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Friday, October 9, 2015

Making Religion Tasty

Wine a little
Did you ever read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever? Excellent book. The only reason the Herdmans came to church was for the refreshments. Food brings people in. My middle son's CCD teacher knows this and is using food to teach third graders about religion. 

He told me calmly that she used an apple to teach them about creation. Made sense. But he was delighted to tell me she used Doritos to explain the Holy Trinity. Triangle food, get it? I have to admit, she's onto something. A kid who fought CCD every step of the way now doesn't argue about going at all. God and third graders love that nacho cheese crunch. 

This past week she used jelly bean flavors to explain how in life we don't always get what we want. I'm down with that lesson, too, and down with using food to teach. Frankly, I've found it tough to explain religion to my kids. Let me rephrase that: I've found it tough to explain some aspects of our religion to my kids. Back when my middle son made his First Communion he received a LEGO version of the Bible and read it almost cover to cover. Some of the stories in the Old Testament are crazy! 

For Catholics, the whole Mass centers around a meal, known in fancy religious terms as The Last Supper. It was the meal Jesus shared with his disciples before one of them turned him into the religious authorities. The meal at Mass isn't anything wonderful, basically some plain, tasteless bread and a small optional sip of wine. I imagine the real Last Supper was a lot more delicious.

Even though it's barely a bite and a sip, my kids like eating at Mass. My middle one who is notoriously picky loves the tasteless bread and my older, foodie son drained the wine sample he got before his First Communion. He takes the wine at EVERY Mass. 

Sharing food is an important part of Jesus's life (loaves and fishes, wine at the wedding, fishing). 
That makes sense to my kids and me because eating together is one of our favorite family pastimes. 

I just wish all of the teachings of the Catholic Church were easy to explain with tasty each flavored corn chips. I mean, it's hard enough to talk to my kids about how we're supposed to believe we are eating the body and blood of Christ. Like, real cannibalism. I have a really hard time with that one. 
But what kind of food can we use to explain that we're not supposed to use contraception? Or that priests can't marry, that women can't be priests, and that married people can't get a divorce or that two people who love each other can't get married and create a loving family?

Not too long ago my middle son asked if he could wait outside church until it was time for communion and then be called in. When I told him no, he asked me if he could choose another religion. I said sure, then he asked why I decided to be Catholic. Part of the reason was because I grew up Catholic, but a big part of me wondered why I stayed Catholic when there are so many things about this religion that I disagree with and that go against what Jesus taught. 

One thing that really got under my skin lately is the conversation I had with our pastor. I asked if he would support gun safety and start a conversation about gun violence in the church and he said he couldn't. He said it would divide the congregation. But there are plenty of things I am guessing already divides the congregation. And guns are killing people. Women as priests aren't. Guns are.

He did say he was in support of reduced gun violence as a right to life issue and all I could think of was the nun who argued most "right to life" supporters are really just pro birth. I do oppose the death penalty and oppose gun violence but I do support a woman's right to choose.

Sometimes the church just seems so out of touch with Jesus's big message of Do Unto Others. We focus on that message a lot in our family when we discuss our religion. It's a lot easier to remind them to treat people with kindness and respect. And it makes sense to do this in ways my kids can really understand, like feeding people facing hunger in our community. So we dedicate a lot of our volunteering and charitable donations to food bank programs. And we do donate a lot of Doritos.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Running Pittsburgh's Great Race, Writing my Novel, and Being Fearless

A really cool, supportive literary agent sent me this!

This has been a big month for me when it comes to trying new things and going out of my comfort zone.

Sunday, September 27 was the Great Race in Pittsburgh, which just so happens to be one of my favorite road races. My husband and I have run that race almost every year since we moved to Pittsburgh. We even ran the Great Replacement Race the year the city didn't have the budget to host the real one.

The Great Race is really familiar territory, so running it doesn't exactly push me out of my comfort zone. But running a race as a working mom means I don't have the luxuries of quiet nights and early morning focus like I used to enjoy. The night before the race the kids asked me if we could cook pizelles in the morning. WTH? We don't even have a pizelle maker. And then the morning of the race, the babysitter didn't show up. At all. So we had to beg a friend to watch all three boys.

I was also wondering if I had done all I could to prepare for a good performance. I had some doubts. But I ran anyway and finished within my goal range.

It's definitely not my fastest Great Race, and it's slower than last year. But it's faster than I thought I could do this year and if you look at my race pace for all races in 2015, I'm trending faster. I think a lot of that has to do with adding more strength work back into my schedule and being more consistent with my training.

My running consistency has a big impact on other aspects of my life, including my writing goals. Basically at the same time that I recommitted to running regularly I recommitted to finishing the third major revision of my middle grade novel that is currently titled Dare Club. And the two efforts really tied together nicely. Finishing up the manuscript involved me tackling some things that really scared me. But facing them was good for me. And after daily work on my novel manuscript I got it polished and submitted to agents a week before the Great Race.

That's two big "performances" I tackled already this month. Was I nervous and worried going into each event? Yep. Did I do them anyway? Yep.

I know that failure happens and that life goes on after failing. But I also know success can't happen if I don't try. That's why I also submitted my name this month for the 261 Fearless Ambassador program. And I was selected!

The program is part of Kathrine Switzer's global efforts to empower women through running. Here's a description of a 261 Fearless Ambassador:
...a role model, a communicator, a supporter and a friend. She has the ability to stand strong for herself and has the aspiration to bring the love of movement to others. She understands that women can benefit enormously from running to overcome personal limitation and adversity, and so she encourages those around her to run and walk. She understands the need for women to connect through running and the importance of a community of empowered women. Through her personal interactions and social media, she has the ability and desire to welcome women into this 261 Fearless community and a determination to spread 261 Fearless mission.
I really believe that running has empowered all the different aspects of my life. I also believe that different aspects of my life empower my running. It's a positive cycle that means so much to me and I'd love to share it with other women. I also wanted to say thanks to the running women in my life, from my past and my present (and to all you future running friends) for being there at every step and through many, many miles.

So now you're done reading this. What fearless thing way outside of your comfort zone are you going to try?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Why I Volunteer for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

Making friends can be so hard for kids, but stepping back and letting my children navigate the trenches of childhood friendship can be even harder. I want them to build friendships with families who are different from ours and learn the world is made up of people who believe many different things. 

But while we will always want our children to treat people with respect, we don’t respect every belief. We don’t respect intolerance and cruelty. We don’t respect violence. And we don’t respect the belief that it’s ok to have guns in a home with children.

Some people believe it’s fine to have a gun in their home. But seven children die every day from gun violence in this country and many times those deaths happen because gun owners think their children know gun safety. They think somehow the gun is keeping them safe when it is really putting their family and loved ones at risk. 

I don't stop my kids from playing with kids who have guns in the home, but my husband and I don't let my kids play at those homes. And my children know this rule.

We gave this decision serious consideration. Were we panicking? Were we setting down a path that would make our children and our family social outcasts? What if they stopped getting invitations to birthday parties? What if people avoided us at the playground? Certainly some families would take offense to our decision, but we knew that the safety of our children was more important to us than being popular in the neighborhood.

But what else might happen by me asking? What if some other parents start asking? What if we start talking about it at the playground? At the PTO? And why do some stores allow people to carry loaded weapons but not allow me to take photos (Yes, I was actually told I couldn’t take photos in the store). What if we stop thinking it’s OK when people carry loaded weapons into grocery stores, churches, parks, malls, coffee shops, and family restaurants? 

My children know I’m an advocate and volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. They were so young when the massacre at Sandy Hook happened, I only discussed it in general terms and described how a very sad, angry boy had made a horrible choice to use guns to hurt people. I told them I was going to work hard to change the way people had access to guns in our country. 

As I learned more about the serious public health issue that guns represent in our society, my husband and I also decided that we would no longer allow our children to play at homes if there were guns in the home.

We started asking whenever our kids received an invitation for playdates or sleepovers. I developed a system of asking that tucked the question about guns into less sensitive topics. I’d say, “hey, my son is excited to come over, but I wanted to ask if you had any pets, if anyone in the house smokes, or if you have any guns?” 

It was easy.  Parents would tell me I was smart to ask and that they were going to start asking. I didn’t have to say no to playdates. Two years passed and my volunteering with Moms was powerful and positive. I involved my children in the boycotts of Starbucks and Target and we celebrated when those national corporations chose customer safety as their first priority. 

Then the massacre at Charleston happened. My children were older now, and I felt they needed to know more. Talking about Charleston with my three children was painful and uncomfortable but absolutely necessary. What scared them most was that this time it happened in a church. I told them honestly that gun violence is still threatening the peace and safety of our lives. But I also told them honestly I am working hard to change the way our nation views guns.

The same week that nine people lost their lives due to gun violence, I declined two invitations for my children because the families let me know they had guns in their homes. 

Is what happened in Charleston the same as my kids playing in a home with a gun? No. But the attitudes around guns in our society need to change. Guns do not belong everywhere and at any time. Guns are not more important than people. Guns are not more important than public safety and public health. Guns are not more important than the lives of my children. 

Saying no to playdates when there are guns in the home is just one way I’m trying to reduce gun violence. It’s a part of raising awareness of the issue, like wearing orange and sharing articles on Facebook. But I’m also taking action to enact change by boycotting companies and asking my elected officials to close background check loopholes. And I’m teaching my children that their lives are more important than a possession that is only designed to hurt and kill. 

I’m not naive enough to think I can protect my kids from everything. But I do what I can. I get them vaccinated. I don’t let them drink cleaning supplies under the sink and don’t let them drive a car. I don’t let them play with matches or eat junk food all day every day. And I don’t let them play at houses where there is a gun. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Summer Brain

What happens if you put a pretzel in your mouth sideways?

Summer is now officially over, isn't it? I've been waiting for this moment because my middle son learned the phrase "summer brain" this year and it's developed into a source of serious irritation. While all of my kids are bright, they aren't always interested in working hard. (To be fair I'm not always interested in working hard, too, but I know when I need to buckle down and sweat it out.) 

This is the same kid who asked me if we could 'not learn things for once' while on vacation. Sorry, kid. Learning things IS my vacation.

But this is the same kid who is insanely curious and always asking questions and delighted to learn new things. He loves investigating and discovering and discussing and exploring. 

So it's not that he wanted to turn his brain off. He just didn't want to deal with the basic skills that are more challenging for him, specifically spelling and memorizing multiplication tables. And that's why he doesn't like them. There's nothing to discuss. Words are spelled a certain way and multiplication equations have one answer. 

I know these aren't the most interesting skills for a kid, but they are necessary. He just doesn't want to put in the time to master them. Ask him to read a funny book or launch bottle rockets or conduct a scientific investigation or locate countries on a map or invent something futuristic and he's all over that kind of scholarly work. 

I did ask myself: does he need a break? Should I insist he do the simple math worksheets and should we host spelling bees in the car? Or should I invent some crazy way to get him to practice these skills without him knowing he's practicing them? 

As it turns out I didn't go to either of those extremes but I didn't let him turn his school brain off entirely. While the worksheets sat mostly unused we did find ways to practice basic math, mostly through Pokemon battles, board games, allowance income and souvenir shopping expenses, and soccer scores. 

We also practiced spelling through journaling, scientific observation, more Pokemon, map reading and of course soccer. 

So while I really dislike the phrase 'summer brain' I felt it wasn't worth trying to use an argument to convince my son that learning is fun. I just went ahead and proved it empirically, which is after all, his favorite way to learn. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

I'm 40!

Can you believe I waited over a week to post about my massive huge birthday milestone? That's right, I'm 40!

I'm now in a new age group in races…and other than that not much has changed. I don't feel older. I don't feel any wiser, but I do feel darn lucky.

Celebrating my birthday with family and friends and some excellent local road races, including the Jeremiah's Place 5K and the Sweet Sprint 3K, was the best.
My last medal in the 30-39 age group

Birthday Party with the love of my life!

One of my favorite gifts: an E book! 

First medal in my new age group! 

One of my favorite birthday events was having high tea with my boys and my husband at the Inn on Negley. Not only was it delicious but we were treated to a special little tour of the historic building. My boys received tons of compliments on their behavior and that was an extra-special birthday gift to me. 

I see a lot of good things to come in the next year. I have a new ebook that I'm ready to self-publish, so keep your eyes open for that announcement. And I recently sent my novel manuscript out to a select group of agents that I think would love it. I have two more road races coming up and a possible new venture with a running ambassador program that I find really inspiring. And don't forget NaNoWriMo is a little over a month away - I have a very thrilling project planned for that adventure. 

There's a lot on the calendar, but that's how I like it. Welcome, 40!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Family Memories of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup

I wanted to write a giant post detailing all of the fun we had experiencing the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, but it feels really overwhelming to try to put it into words. Here's a list of the things I don't want to forget!

  • The Nigerian trumpet players
  • Getting Kinder Eggs in the airports as soon as we hit Canada
  • Practicing the metric system on the long drives from Gimli to Winnipeg
  • The feeling of a stadium roaring when the U.S. Women's National Team took the field in the first game in Winnipeg
  • The feeling of a stadium drowning in cheers when the U.S. Women's National Team took the field in the final game in Vancouver
  • Meeting some of the stars in person
  • Meeting wonderful Canadians in every city we visited
  • Painting our faces
  • Painting our van
  • Wearing our jerseys
  • Seeing orcas in Vancouver! 
  • Celebrating as a family
I make a lot of jokes about #soccerifice, the things we give up or miss to get to soccer practice or games for the kids, but in this case soccer gave us back an incredible summer of family adventures.

And instead of going on and on,  I'm going to let these photos do the talking.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hunger Action Month

September is only a few days away and while it's an important month because IT'S MY BIRTHDAY it's also Hunger Action Month. Last year, thanks to my friend Ali's great idea I recruited friends to join me in the SNAP Challenge for a few days during the month.

I found the SNAP Challenge to be a powerful, memorable experience. Even my kids remember the days I participated and asked if I am doing it this year. But the SNAP challenge isn't without problems. Lots of people don't like the idea of making a game out of the way many Americans have to eat every single day of their lives. I did the challenge because I wanted to take hunger in America seriously, but I'm not doing this year because I'm not sure it led to any real action to help hungry people. It increased my desire to address hunger, but I think I can do more things during the month than just not eat.

I think you can do more, too. There are lots of ways to take action in the month of September. Here are 30 ideas:

Spread the word and invite friends to join you. Visit and learn more about hunger in our community.