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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I spend FAR too much of my free time on Facebook. I don't play any games, but I skim through the blogs I follow, look at pictures of my family, and laugh at my cousin Paulo's status updates from Brazil. I would guess I spend a couple hours there over the course of a day.

Arguably, there are better (if less entertaining) things I could be doing with my time.

There are aspects of Facebook I dislike, for example, the inability to know if someone actually wants to connect with you. I have received friend requests from people who never interact with me, even if I post on their wall or send them a message. It appears they simply want to increase their "friends" list, not truly be friends.

About a month ago, I read through the entire list of friend suggestions Facebook provided. I sent message to probably twenty people (from a list of hundreds!), asking how life was treating them. I received no replies. I suspect that if I had sent a friend request, though, they would have accepted. Why do people add friends with whom they do not want a friendship?

For all its failings, though, Facebook has earned its place. It allows me to see pictures of my Goddaughters and share pictures of Peter with his adoring fans. Through Facebook, I have become closer friends with a few people who were simply acquaintances in college. I recently reconnected with my high school English teacher. He and his wife joined us for dinner last night. I suspect that never would have happened without Facebook.

My beautiful Goddaughters

What is your position on social networking sites?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Independent Children

Opponents of child-led weaning and co-sleeping often express concern that children will never learn to be independent. They need to be pushed outside their comfort zones and learn that parents make the rules. It's not healthy for children to be so dependent on their parents for a sense of security.

My mom co-slept with me when I was an infant (see this post for the difference between co-sleeping and bed-sharing). She recently noted that she doesn't remember how long she nursed me, so chances are good that it was at least a somewhat mutual decision to wean. I was certainly more than a year old.

When I began college, I was very homesick. I went to school about 45 minutes away and took the free shuttle bus home almost every weekend in the beginning. My mom got a fair amount of criticism for allowing me to come home. She maintained that when I was ready, I would decide on my own to be more independent. She didn't encourage my dependence on her and my dad, but neither would she force me to stay at school and be miserable.

When I was a junior in college, I decided to spend a semester in Galway, Ireland. I wanted to learn about a new culture and explore my ethnic heritage. I made the arrangements myself, including travel paperwork, credit transfers, registration, and housing. I was a little afraid that I would be homesick, but I knew it would be worth the risk. I was homesick, for about a week. After that, I loved it.

I lived in a "flat" with three Irish girls and integrated myself into a few different groups of students. I enjoyed myself so much, in fact, that I was reluctant to come home. I thought seriously about extending my stay or completing my coursework in the States and then returning to live in Ireland. My coming-of-age story happened during those five months, around my 21st birthday. I even took a weekend trip to Germany, knowing virtually none of the language. I learned about myself and my vocation. As my parents knew I would, I became an independent adult when I was ready and not a moment before.

My parents are wise. They gave each of their three children the support and freedom they needed to become independent adults. This looked different for each of us as infants, children, teens, and young adults, but the result was the same. We knew we had a safe place to land when we decided to take flight and, in our own time, each of us did. Isn't that what parents want for their children?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

In Need of a Chaperone

When I was in high school, I spent a night in a hotel with some acquaintances. Our parents had met each other briefly and, as far as I know, had no concerns about the adventure. After all, there were adults we knew and trusted staying in the hotel with us and a strict, enforced curfew.

It was not a good night.

I was the oldest by two years, being a senior. I suppose I should have spoken up, but I took the coward's way out and pretended I was asleep. While I feigned sleep, the other three girls phoned the boys' room and arranged a mutual peep show at their windows, which faced each other across the hotel courtyard. When that lost its appeal, they returned to the comfort of their beds and began girl talk.

I had quite a few sleep overs through middle and high school. When we stayed up late to talk, we talked about how our soccer team was doing, what we were going to read for our English class project, and whether that cute boy was just being polite or was actually interested is us. We were goofy and stayed up to watch Veggie Tales (yes, in high school) and eat junk food.

More sugar, anyone?

These girls, after the preliminaries of establishing age and whom they were dating, talked sex. I think the youngest was 12 and the oldest was 16. The general theme of the conversation was the oldest girl instructing the others, in great detail, how they could best pleasure their boy friends. She noted that she didn't have 'real sex' with her boy friend, but detailed just about everything up to that point.

The younger girls paid close attention and asked quite a few questions. At one point the youngest asked, "Are you going to get married when you graduate?" "Oh no," said the oldest, "he's fun to date, but I couldn't marry him. We don't have the same values, you know?"

This almost made me laugh, which surely would have ruined my guise of being asleep. See, we were there as part of a Catholic youth conference. I couldn't believe that she would talk about shared values while discussing what she did.

Why am I sharing this story now? Not to cast a bad light on the youth group leadership or the Church. They thought we were safely tucked away in a hotel room with an entire building between us and the boys. What could possibly happen?

In part, I share this to admit my guilt. I was the oldest and, although they didn't respect me, had I spoken out against what they were doing, I could have at least protected the younger ones from being misled. (They didn't respect me because I was not a "popular kid" and they were.) If they had decided to ignore me, I could have called one of the chaperones. But I didn't.

I am also sharing this as a cautionary tale for those who chaperone groups of kids. I am not sure if there is a good solution, since having one adult alone in a room of children is asking for accusations. Maybe the adults should emphasize that if anyone is feeling uncomfortable, there is no shame in calling an adult.

(One of the kids in youth group recently asked me to come watch the ping pong game he and some other boys were playing. I didn't know why he asked, but I agreed. As I stood and watched for a minute, one of his opponents looked up and defensively said, "What?!" A guilty conscience needs no accuser. The simple presence of an adult will make kids more responsible.)

Finally, I share this story as a warning for parents. Remember, the youngest girl was about 12. She was learning, at a church-sponsored event, that oral sex was not only acceptable, but desirable if you are to have a good relationship with a boy. I really hope she talked with her parents when she got home, as I did with mine.

If you do not teach values to your children, someone else will. Please talk openly with your kids about your expectations. Begin early and talk often.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Growing (Up) in Faith

I'm published! Check out the Growing (Up) in Faith tab for more details about the book and how you can buy it. Please spread the word if you know parents of young children. Thanks!

My editor and love of my life!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Freeze-dried Clothes

We haven't used our dryer since September 19th. Usually I keep an eye on the forecast to take advantage of sunny days. If we have a long stretch of rain, I hang the clothes or diapers in the basement and just budget a full day for them to dry. We had a lovely sunny, windy day today. A bit cold, but overall good weather for the clothesline. Except I may have left them a bit too late tonight.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Son, the Cat

Confession: I am a picture poacher. I visited my parents today and copied some pictures from their camera. For your viewing pleasure, some photographs of Peter from Halloween. It is possible that his costume was a clearance Old Navy snow suit from last year with a gray knee sock pinned to his rear end.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reluctantly Green

I wish I had no ecological conscience. I don't like paying more for organic food or washing out recyclable containers. I can't muster enthusiasm for petitions to save our resources. I occasionally click on The Rainforest Site, but only if I'm already there to click for Child Health.

So why do I try so hard to live green?

1. I care about children. I care about my own child and want to protect him from unnecessary chemicals, hormones, and other unsavory things that might influence his development. I also care about the current generation of children who depend on me to make choices that will allow them clean air to breathe, water to drink, and a planet capable of providing food for all of them.

2. I like saving money. Many of the eco-friendly choices we make are also budget friendly! I line-dry our laundry, keep the thermostat low, and take quick showers more because they save money than because they save resources. I am not bringing home a pay check, but by making some simple choices, I can help my husband's pay check go further.

3. It feels good. I admit it, I like to pat myself on the back. (Figuratively.) I don't get excited about making green choices, but when I do it, it's fun to know I am making a difference. Also, being eco-friendly grants me membership to the online community of people who have all kinds of awesome ideas of how to save resources. I like those people. :-)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Creating Expectations

Peter has a book of illustrated Bible verses, one for each letter of the alphabet. The sixth one is, "Fear not, for I am with thee" (Isaiah 43:5). Good verse for kids, right? The picture, though, is of a little boy at a doctor's office. The doctor is smiling kindly and using his stethoscope while the boy tucks his chin and looks unhappy.

By saying, "Fear not!" the verse implies that there is a reason to be afraid. Not a glowing endorsement of pediatric care! It reminds me of advice I read for preparing children for their first visit to the dentist. Don't tell them, "Don't worry, it won't hurt," because that only serves to plant the idea that it will hurt. Phrasing is important.

On Saturday evening, my family and I went to Mass to witness my Dad's Confirmation and reception of Eucharist. On Sunday morning, I stayed home to spend a little more time with my brother and his wife before they returned to Boston, then went to teach Sunday school. I anticipated questions about why I hadn't been at Mass, particularly as I was wearing jeans, which my class has never seen me do. I thoughtfully considered how to reply.

"I went to Mass last night to see my Dad receive sacraments. This morning, I chose to spend more time with my family before coming here."

It is a little more information than they really needed to know, but it beats the alternative of "I went to Mass last night, so I didn't have to come this morning." This answer implies that the only reason I go to Mass is to fulfill my Sunday obligation.

I enjoy Mass. In fact, I recently went alone on Sunday morning after attending the vigil Mass with my family. (I love bringing Peter to church, but it is nice once a year or so to go without him and be able to focus on my prayers instead of his behavior!) And yet, I know I have been guilty of phrasing Mass as an obligation in the past. I am trying to be more mindful of the subtext of my speech to ensure I am saying what I mean to say.

Actions may speak louder than words, but words are powerful, too.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

Tonight my Dad was welcomed fully into the community of the Catholic Church and received the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist. I don't clearly remember my First Communion, but I think I will remember his reception of the Body and Blood of Christ and his confident "Amen" for a very long time. This, I think, is why sacraments are community events.

My Dad didn't want a lot of attention drawn to him. He's certainly not new to the parish, having served on Bingo teams, hosting coffee hour, singing in choir, and being a member of finance committee in the past in addition to many special, one-time events. He has always been an active member of the community and is not one to seek the limelight.

I suspect my Dad wouldn't have minded being Confirmed just in the presence of his sponsor (my Mom) and the priest. I am thankful that the Church makes sacraments a community event. Hearing his confession of faith and affirmation of his belief in the Real Presence has strengthened my own faith and made me more aware of the gift I receive in the Eucharist. I pray that others also shared in the grace poured forth tonight.

Thanks, Dad, for inviting us. And welcome!

Almost 7 years ago. We look pretty much the same.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bedtime Haiku

Son's long day ending
Nursing to sleep in my arms
Good to be Mommy

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What is Family Cloth?

In my blog hopping, I've found a few references to "family cloth," usually along the lines of, "We use cloth napkins, and although we haven't gotten to family cloth yet, I think we might go there soon." I had assumed family cloth would be using handkerchiefs or dish cloths or rags instead of paper towels.

Cue one of my favorite Gilmore Girls quotes:
Lorelai: You know what they say about people who assume, Mom.
Emily: No, Lorelai, I do not. What do they say?
Lorelai: ...Not nice things.
Emily: Well, aren't they clever.

Indeed, not nice things could be said about me. Family cloth, it turns out, is reusable toilet paper. Oh. Oh, I see.

Well, I had intended this post to be an explanation of how we use dish cloths and rags, but haven't quite gotten to handkerchiefs. Apparently we have quite a distance to go before I can consider myself a bonafide member of the green living community.

Are any of you using family cloth? What does your family think?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Meaning of Life

What is your passion? What motivates you to take action?

I have worked with kids since I was one myself, when I wrote and directed the Christmas pageant at my church back in seventh grade. I've been a coach, teacher, social worker, youth group leader, school psychologist, tutor, counselor, babysitter, and mentor. Without a doubt, my passion is to make life better for children and teens. I want to be the voice for those who are never heard because, well, they're just kids.

My heart breaks for kids/teens who are unwanted or unappreciated and I know so many who are. Some of them come from broken, abusive homes of drugs and poverty. Others come from working families where their parents are just too exhausted meeting basic needs to have emotional energy to spare. Still others come from wealthy families and have all that money can buy.

I try, to the best of my ability, to let these kids know I care. It sounds so simple and almost cliche, but it's true. The kids with whom I work now, I usually see no more than two hours each week. I feel helpless to make a change in their lives and prove to them that they are valuable. I wish I could tell them that I would do anything to give them the experience of being loved. I would heal their hurts if I could.

I do what I can. I joke with them, remember their stories, ask about them when they have been away, respect them, and listen when they talk. I share my faith through stories and lessons and answering their questions. Then I pray, because nothing else matters if they do not know Love. I pray that they will encounter Love and be transformed. Love will not erase what wrongs have been done to them, but will give them strength to heal and the knowledge that they were made for a purpose.

(Lest anyone be affronted that I did not name Jesus as my driving passion, allow me to clarify. My relationship with God and with those I love is not so much a passion as an inherent part of me. My faith is not what pierces my heart, it's why I even have a heart!)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Clean Again, Naturally

I cleaned my house today, which is noteworthy in itself. But even more unusual, I did it using olive oil, baking soda and vinegar. I've turned into a hippie. :-)

I read that olive oil can be used to polish furniture. I must admit I was skeptical, but decided if it didn't work, hot soapy water would clean the table. It worked! The table looks better than it ever did with commercial furniture polish and isn't greasy or smelly. Hooray!

When I was a kid, I always used baking soda and vinegar to clean the bathtub because my mom didn't want me breathing in the chemicals. Tonight, I did it again. What a refreshing change. My bathroom doesn't stink, my hands aren't dried out, and the bathroom looks great. Also, I didn't have to worry about accidentally bleaching my clothes.

Peter is excited, too.

I will admit that cleaning things without commercial cleaners is more work. I have to scrub harder and longer, but I think it's worth it to avoid toxins. Some surfaces (like our piano) don't need any cleaner; a damp rag does the job. The bathroom floor was much easier to clean after I swept it first, instead of scrubbing the whole thing with an increasingly dirty sponge.

Tip: Use the wrapper from your toilet paper as a garbage bag!

I donated almost all of our chemicals to a local charity that can always use cleansers. I knew as long as I had Clorox wipes and the like in our home, I'd use them. The only things I kept are stain remover and toilet bowl cleaner. Suggestions on good replacements for them?