Thursday, March 21, 2013


Dear friends,

Please find me over at my new blog. (Click here.)



Monday, October 22, 2012

my terrible parents

When I was a kid, I sometimes thought I had terrible parents. We kids walked to school, most days carrying sandwiches we'd made earlier that morning. (Mom didn't make our lunch. She also never bought us Lunchables. And we could only get hot lunch twice a week.) We had to come home right after school, unless we had basketball practice, and we weren't allowed to stop and play in the park. My mom taught us piano lessons and made us practice, and we had to dress up for Mass every Sunday. We didn't play on soccer teams, didn't watch much TV, didn't swear, and didn't buy the cool toys the other kids had...

Read more at Maple Footprints.

Friday, September 28, 2012


Hey... I had thought about moving for a long time, but did some serious angsting over what the title of my new blog should be. Candidates were "First Obligation" (as in, "a journalist's first obligation is to the truth" from the elements of journalism) and "Five Rubles Forgotten" (a reference to Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the king of angst) and finally decided to go back to my old blog. Because that's, really, where I want to be.

I'm going to be taking my favorite posts from here and moving them over there. And, at some point, I'll start writing!

Find me at Maple Footprints.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

on condoms and confession

a version of this was posted on Ignitum Today.

Many of the pro-abstinence, anti-contraception types (mostly Catholics) will say that the “Don’t have sex, but if you do, use contraception” approach to reducing teen pregnancy is inherently flawed. They’ll say that the approach sets expectations low, and that it effectively says “Don’t have sex – but if you do, it’s okay.”

Of course, many of those same people march right into the confessional once a month or so. They’ll tell the priest about their spousal spats, their laziness, pride, envy, and lust.  “Don’t sin,” they say, and then they’ll add that “The Church, in her wisdom, knew we were going to sin anyway, so she gave us the sacrament of reconciliation.”

That translates: “Don’t sin, but if you do, go to confession” – so, realistically, confession isn’t all that different from condoms.

If that’s how we’re treating confession, we’re doing it wrong. The purpose of condoms is to reduce the risk of consequences; the purpose of confession is to change behavior and reform hearts. They’re different.

Note: Like anything sacramental, or anything Catholic, the reality of it is incredibly deep and rich, so to all you protesters out there – yes, there is more to it than that. But let’s stick with that much for now.

If we’re not truly willing to change our behavior and allow our hearts to be reformed, we are missing out on what God offers us through the sacrament. Condoms give in to the belief that teenagers won’t be responsible. Confession is a refusal to give up on greatness. And the world needs greatness, needs saints, needs to see holy lives. And why not our lives?
“The ways of the Lord are not comfortable. But we were not created for comfort, but for greatness.” – Pope Benedict XVI
How to Live a Good Confession
Before confessing, make a good examination of conscience. After examining, think seriously about your situation. Are you really sorry for what you did? Consider how your life would be different now if you had done the right thing then. Do you really wish you’d acted differently? Or are you just intellectually aware that it was sinful?

Then, do you want to stop doing this? Are you willing to work at it? To stay on alert for temptation, and when it comes, to look it straight in the eye and say No, I will not! And I don’t mean just now, but next week, too. Thursday. And again on Sunday.

Ultimately, Catholicism is not about correct answers to “What did you say?” or “What did you do?” but rather about “Where is your heart, really?” Your words, actions, and attitudes reveal where your heart is; a willful change in words, actions, and attitudes can move your heart.

Like any sacrament, confession takes place at a particular moment in time but carries forward; it’s a line in the sand after which things are different. The important thing is the “after which” part, not the line. Apologizing to your coach for skipping practice is a start, but getting back on track, or back on the court, will actually make you a better player.

In the words of Bl. John XXIII…
“This must stop, once and for all … from now onwards, I will really be good!” (Journal of a Soul, 28 March 1898 entry.)
That’s the spirit! Don’t assume you’ll do the same thing again, commit the same sins again. Raise the bar, and set your expectations high. The line has been drawn. Things are different now. Confession is not a condom; it is a refusal to give up. I will not be a slave of sin!

At the same time, be realistic. You know your weaknesses, so make a plan. Sometimes priests give penances that directly combat the weaknesses you’ve revealed to them. A priest I know told me he once confessed impatience, and his confessor instructed him to find the longest line at the grocery store, and when he got to the front, to get out of line and find the next longest line – then he could pay for his groceries. For a month. He hated it at first, but after a while learned patience and actually enjoyed chatting with the people in line.

If you aren’t this lucky, make your own plan. Learning patience at the grocery store will make you more patient with your family; learning discipline with your stomach’s appetite will make you more disciplined with your other appetites.

St. Francis de Sales recommends nipping temptation in the bud during morning prayer. Think ahead to your plans for the day. What temptations are you likely to face? How can you prepare yourself ahead of time to be ready to face them? I have a meeting with so-and-so today, and we disagree about something, and I’m probably going to get angry over it. Before the meeting, I will think of five things I honestly respect about her, and consider how much God loves her.

And, of course, constantly pray for God’s grace. Never stop. When we empty ourselves of sin, we must fill up with His grace until we overflow onto the world.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

chicken parm

I've been talking to several friends about cooking for one or two - a lot of us are just out of college, either living on our own or newly married and living with just a husband. And most of us grew up with moms who cooked great meals for us and a healthy handful of siblings. How do you cook for one or two? How do you grocery shop for one or two? It's a whole different ballgame, and at times very frustrating. (What do you do with the bottom half of the can of pinto beans? How do you eat a decent meal at dinner time, not three hours after, when you come home hungry from work at 5?)

So I'll share my experiences and invite all of you to share yours.

Here's what I did this evening:

1. Thaw a chicken breast.
2. Put the chicken breast in a container (bag, pyrex, etc.) and add bread crumbs; shake till the chicken is covered.
3. Add a gollop of spaghetti sauce.
4. Spice it up! I usually get store-brand, boring spaghetti sauce and spice it how I like. This time I used pepper, garlic, basil, and rosemary.
5. Bake at 350, covered, for 45 minutes.
6. Pull it out and add cheese - I used grated mozzarella and parmesan.
7. Bake for another 15 minutes.

Here are some more things to try:
1.  Cut the chicken into smaller pieces. A whole breast was a little much for me. (Luke is working late tonight and wasn't home for dinner.)
2. Throw the chicken on top of spaghetti.
3. Spice it differently?

How would you alter this recipe? If you've tried it, what worked? What didn't?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


What is beauty?

The philosophers say “id quod visum placet” – that which, when seen, pleases. Beauty is complete, proportional, and radiant, they say.

It’s easy to see what completion and proportionality are. If my left eye is missing or swollen out of proportion, I’m less beautiful.

But what is radiance?

My mother knew. Not so many years ago when I was a child, she read me the story of Cinderella from a picture book. She pointed to a drawing of Cinderella in her rags helping the stepsisters, dressed in their finery, on their way out the door to the ball. Cinderella, of course, was much more beautiful than the stepsisters.

“Do you know why?” my mother asked her melancholy daughter. “It’s because she has a smile on her face.”

I looked, and of course it was true.

Maybe that’s what philosophers mean by “radiance,” that elusive and undefinable characteristic of beauty – maybe they mean joy.

Monday, August 20, 2012

On Weddings and Elopements

Luke and I considered eloping.
Planning a wedding is hard work, we found. Our decorations were relatively simple; my mom planned the reception almost entirely; I gave the green light to my bridesmaids’ dresses and let them decide on their own jewelry, shoes, and hair. Even so, Luke and I were fighting for time to just hang out and be friends together, like we used to when we were dating. What do we want for music? Readings? Have we sufficiently included family members? Where can I find shoes?
On top of the work and stress, I became increasingly frustrated with the wedding culture. I didn’t know why I was supposed to be the star and center of attention that day. I didn’t think everything needed to be perfect. I didn’t see why it was important to register for four different types of wineglasses. I couldn’t figure out what was up with this constant word “bliss” – wedded bliss, marital bliss, happily ever after bliss. In most marriages I’ve seen, the living room is sometimes messy, dinner requires work, lightbulbs burn out, cars need maintenance, and children are born without great control over their own bodily fluids. I wouldn’t attach the word “bliss” to any part of earthly reality, and marriage is part of earthly reality. Wedding culture didn’t seem to have a great handle on reality.
Eloping was a way to escape all that, maybe start our marriage off a little closer to reality. But I’m glad we didn’t.
First, I am not advocating large, grand celebrations that break the bank and leave young couples with first-year salaries and student loans in ridiculous amounts of debt. We were fortunate to have parents who were able and happy to fund the ceremony and celebration, and we let them. For those who have tighter budgets or unhappy family members, it’s possible to work something else out. I’ve heard of couples marrying during a regular Saturday vigil Mass, the way you might see a baptism at a Sunday Mass. I’ve heard of couples skipping the reception entirely, or having a small cake reception in the parish hall. I am all for people spending within their means and having a celebration that is reasonable, given what they have available.
Second, I am not advocating unnecessary worry about silly details. I was fortunate enough to have a mother, sister, and cousins who delighted in making things look nice, so I mostly let them. Shortly after Luke proposed, however, someone told me of a bride who was in tears over what kind of plates would be used at her reception. Some things just don’t matter very much, and I think a bride in tears over plates probably did not have the right focus.
The wedding, my dad told me, is a prelude to the marriage. It should be beautiful and joyful and holy, but grounded in reality. In real life, not everything is perfect and not everything runs smoothly, and we’ll be much happier if we can accept that. The wedding should be that way, too.
And we’re glad we chose to invite a crowd to the church.
Wedding planning provided a helpful transition from dating to marriage. I noticed this first when we tried to register for kitchen knives. Kitchen knives may not seem like a big deal, but our moms had different kitchen knife practices (drawer vs block, differing acceptable levels of sharpness, etc.) and we had to decide how we would do things in our kitchen. The same was true through much of the wedding planning – we can only pick one entrance hymn, one gospel reading, one way of processing down the aisle.
When we were dating, we made a point of not making any decisions of consequence together (“Should I take this job or that job?” Or even, “Should I put the couch against this wall or that wall in my apartment?”) because our lives were separate and it wasn’t healthy to think of them as together. Now that we’re married, we barge into each other’s lives and make almost all our decisions together.  (“That coffee table is free and exactly the right height for my art projects.” “But our living room feels crammed already, and we don’t have room for a coffee table.”)  Planning the wedding helped us figure out how to make those decisions together before they really mattered.
Also, my mom wanted to celebrate. I complained frequently during our preparation that “this isn’t that big of a deal; I don’t see what all the fuss is about.” My poor mother. Her daughter was reaching a milestone in growing up. She was welcoming a wonderful man into the family as her new son. We were opening for her another avenue toward grandchildren. She wanted to tell all her friends, and all my dad’s friends, and everyone she knew. I remember, when my second brother married, my mom (who has two daughters besides me) looked at me and said “I have five daughters.” She was thrilled. “Weddings are the easiest way to get new daughters,” she said.
And it’s only natural to gather family to celebrate such an occasion.
Most importantly, however, marriage isn’t just for us. It isn’t even just for us and our children, if God so blesses us. It’s also for the world. At our wedding, we stood in front of about 150 people, many of whom I didn’t know, and vowed to love and honor each other all the days of our lives.
If I pack up and leave, I’m breaking a promise not just to Luke and to God, but to the rest of the world. I’m failing in my life’s mission and harming society.
If I neglect our kids and do a terrible job raising them through my own fault, it’s not just bad for the kids – it’s bad for the rest of society. If my kids become thieves, they might steal your GPS. Or, worse, they might hang out with your kids and encourage them in bad behavior.
If I stay married to Luke but treat him poorly and refuse to honor him, our children will grow up in a terrible household. They will have a hard time learning what love is. Our sons won’t see a need to treat women with respect, and our daughters won’t see a need to hold out for good men.
If family is the fundamental building block of society, our wedding vows are a promise to that society that by the grace of God we’ll hold up what we’re building; that we’ll keep this building block strong and not let it collapse.
Making our vows publicly reminded us that our marriage isn’t just a life together, but a mission.