26 April 2012

On being a dad (x4), luck, life, 12 grandkids!

I am the luckiest man alive and I reflect on that a lot. Life. Is. Good.

Driving home with the girls tonight, we saw the lake at a distance and I said, "Girls, what's that through the trees?" Lucy quickly replied "Our lake! It's huge! Like huger [yes, as in um, 'more huge'] than the whole world" I smiled and said, "It's certainly large and there is a lot of water in it but our lake isn't as big as the world. What are those big big bodies of water called? You know the blue ones your world maps?" Lucy replied "Bodies of Christ".

Laura is doing something right but maybe I'll recommend she add a 5min break between geography and religion to her syllabus. :-)

I share that story and announce tonight with great joy and excitement that God has chosen us to raise and care for yet another one of His creations. Yes all P&B blog readers, Andrew-and-Laura-Baby #4 is about 4-5 weeks along and will be 5-6 weeks along as we prepare for the birthday celebrations of next week Claire (1) and Lucy (5)!

Our baby #4 makes A FULL DOZEN grandkids for the Cookes [wow. when did THAT happen!?] and the FIFTH for the Merkel household!! I apologize to all extended family in advance for this Christmas 2012 but we will not be traveling for the holidays!

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we keep blooming in our young marriage, family and faith!

God bless,
Andrew for Andrew, Laura, Lucy, Molly, Claire, Stone & ???

ps. let the 2012 Cooke Gender & Name Games officially begin.
pps. Laura, stop posting memories on that dumb Fb website and get back to this family blog. Starting with those adorable wedding dress pictures! xoxo.

Wedding Dress Keepsake Photos - Lucy (5 yrs old)

23 April 2012

Feeling a little spotty.

Dude. So I found this pin on Pinterest that I had to try. Here is my review.

We moved into our house and were shocked by the number of nasty stains on the carpets. I mean, they're old gross carpets. It weirds me out trying to consider what they might be. I know, who does that?? We haven't fully decided when and with what we'd like to replace the carpets, and we wanted to get through Year One of Great Dane Ownership, so we're sort of lost in nasty-carpet limbo. It's a terrible place to be.

As I was browsing Pinterest, I found the above link and thought, "Mmm....yeah, right." Well, I decided to try it anyway, because I'm a sucker. Luckily, in this case I'm a very satisfied sucker!



 Before next to sectional: 

 Before in front of sectional: 


 The Guest Room Mystery Spot Before: 


The Guest Room Mystery Spot - Solved!

Mmm-hmm, yes. I'm incredibly smug. 

Coasters - too cute!

4 inch tiles, Mod Podge, scrapbook paper, acrylic spray and felt sticky pads. Adorable and fast!

22 April 2012

Moms away, Dad & Girls will play

Here are some videos of the girls & I from this past Thursday when Laura was at ENDOW. These girls just crack me up! 

Yes. I got another of the alligator growls... How could I not? Tell me that you weren't laughing so hard you were crying when you saw Molly's! I'm thinking about making her growl the start-up sound on my work computer just to start each day off with that deep laugh it gave me. LOL... so here's a follow-up clip:

So for the past few weeks, I have been teaching the girls the Pledge of Allegiance. While we're on our nightly walks in the neighborhood, whenever we see a flag (and there are lots) we pause, place our hand over our heart and say the pledge. Lucy (our little educational sponge) learned it quick!!! Motown, um, we're still working on her...So, we ended the evening by saying the Pledge "... And All" that other jazz. At least she corrected herself! :-)

Video from a few weeks ago... Stone, showing the full extent of his energy. I think we found the right breed for our little family!

You might think she's excited about her spiderweb, but she's really just excited because I told her that Ava was coming over a

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17 April 2012

Here's a real gem for you. My comments are in red. Sheesh. The original article can be found here

Young Catholic women try to modernize the message on birth control

By Published: April 15

Ashley McGuire fell in love with the Catholic Church five years ago, after reading its teaching against artificial birth control.
McGuire, then a skeptical Protestant college student, initially saw the ban as a mandatory march to “domestic slavery.” But the more she read, the more she was blown away by the idea that sex — and women’s bodies — must be about more than physical pleasure. Blown. Away
Yet the images the church uses to promote its own method of birth control freaked her out. Pamphlets for what the church calls natural family planning feature photos of babies galore. A church-sponsored class on the method uses a book with a woman on the cover, smiling as she balances a grocery bag on one hip, a baby on the other. I have yet to see this particular brochure. 
“My guess is 99 out of 100 21st-century women trying to navigate the decision about contraception would see that cover and run for the hills,” McGuire wrote in a post on her blog, Altcatholicah, which is aimed at Catholic women. Your guess? Have you spoken to 99 out of 100 women? My guess is that 99 out of 100 women would be terribly relieved to find that the Catholic Church regards women as valuable and beloved and that NFP is a means to protect a cherished part of the Body of Christ. But whatevs. 
McGuire, 26, of Alexandria is part of a movement of younger, religiously conservative Catholic women who are trying to rebrand an often-ignored church teaching: its ban on birth control methods such as the Pill. Arguing that church theology has been poorly explained and encouraged, they want to shift the image of a traditional Catholic woman from one at home with children to one with a great, communicative sex life, a chemical-free body and babies only when the parents think the time is right. This term "conservative Catholic" makes me sort of ill. It turns Catholic women who are in line with the Church into a vision of Juniper Creek automatons. There is no such thing as a "Conservative Catholic." There are Catholics who ARE in communion with the Church, and there are Catholics who are not. The term "conservative" is used by the secular world to describe someone who lives their Catholic Faith. Within the Catholic Church, we just go by "the Faithful."
The movement sees an opportunity: President Obama’s decision this year to require most religious employers, like employers in general, to provide contraception coverage. The move angered Catholics so much that it cracked open a discussion about contraception that has been largely taboo for decades because there’s so much disagreement about it.
“More priests have given sermons on this in the past few weeks than in the last 50 years,” said Janet Smith, a conservative theologian who teaches at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.
Image overhaul
The new movement’s goal is to make over the image of natural family planning, now used by a small minority of Catholic women. But natural family planning, which requires women to track their fertile periods through such natural signs such as temperature and cervical mucus, is seen by many fertility experts as unreliable and is viewed by most Catholics as out of step with contemporary women.
“It ends up being this lofty, ‘Isn’t every baby a precious blessing?’ ” said Jennifer Fulwiler, a Catholic writer with five children based in Austin who uses natural family planning. “Meanwhile, you have one kid with colic [and] some 2-year-old pulling on your pants. It just doesn’t resonate. There needs to be a modernizing.” A modernizing of what, exactly? Our understanding of what children are? Are children not a blessing? Perhaps rather than the "Church" modernizing the standards of choosing when pregnancy is "acceptable," we should give couples living the vocation of marriage the tools to realize daily that the children clinging to their legs are souls that belong to Christ.
These women are hardly renegades. McGuire recently moderated a church-run panel about contraception in downtown Washington. And when the diocese of Arlington County, one of the country’s most traditional, hosted a lecture about natural family planning last month, the featured speaker drove home a key point: The Catholic definition of when it’s okay to not get pregnant is more flexible than you think. The 130 tickets were gone within three days. Yeah, sounds like 99 out of 100 women are running for the hills, doesn't it?
“When I talk about this, I always say the church has no opinion of how many children you’re supposed to have. That’s between you and your spouse and God,” said Mary Kate Sparrow, an Alexandria mother of four who spoke at the event. This is true. The Church TRULY has no opinion on the NUMBER of children you are supposed to have. The Church DOES have an opinion on your motives and reasons for contracepting and demanding God remove Himself from your marriage.
But as unified as conservative Catholics are against the Obama mandate, there are tensions around what it means to follow the church.
When McGuire argued, in a post called “Making Catholic Sex Sexy,” that church publications should ditch pictures of women in baggy pastels holding babies and that natural family planning should also be used to avoid pregnancies, dozens of readers protested. What McGuire is saying is nothing new. The Church fully supports using NFP to avoid pregnancy when it's necessary. I didn't see that term in that last sentence, so that could have been the source of said backlash. 
Some slammed natural family planning as selfish and un-Catholic, indistinguishable from contraceptive methods such as the Pill, because it can enable parents to put career goals ahead of babies. Oh please. Others defended the method because it puts couples in tune with their unmedicated, God-given rhythms.
Women who practice natural family planning say the subject can be explosive even in traditional parishes. They describe feeling judged and judging one another about the number of children they have and why. I can honestly say that I have never felt this "explosive judging." Support groups, while widespread for breast-feeding, are almost nonexistent for natural family planning. This is true. However, I don't know that I've ever run across a support group for people to discuss the methods by which the prevent pregnancies. I understand that it's a little complicated, but if we're still talking about SEX here, interested couples have all the resources they need readily available to educate and guide them, should they feel the desire to practice NFP. It's largely believed that our sex lives are something private and holy, so "support groups" may be crossing a line that is hard to define.
Papal guidance
The debate is part theological and part cultural.
Pope Paul VI wrote the contemporary teaching on birth control in 1968, a few years after the Pill was approved. Well, at least they got that right. It's called Humanae Vitae and it's GOOD. It says couples can delay or decide against having children “for serious reasons.” The term is left undefined, but the big picture is clear.
Couples “are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life,” it says. Instead, Catholics are to seek “the will of God and remember . . . that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.” Really? Now we can write as though we're talking to educated people? Halfway through this amazing piece of journalism?
Even though the pope never defined what constituted a justification to delay a pregnancy, large families became a hallmark of Catholics who wanted to show their fidelity. Yes. That's why Catholics have large families. To show the Church that they're Catholic. I guess confessing regularly, attending Mass on Sundays and observing the Holy Days is not enough. Sheesh. 
Meanwhile, many Catholic leaders disagreed with Pope Paul VI on whether the Catholic Church should oppose birth control, including the majority of an advisory commission he had convened of theologians and bishops. (He wound up ignoring their recommendation.) Yay, Pope Paul VI!
That lack of unanimity has played out in parishes for decades, partly because of priests who don’t support the ban on artificial contraception or others too hesitant to focus on it.
Although the conversation around natural family planning has begun to open up, some women who practice it are still hesitant to talk about it.
“Even with people I know really well, like women in Bible study, I’d never presume to bring it up,” said Carrie Severino, 35, an Alexandria lawyer with three children who practices natural family planning. “This is something of prudential choice the couple has to make with a lot of prayer. People are afraid of judging and being judged.” What is going ON in Alexandria? I have never been in a situation where Catholics were afraid of discussing the Church's view on family life. 
Fulwiler said she thinks younger Catholics, raised in an era when natural, “green” living is hip, are becoming more open to natural family planning. But you have to know who you’re talking to.
“If you know the secret password, there can be very frank talk, but there is that tension,” she said. “Typically you don’t talk about contraception.” Perhaps that's why the tide is only recently changing? Maybe the secret password is just now getting out? 
Church-funded technological advances are changing the debate. Younger women are likely to use not only the classic fertility barometers, but also a new electronic monitor that checks hormones in urine.
To some, this reflects Catholicism’s ability to incorporate modern science. To others, it flirts with what conservatives call a “contraceptive mentality” — shorthand for a sex life that’s more about the parents than children.
But McGuire, who is pregnant, isn’t daunted.
“I envision marketing where there are simple phrases associated with” natural family planning, she said. “Like: ‘Know your body!’ or ‘Live freely!’ ”  I envision a Catholic Church where knowing your body is defined within knowing the body of Christ. I envision a Catholic Church where people practice NFP because "living freely" can only happen when you live according to the One who knows us best. 

16 April 2012

Turtle Baby!

Zoo Fun!


Smiley Pants.

Sleeping Beauty

Claire plays the "will it float?" game.

Between a Stone and a hard place.

I had a dream that Stone started eating my leather couches last night. All I can think about is how much he chews on stuff. Windowsills, corners of the walls, coffee tables, dining room tables...sigh. His knuckle bone is in full rotation 24 hours a day at this point. I have no idea what else to do. He seems much more content when he can pick it up at will and gnaw on it. They're pricey, but listening to Andrew try to replace the windowsills would be far more costly.

Otherwise, Stone is fitting in well. He likes Lucy and wants to be near the kids at all times, but he's still just got too much puppy energy to be left alone with them. He still stays gated in the living and dining room, and is allowed to roam the kitchen and entryway when the kids are busy or napping. With our current setup the kids are able to make it from their rooms through the kitchen and into the family room, which is just fine as they really didn't use the living/dining area anyway. I really can't wait until everyone can live in perfect harmony. Just another 18 months or so...he is a big wonderful lump of sweetness, but he's exhausting.

15 April 2012

Mmm-hmm...yes. I DID make an awesome header without Andrew's help. Blogtastic.

I think we decided that we're going to move Lucy into her "own room" for her 5th birthday. I know. We're wild. We're not really "own room" sort of people, but we do have this empty room just sitting here across the hall making us feel all wasteful and wealthy. And now that Claire eats Legos, I think we're going to give poor Lucy a choking hazard break and let her live a little. And I won't have to worry about someone rolling out of the top bunk for a little longer, since we can put her in the day bed. I'm sure Molly is going to have kittens over the whole arrangement, since we're also going to give Lucy a new bedtime. It's like we just found out she's royalty or something, and poor Molly will have to sleep in the dungeon with the big rat. (Claire is the rat if you can't deduce that.) Hey man, 5 is a big deal around these parts!
When I see the number of people who visit my blog on a daily basis, I'm terribly ashamed of being so blog-lazy. I should make a new term for that. Bloglect? "That Laura is so bloglectful." My spell check tells me it's wrong, but it feels so right.

What a fantastic weekend we had. I don't remember Friday night, so if we happened to hang out with you, I really hope it was a great time. I'm thinking really hard, but nothing comes to mind...I remember that I made amazing baked potatoes for dinner. Tequila lime chicken, sour cream, salsa and big, fat baked potatoes. The stuff of legends.

On Saturday morning we were out the door at 7:15 to set up for the marriage retreat. It was sort of thrown together, but it turned out to be a lovely day. After that we raced back here for very late naps and then headed out again around 5:30 to have an "I'm sorry we had to cancel Easter because a child was sick so let's try it again" dinner. It was probably the best food I've eaten in 28 years and 10 months. (Let's not get hasty. 29 will be here soon enough.) My darling friend Lindsay made braised short ribs, mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus and lemon cake. We ate and ate and drank and drank and the kids were just perfect. Claire swam around in John's mashed potatoes, crawled around the deck until she wore herself out and then promptly climbed up in John's lap and passed out like she parties every Saturday night. Dream baby, that one. We ended up staying until 11 or so and it was just a great time with our dear friends.

Today we had a lazy morning here at home and then went to Mass at 11. We ducked out for KFC right after and then dashed right back again to be a Mentor Couple re-training for our parish Sponsor Couple Program for marriage prep. The new book looks awesome, and I can't wait to get our next couple!

We got home today around 3 and spent the rest of the day doing lazy stuff. I'm planning on spending the next 3 days on Spring Cleaning, so I'm sure I'll find a little time to blog. I really want to get our Easter pictures up before Lucy's high school graduation, and since she learned to spell "jump" today, I really need to get on it.

Tonight Andrew went in to check on the girls and Lucy was still awake. She asked, "What are you doing in here?" He replied, "I always check on you before I go to bed." Lucy sat for a minute and said, "Okay....how does God make people?" Ermm.....some nights I'm glad he's the last kid-checker of the evening.

11 April 2012

03 April 2012

Fridge Pics.

I love how Catholics worship saints and Mary and all that weird Catholic voodoo. You know how they all get together and invoke the spooky Catholic Saint Magic? And then there's the chanting and singing and praying and candles and graven images...whew. Those weirdo Catholics...you've heard of this, right?



Yeah...me neither.

I'm going to say this once. Catholics do not worship saints. Okay, fine. I'll say it again. Catholics do not worship saints. Twice should be enough, right?

(I would like to take this moment to pause and tell you that I am blogging from my garage. I'm having major trouble concentrating because Andrew is cleaning the garage and I am keeping him company in my robe and fuzzy socks. It's probably because he's a dominating Catholic man who wants me off birth control and under his thumb 24/7, but I digress. Another topic for another day.)

Oh, right. Saints.

Okay, so imagine you have this family friend who is always SO kind and nice to everyone. She's just the best of the best, and is a really great example of what a person should be. Everyone's all, "That Nancy is just such a sweetheart. Always feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned, clothing the naked, what a gal. I'll bet she's headed straight to heaven when she dies!" (I know several people like this. Admirable. Maddening.)

So then your friend Nancy gets sick and everyone knows she's leaving her mortal coil. (Ha! Grandma Susie loved that phrase.) Everyone says to Nancy, "Hey girl, when you get up to the Pearly Gates, put in a good word for me with the Big Guy, okay?" (trust me, people say really insensitive and crazy things to dying people.) But of course Nancy just smiles serenely and says, "You're always in my prayers!" That Nancy...headed straight for Heaven.

So then Nancy goes to her eternal reward and everyone misses her very, very much. They put pictures of her on their refrigerators and when they need a little guidance, they think to themselves, What would Nancy do in this situation? What would Nancy say? Gosh I wish I could just talk to Nancy one more time. Maybe they even throw up a little, "Hey Nance, if you can hear me right now, maybe you could put in a word with the Big Guy for me?"

Gosh...admiring Nancy's virtues? Imitating her good behavior? Putting her picture on your fridge? Talking to her? Creeeeeeepyyyy....I mean, Nancy's dead. Get those pictures out of there! And for crying out loud, stop acting like her! Am I right or am I right?

.....aaaand that's basically a saint.

No, really, what else can I say? Saints are merely average people who have done extraordinary things in the face of adversity and modeled a true passion for the love of Christ and his Church. They're the Faithful who've gone before us, people we admire for their virtues, friends we've never met. We pray to them for guidance, for inspiration and for a good word with the Big Guy. We love them because we aspire to be like them. The saints were great thinkers, great writers, great warriors, great priests, great wives, great people.

And the graven images?

Fridge pics, y'all. Fridge pics.

02 April 2012

It's a good thing.

::)Our house is old. It smells old when you walk in from a week away. It has medium brown doors and old door handles. It has brass fixtures and outlets that only work half the time. It has wavy walls, cracked floors and stained carpets. There is old track lighting in the family room, sliding doors that could cut off a person's fingers and a floor safe that has no lid. There are so many things to hate about this house. Especially in Texas, where new homes are a dime a dozen, and every home is sparkling clean and freshly painted.

But this house has something we haven't found anywhere else. When I walk in the front door, every care and worry just fades into the background. The fireplace calls us to sit and chat, the kitchen begs us to bake a batch of cookies. We walk in and the house is asking us to live a rich, fun, exuberant life. All of these little girls, screaming around the house and running down the long hallway.

When you open the door and come out of the bathroom, you can see all the way across the house to the yard. A big, rolling, green lawn with creaking trees that shade the hottest day. You can't help but walk the entire length of the house to stare out the windows and think your thoughts. The tire swing is always swaying, teasing the kids and pulling them into the vast outdoors. The sliding door is always open, so that we can yell from the kitchen to the golf course and anywhere in-between.

The creek bed behind the house holds bugs, dirt, wildflowers and toddlers. Sometimes the water is running, sometimes it's just dry and dusty. Some days it's rushing and noisy, other days it's trickling and full of bare feet. The adventures in the creek bed trump any movie or video game. The girls gallop around the shady yard screaming about monsters and princesses, begging us to climb down and play.

We have a striped hammock that waits in the breeze, hoping to trick you into relaxing so that it can flip you out into the grass.

All good, here in this good old house.

01 April 2012

Update on the Kids.


At 4 years, 11 months old, Lucy is our funny friend. She is having a blast learning to read and is doing great with kindergarten. With all of the stuff we've had going on, kindergarten is sort of sporadic right now, but that's why we started a year early! If we can get through kindergarten by the end of August, she'll be a solid year ahead and I think she'll be very happy there. She is really loving religion and math, which is actually pretty surprising to me. I'm not one of those mothers who brags needlessly about her children, because I feel like sincere praise should be sincere and saved for big accomplishments. Lucy and math go hand in hand. I haven't explained a single concept yet, and she's counting money, reading graphs, adding on paper and really flying through her books. Reading is a little slower, but she clearly has her daddy's aptitude for math, so I'm just letting her dictate her days right now. I think we'll be back to hitting the books this week, as we have a handle on the dog situation and are in a pretty good routine.

Lucy has been loving the mild winter and spring, and we've been outside most of every day. She is very excited about planting our little garden, and I really hope we get to it soon. We've started our seeds and are hoping to see SOMETHING soon. Last week we bought some seed tape for our lettuce and as soon as we got home, Lucy asked, "Hey Mama, when are we going to plant the salad?"


Oh, Molly...is there anything we wouldn't do to listen to Molly's craziness? Molly is...150%, all day long, every single day. She's a pleasant, agreeable kid who pretends from dawn to dusk. I think she summed it up today when I asked, "Are you pretending to be Rapunzel?" She looked at me with a horrified expression and said, "What?! Mama, I AM Punzel!"

Molly spends the majority of her days in a 3-year-old dream land. She just sort of fades in and out of reality to tell us things or eat graham crackers. She talks in a high-pitched pretend voice all day long, chattering to her babies or whatever is in her hand. Let me think about the things she talked to today...a balloon, a rake, a bug, 2 baby dolls, a plastic giraffe and some beads. There were probably several things that we can't remember at the moment. She also spent about an hour today in the creek bed behind the house yelling, "Happy holidays, monsters!" One in a million. She's also very interested in "geebras." You know, the striped horses that live on the savannahs? We do the "what did you say?" over and over just to hear her say it.


Claire is CUTE. There is nothing but chubby, yummy, adorable 11-month-old goo there. She smells like a powdery soft baby and she's just a cute little ball of squish. Love her.

Claire is now completely weaned, which took all of three days last week. I didn't want to do it, but my body just didn't agree with nursing anymore. I switched her over to whole milk and she seems just fine after a couple of rocky days of trying to distract her. I really didn't want to stop the sweet bonding, but I think we'll both be healthier and happier for it. It has really helped with her sleeping, and we now have a baby who is sleeping from 7pm to 5am, and then goes back down from 5 to 6:30/7.

Our little chubbers really isn't too interested in walking yet, still has little hair and is completely toothless. I think Lucy started walking around 11.5 months, and so far Claire is following Lucy's patterns almost exactly. She's still using pacifiers, but it's a small price to pay for a little pm peace!

Claire is by far the most pleasant, fun, kissable baby. She has a hot temper, but with two very even tempered big sisters, it adds a little variety. She's 0-60 in seconds, but we can overlook just about anything when it comes to the baby of the family. We know how quickly she'll be talking and running around, so we just let it all slide.


Well, we're over a week in and Stone has been our biggest surprise yet. A week ago I would have said that I thought we were crazy and that he'd never fit in. On Wednesday morning, though, something just clicked and he just sort of fell into place. This giant 5-month-old puppy is suddenly the sweetest, most adorable creature we've ever met. He spends most of his day just lying in the living room and dining room, keeping an eye on things and keeping tabs on the family. He loves to lie in the grass while we play outside, and he is really just a low-key, easy-going guy. I would say that Stone is one of those answers to a prayer. We prayed to Saint Francis for the right dog, and now we have this dog who feels like he's been part of our family for years. He's truly a wonderful puppy and we look forward to a very fun future with our very big dog. It's very hard to believe he's only 5 months old, because he acts like an lazy old dog. His puppy zoomies come out about once a day and we just let him tear around and act silly.  His size really hasn't been anything we've thought about. Right now he's about the size of a very large lab, and he'll grow much bigger in the next 7-12 months. The only thing I've really noticed about his size is that other dogs look very small to me when I see them. We're very lucky to have an open floorplan and a big yard. I'm guessing that he'd seem much bigger if we lived anywhere else.

Stone's trainer comes twice a week and Stone loves him. We are already learning quite a bit and Stone already shows a difference in his attentiveness. With any luck, he'll be a much more obedient puppy in a few weeks!