Thursday, September 27, 2012

Easy Pinterest Art Project

I found the inspiration for our Pinterest art project here.  Here's a picture of the original:

We liked the original idea, but we wanted square canvases and cleaner lines that didn't allow the paint to bleed.  Thanks to the Jo-Anns Labor Day Sale, we got the canvases, spray paint, and painter's tape at 40% off.  This would prove to be an even sweeter deal when we made a mistake and had to buy another canvas.  (Fortunately, I had another coupon to get the 4th canvas at 40% off as well!)

The supplies:   

Here is the blank wall that we wanted to fill.

 Canvases with blue painter's tape.  We tested one canvas at a time.  Unfortunately, the blue painter's tape allowed the spray paint to bleed underneath because it bubbled.
Although it was thicker than I wanted, we switched to the green painter's tape.  It stuck much better than the blue and survived two coats of spray paint for even color.  Make sure the tape wraps completely around the sides as well.

 Removing the tape

Let the spray paint dry at least 24 hours.  Make sure to remove the very top strip of tape, one at a time.

Removing the tape on our green canvas.
Finished product up on the walls

 Hooray for a fun, successful, inexpensive art project!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Plugging Your Life's Meters

August was a dry spell for me--emotionally, physically, spiritually.  I'm calling September my recovery month!   

Philip, amazing husband and pediatric resident, was working a month of nights.  Despite all of his best efforts to make the month a painless one, it was difficult.  If this makes any sense, I felt like a married but single mom.  Philip needed his rest during the day, did his best to spend a few hours with me and the kids between naps, and left for the hospital in the late afternoon.  The evenings were long, and after the kids went to bed, I was left to my own devices--to do some housework, bake, or prep the next day's meal.  When I was feeling less than industrious, which was more often than not, I wasted too much time on the Internet, read, or indulged in the occasional pity party. 

I developed a lot of bad habits that month.  I neglected my afternoon prayer during the kids' naptime.  I justified it, telling myself it was important to take a nap with Philip and spend some time with him that way--even if we were just sleeping next to each other.  I stayed up way too late in the evenings, playing on Pinterest, checking Facebook, or reading articles online because I struggled to sleep without Philip home.  I let the kids watch too much television.  I justified it because, for that month, I was a single mom who was just doing the best she could.  Looking back, it's downright terrifying how easily I could justify all of those lies to myself.  

Fortunately, for me and my family, the month of nights is over, and we're getting back into our refreshingly normal, ho-hum routine.  With our routine back in action, I'm trying to drop my bad habits (vices) and trying to build some good habits (virtues)!  My hope is that these good habits, or virtues, will become such a part of my life that the next time a difficult patch (like a month of Philip working nights) hits, I'll be better prepared. 

The key, so far, seems to be "feeding the meters" of all areas of my life by giving them a "time-in" each day.  These focused, dedicated segments of time to the different areas of my life are paying off in big ways.  It seems counter-intuitive, but when I give as much of myself as I can to all areas of my life, I have more energy, and I end up accomplishing more.    

I plug my spiritual meter by coming to God in dedicated prayer time.  He's never outdone in generosity!  Not only do I usually walk away with a much-needed reality check, but He multiplies my time, and I almost always complete my daily do-it list after dedicated prayer time.  Someday, hopefully soon, I will have enough self-discipline to wake up before the children and start my day with this dedicated prayer time.   

I plug my children's meters when I give them lavish affection, read an extra book before nap/bedtime, put a spotlight on their good behavior, embrace the mess of a new craft/baking project, or get down on the ground and join them in play.  When my children receive more time-ins during the day than time-outs, I'm rewarded as a parent in two major ways:  
  1. They return the attention with their own lavish affection.
  2. They "run off the fumes" of our time together and allow me to get a few things done after our time-in.
I plug my own meter emotionally by giving myself real breaks throughout the day.  I thought I was getting a lot accomplished by constantly multitasking.  I'm getting much more accomplished when I tackle each project one at a time and give myself two 10-minute breaks in the day (one before lunch and one before dinner).  I spend my break time reading inspiring articles, checking Facebook, or adding pins on Pinterest.  Rather than leave the laptop computer open on the kitchen counter all day, I created new technology boundaries.  The laptop can only be open for a few reasons:
  • I am taking one of my two (AM & PM) 10-minute breaks.
  • I am reading a recipe online while I am making dinner.
  • I am returning e-mails or other online correspondence for no longer than half an hour.
  • I am blogging (with no other windows/programs open) after I complete my prayer time.
I keep my laptop closed so that I don't see incoming e-mails, Facebook notifications, etc.  I leave my daily do-it list on top of the closed laptop so that I have a visual reminder that I have other things I need to accomplish during the day before indulging in these online distractions.  With my built-in breaks and a closed laptop, I don't feel the temptation to keep up with e-mails, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.  I know that I can take my break when I need it, and the time will be spent exclusively on enjoying it.  With the built-in breaks, I don't get burnt out doing everything else during the day.  Without the breaks, I was getting burnt out by lunchtime and would have what I call a "Bad Mama Moment."  A "Bad Mama Moment" is doing something like losing yourself in a half an hour of Pinterest while your kids stare at the television because you haven't taken a break all day.  To keep my "Bad Mama Moments" as few and far between as possible, I set a timer for my AM and PM breaks.  When I hear the timer go off after 10 minutes, I'm able to close the laptop and get back to the work of the day refreshed.

I plug our marriage meter when I help Philip to "rejoice in the wife of (his) youth."  When I do that, I am remembering to fill his meter before the children's meters.  When I make a nice meal, give him a warm welcome home, show genuine interest in his day, give him affection, suggest we do something other than watch television, and keep a firm bedtime routine with the children, I am showing Philip that I love our children, but that he is still my first priority.  With self-discipline on my part, we are able to have nutritious, home-cooked dinners at least 6 nights out of the week, and the kids are asleep by 8:00 so that we can have an hour or two together before bed.  With that dedicated time one-on-one, we have more energy to fill our spiritual, physical, and emotional meters together.  Our prayer life together is back in full-bloom, and we feel more intimate physically and emotionally.

With the help of some truly amazing girlfriends, I am learning that it is a good, beautiful, and often necessary thing to take a break or ask for help.  For example, one sweet friend brought over a coffee and watched the kids this morning so that I could run a few errands by myself.  I felt like I was on vacation!  When I backed out of the driveway in my minivan all by myself, I felt dangerous listening to the music a little louder than usual and luxuriously looking at clothes for myself.  When I came back, the kids were happy to see me, I was refreshed, and we read every single book we checked out from the library this week before naptime just because.  The time apart from each other was good for all of us, and my friend was happy to help out because she knows I'll do the same for her whenever she needs it.  

This same friend and her husband do a monthly date night swap with us.  One night each month, each couple has a chance to go on a date while the other couple babysits.  The babysitting couple brings their kiddos over to the other couple's house.  The kiddos play together until bedtime, and the visiting kiddos return home with their dad.  The babysitting mom stays until the couple returns home.  Both couples get one free date night a month, and the kiddos have another chance to see their buddies.  It's a win-win for everyone involved! 

For now, this plugging the meters approach is working to build good habits in my daily life.  My prayer life is better, the kids are happier, our marriage is flourishing, and I am much healthier physically and emotionally with the fun of friendships and real breaks throughout my day.   

I'm still a work in progress, and I will be until the day I die, so in no way am I doing a perfect job of filling all of my life's meters on a daily basis.  Some days, I'll do a great job of filling one meter but completely neglect others.  I'm learning that everything else seems to fall in place when I keep my spiritual meter fed.  God helps keep all of the other meters in perspective.  So long as I'm showing God that I love Him and show the people He put in my life that I'm trying, it's a good day.      

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Non-Negotiable Issues for the Catholic Voter

A Moral Obligation
In just a few months, we have the opportunity and the moral obligation to elect new leaders in this country.
Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one's country.           Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2240. 

As Catholic voters, we do not necessarily fulfill this moral obligation by filling out a ballot and getting an "I VOTED TODAY" sticker.  We are morally obliged to be well-informed voters with well-formed consciences who vote accordingly.  

What does that mean?  

Well, in some elections, voters are deciding on issues that have several morally good solutions, and their job is to select the best strategy.  In other elections, voters encounter "non-negotiables," the issues on which the Catholic voter must never compromise or make exceptions.  The candidate or issue endorsing the side out of favor with Church Teaching on "non-negotiable" issues must not receive a Catholic's support.  As far as possible, the Catholic voter is morally obliged to cast a vote for the issue or candidate in line with Church Teaching--whether in a national, state, or local election.  

No election is "too small" to apply these moral principles.  Each and every election matters, especially when we consider how our nation's top-ranking political leaders got their starts on city councils, school boards, etc.  Evaluate each candidate, taking into account which non-negotiable issues he or she will likely encounter in office.  As the Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics says, "One should seek to elect to lower offices candidates who support Christian morality so that they will have a greater ability to be elected to higher offices where their moral stances may come directly into play."  

Unfortunately, in some elections, none of the available candidates have a clean record or platform on the non-negotiable issues.  In those instances, the voter (who is well-informed with a well-formed conscience) votes for the candidate who will likely do the least harm among all available candidates, and consider their views on other, lesser issues. 

In some elections, a voter can morally decline voting if all available candidates endorse one or more of the non-negotiable issues.  However, the voter must remember that voting for one of these candidates is not necessarily a positive endorsement; it may be tolerating a lesser evil to avoid a greater evil. 

5 Non-Negotiables
While there are many more than 5 non-negotiable issues for Catholics, there are 5 issues most in play in United States politics today.  Those "top 5" non-negotiable issues that must never be promoted by law are:
  1. Abortion
  2. Euthanasia 
  3. Embryonic Stem Cell Research
  4. Human Cloning
  5. Same-Sex "Marriage"
 Priests for Life did such a great job of summing up these issues in publishing the Catholic Answers Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics, that I copied their summaries.  (Abbreviations below):

1. Abortion

The Church teaches that, regarding a law permitting abortions, it is "never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or to vote for it" (EV 73). Abortion is the intentional and direct killing of an innocent human being, and therefore it is a form of homicide.
The unborn child is always an innocent party, and no law may permit the taking of his life. Even when a child is conceived through rape or incest, the fault is not the child’s, who should not suffer death for others’ sins.

2. Euthanasia

Often disguised by the name "mercy killing," euthanasia is also a form of homicide. No person has a right to take his own life, and no one has the right to take the life of any innocent person.
In euthanasia, the ill or elderly are killed, by action or omission, out of a misplaced sense of compassion, but true compassion cannot include intentionally doing something intrinsically evil to another person (cf. EV 73).

3. Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Human embryos are human beings. "Respect for the dignity of the human being excludes all experimental manipulation or exploitation of the human embryo" (CRF 4b).
Recent scientific advances show that often medical treatments that researchers hope to develop from experimentation on embryonic stem cells can be developed by using adult stem cells instead. Adult stem cells can be obtained without doing harm to the adults from whom they come. Thus there is no valid medical argument in favor of using embryonic stem cells. And even if there were benefits to be had from such experiments, they would not justify destroying innocent embryonic humans.

4. Human Cloning

"Attempts . . . for obtaining a human being without any connection with sexuality through ‘twin fission,’ cloning, or parthenogenesis are to be considered contrary to the moral law, since they are in opposition to the dignity both of human procreation and of the conjugal union" (RHL I:6).
Human cloning also involves abortion because the "rejected" or "unsuccessful" embryonic clones are destroyed, yet each clone is a human being.

5. Homosexual "Marriage"

True marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Legal recognition of any other union as "marriage" undermines true marriage, and legal recognition of homosexual unions actually does homosexual persons a disfavor by encouraging them to persist in what is an objectively immoral arrangement.
"When legislation in favor of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral" (UHP 10).


CCC Catechism of the Catholic Church
CPL Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Notes on Some Questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life
CRF Pontifical Council for the Family, Charter of the Rights of the Family
EV John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life)
RHL Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation
UHP Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons
So, how does a Catholic voter become well-informed?  
Consult the candidates' voting records, read the news, and consider the bias of all of your sources.  Contact the candidates or the candidates' offices directly if you are unclear on their stances on a particular issue, especially if the candidates are in a local election.   

Well-Informed and Well-Formed
Once a Catholic voter is well-informed on the candidates, he or she must make sure that their conscience is also well-formed.  A well-formed conscience will never contradict Church Teaching.  To find out what the Catholic Church teaches, start by consulting the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  

A candidate does not merit a Catholic's vote merely because of his or her political party, charisma, or self-proclaimed Catholicism.  The candidate worthy of a Catholic voter's endorsement is the one who is (most) in line with Church Teaching, and, therefore, will do the least harm and promote the most good.      
The Problem
Most think that the so-called "Catholic Vote" is a myth in today's elections.  

My Prayer
I pray that that myth gets turned on its head come November.  

May all of our nation's priests be emboldened to share the Truth of Church Teaching from the pulpit, especially on these non-negotiable issues.  The sheep are hungry for Truth!   

May our courageous priests receive tremendous graces for shepherding their flocks and feel the support of their bride, the Church.  

May all of the Church faithful humbly submit themselves to Church authority, praying for our priests, and voting with well-formed consciences. 

May we never take for granted our religious liberty or our "right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  

Happiness, accurately understood, is living out our Christian "vocation to beatitude."  "The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1718).  In other words, as St. Augustine said, our hearts will be restless until they rest in God.  

How much more will our country be restless if its leadership remains godless?  So long as we build a kingdom on earth that is not godly, believing that our individual "pursuit of happiness" is a license for moral relativism or free-for-all hedonism, we will toil in vain like those in Psalm 127. 
"Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build.  Unless the Lord guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch.  It is vain for you to rise early and put off your rest at night, To eat bread earned by hard toil--all this God gives to his beloved in sleep"  (Psalm 127:1-2).
Now, and always, may Catholic citizens vote with well-formed consciences to serve the Eternal Kingdom rather than this mere earthly one.  

Let us not forget we have but one Master.
"No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon"  (Matthew 6: 24).

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

On the 15th Anniversary of Blessed Mother Teresa's Death

Today is the 15th anniversary of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta's death on September 5th, 1997.  Today is a chance to reflect on her life's work, the many blessings she brought to the people she served, and the blessings she continues to bring to those who never met, but are forever changed by her witness of Love.  

Mother Teresa, holding an armless orphan at one of her order's orphanages.
I was in junior high when Mother Teresa went on to her eternal reward, and I was too young or immature to understand the magnitude of this blessed woman's life.  Of her many famous quotes, my favorites come from her February 3, 1994 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.  

As a woman who worked intimately with the poorest of the poor and the most unloved people on the planet, she witnessed the darkest consequences of human sin.  So, when this woman, who saw the consequences of sin unabashedly zeroed in on abortion as "the greatest destroyer of peace today," if we are wise, we will listen.  Below is my favorite excerpt from her National Prayer Breakfast speech.  If you cannot read her beautiful speech in its entirety, please, at the very least, read the excerpt below.  (Priests for Life have the full text as well as the audio available in MP3 format here.)         
Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.
Many people are very, very concerned with the children of India, with the children of Africa where quite a few die of hunger, and so on. Many people are also concerned about all the violence in this great country of the United States. These concerns are very good. But often these same people are not concerned with the millions who are being killed by the deliberate decision of their own mothers. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today - abortion which brings people to such blindness.

And for this I appeal in India and I appeal everywhere - "Let us bring the child back." The child is God's gift to the family. Each child is created in the special image and likeness of God for greater things - to love and to be loved. In this year of the family we must bring the child back to the center of our care and concern. This is the only way that our world can survive because our children are the only hope for the future. As older people are called to God, only their children can take their places.
But what does God say to us? He says: "Even if a mother could forget her child, I will not forget you. I have carved you in the palm of my hand." We are carved in the palm of His hand; that unborn child has been carved in the hand of God from conception and is called by God to love and to be loved, not only now in this life, but forever. God can never forget us.

I will tell you something beautiful. We are fighting abortion by adoption - by care of the mother and adoption for her baby. We have saved thousands of lives. We have sent word to the clinics, to the hospitals and police stations: "Please don't destroy the child; we will take the child." So we always have someone tell the mothers in trouble: "Come, we will take care of you, we will get a home for your child." And we have a tremendous demand from couples who cannot have a child - but I never give a child to a couple who have done something not to have a child. Jesus said. "Anyone who receives a child in my name, receives me." By adopting a child, these couples receive Jesus but, by aborting a child, a couple refuses to receive Jesus.

Please don't kill the child. I want the child. Please give me the child. I am willing to accept any child who would be aborted and to give that child to a married couple who will love the child and be loved by the child.

From our children's home in Calcutta alone, we have saved over 3000 children from abortion. These children have brought such love and joy to their adopting parents and have grown up so full of love and joy.

I know that couples have to plan their family and for that there is natural family planning.
The way to plan the family is natural family planning, not contraception.

In destroying the power of giving life, through contraception, a husband or wife is doing something to self. This turns the attention to self and so it destroys the gift of love in him or her. In loving, the husband and wife must turn the attention to each other as happens in natural family planning, and not to self, as happens in contraception. Once that living love is destroyed by contraception, abortion follows very easily.

I also know that there are great problems in the world - that many spouses do not love each other enough to practice natural family planning. We cannot solve all the problems in the world, but let us never bring in the worst problem of all, and that is to destroy love. And this is what happens when we tell people to practice contraception and abortion.

The poor are very great people. They can teach us so many beautiful things. Once one of them came to thank us for teaching her natural family planning and said: "You people who have practiced chastity, you are the best people to teach us natural family planning because it is nothing more than self-control out of love for each other." And what this poor person said is very true. These poor people maybe have nothing to eat, maybe they have not a home to live in, but they can still be great people when they are spiritually rich.   
Blessed Mother Teresa, pray for us.  May the consciences of the voters in the United States be formed to realize that abortion remains "the greatest destroyer of peace today," as you said it was in 1994.  Thank you for showing us how to love until it hurts and to start within our own families.  

"There is so much hatred, so much misery, and we with our prayer, with our sacrifice, are beginning at home. Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put into what we do."