Friday, October 10, 2014

The Tarnished Silver Cup

I like to throw things away. People often give me a hard time about it, but I can honestly say I've never regretted getting rid of anything. I'm not cold-hearted, I do keep a few meaningful things. I have my photo albums. I have my Smurf collection. I have my baby blanket stowed in a box in my closet. And I have this silver, engraved cup from Neiman Marcus that my parents' friends gave me when I was a newborn. It sits fairly prominently on a shelf in my bedroom, and I stopped and held it the other day while I was dusting. It reminds me of so many things.


We weren't Neiman Marcus kind of people; we lived in a pink aluminum-siding house and wore handmade clothes. But my mom sure liked that cup. I got the impression that she would have liked more things from fancy stores. It's weird how hopes and disappointments can sit on a shelf in the form of a small silver cup. As I grew up, I admit that things from fancy stores became appealing to me, too, though you wouldn't know it from the choices I made.

At nineteen, I had a boyfriend in a punk rock band, a secretarial job, two roommates, and a lot of freedom. To obtain this freedom, I had packed up my clothes in trash bags and moved out of my parents' house a year before. I had dropped out of college because it got in the way of the lifestyle I was enjoying. This lifestyle consisted mostly of spending time with the boyfriend, drinking, and dancing. I did afford a few fancy pieces of clothing thanks to my trusty credit cards, but those were pretty much maxed out.

One November weekend, at my boyfriend's parents' house, I took a pregnancy test. It was positive. I hadn't considered my goals recently, but nevertheless I was pretty sure that having a baby wasn't going to help my circumstances. I was nowhere near a Neiman Marcus life.

A marriage proposal came haphazardly while strolling the upper level of the mall hours after the pregnancy test. There was no diamond ring, just a Coke from the food court. And no mention of true love and devotion, or any of the stuff that might be forefront in a proposal I would have liked.

I tried to bring up adoption - I was adopted - but he didn't like the idea. He wanted to get married like his parents got married in high school when they were pregnant with him. I'm not sure why his desires prevailed... maybe I couldn't imagine giving away my baby.

If this was really happening - and it seemed to be - my parents weren't going to be happy. I needed to tell them as soon as possible so they could get acquainted with the idea in time to help pay for a wedding. I couldn't fund it on my own, I was having a hard enough time affording cereal.

To spare myself the tantrum my step-dad was sure to throw, I called my mom during work hours and asked her to meet me for lunch. We chose the Jack-in-the-Box between her office and mine. I had never asked my mom to lunch before, and our relationship had been considerably strained since I moved out, so I can only imagine what she anticipated.

Did I look out the window when I told her? Stare at the table? I have no memory. What did I wear on the day I told my mom I was pregnant and marrying a guy she barely knew?

I got the words out. A baby was on the way, there would be a wedding. There wasn't more to say. She said she'd tell my cranky step-dad. And I went back to work.

I have no recollection why I told my coworkers about that Neiman Marcus cup, but I did. Maybe I was being wry about it - lamenting how this baby wouldn't have a silver cup. In any case, a day or two later, one of the women I worked with appeared at my desk carrying a shopping bag. She said it was for the baby and held it out to me. It was a plastic baby cup from Pic-n-Save.

Would my baby have had different standards with that cheap, plastic cup on a shelf in our house, rather than the silver one? Would she be less disappointed in herself over her mistakes? Would it have mattered? I still haven't achieved a Neiman Marcus level in my life. How have my expectations for my children been shaped by what I went through as a young adult? These are all the questions I think about when I dust that cup. And still I keep it. I don't bother polishing it, though. And the plastic one? I confess --- I threw it away.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Teri's Bulletproof-Lite Coffee

I have no desire to make this a nutritional post, nor am I qualified to do so. But when I try geeky, gimmicky things, I tend to want to share the experience so here goes.

Bulletproof Coffee

I heard about it only a week ago from my trendy friend who keeps me apprised of all things coffee.

True Bulletproof Coffee was originated by a guy who likes his coffee, his nourishment, and his elevated brain function. I will not link to his page, but you can find him online by searching Bulletproof Coffee. I don't want him to find me through a link back (if I really even understand how THAT works) because he will publicly shame me for drastically profaning his recipe. But you can see on his website that he truly believes in the superpower of this coffee drink. It's a meal supplement. Drinking this coffee properly prepared will leave you satisfied until lunch, improve your thinking, aid digestion, rejuvenate your cells, decrease wrinkles, add shine and bounce to your hair, aid sleep, reverse erectile dysfunction, improve your driving, and make people like you.

There are a few ways to tweak the recipe, but the essentials are good coffee, grass-fed butter, and a healthy oil such as MCT or coconut. If you are an inferior human, and MUST sweeten it - at least have the decency to NOT use that horrid white granulated sugar. That's like eating cancer fire. I recommend this:
I think Agave is related to sugar cane. Agave is like sugar cane's rich and highbrow cousin from a nicer neighborhood.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Start with this:
Brew coffee like you normally would. Unless you pay under $20./pound for coffee, then the purists will tell you to buy better coffee. I used my mid-grade.

Add this:
Ha ha! Just kidding. Aren't I a riot? That was my dinner at the buffet the other night. I can't understand WHY I have high cholesterol!

Once you've brewed your coffee, you pour it into a blender with one tablespoon per cup of coffee of this:

and another tablespoon of this:

This is good stuff. If you don't end up liking the super-coffee, you can spread this on your bread and it will be heavenly. I have another friend who loves this butter to such a degree that she once bought me a vat of it. How often does a friend buy you butter? Not often enough, I say! In fact, as you can see in this picture, I broke into the Kerrygold early to enhance some Challah I had in the house. Talk about cultural diversity! Irish butter on Jewish bread! The key here is the butter comes from grass-fed cows. That may not mean much to you, but your brain will delight in it, according to the experts.

Once you've blended everything, it will take on the appearance of a professional-looking latte. Look!
But it will not TASTE like a professional-looking latte. I drank about half. It wasn't as bad as poisoned broccoli, but I couldn't make it through the whole cup. Instead, I had this:
Regular coffee brewed strong with sweetened creamer, made more impressive in a stainless-steel cup. Not bulletproof, but at least somewhat imposing.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Feelings about Ferguson

Twitter tells me that bad things are happening in Ferguson even right this minute, even though it's hours later there, even though Mike Brown was killed over a week ago.

I'm sad. Sad for Mike Brown, sorry for his parents, and so, so sad for the state of our country where racism is alive and well and still cutting people down left and right every minute of every day. It's tempting to throw up my hands and say "there's no hope!" Can anything be accomplished this side of Heaven? God, I really doubt it. But shouldn't we try?

I had dinner at our friends' house tonight and brought up the subject because I want to talk about it. I want some wisdom! My friend asked what was bugging me the most and I gathered my thoughts and said that what bugs me the most is how bad racism is and how little anybody in my world wants to talk about it. And I'm disturbed because I don't know what to do.

On Sunday I wanted to go to Mass and have my priest speak about this. There was a visiting bishop asking for money for his very vital ministry among the poor in the Caribbean, but no talk about what happened to Mike Brown or what is continuing to happen in Ferguson.

There was a list of online suggestions of things white people could do about the situation in Ferguson other than keep gabbing about it on Twitter. Every one of them spoke to me - and yet as I read them I could imagine the protest I would get from people whose political views don't "line up" with some of the organizations mentioned or with the challenges the writer makes. I don't know the writer, maybe she's full of crap in every other area - but I WANT ADVICE and she's giving it.

It has also been illuminating to follow many more black women and men on Twitter. I want to empathize and this helps. I'm sitting in my white house on my white street in a mostly-white neighborhood in Nevada - how ELSE am I going to hear the viewpoint of a black American on this topic? It's hard to wade through the news and the politics on the major networks, so social media and some print media has to suffice to give me the information I crave.

But what now? I'm not helping anyone and that makes me sad, too.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Interview With a Barista - It's Not Just About the Coffee


The other day I got to interview Vanessa, a barista and supervisor at Grouchy John’s Coffee Shop here in Las Vegas. We sat down together just after she closed the shop for the evening. For me, worshiper of coffee shops and small local businesses in general, this was like being a groupie and getting a backstage pass after a concert. 

I wanted to talk to a barista for the same reason you’d want to talk to a barista. They have a noteworthy position in our culture because we need the drinks they make, and because we’ve come to cherish the world of the coffee shop and they’re the denizens of that world.

Vanessa talked, I listened, and I realized I had fewer questions than I thought about coffee-making and more about her life. Maybe this will be part one in a series of interviews of cool women in my home town doing stuff I admire. Here’s what I learned about Vanessa and her work:

1) She knows how to make your coffee, and she knows your day is better because of it.

Vanessa told me her first barista job was in the airport, of all fast-paced and crazy places. She admits it was stressful, and that even parking was difficult. But she said she had good training and learned the job so well that she moved into management within six months. Her first boss was strict but she appreciated that. “Especially with cappuccino,” she said. “It’s the hardest to make and he could tell by the weight if it was made correctly. It’s supposed to be equal parts milk and foam. It’s too heavy if there’s too much milk.”

So she has this super-knowledge of how to make good coffee, and she pairs that with an awareness of its effect on people. “We deal with mood swings,” she said matter-of-factly. People come in looking not-so-great but get their coffee and “sit here a bit and leave smiling.”

2) Her “spirit animal” is a honey badger, whose characteristics are damn good for customer service.

Owners and employees at Grouchy John’s have been trying to assign a “spirit animal” to everyone who works in the shop. Before our interview, I knew thanks to Facebook that it had been decided that Vanessa’s is the honey badger. When I asked why, she laughed and explained that one of the owners said, “because they don’t give a shit and they get what they want.” This is perfect for a strong woman persona, but how does it play out in a customer service career? From what I could tell, the only thing Vanessa doesn’t give a shit about is trying to be something she’s not. She says, “The corporate thing isn’t for me.” She has stretched ear lobes and once had a mohawk and there are past employers who didn’t appreciate these expressions. When that was the case, she quit and moved on. 

As far as what she wants, and getting it - Vanessa said the most important things to her are her family and her job, being a hard worker, and “doing what it takes to make everybody happy.” Well, hell… if that’s what she wants - any customer, employer, or family member will benefit from her presence.  

3) Her traits make her a valuable coffee-shop employee, but we may need her in national leadership.

Vanessa began and completed cosmetology school several years ago. She got a job as a hair stylist but knew right away it wasn’t for her. “You don’t get to interact with people. If you’re processing or blow drying their hair they can’t hear you.” She quit the job to go back to the coffee biz. She said she realized that working in the food and drink industry is her calling because that is what brings people together. 

Beginning even in high school, that emphasis on bringing people together was strong. She was involved in Key Club, with its values of leadership, character building, caring, and inclusiveness, and won the office of President by her junior year and Lt. Governor in her senior year. This is notable partly because she is Mexican and the club’s demographic was largely Asian. She had a vision to increase the diversity of the club right away and took deliberate action to do so. Her efforts were recognized; she was voted President of the Year for her 840-member division. 

The priorities she exhibited as a high schooler have grown stronger in adulthood. When she had management positions and did hiring she looked for diversity. Her inclusivity and the wisdom she had from an early age naturally influence her working relationships. If only this example in the life of a young barista could be followed by more of our corporate and political leaders! 

You only have to glance at a business publication (or better, step into a coffee shop) to figure out that the coffee business —from bean export to the barista profession— is thriving. And coffee shops serve as community hubs, places where people gather and share ideas and discuss things. So the baristas who are a significant part of this business have a large influence on our culture. In Vanessa’s case, and at Grouchy John’s coffee shop, this is excellent news.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Homeschool Organization Board

I found a blog today where this homeschooling mom of way-more-kids-than-I-have described her organizational system. It was epic. And it reminded me of my own system from two years ago which worked well but took a LOT of time to put together. Well, folks, all I've GOT is time these days leading up to the start of the new school year. And I also had the materials left over from that two-years-ago system. So I got to work, knowing how much I need a visual reminder of what the CRAP is going on hour to hour around here on the typical homeschool day.

I got out the piece of sheet metal I bought at Lowe's and spray-painted that bad boy with a shade of green I hope will evoke feelings of super-smartness, focused delight, and studious joy.

This is what it looked like after the first coat.

Just four coats later, perfection! And not as much dry-time needed when you're painting in a garage in Las Vegas in August. Maybe the only benefit to our weather: shortened spray-paint dry-times.

Then, using my new blogger-friend's advice to use Post-it notes, one color per kid, I set the whole thing up. Voila!

The times, the kids' names, and the subjects are all written on Post-its. Each kid has a magnet in case he or she needs to show progress throughout the day - they can be moved easily down the list. In most cases, the kids can pick the order they tackle their subjects, as long as two people don't need math help at the same time, or the computer. And don't look TOO closely at the subjects because John's aren't done, and I'm not sure I covered all that everyone else is doing. But it's a start. Once it's done it will be affixed to the wall and the entire year will go smoothly!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Few Ways My Day Was Probably Different From Yours

1) My friend came over for a visit this morning and she brought her own breakfast. It was oysters. If that's not strange enough, I later found out on Twitter that today is National Oyster Day. This was unbeknownst to my oyster friend! What are the odds?

2) I got rid of all of our Play-Doh paraphernalia today. Another sign that my kids are getting older. This was part of having to clean out the school room in preparation for beginning school next week. Less significant chores were throwing out all the broken crayons, sharpening the colored pencils, weeding out used-up coloring books, and organizing all the craft supplies. This is the lesser-known side of the glamorous world that is homeschooling. You didn't know we had an annual crayon-and-colored-pencil reckoning, did you?
3) I got free advice from my son's second-grade curriculum. In a paragraph addressing the concern one might have about a kid's reading level, it read, "...the first thing you should do is sit quietly with yourself and resolve your fears in regard to your child's reading." Oh, for crying out LOUD! THAT'S all I have to do? Sit quietly with myself? Sorry, I can't help but ooze sarcasm right now. And I actually love other things about this curriculum and think it's going to go well for us. But even if I didn't, all I have to do is sit quietly with myself and resolve my issues with the soundness of my choice. Right? So glad I know that now. Off to unclog last year's glue dispensers and calm down a tad.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Monday's Decisions

Decision #1 - Swimsuits are for pools, not Post Offices. My girls were invited to a friend's birthday party today at a fun community pool and I assumed I'd stay for the party and keep cool in the water. But that's not how it turned out. The hostess had everything under control and it occurred to me that I had two free hours to run errands or read my book. On the way to the Post Office, my one big errand, I remembered I was wearing my swimsuit and spent the next couple miles of the drive trying to ascertain if my self-esteem could handle an appearance in a federal building wearing my swim skirt and striped rash guard. It couldn't. I went home and changed.

Decision #2 - A family of six needs a substantial-size meatloaf for proper nourishment. I finally admitted my family has outgrown my tiny meat loaf recipe. So tonight I doubled my recipe, molded it into a much-larger piece of cookware than my teeny loaf pan and made meat slab. It was delish in its larger form, if not attractive.

Decision #3 - Any stressful situation, especially the acquisition of seven new pets, is made easier with friends. After a two-week-long wait, I took my kids to the pet store to buy the fish they've been impatiently anticipating. We had the aquarium ready, we had friends along for fun, and we took a full hour to decide on exactly which fish. Thank God for a patient pet store worker, and thank God for my friend who came along and made the experience much more pleasant. I'm a fairly independent woman, but I would really rather have a friend along for nearly every new parenting venture.
I took this sweet shot of the kids, but really should have gotten a photo to commemorate Lynda and I at the pet store. Except my expression would have betrayed the amount of strange stress/worry/anxiety I had going on over these darn fish!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Five Favorite Types of Friends

Of all the joys in this life, friends are one of the most treasured. When I considered what "favorites" to write about today, I thought of the types of friends I've known in my little life. I've loved every one. I'm pretty sure you'll recognize these, too, from your own life.
  1. The Adventurer - You want to go for a night run and try out those headlamps you never saw a use for? This is the friend you call, and this is the friend who will say yes. And it's not all about your ideas, she is a good leader who devises her own fun plans and brings everyone along. You're glad to be one of those who gets to join in. Key words in this friendship: road trip; crazy project; I'm in; we can do it.
  2. The Old Friend - Chances are you went through puberty together, and the friendship that can survive those hormones is built to last. She knows all of your old boyfriends and keeps the stories to herself. You call her mother "mom" and she does the same because really, you spent as much time at her house as your own. This friendship has been through so many years and experiences that it is strong and true and you can rely on it. Also, this friend can cheer the loudest for your accomplishments and virtues because she knows first-hand what you've gone through in life. 
  3. The Honest Friend - It's in her nature to tell the truth, even when it might be tough to hear. Everyone should have at least one friend who will speak up when things aren't right. Also, it's a tremendous relief not to have to wonder what she's thinking - she will tell you!
  4. The Neighbor Friend - She's the one there drinking wine on your driveway. She lives close enough to see plenty of what's going on in your life and having her "in your business" is a good thing. Because of proximity, she's looking out for you. She's the best candidate for impromptu walks and bonus! - you can borrow things right out of her pantry when necessary.
  5. The Best Friend - This is the one they write songs about. Despite the superlative "best," you can have more than one, especially the older you get. You don't have to clean your house for her, nor she for you. If you're pregnant, get a scary diagnosis, feel depressed, mark a victory, or just feel like talking for no reason at all - this is the friend you call.



Read more Five Favorites at Mama Knows, Honeychild

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ten Ways to Combat Writer's Block*


  1. imitate a pine tree
  2. breathe in through your nose and then try making your first YouTube video
  3. say "no" to oceanography
  4. eat an apple backwards
  5. write one haiku for each year old you are
  6. dip your feet into a public fountain
  7. chaperone a middle-school dance
  8. try Vegemite
  9. gain weight
  10. tour more academies






*Make fun if you will. Spewing random thoughts is a good release. So is posting a selfie with no makeup. No, I haven't been drinking. But full disclosure: I had popcorn for dinner. Things are going downhill the longer my hubby is away at Boy Scout Camp.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It Is Good ... That I Heard About The Edel Gathering

I missed a party. It happened in Austin, Texas over this past weekend and it was the kind of good time I am MADE for. It was a bunch of Catholic women (many/most of them bloggers) gathering to encourage each other and have fun. It was a conference, of sorts, in that there were speakers and vendors. But it was a party in that there was dancing, karaoke, and wine. It was called The Edel Gathering.

Over the past couple days, I've been watching posts appear on numerous blogs sharing about how it all went. It was a momentous event. Two women envisioned it, many came together to pull it off, and it was a smashing success. Two things stand out from all of the enormously wonderful things I've read so far:

  1. One of the co-founders, Hallie Lord, gave the opening address and the words that the Holy Spirit gave her to lead with were, "It is Good That You Are Here." (Follow that link to read Hallie's own explanation for how God emphasized those words. It's goose-bump kinda stuff.) Women came to the gathering with all of their usual "issues" but were affirmed for doing so. And then they realized that with the strength gained from attending, they could go home and live their vocations as mothers with renewed passion and courage.
  2. "The Edel Gathering was meant to help us feel less alone." - These are the words of co-founder Jennifer Fulwiler in her post about what she learned at the event. If that had been all I heard about the conference - if there hadn't been a single sparkling photograph of all the fun or a Twitter feed-full of highlights - I would have bought the airplane and conference tickets based solely on this statement.
I need to be re-charged! I love to party with Catholic women! (Any member of our parish moms' group can attest to that.) I often feel lonely in my vocation and I know from many other women that this is common. So the point of this post is to share The Edel Gathering and its fruit with others. And to ask, "Please, God, can I go next year?"

Monday, July 28, 2014

Just a Few Words on a Night Out With a Six Year-Old


You have enough on your plate. I'm not going to tell you that the secret to perfect parenting is taking your kids on individual dates on a regularly scheduled basis. But if one night all the other members of your family are occupied, why not do something special? So far this has happened for John and I once every six and three-quarters years, so no pressure!

We had a fun night. Here's my advice when you get the chance to take out a kid one-on-one:

Be flexible! I know John loves burgers, so I recommended Five Guys Burgers & Fries. We showed up, he ordered a hot dog. For the record, he said it was really good and I tried it. It WAS really good.

Be generous! If a kid wants gummy worms, gummy bears, lychee, cookie dough bites and M&Ms on his self-serve frozen yogurt, go with it. What's the worst that can happen? Don't answer that.

Laugh! When we walked into Five Guys Burgers & Fries after talking about it all day long and repeating the name a dozen or more times because the rhyme is catchy, apparently - this kid looked around for half a second and asked, "Okay, what do they have here?"

Listen. In a short time, I won't remember what it was like to have a six year-old son. I tried really hard to listen to all of his chattering and to look into his eyes and connect. It wasn't easy -- that kid wiggles a lot even when he doesn't have to pee - but I tried.

Run! I'm certain my kids' future therapists are going to reveal that their mother loved them through food. Five Guys Burgers & Fries will come up, as will the five-topping yogurt. So I added a park visit to our night out, and we ran and played and managed the dog and rolled down a grass hill and chased mourning doves who were miffed that we bothered them, and dug in the sand volleyball court and swung on the swing. Then, back at home covered in sweat, I let him jump in the pool for an after-bedtime night swim in his underwear. Only stuffy adults go out for dinner and dessert and call it a date. Run! Chase birds! You'll be glad you did and so will your kid.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What is it with Chicago?


Somehow - it doesn't make sense - four different friends of mine are visiting Chicago right now. They are posting photos on Facebook and blogging and texting. I, on the other hand, am home in super-hot Las Vegas daydreaming about ... well ... Chicago. [Editor's Note: Why Chicago? I don't know. I don't really have a thing for Chicago, but I couldn't help but notice when all these different people who don't even know each other were heading off to visit there at the same time. In order to raise my jealousy to all-time heights, everyone I know would suddenly have to be vacationing in Denver. Or Portland. But Chicago's nothing to spit at and my jealousy isn't ultra-finicky.]

This morning I was feeling HIGHLY sorry for myself and if you can drive a car in a mopey fashion, I was doing so on the way to Mass. In my head, I sounded like Eeyore the sad donkey from Winnie the Pooh: "Everyone else is in Chicago. I'm stuck at home. Kevin's away at scout camp but I'm here hanging out with the dishwasher and three-fourths of our children."

I tried to have a mature little talk with myself. The top lecture headlines going through my mind were predictable, I'm sure you've heard many of them yourself:
  1. Don't Compare Yourself to Others
  2. God Has a Plan for You Right Where You Are
  3. Be Grateful!
  4. Chicago Sucks! Who Wants to Go to Chicago Anyway?
  5. Life is Good! You Have Nothing to Complain About!
The lectures weren't super-effective, but listen to what happened in the afternoon: A friend texted and asked if she and her kids could come swimming. (Heck yeah!) I invited another friend and her family to join in. (They came!) My exceptionally fantastic next-door neighbors contributed to the joy by sharing with me a helping of the prawns they made for dinner. (Delicioso!)

Almost everyone was in the pool later when heavy gray clouds got more ominous-looking and thunder and lightning boomed and lit up the sky enough that some of the kids were starting to freak out. (One full-grown adult may have contributed to this after a particularly close lightning strike by using the words "everyone could die.") Our group of friends, six adults and eleven children strong by this point, moved inside. The party went on for another couple hours. Kids ran wild in damp bathing suits, adults gathered around the table talking and laughing. Outside, the rain poured. Not once did I think about Chicago. Not even once.

I have issues, it's true. I need to work on my perspective, and truth be told I probably do need a vacation. But more valuable than a vacation is a great group of friends. Throw in a desert thunderstorm, a neighbor's good cooking, a tasty beer, laughter, and super-happy kids and Chicago isn't necessary anymore.






*Photo credit - AA, PVdR, KE - thanks to good friends who responded to my call for photos 

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Mustache and the Kazoo

I got into my mini-van today and noticed a fake mustache on the floor in front of the passenger seat. I thought it was kind of novel so I started looking around to see what else I might find and discovered a green kazoo and a few pistachio shells.

Something about those three random objects made me think about where I am in my parenting life. There used to be a day when I would have seen Cheerios and sippy cups on the floor at any given time. Diaper wipes. A baby shoe. But not anymore. My kids have graduated from the baby/toddler/little kid era and have moved on. Why do I seem to be lagging behind them? My youngest is six, which means he hasn't been in diapers for three years, almost four. He can do nearly everything on his own now. But every now and then I still catch myself being surprised when I'm just sitting in a chair at home or at a social event and my kids are functioning quite nicely without my help.

Does this happen to everyone? This failure to realize when your parenting enters a new era? There were SO many intense years of sleep deprivation, diaper changes, chasing toddlers, cutting food into kid-sized bites at meals, butt-wiping, etc. Now there are days when one of the kids MAKES LUNCH FOR EVERYONE. Or bakes a batch of cookies without my input. They do their own hair, chores, and packing for trips. It's so weird.

I admit. I'm having some moments of "what do I do with myself?" Things seem too easy. Not that there aren't new challenges, but it is different and less labor-intensive. I'm afraid that this is a precursor to empty nest syndrome. What is THAT like? You get home from taking the last kid to college and the house is empty and quiet and how many fewer loads of laundry a week will that be?

You don't have to tell me to get a life. I have plenty of interests and hobbies and identity outside of parenting, although none quite as consuming or rewarding. But there is this weird stillness all of a sudden since the kids have gotten a little older. It's like silence after a noise you'd gotten used to. It's not a bad thing, it's just different. I may have to put on the mustache and play that kazoo to keep from getting melancholy.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Nightstand's Piling Up

I have criticized people before for reading more than one book simultaneously. But suddenly there is this PILE by my bedside!

Journey to the Center of the City, by Randy White because I wanted to recall the story of his family moving into inner-city Fresno and what a difference it made to the neighborhood and in their lives. All the social justice concerns we had as college students have seemed trickier to keep up with and that makes me sad. Perhaps I'm trying to shake myself a little.

Tweet Naked, by Scott Levy, because I have a huge crush on social media. I want to know it better and delve into my fantasy that one day I will use it to encourage and minister to more people.

Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. The back of the book sucked me in where it said, "we should look at the world that surrounds the successful - their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing." Amen, we should! We should spend lifetimes analyzing this stuff! Man I wanna sit around researching and writing and talking about it. I guess that's called a Master's Degree.

John Adams, by David McCullough. I'm absorbing every word of this biography. I can't bear not to underline multiple passages every few pages - passages describing who this man was and how he worked, especially little glimpses of insecurity. God, it's comforting that this great figure was "miserably unsure of himself" and had "acute anguish" from time to time. I don't mean to glory in his weakness, but I find it a tremendous relief. We all have a chance!

The Holy Bible. I try to keep this one near me at all times. It saves me. Convicts me. Wipes away my tears and gives me hope. Plus I'm tight with the author so I got that going for me.

My journal. I opened it up to see what I wrote last and it was in June. "Strategies for Self-Control." Intriguing. I'm going to guess this pertains to my yelling but I can't recall the source of the note or the reason for the entry. And it was only a month ago. Sheez Louise. I'm slipping.

102 Ways to Earn Money Writing 1,500 Words or Less, by I.J. Schecter. You all know how well this is going. I better keep reading! And writing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Five Favorites from Pico to Puzzles

-1-
Pico!
I'm far too critical of myself in the kitchen, but every once in a while there's something good to say. This week I made pico de gallo! It was a fun and fulfilling time at the counter cutting ingredients into small pieces. I might have gotten a tiny glimpse into how this food-making thing appeals to so many folks. I for SURE enjoyed eating the fruits vegetables of my labor!

-2-
Summer Surprises
For all the hellish hotness around here (it was about 109 degrees today), Summer in Vegas brings its unexpected joys. This butterfly is one of them. I'd also add snow cones, swimming pools, iced coffee, early morning walks, and the occasional cloudy day.

-3-
Cake!
A July birthday in the Mojave Desert means two things: my birth mom was hardy, and ice cream cake is called for. Here I am with my four kids and a treat from Baskin-Robbins. My oldest son will probably pass me up in height by my next birthday, his tallness exceeded only by the cheesiness of his grin for this photo.

-4-
Home Improvement
Second only to my own home-improvement projects are the projects of friends. Look at this superb floor, installed to replace WHITE carpet, which has no business in households with children. This is the home of a close friend and neighbor and it was interesting to hear about the project as it progressed. It was especially notable because it was a community effort involving several other friends and providing stories and memories to relish.

-5-
Puzzles
I love jigsaw puzzles, and splurged on two with a gift card from my parents. This was the smaller of the two, and lots of fun, though completed too quickly. I think I'll do it again and again and when I tire of putting it together I'll glue and frame it and hang it up somewhere to remember this summer.





Happily linked up with Mama Knows, Honeychild




Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Castles

I recently read a fiction novel set largely in and around castles. It has made my imagination run wild. What's it like to live in a castle? (Or, what WAS it like?) What was it like to build one? What are the rooms like where you sleep? Eat? Dance? Behead people?

In true researcher fashion, I ran right out to my local bookstore a couple weeks ago and bought a book about castles. In bed that night, I studied every page, entranced by the photographs and learning a bit from the descriptions. But the next day I took the book back because it kinda sucked. There were no photos of the interiors of the castles. And no explanations! I don't know what a "keep" is! Isn't there a "Castles for Dummies" book? I need it!

If I can't get what I want from a book I'm not sure exists anyway, I need to arrange a tour. No, not just a tour ... a short-term stay. I'll tell you what I am really hankering for, and you tell me if you know a travel agent who can hook me up.

I'd like to stay in a really old castle run preferably by the SCA, or people like that. I need more than a few nights ... a week, let's say, or a month. And things need to be really authentic - this castle can't have central air or electricity or running water. We will do things on this visit just like they were done centuries ago. I want to walk down hallways with stone walls and floors and ceiling. And I don't want to be cheesy tourist lady with a camera around my neck. I want to be dressed in period clothing. And I want to feel what they felt. What would my shoes be like? My hairdo? My body odor? (I'm pretty sure they didn't bathe quite as often as we do now - but I will learn this all during my stay.) At dinner time, I want to gather in the big ol' dining hall (but they didn't call it a dining hall - what did they call it? --- see? I need a book!) with a bunch of other authentic people from way back then and eat a meal like they would have way back then. After dinner and whatever they do right after dinner, I will retire to my little tower room with a window out to the lands below and go to bed. What sounds would I hear? What would the sheets feel like? Would there be castle critters scurrying about?

Tonight I will go to sleep thinking of this marvelous castle visit I have to look forward to. And this is just the beginning! Wait til you hear how I want to experience New York City! Normandy! The English countryside! Buckingham Palace! Charleston, South Carolina! Alaska! A passenger ship across the Atlantic in 1914! The Oregon Trail!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Purses


How can you NOT overthink your purse selection? You carry it with you every time you go out! You better consider your options, and you better like the thing. Currently, I don't like mine and it is way past time to get a new one. Conveniently, I have some birthday money, so I am trying to find the perfect replacement for the old and inadequate thing I've been carrying around.

The purse pictured above (I took the photo to text to my friend the purse expert) was just the right size and style, but I didn't really want red. Or blue. Or yellow. Or brown, or black, or zebra, leopard, or plaid. I tried to like it. I set it on my shoulder and walked around the store, and when I'd pass a mirror, I'd take a look. It seemed fine. Nothing stellar but not ghastly, either.

There was a nice, soft green one, too, but it was ultra-casual, and once every 238 days - when I dress up - it wouldn't work. I liked a black and white striped one, but it was a shade too fancy and didn't have the straps I want. The bright blue looked like Easter egg dye. The pink screamed, "look at me! I need attention!" I love gray but there were only three gray options there tonight so that tells me I have missed the gray boat - it is no longer "in." Floral makes me think of ugly sofas. And what business does anyone have with a garish orange purse unless they're in the forest trying to not get shot? 

I don't want a huge flap on the front. I need a convenient place to stow my phone. I am dead-set against touting a designer too obviously (a small name plate is acceptable but I do NOT want to see any words or letters or symbols from a distance of more than two feet unless the designer pays ME to carry his or her product.) Ideally, my new handbag needs to be big enough to hold my wallet, phone, and lip gloss but small enough that it doesn't take five minutes to find my car keys. It should have an artistic air, but not scream Bohemia. Be smart but not pretentious, cool without trying too hard, fun but not flippant ... and able to show up for a serious interview over coffee, then get on the plane for a Pearl Jam concert. See what I mean? Am I asking too much?

I didn't get the red purse. It just didn't make me happy. I am not allowed to expect my husband, children, career, friends, or hobbies to make me happy, so doggone it - my purse has to do the job. I have a feeling I'll be shopping for a while.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Seven Quick Takes Friday

-1- 
I signed up for a fruit and vegetable co-op! This is great news because it will force me to prepare and eat some vegetables. Even funnier than the image of me preparing and eating vegetables is the image of me arriving at the co-op pick-up place at 6:45 a.m. on Saturday morning with my tousled hair and laundry basket. The whole thing seems oddly like a punishment of some sort.

-2-
The Edel Gathering! How did I not know about this? Clearly I've head my head buried in the sand. Dangit. Jennifer Fulweiler and Hallie Lord put together this fabulous idea and it happens next weekend. Best. Idea. Ever. It was sold out before I even knew it existed, but NEXT TIME! I'll be there! And I'm bringing 240 of my closest friends!

-3-
Puzzle love - I love puzzles the way I love sugar and, perhaps, tequila. It's a love that has to be controlled. My parents gave me a Barnes & Noble gift card for my birthday and days later this loveliness arrived at my doorstep:
The thousand pieces aren't the challenge. The challenge is not letting the puzzle consume all my time to the detriment of my marriage and mothering. I've been texting a puzzle-loving, long-distance friend and we started new puzzles on the same day. She wrote: "I'm glad I have a puzzle buddy. Sometimes I think it's just me and cat-loving grannies that like puzzles." This gave me an image of myself at age 91 - sitting at a table, working on a puzzle and drinking tequila. I'm not sure if that's utterly depressing or something to look forward to with all my might.

-4-
I'm pleased to report that my curriculum decisions for next year have been made! Next comes the ordering of the materials - wheeee! (recalling grade-school book order joy). Inevitably, this is followed by implementation of the materials. (Sigh.) Why can't the implementation maintain the level of excitement that the choosing and ordering does? Well, maybe I've made SUCH good choices this year it will go swimmingly.

-5-
I'm coming out of a bleak week. Simply, a rough combo of circumstance and mood. And in the middle of it I read about a friend having a theme song. I considered what my theme song would be and came up with "Shake it Out" by Florence and the Machine. Full lyrics here, but the highlights:

And I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't
So here's to drinks in the dark at the end of my road
And I'm ready to suffer and I'm ready to hope

The song does a good job of fluctuating between despair and new resolve. My moods do the same thing. I also love how she says, "I like to keep my issues drawn." 
-6-
Half marathon coming up! Whaaaaat?!? My m.o. is to sign up for a race while I'm on a high from a previous race and then months go by and I forget and then something jars me and the dread sets in. But that's why I sign up, because if I didn't have something on the horizon I would curl up and melt into a slothful glob. It's two months away at this point. Gotta up those miles!

-7-
Our backyard project is under way again - after a brief, ten-month hiatus. We removed some flagstone from an old patio, replaced it with rock, and then let the unwanted flagstone sit around gathering spiderwebs for nearly a year. Well, this week a friend came and took the flagstone so now we have no excuse not to get to work! Here's what I've done so far: pulled some weeds by the pool and set out these kinda-pathetic pots to try to get a feel for what I want by our palm tree.
I gravely dislike the look of three empty pots sitting by the pool, and they are light years away from the look I'm hoping to achieve - but who wants to bet they sit there for ten months?



Read the inspiration for this post, and many other great ones over at Conversion Diary!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Orange You A Beauty!

My daughters had a sleepover recently and wanted to "do facials." When I was their age, my idea of a facial was spreading Noxema from ear to ear and braving the burning tingle. 

But this is 2014, so we have the internet. And we don't have Noxema. I searched "easy homemade facial recipes" which led me to a pumpkin facial and then I adapted a little and before you could say "clogged pores," there was this:
I would share the recipe, but you know me- I'm so breezy and confident in the kitchen that I never measure. Haha! But the truth is I couldn't screw this up unless it got too runny and wouldn't stay on their faces so I just tossed stuff in the blender willy nilly and adjusted for thickness (by adding whole oats). Here are ingredients and quantities as near as I recall:

2 cups-ish canned pumpkin
about 1 cup vanilla yogurt
1 cup milk, roughly
1/2 cup honey, more or less
1 cup oats, give or take a little

Put everything in the blender and blend!

Feed any remaining pumpkin to the dog because it's supposed to help with doggy tummy problems.
Now you pour the facial smoothie into little personal bowls for each spa customer:
And then they apply it to face and neck for a delightful and only kinda disgusting edible face mask:
Allow the mask to dry for 20 minutes and then wash face with a warm washcloth. A word to the wise spa owner: clean pumpkin mask spills off the sink area sooner than three days later as the mixture will harden like concrete and you will curse the internet, pumpkin, and your own otherwise willing disposition.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My Best Mom Advice in Rough Times: "Feed and Clothe"

I did okay when I had my first baby. When he napped, I napped. Or showered. Or lounged around eating BonBons. I didn't realize how easy I had it, of course, until I had two. 

With the birth of my second baby, showering and doing errands in particular became super-difficult and I was stymied! 

When baby number three came along I just gave up completely for about a year. It wasn't pretty. I have housekeeping stories involving the cloth-diaper poop-sprayer alone that would rock your world. I really should have taken more photos of my house during that time because now they would be hilarious.

After weeks and months of just trying to feed everyone and keep some clothes clean, I realized this was the key: just try to feed everyone and keep some clothes clean.

To this day, when friends have babies, I share the same priceless bit of advice: just feed everyone and keep some clothes clean! Let the rest go for a while. Believe in God's grace and connect to it as much as possible in order to focus on your baby (or babies, or children) and keep your other responsibilities to a minimum.

If you read this and think: "Wimp! -- I balanced two sets of triplets, a full-time job, my 3,500 square-foot house and kept everything sparkling!"... well, you should write a book and tell all of us how you manage. Or if you're a person who refuses to believe your life or your marriage can go on without regular polishing of the baseboards, for instance - go on polishing! If you're handling it, I ain't gonna stop ya. My "feed and clothe" lecture is for those of us who aren't handling it.

And here's what I've discovered recently - it's not just moms of newborns who need extra grace and the "feed and clothe" minimum. I've found the following circumstances can leave me scrambling, and I am years past having a newborn:
  • seasonal transition times - (i.e. the beginning and end of the school year, or when Autumn turns to Winter) 
  • job changes 
  • illness of any kind, no matter how small
  • having houseguests
  • holidays and other times that involve extended family
  • travel
  • marking milestones - even good change is often difficult!
I can usually, though not always, recognize when I'm in the midst of a challenging time. When I do, I remind myself to take it a little easy for a few days, or sometimes weeks (the craziness of Christmas, for instance, requires weeks). "Feed and clothe," I tell myself. "And try to enjoy my kids."

The cool thing about having older kids is that when a tough time comes along, and I resort to "feed and clothe," those older kids get in on the jobs! I wish I could say that with them managing the minimum requirements, I'm able to go back to eating BonBons, but that hasn't happened. And I'm okay with that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

You Know You're in a Bad Mood When ...

... Your "Happy Place" Suddenly Turns Depressing or Terrifying

Do you have a "happy place?" If you're having trouble sleeping, or trying to fend off anxiety in the dentist's chair, or upset about how a meeting went --- do you envision a certain place to calm yourself down, lower your heart rate, and remind you that life isn't always rough? I do. In fact, I have several, because I'm a woman of many moods and not every happy place can serve every mood.

Right now, my mood is dreary enough that none of my happy places are functioning as they should.

Here are brief descriptions of the places which usually bring me such peace and joy, followed by their current malfunctions under the influence of my grumpiness. Delightful!


Happy Place #1: Ivar's Acres of Clams in Seattle - whenever life isn't treating me well here in the Nevada desert, I can go to my happy place at a window table at Ivar's. I'm sitting eating a bowl of clam chowder and looking out past the boats at Puget Sound. It's dreamy. Even saying "Puget Sound" makes me happy! Imagine gazing at it! And after I eat my chowder, I will walk home in the light rain to my cottage (also with a view of the Sound) and work on my novel, which has been paid for in advance by my generous and admiring publisher.

Today's Problem: The chowder is cold, my server is grouchy - almost irate - because his girlfriend just dumped him, and a dreadful oil tanker accident has rendered the water in the Sound black and murky.


Happy Place #2: A golden meadow from a hike in my childhood memory - It is so gorgeous it will make your eyes sing opera. Sunlight floats over the green grasses and wildflowers and the entire scene is framed by Aspen trees with their noble and pretty white trunks.

Today's Problem: I just got bitten by a rare spider that was crouching in the green grass seemingly waiting to get a taste of me. Its poison is starting to make me dizzy and I just overheard someone say "no help for miles." I'm as good as dead.


Happy Place #3: Barnes & Noble Bookstore at The Grove in Los Angeles - all three stories of it! In this happy place, I have hours and hours to spend meandering and searching through the books. Whenever I find a book I want to read or look at, a giant pillow appears at my feet and I can sit and relax and peruse to my heart's content.

Today's Problem: I'm reading a best-selling book written by my ninth-grade boyfriend, who, when I knew him, couldn't have written one coherent paragraph. Gradually, I realize the store is dark and monsters and velociraptors have been set loose on all three floors. And they've caught my scent.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday

Looked into a freelance job. I have too many questions I can't seem to get answered.

Went to Barnes and Noble with my birthday gift card. The puzzle I was so excited to get was sold out.

Made chow mein from scratch. Didn't turn out great.

Made an a$$ of myself on eBay.

Am watching Kevin and friends load up flagstone. Should be helping but instead I'm complaining to you.

A fun trip we planned for a long time got canceled today. I was looking forward to music, old friends, cool birds, and a visit to a brand new coffee shop. Totally depressed.

No idea in the universe how I'm going to buy curriculum for three kids for next year.

A/C repairmen and pool repair guy both had to come today.

My sunburn hurts.

I kinda thought the birthday joy might last a little longer, but no.



Saturday, July 12, 2014

I Can Sum it All Up With Cabinet Knobs

It's the eve of my 44th birthday and I spent time today reflecting on the past year and considering goals and hopes for the next one. I totally "over-thunk" it and came up with three handwritten pages of highlights and disappointments, favorite events and lessons learned since last July 13th. It was - as the cool kids are saying - epic. 

My keen intuition tells me that not everyone wants to read all the contents of those three pages. So I spent additional time trying to encapsulate the 365-day period.

And this is what I came up with: Cabinet Knobs. 


We purchased and installed these during the time I was age 43. Cabinet knobs, like the days of my past year, are fun and colorful and sucked a bit of money out of our bank account. Many have meaning in their color and design that wouldn't be readily apparent to outsiders. I needed Kevin's help with cabinet knobs and my daily life alike, and the kids had a lot to do with the arrangement of both. Although plenty of friends visited my house, only a few noticed the new knobs and commented. In the same way, of the many friends who blessed my life this year, only a few really took time to listen and get to know me more truly. The cabinet knobs, like my days, have been artistic, creative, whimsical, and practical. They're like the days of my life in one more way, too - they are well-installed and should be around for a while, but they won't last forever.

Friday, July 11, 2014

7 Quick Takes Friday



I went bowling tonight at a charity tournament for "Water for People." It was a great cause and we hung out with fun people. But it was clear that I was surrounded by good bowlers, and I am NOT a good bowler. So I was a little nervous and started having a talk with myself as I walked up to take my turn the second or third time. "Drop the perfectionism. No one cares if you're a pro-bowler. Just have fun and a good attitude." And then I interjected: "Wouldn't it be funny if you gave yourself this talk about relaxing and enjoying the game and not worrying about your score or how bad you are and then you got a strike?" --- And then I got a strike. It was awesome.

Just found out an adopted friend put a few thousand dollars into a private investigator to find her birth parents and it worked! This would be more compelling information if I had a few thousand dollars. I often dare myself to write up one of those posters you see on Facebook where a person is searching for his or her birth parents. "My name is Lulabelle Frankenhort and I was born on May 22, 1984 in Des Moines, Iowa at Alpsview Hospital. Please share this post and help me find my birthparents! Even if one of them DOES need a kidney."

Montages make me cry. Doesn't matter the subject matter. You could create a montage on orthodontia and put it to the right music and I'd be sobbing. This may or may not have happened today at the end of our parish VBS.

Just for fun torture, I looked at a couple hundred properties for sale in the Seattle area on Realtor.com last night. There was one that called my name. It had a billion windows and an expansive deck and a writing room with a perfect space on the wall for a drawing of Charles Dickens. It was on an acre of land overlooking Puget Sound and it was so green and lush that it made my heart and my eyes and my soul ache to move there immediately. Then today I drove the mile to my church to hang out with about a dozen great people who know me and my kids and have for years and we laughed and cried and talked about ministry and family ... and I will never get out of Vegas.

My son and his team at Robotics Camp took third place in the camp competition today! I'm so proud! And so deliriously amused that life has led us to things like Robotics Camp!


Here I am today with my daughters and youngest son. I had so much fun with them and the other hundred kids at VBS this week - and especially with the church staff and volunteers who made the week happen.


Today in the midst of VBS, an appreciation luncheon, a photo shoot for a magazine(!), a charity bowling tournament, and a quick late-night Target run, I missed one of my favorite things: Free Slurpee Day at 7-11 on the occasion of 7-11! Darnit! Well, I hope someone out there had a pina colada Slurpee for me!


For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

This is My 700th Post - That Counts for Something

I wrote the first post on this blog August 26, 2008. Granted, there was a whole blog before that which I deleted haphazardly - as I sometimes do things haphazardly - but let's try not to think about that. As far as THIS blog goes, I've written 700 posts as of today.

I'm looking forward to seeing what God might have in store for my future. If it's 700 more posts over a couple more years, that's something. If it's the wherewithal to eventually write a book, I'd be great with that too.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Confession is Good for the Soul - And Some Part of Me Should be Healthy!

My sweet friend Heather just posted "35 Zucchini Recipes" on Facebook. THIRTY-FIVE? I need one. Actually, one might be pushing it. What is zucchini, again?

This is the post that will guarantee kharmatically that I get cancer. And probably lose a few friends and alienate some relatives. But I can't stay silent any longer! I have to confess!

I hate cooking! There are already underused cookbooks in my cupboard, and now on top of that I see the plethora of recipes on Pinterest and Facebook and hear about all these successful cooking blogs, celebrity chefs and shows where people stand around and COOK! I'd almost rather watch people stand around and do TRIGONOMETRY!

I hate gardening! I will still very happily tour your garden, listen to your gardening efforts and stories, and smile when you show me how you remove those wormy things from the leaves (ew!). But I do not want to build a garden, plant a garden, water or weed or maintain a garden in any way or really even EAT most of what comes out of a garden. I am still a nice person. I still think it is the coolest thing ever that my sister-in-law takes her blender jar out to her garden on Summer mornings and harvests her breakfast smoothie on the spot. But I don't want to do it.

I hate ALL Facebook posts that sound anything like any of the following:
  • Twelve Reasons You Need to Drink Lemon Vinegar Almond Curd Every Morning
  • Ten Things You Should NEVER Order at Fast-Food Restaurants If You're Stupid Enough to Go to A Fast-Food Restaurant in the First Place
  • Here's Another Reason To Worry About That Box of Breakfast Cereal
  • How to Lose Weight and Keep Your House Rodent-Free With This One Natural Ingredient

I looooooove Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwiches, Arby's roast beef, and McDonald's french fries.

I once kept a shoebox full of granulated sugar hidden under my bed. If I wasn't afraid of ant invasion, I probably still would.

There. I feel better. Or at least my soul does. Clearly my body isn't getting enough vegetables.




Tuesday, July 8, 2014

30-Second Read: Dog Poop Humility

There was dog poop (not belonging to my dog) in my driveway the other day and my first reaction was disgust, followed closely by anger. But, thanks to all the stories I've read of super-suffering and humble saints, I quickly saw the poop as an opportunity! Service! Humility!

I will clean up this poop with a bright heart and a shiny-happy countenance and I will whistle a tune. Just like St. Faustina in her diary, I will say, "Help me, O Lord, that my hands may be merciful and filled with good deeds, so that I may do only good to my neighbors and take upon myself the more difficult and toilsome tasks."

But then I got a bunch of the poop smeared on my hand and under my fingernails and the efforts toward humility were drained from my soul and I stomped around muttering various threats and cuss words just under my breath.

St. Faustina asked God to fill her hands with good deeds. Mine were filled with dog poop. I suppose when I can more clearly see how these can be the same thing, I will be one step closer to sainthood. One giant step.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Five Things I've Learned About Leading a Catholic Moms' Group


1) We really need each other.

A huge part of the reason my friend Kristi and I wanted to start a moms' group at our parish in the first place was because we were in need of friendship with other Catholic moms. I was new to Catholicism and had four young children, one of whom was a newborn, so there were all kinds of things I wanted help with - both faith-related and mothering-related. I yearned for a place I could grow in my faith, ask questions when I needed to, AND find solace in the throes of potty training.

At our planning meeting, I passed out a questionnaire to find out about the wants and needs of the little group that was forming. Each woman had different ideas and questions, but every one said she hoped to meet other moms. Introvert or extrovert, working or stay-at-home, one child or six, Filipino or Mexican, black or white, cradle Catholic or convert, we moms need other moms in our lives.

2) Many will come for the friendship and stay for the Jesus.

I've had enough conversations over the years to know that some of the thinking goes like this: "I don't really need any more church stuff, I just want to meet other moms." Or: "I guess I can listen to them talk about the Real Presence because that one lady makes amazing brownies." Oddly, though, the closer we get to each other in a place where Jesus is at the center of the activity, the more open we become to growing in our relationships to not just each other, but Him.

3) You can minister to a group of stay-at-home moms and working moms in the same room.

For all of the potential conflict that exists in Mom-Land, (natural birth vs. meds; bottle vs. breast; organic food vs. Pop Tarts;) one of the most sensitive is between the working mom and the stay-at-home mom. You can detect this on TV, in books, and on social media. But guess what? In six years of leading this moms' group that has a pretty even amount of both kinds of moms, I have found the spiritual needs of both to be fairly similar, if not exactly the same. True, one might think she's more tired than the other, and they dress a little different, but they're going through almost all the same experiences in their mothering, their marriages, and their spiritual journeys.

4) It may be easier to discuss the Church's teachings on contraception with a glass of wine in your hand.

Not every Catholic woman embraces or even understands what our Church has to say about openness to life, sexual morality, Confession, divorce, annulments, preparation for the sacraments, the priesthood, or the authority of the Pope. Because I am still a relatively new Catholic, these topics are often at the forefront in my thinking, especially when I'm around other Catholics. I want to talk! I want to poll everyone! I want to ask questions! Not everyone wants to discuss this stuff, but most do - and it goes over even better when you can find a comfy place to sit and sip a glass of wine, or beer, or a really large margarita. Sometimes it doesn't even take alcohol. One of the best discussions about contraception that I've been a part of took place years ago over frozen yogurt, and then morphed into a book group and we all learned a lot.

5) Partnership in ministry is so much more effective and fun than doing it solo.

I would not have started the moms' group alone. I never could have kept it going if so many wonderful women hadn't come along and joined in the effort. Because we all have busy lives and hordes of children between us, sometimes the scheduling didn't work and I scrambled to assemble the content for a meeting by myself. Those were depressing times. When I have a good idea, a partner can make it even better. When I'm stuck or clueless or lazy, a partner pulls me through, helps me plan, and motivates me.

What a joy to reflect on the wisdom I've gained from these treasured years. Many of my best friends were made in our moms' group, and it has given me a trillion good memories. Thanks be to God that He showed me my need for community all those years ago.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Merry Fourth!


I've often said the Fourth of July is my favorite holiday because it is so low-maintenance. Holidays like Christmas and New Years have so much build-up and so many high expectations they are difficult to survive. In order to sort out my feelings on the topic, I'm going to compare and contrast the Fourth of July with Christmas.

Fourth of July: Friends
Christmas: Family, and that includes Grandpa Lou who starts drinking shortly after dawn

Fourth of July: Fireworks
Christmas: Presents for everyone, even the bug guy and the neighbors who just moved in and Great-Aunt Elda who never wants anything but you have to get something anyway

Fourth of July: Star-Spangled Banner
Christmas: Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer

Fourth of July: Grilled meat
Christmas: Figgy pudding. Or a Turducken.

Fourth of July: Red, white, and blue matching t-shirts for the whole family
Christmas: New suits and fancy dresses for the whole family except for little Junior who refuses to wear anything but his Batman costume

Fourth of July: The Declaration of Independence
Christmas: Jesus

Fourth of July: Pinterest desserts in patriotic colors. Pinterest decorations indoors and out.
Christmas: Pinterest recipes for desserts in red and green, Pinterest crafts, Pinterest Santa treats, Pinterest ornaments, Pinterest manger scenes, Pinterest blueprints for snow forts, Pinterest holiday diets, Pinterest patterns for handmade stockings, Pinterest list of "100 Must-Keep Christmas Traditions."

Fourth of July: Sweltering heat and profuse sweating at the hometown parade
Christmas: Church

Fourth of July: Go to bed to the sounds of neighborhood incendiaries and bombs bursting in air
Christmas: Go to bed aware of either the peace and silence of falling snow or the cat romping in torn wrapping paper or Grandpa Lou passed out and snoring in the hallway

Thursday, July 3, 2014

I Could've Warned Them

My brother and sister-in-law, James and Rachel, are super-athletic and outdoorsy folks who do things like cross-country ski to a remote yurt for FUN. Their home gym takes up a whole floor of their house. And they buy Christmas presents for each other like crampons and rain kilts for all-weather hiking.

So last year they went on this big ol' hike to the Middle Teton. They went with their good friend Mac, who is a guide and the director of a university outdoor rec department. They camped at the trailhead the night before and woke up at three o'clock in the morning to begin the fourteen-mile hike with 6,000 feet of elevation gain. They got caught in a thunderstorm well into the day and had to stop hiking and stay low to avoid being struck by lightning. This was a 90-minute hold-up. But that kind of thing happens to seasoned hikers all the time and they know how to handle it and how to stay safe. Plus they are well-prepared and have good gear. Once the storm passed, it was a satisfying ascent and they were thrilled to make the summit.
On the way down, Rachel was not looking forward to crossing the snow fields. She felt ill-prepared despite the time they had spent learning and practicing self-arresting with an ice-axe at the beginning of the day. During a pep talk given by James as they carefully crossed the ice, Rachel slipped and fell and careened down a 50-foot long, 60-degree slope. She hit the rocks at a frightening speed and James said he was thinking that she was going to have a lot of broken bones. He was terrified. So was Rachel. She tried to do the things she'd been taught in order to slow a fall, but nothing was working. At the bottom, she hit the rocks, jumped up and shouted, "I'm okay!" Mac had descended the slope ahead of her, and was by her side in seconds. He had to ask her to sit down so he could check for broken bones and he was concerned she might pass out from shock. James was at her side not too long after Mac. He slid down the ice feet first and stomach down probably almost as fast as Rachel in her uncontrolled fall. And here's the part of the story that I can't quit thinking about -- James was in a panic and he immediately started asking, "Why did this happen? What went wrong?" In fact, he repeated this line of questioning uncontrollably enough that Mac asked him to take a breath and try to sit down.

I keep repeating that question to myself, incredulously: Why did this HAPPEN? Are you KIDDING me? Let me answer that. You were climbing over ice on a mountain that was treacherous enough to require helmets and fancy shoes and a sharp axe but the shoes and the axe didn't work and Rachel fell! DUH.

Are you like my brother? Do you trust your equipment and expect things to go well? Are you surprised when things go wrong?

Or are you like me? Here is what I might have said if I had been at the bottom of the slope:

"OH MY GOD! I KNEW THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN! I KNEW IT!"

I knew the equipment would fail and someone would slip. Except I really didn't. But in my mind, the fear is so strong that often, when I complete adventures or even daily tasks unharmed it is quite a surprise. Wow! I made it off the mountain alive! I got to my car without being attacked in the parking lot! No one kidnapped my child at the beach! You get the picture. I don't know that I can ever learn to fully believe that things don't always turn out tragically. For me, the key is to keep on doing things even when they involve risk. Not crazy risk, but enough to keep life interesting. I'd rather be surprised by success than doomed and confined to my house by the fear of failure.