Saturday, March 31, 2012

Places to go with a Toddler

We have a few places we like to go when the weather isn't stellar. My primary criteria are inexpensive, spacious, and not fragile. Our top picks are the zoo, the library, and the mall. I also have some errands Peter enjoys (groceries, church ministries, post office), but for extended periods of time, those are my top three.

Hi doggies!

I think the zoo and library are fairly self-explanatory, but the mall surprises many people. Our mall has a playground for young children, but that's just the beginning. Peter loves the space he has to roam at the mall and the freedom of being 20 or 30 feet away from me in a public place. He likes to read the signs, pointing out his favorite letters. (What, you don't have favorite letters?) We visit all the 50 cent rides, sitting on most and paying for none. We walk through the pet store, checking out puppies and birds and mice. He loves to watch the fountains. I certainly wouldn't want to bring him on Black Friday, but on a typical day, the mall is the place to be!

That being said, there are evenings when my husband and I want to go somewhere other than the mall and still bring Peter with us. Suggestions?

Friday, March 30, 2012

On Grace and Vitamins

My students know,
"Grace is a spiritual vitamin.
It gives you what you need when you need it."
And boy do I need it.
"You're not the first young mother to come in here
You're more exhausted than you know."
But I get eight hours of sleep, here and there,
how much do I need?
"but few things are needed -
or indeed only one."
Only One. Indeed.
"My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect
in weakness."
Bring on the vitamins.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Natural Anti-Depressants at Home

Depression is widespread in our community. It can range from just feeling discouraged to a major depressive episode, but whatever the severity, sufferers resent being told to "just snap out of it." At the same time, many people are reluctant to use medical anti-depressants. There are legitimate concerns about side effects, cost, and becoming reliant on the medication. What to do?

There are many alternate ways to treat depression. On the clinical end are a variety of counseling approaches, including cognitive-behavior therapy (which isn't nearly as threatening as the name sounds). In severe cases, electroconvulsive therapy is still used (no, not like that scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). On the holistic care end are treatments such as massage, acupuncture, and homeopathic remedies.

I'd like to provide a few ideas for things you can try at home. These are simple solutions that won't cure major depressive disorder, but can give you the strength to get through today. They are little things that can do a lot.

Acts of Love Reaching out to someone who needs you can do wonders for your outlook on life. It helps puts your problems in perspective and reminds you of your value. Do a simple act of kindness for a stranger, neighbor, friend, or child. Choose to show love - not out of duty nor with the expectation of repayment.

Exercise How many times do we need to hear this before it sinks in? Exercise is the cure to what ails you! (Unless, you know, it's a broken leg or something...) Even taking a brisk walk for ten minutes will help. Physical activity produces depression-fighting endorphins. Getting out of the house breaks the monotony of the day. Taking note of the world around you breaks the repetitive train of thought that is dragging you down. Try it!

Sleep Whether depression causes you to get too much or too little, take a critical look at your sleep habits. Aim for a consistent routine that provides as much rest as you need, without using it as a way to shut out the world. Certainly easier said than done.

De-stress Many people are unaware that the same chemicals cause depression and anxiety. (If you've ever been successfully treated for one only to have the other rear its head, now you know why.) Even if you don't feel anxious or stressed, try some calming techniques. Take a hot bath, listen to relaxing music, or just take ten deep breaths.

Pray "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7)." Pray for strength to get through today (or the next hour. or next 5 minutes.). Surrender control of situations into God's hands; who else is better equipped to handle them? Pray for others, making your prayer an act of love - 2 for 1 deal!

Get up and get out It may seem that nothing would be fun, but try something you used to enjoy. Inertia is a big problem when fighting depression, so it helps if you have an accountability partner. Call a friend or family member and ask them to force you to do something fun!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Neurotic Mommy Strikes Again

As far as I can tell, Peter is developing wonderfully. He can do simple jigsaw puzzles, hold a crayon in a modified tripod grasp, reliably count to four with one-to-one correspondence, and identify all his letters. He plays well with other kids, sits quietly for stories, and can kick and throw a ball.

So why do I always feel like he needs enrichment?

I have this nagging concern that he doesn't have enough "learning opportunities." I'm afraid he'll get bored. I realize this is nuts, but I can't seem to let it go. I get these great ideas for improving his literacy or oral language or faith formation or whatever else... and must remind myself that he is only 20 months old. (Thankfully, I'm not on Pinterest. I think that would push me over the edge.)

I think part of the problem is that I love planning. Once he is older, I look forward to planning a curriculum. I love tinkering with the teaching materials I have for Sunday school to make them more engaging than just an assigned chapter. I like figuring out what teaching styles work best for different children and different types of information.

Blocks and books and cuddles, while a lot of fun, don't feel like teaching. What a silly mommy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

How To Never Waste Time Again!

I got to talk with my anam cara last night. (If a soul friend is given only to one in need, I'm sorry for those who don't need one.) As usual, she was the bringer of laughter, sympathy, and great wisdom.

I've been discouraged recently, wondering if my time spent blogging and sharing my beliefs on Facebook is at all useful. Why bother? Couldn't anyone just Google an issue and find someone who explains more articulately than I? Why do I waste my time posting something that gets largely ignored?

"Offer your time as a prayer for the souls of anyone who may or may not read it, but in whose lives this message is needed."

Didn't I tell you she's great? The time I dedicate becomes a prayer in itself, pleading on behalf of others, so that if my page views drop to zero, my time has still not been wasted.

She continued, "I find it especially helpful when I feel like I've wasted time. When I miss the bus, or spend half an hour on a project at work, just to find someone else already did it." When I am picking up toys for the 10th time, when I am lying on the floor because I can't leave without waking him yet, when I am cleaning something that only gets noticed if it's dirty... "OK, burnt offering for the Lord!"


I love that image. A burnt offering was certainly not useful. It wasn't pleasant to see and probably didn't smell too great, either. But the intent to worship God made it beautiful.

Waiting 30 minutes at a railroad crossing today? Burnt offering. These last 20 minutes writing this post? That's a prayer for you.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Teaching Sin

When I was a child, we went to the sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving our First Communion. Today, this is often not the case in my parish. The leader of sacramental preparation said children are not required to go to Reconciliation first because they are too young to benefit. They don't understand sin.

It seems to me that if a child is mature enough to receive Eucharist with proper reverence and understanding, he is able to recognize his sinfulness. If he cannot, the fault lies in his teachers and parents, not in spiritual immaturity.

First Communion, age 8

I do think children need instruction in forming their consciences. As a third grade Sunday School teacher, I do multiple lessons on sinfulness. As a class, we define sin and discuss its consequences for an individual and the community. They learn that sin damages our relationship with God, even if no other person knows it happened.

Finally, we look at real-life situations. These encompass sins of omission and commission across various settings. Some are straightforward, others ambiguous. Working through these situations helps the children learn what it means to seek God above all else. As a teacher, this activity reflects to me whether I have taught well or if we need to continue learning about this topic.

I have included these situations below for you to use with your own children if you desire.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Stations of the Cross: History & Reflection

Faithful Christians of the Middle Ages used to strive to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at least once in their lives. Those who were physically and financially able would go, soaking in the rich history of the land and walking the very places where Jesus lived. Stations of the Cross arose as a consolation for those unable to visit the Holy Land. While many of the faithful could not visit Gethsemane or Golgotha, they could make a spiritual journey, reflecting on the passion and death of Jesus. Shrines and images were used to share the Holy Land experience with a largely illiterate populations.

Today, images of Christ's passion are placed around the perimeter of most Catholic churches, allowing a the faithful to follow the journey to the Crucifixion and Jesus' burial. Traditionally, there are 14 stations, although some churches include a 15th, the Resurrection. These stations include events not recorded in Scripture, such as Jesus meeting his mother. (In 1975, a new set of Scriptural stations was approved.)

One of the most powerful reflections on the Stations that I have encountered was given to me on retreat years ago. I have no one to credit, but know that this is not my own. Each station is summarized by one word, which invites a deeper meditation. If you are unfamiliar with the Stations, the mouse-over text on each image gives the title. I hope you will grow from this as I have.

All images are in the Fr. Henry Flanagan set, courtesy of Fergal of Claddagh, via Flickr.

(Henry Flanagan) 1 JESUS BEFORE PILATE

(Henry Flanagan) 2 JESUS BEARS HIS CROSS



(Henry Flanagan) 5 SIMON HELPS JESUS





(Henry Flanagan) 10 JESUS IS STRIPPED


(Henry Flanagan) 12 JESUS DIES ON THE CROSS


(Henry Flanagan) 14 JESUS IS LAID IN THE TOMB

Thursday, March 22, 2012


We are all called to be responsible with the time, talent, and treasure we receive from God. Here's one way we're doing it. (This is the talk my husband gave this past weekend on the topic of stewardship.)

Shortly after Liana and I got married, we spent an afternoon going through all of our kitchen stuff. We'd each lived on our own for a while, and once we added wedding presents...well, we couldn't consistently get the utensil drawer closed any more. We ended up with several boxes of things that we donated.

This process was a lot like stewardship in our lives.

There were some things that were obvious. We didn't really need to have 30 forks, knives and spoons. Or two pots of identical size. These are the things that it felt good to pass on to others. Things like going to Mass on Sundays. Or helping out with something our kids are involved in. Holding the door open for someone.

Then there were the things that weren't quite so obvious. Do we keep the larger toaster oven, or the one that cooks at a higher temperature? Which set of silverware did we like more? How do we decide which of these coffee mugs from our extended family represent less important memories, or do we really have to dedicate an entire cabinet to them? This is where opportunity cost starts to come in to play. Like going to daily Mass. Or volunteering for a committee at church I have no personal involment with. Or buying a cup of coffee for a homeless person who asks during the winter.

And then...there was the dishwasher. Our house came with what must have been the first dishwasher ever sold. It was huge, it was on wheels, and it was ugly. It was, however, a dishwasher, and we didn't particularly have the space to replace it. This was a very tough call for us, but ultimately, we said goodbye to the dishwasher, passing it off to some group that was willing to pick it up. This was the first of many difficult financial decisions we've made in our marriage. Like only going out to dinner once a month. Giving ourselves only $30 a month - a dollar a day, on average - to spend on ourselves outside of that one dinner; if we want to buy something more expensive, we have to sell other things or wait. Selling a car, even though we could afford to keep it without it being a hardship.

Now, I've focused a lot about the sacrifice of stewardship, but that's not the whole picture. I was certain, when we cleaned out our kitchen, that I would miss having some of the stuff around, or that our shelves would be empty. I was wrong on both counts; I haven't really missed anything...maybe the dishwasher, a little...but our kitchen does not feel incomplete by any stretch. And now we can fit a small table by our kitchen window and eat there, where the dishwasher used to sit.

Similarly, our lives do not feel any less complete because of our frugality. Quite the opposite. It gives us the ability not just to tithe to the Church, but to be able to give $20 or $100 at a fundraiser we weren't expecting without having to worry about how it impacts our budget. We're no longer living paycheck to paycheck and are debt-free except our mortgage, and no longer live in terror of the next round of layoffs at my job. The $30 a month limit forces me to really think about clutter before it just takes up space in the house, reduces the existing clutter when I find expensive things I genuinely do want, and has not yet prevented me from spontaneously joining friends at Bob's Diner or at a bar downtown. I do sort of miss the car, but it's been pretty easy to coordinate trips, and I enjoy conversations with others, so carpooling has been nice. Speaking of which, if anyone could give me a ride home tonight, I'd appreciate it.

We're not wealthy in the way most Americans define it; our income places us in the lowest tax bracket. However, God has blessed our family with more wealth than the majority of the world, and it's possible that, for some of you, having $30 a month sounds like a dream rather than a shockingly small amount of money. In that case, I'd still invite you to take a look at what you do have, even if it's the ability to give $1 spontaneously or just driving a smaller car. Remember the story of the widow who gave the two cents, and how, for her, that was more than anyone else. However, for most of us, I suspect we could spend less on our own wants and more on the people who truly have needs. I've told you about some of the stuff we've done...but I'm reading this from a smartphone, and sometimes I still wonder if we've given up enough.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

DIY Deodorant Experiment

Somewhere in my wanderings around natural parenting websites, I found that I should be concerned about regular deodorant. It can contain all kinds of nasty things that are sure to make you sick. Honestly, I thought people were over-reacting just a bit. Anyway, organic deodorant is more expensive than the generic stuff we buy and I'm not keen on experimenting with body odor.

But then I discovered how easy and cheap it was to make my own. I love being cheap frugal.

Basic steps:
1. Use up your current deodorant so you have an empty container.
2. Mix equal parts of coconut oil, baking soda, and corn starch (about 2 tbsp each fills a container).
3. Add some essential oil of choice (optional).
4. Squish the mixture into your deodorant container.
5. Use it like normal deodorant.*

See that? Cheap! Easy! And today I walked for miles, got sweaty, and didn't stink. Success!

I smelled like lavender, not daffodils, but I felt this pretty.

*FYI, coconut oil melts more easily than regular deodorant. You might want to keep your new earth-friendly deodorant in the fridge.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dryer-free Milestone

It's been six months since I stopped using our dryer. Well, I did use it one time when Peter's 103 fever threw off my laundry routine. But overall it's been a success, especially considering I do 2-3 loads of diaper laundry each week. (Used to be 3-4 when I started in September.)  So, thoughts so far:


Save money! As a stay-at-home mom, I am always looking for ways to turn my time into money. I know running the dryer a few times each week is doesn't break the bank, but every little bit helps. Also, we don't need any dryer sheets. I like knowing that I am being responsible with our money.

Save the world! Come on, who doesn't want to save the world? Again, going dryer-free is a small step, but small changes can make a big difference. Not only am I reducing the energy we use, I'm also indefinitely postponing the day when our dryer will break beyond repair, causing us to buy another. Less junk in the landfills!

Laundry smells great! Well, sometimes. When the weather allows me to hang clothes outside, I love the smell of our laundry.

Stains don't set! Many times I accidentally set a stain permanently by throwing clothes in the dryer before checking them. Now I can just run them through the washing machine again, even if they've dried completely.

Peter can help! Usually he loves to help me take things off the drying rack. Recently he has been learning how to hang things correctly, practicing fine motor skills. Homeschooling already! :-)


Time-intensive. Hanging each piece of laundry, then taking it all down, requires significantly more time than tossing it in the dryer. I don't mind when I can hang it outside and enjoy the sunshine, but it's definitely a chore in the basement.

Some clothes don't fit. My jeans are looser than they used to be and two of my nursing tops are quite baggy. I didn't realize how much the dryer shrunk my clothes!

Requires planning. I don't know how important it would be to plan ahead for just clothes, but I really need to keep on top of diaper laundry. We can't do without clean diapers and they take longer to dry than regular clothes.

Laundry can smell odd. It never smells bad, but sometimes it just smells like recycled furnace air. Which makes sense, since it's drying in the basement by the furnace.

Do you hang any or all of your laundry? What pros and/or cons would you add?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Lazy Toilet Training

If you don't want to read about specifics of toileting, just stop here.

Last week, I alluded to Peter's progress on toilet training. We are making slow progress because, well, I'm lazy. Currently, he uses the toilet once or twice a day and understands that he is supposed to urinate (although he is convinced it is water). Today he also pooped, but seemed more confused than anything else.

A few months ago, we got a toilet seat from our neighbors. I tried to get Peter excited about it, but he was just scared to sit with his feet dangling, so we put it away.

Earlier this month, I tried again. First he sat a few times fully clothed, then without pants, and finally I got him on just after waking -- success! He was happy that I was excited, then thrilled when he was able to flush the toilet. He has a fascination with flushing toilets. This is great because it's a good reward that doesn't involve stickers or Skittles or something.

Which is good, because this boy doesn't need more sugar.

Now we have a loose routine. If he consents to sit on the toilet, I take off his diaper and let him sit while we read a story. If he actually uses the toilet, there is much excitement and the coveted flush. That's pretty much it.

I never make him sit. I ask each time he wakes up, since that's when we're most likely to have success. Often he says yes and signs bathroom, but sometimes he says no. I try asking during the day, too, but he almost never wants to go then. Hence only going once or twice a day.

I must admit, I'm not really in a hurry to get him out of diapers. Yes, it would be nice not to have diaper laundry. I'll be happy to know he's not at risk for more diaper rash. Changing diapers is annoying and kind of gross. But I like to leave the house. When we travel, I like being able to drive for 3-4 hours without stopping. I like not scoping out the restrooms every time we enter a store.

So, maybe next month we'll be up to 3 or 4 times daily. Maybe not.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Dangers of Being an Introvert

Searching for "are introverts dangerous"? Try this post instead.

As long-time readers know, I am exceedingly introverted. Not that I don't like people, but I need a lot of time by myself to be happy. There are benefits to this: self-knowledge, meditation, and the time for creative endeavors. But being introverted can be dangerous if taken too far.

Introverts are at risk for living in the past. Reflection is useful, but one can slip into a world in which rosy memories of the past always surpass today's reality. Memories are easy. They don't require the stress of dealing with people while still providing the pleasure of humor, love, and camaraderie. Living in the past can make us resentful of the imperfect present.

The internet can also be a danger for introverts. As with memories, it allows us to get many of the benefits of relationships without the risk of seriously engaging ourselves. Certainly the internet can be a positive; I use it to keep up with pictures from my Goddaughters and share stories about Peter. But if the internet begins to take the place of real human interaction, it has become a problem.

Finally, introverts can live too much within themselves. We might become too self-centered, egotistical, and proud. For example, an introvert is very conscious of her own activities. At the end of the day, I might reflect and notice how many chores I did during the day. This is fine, but becomes a problem when I am so aware of my own contributions that I begin to ignore my husband's contributions. I would live so much within myself that I resent others for not being as I am.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What potential pitfalls do you see in your personality type?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Children's Guide to Irish Culture

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, I will repost some of my ideas for teaching a child about Irish culture. Admittedly, I am no expert. I only spent five months there, primarily on the West coast. Although I can't promise that the snippets below are indicative of mainstream culture, I can assure you that they are part of the culture I experienced while studying there.

While U2 and Snow Patrol certainly qualify as Irish bands, Ireland can also boast of a sizable "trad music" scene, which generally features instruments such as harp, fiddle, tin whistle, concertina, guitar, and the bodhrán, a traditional frame drum. Some modern bands that play trad music include Planxty, The Outside Track, and Danú. For creating your own music, the easiest path by far is learning to sing the ballads and folk songs that carry the heart of the Irish people. Most of these are sung in English and often have a chorus that even young children can learn. Slightly older children can learn to play a tin whistle, which can be bought for about $10. They are a bit shrill, but with practice, even a child of seven or eight can be quite proficient.

Tin Whistle - Irish Trad Music
Image by Ivan Walsh via Flickr

For a real taste of Ireland, consider serving an Irish breakfast. Breakfast is the largest meal of the day for some families, especially on weekends, and can include multiple courses. One usually starts with juice and/or fresh fruit, followed by yogurt, then porridge, and only then the cooked meal. Breakfast is generally accompanied by home-made brown bread (at least at my roommate's home!) with fruit preserves and strong tea (often sweetened with milk).
What you'll need:
fruit juice
fresh fruit (often apples, which are a local commercial crop)
yogurt (Look for unusual flavors, as the variety in Ireland is inspiring. My favorite was rhubarb!)
oatmeal, cooked in milk with brown sugar, honey, or cream to sweeten it
fried eggs
fried bacon (ask your butcher about rashers if you want to be authentic or just pick fatty bacon)
fried blood sausage (known more appetizingly as 'black pudding')
medium sized tomatoes, halved and fried in butter
tea (with cream or whole milk)
fruit preserves
Irish brown bread
  • 4 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • scant 2 cups buttermilk
Mix dry ingredients and stir in enough buttermilk to make a soft dough. Knead lightly on a floured surface until smooth. Shape the dough into a circular loaf about 1.5" thick and mark a deep cross in the top with a floured knife. Bake for 45 mins at 400.

Irish Breakfast
Image by scottm32768 via Flickr

If you want to take an easier route, have what my roommates ate: toast topped with canned brown beans! Apparently that's pretty common, too.

Hurling is one of Ireland's traditional sports and somewhat similar to lacrosse, but its following pales in comparison to the popularity of Gaelic football, which contains some aspects of both rugby and American soccer. Each county has its own team and the rivalry is fierce! Encourage your children to learn the rules of the game, pick a team, and follow them through the season. Be sure to make flags or jerseys using the colors of the county you choose!

Gaelic football - photo by Matt Doyle
Image by Matt Doyle at dgaproductions via Flickr

Interesting note: Girls generally do not play 'sport' once they are out of childhood. Young women certainly will cheer their local team, but are rarely seen participating in athletics, even just a 'pick-up' game. While I was there, female university students would take walks to get exercise and watch the boys play, but never participate.

The Church
One of the texts from my Irish history course stated that to be Irish was to love the sport, the party and the church, and no one would ask which sport (Gaelic football), party (Fianna Fáil), or church (Roman Catholic). Times have changed, but the Catholic Church is still central to Irish culture. Take your children to a local Catholic church, preferably an older, traditional building, and show them the stained glass windows, the Stations of the Cross, and the statues. These visuals were very important for introducing Christianity to an illiterate population.

Image by Terabbs via Flickr

While many Irish young people today do not believe what the Church teaches, they are still very culturally Catholic, celebrating St. Brigid's Day, Pancake Day, Easter, Christmas, and St. Stephen's Day with their families. Research these feasts and join in the fun! Of course, you can always celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but be warned that the Irish think we're a bit batty for our green beer and shamrock necklaces. :-)

Literature and Folklore
Explore beautiful poetry by W.B. Yeats or the classic literature of Oscar Wilde. (James Joyce and Jonathan Swift were also talented Irish authors, but their works are more appropriate for teens than children.) Wilde actually wrote a collection of stories for children, The Happy Prince and Other Stories, which was published in 1888. Some of Yeats poems suitable for children include The Lake Isle of InnisfreeThe Hosting of the Sidhe, At Galway Races, and The Cat and the Moon. I love the imagery of The Hosting of the Sidhe, but I think your children will enjoy it more if you have already exposed them to the Fair Folk through Irish folklore. You also may need to do a bit of research on Irish pronunciation in order to read it! (And yes, the language is called Irish by the people who live there. The culture is Gaelic.)

Old Books
Image by gripspix via Flickr

An Ancient People
The first settlers of Ireland arrived about 9,000 years ago. If you want to teach history, here is a great culture to study! Be sure to include the High Kings of Tara for children who want tales of warriors and epic battles, pictures of the Book of Kells for the child who loves art, learning, and the written word, and tales of the Celtic druids to learn about our connection to nature.

Portrait of Christ
Image by nfejohn via Flickr

I hope this gives you a good primer for introducing your children to a culture that is often represented by leprechauns and drinking songs. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Gratitude for Hand-Me-Downs

I love hand-me-downs. They represent generosity, recycling, excitement for a new toy/shirt/etc., and money that doesn't need to be spent! Our next-door neighbors have blessed us abundantly with hand-me-downs from their two boys. Allow me to show off a bit.

Where do I put the key?

Too big, but too exciting to put away.

He's actually been using this the past couple of days!!!

Woah, it moves!

These don't even begin to show the clothes (packed away to grow into), books, and other toys they have given to us. I remember my excitement as a child, receiving packages from my cousins in Texas. I knew the clothes would be too big to wear for another year, maybe, but I still wanted to try them all on and see what I got. I'm grateful to our neighbors, both for the material benefit and the excitement they bring to Peter.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Response to Keeping the (Year of) Faith in 2012

I was recently directed to a post (via The Catholic Young Woman) that outlined four objectives for the Catholic Church in the United States. They are as follows:

  1. Ending abortion
  2. Return of large families
  3. Renewal of classical education
  4. Building better churches
I don't think any of these goals are bad, but I'm not sure they're not all necessarily good.

Ending Abortion. OK, this one I don't really see a down-side. Admirable goal, hopefully to be carried out with love and compassion for the parents and extended family, not just the infant.

Return of large families. If this goal had been cultural support for large families, or communities where children are welcomed and valued, I'd be all over that. My concern with this goal is that married people would think they have an obligation to have as many children as possible, rather than simply being open to God's plan.

Renewal of classical education. Classical education was defined to include Latin and learning through literature. Certainly this model of education has value and offers a good starting point for creating a curriculum if children are interested in reading and language. However, children learn in a variety of ways; what engages one child may confuse or bore another child.

Building better churches. The author states that believers need to celebrate faith with solemnity and renew liturgical piety. I agree that some progressive changes in liturgy have not been positive, but one of the strengths of Catholic Church is the ability to include a variety of cultures and worship styles. Piety and appropriate solemnity are admirable goals, but they can be found in many different settings, including present-day churches.

I thought the article had good points, but these goals need to be pursued with caution.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Thoughts on Homeschooling

Peter is more than four years away from compulsory school age, but we (my husband and I) have already decided he's not going. Not to say he won't receive an education, but it won't be in public schools. Let me be clear: we're not against the teachers, we're against the system.

When we first started the homeschooling conversation, I was enthusiastic while Jeremy was guardedly in favor. I wanted to homeschool at least until third grade, with consideration for continuing beyond that time.

Recently Peter's education came into conversation and my husband replied, "Unless things change significantly, I want him homeschooled all the way through high school." I agree. Here are a few of the reasons why.

I like my son. Multiple people have asked me if I'm waiting for Peter to be school-age before I return to work. No, I don't ever plan on returning to work. I'm not waiting impatiently for Peter to be eligible for school so I can continue my own interests. He is my #1 interest! I would much rather spend time with him than spend time pursuing a career.

I want Peter to enjoy learning. I want Peter to have freedom to choose what interests him, to take field trips and do projects that engage his heart and mind. I remember trying to force trivia to stay in my brain when I would much rather have been reading a good book. (For the record, my mom offered to homeschool me, but I wanted to stay with my best friend.) I want to work with and learn with my children, not just lecture them from a textbook.

Yep, this is learning, too!

I don't want to waste our time. Did you ever miss school for being sick and have your work delivered home? I remember being amazed that I could complete an entire day's worth of classwork, and my homework, in an hour or so. A school day was 6 hours long! But that includes lunch, recess, bathroom trips, waiting in line, waiting for classmates to transition activities, and listening to directions repeated three times... there's a lot of wasted time. I would much rather have Peter at home, working at his own pace, and having free time to pursue his interests. Homeschooling also avoids having to waste an hour of each evening on homework.

Peter is our responsibility. I would rather Peter memorize Psalm 23 than the Pledge of Allegiance. I would rather he learn about Dorothy Day than Princess Diana. I want him to know that Helen Keller was an anarchist, that pH determines whether you use baking soda or vinegar to clean, and that Pope John Paul II was instrumental to the fall of Communism. It is our responsibility to raise him into adulthood. I don't want to turn him over to a system.

Homeschooling is a form of protest. I am opposed to over-testing, to school inequality, to unsupported teachers, to teachers replacing parents, to unrealistic expectations for children, and many more aspects of traditional schools. Our family will be one that refuses to surrender our children. If enough people protest, maybe the politicians running our schools will notice that we're not pleased.

If you want to read lots of good reasons to homeschool and answers to common concerns, check out the homeschooling posts at Jazzy Mama.

Friday, March 9, 2012

"Tell Me About Yourself"

I used to dread the command, "Tell me about yourself." Whether it was part of an interview process, a classroom icebreaker, or just someone making casual conversation, I always thought my answers were inadequate. I'd state my major or job, where I lived, and maybe my favorite color. I'd throw in something pertinent to the situation. Cringe-worthy small talk.

Yep, this is me. I'm just a photo ID badge.

In 2005, I did a lot of soul-searching, largely related to vocation discernment. I learned about myself, who I was and what labels I had embraced. During that time, I decided to plan an answer for the next time I was told to talk about myself.

(The next time it happened was late in 2005, with a young man I barely knew. He was driving me to a youth group volunteer event and wanted a way to pass the time. "Tell me about yourself." My answers intrigued him. Within three years, we were married. This doesn't happen every time I talk about myself.)

How do I answer now? I touch on five major aspects of myself. The specific answers vary relative to what is going on in my life, but the themes are consistent. Here are my answers today.

  • Faith: I'm currently attending the Catholicism Series on Thursday nights. My friend Fr. Brian is showing them and leading a discussion session afterwards. The series is great! I like being challenged and learning more about my faith.
  • Passion: I'm really passionate about helping kids. I did it professionally through a few different avenues before my son was born, now he's my #1 priority. I teach Sunday School and help with youth group, which certainly is a different audience from foster kids or children in special education, but kids everywhere have the same basic needs to be loved and know someone listens to them.
  • Family: I'm excited about my brother and sister-in-law coming into town for Easter. My other brother lives in the area, so it will be nice to have our whole family together. My Goddaughters and their dad are coming, too. It will definitely be a full house, but you can't have too much family!
  • Hobbies: I like to sing and write and scrapbook, although I haven't had a lot of time for the last one. We have lots of music in our house, since my husband plays guitar and drums and my son learned how to turn on the stereo before he was a year old! For writing, I have a blog that I write 5-6 times each week. I appreciate the opportunity to practice writing and use my critical thinking skills.
  • Dreams: I would like to travel more, if we had the time and money. I'm looking forward to homeschooling Peter as he gets older. I'm also tossing around the idea of writing a book, or maybe just a series of articles, on teaching a healthy view of sexuality to young children.

How about you? Tell me about yourself.

Me! With my husband & best friend! Just caught a foul ball!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Easy Irish Soda Bread Recipe

A friend recently asked for my Irish soda bread recipe. I got it from my mom; it's so easy even I can make it!

5 1/2 c flour
1/2 c sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c butter
2 c buttermilk (or 2 tbs lemon juice + 2 c milk, let stand 10-15 minutes)
1 egg
1 1/2 c raisins (up to 2 cups, if you like raisins!)

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine all dry ingredients in mixing bowl.
Stir in butter until the mixture is crumbly, shape like a volcano with a crater on top.
Combine milk and eggs in a separate bowl, use them to fill crater.
Stir in raisins and mix well.

Knead dough on a floured board until smooth.
Divide dough into four parts, shaping each into a round loaf ~2 inches thick.
Cut a cross on each loaf (pushing down with a butter knife until the indentation is visible).
Lightly sprinkle the top of each loaf with flour.
Bake loaves, 2 at a time, on a well-greased baking sheet for 30 to 40 minutes.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! (2011)