Friday, September 30, 2011

Where do you find community?

I am an introvert living on a suburban side street, penned in by two major crossroads. It would be absurdly easy to avoid community. Thankfully, I derive just enough pleasure from the company of people outside my family that I've made the effort. Currently, I have three major communities in which I belong, despite living a somewhat isolated life. (Plus you in the blogosphere, of course!)

1. Our church. People joining our church and, more humorously, long-time members assume my husband and I have been parishioners for at least five years. In fact, this month marked our third anniversary of registration. When we registered, though, we wanted to actually join, not just attend. Between the two of us, we have participated in RCIA, Sunday school, youth group, CYO basketball, Angel Care, pastoral council, and worship team. We perform in the annual talent show and attend presentations. Through these, we've met a LOT of people, many of whom are at least casual friends. It's not a close-knit community, but it is enjoyable, friendly, and supportive.

2. The daily Mass crew. I attend daily Mass sporadically at our church, but generally go every week with my mom on Wednesday or Friday at her parish. People recognize Peter and me and take time to say hello and ask about his latest milestones. On Wednesdays, a group of us frequently goes to a local diner for lunch, where the waitstaff know us, too!

3. Our neighbors. I am not sure if I ever would have made overtures to my neighbors, but we are bracketed by wonderful people who have been true neighbors to us.  On one side is a family with two boys, the older of whom just started babysitting Peter for 30 minutes/week. The boys love handing down their clothes and toys to Peter. The parents have been invaluable in providing advice on lawn care, gardening, and home improvements. On the other side is the self-proclaimed "Italian Scallion", one of the original residents of this area. He loves to visit and tell stories and take pictures of us.

Growing up in an active urban neighborhood, I defined community by geography. People who lived in the Browncroft neighborhood, whom I saw at the library, CVS, and church, were my community. In college, my community was comprised of those in the same extracurriculars as I. In grad school, it was my roommate, my fiance, and my 12 classmates. It's interesting to me how my experience of community has changed over time.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Homesteader Wannabe

I would love to hear recommendations from successful homesteaders about how to start slowly. What is a good project to tackle this fall?

I read articles and blogs with pictures of happy families eating their homemade dinners, wearing clothes sewed at home, and stocking their pantries with preserves they canned in their own kitchens. They own goats and chickens. They're healthy and environmentally friendly and have a sense of accomplishment at the end of a day.

I'm reluctant to go for it, though. We had a garden this summer that was mildly successful. We got at least a few vegetables from every plant and a bountiful harvest of tomatoes. The tomatoes are still coming, in fact. I know it is possible to can tomatoes. In fact, I have explicit instructions about how to do so in my Betty Crocker cookbook. They look hard.

I don't want to try homesteading because I'm afraid I will waste food by preparing it wrong. I worry that the day-to-day work will become boring and frustrating. I have no confidence in my ability to make anything functional with my hands. At heart, I'm pretty lazy.

On Monday, though, I made hummus for the first time. It tasted good, even if it was simultaneously lumpy and runny. On Tuesday, I made my first batch of applesauce for the season, which was a success. Tonight, I'm going to at least start a cross-stitching project that I'll be giving away for Christmas.

Does that count?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Autumn at the Playground

Sadly, the 30 minute oil change turned into a two hour car repair. On the plus side, we had a lot of fun at the nearby playground! He looks so much like a toddler in these pictures...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

But not in a creepy way

Youth group tonight was great. I have an excellent group of seventh graders who seemed to have fun and understand the point of the lesson.

What's not to love?

I also set up my Sunday school room, since our first class (finally!) will be this Sunday. I've enjoyed connecting with my students in the past and anticipate another fun year.

I find working with youth to be rewarding. I enjoy listening to them and spending time with them. I'm excited about the opportunity to share my faith, because I really believe it and I want them to know the same joy I have.

Tonight, we closed in prayer by listening to a song. I sat there among more than 50 middle school students, with their own stories, needs, heartaches and goals. I looked at my little group of eight kids and at all the other groups around us. I thought, "I love these kids." And I know I'm not the only one.

But I can't tell them that. Because there's no way to say to a child or teenager, "I love you, but not in a creepy way," without sounding creepy. So if there are any kids or teens reading this, or adults who felt unloved as a younger person, know that someone loves you. They just can't say it without sounding creepy.

Monday, September 26, 2011

This is what you do all day?

When I was in graduate school and then doing social work, the topic of stay-at-home moms came up fairly frequently.  Everyone repeated to each other that they, too, hoped to stay home with their children some day. Stay-at-home moms were like Peace Corps workers; they could do no wrong.

One of my mothering heroes with her family in 2008.
(Baby #5, Emma, just arrived on Saturday!)

In April of this year, I became a full-time stay-at-home mom (or SAHM, if you will). Now when I meet new people and everyone says what they do (because that's how we define ourselves in these United States), I say, "I take care of Peter." An awkward silence falls.

When people say their career, it opens another avenue of safe small talk. What do you do there? Do you know this person/company? How has the recession affected you?

When I define myself as Peter's mom, no one knows what to say. Some people flounder, then change the topic. Some quickly suppress looks of annoyance/disgust (really?!) and turn to another speaker in the group, essentially ignoring that I spoke. Some try to continue the conversation, but it's as if every answer brings them farther away from their comfort zone until they subside with a confused, "Oh."

"So when are you going back to work?"
"I'm not sure. Certainly not for a long time."
"Once he's school age?"
"Well, we might homeschool for at least a few years, so probably not."
"But by the time he's about ten, right?"
"Maybe. But we also don't know how many more children we'll be having, so it could be another 20 years or so!"

One of my friends, talking with me while watching me play with Peter, actually said, "This is what you do all day?" Um, yes. I take care of my son. See, I'm his mom. We like each other and have fun together.

I wish I could always find this funny, but I must admit to just being frustrated sometimes. What happened to all the cheer-leading for moms deciding to stay home? Why are "homemakers" cool in the abstract and unfathomable in reality?

Why can't you talk to me unless I earn a paycheck?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Live Simply, Live Green

This month's five ways to make our planet and ourselves happier.

Remove paper labels from cans and bottles before recycling so the paper can be recycled, too. Do your part to save one million trees!

When shipping items, use the U.S. Postal Service. Their trucks will be going to your destination with or without a package, while other shipping companies will make an extra trip, emitting more carbon.

Line dry your clothes year-round. If you have space, give this a try. We have lines strung across our basement, which I have pledged to use this winter. Clothes take longer to dry, requiring me to plan ahead a bit, but I think it's worth it!

I use the hangers my bras came on to hold nursing pads.

Check your monitor's brightness. Dimming your display brightness will save energy and may be a bit softer on your eyes, too. Using a dark desktop image/phone background has a similar effect.

Reuse gift bags and tissue paper. We always smooth out the tissue paper and refold any gift bags we use at Christmas and birthdays. Most tissue paper is going to be bunched up again anyway, so why not reuse it? Even better than recycling and a money saver, too!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Prayer Over A Child Not Asleep

O God.

I am exhausted by this little one entrusted to my care. I don't understand how he is still awake, hours and hours after we all should be asleep.

I praise you, God, because we are fearfully and wonderfully made. But it is hard to see the glory of creation when I am being pinched by tiny fingers and sore from a little mouth that wants to comfort nurse again and again.

Please, Father, please let him sleep. Calm his racing mind and still his active body.

Help me, God. What does he need? He is dry, and fed, and warm, and I am here to hold him. But still he fidgets and pushes against me and cries. He cannot get comfortable; neither can I.

I want to be to him the parent you are to me, patient, loving, forgiving, kind, gentle. Help me to see him with your eyes. Give me grace to respond with love, over and over again.

I know he doesn't understand how much I want to sleep. I know his teeth hurt and he is as bewildered as I about why we are eating cereal at four in the morning. I know he wants me to be with him. But this is so hard and I don't feel able to care for him right now.

As a watchman waits for the dawn, so I long for You. May we both find sleep before dawn. Please.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pee-Pee Teepee Review

Shortly after Peter was born, my husband's aunt sent us some baby gifts. Among these, bought purely to entertain, was a pack of five Pee-Pee Teepees. Thankfully, she just wanted to amuse us so we didn't have to pretend that these were actually useful.

They are funny, in a toilet humor sort of way.
They come in a variety of patterns.
They can be ordered in a flannel "laundry" bag instead of cellophane wrapping.
They are washable and reusable.

They don't work.

I mean, that's the only downside, but it's a big one. The idea is that you perch this little terrycloth cone over your son's penis during a diaper change to avoid any misfires. If you visit the company's website, you'll see a photo of a little boy lying quite calmly and well-covered. I don't know about your sons, but the only time Peter lay motionless during a diaper change was when he was asleep.

Hooray! Diaper changes!

As soon as the baby kicks or wriggles, off goes the teepee.

Then you have to dive after the teepee, while holding one hand on the wriggly baby. Pee-pee teepees being rather round in shape, they have a tendency to roll. So you balance on one leg, stretching the other as far as you can to try to herd the teepee back toward you using your toe. During this entire procedure, you are at the whim of your son, who is free as a bird because you didn't bring anything to cover him, trusting in your pee-pee teepee. It's just not good.

Bottom line: If you like entertainment, buy them! You'll amuse the recipient upon opening the gift and amuse yourself while you watch your friend/relative try to actually use one.

Not surprisingly, my opinions are my own. I have not received any reimbursement from Beba Bean.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Socks, Greentopia, and Goats

The Sock Give of 2011 is off to a good start. We've had a $20 cash donation (equivalent to 16 pairs of socks) from Canastota, NY and a shipment of 22 pairs of socks from The Colony, TX. We're more than 12% of the way to our goal!  Please continue to spread the word and share the socks!

My husband and I volunteered at Greentopia this past weekend. I enjoyed the opportunity to spread awareness of green living, meet interesting people, and learn more about local vendors who are working to keep our planet healthy. Peter enjoyed helping us choose what to buy, looking at cars, playing with rocks and drinking from a real cup with his Papa.

Test-driving a fuel-efficient Ford Fiesta.

The city plans on landscaping this entire bridge as a "raised park."

We took Peter to our local humane society, which has a free petting area. He seemed to enjoy petting the goats and seeing other farm animals. We also looked at the dogs, but they were a little scary when they barked! (For anyone who read Monday's post, we decided not to get a dog. We'll probably increase our grocery budget slightly and dedicate the rest to building up our emergency fund.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Want to Be Perfect

  1. I want to bring no new plastic into our home.
  2. I want to buy only organic food and have a variety of healthy meals every week.
  3. I want to be an awesome Sunday school teacher and youth group leader.
  4. I want to always respond with compassion and patience to Peter's needs.
  5. I want to write compelling blog entries six days a week.
  6. I want to lovingly support my husband and reduce stress in his life.
  7. I want to make homemade gifts (that people will actually like) out of things in my house.
  8. I want to finish the book I'm writing.
  9. I want to go beyond my comfort zone and learn new things.
  10. I want to give more time to my friends instead of fluffy Facebook interactions.
I am feeling a bit discouraged because I'm not accomplishing all of those things. They're all good things. They all seem possible. But so many times when evening comes and Peter is in bed, I just want to read status updates and eat chocolate. I guess this is why my blog is called Working to be Worthy instead of Already Perfect.

College, when I had time and my friends lived within 1 mile of me.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What Would You Do With $150?

After selling our car and paying off the last of our non-mortgage debt, we have about $250/month not yet allocated in our budget. We want to put at least $100/month toward increasing our "emergency fund," but it's tempting to use the rest for something more fun.

  • Buy a dog. We took Peter to the petting area on Sunday and met Tippy. We're going again tomorrow morning to play with her.
  • Host an exchange student. My quest to learn German has fizzled somewhat. Hosting a German exchange student would be a great way to learn the language!
  • Enroll Peter in activities. Gymnastics, swimming, music -- you name it, it's available for toddlers. I'm sure it would be enriching and would force me to meet new people.
  • YMCA membership.
  • Buy better food. A larger variety of organic good, more local produce. The planet would thank us. Peter probably would, too.
  • Travel more. Not that my husband has oodles of vacation time (actually, no holidays and only 5 paid vacation days per year), but we could go places on weekends. See cool stuff. Visit Jazzy Mama. (We love Canada.)
Look! I even have a t-shirt!
  • Experience The Arts. We don't really go to museums or concerts, largely (at least on my part) because I don't want to spend a large chunk of my $30/month entertainment budget on something I don't find particularly entertaining. :-)
  • Eat more Chipotle. They're organic, close to our house, and delicious.

What do you think?

There is also a small part of me saying, "If you're not going to use this money to make yourself less financially vulnerable, why don't you donate it? Clearly you don't need it." We give 10% of our pre-tax income, but we also live in a country that is exceedingly wealthy by the standards of much of the rest of the world. $150/month, which is just a bit less than what we spend in gas each month, could make a huge difference for people in need. Tough decisions.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sock Give of 2011

Everyone loves a giveaway. How about just a give?

My mom volunteers twice a week at a clothing ministry (Matthew's Closet) in downtown Rochester, NY. It is a thrift store open to the public, but people with a referral (from a pastor, doctor, social worker, teacher -- anyone who can vouch for financial hardship) can come and pick out clothes once a month for themselves and their families.

Matthew's Closet is run primarily by volunteers and relies on donations of used clothing, household items, and money to continue to serve the urban poor. Usually, they have a steady supply of used clothing. However, there are some items that they give out new and are available only to referrals: socks and underwear.

Winter is approaching and Matthew's Closet is already almost out of socks. Will you help?

Mail me new socks.

Men's, women's and children's socks of all sizes! Fuzzy socks, dress socks, knee socks, wool socks. Any socks!

My goal is 306 pairs of socks. That is two pair from every email subscriber, GFC follower, and Facebook fan. (I realize some of you follow me in multiple ways. Guess you need to buy more socks!) :-D

a pile of socks
Image credit: Flickr

I am reluctant to put my address up here, but my mom has graciously agreed that I can publish hers. So, mail your new socks to:

Liana's Mom
207 Elmcroft Rd.
Rochester, NY 14609

I will tally the socks as they come in and let you know how close we are to our goal. Maybe those of you with Facebook and blogs of your own can spread the word. Let's get warm socks on every person who needs them! Will the Sock Give of 2011 go viral? Who knows?

Knock my socks off!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Why Abstinence-Only Sex Education Fails

American Catholicism frustrates me. Regardless of whom is to blame (clergy, "Christmas & Easter" Catholics, cafeteria Catholics, overzealous Catholics - like me?), the result is a nation of lukewarm Catholics who do not follow Church teachings.

A hot-button issue for me is sexuality. The Church teaches that expressing our sexuality through intercourse happens only within the sacrament of marriage (which by definition is between one man and one woman) and is open to the conception of life (not constrained by contraception).

Unfortunately, that's about all it teaches: Don't have premarital sex. Don't engage in homosexual behavior. Don't use condoms. It's not surprising that as teenagers (and adults) hear, "No, no, no!" they want to say, "Yes, yes, yes!"

Somewhere, all the positive teaching got lost. [That link is also me, in my pre-Blogger life.]

I love moments of physical intimacy with my husband, even if it's not a stellar day for us. Sure, it feels good, but it's so much more than that. It's mutual surrender to the other, emotional communion, and a renewal of the covenant we made before God and our community 3+ years ago.

Our commitment to each other models God's faithfulness to his people. Time and again he calls Israel his beloved and the church his bride. In a very real way, our families are the first churches our children experience.

Making love is sacred.

Its sacredness comes from God. We were made in God's image and designed, male and female, to complement each other. He chose us above all creation to be stewards of the earth and to share in his creative power. We don't just have sex and produce a bundle of cells. We create a human being who, at the moment of conception, has an immortal soul.

Wow! Those who are called to marriage are called one to another to share the precious gift of nurturing this soul and leading it to know and love its Creator. As parents, we are poor reflections of the incredible love God has for us, but we are reflections all the same. We have a holy calling to raise our children.

The beauty, the glory of sexual intercourse is freedom. Freedom to be uniquely me, as I was created, without fear or shame, and then to offer my very self to the one I trust and love as I do no other. Freedom to accept his gift in return, a gift he has offered to no one but me. And then, the freedom of surrendering all that we are back to the One who is Love, confident that he will bless us with love, bless us abundantly.

This Love takes the gift that we offer and maybe, just maybe, uses it to shape a new person, one who will teach us even more about love. To withhold our love from Love itself is unthinkable.

Why isn't this taught in high school?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Do You Have Sex? Eat Folate!

Babies, parenting, crazy Christians, sex, and how Christians are bad at talking about sex. Budgeting, baking versus cooking, and how your spouse resembles your siblings. Thinking your pregnant and being completely wrong. These are topics my friend Laura and I covered today. Turns out she had mono rather than malnutrition, but the experiences were similar!

My siblings and I with our significant others.
Does your spouse have common traits with your siblings?

The possibility of an unplanned pregnancy exists for any woman of childbearing age who has sex. Regardless of whether or not you intend to get pregnant, it can happen. With this in mind, I would like to extol the virtues of folate, whose synthetic secret identity is folic acid.

Folate is a B vitamin important for production of new cells. It is used to build DNA and RNA. It is necessary to produce red blood cells and prevent anemia. In short, it is essential for unborn babies. Unfortunately, babies' need for folate is highest during the first month of pregnancy, before most mothers know they are pregnant.

Summary: If you're having sex, eat folate.

A folate deficiency can cause anemia in you and low birth weight, premature birth, and neural tube defects in your baby. Any sexually active woman of child-bearing age should have at least 400μg of folate/240μg of folic acid daily. During pregnancy, this increases to 600μg of folate/360μg of folic acid. Breastfeeding moms should have 500μg of folate/300μg of folic acid. (Folic acid, although synthetic, is easier to absorb, so recommended daily intake is lower.)

Personally, I take a prenatal vitamin supplement. Many cereals and grains are enriched with folic acid and may provide the full 400μg in one serving. Read food labels! However, many people prefer to avoid synthetic vitamins. With this in mind, I offer you the following list of foods naturally high in folate.
  1. Calf liver, 3 oz, 645μg
  2. Lentils, 1/2 cup cooked, 179μg
  3. Pinto beans, 1/2 cup cooked, 147μg
  4. Garbanzo beans / chickpeas, 1/2 cup cooked, 141μg
  5. Spinach, 1/2 cup boiled, 131μg
  6. Asparagus, 1/2 cup boiled, 131μg
  7. Black beans, 1/2 cup cooked, 128μg
  8. Navy beans, 1/2 cup cooked, 127μg
  9. Kidney beans, 1/2 cup cooked, 115μg
  10. Collard greens, 1/2 cup cooked, 88μg
  11. Turnip greens, 1/2 cup cooked, 85μg
  12. Romaine lettuce, 1 cup, 76μg
  13. Beets, 1/2 cup boiled, 68μg
  14. Split peas, 1/2 cup cooked, 64μg
  15. Green peas, 1/2 cup, 60μg
Eat folate, save a life.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Driving, Kisses, and Cuddles

Doing a quick head-check before merging left, while using a the proper hand signal.

I see you, Mommy!

Love you too, little one.

As seen through the crack in the door :-)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Eating Dinner as a Family

This week is Crazy Week at our house. One or both of us has something scheduled every night of the week, making it difficult to a) eat dinner together and b) keep Peter on a sleep routine. For the record, his average time to fall asleep this week so far is 40 minutes, which is higher than I want it to be, but getting better!

Eating dinner together is important to us. In my ideal world, this would be a leisurely affair filled with intellectual conversation, but life doesn't always cooperate. Tonight, for example, we ate in about 5 minutes and mainly discussed when to put Peter to bed. Still, we ate together. Being able to do so requires some flexibility.

1. I made dinner. I rarely make dinner, since I don't like cooking and my husband does. However, to give him some time to play with Peter, I cooked. I burned it. Sigh.

2. We changed routine. I set the table while the quesadillas were frying so my husband could have maximum time with his son and not have to do dinner prep. We also skipped reading Peter a Bible story, which we usually do at the beginning of dinner.

3. We left dishes on the table. Usually we clear the table together, rinse the dishes, and wipe down Peter's high chair. Tonight, everything was left on the table until after my husband left and I had some time to get back to it.

4. I didn't heat my vegetables. OK, this has nothing to do with the time crunch. I'm mostly including this to amuse my husband. I often eat canned vegetables and almost never heat them because I think the slight improvement in taste isn't worth the time it takes to put them in the microwave. :-)

My event this evening was attending the first meeting of the junior high youth group, which was an ice cream social. I'm going to be a team leader. I told my husband I felt like I was in middle school again. Everyone knew each other already and I didn't want to seem weird and ask to sit with an existing group. "You're a youth group leader. It's your job to be weird." Thanks, dear! :-)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Craving Control

I love schedules. I have calendars and notebooks and to do lists in various places around our house so I can feel organized and in control. Generally speaking, it works. I know where things are, where we're going, and what needs to get done.

Today, not so much.

I ordered an item from eBay, which arrived on Friday. Unfortunately, it did not arrive here. It arrived at my husband's old apartment in Buffalo, where he lived five years ago, because I didn't check the shipping address when I paid. This morning I called the post office, who were friendly and polite but could only confirm that they had delivered it. Then my husband called the apartment office. They were neither friendly nor polite and said they absolutely would NOT try to call the tenant.

This afternoon, I got an email from our pastoral associate at church. Good news: We have a faith formation coordinator! Bad news: Classes (scheduled to start this Sunday) will be delayed a few weeks to give her time to learn the system. I, being the control-freak that I am, already had my curriculum set and the outlines of my lesson plans planned around the liturgical seasons. Now everything needs to be adjusted and I still don't know the new start date.

Peter decided today that he did not like my new go-to-sleep plan. Or rather, that he liked it but he would still like an hour to fall asleep for each nap and at bedtime.

So at 7:00 tonight, I had a lost package, a curriculum in need of an overhaul, and a drowsy little boy who wouldn't go to sleep, even though Mommy had scheduled 7:00 as sleep time. What a frustrated Mommy.

Tentatively, I said a prayer of surrender. Those prayers are scary. I cannot truthfully pray that I do surrender, but rather that I want to surrender. I want to place my cares in His hands.

Can't stay frustrated with a boy this cute!

Now, an hour later, I have a blissfully sleeping son. Also, my cousin called to say she was able to stop by the apartment, pick up my package, and will mail it to me on Wednesday. Hooray!

God is good.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A New Sleep Strategy

It has become increasingly difficult to get Peter to sleep. He hates sleep. We have a consistent bedtime routine and generally put him down for the night at the same time, but it's not unusual for me to spend an hour with him before he falls asleep.

So tonight I developed a new plan. Rather than limiting his nursing time (which I did in an effort to limit the time spent on the entire ordeal), he can nurse for as long as he wants. He can even nurse to sleep, if that suits his fancy. But when he is done nursing, I will lay him back on his mattress and leave the room. If he cries, I'll go back in and nurse again, but those are his two options: nurse or sleep.
This is him fooling me.
"Look how tired I am, Mommy. But I will not sleep for the next 85 minutes! Haha!"

Tonight, after only two attempts to pick a third choice (let's play, Mommy!), he opted to nurse himself almost to sleep and then drift off on his own. Granted, this still took an hour, but there were no tears -- from him or me. ;-)

I think this will work. When he wakes to nurse at night, he nurses until he's drowsy and falls asleep on his own, so it's definitely something he feels comfortable doing. Once he has figured out this is the new routine, I am hopeful that he will spend about 20 minutes nursing (like he does at night) and then sleep. This would be awesome.

This plan also addresses my concern that he's waking overnight from hunger. I'm not sure exactly how much a breastfed toddler should be eating during the day, but it's probably more than he usually eats. (The nutrition guidelines I have are for toddlers who are weaned.)

Today, for example, he ate 2 tbsp yogurt, 1/4c chopped pear, 1/2 slice of bread, 2 tbsp cucumber, 2oz ground beef, and 1/2oz cheese. On the plus side, it's a balanced diet, but it's less than a cup of food throughout the entire day. Hooray for breast milk!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Grace under Pressure

Tragedy brings out the best in some people and the worst in others. I still struggle to forgive some people, notably the "journalist" who published an article years after my Grandpa's death, revisiting the graphic details simply because my uncle was granted more freedoms within the psychiatric center where he resided for care.

But there are heroes of this story.

My religion teacher, Miss Fehrenbach, who scolded my class for staring at me when I came in ("She's the same girl as yesterday, regardless of what you saw on the news, so let her be in peace and do your work.") and who came to the calling hours after chaperoning the school dance, apologizing for being in jeans.

The police officer who arrested my uncle, a former teammate who had admired and respected my uncle as a fair, compassionate upperclassman on the soccer team. The officer took the time to be kind and to explain what he could to my mom.

Kelly and Megan, my best friends from elementary school, who came to the funeral Mass even though we were only twelve and I'm sure it was uncomfortable for them.

The retreat leader, two years later, who brought me peace. She couldn't have imagined when she volunteered to help at a high school diocesan retreat that she would become the counselor to a girl who desperately needed healing. I wish I had found out her name. She was so accepting -- of me, of my story, of my tears. I hope some day she will know what a difference she made.

Ordinary people, just trying to be decent human beings. In tragedy, these people make all the difference. I hope I can go and do likewise.

C is for Candle
She had grape candles, which now always make me smile inside.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Human Interest Stories

As I referenced in my poem about my Grandpa's death, the local news picked up the story. I'm fairly certain it was on the evening news that night; at the very least it was front page of the local section the next morning. By the time I got to school, everyone knew. Or rather, everyone thought they knew.

They knew the details of the attack. If they read the whole article, they knew that my Grandpa had led a productive life by societal standards. They knew that my uncle had been arrested after being found in his room.

They didn't know my Grandpa, the gentle, open-minded man who kept a jar of candy for his grand-kids and could recite more than two dozen poems. They didn't know my uncle, the creative man who told fantastic stories and kept a huge aquarium of fish in the basement. They didn't know my mom, who kept herself together to do what she could to protect her son and her little brother from horror. They just didn't know.

My mom, now with a grandchild of her own.

I understand that the rest of those details aren't news. But they are important, and without them the story seems so skewed as to be false. The story of the mentally ill man who killed his elderly father, a retired dean of the local college, wasn't my story at all. It was sensational, with graphic details, but it wasn't real.

I gained a better understanding of news media. They tell what sells, not necessarily what is important. Now when I read headlines of shootings and fires, I wonder about the families involved, both of the victims and the perpetrators. I have learned compassion, which is another gift from my Grandpa. I know it's something he would want me to keep.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

At the Playground

So much fun to see Peter's friend L again! We have high hopes that they will be good friends as they get older.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Failure of the Mental Health System

My Grandpa was a martyr in his own way. In the weeks before he died, he spent time getting his affairs in order, although he assured my mom he was not moving into assisted living. It was just time, he said. In retrospect, it seems he knew his time was at hand and, although he certainly didn't know how, he probably suspected by whom.

Grandpa did not live alone. He shared his home with his youngest son, who was (and is) a paranoid schizophrenic. Our family knew my uncle was a time bomb, as he had been violent in the past, and had tried different strategies over the years to get him into treatment. He is a funny, compassionate man with his illness controlled. However, when he responded to his medication, his doctor told him he was well and no longer needed it. There was nothing we could do to ensure he was kept in treatment.
"Love always, now and then a special hug & kiss. Grandpa"

My Grandpa's death was not a waste. He knew my uncle could be dangerous, but did not want to abandon his son. He took a calculated risk. In some ways, it paid off. His death was the event that finally committed my uncle to a lifetime of supervised psychiatric treatment.

The tragedy is that The System is so broken that this is what it took. The tragedy is the lives of so many others who are mentally ill and those of their families are lived in fear and anguish. My uncle never faced charges, being found incompetent to stand trial, but he shouldn't have been the only one held culpable. The mental health system and society as a whole have failed to provide enough support.

People who know our family's story marvel that we were able to forgive my uncle. To me, there was nothing to forgive. He truly did not know what he was doing. I have no desire to see him punished and think knowing you killed your father is a terrible burden to bear without adding a judicial sentence. I struggle to forgive his doctor, though. The one who assured him he was fine and didn't need to continue regular treatment. I assume he advised what he thought was best, but he was wrong. The system is wrong. I don't know the best way to fix it, but the first step is realizing it is broken. I hope sharing my story spreads that message.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hard Questions

This is the beginning of the story. The story of grief, of journalism, of mental illness, of justice and mercy. I have debated for quite some time about how much or even whether to share this. I hope by sharing my story, I can raise awareness and give hope. This is a poem that has been six years in the making and nearly fifteen years living in my memory.

Grandpa's House

Hard Questions

My mom answered the phone
dropped me at our neighbor's house
and drove across town to her childhood home.
Something was wrong.

Later I learned everything.
My brother, raking their leaves in the front,
turned to continue in the back yard.
He knew, he told me, when he found him.
There was too much blood.

"Your Grandpa is dead," my neighbor wept.
"What do you want to do?"
I went to play in her leaves.

When my mom brought him home
my brother played piano
past my twelve-year-old bedtime.

Mom held me on her lap.
"Do you want to know what happened?"
But she told me
because the local news was carrying the story
and I had school in the morning
and someone would ask,
"Is it really true?"

She told me.
I got sick.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


I am reading...Why Go to Church?, which I borrowed from my Dad. I would rate it as good but not great. The writing style is pleasant but not particularly engaging. The subject matter is good, explaining why attending church is an important part of our spiritual growth and necessary to belong to the Body of Christ.

I am praying for... expectant and new mothers and their little ones. Two of my cousins had babies over the summer and another three are due before the end of the year. Add in my recent assumption that I was pregnant and I have babies on the brain. It has made praying the Joyful Mysteries that much more real to me. (On the topic of Rosaries, I recently found Momma's Heart Rosaries on Etsy. They are adorable. If they cost less, I would definitely buy some for my entire Sunday School class!)

My favorite seasonal food is... tomato and cucumber salad. I didn't know this was my favorite food until a friend suggested I make it for a potluck to use my abundance of tomatoes. It's ridiculously easy. Cut up cucumbers. Cut up tomatoes. Put fresh basil on top. Serve with Italian dressing. Delicious!

I am planning... an initial meeting for a faith-sharing group to be hosted in our home. My husband will be leading a Bible study for about ten of our friends. We haven't really decided what the format will be, as we want this group to be collaborative rather than the two of us dictating the experience. It will include prayer, Scripture, food, and fun. That's all that is definite so far.

I was recently surprised by... a great price on the bridesmaid dress I'll be wearing for my best friend's wedding in January. It was on sale at David's Bridal for $140, which is still a lot of money (more than four months of my entertainment budget). I decided to check on eBay, since I've sold a bridesmaid dress there, and found an unaltered dress - right size, right style - for $40! Hooray!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Right Symptoms, Wrong Problem

In the past month, I've been tired, had bouts of an upset stomach, and lost a little weight. Pregnant, right? (I lost weight with Peter in the first month.) Wrong, according to the pregnancy test I took on Sunday. I decided to watch what I was eating for two weeks and, if symptoms were still present, take another test. If it was also negative, I would visit the doctor.

By Tuesday evening, all was well.

The problem? I wasn't eating enough food! Since he began solids at 6 months, Peter has eaten what we eat. Exactly what we eat. Usually portions of my meal directly from my plate onto his high chair tray. Hm, yes, you see the problem now. As he's continued to grow, I've increased the amount of food I feed him, but neglected to increase my overall portion! He also still nurses frequently, so he's taking a good amount of calories from me there, too.

Feed me, Mommy!

I feel pretty silly for not noticing this, but it crept up so slowly! I was in the habit of napping when he napped from his early infancy. Now that he's gotten into a fairly regular pattern of two naps per day, I've been sleeping during his morning nap. It just didn't strike me as odd that I would want to nap even after getting eight hours of sleep overnight. It wasn't until I found myself sleeping during both naps that I thought something might be amiss. The upset stomach (which developed in the past few weeks) was often solved by a light snack, but that goes along with pregnancy symptoms, too.

This one is from when I actually was pregnant.

Tracking what food I was eating made my realize I wasn't eating much. After two days of full-sized adult meals, I was back on track and didn't take any naps! (Yesterday, I took two naps again, but that's because Peter has been gassy and very fussy overnight, resulting in about 5 hours of sleep for me. Any helpful hints?)