Friday, February 28, 2014

7QT: Seven Ways to Save on Family Healthcare

By Joy Pullmann

Linked up with Conversion Diary.

Since my husband and I are both self-employed, we have to pay for our own health coverage. So, since saving money is very important (every bit saved goes towards paying off our mortgage early or giving to charity), and since we work hard we can't claim money the government has forcibly taken from other people who work hard, we have discovered a number of ways to save money on healthcare costs, even amid our country's expensive, cumbersome, and non-transparent healthcare system.

1. Try alternatives to health insurance.* We purchase catastrophic health expenses protection through a sharing program called Medishare. It works similar to insurance, but is not insurance: So we have in-network health providers, with whom Medishare has negotiated lower rates, and out-of-network health providers, just like typical insurance, but through Medishare members' monthly fees (ours for a family of five with a deductible of $5,000 is approximately $350) literally pay other members' health expenses. Insurance providers try to make money on top of that. I'm not against people taking risks in order to make money, but buying health insurance from a company would cost us at least twice what we pay. There are downsides: For one, Medishare doesn't offer preventative care incentives that might reduce overall costs like a no-copay annual physical; and for two we get put in this catch-22 where if we declare an expense and have health providers bill Medishare, we still have to pay the final bill out of pocket because of our high deductible and then we end up paying insurance rates, which are typically higher than cash rates. But if we pay in cash, we don't get the expense applied to our deductible, so we have to actually pay a lot more in health expenses than our deductible to go over our deductible and start to have our coverage kick in.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Frozen Is My Favorite Disney Princess Movie

By Brittany Makely

Embedded image permalinkIn January, my husband and I took our almost 3-year old daughter to see Frozen. My sister tagged along because why bother being an aunt and godmother if you can’t use your niece as an excuse to see the newest princess musical movie that features your favorite Broadway star, Idina Menzel from Wicked? Plus, I had been hearing rave reviews from young and old.

Taking toddlers to the movies is the best. If you haven’t done it, you are missing out on one of life’s most enjoyable experiences. From their excitement at carrying a booster seat into the theater, to choosing the perfect spot among those hundreds of seats, and watching their eyes get silver-dollar big when the screen goes dark as they reach for daddy’s strong, reassuring hand. Then they laugh and giggle at the most wonderful times, reminding the rest of us how simple, innocent humor is hilarious. That is, between fistfuls of popcorn that they are not sharing, but that’s ok because it’s getting kind of goopy now.

But I digress. Frozen fulfills my need for an amazing musical score in animated films, and teaches a much better lesson of true love than the princess movies of my own childhood. It is now possibly my favorite princess movie of all-time for three reasons.

WARNING: Spoilers follow.

Monday, February 24, 2014

“How Does She Do It?” Facing the Fear of Family Life

By Mary Stanford
Guest Contributor

I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t want marriage and family. I remember being teased about being “boy crazy” in 3rd grade. Yes, third grade. (The really embarrassing thing is that I remember being annoyed in kindergarten that marriage seemed like such a long wait.) So, you might say that fear was never really an issue for me. On top of that, I came from a happy home, filled with lots of kids. My parents made the whole deal seem easy. I was ready and had no fear.

Flash forward to the year 2000, when my time finally came. A bit later than expected, as I was already 25 and beginning to wonder if I might not rot on the vine. Once again, no fear—so happy was I to have found a person so suited to me—and so willing to fulfill my dream of being married and having babies. So excited to enter into marital bliss that I didn’t even panic that he hadn’t secured a job yet. A charming graduate student with a bright future; that was enough for me.

The first glimmer of fear that I remember experiencing was when I held our first baby in my arms the following spring. It was the first time in my life I had ever contemplated the thought that one baby might just be “enough” for me. I was prepared for the pain of delivery, for the surrender of so many little freedoms that accompany motherhood, but I was not prepared for the “worry.” I had been caring for babies since I was a kid— how could this be any different? Oh but it was. Nothing can prepare you for the sickening, never-ending worry that settles in your soul the moment your own child enters the world. Not some baby you can hand back to its mother—no, the one that comes home to stay is the one that changes everything. I had always thought that it would be such a shame if I were only blessed with one child; suddenly it seemed that my fears for this child consumed me. How does anyone handle more than this?

Well, I learned, gradually, that that initial fear was never totally going to subside. It would instead, like some sort of baggage, be something that I would carry along with me. I would walk with it, and gradually come to accept it. As I tried to wrap my head around this feeling, I became aware of one other aspect of family for which I was not entirely prepared: the love. I loved that little girl so much that I felt guilty. I felt unfaithful to the young siblings that I had once adored—and still do adore, of course-- but with a sister’s heart, not a mother’s heart. I felt guilty even contemplating another baby—when this one seemed to demand and deserve everything that I had. I used to watch her start to wake up from her nap and pick her up before she even cried. It just seemed right. I didn’t complain, I didn’t count the cost. She was worth it.

Then I would see other families at church—big families-- and wonder how they did it. How did they attend to everyone? How on earth did many of them home school? How did they survive? Fear would begin to bubble to the surface again.

Flash forward 13 years. Somehow, some way, I’m “doing” it. Perfectly? Oh dear no. (Is there such a thing?) No, but happily, and surprisingly sanely. Most days. Suddenly all tables have turned and I have young wives and mothers asking me how I do it. The truth is, I don’t know, and if I tried to concoct some answer it would most certainly come back to haunt me. What I will share is that, with five more babies, and 8 years of homeschooling under my belt, I have learned that those two overwhelming emotions, love and fear, have tended to balance one another out.

The love that almost takes your breath away is what keeps you invested. No one can understand how Mrs. X can deal with her extremely difficult 4 year-old because no one sees him like she does. No one can prepare you for how much you are invested in your own child. No one could convince you what you might be willing to undergo for that child’s sake. The “pride swallowing siege” (thank you, Jerry McGuire) that is parenthood is eminently do-able because you love that kid more than your own self. You’ll do just about everything including cutting off your right arm. That’s why it’s is so sad when people forego having children because they find other people’s kids irritating. They never gave their own kid a chance to win them over. And he always does. Nature is funny that way.

As far as my own life goes, I attribute our ability to thrive as a family to something beyond just the natural. As a Catholic, I believe in a little something we like to call sacramental grace. Read the catechism: besides enriching our souls with the life of sanctifying grace, each sacrament also imparts sacramental grace, a special gift which corresponds to the purpose of any given sacrament. My marriage is a sacrament; it imparts to my husband and to me a special assistance—not a general help, mind you—but a very specific help. It helps us to live out our marriage. It helps him to put up with me, and me to put up with him. And it helps us to deal with all these babies. At those moments when I am tempted to judge another family’s parenting decisions, I have to bite my tongue. No one has the grace to raise those kids except for them. No one has the tailor-made divine aid that accompanies their sacramental marriage except for them. I have my job to do, and they have theirs. And frankly, I find that quite liberating.

So, fear not, my young friends. Okay, I immediately retract that imperative. What I meant to say was: have no fear about being able to handle my life. The fact is: you just might not be able to swing it, but you can handle yours. You will feel the weight of fear, heavy at times, but the pull of your own miraculous love, that bond of affection which gives you the courage to walk through the Valley of Death (or at least a valley of vomit) for your loved ones, will kick in and you will be able to face whatever comes your way.

Mary Stanford earned a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Dallas, and a M.A. in theological studies degree from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C., graduating summa cum laude from each institution. She is married, and is the mother of six children, whom she educates at home. A frequent speaker on topics including marriage, contraception, femininity, and the theology of the body, Mary also teaches as an adjunct instructor in the theology department of Christendom College.

Image by Redboxweddings.
Family photo courtesy of the author.

Friday, February 21, 2014

7QT: Seven ways to make your life smell better

Image by Hermann Kaser
By Mary C. Tillotson

A couple weeks ago, I had a cold, and about then I realized how much I really love good-smelling things. I remember walking back to my dorm in college in the spring -- three blooming trees grew right in front, and at night when everything else was quiet, I'd walk past them, not really thinking till I was startled with their sweet scent.

It was lovely.

Having a cold, however, is not lovely. While all I could smell was snot and sinus pressure, I compiled a list of seven ways to make your life smell better, joining Jen and the others for Seven Quick Takes Friday. I'd love to hear your ideas, too!


Image by Durova

Make bath salts. Measure some coarse ground salt (epsom salts, sea salt, etc.) into a freezer bag, drip in a few drops of essential oil (and coloring if you want), seal it, shake it so it's all mixed up, then poor it in a pretty jar. (Or your bathtub.) When I clicked around the internet on this topic, I found that all the DIY bath salts were some variation on this (though some included baking soda). The really artsy people include rose petals or dried lavender buds, and they decorate their own jars.

Note: You can buy essential oils at a craft store or online, just look for soap making supplies. There's probably soap coloring that's better for you than food coloring, but food coloring is probably fine.


Image by A Girl With Tea
After you make tea, leave the tea bag in the sink and let the hot water from your tap splash on it as you wash dishes. A tea bag is good for about a cup and a half, and there's no sense in letting that half a cup go completely to waste. Let the aroma rise up to your nose while you're washing dishes. When you're done, toss it.


Image by James Vaughan
Powder your carpet, let it sit for ten minutes, then vacuum. "Powder?" you ask. Crack open a sachet packet that's done smelling good (it's still got a little life left; you just have to vacuum it to smell). Use scented baby powder, baking soda, or baking soda dripped with essential oils.


Image by André Karwath

Put lemon or other citrus peels down your garbage disposal. My mom always told us not to do this when we were kids, so maybe this is actually bad for the disposal. I did it accidentally once, about four apartments ago, and it smelled really nice, so I kept doing it.


Image by nimble photography

Make candles. Or if you're not into DIY, buy some. And light them.


Image by Kham Tran

Use your crockpot. The easiest crockpot recipe I know is this: cut up a chicken breast or stew beef, some onion, and some carrots and put them all in the crockpot in the morning. Add salt and pepper right before dinner time. Your house will smell like chicken soup or beef stew all day.


Marry a man who smells like he looks amazing.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I do not want men in my bathroom or locker room, thanks

By Joy Pullmann

In college, I stayed at the University of Vermont for two weeks for debate training. The dorms were co-ed, but we figured that was fine until the first morning. I distinctly remember going to the bathroom for a shower, undressing, and hopping in the shower. A few minutes later, I noticed hairy man legs in the shower next to me. That was a wake-up far more alarming than ten cups of coffee. The bathrooms were co-ed, too.

Utterly embarrassed, I left as quickly and un-exposed as possible, furtively grabbing my towel from outside the shower and dressing in a toilet stall.

Now judges in Maine and California, and lawmakers in some seven other states, want to make thousands of little boys and girls feel like that, and worse. They are demanding that schoolkids be allowed to use whatever bathroom, locker room, and sports team they want. As Owen Strachan writes:

Friday, February 14, 2014

After 30+ years of marriage: "Oh, you'll love being married!"

By Elizabeth Petrides (Mary’s mom)
Guest Contributor

You can do it!

My daughter, married a whole year and a half, tells me that too many young people are afraid of marriage. Perhaps they’re afraid of the challenge, afraid to fail, afraid of not having any fun. And while marriage is a challenge at times, mostly it’s wonderful. And at the end, when you’ve survived money crunches, schedule crunches, toddlers, and teenagers, it’s wonderful.

I still remember when my husband and I had been married for about a month, and my brother and his girlfriend came over for a short visit. They told us that they were going to get married the next summer. The first thing out of my mouth, before I even thought about it, was something like this: “Oh, you’ll love being married. It’s so much fun!” At that point, I realized that I hadn’t really expected to be happy being married. My parents weren’t happy with each other, at least not that I could see, and my in-laws seemed not really well-suited for each other. I had been prepared for all the disappointments, challenges, and sacrifices involved in marriage, but I hadn’t really been prepared for happiness.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

How To Be The Best Godparent

By Liesl 

I was holding Robert, my youngest baby cousin, for the first time when my aunt and uncle asked me to be his godmother.
Close from a young age!

Of course I said yes!

Robert responded by spitting up all over my shirt.

Apparently he agreed with his parents' choice... I had been chosen. 

That was almost 9 years ago, and at the time, I didn't realize what an important role I was taking on. It wasn't until a few years later, when I started to grow deeper into my Catholic faith, that I realized what a big deal it is to be someone's godmother.

Think about it for a minute. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

You can have a great marriage without any superpowers. (Right?)

by Mary C. Tillotson
Marriage is hard, everybody. Really hard.

Luke and I dated for a while, then he proposed and I said yes and we were engaged. We glowed for a few days, and then the bad news started coming in droves.

"Marriage is hard, you know," I heard. Over and over again.

This one retirement-aged lady from church: "Marriage is really hard. You know, my sister-in-law got married before we did, and she told us the first five years were the hardest. At the end of five years, I called her and said 'At least we're through the hard part!' And she said, 'No, the first 10 years are the hardest.' At the end of 10 years, I called her again and she told me the first 15 years are the hardest. You know, it's really all hard."

Let me describe that conversation in two words: Not encouraging. Or seven: Not what engaged people need to hear.

She was laughing in that way moms laugh about kids throwing up all over everything and ruining your life goals and your priceless, inherited-from-four-generations dishes. If you want to commiserate with people who have already experienced the same thing, go for it, but don't talk to me about it! You're just making me doubt whether this is really a good idea after all.

We turned out okay: for one thing, Luke is the sort of man you don't not marry when he asks, and for another, we had very supportive parents so we could mostly deflect these kinds of comments. But aside from our parents, we mostly heard two messages about marriage:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Our Home Is Not Wisconsin, Montana, or Indiana

By Joy Pullmann

So Mary's homesick. I can identify some, because I also want to live where we'd get free babysitting and the ability to actually participate in our extended family's life rather than catch glimpses by phone or Facebook. I have five semi-grown siblings, half of whose lives I've missed while away at college or, now, married and with kids eight hours away.

Before both sets of my grandparents died, their homes were our community centers. One lived five minutes from my house, and another 45 minutes away. Growing up, we spent countless weekends and holidays and Sundays and weeknights and piano recitals and random hellos together. Until about age 14, I grew up in the company of a boisterous family that, even if they lived in Minnesota and Illinois, frequently congregated at the halfpoint between the two: Grandma's house in Wisconsin. And then people divorced, and others died, and others moved away. Then we were all on our own. College cemented that separation. Then it was off to the East Coast, thankful to have found a good job, let alone any job given my graduation smack in the middle of the Great Recession.

But even when I got a job I can do from anywhere, we didn't move back. Our biggest reason was that we had searched every time I visited my parents, but there simply were no good churches within at least an hour radius.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

#7QT: Eating Your Veggies

My constant uphill battle in life is eating enough vegetables - how many are required? And what kinds? And why the same old boring peas and carrots dance?


Women should eat 2.5 cups of vegetables a day. The US Dept. of Agriculture recommends 1.5 cups of dark green vegetables, 5.5 cups of red & orange vegetables, 1.5 cups of beans & peas, 5 cups of starchy vegetables, and 4 cups of other vegetables.

Cooking Light published a good serving guide:
Lightly Active: An average of less than 30 minutes of exercise a day
  • Women ages 19-30: 2 cups Fruits + 2 1/2 cups Veggies = 4 1/2 cups TOTAL
  • Men ages 19-50: 2 cups Fruits + 3 cups Veggies = 5 cups TOTAL
  • Women ages 31-50: 1 1/2 cups Fruits + 2 1/2 cups Veggies = 4 cups TOTAL
  • Men ages 51+: 2 cups Fruits + 2 1/2 cups Veggies = 4 1/2 cups TOTAL
  • Women ages 51+: 1 1/2 cups Fruits + 2 cups Veggies = 3 1/2 cups TOTAL
Moderately Active: An average of 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day
  • Women ages 19-50: 2 cups Fruits + 2 1/2 cups Veggies = 4 1/2 cups TOTAL
  • Men ages 19-30: 2 cups Fruits + 3 1/2 cups Veggies = 5 1/2 cups TOTAL
  • Women ages 51+: 1 1/2 cups Fruits + 2 1/2 cups Veggies = 4 cups TOTAL
  • Men ages 31+: 2 cups Fruits + 3 cups Veggies = 5 cups TOTAL
Very Active: An average of 60 minutes of exercise or more a day
  • Men ages 19-30: 2 1/2 cups Fruits + 4 cups Veggies = 6 1/2 cups TOTAL
  • Women ages 19-50: 2 cups Fruits + 3 cups Veggies = 5 cups TOTAL
  • Men ages 31-50: 2 1/2 cups + 3 1/2 cups Veggies = 6 cups TOTAL
  • Women ages 51+: 2 cups Fruits + 2 1/2 cups Veggies = 4 1/2 cups TOTAL
  • Men ages 51+: 2 cups Fruits + 3 cups Veggies = 5 cups TOTAL

If you're feeling like you're in a rut, check out which vegetables are in season.

The benefit of knowing what is in season can help you understand why certain vegetables are more fresh, and why their prices vary.


For those who like an extra crunch, eat raw. This is the easiest option, with the least amount of prep. Carrots with hummus, broccoli with dressing, tomato, cucumber or sweet pepper slices, or spinach salad with pine nuts and a hard-boiled egg for lunch.

You can also add raw sprouts, avocado, cabbage to sandwiches; I'm a big fan of paninis, but hamburgers and deli meats work well too.

The benefits of raw vegetables are many, but if you're like me, they're to be enjoyed in moderation. Some vegetables benefit from a bit more preparation.


Like sweet potatoes and zucchini! If you'd prefer less of a crunch, steaming is always a fine option. There is also baking and roasting, which works well with potatoes, kale and asparagus. There are many ways to "perk up steamed vegetables", like adding a chile-lime butter mixture on top. It's also a wonderful excuse to add alcohol to vegetables: whiskey-glazed carrots, anyone?


Perhaps one of my favorite ways to add vegetables into pasta dishes: leeks, spinach, broccoli, peas, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, carrots...

If you are feeling extra healthy, you can fix zucchini or summer squash into pasta!

post image
Source & recipe


A few more usual suspects to inspire more vegetables in your diet:

  • kebabs
  • tacos
  • salsa & guacamole 
  • smoothies
  • soup
  • slaw
  • soba salad
  • tomato & mozzarella tart
  • cheesy broiled tomatoes

A few of my favorite idea spots:

Bon Appetit magazine
Colorful Eats
Cook's Illustrated magazine + The New Best Recipe cook book
How To Cook Everything cook book
The Kitchn
Real Simple (the current food editor wrote a pretty fabulous cook book as well)

Tres bon! Joining in with Jen & co. Any more ideas for us?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Typing, One-Handed, and Hoping the Baby Doesn't Cry

By Joy Pullmann

I am self-conscious about working at home with my children clustered around, largely for the element of unpredictability: At any moment, a child may scream. If I'm on the phone, as I often am, the person on the other end instantly knows either I'm not in a traditional office or that something is weird. Baby noises now don't bother me as I work, because they're always there now, but they make me feel unprofessional. It would be like going to work with spitup on my shoulder.

I wish I could say to people, "This is how I put food on the table for my babies while refusing to outsource their care." I'm sure many would respect that, but many others wouldn't. Not knowing which attitude is the other person's, I'm nervous whenever I take or make a phone call.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Twenty-First Century Homesickness

Home for Christmas | Norman Rockwell
By Mary C. Tillotson

Christmas was crazy at my parents’ house, and I missed all of it.

We drove past my hometown (southern Michigan) to visit Luke’s parents (northern Michigan) first, and for a while, the weather was pretty crummy for driving. In northern Michigan, everything just froze, so it snowed and it was gorgeous; in southern Michigan, it was just enough warmer to do a little thawing and refreezing, resulting in an equally gorgeous ice storm that knocked everybody’s power out.

So while Luke and I went ice-skating and wandering around the gorgeous lakefront downtown in crisp winter weather, my parents hosted a houseful of four of their adult children(-in-law), and two of their toddler grandchildren with no power – which meant no heat in the single-digit temperatures, no water except what was manually hauled from the basement sump pump to flush the toilet with (not drinkable). I wasn’t there to help. We live in a day’s drive away, so between work schedules and carpooling arrangements, our travel plans were set when they were set.