Friday, December 23, 2011

Keeping Holidays Happy

We have so much going on this next week! My brother and sister-in-law are in from out of town already and we've had one family party so far. More parties approaching and my husband's sister will be arriving at the airport in about an hour. We are getting up early and staying up late.

I'm trying to keep Peter happy. We are making a special effort to have morning and afternoon naps, although recently he'd been taking just one nap around noon. We are eating lots of fruit and drinking water at home. We're staying home as much as possible instead of zipping out for a plethora of errands. He has started asking to nurse much more frequently and I'm pretty much giving him free access.

My sweet boy

At tonight's party, he stayed up until after 10PM in a house full of people whom he barely remembered, if he'd met them at all. Through the entire evening, the only time he cried was when he pinched his fingers a little bit in the door.

So thankful we have the time and opportunity to keep everything else stable so parties stay fun!

(Given the hectic schedule approaching, I will not be blogging regularly until the new year. Enjoy your holidays!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reindeer Games

Last night at youth group, we played reindeer games. Our team was tied for last place going into the final event, with zero points. The last event was to attach as many cotton balls as possible to "Santa" using Cool Whip. "Santa" was whichever person had the birthday closest to Christmas. Kudos to the Praising Aardvarks for covering Santa with an impressive 78 cotton balls!

Creating a strategy

We need more Cool Whip!

Clean up - Santa, are you OK?

Alive and well!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Keeping Warm in the Car

Children who ride in car seats while wearing coats are at risk for injury in a car accident. The force of a collision compresses the coat/snowsuit/jacket under the car seat straps. If these straps were loosened to allow for a comfortable fit over winter clothing, they may no longer be properly fitted to secure the child in the car seat.

For a good fit of car seat straps, consider dressing your child in regular indoor clothing. Once your child is buckled, put on a blanket or coat (turned backward) over the restraints. This allows your child to stay warm and safe.

What not to wear in a car seat!

Unfortunately, Peter does not like a blanket or a coat. He prefers to be cold, which really doesn't make any of us very happy. My mom helped me attach strings to his hat, so at least he can't pull that off (yet), but the beginning of any car trip makes me feel bad, even though I know he's not going to freeze in the five minutes it takes for the car to get warm!

How do you keep little ones warm while traveling?

Monday, December 19, 2011

"I was raised Catholic."

I really dislike that sentence. Usually it is said by non-Catholic Christians or agnostics, with the subtext, "but then I came to my senses." Let me be clear: I would rather someone had authentic faith in Jesus outside the Catholic Church than to be in the pews every Sunday, out of habit or a desire to appease parents, without faith. But the line "I was raised Catholic" pains me because in many cases, it's not true.

To be "raised Catholic" to many people means anything from being Baptized in the Church with Mass attendance on Christmas and Easter to being dragged to Mass every Sunday and pushed through the Sacraments of Initiation because "that's what you do."

learning religion
Image credit: ma vie en rouge on Flickr

Growing up in a home where one or both parents self-identify as Catholics does not mean you were raised Catholic.

To be raised Catholic is to have role models in faith, parents who
  • pray with their children Prayer can be formal or informal, recited prayers or praying in one's own words. It can be as simple as blessing oneself with the Sign of the Cross or as deep as meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary. But it should be real and regular.
  • actively participate in their faith community Some have more time than others, but we all have some time. Parents can get involved with formal ministries at church, offer to do errands or give rides to neighbors, or simply visit the lonely. After all, faith without works is dead.
  • encourage children to ask questions Sometimes the answer may be, "I don't know, let's find out!" The traditions and teachings of the Church are more than can be taught in Sunday school or even daily attendance at Catholic school. It is primarily the responsibility of parents to teach the "whys" of our faith - why do we genuflect, pray with saints, believe the Bible, receive sacraments, save sex for marriage, pray for the dead, worship God as a Trinity... These are deep questions and deserve more than flippant or superficial answers.
  • demonstrate reverence for the Eucharist By observing an hour fast before receiving Eucharist, maintaining a prayerful attitude toward the Body and Blood, making Sunday Mass attendance a top priority, and attending Adoration, parents send a message. Joking about how the "wine" tastes or receiving the Eucharist in a casual manner also sends a message.
  • practice and teach discernment Whether assessing readiness to receive First Communion with a child, ensuring a teen understands the solemnity and sacredness of Confirmation, or helping a young person explore vocations, discernment is a key part of living out our faith.
I understand that parents aren't perfect. Raising children in faith is an enormous responsibility and chances are good that parents will slip now and then. But if you look back at your childhood and find that the tenets outlined above were the exception rather than the rule, you weren't really raised Catholic. (Also, there are people who were raised Catholic and still decided to leave. I understand that.)

The "I was raised Catholic" crowd left the Church for a host of reasons. A negative experience with clergy, being judged or belittled, conviction that the Church is out of date/oppressive/just plain wrong, observing hypocrisy among the congregation, etc. These are all serious reasons. I'm certain that people who left did not do so on a whim.

If you left, though, and this post makes you think maybe you weren't really raised Catholic, would you give the Church a second chance? Will you look for answers and explanations instead of assuming there are none? Maybe read Rome Sweet Home. It changed my perception of the Church. Maybe check out the articles at Working to Beat Hell. They're legit, all approved by the priest who runs the site. Hey, maybe email me. I'd love to help you find answers to your questions.

May Almighty God bless you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Story of Christmas

Tomorrow I will teach my class the story of Christmas. Tonight I unpacked all of our Christmas books to find one to share with the kids, looking for something with a good story that still focused on the birth of Christ. We have some great books. The Gift of the Magi, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and one of my favorite books of all time, The Other Wise Man. I might have chosen the last one, but it is too long to read aloud during class.

Ultimately, I decided I will read them The Story. No spin-offs or adaptations can do as well to share, in simple language with just enough detail to capture the imagination, the story of the birth of Christ. The story of an ordinary young man and a not-quite-ordinary young woman who were chosen to raise the Son of God. Of political unrest and power-hungry rulers. Of a young woman who becomes a mother, far away from her own mother, her family, and even a comfortable place to labor. Of the poor, lonely, and outcast who are the first to learn the news that will change the world. Of a moment when Heaven and earth meet and the angels fill the skies with praise. Of magi from the East, gentiles, coming to worship the King of the Jews and bringing prophetic gifts.

The Gospel, the Good News, of the Lord. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Full Speed Ahead!

Peter would not keep still long enough to get a clear photo, so I did the best I could with this blurry one. And no, his eyes are not quite that color blue, but my photo editing skills are not fantastic. You get the idea, at any rate.

When I was about 15, we had a family reunion on the Monterey Peninsula. It was amazingly beautiful. I loved swimming in the ocean and feeling the waves pummel me. Sitting on the beach watching the sunset was like something out of a movie. As part of that trip, we visited a couple redwood forests. They were nice. The trees were really tall and had huge diameters. After the first couple trees, though, I was bored. I think I walked the trail about ten times before the rest of my family finished.

For our honeymoon, we went to Arizona (in mid August) and took an overnight trip to the Grand Canyon. I really enjoyed driving through the desert and taking a Jeep tour of the national forest around the Canyon. I liked climbing the tower and taking pictures at lookout points. Strolling the perimeter trail was not my idea of a good time. My husband had been to Niagara Falls with me already and knew how I am, so we drove between points. (Fun fact: I have virtually no depth perception beyond about 20 feet, so this also explains why the height of the redwoods and the depth of the Canyon are less impressive to me.)

I recently realized why I don't like museums. I love old things and learning about people who have gone before me. I want to understand history and enjoy reading what people have written from generations past. I don't like museums because they require slow walking. I want to sit, walk quickly, or run. Walking slowly drives me batty. I guess I take time to smell the roses, but I sprint from one bush to the next.

I shouldn't be surprised that Peter is either sitting quietly with us or going at full speed. At least he comes by it honestly!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Playing with Rosaries

This is Peter playing with my aunt's Rosary. What are your first thoughts when you see this picture? I admit that my gut reaction was concern about profaning something sacred. I mean, he has his foot on the crucifix. Many people find it offensive that a child would be allowed to play with a Rosary, treating it as a toy instead of handling it respectfully. Thinking about it further, though, I think it is a good thing.

I think most people would agree that Nativity play sets are meant for play. Made for the smallest children, figures of the Holy Family and some barnyard animals are often much "abused" by our little ones. Peter even plucked Joseph's beard this year! But we accept that these are toys, even while they represent the Incarnation of our Savior.

If Nativity play sets can be used for play, then regular Nativity scenes could serve that purpose, too. Some scenes may be kept from children because they are fragile, but not because it would be inappropriate for a child to explore and play. After all, it's the same scene, just presented in a more refined medium. Instead of cloth dolls, perhaps now the Holy Family are porcelain statues.

If porcelain statues can be used for play when part of a Nativity scene, then why not outside of it? I had a porcelain statue of Mary when I was little who figured regularly in my imaginative play. She was usually the mother of God, but I'm sure she would be amused to know all the escapades she had in that role!

And so, if a statue can be used as a child's toy without disrespect, I believe a Rosary can, too. Peter loves the Rosaries we have in our home. He is drawn to the colors and the noise the beads make, clicking against each other. He likes the cold weight of my Connemara marble Rosary. As he carries them around, I remind him, "That's a Rosary. We use it to pray with Mary to thank God for Jesus!" When Peter handles the Rosary as a toy, he is not being disrespectful. He is learning that time spent with the Rosary is comforting and full of wonder.

Aren't these lessons we all could learn?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Do you see what I see?

"Can't you even tell a good tree from a poor tree?" Charlie Brown's Christmas

My dad and I took Peter out this year when we chose our Christmas trees. We probably spent an hour wandering the farm, looking for just the right trees to cut. As we walked, we'd stop and point out a tree and discuss its strengths and shortcomings. After a few stops, Peter really got into it. He would point with a mittened hand from his place on my back and babble very emphatically, offering his opinion on what made a good tree. :-)

In addition to a good assortment of trees, Wilbert's Tree Farm also has a life-size Nativity scene with live animals! As much as Peter enjoyed being in his carrier to help us pick a tree, I think the animals were what really made his day complete.

Trick goat riding a camel!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Yes, Still Surrendering

We had a good run (two days shy of 26 months!), but all good things must end. And so it is with some sorrow that I acknowledge the end of lactational amenorrhea. I was hoping this lovely side effect of breastfeeding would continue until Peter was 18 months, but almost 17 is pretty good!

I told someone just last week that Peter's nursing habits had precluded any siblings so far. She remarked, "Well don't count on it. Mistakes happen that way!" I was rather nonplussed and responded with something intelligent and assertive like, "Um, yeah, I know." See, I'm not nursing Peter in order to avoid having more children. I'm nursing him because it's good for both of us, physically and emotionally. Having a short-term reprieve from my period was just an added blessing!

What really caught me off-guard about this comment was that this is a friend of mine. We've talked before about my husband's and my decision not to use artificial birth control and ultimately not to use natural family planning to avoid children. I thought she knew our decision to surrender our fertility was an ongoing life choice, not something we tried once then changed our minds once we found I was pregnant.

We're not doing this because we want to have a huge family. I have two brothers, my husband has one sister. We're not used to lots of siblings. When we talk hypothetically, neither of us are sure what life would even look like with more than, say, four children. So we're not trying to have more children.

I mean, the one we have is pretty awesome!

On the other hand, we're also not dictating terms of conditional surrender. It's not, "Well, let's just do this until we have the right number of kids." We don't have a cut-off in mind, either temporally or number of children. I'm tracking my fertility symptoms to keep tabs on my health and so I have an early indicator if I become pregnant again.

In the interest of honesty, we did intentionally avoid another child for the first six months post-partum because of research indicating significantly higher risk levels for both mother and baby if pregnancy occurs during that time. We abstained for three months (yes, really) and relied on LAM for the following three. I consider health of mother and child to be a grave reason.

I believe that children are a gift from God. I will not refuse a gift, nor will I try to force one from His hands. Surrender. That's how it works.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Medical Mystery Monday

Unlike fun alliterative themes like Wordless Wednesday or Foodie Friday hosted on other blogs, I hope this one does not become a weekly feature.

About a month ago, I noticed Peter's diaper rash was not healing. Or rather, was not behaving like diaper rash. The mild reddish rash had become three concentrated sores, two on his bottom and one on his scrotum. They were well-defined and raw, but didn't seem to bother him at all. They would start to heal, then the dead skin would come off in the bath or when being wiped and the sore was still open underneath. This continued for two weeks, so I decided to take him to the pediatrician's office.

Of course the day we saw the nurse practitioner, the sores were in their "healed" phase, so she didn't see the same thing I had been seeing. She prescribed a topical antibiotic to use for seven to ten days and encouraged us to use diaper cream as well to keep the area clean. After a week, there was absolutely zero change. We might as well not have been doing anything.

We went back to the doctor and this time received a prescription for an oral antibiotic that targets skin diseases, plus instructions to continue the antibiotic cream and diaper cream. My poor little boy. Despite our best efforts to convince him that medicine time was fun time, he cried at each dosage, twice a day for ten days. The results? The sores stabilized. They stopped cycling between "healed" and raw and became persistent red bumps. The two on his bottom also developed twins, parallel bumps on the other cheek.

I also gave him a lot of probiotic yogurt.

This morning was his last dose of oral antibiotics. After my husband went to work, I changed Peter's diaper and found his scrotum almost covered with sores. Again, they didn't seem to bother him at all, but this was too much for a mommy to ignore. We got an afternoon appointment with our pediatrician.

She was perplexed. She referred him to a dermatologist and we were thankful to get an appointment almost immediately. The dermatologist confirmed our ped's opinion that it was not fungal or yeast. He thought it unlikely to be bacterial, since it did not respond to antibiotics. (As an aside, I'm very pleased that no one has try to suggest this has anything to do with Peter being intact.)

He has prescribed a different cream, targeted to reduce inflammation. He hopes that treating the symptoms will allow the skin to soothe and heal itself. He advised not to use any diaper cream. So now we'll try this for a couple weeks and see what happens. While we're home, I'm using prefolds with no cover so I can change him immediately each time he wets.*

The crazy thing is that no one knows what this is. There are no other symptoms of infection and it is definitely confined to the diaper area. (The dermatologist was favorably impressed that we just use warm water to clean between changes. Yay!) I hope this new prescription works.

*This may also be a good prep for toilet training, which I want to start soon. Even I am not crazy enough to try to start that right before Christmas, though!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Evening came, and morning followed

We actually had no plans today. No planned visitors, no necessary errands, no events to attend. My husband and I could not remember the last time we've had an entire day unscheduled! We had a good day, filled with cuddles and books and music. I washed diapers and dishes, my husband packed some games he sold and wrestled with Peter. We went to the public library, a playground, and took a 30 minute walk together. Tonight, my husband cooked and my parents joined us for dinner.

We relaxed.

The Sixth Day
Life is full of responsibility and routine.
Every day has a pattern
and the morning dawns full of expectations.
What must get done,
what can be pushed aside one more day.
Time ticks by, each hour with precisely sixty minutes.
Use your time wisely!
I did.
Full of love and rest and peace for the soul
with comfort and laughter
in the joy of God's own creation
I lived.
And it was very good.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Applesauce and Self-Doubt

I had a beautiful mommy-moment today. I had finished grinding the applesauce and was stirring in the scraps of peel when Peter came begging to be picked up. He helped me stir in the peelings, then watched intently while I added cloves and cinnamon. He was so happy to help me stir and watch the colors mix together. I grabbed one of his spoons and fed him a bit of warm, homemade applesauce. Life was good.

Helping make salad

I needed that moment today.

One of my former professional mentors visited today and again gently questioned my decision to stay home and intent to homeschool. She doesn't intend to criticize; I think she truly believes we would be better off if I was working in schools again. I know she thinks I would be an asset to a district. (Too bad none of the districts thought so back in 2009!) :-) I respect her and value her opinion, so it was hard to reply with conviction that this is best for our family.

A friend was venting tonight about being publicly criticized for how she handled a behavior incident with her children. Someone else chimed in with support, "I LOVE seeing people discipline their children. I am the person rolling their eyes at the people who refuse to acknowledge their fit-throwing, space-invading, snotty children when they should be yelling or perhaps spanking them for their behavior." My heart broke a little. Wasn't the conversation about how parents shouldn't be publicly humiliated for not being perfect parents? Then why is the correct response to imperfect children supposed to be loud and public humiliation?

Sometimes I feel like I am making all the wrong choices. Maybe Peter should be falling asleep alone and sleeping through the night by now. Maybe I should put him in a class or something so he learns to play with his peers and deal with the colds that come with childhood. Maybe I should start restricting when he can nurse so that he will wean precisely at two years old. Maybe he needs harsher discipline instead of more freedom. But then I make applesauce with him, or watch him climb alone at the playground, or open my arms to as big a hug as a little boy can give. I must be doing something right.

Hey, he plays piano. That's gotta count for something. :-)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Because I Said So

This past weekend, I taught my Sunday school class about the feast of the Immaculate Conception and reminded them that Mass would be celebrated three times so everyone would have a chance to attend. "This is called a holy day of obligation. The Church thinks this feast is SO important, they want everyone to come celebrate!"

I've been very mindful in class this year to avoid teaching from the "because I said so" (BISS) standpoint. Yes, faithful Catholics are required to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. Yes, it can be a mortal sin to skip Mass without grave reason. But if I want to lead a child's heart to Jesus, handing out rules and regulations because the Church says so seems like a horrible way to do so.

The same logic applies in parenting. If I want Peter to make good choices when he is more independent, I need to avoid BISS as a first response. For example, when I tell him to climb off the table, I add, "It's not safe to sit on the table and it's not polite. Please get back on the chair." I guess the superficial reason he should get down is because I said so and I will physically remove him if he doesn't. But the real reason is why I said so.

He trusts us because he knows we love him.

I read good advice from a blogger (terribly sorry I've forgotten whom!) who reduced the times she told her children "no" by just skipping that word and continuing with the rest of the admonition. "No, put that back" becomes "Put that back, please." The message is the same, but the tone is much more conducive to a good relationship! I think the same practice can be used to avoid BISS. Hold the BISS, then give the actual reason. And if there isn't an actual reason, the rule needs to be revised!

I think there are times when BISS is acceptable. If you have given the real reason and your child continues to argue or complain, I think it is OK to say, "Because I said so and I am your mom. It's my job to take care of you and make choices that are good for you. I'm sorry you don't agree with me this time, but I'm doing what I have to so you will be safe/healthy/etc."

My parents occasionally used BISS and I accepted it because, even if I didn't like it, I knew they always wanted what was best for me. They treated me with respect and explained themselves as much as possible.

For the same reason, I accept what the Church teaches even if I don't agree. I think it's silly that holy days of obligation vary from one country to another, as if God cares about political boundaries. But I understand that they are in place to encourage our particular community of faith. I went to Mass to celebrate today's feast. And it wasn't just because the Church said so.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent Decorations

Week 2 of Advent

I like things to be clean and simple. No branches.

Where is Jesus? Wait until Christmas!

Peter's Nativity set. Didn't stay this way for long!

When he was done, though, he cleaned up. Perhaps a bit too well.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I am reading... Nancy Drew. My mom recently bought me 26 stories, all written while Harriet Adams was overseeing the series. Nancy's character and the writing style changed in the 1980s. I like the old ones better.

I am praying for... a spirit of humility. This has been an ongoing prayer, at least since college. This Advent season, I am renewing my efforts to let go of my pride and submit to God.

My favorite seasonal food is... chocolate cream pie. My husband's aunt made one for Thanksgiving with a chocolate cookie crust. It was delicious and has ruined my appreciation for normal food. :-)

Peter at Thanksgiving

I am planning... to buy a Christmas tree with my dad and make stöllen with my mom, as I have done since I was a little kid. The end results of both of these traditions are enjoyable, but the real value is time spent together.

I was recently surprised by... Wegmans milk. Their non-organic milk now contains no artificial hormones! We made the switch this past weekend from soy milk to cow's milk. I like soy milk, but I had missed the taste of cow's milk. It's good to be back!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Spiritual Focus

My first Advent as a married woman, my mom gave me a book for recording Christmas family memories. One section asks, "What was your spiritual focus this Christmas season?" I spent some time last week thinking about this question and decided this year my focus will be surrender. Mary's complete surrender, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord," stands as a shining example for me. Her surrender of her plans, reputation, body, and spirit certainly brought her pain, but ultimately such joy! This Advent season, I want to surrender the areas where my pride or fear has kept me from following God. 

Peter (2010) with Mary from his Nativity set

Prayer of Self-Offering
Receive, Lord, my entire freedom.
Accept the whole of my memory, my intellect and my will.
Whatever I have or possess, it was you who gave it to me;
I restore it to you in full,
and I surrender it completely to the guidance of your will.
Give me only love of you
together with your grace,
and I am rich enough, and ask for nothing more.

Excerpted from the Roman Missal, Third Edition

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dating and Courtship Part IV

My understanding of traditional courtship is that once the couple recognize a mutual attraction, the gentleman asks permission of the lady's father to court her. During courtship, they spend time learning about each other in the context of family. Very little time is spent alone together. If the courtship goes well, the couple is then betrothed to be married with permission of the lady's father.

I have a few reservations about this model of courtship. First, the entire relationship is contingent on the father's approval. In an ideal world, every father would have a good relationship with his daughter and his approval would simply be an affirmation of her own opinions. Since our world is not ideal, though, I can see how requiring a father's approval could derail an otherwise well-suited relationship.

Also, although it is important to know how one's future spouse acts in the context of family, that is not the only acceptable way to interact. When the couple marries, they will probably not be living with either family. They need to learn how to interact with just each other, without family.

At a baseball game with friends and family

I think courtship has merits. It encourages thoughtful consideration of a relationship, rather than casual pairing for fun. I also think it is a good model for teenagers living at home. Young people in high school do not have as much life experience and are more reliant on their parents for good advice. Also, home is their primary living context. I think that traditional courtship is less practical for those in college or otherwise living independently. If nothing else, it may be very expensive in time and money to continually visit family!

I like the independence of dating and the importance of family and thoughtful decision-making of courtship. All of these were present in my pre-marriage relationship with my husband. Maybe I need to just make a new term. Intentional dating, anyone? :-)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Dating and Courtship, Part III

In the fall of my sophomore year, I met a charming fellow at an inter-collegiate square dance. He took me out to dinner a month later, then moved out of state. I guess dinner was worse than I thought. :-) Since he was out of state and we hardly knew each other, we didn't pursue any kind of relationship beyond friendship. In fact, you may recall I was dating someone else at the end of sophomore year.

Although the hero of today's story was clear that he was not looking to date me, he was also quite clear that things would have gone much differently if he had remained at a local college. Over the course of a year, our friendship grew and deepened into a most unique relationship. We were best friends, confidants, sources of mutual encouragement, and debate partners, as we sat at opposite ends of the political spectrum and lived out our Christianity in very different ways.

This was the time when AIM ruled supreme as the form of Internet communication. We messaged at least a few times a week and, by fall of junior year, eventually began to have regular phone calls as well. About this time, we started to wonder if maybe we were being called into marriage.

What? says the reader Did I miss something?

This, I guess, is the way of courtship. We began as friends and the friendship was changing, becoming a central relationship in our lives. So we began to pray. We continued to talk as often as we could and started many conversations with, "Hear anything from God yet?" We made plans for him to join my family for Thanksgiving, which would be the third time I would actually see him face-to-face. If we hadn't heard otherwise by that point, he would ask my Dad for permission to formally court me with the intention to marry.

We did hear otherwise. Both of us individually were given a glimpse into our future together, a future in which my Catholic faith and his Protestant faith would constantly put us at odds and leave us both unhappy. By this point, the tickets were bought, though, so he came anyway. The weekend was wonderful, time spent with a cherished friend who I knew without a doubt treasured me as well.

We also attended a family friend's wedding that weekend.
My friend Elissa as a lovely bridesmaid!

I haven't seen him since he got on the plane to go home. Our friendship slowly became more casual again and ultimately faded into annual Christmas cards and the occasional email. We are both now happily married and so grateful that God had chosen us for our spouses rather than for each other.

This relationship ended as it had begun, with mutual respect and, over all, a desire to do God's will. I attribute this in part to its goal being courtship instead of dating, but I'm not sure it is that simple. If my dating relationships had been so God-centered and thoughtful, instead of beginning with "just" mutual admiration, perhaps they too would have ended without pain.

Final installment tomorrow: My concerns about traditional courtship

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dating and Courtship, Part II

In sophomore year of college, I dated a friend for a few months whom I met in class as a freshman. We visited each other's families, hung out with friends, and also spent quite a bit of time alone together. He and I are still friends and our mutual friends read this blog. With that in mind, I'll summarize this relationship by saying that again it was my choice to end it, but this time he was the one left feeling that he had put in much more than had been returned.

There are significant differences between my two relationships, mostly due to the difference in age. As high school students, we naturally spent time in large groups of friends and at someone's home where the parents were present. We spent time with each others' families and were rarely alone together. In college, we spent much more time with just the two of us. We talked a lot and had more than a kiss while watching Veggie Tales with friends.

Looking at both of my dating relationships, I understand the critique of the conventional dating scene. Dating can mean widely different things to the two involved in the relationship. It does not require a declaration of intentions, which can result in misunderstandings. My dating relationships ended with one person feeling hurt. If those dating learned something from the experience, the lesson was painful. My third relationship followed a courtship model and ended with neither of us feeling hurt. But I'm not sure if courtship is the reason it worked. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dating and Courtship, Part I

Aside from my husband, I have been in three significant relationships. I guess four if you count the one with the guy I now refer to as "Creepy [Name]" but I prefer not to count a relationship that lasted about a month, was engendered mostly by boredom on my part, and ended because he was becoming abusive.

My first "true love" was in high school. He was a year older than I and we ran track together. I had a crush on him for most of my sophomore year. Towards the end of the school year, we went to an amusement park with friends and he asked me to be his girlfriend while riding the Ferris wheel. Can you get much more stereotypical high school romance than that? :-) Our first (and I think only) kiss was while watching a Veggie Tales movie with friends. We dated for about three months and then I didn't want to anymore. I still liked him, but I felt pressured by our peers to always know what he was doing, what he liked, how he felt about something. I didn't like the expectation by others that we would always spend our free time together. I wrestled with this (while he waited more patiently than any 17 year old guy should have to) and ultimately decided I wanted to break up. So we did. And within a couple weeks, I was very unhappy. We remained friends; in fact, he went with me to my junior prom. But he moved on and dated another girl and I... was just unhappy.

He came back to visit the team the following year, when I was a senior. I don't think we exchanged more than a polite hello. After that first visit, we barely had any contact with each other. Aside from letting him know his email had been hacked, we haven't communicated in years.

When spring comes, I often think of him and the fun we had with our team mates. Certain songs trigger memories of singing along on the bus or in the car. I remember getting lost on the way to the beach (which is a major accomplishment, considering we live on one of the Great Lakes). But all these memories are tinged with a bit of sadness because I don't know if he remembers, too.

I think it hurts because he meant so much to me and I don't know if it was mutual. Our friendship ended somewhat abruptly. Those who oppose dating would say that I gave a piece of my heart and never got it back again. To me, that makes me sound like a tragic heroine in some Harlequin romance novel. I don't think dating made me less able to love my husband, but it did leave me with some regrets. Does that make dating a bad thing?

More coming the rest of this week: dating in college, my courtship experience, and my concerns about both models.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Live Simply, Live Green

My Aunt Monica has recently sent me some great tips on recycling and eco-friendly cleaning. Enjoy!

  1. Styrofoam packing pellets can be bagged and given to UPS
  2. Metal hangers can be returned to several dry cleaners
  3. Recycle frying oil by straining it through a coffee filter
  4. Use a 50/50 vinegar & water solution spray to discourage ants (they hate vinegar)
  5. The same spray can be used as an air freshener!
  6. Use baking soda to clean marble, silver, copper, brass, carpets, drains, and more
  7. Salt is more abrasive than baking soda and can be used to scour mugs and other tough surfaces
  8. Prevent mold on cheese by wrapping it in a saltwater-moistened cloth before refrigerating
  9. A coffee filter at the bottom of a potted plant prevents the dirt from escaping
  10. Coffee filters are also useful as a sewing backing when embroidering a soft fabric
A totally unrelated but amusing picture of Peter with Johnny Depp hair

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Peter Columbus

Peter has recently become braver and has started exploring new territory. This has led to a fair number of scrapes and bruises, but no significant injuries. Some explorations are harmless, like figuring out how a zipper works and discovering his belly button.

Other explorations, while causing no harm to Peter, have been fatal for other living things in our home.

Oh well, it was only a matter of time before the plant died of neglect anyway and the rose was already wilting. At least he had fun.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Who is my neighbor?

"Friends and loved ones" is a common phrase that recently struck me as odd. It's strange to me because I suspect most people love their friends. I certainly love mine. This is not the same love I have for my brothers, parents, or husband, but my love for each of those is distinct also. I don't understand why friends are considered to be outside of the loved ones group.

Peter and his friend Sam with their moms

If I were to list individually all those whom I love, this would be a very long and boring post. Making sweeping generalities, then, I will define my loved ones as my husband, biological family, in-laws, those who have married in to both of these families, husband's friends who have become my own, the handful of close friends I have made in the past 15 years or so (plus Elissa), and "my" kids from church.

Two interesting points about that list: 1) it includes a broad group of young people I only met a few months ago and 2) it is exclusive. Allow me to address these.

1. I have heard that some priests are given the gift of immediately forgetting what they hear in the confessional. This grace from God allows them to fulfill their vocation as God wishes without being distracted by the human tendency to cast judgement on others. Isn't it wonderful how God equips us to do the works He has planned for us? In a similar (if less impressive) way, God has truly given me a heart for children. The young people assigned to my care capture my heart almost immediately. I have received the grace to see them as children of God and the willingness to serve them to the best of my ability. I have made the choice to love them and Love has come to abide in me.

2. As wonderful as it is that I can love those I am called to serve, it is not enough. We are called to love not just our friends, or even our neighbors, but our enemies as well. I can't think of any particular enemies I have, but there are many people whom I don't like. "That's fine," you say, "we don't have to like everyone!" True, but we do have to love them. And I don't do that either. I gossip, I joke about their annoying habits, I silently tell them to "shut up" while trying to keep at least a neutral expression on my face. The love that comes so freely for "my" kids stops short of including adults.

God is Love and all who live in God, live in love. If I do not love those around me, it is because I choose not to, as certainly as I choose to love "my" kids. The fault, dear friends, lies not in our God but in ourselves.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

100 Things for which I am Thankful

Many thanks to Amanda Metro for issuing the challenge to list 100 things for which we are thankful.

1. Central heat
2. Chocolate chip cookies
3. The smell of coffee
4. Peter's giggles
5. Wind
6. The scent of hot pavement after rain

 7. Shoes that fit
8. A pet-free home
9. Lynn Kurland
10. Clean sheets
11. Nursing my son
12. Running
13. Washing machine
14. My health
15. Cinnamon graham crackers
16. Silence

17. Incense at Mass
18. Cloth diapers
19. My husband having a job
20. Health insurance
21. Baking
22. Our piano
23. The ability to feed anyone who visits us
24. Snow
25. Swimming

26. Hot showers
27. Big sweatshirts
28. Advice and laughter from Karra
29. Honest conversations
30. My marriage covenant
31. New notebooks
32. Photographs
33. Fresh bread
34. Ireland (yep. all of it.)
35. My anam cara
36. Singing
Pinocchio in the 6th grade talent show

37. Laughter during Sunday school
38. Public libraries
39. Chocolate ice cream with peanut butter cups
40. Radio
41. Clean laundry
42. Going to Taco Bell with my best friend

Don't know why people confused us in high school

43. Erie Canal path
44. Digital cameras
45. The Praising Aardvarks just being themselves
46. Tea with cream and sugar
47. Chocolate fudge
48. Peter's friends Lucy and Sammy
49. Birthstone earrings
50. Tiny footprints
51. Cuddling
52. Chocolate milk
53. Eucharist

54. Fleece blankets
55. Rain on a car roof
56. Horseback riding
57. Gina Jennison
58. Saying Gina Jennison's alliterative name
59. Aquinas Institute
60. My childhood

61. Chocolate brownie mix
62. Scrapbooks
63. Cinnamon Toast Crunch
64. Camping in a tent
65. Soccer

66. Baseball caps
67. Poetry
68. Cornell hockey games
69. Manhattan

Central Park

70. Hand-written notes
71. Summer's Best Two Weeks
72. Freshly cut grass
73. Grandma's hope chest
74. Clean water
75. Hot chocolate
76. Playing in ocean waves off the Monterey Peninsula
77. Climbing mountains in the Adirondaks
78. The Grand Canyon
79. Niagara Falls
80. Feel-good, happy ending movies
81. Peter's swing on the front tree
82. Footed pajamas

83. Choral harmony
84. Wise words from my elders
85. Having a priest on speed dial
86. Sunsets
87. The Abbey of the Genesee
88. Lots and lots of cousins
My baby cousin Justin

89. Shooting stars
90. Lily of the valley
91. Square dancing
92. Marrying into a great family

93. Peter relaxing completely in my arms
94. Clear nights
95. Baby carriers
96. The love I received from both of my Grandpas

97. Homegrown raspberries
98. Reconciliation
99. Blogging friends
100. Dark chocolate