Tag Archives: Family

My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part Seven: Open to Life


Intro | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

My last installment of this series was in January, but just like I said then, I am not a quitter! I maintain that you do not “need a theology degree” to be able to express your opinions about marriage and family life in relationship to evangelization and the Gospel. I have never been married, but I grew up in a family. I don’t work for the Church anymore, but I evangelize, and I know the Gospel. The questions take some effort to dig into, but if you made it out of high school without learning to read and think critically, American public education is worse off than we thought.

As always, I invite comments, questions, and responses on your own blog (if you have one). We can disagree charitably, right?

The Openness of the Married Couple to Life

a.k.a. What Happens When People Don’t Read

What knowledge do Christians have today of the teachings of Humanae Vitae on responsible parenthood? Are they aware of how morally to evaluate the different methods of family planning? Could any insights be suggested in this regard pastorally?

I wish more people (Catholics especially) would actually read Humanae Vitae. It’s free. It’s been out since the 60’s. As far as encyclicals go, it’s tiny: about eight pages, including footnotes (so really six and a half). Contrast that with Laudato Si’, which is over 180 pages. You do have to get past the “royal we,” but you are rewarded with actual Church teaching. Not hearsay. Not Christopher West (because some people really dislike his style). Not the rich but dense speeches from St. John Paul II that make up the core text of the Theology of the Body.

But I would say that most Catholics have never read Humanae Vitae, even if they have heard of it. I heard a homily on its anniversary once, given by a youngish Dominican priest. I hear references to it in just about every discussion of Church teaching on marriage, children, and sexuality. Yet talking about it is no more like reading it than seeing a photo of the Grand Canyon is like being there.

So, no, I do not think Christians are aware that there is a moral aspect to family planning, and they are wholly unaware of the details in Humanae Vitae. I can think of two notable examples of women whose minds were changed when they first considered family planning a moral issue: Kimberly Hahn and Jen Fulwiler.

Kimberly Hahn, wife of well-known Catholic convert and theologian Scott Hahn, shares her story in their book Rome Sweet Home. When she and Scott were in Bible college, she led a study group in researching the historical Christian teachings on contraception and family planning. She had always assumed that every church except the Catholic Church supported it. Discovering the truth shocked her.

Jen Fulwiler, also a well-known Catholic convert, explained that when she brainstormed a list of conditions under which it would be a good idea to have sex and conditions under which it would be a good idea to have a child, they were completely different. Yet that is a modern separation. They used to be the same list. When you’ve separated out marriage from children, of course contraception seems like a basic human right. That was never supposed to happen, though.

Both of their conclusions are underscored in Humanae Vitae. We’ve got to get that actual text in front of more eyeballs! Women’s, men’s, young adult, and marriage enrichment groups would be ideal audiences.

Is this moral teaching accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couples’ accepting this teaching?

The teaching is not broadly accepted, but it’s publicly accepted by more people than before. It’s slowly becoming more common to see large, happy families. Helpfully, it’s also more common to hear about the pain of infertility, the high prevalence of miscarriage, and the desire of couples to have more children than they can or do. After decades of treating pregnancy like a terrible curse or an optional part of marriage, people are beginning to see and realize that children are a gift and never ever guaranteed. I’m also hearing couples openly admitting that they don’t use contraception. Although that’s none of my business, it is so good to have real voices in the discussion.

I think social pressure causes couples to ignore or reject the teaching more than theological disagreement. So many people believe in the myth of overpopulation or consider large families a drain on social resources. It’s very uncommon to have more than three children, so large families stick out. It’s so common to use contraception that everyone assumes that everyone else is doing it (even those who are not and are actually suffering through infertility or miscarriage; “can’t have kids” looks the same as “won’t have kids” from the outside). Couples who don’t use contraception seem like they’re religious fanatics, kidding themselves, or just plain crazy. It’s hard to stick to the truth against those odds.

What natural methods are promoted by the particular churches to help spouses put into practice the teachings of Humanae Vitae?

(Note: In this case “particular churches” means parishes and conferences of bishops in each country.)

This varies by diocese. I’m most familiar with the Diocese of Austin because I didn’t have any personal or professional interest in locally-approved NFP methods when I lived in any other dioceses (so far Washington, Military Services, Fort Wayne–South Bend, Birmingham, and Mobile). The Diocese of Austin NFP page has an up-to-date list, with the Family of the Americas method (ovulation-only) being the most recently approved. Most dioceses also approve the Creighton FertilityCare method (sympto-thermal) and Billings method (ovulation-only).

What is your experience on this subject in the practice of the Sacrament of Penance and participation at the Eucharist?

I am openly celibate and have never been pregnant, so my firsthand experience is basically nonexistent. I have some conjectures and hearsay, though, for what it’s worth.

I think everyone is aware that churchgoing, Eucharist-receiving couples include those who are using contraception. It’s sad, but it definitely happens. Based on the lines I see for Confession, many more people receive the Eucharist than go to Confession even once or twice a year. The groups must overlap, so that the aforementioned contracepting couples are receiving the Eucharist even though they shouldn’t be.

I don’t know what to do about that. I’m sure they’re aware that they shouldn’t be contracepting. Even non-Catholics know the basic teaching. I’m slightly less sure that these couples know they shouldn’t be receiving the Eucharist if they have used contraception (without receiving Reconciliation and stopping usage before receiving). So many people see receiving the Eucharist as just “what everyone does” at Mass, like standing and kneeling. But that’s not true.

I have heard two older women (as in, at least 60 years old now) tell me their stories of looking for a priest to say, in the confessional, that using contraception was okay and they didn’t have to stop, or that they “already had two children,” so they couldn’t be expected to remain open to life. They found those priests. Those priests’ attempt at good counsel isn’t true, either, but the blame for that lies on those priests and their teachers, not the women. I hope that’s not happening anymore, but based on some of the discussions I’m hearing about communion for the divorced and remarried, it probably does. We can’t stop at converting the lay faithful; we need all the clergy behind us.

What differences are seen in this regard between the Church’s teaching and civic education?

I never heard about any method of family planning or pregnancy avoidance in public school other than abstinence and contraception. Abstinence was always mentioned, with a solid shout-out to its effectiveness… and a solid base of disbelief that anyone would ever do such a thing voluntarily. No surprises there.

The thing is, I didn’t learn about NFP until college. I remember seeing a small ad in the church bulletin when I was in 8th or 9th grade (the only time my family went to church weekly) about classes for married couples on the “new, scientific” method that replaced the “old rhythm method.” To be fair, I think I only set foot in a church about twice before I came back for good when I was in college. Then I got the details, and now that I’m an adult, I can’t even begin to describe how useful that knowledge would have been when I was younger.

Currently, the secular world has adopted its own form of NFP. This can only be good news for the Church. Their term is “fertility awareness method,” which is arguably more accurate. It’s the same scientific concept as NFP without the religious foundation, and it allows barrier methods instead of requiring abstinence during peak fertility. It appeals to the no-chemicals, natural, “green,” highly-informed sensibilities of contemporary Americans. There is potential for the NFP community to do some ecumenical crossover work there. Cassie Moriarty’s short film “Miscontraceptions” is a step in the right direction.

How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?

The tough thing about dramatic social change, such as couples having fewer children, is that it takes time for those decisions to bear fruit (pardon the pun). Social Security may be gone when my generation retires because there are not as many workers contributing as retiring; the retirees didn’t have enough children. Catholic elementary schools built to hold the Baby Boomers are now closing because the children of Boomers are fewer in number or went to public school. (The schools that survive are enrolling Hispanic students as that population explodes.) Women were told to pursue education and careers before childbearing, and when they did, they had fewer childbearing years left and more difficulty conceiving later in life.

There are two aspects that can help promote child-rearing. First is the understanding that children are the quintessential fruit of marriage. When marriage is all about the love between adults, children become an accessory, and there are fewer of them. Second is the understanding that children are a gift. When couples at least believe they deserve children—and whenever they want them—they are less willing to accept “surprises,” “imperfect” babies, or any more once they are “done.” Changing a culture takes time, but it is possible.

I did my best not to go off on any tangents there and to stick most closely to what I know. Do you see differently? Have you read Humanae Vitae? How do you think we can evangelize the culture with the gospel of marriage and family life?

A Response to “Should Children Make Up Their Own Minds About Religion?”

I did not grow up in church. That surprises people who have only known me as an involved Catholic, but it’s true. My mom’s side is the Catholic side of the family, and they’re only occasional churchgoers. My dad’s side is mostly non-churchgoing, and they’re not Catholic. When I go home for Christmas, I go to church alone.

I received my Sacraments of Initiation on the typical schedule, for which I am grateful. Even though my parents didn’t go to church, they made me go to CCD. When they had more children and we got older, we went to Mass, too. The years preceding Confirmation (when we were going to Mass every week) kick-started my faith into the life I live now. I got to experience what being a Catholic was actually like, and that turned out to be something I wanted.

I say all this to make a point: even when you don’t force children to follow any particular religious path, they have to make up their minds eventually, and they’re going to need a foundation to start from. I lived it. I saw it multiple times when I was teaching RCIA. And I read it, supported by argumentation, in the First Things essay by Jason Stubblefield, “Should Children Make Up Their Own Minds About Religion?”

Should Children Make Up Their Own Minds About Religion? A Reponse at AustinCNM.com

Photo by Olaf Meyer.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part Six: Children with No Good Examples


Intro | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

It’s been several weeks since I last posted an installment to this series, but I am not a quitter! I’ve had much more success blogging on weekdays lately, curiously enough, and I fell into a rhythm of posting for this series on Saturdays, so it got pushed aside. No more!

I’ve hosted some great discussions in the comments section for the last few installments. If you’re reading, please share your thoughts! Feel free to disagree. I will delete your comments if they’re mean or otherwise violate the comment policy, but we can disagree without fighting.

The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages

a.k.a. What to Do When Mom & Dad Don’t Go to Church

What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?

I don’t have enough experience or statistical knowledge to estimate a proportion, but I can tell you for sure that it’s rising. It’s much more common for children to grow up in family situations other than a mother and father who were married to each other before they conceived their first child. The witness of celebrities and the media to this situation does not help.

In a way, it’s hopeful that couples still see marriage as a significant, life-changing step, so much so that they don’t want to take it unless they’re 100% sure. But time and time again, we see that children have their best chance at a bright future if they grow up in a “regular” situation. People overcome adversity every day, but it’s still adversity. It’s not good. It’s not supposed to be that way. “Common” and “normal” do not necessarily equal “good.”

Those comments doesn’t even cover the children living with divorced-and-remarried parents. I don’t think we’ll fully understand the fallout of that irregular family structure until the church can’t fit four sets of grandparents per child for the Christmas pageant.

How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?

Honestly, I think there are some parents who stay away from the Church because they don’t want to face the obstacles standing between their choices and their full participation in the sacraments. They can’t receive the Eucharist, and they don’t want to go to confession (or they’re not penitent), so they don’t go to Mass, either. But I absolutely think they want more for their children than they want for themselves. All parents want their children to have a better life than they did. The problem is that they don’t want to do anything churchy to get churchy things for their kids.

These parents insist on getting their kids involved, preferably at the bare minimum. The parents don’t want to take their kids to Mass because they’d have stay for it, too (and not receive the Eucharist, perhaps starting a conversation they’d prefer to avoid), but they’ll drop them off at CCD. They’ll grumble about going to a baptism prep class, but they’ll go because it’s the only way to get the cute baptism photos and get Grandma off their backs. They don’t want to be taught, and if they’re forced into it, it doesn’t stick. Church is completely about rules and requirements to get stuff. If they’re in an irregular marriage, they’ve already broken the rules. The fewer requirements they get stuck meeting before they can get the stuff for their kids, the better.

How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?

Sacramental preparation for kids is often the only opportunity to catechize parents. In recent years, parishes are taking great advantage of that opportunity. I’ve taught baptism prep for godparents-to-be (and prepared myself to be a godparent in the process). That can be a huge moment of conversion from a lackluster faith.

On the other hand, I substituted once for my own parents (whose marriage was always regular) at the mandatory parent Bible study held simultaneously with the my sister’s Confirmation prep class. I loved it, but I don’t think I’d ever heard my parents mention it before. Getting that two-fer of adult catechesis plus children’s sacrament prep benefits the parish, but it’s not converting the parents. I can imagine that conversion of heart is even less likely for parents who are in irregular marriages and thus excluded from the sacraments. They already don’t go to Mass. They’re definitely not doing anything else.

What is the sacramental practice in these cases: preparation, administration of the sacrament, and the accompaniment?

As a church worker, I was trained to strongly encourage parents in irregular situations to regularize them before having a child baptized. If they’ve been civilly married for several years with no other impediments to matrimony, their convalidation can be relatively straightforward. It’s not required, though, and that’s what is best for the child. You shouldn’t have to suffer sacramentally because your parents made poor choices with their sacraments.

For First Communion and Confirmation, though, I don’t think the parents’ marriage or faith involvement status comes much into question. At baptism, the parents promise to raise their children to know Christ Jesus and his Church. Even if they are simply forcing reluctant, non-churchgoing kids to prepare for their other sacraments of initiation, they’re doing more than nothing. It’s a tiny bit of Christian education.

That tiny bit might even be the spark that ignites a life of faith for that child. It was for me. I didn’t embrace the gifts of the Spirit until college, but I received them through the sacraments. I never would have received those sacraments if not for my parents’ insistence, and their marriage has always been “regular.”

Thus, most parents’ marital status doesn’t preclude their children from receiving the sacraments. That’s the way it should be. The tricky part comes when teachers try to educate children in the faith. It is so difficult to teach children the truth when they don’t have any examples to follow. Why should they pray before meals when the family doesn’t? What’s the point of going to Confession when older, Confirmed siblings don’t? How can they believe marriage is between one man and one woman for life when a stepmom is the only mom they’ve ever known, when Mom and her second husband are so happy, or when they have two dads? Pope Francis himself recounted speaking to a young girl who was in tears, thinking her mother’s girlfriend didn’t like her. Where do you even begin with that?

Walking with—accompanying—these parents and children takes a lot of patience and a lot of prayer. Teachers and ministers have the responsibility to preach the truth in love. Parents in irregular situations have turned away from the truth, but there’s always hope that they could return. More than one parent has made things right (or even entered the Church completely) based on the example of a child. The witness of childlike faith from an actual child can do that. On the other hand, too many kids fight their way through to sacraments or get pushed through them without believing a single word. As in my case, grace can spring forth anyway. For many others, the sacrament will be administered upon an empty shell.

Well, that was depressing. No wonder there’s such a big push to get marriage and family in better shape! What do you think? How do couples you know balance their irregular situation with the faith formation of their children? Can you think of anything the Church can do to benefit parents and children, so that everyone wins? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Not Alone Series: Children and Babies


Do you have children in your life? What is your relationship with them like? Do you have godchildren, and how do you form a relationship with them? Does having children in (or not in) your day-to-day life make you feel happy, wistful, or wary (of having your own someday)?

I suggested this week’s prompt! The two-minute rule served me well: I had an idea in response to Jen’s call for prompts and wrote it on Facebook right away, and now I’m NAS famous! (That’s a good kind of famous, if you couldn’t tell.)

After I suggested the prompt, Jen gave it a title when she posted it in the list of upcoming topics. However, she calls babies “babes,” so the topic became “Children and Babes.” I thought it was a typo at first, but then I realized it was intentional. I see babes and think “attractive men,” not babies! Then again, as I pointed out to her, finding the “good-looking grown man” kind of “babe” could be the first step toward getting the infant kind!

That’s enough backstory and exclamation points for now.

I like kids. Many of my friends have had babies in the last few months (They’re all around the country, so either there’s nothing in the water or it is everywhere. I am drowning in chubby baby cheeks on my Facebook wall. It’s glorious. And liking kids, books, and helping people is what initially led me to become a teacher. I don’t teach full-time anymore, but I still have a teacher’s heart.

Loving kids is different when they’re not your kids, though. These days, I don’t even have students, so I don’t spend much time around children at all. I know that’s not good for me, because I hope to have children of my own someday. Borrowing other people’s kids (a.k.a. teaching, babysitting, volunteering, etc.) is a great way to get some practice. I only have Pure Fashion once a month, so I don’t get to know those girls very well, but at least I get some exposure (and, you know, help with the work).


His baptism day was one of the best days of *my* life, too!

Right now, there’s only one child in my life: my godson, James. He is just over two years old and is growing like a weed. At least I think he is growing like a weed. I haven’t seen him in person in a long, long time, because his mom is in the military, so they move a lot. (My military brat experience was atypical.) I treat him like family, though, sending presents for his birthday and Christmas and praying for him in my intercessions all the time. I would love to spend time with him, but unless the distance or the cost of travel goes way down, prayers and presents will have to substitute for real presence.

As you might guess from the way I phrased the prompt, I have mixed feelings about my current relationship with the children and babies in my life. Friends with kids are different. I love my friends the same, but they have a higher, needier priority than ever before. (It’s not bad that babies need you! They just take a lot of time and energy to raise.) I still spend some one-on-one time with married friends, but it’s not the same. That’s okay. Kids take more energy than spouses, though, and although I accept and support that, it still makes me sad. I am so happy for my friends who have kids, but I miss having the depth of friendship we once did. Sometimes the only way to enrich friendships with parenting friends is to have kids of your own for theirs to play with!

For me, children are all about hope for the future. Their lives are a sign from God that the world should continue. Their presence in the lives of my parenting friends is a great joy. Having any of my own is just a dream.

Thanks to Jen and Morgan for hosting! Check out other responses on their blogs.

7 Quick Takes on Twitter, Water, and Churchy Things


— 1 —

Why didn’t anyone tell me that Twitter is the best way to have actual (Internet) contact with actual (Catholic) celebrities? I would have joined sooner.

Look, Fr. Mike Schmitz responded to my dejected tweet about his podcast not working!

Then, when I got my latest review copy from Ave Maria Press, I tweeted about it and got this enthusiastic response from Dawn Eden!

Dawn reached out to me through my blog after I reviewed the original edition of The Thrill of the Chaste. It turns out that she went to school with my old friend Fr. Leo (who I knew before he was a priest). She was my initial connection to Ave Maria Press, and I’ve had a great relationship with the publisher and the author since.

The world is so small.

— 2 —

My mom has a habit of giving us odd gifts at Christmastime. This year, in addition to a flower-print hammer/screwdriver combo, she gave me this unique Zipster Zebra water bottle.


I forgot to add something for scale. Sorry! It’s about the size of an Arizona Iced Tea… or a Four Loko. It’s sparked some interesting conversations around the office, believe me. The best result, though, is that this bottle alone has helped me drink more water. It’s the opacity. Since I can’t see how much is left, and the double walls add more weight than I’m used to, I often find myself sadly facing an empty bottle. Then I get more water and I’m happy again. Who knew changing my tool was the key to healthy hydration?

— 3 —

I mentioned in the February part of my year in review that my diocese is developing a pastoral plan. After the SurveyMonkey and the listening sessions, they presented to the steering committee. (I’m no fool; I know they have listened but will make all the decisions. I feel the same way about this that I feel about the pastoral survey before last fall’s synod: I’m glad they asked at all!)

I’ve been trying to recap the survey results since they came out in May. The report should be released in about six weeks, so this seems like as good a time as any.

It’s a happy PDF, I must say. The respondents were 20% under age 30, almost 75% have at least one college degree, 87% go to Mass every week, and just over 50% say their faith is the most important thing in their life, all of which is fantastic (and, full disclosure: include me). Priests identify preparing people to witness (i.e. actively evangelize) as something to emphasize. Most of the news is really good news. Good job, Austin!

— 4 —

I was surprised and delighted to see that the pastoral plan survey identified preparing to witness as a potential area of emphasis for parishes. I absolutely agree.

I was in a FOCUS Bible study when I was in undergrad. They didn’t have the apologetics study yet, but we did talk about preparing a witness, a.k.a. giving your testimony. It’s not a common habit among Catholics—although we do love conversion stories—but ask evangelicals for their testimony and brace yourself for the passion!

A testimony/witness is the story of how you became a Christian (or a Catholic in particular), when you met Jesus, or how you came back. The mechanics of preparing a testimony is too much for one Quick Take, but I will say that when I started preparing mine, it not only enriched my faith, it built my confidence. I can explain how I came to faith in less than 30 seconds (the elevator pitch) or less than 5 minutes (the “tell me your story”). I’m still polishing my 30-minute pitch.

Do you have a testimony? If you have an elevator pitch, please share it in the comments!

— 5 —

<a href=”href=”http://9daysforlife.com”>usccb-9daysforlife

Tomorrow (Saturday) begins the Nine Days for Life novena sponsored by the USCCB. Sign up by email, join the Facebook event, or download the app to receive a prayer, reflection, and act of reparation for the days surrounding the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. It’s well-written, actually doable for regular people, and not just anti-abortion (despite what the image says).

That last part is one of my pet peeves about the pro-life movement. We’ve made great strides toward showing love for and tangibly helping women and couples instead of just their babies. Now we need to also remember prisoners in danger of execution; people who are elderly, ill, or have a disability who face coercion to euthanasia; and all people who don’t feel genuinely loved simply because they exist. You shouldn’t have to earn the respect of others to stay alive.

It’s not the March Against Abortion; it’s the March for Life.

— 6 —

I didn’t do much this week, at least not in terms of calendar events. Spirit & Truth started up again on Monday. It was so good to see everyone, to hear them share their blessings, and to be with Jesus.

I went out for social hour afterwards, so I stayed out past my bedtime. That’s a literal bedtime; I have a phone/calendar alarm for it, and it went off when I took out my phone to record paying my check in the YNAB app. Staying up and out so late meant I was drained the next day, so I skipped the bigger happy hour I’d planned to attend.

I waver right on the line between introversion and extroversion. Sometimes my introvert side pops out. My Monday-to-Tuesday shuffle showed that it was out in full force this week. To recover, I stayed in and started watching my way through Merlin on Hulu.

— 7 —

I use my work IT guy to help manage my personal computing life. He emails us to alert us to Microsoft’s Update Tuesday. I use that as the reminder to do my computer maintenance and cleaning at home. I cleared off my computer desktop on impulse tonight, and I feel so free! I only have two icons: the Recycle Bin and the drop converter for PrimoPDF. Ahh.

(I highly recommend PrimoPDF, by the way. It’s free and works like Adobe Acrobat to convert documents to PDF. I use it all the time to “print” from the Internet.)

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

7 Quick Takes on Christmas, Cards, and Not Playing Games


— 1 —

I have been trying to post this for so long that three weeks have gone by since my last installment! You may have noticed the delightful new logo. These takes won’t be so quick, though. I have much to share.

— 2 —

I love Christmas cards. I wasn’t able to send them in 2013 because I had only just started working full-time again. This time around, I went big: not only did I send cards, but I also had them professionally printed. Saving with YNAB helped me pay for them in cash, and I ordered on December 26 because they were on clearance (and because I waited too late before Christmas). Best decision ever. I topped off my intense life improvement in 2014 with a bang!

Since I ordered on December 26, they arrived in Austin on the 31st, and I didn’t get them in the outgoing mail until after the last pickup on January 3. All that addressing and signing by hand took time!

They made it to recipients last week. I was down to the wire of the Christmas season. Then again, my cards this year had a nativity scene including magi, so technically, they’re Epiphany cards. Thus, I sent them at the most appropriate time. (Procrastination, budgets, and liturgical seasons, unite!)

In case you didn’t get yours, here’s a digital version:


Image from Vistaprint. Sentiment customized by me. Not a sponsored post; I just love this Nativity scene! (Click to view larger.)

Click to view larger.

Click to view larger.

— 3 —

When I wrote my annual “year in review” post, I was so pleased. I had to draft it early in order to choose the highlights for my Christmas Epiphany cards. Going through my calendar, my blog posts, and my (very few) Instagram photos from this year was a happy experience. After 2013, almost anything would have been an improvement, but I’m proud of the progress I’ve made toward adulthood, financial stability, regular blogging, and holiness.

Yet somehow I forgot to actually publish the post on New Year’s Eve, so I popped it up last Sunday. If you’re an email subscriber, you might not have noticed the discrepancy. On the other hand, I back-dated it after publishing to fall correctly in my archives, so if you’re reading via RSS or on the site, you might have missed it.

You can read my 2014 year in review here, pick up the RSS feed here, or subscribe by email below or in the sidebar on my home page.

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— 4 —

Speaking of mail (QT #3), my Christmas Epiphany cards were my first piece of correspondence to many of the people on my list since 2012. The rest of my mail is rent checks, the Catholic Services Appeal, and birthday cards.

For years, my custom has been to send a birthday card with a letter to my closest friends. Unlike my Christmas card list, though, I’ve taken names off my birthday card list over the years because our relationship has changed. For my extra-close friends, I still write a birthday letter.

I’ve stopped expecting replies. I have one longtime friendship that was maintained largely by real, handwritten letters. The rest of the letters I write are mostly for me. My letters are like prayer in that sense: I know they will reach the recipient, but I might never receive (or recognize) the reply.

— 5 —

In news that does not have anything to do with writing, Christmas was good. I hadn’t seen my family since the previous Christmas, so it was nice to reconnect with them.

My brother came home from his first semester of college with both ears pierced and a dragon tattoo on his shoulder. It could have been worse; he’s a football player. My sister finished her environmental science degree and is looking for a job. If you know of anything in the D.C. area, drop me a line. My grandma is doing well. She prefers to drive during the day now, as all grandmas eventually do. My parents will probably retire to Austin. They have several years to go, but I guess that gives me incentive to get married and stay here. One of my cousins is moving in with my parents, so my childhood (teenage? We moved in when I was 15) room is being handed down to my brother. It’s the end of an era. I only live in it for about one week a year, but it’s hard to wrap my heart around the feeling that a part of my life is over.

— 6 —

My family doesn’t have many Christmas traditions. We are Christmas Day people. This involves eating a lot of home-cooked food and exchanging gifts.

One tradition I’m trying to evolve since we’re all grown-ups (cf. my newly tattooed little brother) is the Christmas game. My mom organizes a game and insists we all play together. We are not a games family. We are a TV family. Anyone who wants to can watch The Santa Clause and White Christmas with me, and I even half-watched some Judge Judy with my mom while I was on my computer. But we only ever play games at Christmas.

We are also not a team game family. Pictionary was abolished some time ago. This year, Mom made a valiant attempt at a Jeopardy!-style trivia game. I enjoyed exercising my Harry Potter trivia muscles, and we all complained loudly and relentlessly. It’s tradition.

On Christmas Eve and late Christmas Day, though, we played regular grown-up games. I taught my family how to play Nertz (my absolute favorite game despite my not being very good at it), and my sister and I played Phase 10 with my mom. My brother shouted “Hertz” instead of “Nertz,” as though he wanted to rent a car, and my mom had some trouble remembering how solitaire (the backbone of Nertz) goes, but we had fun. And no one complained.

— 7 —

For the rest of my vacation, I got to see two of my good friends from college (one who lives in the area and one who was visiting her own family and her boyfriend’s), go to one of my favorite places on Earth, and spend New Year’s Eve with friends in Austin who had their baby days later. It was a good run.

I’ll save my report of 2015 activities for Friday.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Missing Him

Ten days ago, I got my reminder email for my grandfather’s birthday. That would usually have been a great help, because I could have added “Card for Granddaddy” to my shopping list on my iPhone, swung by Target between loads of laundry or before a round of cleaning, and had the card in the mail with plenty of time to spare.

That would have been great. Except that he died last June.


Me with my grandfather after my high school graduation. He was so proud of me.

His birthday was today, April 1. My mom always said that made him the world’s biggest fool. She was joking, of course, not just because, well, clearly she was, but because my grandfather was no fool. He knew how to get a deal, whether it was for a generator, an in-home water cooler, or cartons of cigarettes.

It was the cigarettes that killed him. School was very good at telling us the messages they wanted us to hear and no more, so I always imagined lifelong smokers either getting lung cancer or beating it entirely. He got colon cancer, which is also a common result of smoking, and it spread quickly and ended his life. I found out he had cancer right after his birthday last year. Two months later, I was a lector at his funeral.

In high school, for our health class unit on smoking, I interviewed him about his experience. He started smoking as a teenager, because he “thought he was grown.” His mother never smoked; she died of cancer. His father smoked all his life; he lived to be 89. Granddaddy would never have stood for it if any of us took up smoking, but he himself couldn’t stop. And he didn’t.

I miss him. I miss the way he always told me to be safe, and that he loved me. I’ll miss him on my wedding day, a day he’ll never get to see. I’ll miss the way he loved my long hair.

I’ll never miss missing him.

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