Sunday, December 26, 2010


One thing I've learned this holiday weekend is that if you ask a two year old to duck, she'll start quacking. She might not even notice getting her head bonked. FYI, folks.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A social network Christmas

This has been making the rounds if you haven't had a chance to see it.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Virtual Tour of the Sistine Chapel

For those who may never visit Rome, here is a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel that brings this creation a little closer.

All this art is still ours, even if we never see it. Knowing it is there, as a gift for all, is akin to the beauty I imagine out at the farthest reaches of the Universe, slowly spinning clouds of glowing stardust, icy frozen and translucent worlds, all beautiful and all a part of the greater gift. Even if I never see it, the universe is better because it is there.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Annual Scrooge

Jim Carrey as Scrooge
Scrooge is a verb in my house. It is the pre-Christmas cleaning out of the bounty of Christmas Past.  As a Catholic who holds her duty to others very dear (and as a mom who has to clean up the accumulations of daily life) I know that holding on to too much stuff is harmful in so many ways. Everyone knows intuitively, but must be reminded periodically that belongings beyond those that give us a certain level of comfort become a distinct discomfort as they pile up and create messes. More importantly if we have too much we create within us a poverty of charity while building up a wealth of selfishness. With that in mind, before the Christmas onslaught, each toy gets its worth measured: will it do more good to my children or will it do more good donated to someone else? This year there is an added incentive of living in less than 1000 square feet with a family of seven. I simply must make room.

Here's how it works, if you are interested in taking this on for yourself.

Find a good time to do it
We make it a part of the Christmas cleanup before the decorations go up. Before we dust or vacuum, we begin. It takes a total of 45 minutes to an hour, and yes, the kids help. Sort of. More on that later.

If this is too much to add to the preChristmas rush, perhaps it is something you can do around Thanksgiving. Maybe after shopping on Black Friday (or instead of), you can fit an hour in to accomplish this.

Don't be afraid of the mess
I take all the toys down and sort them into various piles: stuffed stuff, dollies, cars, puzzles, artsy, imaginative play, Legos, etc. The kids will help you put things away after you are done. Some items, like my daughter's dolly that she carries with her everywhere or my son's math manipulatives are going to be kept and are complete and need no sorting, so they don't go into the pile. They stay on the shelf.
Check yourself! If you have so much stuff that this task will create a bigger pile in any room than you have floorspace for, pick one room and sort the toys in that room alone. You may need to do what my husband and I had to: reasses how much stuff each child really needs. We found that we had (and still have) too many belongings and began repeating this process through the year. Lent is a great time (see my 40 Bags in 40 Days) to downsize a bit.
At each birthday, too, before the new toys go into the room, the honored child helps me count them and then goes and finds that number of toys he or she is willing to give to a poor child who has none. Even my most acquisitive child is happy to make such a trade while basking in the birthday bounty. Timing is everything.
This is the part that daunts a person. It shouldn't. Just get in there and do it. If you only donate one item and you've tossed out three broken items, fine. You've made some room. Kick back and celebrate. The process itself is good for the soul. Like any skill, with practice you get better at it. Eventually, you may even find yourself not buying an item before it ever becomes a part of your donate pile because you are in the habit of really thinking about how it is used.

  • All unfixable broken items get tossed immediately.
  • Sets get restored. 
  • Distract the kids: I pull a few toys out of the pile that are old favorites, they we are keeping, and that haven't been played with for awhile and send the children to their rooms to enjoy them while I take stock. Coloring in another room (unsupervised) works well, too, if you are a risk taker and plan on painting soon.
  • Put items to be donated directly into the trunk while the children are distracted. I make many trips out to the van in order to avoid making a pile that will, inevitably, be picked through and debated. If I feel bad about donating something, I just don't. If I'm doubtful, I'll ask the child. For the most part, it's my decision. I don't want to be all day at this. Just an hour or so.
Dusting and restoring
Everything is now ready to go back onto the shelves and into the bins. There should be less, even if there is a little less. About 10 minutes before you are finished, have the kids help by dusting off those empty shelves.

Next, I use bins and baskets. In the kids' rooms they have bins for toys. I put toys away that I want put away in a neat and sorted manner (like puzzles and games) The kids can dump things into the bins. Even the toddler can put toys away.

Here's a picture of my donation decision making process, if you'll find it helpful.

We have two shape sorting toys. They both provide the same learning experience. Since one makes noise, that's the one that's donated. I hate toys that play with themselves.

Not Donated:
We have two alphabet puzzles that I kept. One has a picture of the an animal that starts with the letter sound beneath the letter. The other has the lower case letter beneath the capital letter. They both are worked on a different skill. I use them for school. They both stay.


We have two dress-up toys. One is a little bear with outfits that fit together like a puzzle. One is a princess who has various outfits that are magnetized and stick on her. Puzzles win out over gizmos and since I am de-emphasizing the whole princess thing with my daughters, the bear stays.

Not donated:
The tea sets, Lincoln Logs, and dollies that made it safely through last year's sort. They are played with at least once a week.

By the way, my toy bins have lids. I find that when the bins are so stuffed that the bins no longer close, it is time to Scrooge again. Even if the calendar says it is July!

Too much of our wealth winds up here.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Victory from the jaws of judgement

When I went into town the other day, only two kids wanted to go: Simon and Anna. "Great," thought I, "a quick trip to the library and then Adoration!" How convenient to only have two to tango with, and it'll give me some time to treat them both super special.

 The next thing I know, I'm staring a meltdown in the squinty, tearfilled eye. I'm also staring up at a counter of disapproving librarians. It looked, remarkably, a bit like this...

Except there were three of them.

Can I tell you it was awful? How about if I share that I looked up at them and then broke out into a sweat of shame and guilt. I knew I had done everything right. I had set clear limits. I had rewarded the bits of good behavior he had displayed. I had put him in time out even. Despite my best efforts, everything had suddenly and completely failed. I had failed. Worse still, I had failed him. They were staring that way at my son.

In that instant, I wished for a T-shirt that said, "Don't look's Autism!" I was willing for them to dismiss and excuse my son with a handy label. Anything to get us out from under such hostility and the glare of their judgemental eyes! I wished for a brief second of silence so I could squeeze the words, "He's really never like this" into that space between the howls. (Really, he isn't.) I wanted so desperately to shield him from what I read on their faces. If only I could have left the library at the first sign of trouble! Shortly, he did quiet enough to stand up again, at my urging, and make his way out to the sanctuary of our van.

Later that evening, on my mind's instant replay, I would realize that he had responded to their glares. He went from blind howling to desperate sobbing at about the same instant that I broke out in my cold sweat. He actually felt the social pressure to conform and quieted a bit. Granted there was a ton of that pressure and also granted there is no way of knowing if he was responding to the librarians or to my reaction to the librarians. Either way, that was "good" news. It shed a light of victory over the incident. In fact, I wouldn't have had it happen any other way, and yes, I will return to that exact library again. If only to show them that we DO know how to act in public.

The bad news is that he was sick. Later the next day he started throwing up and the next day, the doctor diagnosed a strep infection. So I'm writing this in his defence, just in case anybody who witnessed his meltdown is listening. He wasn't being a bad boy. He wasn't even being Autistic. He was sick, feeling horrible, and had no other way to express it.

And like a miracle, he saw his actions were causing a reaction, so he modified his behavior. Good job, son!

Salvation by Catastophe--Accidental Insights

I'm sharing with you a blog post by a friend. You can start reading here or go directly to her blog.

We both have been reading and discussing the work of Flannery O'Conner lately, and that led to her insight into this tragedy.  

Salvation by Catastrophe

One morning this week when I threw my bag into the passenger seat and made sure my cell phone was turned on, I did not know that only 20 minutes later I'd be standing at the side of the freeway, my legs coated in salt-infused snow, staring down at the remains of a very violent wreck, wondering about the condition of the occupants.

It started as a normal morning, and the drive was uneventful, until something made me take note of a car rapidly accelerating behind me. (Now...when I say "rapidly", I mean: like a bat out of Hell!) There was an SUV behind me in the left lane, slowly creeping forward in a slow, steady pace, and I looked back again at the car behind both of us, it dawning on me in horror that the car wasn't slowing, wasn't braking...and apparently intended to pass me on the left in front of that SUV!!!

There wasn't enough real estate for passing!

I slowed and pulled to the right, still highway speed, onto the shoulder of the freeway just as the car DOVE between us, dodging from the right lane into the left, the SUV's lane, for the pass that ended catastrophically as the car collided loudly with the SUV's front end approximately at the point of my own left front fender (the front side panel of my car). The SUV went off into the ditch in an immediate explosion of white, the offending car went into a spin next to/in front of me and began to roll, giving me an intimate view of its underside anatomy while I braked hard and began to dodge left as the physics of the violent collision sent the car off to the right, rolling into the steep snow-laden ditch.

It was surreal as I passed, slow-motion in my memory, between the dual-whiteout-explosions on either side of me, narrowly missing all of the actions of the car that had caused this disaster.

In shock, I could see from my peripheral the SUV stopping, straight in the deep snow against the thin guardrail to my left as I could also see from my other peripheral the ongoing motion of the car, still flipping, evidenced by the spout of snow announcing, dramatically, the motion of the car and where it was headed, where it had been, where it was going.

Stunned, horrified, concerned, I carefully, not knowing what was going on behind me, stopped and pulled over to the side of the freeway, reaching for my phone, and called 911.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

With all due apologies to the snow bound

This is for the two spots in the country that aren't buried in snow. That would be Amarillo and San Diego. The rest of you can move along. Nothing to see here. Even listening could be hazardous to your sanity.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cough Syrup--Just What the Doctor Ordered

For a cough that needs an extra wallop,
you can substitute the vinegar with whiskey.

I've been passing this along a lot the past few weeks, so it must be that most wonderful time of year: cold and flu season.

My mom has trouble with most cough medicines, so her doctor concocted this remedy. It works just fine. It's got a sour kick to it, but that's part of the charm. It goes down easier when it is hot.

Equal parts of honey, lemon, vinegar. Take 1 TBS. every hour or as needed.

So, if you think you'll be sipping on this all day, you might make it in this amount:
1/2 cup honey, 1/2 cup lemon, 1/2 cup vinegar (cider vinegar or white). Heat on the stove until just barely steaming. Stir before each dose as it tends to settle.

We just don't mess with all the chemicals in the store bought stuff. Besides, vinegar isn't addicting.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Aunt Christie's Beef Stew and a Homemade Onion Soup Mix

This is what we are having for dinner tonight. The instructions are for cooking this in a large pot on the stove. You can also make this in a crockpot by browning the meat and then cooking in the crock pot on low for 5 to 6 hours. If you have a roaster you can double or triple the batch and make it in there. I just found out from my friend Paula that she uses her roaster in lieu of her crockpot all the time. If you have a big family this comes in handy--no need to dirty two pots for one dish. If you have a smaller family, you can freeze the leftovers or call the Catholic Student Union and feed those poor waifs taking their exams.

Aunt Christie's Beef Stew
1 lb of stew meat, roast, or burger
5 potatoes, chunked
3 carrots, sliced
3 celery, sliced
1 large onion, diced
1 cup cooked corn (or 1 can)
1/2 cup barley
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs Italian Seasoning
2 tsp Coriander
1 package onion soup mix*
1 can gravy or 3 cubes of beef bouillon
water to cover ingredients
salt/pepper to taste
optional roux (1/2 cup of water with 3 Tbs cornstarch mixed thoroughly)

Brown the ground beef or stew meat. (If using roast, cut into bite sized cubes and brown.) Add to large stew pot, cover with spices and gravy and begin heating. Slice veggies and add to pot, adding enough water to cover the ingredients with each addition. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 45 minutes or until potatoes and carrots are soft.

Serve with a coarse bread like cornbread, potato bread, or with sourdough rolls.

Homemade Onion Soup Mix
2 1/2 tablespoons dried minced onion

4 cubes (look for one without MSG) beef chicken, or vegetable, bouillon, crumbled
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Mix and keep handy as a spice mix. Makes a great dip mixed with a small tub of sour cream and a block of cream cheese.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Math anxieties

I have been on the hunt for a decent math program for a little over a decade now (this includes my years as a public school teacher). My problem is that I am about 30 years too late. I am almost to the point of ripping up my current math book and stapling it back together in the right order.

Here's the deal
It seems like every stinking math program since the 60s is based on the idea that human beings learn in the following manner: we try something new, leave it, try something else, leave it, then review. Sounds very sensible until you put it into practice. It's called spiraling and even when a program swears it is unit based, it isn't. It just takes the spiral longer to unwind: spending a day or two on a skill as opposed to spending one or two problems a day on it. 

Here's how it looks in a math book for a 7 year old. This is how you regroup. Here are 15 problems of regrouping. Moving on! Here's how you tell time to the minute. Don't forget how to regroup. Moving on! Here's how you add columns of numbers. Don't forget that regrouping now. Or the time thing. Moving on! Remember subtraction? Here's some of that. Now back to that regrouping thing: can you regroup even bigger numbers? Try it. Moving on! Let's do shapes now! Back to the subtraction. Don't forget time. Moving on! Now to regroup columns of numbers! Test Monday!  

Sounds like a recipe for confusion doesn't it? What it turns out to be is the probable reason behind our continual slide down the worldwide comparisons of math comprehension. We used to teach math differently. We also used to excel in the world's arena of math and science. However, I am less interested at the moment in world-wide performances. What I'm more interested in is allowing my child to feel competent at any given math skill before Moving on! to the next one.

This compares math performances by state with the other countries. Sobering and interesting*.
(click for larger image).

*Please note that I said I was "less interested" not that I wasn't interested. Besides, I like graphs.

As a teacher and as a mom I've learned one thing about children's learning styles: for the most part, when children are working on a skill, they stick with it. They play the same game over and over, want that same book every night, try the same somersault again and again. Kids don't like dribbles and drabs of knowledge. They like to wrestle with a concept for a good long while.

Meanwhile, as it turns out, my math program is so hopelessly dribbly-drabbly that I can't repaginate and staple it back together because no two pages go together! Gah! That's what I get for thinking that since the first grade math program was structured fairly well, that the second grade would be, too. I'll never buy without a review again.

Meanwhile, I'm going to do some time traveling for third grade and teach like it's 1959!

Oh yes! Please, please, please if you know of a better homeschool program than Saxon, MCP, or Alpha Omega, let me know!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nothing like frozen weather...

There is nothing quite like subfreezing temperatures and a 20 mph breeze to get the morning started. I'm out milking in all kinds of weather. Being tough. Complaining just a tad. Yeah, I know, I know, I know. It could have been worse. It could have been raining. But hey, since I choose this lifestyle, I should at least be considerate and use the opportunity to offer it up for someone. I remembered this morning.

I'm really blessed, though. I have the type of husband who not only has the cup of hot tea waiting for me when I get back inside, but who also takes the evening milking. Not only is it colder when he does his share of the chore, it's also dark!

Baa humbug...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fair Warning...

I got hit by a nasty virus. It ate my virus protection first. Bad, bug, bad!

Just letting you know. In case it came in through my e-mail, accept nothing from me (andychrism) over the next few days. I'll get it wiped as soon as I can.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The power of love...Grandparents

As you are running around cleaning today, eating tomorrow, and shopping Friday, remember to love.

Here's a little story...

My foster daughter lived with us for the most part from the age of two weeks old to one year (and a few months) when she went to live more permanently with a relative. She came back to us again when she was two years old.

The first day back in our home, she was confused. She'd been bounced around and had experiences that led to a removal from that relative's home. We were so happy to have her back with us, and of course we remembered her, but she had that wary, uncertain look about her that children shouldn't ever, ever have.

She would sit in my lap for hugs. She'd let my husband carry her. She would stand next to the other kids, but her thumb was in her mouth, her smiles were brief, and she was stiff, poised to run. That is until my mother came over.

No sooner had my little foster girl's wide and searching eyes landed on my mom, than her arms were up, asking mutely to be picked up. Mom, still in the hallway and hardly in the house, scooped her little Sissy into her embrace.

She melted into my mother. That moment changed everything. She remembered her Nana. She was safe. Her tiny body finally relaxed as she hid her face in my mother's shoulder. When she surfaced again, peeking at us from the depths of that hug, she was finally smiling. She had come home.

If you ever, ever wonder about what it means to be a grandparent, there aren't any words. Just an image of a poor lost little girl who couldn't quite remember the family who loved her until she was safe again in her grandmother's arms.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Pope and Condoms: A response

I got an e-mail from a friend wondering what in the world was going on in the Catholic Church. According to the media, the Church had changed it's teaching. Impossible. It simply can't. The media got it wrong. Again and as usual.

The response:

Sent: Mon, Nov 22, 2010 01:29 PM

It looks like people are listening to the media again, P***, who reported that the Pope said the exact opposite of what he actually said. Also, this was an interview and not him sitting down with pen and paper to clearly articulate each and every word. I've been interviewed once, and everything I wanted to say wasn't said and what I did say looked very different in the article itself. It really was odd.

The whole of the comment, which I've read, makes clear that what the pope is saying is that you can use the fact that the man is using a condom to explain to him that there are limits to his behavior. To show him that even he is aware that he can't just do whatever he wants, which is the stated belief of the culture. The pope does go on to say that condoms are NOT the answer, that the church is NOT changing it's stance, and that condoms spread disease and are a part of the problem. It's like evangelizing a bank robber, "See? You don't shoot the teller because it's wrong to kill, agreed? Now, about that bank robbing..."

The media wants the church to change its mind so it can continue to beat the drum that salvation is through Latex Alone. It'll do anything it can to make it look that way. One of the main problems with communicating with the media is that the Church, the Pope, and the Lord refuse to communicate in sound bytes. You have to get the whole of the communication and not the itty bitty parts. Even then, the world wants its sin justified and will take anything and twist it to that end.

If you're not being persecuted, misunderstood, and misquoted, you're not doing it right. Right?

Here's some other links you might want to look at:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Real Kids Eat Quiche

Not my quiche. Mine didn't last much past the litany,
Quick Crustless Quiche
a.k.a. Egg Pizza
(makes 2--freezes well)

1 chub breakfast sausage
1 cup mayo
1 cup milk
5 eggs
2 Tbs cornstarch
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 can chopped spinach, drained well
1 medium onion chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brown and scramble sausage in skillet. About midway through browning, add onions. Cook until meat is done and onions are translucent. Set aside. Mix mayo, milk, eggs, spices, and cornstarch. Stir in onion, cheese, meat, and spinach. Divide and pour into two quiche dishes or pie pans greased well or treated with non-stick cooking spray. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown or until knife inserted into center comes out clean.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 to 40 minutes
Eat time: Gone in 60 seconds!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I did it!

My poor husband. He is having to work overtime and he's getting his days off switched at the start of the next pay period, which means he's worked 14 days with one day off in there somewhere. He's thankful. He's tired. He's trying so hard not to be cranky. So this morning as he's getting ready for yet another workday in a long string of days, I asked him, "Is there anything I can do to make your day a little easier?"

He smiled, relieved, and said there was--I could clean "the spot." (ack!)

(not mine, not my house, I'm not cleaning that)

Every home has one, that spot that gathers papers and randomness. My spot is the useless "bar" in my kitchen. It's too tall to use for kitchen work like cutting, mixing, or kneading and too shallow in leg room to use as any kind of table. It's tall enough to lean on but positioned oddly enough in the room that you'd actually be leaning away from any place any person would likely be. You could gaze thoughtfully into the clock face while leaning, but that's about it. The bar is just there for dust and detritus.

I dump my purse on it, the diaper bag, my bills, my keys, the box of tissues, the kids' schoolwork, the family datebook, the address book, the pens, my keys?, catalogs and magazines I'm going to get to, the glue I want to stash out of the kids reach, that slip of paper with that guy's number on it I'm supposed to call for that thing I can't remember now but it's right next to the hairbrush that's not put away again, girls, how many times do I have to ask you to put your things away when you're done with them and here is that paper I needed last week with the directions to that store I guess I can just toss that later after I find my keys, oh yeah this business card I need to save that number to put into my phone, and have you seen my stupid keys for crying out loud? I put them right here on the bar!

He wanted me to clean that up. As much as my heart sank when he said that, I realized it was the least I could do. The bar is central to the house. If it is a mess, the whole house looks messy. Visually, it's unappealing, and it's my mess. So, after avoiding it for most of the day, I managed to get it all cleaned up during the younger kids' naps. Most of it was attractive trash--it looked too good to toss directly from the mailbox to the trash bin but age had worn away its appeals--the rest was mostly filing that needing doing and a few odds and ends that quickly found their long lost homes. I was done in less than an hour--probably much less time than I would have spent looking for stuff that the stuff pile would have eaten this week.

 My husband was so happy to actually see the surface of the bar when he came home today, I almost didn't have the heart to tell him he'd actually done me the favor. He's saved me a lot of frustration this upcoming week.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Shopping with God

via The Ironic Catholic.

Watching the expressions of the shoppers, one or two stand out by the raw longing on their faces. At the risk of sounding un-ironic and un-cool, and oh-so-very-un-postmodern, I would tell them if I could that yes, really, there is love and beauty and joy in the world, it just isn't of this world.
It's in His Hands...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

An agony of the soul...

Rozanne and my young friends, please do not read any further.

My heart is breaking not only for the persecuted Christians of Iraq but for the heard hearted of the West. We who watch television to be entertained by images such as these during our nightly rounds through the channels, who hunger for the close up when the fictitious forensics team speculate not only who did it but exactly how, all for our grisly and perverse pleasures; we who have no more compassion left that television writers must have an animal killed senselessly in our fiction for us to even bat an eye!  We in the West are amazingly wealthy in material goods. Our most impoverished live better than kings ever did in our history, and yet we are so impoverished in our souls that we watch eagerly for the slaughter and splatter marks because we feel so little otherwise.

This is the precious face that will turn the channel for me, this little one will ensure I never let the horror of our entertainments ever again into my home. This is the face I see when you have your little jokes about the ignorance and intolerance of Christians or when you complain that the Church is full of sinners and so isn't good enough for you. I will chew on my tongue and swallow the outrage of this image of death at the hands of those who really do hate, as I politely and hopefully move a bit in my pew to make room for you. I sit in the hypocrite and sinners section myself, next to my own overblown pride!

Oh my Jesus, accept into the abode
of your most compassionate heart
the lives of those slain at your very altar!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The System

I found this on the heels of discussing the frustration of a homeschool senior taking college level math at the community college. He'd asked his professor a question that was answered with "Don't worry about it. It's not on the test." He was taken aback. "I don't care about the test," he told me. He was curious and saw an opportunity to learn more. Rarely does a homeschooled student meet with the answer, "I don't have time to explain," but in the world of standardized testing, public school kids receive this answer regularly.

Really, I don't have any better idea how to fix the system than this man does. I merely point out the problem. Our economic structure and public school system demands that students be warehoused for the majority of the day. Massive homeschooling is not an answer we have time for either.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Because I forgot to proofread...

I had a typo in the title of Monday's post. I'd revised the title one two many times and it just got away from me. It happens. I thought I'd better redeem myself before the Grammar Monkeys attacked.

"Who! Whom! Ha!"
 You have not heard of the fearsome Grammar Monkey? Do you think I'm making this up? They exist, all right, and I don't know about you, but I'm not about to let these little bleached blonde monkeys loose on my blog. Seriously, that monkey looks like some drunk punk rock vampire from the 80s.


I'm ready to reestablish my street cred as a steely eyed English major with the following...

That ought to distract them...

I can still rock with the English Majors. I know an iam when I see it.

I too know how to write like this, you see? <---I could rhyme that.

Oh carp! It's the Grammar Monkeys!

Monday, October 25, 2010

PBS and It's Double Standard on Religion

No religious broadcasting? Fine. I don't really care if they exclude religion from the programming. I'm just waiting for them to stop putting out stuff that is actively advocating against my religion. It really is only fair.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Culture of Divorce

REWIND WEEKEND: As I am off on retreat this weekend, I thought I would rerun some of the marriage posts. We can all use a refresher course on being sweet, after all. (Me included and me especially!)

The Culture of Divorce
"The unchallenged acceptance of divorce has infected our world with hopelessness" from the Retrouvaille vision statement

A friend lamented recently, "Why wasn't I taught how to be a wife when I was growing up?"

I thought on that for a split second and then I opened my mouth and said something along the lines of: well, my mom had tried her best. She wanted to teach me to be independent. She made sure I knew how to balance a checkbook and stay within a budget. She stressed the importance of maintaining good credit, limiting your debts, and paying your bills on time. She also trained me up to maintain a house for myself. I could cook, clean, maintain a decent schedule for myself so I didn't burn out. I resisted all along the way, of course. She insisted on choosing a solid, dependable career as part of my training, and it was in college that I learned to resist anything that resembled "women's work." If it smacked of the domestic chains, I wanted nothing of it. She had her work cut out for her.

When I took a breath and she had half a chance, my friend, obviously a tiny bit irritated with me a bit, said, "Not that stuff. That other stuff."

Come to find out what she really meant was the skills like keeping your mouth shut when you want to let loose, apologizing without rationalizing, allowing space for emotions without letting them run the show. That's a whole different kind of training.

All my married life I've struggled to learn That Other Stuff.

The more I thought about this the more I realized I've been trained to be divorced better than I'd been trained to be married.

Here's some Divorce Preparation Tips I picked up along the way:
  • Get a career and keep your own money in case he dumps you.
  • Keep track of what belongs to whom.
  • Let him know exactly how you feel.
  • Men want to rule women.
  • Men are silly.
  • Men don't feel.
  • There's no difference between men and women--it's all cultural.
  • Because you feel it, it must be true.
  • You're not just arguing with your husband, you are arguing with thousands of years of male domination and female repression.
Most of this "helpfulness" came from those women's magazines that are chock full of articles my husband and I joking refer to as "How to be divorced in 6 years or less!" The real stuff took some real maturity and some real pains to learn.

The Real Stuff like:
  • There's no winning an argument.
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • Emotions are just emotions.
  • Love and trust are not emotions all the time: sometimes they are conscious decisions you make.
There's No Winning an Argument

You can win debates. You can even even win the lottery, but an argument with your spouse is unwinnable. Winning means there's a loser and when there's a loser, you both lose. It's like scoring a touchdown against your own side. You and he are in this together. You're a team. You may have won the war of words, but you've lost something more important. Keeping score and using conflict to do it is a no-win.

You need to approach conflict as the inevitable result of two people living in close proximity. You're going to have to come to a compromise of some sort. This other person has needs and desires that are at the very least just as important as yours. Try to find a way to accommodate each other. The first step is to listen to him. Try restating his argument for him. "Are you me understand." Let him know you are really listening and really considering his side. That generally takes the heat out of the friction between you, and once that happens you can get down to the business of working things out.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Are you still acting single? Do you have your own space, your own money, your own stuff? Do you make decisions that will affect the two of you without his input just because you can or even because you merely feel like it? Do you resent the demands he makes upon you?

If so, consider how loudly you are communicating two thing: my spouse doesn't make a difference in my life and he is not worth any extra effort on my part. You may not ever say such rude comments out loud, but consider how much wear and tear is done to the relationship when you daily act as if they were your truth.

But He Isn't Perfect!

If you are expecting him to be perfect before you are willing to make any changes yourself, you'll have a very long wait. Neither he, nor you, will ever attain that glorious state. Waiting for him to change first is a perfect excuse. It's your handy dandy get of responsibility free card. When you find yourself thinking he doesn't deserve the best from you, I can pretty much guarantee you probably don't deserve the best from him either.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Through the Wringer: When Marriage Gets to "For Worse"

REWIND WEEKEND: As I am off on retreat this weekend, I thought I would rerun some of the marriage posts. We can all use a refresher course on being sweet, after all. (Me included and me especially!)

The caveat I shouldn't have to make: This advice is for the average woman married to the average man. If you really, truly feel you are in an abusive relationship, please see a rabbi, see a priest, see a shrink.

If you have been married long enough, you know that every marriage will reach the breaking point. You and your spouse will be broken. If you aren't married yet or are still in the honeymoon stage, you may not understand. If you are long enough married or if your marriage tragically did not survive this, you know exactly what I mean.

If you are in the midst of the "for worse" part of marriage, do not despair. I do not mean the word broken in the sense of shattered or picking up the pieces. I mean broken in the way that a horse is broken: your own will must be broken before you will accept your Master's yoke. Since marriage is a vocation, a life's work through which you will become sanctified, God will use your marriage and your spouse to make you holy.

You must break. It will hurt. You will be tempted to despair. Remember, in those times, that God has you in the palm of His hands. The agony of the moment is merely the Master's fire, burning away the impurities to make you pure and gold.

Hang in there and hang on.


Not only are you imperfect. Your spouse is imperfect. It takes a humble heart to love an imperfect person. You have to swallow your pride and all those feelings of vindication, righteousness, and fear. You must give him the benefit of the doubt. You must extend forgiveness when things are said in the heat of the moment. You must allow him room to be wrong and maybe not even wrong so much as you must allow him to not be you.

We can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that our way of doing things is the right and only way of doing things. Your spouse has something to teach you: perhaps it is a better way; perhaps it is merely a different way; perhaps it is merely practice in letting go that you really need to learn. Not only are you not in charge, you are never in charge! God is. If not being able to turn over control is an issue in your marriage, you can bet it's an issue in your life, too. Let God do His job, too. In the language of preschoolers: He is The Boss of you!

Not only do you need to let your spouse be wrong, you must also let him be right. Sometimes he is right and you are in the wrong. When he says he is hurt or he is pointing out a flaw in you APOLOGIZE AND SHUT UP. Don't let your defensiveness, explanations and justifications obliterate your apology. Let it stand on its own and do the work of healing. It takes humility to be wrong and truly sorry. You are imperfect, remember. Who else will point this out to you other than your spouse? You will be amazed at what can happen in your marriage if you make a practice of accepting God's grace of humility and meaning it when you say, "You are right. I am wrong. I really am sorry."


In the midst of "For Worse" you will have a lot of temptations: temptations to say hurtful words, to despair, to wallow in unproductive emotions, to leave. To combat these you must pray. Pray for your spouse, for your marriage, and for yourself. If you don't already do this, do this. Live your life in prayer. Be a prayer--a person who prays. Give each moment to God, especially those painful ones. If you don't already know how to offer up your suffering to God, tell Him, "I don't know how to offer it up, but I am." He'll do it for you.
Instead of telling your spouse all those terrible things you want to say, tell your Father. Wallow in those emotions with Him. If they are justified, He will do something about them. If they are not, He'll do something about you. It's a win/win. Your spouse won't hear as many hurtful words from your mouth and God will take care of the root causes generating them.

Most importantly pray with your spouse every single day. If you are both praying intensely there may be times when you will sob uncontrollably in prayer. Go ahead. There may be times when your spouse does. Don't let that stop you. Don't stop the prayer to discuss it. Let it be. Not everything has to be analyzed by your brain. Sometimes God is doing all the work that needs doing and that is especially true during prayer. The rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet are two excellent prayers to do daily with your spouse. Pick something that involves you for at least 10 minutes or more and something that focuses you on something other than yourself. Most importantly, pick the prayer together. And if your spouse does not want to pray with you yet, pray that God plant a desire in his heart to do so!

One of the most important things about prayer is that it leads to an increase in humility (see above). As you bend your knee to Someone greater than yourself, you become better versed in knowing that you are not the ultimate being in your little universe. Regularly bringing yourself down to size in your heart and mind through a good prayer life will help make a little more room in there for your spouse to live.

Remember: This too shall pass...

Every storm of marriage will pass. Although some are like hurricanes that linger for days or even months, if you and your spouse can keep to your commitment, your marriage will be better than it has ever been after the sun breaks through again. Hang on. Hope. Pray.

Divorce is easy. Marriage is hard. Divorce is a matter of paperwork. Marriage is a matter of "dying to self" and that is hard, hard, hard.

Yet so worth it!

A Lifeline for Marriage:

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Part II All You Have to Do Is...

REWIND WEEKEND: As I am off on retreat this weekend, I thought I would rerun some of the marriage posts. We can all use a refresher course on being sweet, after all. (Me included and me especially!)

The 3 Things You Need to Do

1. Pray
2. Give more
3. Stay in your right mind

A Recap and an Introduction to Part II
Marriage is almost impossible. It takes society, willpower, the threat of financial ruin, and Divine Intervention to keep us from exploding into separate and unhappy divorced pieces. Studies have shown that after a few years, unhappy couples who have rated themselves as miserable and yet stuck it out now rate themselves as happy. The unhappy couples who divorced still rate themselves as miserable( That makes sense if you think about it. Are you happier knowing that when times get rough, you have someone willing to tough it out with you? Or are you happier knowing that when times get rough enough, you'll be all alone?

Real unhappiness in a marriage stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature. We think that we can live happily ever after. Oh sure, you'll be happy intermittently and sad intermittently, and angry, too. But that happily ever after part comes later, ladies, when you reach your reward. Having impossible expectations leaves you frustrated and unhappy. Who are you going to blame for your disappointed expectations? Him? How about our fallen human nature?

From our Self-Esteem Pushers we've heard that human nature is giving, loving, generous, kind. Blah, blah, blah. What is pointedly ignored is that human nature is also selfish, demanding, cruel, and lazy. Each one of us is a combination of good and bad traits. You are. Your husband is. We are all pretty much idiots emotionally. You are going to hurt him and he will hurt you back.

So? So stop feeling guilty. So stop holding grudges. It's the nature of the beast.

Stop thinking of your husband as the enemy. Even when you are fighting, he is not the enemy. He is the man you chose, and he is the man God will use to make you better than you are. We do not grow emotionally or spiritually by doing what is easy, but by enduring what is hard. Marriage to an imperfect person is hard work, but you will grow in love and holiness by persevering in the task. G.K. Chesterton, often referred to as the Apostle of Common Sense, said, "Love means loving the unlovable - or it is no virtue at all." Love what is good in your husband and he will return the favor. Love what is not good in him, and pray he does the same.

Your husband may not be your enemy, but you are involved in a great war. On a purely secular plane, the battle is about wresting a living and keeping afloat financially in the world. It involves everything from scheduling to sleeping to packing a lunch. There are too many demands out in the world. You act as one another's filter to keep those financial and time demands to a sane minimum. There is also the war of good versus evil that has its sights trained on you. Since marriage and raising children is a "good," it will come under direct attack. Evil is not a very fashionable idea in our day and age, but that only works toward its advantage. It exists. If you don't believe in it, watch the news.

When at war, there are casualties. Although you are united in the fight against a common enemy, it is the nature of war that sometimes, accidentally, you catch fire from your own side. It's called Friendly Fire. It's due to errors in communication, judgement, or confusion in the heat of battle. The injury is the same as if the enemy inflicted it,'s worse somehow.

The problem with battles within a marriage is that they are all Friendly Fire. Thank God, there is a cure for those wounds.

1. PrayWhen you hurt, pray. When you wonder, pray. When you despair, pray. In all things, pray. Prayer reminds us that we are not the largest, greatest, and best thing in the Universe. We are bowing to Somebody. We are humbled. I have a very wise friend who once advised me when my heart was breaking to cry in the lap of God. He would comfort me. She was right. I received comfort and was healed over time.

God will take the hurts of your marriage and heal them. Through prayer, He will make the pain in your life a wellspring of compassion in you. When you are humble enough to ask for help and to admit your own faults, it's amazing how your perspective on your spouse changes. He stops being an adversary and becomes, once again. a person that you love and that you want to love you. Be soft. Be humble. Be prayerful.

My husband and I began a habit not too long ago when we were stuck in a rut of daily bickering. I wanted to stop the constant, mutual harassment and so did he, but it seemed impossible. After a particularly trying day and at the start of yet another epic misunderstanding I prayed aloud, "All of Heaven would you please listen to what I am trying to say to this man?" My very wise husband, grabbed my hand and said, "Okay, then, let's argue in prayer!" So we did. All the heat went right out of us and we were able to say exactly what we needed to say and to hear exactly what we needed to hear. It's now a joke that God wanted in our argument. But the joke was on us, because by praying, the argument was over. We were able to finally have a discussion.

What's really funny is that neither of us even remembers what that particular argument was about!

So, if you want to really go out on a limb, be as brave as my husband was, grab that furious person's hand and ask him to pray. Ask God to join your argument. It will transform your marriage.

2. Give more
Selfishness breeds more selfishness. Focusing only on yourself and your needs is childish with the complication that it will further your unhappiness. When you are thinking, "All I ever do is give!" the focus is on yourself and what you are doing. It's a sure sign that you are actually not giving enough in the marriage.

Human beings have a real need to be needed. This doesn't mean that you have to go out of your way to make yourself indispensable to your husband. That is another form of selfishness--it's still all about you. What you need to do is to go out of your way to make your husband's life easier to live. There's a big difference. The first way, becoming indispensable, means that you are rewarded by being needed. The second way, being helpful and easing his burdens, is a gift you are giving your husband. Remember that first post on the difference between male and female? I'm trying to teach you a little about the male way of loving.

We women make the mistake of feeling that love is only an emotion. We think it's supposed to be a perpetual state of bliss, a soft goeyness, or an overwhelming desire for another person. What is love really? Love is a series of decisions you make. Men understand that way better than we do. They decide to brush the snow off your car, check the fluid levels, fill up the gas tank, not because it's something you can't do, but to show you they care. What little gestures of love does your husband do for you? Does he put a glob of toothpaste on your brush before he brushes his teeth? Does he spoon sugar into your coffee when he's sugaring up his?

Use the male model of love for a month. Do little things for him that he would normally do for himself--not the things you'd like done for yourself, that's a veiled hint. While you do these little things in your head say, "I'm doing this to show myself how much I really love him." Don't worry if he never notices. Don't hang around waiting to see if he's discovered all the wonderful things you are now doing for him. This is a lesson you have to teach yourself.

3. Stay in Your Right Mind
This one is the hardest. We women are emotional creatures and we relate to the world and to others on a touchy-feely level. When we hurt, we hurt! When we love, we love! When we argue, look out!

We have an advantage over men in the emotional arena. Our female brains are wired with many more connections between the right and left hemispheres than male brains. That means your emotional left brain and your rational right brain are a little more intertwined than your husband's. A woman can generally out think and out speak a man on the emotional level. In other words, we can better express our feelings from the right side of our heads with the logic and language skills stored on our left side. While this gives us a decided advantage in rearing children, it can be a handicap: when our emotions run away with us, our mouths give a running commentary.

How many times have you had to apologize after the heat of the battle for the cruel words that spewed from your anger? How many times have you wished that you could take back the words that have hurt so deeply?

When you are in the heat of the moment, always remember that this moment will end and it will have an aftermath. Would you rather the aftermath be full of peace and resolutions or full of regrets and apologies?

Keep your head straight when you are in the thick of a disagreement. You don't have to agree on everything. You don't even have to come to any particular conclusions right at this moment. Some discussions are better tabled until after some thought has been applied.

The old adage of "Count to 10" before speaking is a good one. A better idea is to give Heaven a quick appeal before you open your mouth to speak. Ask for help expressing your needs in a way that he can hear. Ask that his ears and heart be open to you and ask that yours be open to him.

Maybe a change in perspective is needed, too. Before you start to voice your opinion in any given disagreement, ask him if you can sum up what he is trying to say to you. Try to restate what it is he is trying to say. Let him fine tune your perspective until you actually do understand and can make his case for him. Take the time to hear him and his side before you ask him to do the same for you.

You may find that if you are calmer, more logical, and more open to his perspective, he'll begin to return the favor. There's no guarantees, of course, human nature being what it is. But if you change your way of dealing with him, you will at least have more peace with your side of things.

Now what?
Well, that's a very good question. Now that you are better prepared to stay prayerful and giving in your dealings with your husband, shouldn't everything be blissful?

Not on your life, but take heart.

We are not meant to be happy every given moment. We are not capable of sustained bliss. Marital happiness is more about having a person on the planet who is willing to bear you and bear with you the struggles of daily life. He is your one sure ticket to heaven--either by encouraging you in your daily growth to God or by causing you to call upon Heaven for the strength to put up with him.

Your marriage isn't about Happily Ever After anyway. It's about something more: how two selfish people can overcome themselves in order to make something beautiful. It's about reflecting the love God has for us by giving and loving another person. Neither you nor your spouse is the center of your marriage, and neither you nor your spouse is the Center and the Universe. God is. Just remembering that alone will take care of most of your problems.

One final point. I don't know about you, but I sure am grateful that I don't have to be married to me. I think my husband is much easier to get along with.
Part I here:

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Attitude Tips for Wives and Moms--Part 1

REWIND WEEKEND: As I am off on retreat this weekend, I thought I would rerun some of the marriage posts. We can all use a refresher course on being sweet, after all. (Me included and me especially!)

Here's the caveat. This stuff is going to sound incredibly old fashioned. I know that. There's a perfectly good reason for it, too. Old fashioned marriages had a tendency to last. Modern ones don't. So, follow all the modern advice you want right to the doors of the courtroom. I'm going for the wisdom of the ages, myself.

The 3 and 3
There are just three things you have to keep in mind and three more things you have to do to have a successful marriage, or the 3 and 3. Sounds way too simple, and believe me it isn't. Marriage is anything but simple. I really should add a fourth, a fifth, a sixth thing, ad infinitum, but the mind is a funny thing. It just won't process too much at once. Especially under stress. I'm keeping it simple because, once stressed, the brain has a tendency to simplify in order to facilitate the fight or flight response. Your job is to remember that fighting and flighting is not the way to stay married. After we get the 3 and 3 on the ether here, we'll have a chance to look at each one in a little more depth.

3 Things to Keep in Mind
1. You picked him.
2. You can't change him.
3. You didn't marry a girl.

3 Things You Need to Do
1. Pray
2. Give more
3. Stay in your right mind

The Things to Keep in Mind
I will be bluntly honest and admit that at one time I was an idiot. I did marry the alcoholic drug abuser that everyone warned me not to. Yes, he slept around. Yes, it was nasty. And yes, I came to my senses and left. I put 3,000 miles between us and started over. Yes, completely over with the debt, the utter lack of belongings, and the emptiness that that entailed. So, let me just say, if you married my ex, or any man like my ex, this advice is not for you. This advice is for the average woman married to the average man. If you really, truly feel you are married to a demon not of your making, what are you reading this for? See a rabbi, see a priest, see a shrink.

(FYI to my fellow Catholics, that first marriage was annulled and my current marriage was regularized in 2003 during my conversion to the faith.)

Still reading? Okay, so that must mean you've had some humility and admitted, at least to yourself (if not to your mother) that he really isn't that bad. He's human, therefore imperfect. And let me tell you this, sisters, if he was perfect then he'd REALLY be annoying.
1. You picked him.
All right. You picked him. If he really is as bad as you say he is, then who's fault is that really? Were you really such a bad judge of character all those years ago? The thing we ladies don't think about when we indulge in our sport of male bashing is this, while you are ranting people are wondering what was it in you that made such a (insert your favorite anti-hubby adjective here) man attractive to you.
What did make him attractive to you? Was he good with his hands? Good with kids? Did his voice in your ear send you over the moon? Come on! There's got to be something. Remember back to the days when your wedding band was so new it had a mirror sheen instead of the little nicks and scratches of long use. He was much kinder then. So were you. Try kindness again. Try it for a month. See if kindness and good manners on your part don't bring about a softening on his part. See if they don't bring back into the marriage that hopeful young woman and that sweet young man.

2. You Can't Change Him
Quit complaining about him and to him, trying to get him to change. Trust me, there's plenty in you he'd like to change, too. He just might be too scared of you to say so. A fundamental rule of people is this: you can't change them. That may lead you to despair if there wasn't this ray of hope. There's still someone in the relationship you can change and control. YOU. If you can't admit that you are part of the problem, then you are the problem. Or, if you are really good at the womanly manipulation kind of thing, you can find a way to admit your problem while somehow turning it back to him. We do that kind of stuff all the time. It's why more men go bald than women. We make them pull their hair out.

Act like the kind of wife you'd like to have. Be sweet. Be of service. Do stuff for him just because. There's a rule of thumb I heard from a psychologist in the marriage realm, the one who complains, "I give and give and give!" doesn't. Someone who is keeping score is a self-centered individual. It's all about what she is getting. A self-centered person is not a happy person, ultimately. When there is only one person in the Universe, the echoes of your own voice is your only company. Your marriage isn't about you. It's about us. Make sure he's happy and he'll turn around and do the same. And you know what I just love about men? They turn around a lot faster and forgive than we women ever do.

Just change yourself and see. Again, try it for 30 days.

3. He's not a girl.
If you are not grateful for this, pray you will be. (I mean that seriously, pray to be grateful for him.) We are demanding and emotional creatures who are slow to forgive. We notice everything and we comment on it.

Your man is the exact opposite (unless you've been so awful to him it's going to take him a while before he'll trust you with his feelings again). His needs are pretty simple. His emotions are cut and dried. He forgets, forgives, and moves on before you've even finished mentally reviewing the first 456 reasons why you are so hurt and angry.

Let's take an example. You've asked your husband if he wants to go out to dinner and he says, "Sure, okay." He means, "Sure, okay," in the sense that he wasn't thinking about dinner at the moment because he wasn't hungry, but the idea sounds good to him. Meanwhile, you are reading something! He hesitated. What does that mean? Is he implying that you should have already had dinner planned and ready? Is he criticising you for being a little lazy about cooking? He doesn't appreciate all you do around this house. And the fight is on.

When I was a schoolteacher I noticed the differences between the male and female species to be profound. Girls had girl wars and got every friend they could involved. It took weeks, months, counselling, kid gloves, gentle remonstrance, and sometimes the threat of detentions to negotiate a peace. Even still some of the grudges were epic and lasted until adulthood even though the battles were sometimes brought to a level of peace that allowed a wary coexistence. The boys? You know how to fix a problem between two boys? Make them work side by side and demand they don't talk to one another. Pretty soon, they are rolling their eyes, making faces and they are just fine. Forever.

Who would you rather have mad at you? You? Or your husband?

Be glad he is the forgiving man that he is and return the favor. He isn't perfect and neither are you. When he annoys you with his imperfections, just remember to thank God he isn't perfect. If he was, he never would have married you.

end Part 1
Part II Here:

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