminded that since we're going to suffer anyway, we might as well do something efficacious with it.
I also needed to be reminded of the reasons we do voluntary penance.

Advent is a time to detach ourselves from the fleeting aspects of this world and seek the eternal.
It is a time to go deeper.

In order to draw closer to God, I pray He will help me with the following:

Slow down my prayers and mean the words I am saying.
Go to Adoration and be with Jesus, even if it's just for five minutes.
Go to confession.
Be more generous in the love I give to others.
Remember why I'm alive.


I hope your Advent is going well, but if it isn't, there is still time for you to start again, too. God's blessings be upon you. May you truly experience the beauty and love of this season.

Friday, December 5, 2014

QT: 7 Things I Love About Belgium (or Why You Should Go There on Your European Vacation)

For nine months, my husband, older son, and I lived an adventure in Europe.  The company my husband works for reassigned him to a position in one of their Belgian offices.  It was an amazing nine months.  It wasn't always easy, but we got to do a lot of something that I love, which is travel.  I knew very little about Belgium going into the move, but I grew to love the country and its many beautiful offerings.

Here are my top seven favorite things about Belgium.


Madonna and Child Statue by Michelangelo
I got to visit Bruges (Brugges) several times, and I loved to visit the church where this statue was housed.  It is one of the few pieces by Michelangelo to leave Italy.  One of the reasons I love it so much is because it reminds me of my favorite statue by Michelangelo, the Pieta, which is located in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.


Bruges (Brugges)
I just mentioned that the Madonna and Child statue is in Bruges, but this list would not be authentic if I didn't also mention how much I love the city of Bruges.   It's located in the Flemish region of Belgium, but many of the proprietors speak French.  Many people also speak English, which made visiting much easier.  What makes Bruges special is that it is a gorgeous city, with a small town feel.  It is accessible by train, and you can walk quite quickly to the city center from the station.  There are many delicious restaurants to try, as well as delectable chocolate shops and a wonderful cookie shop. The city is sometimes called the "Venice of the North" because of its romantic channels throughout.  We enjoyed taking boat tours and strolling down the idyllic cobblestone streets.  Beauty abounds in Bruges, and it is a photographer's dream.  There are also a plethora of art galleries, many of which have no entrance fee.  There's so much to explore in Bruges, one could easily spend a couple days there, although the highlights can be seen during a day trip.


We had some good eats while we lived in Belgium.  My favorites were Waterzooi (chicken or fish dish with a deletable cream sauce), Carbonnade Flammande (a delicious beef stew), fresh gauffres (waffles)--the plain kind with pearl sugar, fresh chocolates, and fresh frites (fries).  Interestingly, we lost weight while we lived in Belgium, even though we indulged in these treats quite often.  Perhaps it was all of the walking we did, or maybe it had something to do with the fact that fast food was not as readily available.  Eating at the Belgian restaurants was a fun experience, because you usually got something very tasty.


Quaint Villages
We decided to live in one of the smaller villages when we chose our rental home.  I'm so glad we did. It allowed me to get a closer look at the quaintness of some of the smaller towns in Belgium.  I enjoyed exploring our town and discovering the treasures contained in their local Catholic churches.  They had some amazing art inside, and I wondered if they truly realized how blessed they were to own these items.  I loved visiting the small shops and buying a poulet rotis (rotisserie chicken) or a fresh ham and cheese sandwich on a baguette and attempting to use my hard-earned French.

Catholic Church in Lasne (Plancenoit), Belgium


Le Grand' Place
It's sort of a square in the center of Brussels, and it makes an impression.  I loved standing in the middle and gazing out as I turned in a circle.  I loved the people watching.  The restaurants were great.  It was a short distance from Mannequin Pis, waffle shops, chocolate shops, and more.  It is a must-see, but more importantly, a must-experience.


Chateau de Le Hulpe
Acres and acres of public land complete with exquisite gardens, wooded trails, and a chateau (Solvay Castle, apparently.  Just learned this now!).  It used to be owned by a family, but they gifted it to the public, and now you can explore the grounds for free (sans the chateau's interior).  Not much is free in Belgium (*ahem* public restrooms), but this is, and it's a true treasure.  I went there so many times, and if I go back to Belgium, I hope to visit it again.


La Butte du Lion
We lived quite close to this architectural wonder, and it was always fun to drive by.  It is at the site of the famed Battle of Waterloo, and although the indoor museum/panorama leave something to be desired, the Lion's Mound is a must-see.  It is invigorating to climb the stairs to the top and peer out at the beauty of the Belgian countryside.  You can also catch a nice aerial view of Waterloo.

~ ~ ~

Belgium will always hold a special place in my heart.  There are so many quality sites to see and experiences to be had there, and if I can convince just one person to visit Belgium on their European tour, I will be satisfied.

Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum is the new host for Seven Quick Takes!  Thank you, Kelly!  For more Quick Takes, go to !

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Simplify - Cut the Clutter

Have you heard about the Catholic podcast called This Inspired Life?  I just listened to Kristen's most recent interview with the woman who is said to have started the Capsule Wardrobe: Courtney Carver.  They discussed Courtney's journey in simplifying her life, starting with her diet and then her wardrobe.  I recently began following un-fancy, which is a blog by a woman named Caroline who writes about and posts photos of her own capsule wardrobe, so I was intrigued to learn a little more about the concept.

This really speaks to me, because I do feel weighed down by the things I own.  I want to get rid of stuff, but I feel paralyzed.  I am the type of person who really struggles with keeping my possessions and information organized.

It all reminds me of The FLY Lady, who I began following after my younger son was born.  I was so overwhelmed by keeping my life organized with a newborn who needed to be held/worn most of the day.  I learned that I needed to use small steps, such as focusing on cleaning one section of the house...or whatever I could get finished in 15 minutes (set a timer).  I have tried using the 15-minute method when tackling a "hot spot" in the house (i.e., the clutter on my sewing table/desk), and it is great for helping very overwhelming jobs appear more manageable.

So anyway, I am looking forward to checking out Courtney's website Be More with Less and learning her ideas for simplifying life.

As I was listening to the podcast, I already started rearranging my closet and pulling some items out that I really don't like.  Since I recently decided I wanted to be more careful about the clothes I buy and try to stick with items that are more ethically made (i.e., fair trade), I haven't bought many new clothes, so I have room to focus on what I really need.  This also reminds me about something else I heard about a few years ago regarding purging your belongings.  I think it's meant to be used during Lent, but since Advent is a season of repentance and detachment, I may attempt to get rid of some of my other possessions, too.  The FLY lady says that if you have less stuff, you have more time to love others.  I think she is so wise, and I can totally see where that makes sense.  If I need to spend less time shuffling our household belongings around...maintaining our belongings and such, then there is more time to focus on relationships and helping others.

I am excited about this!