Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Encouragement On THOSE Days

No matter our age, our vocation, our sex, we are all called to sainthood.  
"We are at Jesus’ disposal. If he wants you to be sick in bed, if he wants you to proclaim His work in the street, if he wants you to clean the toilets all day, that’s all right, everything is all right. We must say, 'I belong to you. You can do whatever you like.' And this is our strength. This is the joy of the Lord."  - Blessed Mother Teresa

When we respond to our station in life joyfully, especially in difficult times, it gives glory to God.  Imagine the great joy Mother Teresa gave God by embracing her vocation to the religious life, serving the poor and rejected, and treating all those that she met as though they were Christ in a "distressing disguise."  

I don't know about you, but I, uh, well, struggle a bit with that most days.   

When the babies wake up at 5:30, they don't take a nap, refuse to eat, have 8 timeouts in the pasta aisle at Walmart, Monty (our dog) has his fifth accident of the day by the door, someone hits the mailbox, a speeding driver nearly hits us and flips us off, or Philip has to work all weekend, I don't always feel like offering it up.  

Instead, I am really good at throwing myself a grand ol' pity party.  Population: 1 scary mama!  Look out, world!  I'm having a pity party, and you're only invited if you tell me, "Wow!  That does suck!"  

Once I realize for the millionth time that doing that only makes me (and the people around me) feel worse, I end up turning skyward.  When I pray for it, I'm able to will myself to stop the pity party and "offer it up."  

As a stay-at-home mom, it's so easy and tempting to listen to the devil on the bad days.  He usually tells me something along the lines of, "What you do doesn't matter.  You're wasting your life here.  All you accomplished today was changing some diapers, some cooking, and changing a few loads of laundry.  Zip-a-dee-doo-dah-day!  You didn't even shower before 5!  What kind of a life is that?!"  

On the days when I haven't spent time in prayer, I'm more likely to listen to that voice. What's worse is that sometimes I even start to believe that voice.  Sooner or later, I inevitably end up brought to my knees in frustration.  I'm convinced it's God's way of saying, "Remember Me?  You need Me.  I'm always here, just waiting for you.  Stop trying to shoulder it all on your own.  Come to Me.  I'll give you rest." 

"For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  Matthew 11:30
So, here's the good news:  it turns out holier and wiser people than me (understatement of the century!) are human and experience their share of those days.  Fortunately for me, some of them have written about their struggles, and their words are so encouraging.  

I came across a beautiful prayer written by Mother Angelica called "A Prayer at Day's End."  I think about this prayer on those days. 
A Prayer at Day's End by Mother Angelica
Good night, Lord.  Thank You for Your Grace and Strength today.  I didn't do all the things I wanted to.  I wasn't like Jesus all the times I could have been and I didn't think of You as much as my soul needed to.  All in all, it wasn't the day I planned when I saw the light this morning.  I have acquired more self-knowledge and I do realize I need to put forth more effort.  I am the recipient of Your Merciful Love for once again You put up with my many frailties.  It seems the only thing I have left tonight is my desire to know You better and love You more.  I end the day a little more humbled by the realization of my weakness but exulting in Your Holiness and Goodness.  I shall find my joy in You and not in myself.  If I have grown in seeking You alone then it has been a good day indeed.  Good night, dear Lord; let Your Angels protect me and intercede for me while I sleep.  Let Your Son's Mother make ready many graces for tomorrow, that I may love You more and be more like Jesus.  Amen.
Image from divinewordradio.com
If a woman as holy as Mother Angelica has those days, I'm surely guaranteed them.  

Now, I'm not saying the bad things go away when my prayer life is strong.  Sometimes the opposite is true.  I'm saying a strong prayer life makes it easier to "offer it up" and roll with the punches when the bad things come.  When my prayer life is strong, the bad things become opportunities to unite my sufferings to Christ on the cross--even the little inconveniences.  When my prayer life isn't happening, the prayers turn into, "Lord, WHY ME?!"  When my prayer life is strong, I'm able to will myself to say quick prayers like, "Lord, I offer up Jane's temper tantrum in the grocery store to You.  Thank You for this very public exercise in humility."  Yup, I've learned to pray even when I'm making this face--especially when I'm making this face! 

Jane likes to run over and hug my leg throughout the day.  Just like Jane needs those little moments to know that she's loved, I need to have the same little "check-ins" with God.  My prayers, especially the little ones throughout the day, may not be as beautiful or eloquent as Mother Angelica's, but I think God loves them just the same.  I'm just His little girl, checking in to make sure that I'm still loved and that I'm not as wretched as the devil tries to tell me I am.  

After my little check-in with God, He gives me a grace-filled pat on the head, and sends me along to "be a good girl" - to try my darnedest to become a saint.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Catholic After-School Programs

I am so excited to share information about some solid, Catholic programs for youth!  

Let's quickly get the bad news out of the way.  Not all after-school programs are created equal.  I would take that a step further and say that not all after-school programs have business taking place in our Catholic schools and parishes.  

Unfortunately, after reading about the Girl Scouts of America and their connection with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), I'd put the Girl Scouts in the category of not belonging in the Catholic school setting.  To find out why, read about the organization's ties to Planned Parenthood and WAGGGS here, here, here, and here.  Be sure to read the "Happy, Healthy, Hot" sexual education flier distributed by WAGGGS.   

Instead of dwelling on all of that, let's talk about two great programs geared for Catholic youth!

I hope you will prayerfully consider bringing these two programs to your parish:
  1. Little Flowers Girls' Club
  2. Blue Knights Club for Boys
Here's a little history on the publishing company that started the Little Flowers Girls' Club and the Blue Knights Club for Boys:
In home-schooling, mom - Joan Stromberg - found an abundance of Christian material to integrate into unit studies, yet a notable lack of Catholic material. Using her degree in journalism and history, she decided to bring Mother Cabrini to life in a way that would appeal to children ages 7-12 while teaching them solid American History at the same time. The Glory of America series was then born, through which the values, traditions, and heritage of our Catholic American past can be passed on to our children.

Since then the company continued to grow in its service of the Faith by publishing the club guides and material for the Little Flowers Girls' Club and the Blue Knights Club for Boys, developed repsectively by Rachel Watkins and Major Dan McGuire. These two product lines are amazing tools for training our children in wholesome Catholic human formation and cultivating in them a life of virtues and authentic Catholic morals. 
AWESOME!  An authentically Catholic after-school program that any parish could adopt and be proud of!  
I'm obviously ecstatic about both the boys' and girls' clubs, but I'm especially encouraged to see a girls' club that celebrates femininity in a fun, age-appropriate after-school program.  

Here's a little on the Little Flowers Girls' Club:

Little Flowers Girls' Club® is a Catholic program for girls ages 5 and up based on learning Catholic virtues through the lives of Catholic saints, Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Developed by a Catholic mom of eleven, Rachel Watkins, and based on Fr. Lasance's Catholic Girls' Guide, the Club strives to bring the Catholic faith alive and inspire the girls to become authentic Catholic women.

Each club is run at the local level...there is no national organization, registration or database of groups. If you are looking for a group in your area, please contact your local Catholic parish or Catholic homeschooling support group. If you don't find one in your area, why not start one? It is easy and you can cater the program to fit your needs.

Nine virtues are included in each of three different wreaths or years of study. A fourth year, studying the gifts of the Spirit is also available. The format of the Clubs is flexible, with groups meeting monthly, bi-monthly or weekly. Badges for the virtues are earned by studying the saint associated with the virtue, memorizing relevant scripture verses and studying the Catechism. The program is flexible enough to use with a variety of age groups. Little Flowers Girls' Club® has also been successfully implemented in the family. Sashes, aprons, bandanas, t-shirts and other items are extras that add to the experience, but are not necessary to running a successful Club.

The Leader's Guide for each wreath offers suggestions for running meetings, planning crafts and activities, talks on virtues and other relevant information. The Member's Guide includes the activities, saints' biographies, pictures of the saints, and prayers for each girl. Each of the girls in the Club should purchase their own Member's Guide.
If that's not exciting enough for you, know that the program has the stamp of approval in Baltimore.  "The first two Wreaths of the Little Flowers Girls’ Club program have already received the Imprimatur from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The rest of the programs and years are now under review from that same archdiocese. The authors, all Catholic moms and dads, bow to the authority of the Magisterium in teaching faith and morals and try to live their lives accordingly."

How adorable are the sash and flower virtue badges for the girls?!

Photo from the Little Flowers Girls' Club site
Virtue patches
Check out the Blue Knights gear.  I don't know a little boy who wouldn't want to wear this sweet cape and armor!

Pictures from the Blue Knights Club for Boys site

Year 1 Patch set

Are you interested in bringing these programs to your parish?  The websites offer you all of the information you need to get a troop started.  

I'm learning all that I can so that I can be a troop leader for a Little Flowers Girls Club troop when Janie turns 5!  In the meantime, the website offers information for parents of boys and girls to promote "the growth of virtue in the lives of our children through the teaching of the Faith, authentic human formation, and the values of our history and Catholic heritage."  Love it!   

Saturday, January 28, 2012

"How's it going?"

Here is a story of a little social experiment from 2007.  It made me reflect on my time living in Spain, the beautiful people that I met there, and what they have to teach us crazy Americans about living.

"In Washington DC , at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, a man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

After about four minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About four minutes later, the violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At six minutes, a young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At ten minutes, a three-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent - without exception - forced their children to move on quickly.

At forty-five minutes: The musician played continuously. Only six people stopped and listened for a short while. About twenty gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After one hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:

In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?

If so, do we stop to appreciate it?

Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made…
How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?"


Here's a video of the footage at Metro Station. 

We're always running from one place to the next.  We end up letting the clock rule our days as we move through our often over-scheduled lives.  You may think I sound extreme, but I think this fosters what Blessed John Paul II called "the culture of death."  We're so wrapped up in our own lives, our own goals, that we're too busy to see or appreciate the beauty and dignity of the people around us. 

This made me think about my time studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain during my junior year of college.  

Salamanca's Plaza Mayor.  Here are the people, gathered to watch a concert as they eat, drink, and be merry.

When I arrived, I immediately noticed how much faster the Americans walked than the Spaniards.  Struck by this, I let my camera record my view as I walked from the Plaza Mayor to my home, and I walked at my usual pace.  It was Palm Sunday. 

As I rush by, I see the faces of the elderly among the infants and everyone in between.  They're all walking arm in arm, laughing and talking loudly with their wild arms, carrying their palms homeward where they'll have the midday meal as a family.  

"Domingo de Ramos" in Salamanca's Plaza Mayor (Palm Sunday)
Watching that video makes me sad.  Why was I in such a rush anyway?  Where was I hoping to go on a Sunday when everything was closed during the siesta hours?  

A few months after I took that video, my time in Spain was coming to an end and I was studying for my final exams at the local university.  I had become friends with one of the locals from one of my classes--Davíd.  After class, I asked him if he needed to make any photocopies for our upcoming exam.  He said he did but that he didn't have time to join me--he had to be somewhere in two hours.  Two hours?  What's the rush?  There's plenty that can get done in two hours!  

I laughed and told him I had never heard of a Spaniard being in a hurry.  I said it would only take him ten minutes to walk home in the small town of Salamanca, so I didn't understand why he was in such a rush.  He said that might be true if he were American.  I said I didn't understand.  He said he would inevitably run into all of his friends on our way to the photocopy machine, at the University buildings, and on his way home.  I asked him what the big deal was.  "Can't you just say that you're in a hurry, make your photocopies, and be on your way?"

Here came my lesson on Spanish culture.  "No, Catherine, I can't.  It doesn't work like that here.  If I see a friend, I am expected to have a real conversation.  You Americans are so strange.  You walk right by each other and say, 'Hey!  How's it going?' and you don't even stop or wait for the response.  You just keep on going.  If I see one of my friends, he or she will expect me to talk with them for more than a minute.  Anything less would be rude, and they would be offended.  Being in a hurry to get somewhere is no excuse.  So, imagine if I run into a lot of my friends, how much time that would mean it would take for me to get home."  I envisioned him exchanging the traditional kisses, having conversations with his friends having churros con chocolate in the café of the University building.  

Valor, the best spot for Spanish "hot chocolate" (think the consistency of a melted Hershey's bar!) and churros.
Man, those Spaniards know how to live. 

What Davíd said about us crazy Americans stung for the millisecond before I realized he was completely right.  I thought of all of the exchanges exactly like that that I had had with people on campus back in the United States.  Walking in front of the Union, on my way to and from class, running into each other off campus...  "How's it going?" was the new "Hi."  I don't even know how many times someone has asked me how I'm doing or how it's going, and I give my response to the air as they walk right on by.   

So, Davíd went on his way home, and I went to make my photocopies.  I continued on with my frenetic pace and arrived at the photocopy machine to find two chatty girls making copies together.  Did they not see me?  Hello?!  Couldn't they hurry up already?  C'mon, ladies!  Chop, chop!  I have places to go, and people to see...  

Wait, no I don't.  This is it.  This is exactly where I'm supposed to be as a student studying abroad.  Instead of looking at my watch and tapping my foot impatiently, I should be across the hall in the café with my classmates, eating those amazing churros and talking (borderline yelling like an authentic española) while I wait.  

No, I reasoned with myself.  If I do that, someone else will show up to make photocopies, and I'll have to wait another half an hour.  I better stay in line.   

Meanwhile, Davíd was leisurely making his way home, making time for all of the people he would see and the conversations he would have.  He built in time for these things.  He didn't see them as delays or inconveniences--they were welcome intermissions that he welcomed and looked forward to.  He probably even stopped at a café on his way home to have some tapas and a cerveza.  (After all, it's not polite to eat on the run in Spain.  I learned this the morning I walked to class as I ate a banana.  As my host mother told me, the proper thing to do is sit down to enjoy the meal.)     

I was the typical American, and Davíd was the typical Spaniard.  I was living to work.  He was working to live.

Davíd and his friends would have heard Joshua Bell playing that violin at Metro Station and probably would have stopped to listen.  I probably would have walked right past in my rush to make my train. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Little Moments at Home

Janie the Dinosaur helping me put dishes away
Janie (Tinkerbell) wearing her patch

Tinkerbell helping empty the dryer

Picking up Monty's toys that she dumped all over the floor

Talking and eating books

Giving Mom the stink eye when I told her she had to clean up the Play Doh.

The kids' rooms -- doors closed because it's naptime.  Yessssssss!



Happy dog during naptime

The mailman comes at the same time everyday.  I love knowing these patterns since I'm at home.

Prayer time.  My days never go as well without it.

Making Jane's "Happy Birthday" sign for her birthday party.

Afternoon snack time

Feeding Walt

Playing with Monty

Janie the Dragon "reading" to Walt

Recent Milestones/Developments/Victories/Funny Things:
Walt moves himself around on his belly in full circles and is starting to army crawl.  

Jane got a ladybug nightlight for Christmas.  It freaks her out in her room, but she likes to keep it in the nursery.  Every time I change Walt's diaper, she insists on following me into the nursery where she can play with her ladybug nightlight.  "Mama, ladybug hold you."  (Translation:  Mama, I want to hold the ladybug.)  I turn on the ladybug nightlight to her favorite color (blue), she says "lights on" (translation: turn the bedroom lights off), I turn the lights off, and Jane says "wow" when she sees the blue stars on the ceiling.  A few seconds later, she starts singing her version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." 

We didn't eat out once this week!  We stuck to my menu, made nutritious meals, and only ate leftovers twice.  

Jane and Monty are bonding over Monty's "puppy prozac."  Monty has had to take medicine everyday since we got rid of Larry for his separation anxiety.  He won't take it unless we hide it in chunky peanut butter.  I say, "Jane, want to give Monty his medicine?"  Jane bolts to the pantry where we keep the peanut butter, digs a spoon out of the drawer, and I stick the pill into the dollop of peanut butter.  Monty comes running when he hears his pill bottle shake.  Janie giggles as she gets to hold out the spoon for Monty to eat off of.  I'm still working on getting her to stand still as she extends the spoon.  She doesn't understand that running after Monty freaks him out. 

We tried playing with PlayDoh for the first time this week.  I consider it a victory that it took Jane five minutes before temptation got the best of her and she tried a bite.  Fortunately, she didn't like the taste.

To convince Jane to leave a beloved stuffed animal in the car when we're running errands, we say, "Janie, Teddy has to take a nap.  He's tired."  Then we tuck him into her carseat.  "Night night, Teddy."  She blows the stuffed animal a kiss, and we get to run errands without fear of losing the friend.  

Walt may not be mobile, but he has quick hands!  He started swiping things away from us this week.  He's stolen toys from Jane, chewies from Monty, and swiped my phone from me. 

Despite waking up a full hour or hour and a half earlier since transitioning to her daybed, Jane took a solid 1 1/2 - 2 hour nap every single day this week!  This is a huge improvement from the 10 minute naps she was taking last week.  I thought I was going to lose my mind.  

Jane is a singing machine.  Current favorites include "The Alphabet Song," "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," "Baa Baa Black Sleep," and anything that Barney sings.   

A very pregnant squirrel shows up on our deck everyday after lunch.  Janie and I stick a NutriGrain Bar on the deck rail where we can see it from the kitchen window.  Jane looks forward to seeing "silly squirrel" everyday after lunch.  

Favorite Quotes of the Week:
Jane, on Philip.  "Dada work.  Dada doctor.  Dada help people."

Jane threw a muffin on the floor at lunch.
Me:  Jane, no no.  We don't throw food.  What do you say?
Jane:  Sorry, Muffin.

Me:  I love you, Jane.
Jane:  I love you more.

When Jane wants to be held.  "Mama, hold you!"

From the kitchen table.
Me:  Wow, Jane!  You're a good eater!  Mommy is sooooo proud of you!  It makes me happy when you are a good eater!
Five minutes later, while I am eating my breakfast.
Jane:  Mama, Janie so proudda you!

Upon seeing Monty's accident by the back door, Jane had her first complete sentence.  "Monty, you are so gross!"  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Taking Good Advice

I wrote a few weeks ago about our struggles to get through Mass with two children under two.  Since then, a friend who is a mother of four shared a story.  

An older man came up to her one day after Mass and commended her for bringing her young children.  He told her that they belong there.  Unless they are truly being disruptive, they belong in there and need to learn that they belong in the church.  The noise is always loudest in your pew, and you're always going to notice it more than everyone else.   

Of course I teared up when I heard the story.  What's not to love about an older man telling a young mom that she's doing a good job and that her children belong in the church during Mass?  She said that the experience forever changed her perspective, and it changed mine.  

She said if we're going to say that we're pro-life, the babies belong with us in church, not relegated to some crying room.  She said that unless the child is distracting others, the child stays in the pew.  Once they are disruptive, they are promptly removed from the church and have to endure a time-out in the narthex.  Once they calm down, they are allowed back in.  

We were doing it all wrong.  Jane was "playing us."  Nobody wants to admit that their toddler is outsmarting them, but my friend was right.  Jane knew that she got to run around in the narthex if she got squirmy in our arms and whined in church.  I think I knew this on some level, and I told my friend that.  I was just falling into the easy trap of getting lazy with discipline when it involves my own embarrassment.  So, if Jane was going to embarrass me with a temper tantrum in church, it was much easier to end it by letting her run around the narthex.  I sure as heck didn't want to endure the screaming, snotty scene during consecration under the scrutiny of everyone in the congregation.  Taking the easy way out was teaching Jane that she could manipulate us to get what she wanted, and it only made the problem worse.

Kids are smart.  We're dumb.  They think.  "OH!  So, let me get this straight.  I freak out in public.  Mom and Dad panic.  I get what I want.  I gotta keep doing this."  Just look at these toddler girls.  They know how to work it, and so did Jane at church.    

Well, we're onto you, Jane!  It's a new regime at Mass for the Boucher family.  We've been allowing Jane to play with her "Busy Bible" and other religious books and walk between us in the pew.  We bring a sippy cup full of water if she needs it, too.  Aside from the water, we have a no food rule in church.  Philip no longer allows Jane to struggle in his arms without a consequence.  When she starts to throw a tantrum, Philip quickly removes her from church and she has a time-out on a rug in the narthex.  It's no longer a fun playing ground.  The narthex is the new punishment center.  

After two weeks of this, Jane is learning that she gets to see and do more inside of the church.  Outside, she has to sit in one spot and have a time-out.  Inside, she gets to watch the priest, sing, pray, shake peoples' hands, move around the pew (sit, stand, kneel), read her Busy Bible, and retrieve Walt's binkie.  Inside of church is way more fun than the narthex now! 

We continue to sit in the front pew whenever possible, so the less than perfect moments are still very humbling.  Jane is making great strides, and we just might be able to get through an entire Mass without one of us leaving with her once.  

Lesson learned:  Listen to good advice from friends, especially when it's the tough love variety.  The hard advice is hard because it means we're doing something wrong.  Who wants to admit that they're doing something wrong?  That's hard, and it takes practice.  That's what Christian charity's all about, after all--fraternal correction in a spirit of love.  Thank goodness for good friends who tell us when we're doing it all wrong!  The sooner we admit that they're right, the sooner we can get on with making things better.      

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus"

The viral video "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus" has over 15,000,000 hits on YouTube as I'm typing this blog post.  Jefferson Bethke, 22, posted this video to YouTube, and a few of his ideas include:
  • "Jesus came to abolish religion"
  • "Voting Republican really wasn't His mission" 
  • Religion "builds huge churches" but "fails to feed to the poor"
  • It's not a place of love or acceptance for single mothers that have divorced
  • "Jesus hated religion"
  • Jesus "was called a glutton, and a drunkard" so most churches won't let him in
  • "Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrum"
  • Religion is a "man made invention"
  • "one is the cure (Jesus), but the other's the infection (religion)"
  • "Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus sets you free"
So many things to respond to here!  Hopefully seeing the words written out instead of in rapped version make Bethke's message clear:  Jesus hates religion.  Here's the video if you want to see it for yourself.

Fortunately, a lot of people, people who are much smarter and more eloquent than me, have come up with some fabulous responses to this video.  I'd like to share two of my favorites.  

The first is a video response from phatmass.com.  Fr. Claude (Dusty) Burns aka "Pontifex" says that "the purpose of the video is to do a response from a Catholic perspective, in a spirit of love, but also with a spirit of passion to defend our Mother the Church. The things that are said are not meant to offend, but we do have to be direct about what we believe and what we stand for."

Go directly to the video and scroll down to read the words to the lyrics.  

My other favorite video response is by Fr. Robert Barron, creator of the Catholicism series.  

As usual, Fr. Barron's message is very rich in content.  Do yourself a favor and watch the last two minutes of Fr. Barron's response for a solid Catholic response to "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus."

Next time "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus" pops up in your Facebook newsfeed, I hope you'll consider posting one of these videos in response. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Let's Talk About Sex!

I spent the afternoon talking with high school students about chastity.  I told them about my experiences with dating, wedding preparation, and married life.  After my relationship history, I gave reasons for why I recommend a commitment to chastity and gave them practical tips on how to put chastity into action.  Afterward, I left time for questions.  It took them a while to warm up, but the questions showed me their serious thought on the topic as well as their misunderstandings on a few things.

"If we're in love, is it wrong for us to have sex?"

"Do you think it would have mattered if you had had sex with your husband before you got married?  You ended up together anyway."

"How did you remain committed to chastity when it was tough?"

"What's the big deal if you and your boyfriend sleep next to each other?  Who cares what anybody else thinks if you know you're not having sex?"

"What if I already lost my virginity?  What do I do now?"

"Why do we have to live chastity in marriage as Catholics?  Why can't we just have sex whenever we want and use condoms?"

"If someone was married, gets divorced and remarries, what's wrong with them having sex with their second spouse?"

I was prepared to hear anything, so I fielded the questions without batting an eye.  (Chastity.com was a tremendous resource.  Thank you, Jason Evert!)  I think my answers were helpful, several students personally thanked me for coming, and I left feeling like I might have impacted some of them to consider adopting chastity.  Thank You, Holy Spirit!   

Janie and Walt had come along with me, and they played with study hall students in the Campus Ministry room while I gave my presentation to three different classes.  As I packed them up and buckled them into their carseats, something struck me:  my babies aren't always going to be babies, and they are going to have these same questions. 

I already knew that, and Philip and I have talked several times about how we want to teach our children about their sexuality.  Somehow, though, hearing the high school students' questions, seeing the hurt of those who had lost their virginity, and hearing the misconceptions of the Church's teaching on sexuality made the reality of my role as a parent educator more imminent. 

Philip and I agree that it is our joint responsibility as parents to give our children a life-long sex education.  We won't just have "the talk."  We will have continuous, age-appropriate conversations about the gift of sexuality, what it is, and how we celebrate it.  We want our children to learn that sex is a wonderful, beautiful thing, and that it is something they should anticipate with great joy if they are called to the vocation of marriage.  I'm not so naive as to think that our kids will come to us every time they have a sex-related question or that they aren't seeking out answers elsewhere.  I do hope, though, that they will look to us as a loving, credible, and supportive source of information.

A student today asked, "What are you going to do if you find out that one of your kids loses their virginity before marriage?"

Apparently I didn't have to think about it because I heard myself say,  "Well, I think my husband and I would be disappointed.  I think we would tell them that.  But we'd quickly follow that up by saying that we love them, that we're glad they're still comfortable confiding in us, and that we want them to know that making a mistake doesn't make them a bad person or a failure.  God doesn't hold grudges like we do.  Fortunately, we have the gift of confession where we receive His forgiveness, and as an added bonus, we receive the graces to be built up with holy armor against whatever sins we're struggling with.  Although they can't get their virginity back, it's never too late to reclaim a lifestyle of chastity and save sex for marriage."    

Aside from the reminder that my role as parent sex educator is here, I realized that (1) we don't know what's in store for our children, and (2) that a lot of it is out of our hands.  All we can do as parents is give them the information, pray that they will make the right choices, and love them through the consequences of those choices, both positive and negative. 

When push comes to shove, if my kids make a mistake, I hope I'll love like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son.  The Prodigal Son asked for his inheritance before his father was even dead and then "squandered his property in loose living."  We all know what that means! 

I think I tear up every time I read the story and the son figures out what he did wrong and returns to his father.

Rembrandt's "The Prodigal Son"
Luke 15:20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 
So, if my babies make a mistake, even a really big one like asking us for their inheritance before we're dead and squandering it on loose living, I hope they'll know that we'll still run to them, hug them, and kiss them.  They'll always be our babies, after all.  

(Note:  Readers, when push inevitably comes to shove, I'm counting on you to tell me to eat my words.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Siblings Side by Side

Here are Janie and Walt at 4, 5, 6, and 7 months side by side.  Can you tell which one is which?  Hint: the bow might help!

Four Months
 Five Months
 Six Months
Seven Months

Who is who?
Four months:  Walt, Janie
Five months:  Walt, Janie
Six months:  Janie, Walt
Seven months:  Janie, Walt

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

From a Crib to a Daybed

Jane's always been a climber.  She literally took things to new heights when she learned how to vault herself out of her crib.  We decided this was no longer safe, took one of the walls off of Jane's crib, and converted it into a daybed last night.

I was nervous about the whole thing because Jane also learned how to open doors last week.  (Yes, we're adding baby-proofing the doorknobs to the shopping and to-do lists.)  In the meantime, we stuck a gate outside of Jane's closed bedroom door so that (in theory) she can't escape unnoticed during the night. 

Last night went surprisingly smoothly!  Jane only got out of bed once.  Philip put Jane right back into her crib, laid down on the ground next to her, and waited until she calmed down.  When she was calm but still awake, Philip told her "goodnight" like usual, walked away, and closed the door.  Silence.  She slept until 6:30 this morning!  I heard her get out of her crib, go to the door, and say, "Mama!  Where are you?" while she fumbled with the doorknob. 

Waking up earlier than usual combined with a fun playdate yesterday must have worn her out.  Jane was a tired girl this morning.  When I was in the middle of dusting, Jane ran off to her bedroom.  She's been wanting to play in there independently lately--trying on costumes, playing with her kitchen, working on puzzles, etc.  I let her play for a few minutes before I went to check on her.

The door was shut, the light was on, and this is what I found.

Jane had put on her tutu, found her binkie in the basket on her changing table, climbed into her new daybed with "Doggy," and passed out.  

She's totally her mother's daughter.  We love our naps, and we'll get sleep at any cost--with or without tutus and lights.  Seeing Jane like this reminded me of a photo I took when she was 7 months old (same age as Walt!).  Clearly, we still needed all four walls of the crib attached! 

Oh, how I love those sweet chunky legs! 

Here's to hoping that the daybed transition continues to be a smooth one.  Keep those prayers coming!  :) 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

WARNING: Unripe Butternut Squash Fight Back

I made a yummy butternut squash lasagna recipe last night for dinner.  It required 3 cups of diced, peeled butternut squash.  I spent a fair amount of time peeling and dicing them.  

When I was done, I noticed a film on my left hand, the hand that was holding the squash.  It started to turn red and the skin felt constricted.  I ran it under water thinking that the film would wash off.  I've always struggled with eczema and extremely sensitive skin so I wasn't alarmed--until the skin on my left hand started to peel away and flake.  It was as if I had done a chemical peel on my hand!  

I had never cooked with butternut squash before, so I just assumed that its tough texture (very similar to a sweet potato) was typical.  Apparently butternut squash fight back when they're not quite ripe.  

When an animal tries to eat the squash before it is ripe, it releases a liquid that seals off the exposed area.  The liquid dries to create a kind of scab.  This scab protects the squash and allows it to continue to ripen without spoilage.  Unfortunately, this same liquid which protects the squash absolutely destroys human hands when we cut them before they're ripe!

Here are a few pictures of my hands from last night.  I must warn you that they're pretty gross!

Comparing my left and right hands.  Parts of my right hand got the liquid on it, but my left hand must have gotten covered.

To avoid this same fate again, I wanted to learn how I can tell when I butternut squash is ripe.  According to the National Vegetable Society in the UK, "You can tell when the fruit is ripe by the texture of the skin. It becomes very firm, golden in colour and will easily resist the pressure of your thumb nail. Also, like a melon, it "rings" when given a good rap."  Real Simple says, "Pick a squash that is rock solid and heavy for its size. Its skin should be matte; a shiny finish is a sign that the squash wasn’t ripe when it was picked."

No more unripe butternut squash will be peeled in this house if my hands can help it!


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mass With 2 Under 2

Going to Mass with 2 under 2 has been a challenge.  Before we had Walt, we used to take turns taking Janie out of the church and into the narthex if she got ants in her pants.  When we had Walt, we had to move to a man-to-man defense.  I usually take care of Walt, and Philip usually takes care of Janie.  Whenever the day comes that we are ready for Baby #3, we'll have to move on to a zone defense.  We really need to work on our defense strategy before then.  

We struggle to keep Janie quiet and still for any extended period of time.  Fortunately, Jane received a wonderful present from Philip's parents for Christmas!  (Thank you, Mimi and Papa!)  This present has greatly improved our Mass-going experience.  This awesome present is a Busy Bible.

According to the company website,
The basic idea of a Busy Bible is to provide a book of cloth pages, incorporating simple and quiet activities - things to touch, discover, pull, open, turn, arrange and fashion.  While the child is playing with the book, he is also learning Biblical stories and principles.
The Busy Bible contains 12 pages of Bible stories beginning at creation and following through the Old and New Testaments, giving children a sense of wonder and discovery as they learn about great heroes of the Bible.
We keep our Busy Bible stored away during the week and only bring it out as a special treat when we're going to Mass.  Jane has several other faith-related kids' books such as a Children's Bible, a book of saints, prayers, etc. that we read during the week, but the Busy Bible only makes an appearance at Mass.  The flaps, snaps, Velco, buttons, zippers, and felt figured keep Jane very busy and engaged. 

Unfortunately, Jane still gets ants in her pants around the homily each week, and she refuses to sit still.  She arches her back and insists on being let down.  Philip usually has to leave with her at some point during the homily and return during the general intercessions. 

Sitting in the front pew seems counter-intuitive and scary, but it helps.  Jane is much more interested in what's going on when she can see the priest, lectors, servers, etc. and she isn't distracted by people in front of her.  Her focus doesn't last, though.  Can I tell you how humbling it is to sit in the front pew, especially when your church pews are configured like a horseshoe and your child's temper tantrum is on display for the entire congregation? 

Each week, Jane seems more and more interested in participating in the Mass.  Imitating us and everything she sees is her new favorite pastime.  She's starting to fold her hands, join in the responses, imitate the choir director, and loudly repeat what the priest says.  We're still working on our whispering skills and not talking in church.  She loves being able to use her senses--seeing the action on the altar and around her, hearing the music and melody of the prayers and bells, reaching out to shake everyone's hands during the Sign of Peace, smelling the incense.  The "smells and bells" are supposed to draw us in, and it's definitely working for one toddler I know!         

What do all of you with young children do to encourage them to be relatively still and quiet during Mass?  

Perhaps I should find a weekday Mass at a church with a crying room where we can practice sitting still without disturbing others...  

Saturday, January 7, 2012

8 Timeouts in the Pasta Aisle

I usually make one big trip to the grocery store each week, and we'll make smaller additional trips if necessary.  When you're a mom, you just do whatever you have to do and don't think about how crazy you look--until the people at WalMart stare.  When I go shopping with two under two, it probably looks something like a 3-ring circus.
Walt (who has one pound left before he most definitely, legally has to graduate from his infant carrier) sits atop the cart in his carseat, and Janie gets buckled in to the front seat.  The diaper bag is down below, I have my list in hand, and I have to be as efficient as possible.  On a good shopping day, I get about a half an hour before a meltdown threatens.  

We made it to the pasta aisle when Janie's tantrum began.  We had already blown through the cookie from the bakery two aisles ago, and Jane was in no mood for shopping.  My usual attempts to sing songs, point out things that we saw, make funny faces, etc. were having no effect.  

She was having what I call a typical toddler bipolar moment.  She wanted out of the cart.  She wanted her coat off.  Why was I unzipping her coat?!  She wanted to grab everything in site.  She was thirsty.  She wanted nothing to do with her sippy cup.  Coat launched onto the ground.  Sippy cup nearly takes out the woman across the aisle.  

We had 8 timeouts in the pasta aisle before we were ready to move on.  Each time, I took her out of the basket, sat her on the ground facing away from me, and declared it was a timeout.  She instantly went silent.  When the timeout was over (usually a minute later), I brought her up to her feet.  We had the same conversation each time.  

"Timeout's over.  What do you say?"  
"Sorry, Mama."     
"No (insert behavior, i.e. throwing things out of the cart).  That makes Mommy sad.  I love you.  Give Mommy a hug."

Mothering is so humbling, but I'm learning to care less and less about the humiliation.  I don't care anymore that I'm the person getting the looks at WalMart.  I'm learning that it's worth the humiliation of doing 8 timeouts in the pasta aisle to teach Jane that I'm consistent and that the rules don't change just because we're in public.  Some people stare, roll their eyes, or shake their heads.  Most people who watch me discipline Jane in public nod approvingly or even go out of their way to say something encouraging like, "You're a good mom!" 

Thank goodness Walt's such an easygoing baby and he almost never makes a peep.  We were able to get through the rest of our list in record time and without another meltdown.  

Unfortunately, making it to the checkout aisle is no guarantee of a victory.  I make it a point to select checkout employees who seem kid-friendly.  Unfortunately, the kid-friendly employee was also the slowest employee ever.  As sweet as she was, she insisted on opening every single bag of produce to identify it even though I would offer my help with, "That's one bunch of cilantro" or "That's three sweet potatoes."  Even though the code was directly on the produce, she insisted on double-checking it with the list by the register.  Yup, 4011 is bananas.  She was thorough and precise, but we were already delayed due to the 8 timeouts, and lunchtime was upon us.

I managed to get all of the bagged groceries back into the cart under Walt's carrier, the employee gave us our receipt, and God gave me a "take a chill pill" moment.

A sweet elderly couple in the aisle next to us saw that Jane had thrown her hat out of the cart.  I was planning on ignoring it until we were ready to leave.  When I was getting the receipt, the man had picked it up and was handing it to Jane.  I turned around to see them looking at the babies, making them smile and laugh.  

"What beautiful babies," the woman said.
"You're working overtime!"  said her husband.  
Thinking about the 8 timeouts, I wanted to say something like, "Oh!  You have no idea!"  Instead, I said, "Oh, they keep me pretty busy."
That's when the man said, "Well, you're very blessed.  Have a nice day!"

He was so right.  I had a cart full of food for our family, two perfectly healthy babies, we were on our way out to our car, and then we were going to our home in a safe neighborhood to have lunch and naptime.  We are so blessed.  8 timeouts in the pasta aisle is small potatoes. 

Welp, that was a nice thought.  We parted ways and I resumed my frenetic pace to get us home for lunchtime when we were slowed to a crawl.  Another elderly couple blocked our path.  God really wanted to hammer His point home.  The man pushed his wife in a wheelchair.  I couldn't hear what they were talking about, but I could hear their laughter.  They were happy to be out and about in each other's company.  

I gave God another begrudging, "OK.  I get it."  

Slow down.  
Enjoy the babies.  
Keep giving them timeouts.
Keep giving them hugs. 

We sang our ABC's all the way home because Janie wanted to.      

Friday, January 6, 2012

Love Notes and Keeping the Romance Alive

Philip started the tradition of leaving me little love notes when we were dating.  He'd leave Post-It notes, index cards, or scraps of paper in places where he knew I'd find them later.  I'd find sweet, funny, motivational messages in my planner, on my vanity, in my purse, etc.  He even left me a note on top of my alarm clock as part of his elaborate marriage proposal. 

He still leaves me these little notes on a regular basis.  I was still waking up this morning when I opened up the drawer with all of our bottle stuff and found this note:

"Thanks for being such a super mommy!  I appreciate everything that you do for our family.  Have a good day!  Love you"

I got butterflies and instantly felt like I was back in college, dating the sweet guy from the honors dorms.  I was thrilled to discover that I can still get the butterflies waking up and getting the kids rolling in the morning.    

I recently discovered a great site called For Your Marriage.  It's an initiative by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to help strengthen the vocation of marriage.  There are all kinds of resources, including a Daily Marriage Tip that I subscribe to. 

I wrote a previous blog post about reclaiming date night.  Making it a point to have a romantic evening at least once a week during the week has really helped us to strengthen our relationship.  It's been easy for us to get stuck in the rut of putting the kids to bed, watching a show or two on tv, and then going to bed ourselves.  Date night for us can be as simple as a game of Scrabble and some wine, but it's a chance for us to connect and focus on us. 

Are you and your husband stuck in a dating rut?  Are you even dating anymore?  Consider these weekly dating ideas

Having a regular date night has made a big difference in our ability to: communicate effectively, take inventory of where we are, have more fun, resolve more conflict, take things less seriously, strengthen our prayer life, and be more motivated to reach our individual goals.      

If it's been awhile since you've talked about the issues covered at Engaged Encounter, consider doing this "Grade Your Marriage" activity with your spouse.  It's a good chance to check-in with each other on how you think things are going.  What better time to do it than as we begin a new calendar year?

Philip has always been so good about doing lots of little things to show me that he loves me.  One of my goals in the New Year is to show Philip in lots of little ways how much I love him. 

What kind of little things do you do for your spouse (and vice versa) to show one another how much you care?  I'd love to hear about them.

Now, I realize I'm writing this post on a Friday evening when I'm supposed to be having a hot date with my husband.  Before you all cry "hypocrite!", rest assured that we have our version of an exciting night planned.  Philip's taking a quick nap after a long day at work, and then we're watching a movie together and getting Dairy Queen Blizzards to celebrate the end of a long week.  You know you're jealous...  :)  Now, go and get back to dating your spouse!