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Shut Up and Take My Money!

A wooden peg doll featuring Pope Francis, for purchase at Saint Luke's Brush on etsy.
They also have a plethora of saints, playsets, and all kinds of wonderful Catholic goodness for sale! If I wasn't a cash-strapped PhD student in the process of planning a wedding...I would have to buy out the whole store. They are all so cute! The artist behind these has some pretty impressive talent!


The Last Supper, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Play set - made to order
The Last Supper Play Set
Saint Veronica of the Holy Face - Catholic Saint Doll - made to order
Saint Veronica
There are many more wonderful pieces here! 

About the shop:
St. Luke’s Brush specializes in hand-painted Catholic toys, Wooden Saint peg dolls,religious art and gifts. High quality, one of a kind toys and gifts to inspire your child’s love and understanding of the Faith. We offer a large selection of gifts, perfect for Christmas, Feast Days, Easter, Sacrament Gifts and other special occasions. Excellent for use with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Custom orders are welcome!
St. Luke's Brush prayerfully paints each item, whether it be a wooden peg doll representing a Catholic Saint or other religious, informed by study of Catholic art, iconography, symbolism, recorded history and tradition.

Pax Vobiscum

A Cute Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI Flashback


This is a video about "The Mystery of the Little Pond," a children's book about Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, which was published last year. From what I have read, the book is based on Pope Emeritus Benedict's love of some of God's littlest creations, the pond fish he used to feed Castel Gandolfo. 

Italian copy of Tsarkova's book...her painting style is just BEAUTIFUL
Yes, the video is about a year old...but it is SO CUTE! It shows Pope Emeritus Benedict petting a koala, a lion, and a variety of animals. The artwork and story are by one of my new favorite artists, Natalia Tsarkova, a very talented artist who has been a bit of a resident portrait painter at the Vatican. If you follow me on Twitter, I recently posted about her. I simply fell in love with the manner in which she painted Bl. Pope JPII and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. I am not sure what the status is for Pope Francis's portrait...but I hope they stick with her. 
Back Cover of book featuring Pope Emeritus Benedict feeding the fish!
Enjoy!

Pax Vobiscum

*I am not sure if there is an English version of this book....but if anyone out there finds it, please let me know!! Thanks!

The Borgia Mom Post

My fiance compared me to a Borgia this past weekend when I mentioned how cool it would be if a son of ours ever became Pope. We tease each other a lot, so he started giving me a hard time. I then proceeded to tell him we should move to Switzerland so that our son could be a Swiss Guard before becoming Pope. And he made fun of me, saying I was like a Borgia, getting all my sons to be cardinals in different areas of the world so that I could take it over completely. He pretty much envisioned my taking over through alliances, plots, and all kinds of political intrigue. Naturally, the conversation got pretty silly...and I have had the urge to write a satirical blog post ever since. Without further ado, here it is...my Borgia mom post....enjoy.
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It all started when I told him that we should move to Switzerland. He asked why...and I soon found myself unveiling a secret that I have kept well-hidden for some time...a secret that made me feel like a Catholic mad woman...that is until I realized that there are other women out there have the same aspirations. Though I am glad that I am not the only one out there who feels this way...I realize that I now have competition. If you haven't followed the link, I know what you're asking yourself right now..."Competition for what?"

...Okay...here goes...
*(please see disclaimer below before you continue reading)
For some time now, I have had a secret desire that at least one of my sons becomes a priest. My ideal number would be three priests named Mikhail, Gabriel, and Raphael after the archangels....but I will settle for just one priest if that is all I get.** But it doesn't end there. Before any of my young men end up in the seminary...we have to move to Switzerland. My badass Catholic sons must undergo the training necessary to be personal guardians to the Pope...as members of the illustrious Swiss Guard. You see, I made the mistake of following the Swiss Guard on Facebook and now find myself admiring these young men in uniforms and wishing that I could one day have the honor of saying "You see that guy there by the popemobile...the one prepared to take a bullet for the Pope? Well, that's my son. And yes, he does look rather awesome in that uniform."

But my aspirations don't end there...because, as I have mentioned before, I want at least one priest in the family. My family has a bit of a curse in this department. My grandfather, my dad, my godfather, and countless others have at some point aspired to be priests. Some had even made it as far as seminary. Some were told to go home, some fell in love, and others just realized that religious life wasn't for them. Does this curse dissuade me at all? Nope. It simply serves to make a better story of it all once I have a priest in the family. Naturally, if my Swiss Guard son spends so much time defending his beloved Papa, he will be drawn to our Pope's holiness, especially if Pope Francis is blessed with at least 20 more years (assuming, of course, that I get pregnant right after marriage). It can only be assumed, therefore, that this growing love and admiration of holiness will make him realize that he is being called for priestly vocation. He will valiantly retire from his beloved Swiss Guard post and give up his Medici blue, red, and yellows for the priestly black cassock. If I truly luck out, I will also have a few daughters in a cloistered order...but this is another blog post entirely
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With the Fiance's good looks and my brains, our son (or sons) may very well become the next Gorgeous Georg/Saint Gregory the Great. I will, however, be more than happy if my son becomes a cardinal...or a bishop...maybe even a Monsignor....as long as they become a Doctor of the Church like St. Thomas of Aquinas.
How's that for high expectations!?! Muahahaha!!!

Pax Vobiscum
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* Ultimately, I will never pressure a kid into priesthood or religious life if it isn't their calling. There are few things worse than the type of priest/religious that was forced into religious life. It diminishes the significance of a genuine call to religious life. In truth, I will support my children in whatever it is that they decide to do as long as it doesn't endanger their salvation...so prostitution, LCWR, drug-dealing, and related professions are out of the question...PERIOD.

** I may have to make some compromises here at some point because the fiance doesn't really like the name of Mikhail...or Raphael for that matter.

Connected in Hope

I  know this may be a bit late in coming (due to my hectic lab schedule)....but I entered the All You Who Hope scarf giveaway contest last month. I haven't won anything in quite some time...so you can imagine my excitement when I was announced the winner!  The prize up for grabs was a choice of one of the very lovely scarves from the Connected in Hope Foundation. This organization has helped many Ethiopian women living in poverty by providing them with an employment as well as aid for education, sustenance, and healthcare. The scarves sold by this organization are fair trade scarves, meaning that these women are paid decent wages for their hard work and skill. These wages help them build lives in a way that also enables them to take pride in their work and be recognized for it. I know this because my scarf came with a tag telling me the name of the woman who had woven my scarf as well as an envelope for me to write this woman a letter to tell her how much I loved the scarf.

The purchase of a fair trade scarf from Connected in Hope can change someone's life as well as add some new life to quite a few ensembles. I ended up choosing a green scarf with white stripes (similar to this one)...and it showed up on my doorstep a few days later. As soon as I got it out of the envelope...I fell in love. It was beautiful, soft, lightweight, and very well-made...perfect for the Spring as well as the Summer. I wanted to tell the world about it as soon as I wore it...but vanity kicked in. I wanted to make sure I had a decent picture of myself wearing it before I advertised my new favorite scarf. My sister was kind enough to volunteer some of her time for my photo shoot...but the photographs did not do the scarf justice. This weekend, the fiance was kind enough to help me with another photo shoot...right before we headed out for a pre-Cana meeting with the priest. The photographs turned out wonderfully....and the scarf accented the whole look very beautifully. You can't see my eyes because of all the squinting (it was very sunny), but I the scarf brought out my green eyes very nicely.
I love how this shade of green works with black and brown....
 I don't often advertise things on my blog...but when I do, I do it for a good reason. Based on what I have found after researching the Connected in Hope foundation, I support this organization's efforts to empower women. I can also honestly attest to the very good quality of the scarf sent to me. I'm huge on scarves and have already used this one with multiple ensembles...and I love it. I'm a cash-strapped PhD candidate currently planning a wedding, but hope to support Connected in Hope in the future. I think I may get scarves for bridesmaids' gifts....which may work because of the variety of colors, patterns, and styles I can choose from. There is certainly something there for everyone.

Feel free to "like" Connected in Hope on Facebook to learn more about this organization and the wonderful work they do!


Pax Vobiscum

Tuesday Catholic Humor Featuring the Popemobile

While browsing the web (looking for a bishop's email), I chanced upon Technocatholic, a page containing what are described as "the musings of a Catholic webmaster." In the humor section, I found a list that dated to when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was pope that I just had to share. I have to say, I had a few laughs.

A List of Stickers Seen on the Popemobile
  • Question Authority. Ask Me Anything
  • Infallibility on Loan from God
  • God REALLY IS My Co-Pilot
  • Honk if You Pray the Rosary
  • Choose ETERNAL Life
  • Speak Softly and Carry a Big Cross
  • All Roads Lead to Rome
  • Say Mass, Not War
  • Give Me Confession or Give Me Death
  • I Brake for Souls
  • Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
  • Bible On Board
  • My Other Car is Also a Popemobile
  • From Germany With Love
  • I’ll Never Get to Meet the Pope Because I Am the Pope
  • Livin’ the Vida Papa!
  • Hang Up and Pray
  • Sin Happens
  • Make My Day. Kiss My Ring!
  • I’d Rather Be Saying Mass
  • Honor Student in the College of Cardinals
I have to start thinking of Pope Francis-related bumper stickers....
Image Credit: The Telegraph

Pax Vobiscum

Raising Twilight Zone Kids

I've always loved watching the Twilight Zone, even during that obnoxious part of my youth where all movies, cartoons, shows, etc. needed to be in color in order to be worth my time. From what I remember, the only exception to this rule was the Twilight Zone. I would watch those marathons on SciFi (back when it was a good channel) for hours on end, glued to the TV. Eventually, I grew up to appreciate more black and white movies than I can count (like Hitchcock and old-school Sci Fi movies like The Bad Seed, Godzilla, the Blob, Mothra, etc) ...but Twilight Zone will always have a special little space in my heart. I've watched some of the more recent reincarnations of this awesome show...but the old-school black and white episodes were the best.

For any Twilight Zone nuts, here's a quick list of some of my favorite episodes:
1. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge...that seemingly never-ending chase scene followed by the last-second twist was something that has remained fresh in my mind for years
2. The Masks...you almost wish you could give a come-uppance to some people in the same manner as Jason Foster
3. It's a Good Life...not be confused with "It's a Wonderful Life"...at all. It's really an awful life actually.
4. One for the Angels... There's something about the "let's outsmart death" fables that I absolutely can't get enough of...
5. The Midnight Sun...this one also had a great twist ending, and who can forget the melting paintings...

There is something about the Twilight Zone that always resonated with me. Unlike all the "punch-you-in-the-face-obvious" social commentary you see these days in shows and rubbish movies such as Wall-E, the Twilight Zone tends to teach us about humanity's weaknesses and deep-seated darkness in very subtle ways that made an impression on me. As silly as the premise of "It's a Good Life" may sound to a culture of folk raised on the carnage of slasher movies, it is probably scarier (to me at least) than many of the movies that are released now...regardless of how much guts, chainsaws, etc. they may contain. Why? Let me put it this way, as much as I love kids, I am fully aware that they can be monsters. There's too many awful stories that show up in the news about children and teens committing suicide because they cannot deal with being teased anymore. I was teased as a kid, so I can tell you that it is awful. Even with a supportive and loving family, there were moments where I simply could not imagine ever being happy again. There were times when I really did consider myself to be as awful as the bullies made me out to be. This, in turn, turned me into a monster when someone else started getting picked on.

"It's a Good Life" is a story centers on a boy living in a town in Ohio. He is omnipotent and has essentially wiped all of civilization (and perhaps the world) except the people in his town. If you displease him in any way, he can make you disappear. He can control the weather and just about everything else. As a result of everything his making people disappear in the past, everyone in the town seems to be walking on eggshells. They do what they can to please this boy, hoping that they aren't the next ones to disappear. Even his own family fears him. At one point toward the end, the remaining members of the town throw a birthday party for one of the citizens who gets drunk and proceeds to mouth off toward the boy...I'm not going to spoil the ending for you, but he ends up upsetting the boy and getting a rather draconian punishment for it.
"Oh yes, I did forget something, didn't I? I forgot to introduce you to the monster. This is the monster. His name is Anthony Fremont. He's six years old, with a cute little-boy face and blue, guileless eyes. But when those eyes look at you, you'd better start thinking happy thoughts, because the mind behind them is absolutely in charge. This is the Twilight Zone."

This story is an extreme example of just how cruel children can be, especially if they haven't learned lessons in patience, empathy, compassion, etc.

This Sunday, I sat one parent away from one of those kids. You know which kids I am talking about...the ones that scream and whine until they get what they want. She cried. She whined. She threw fits. She timed her whines to coincide with the songs that were sung and the scripture read. She was thirsty. She was tired. She was hungry. She was*insert complaint here.* I could not hear a thing over her constant whining and she even started throwing a fit...knocking herself into the pew and bothering her mom to no end. One could even think she was possessed because she kept at it for most of the service.

Her mom, God bless her, did not give in to her demands to go home/bathroom/water fountain/etc. She held strong for most of the service with the patience of a saint. Had that been my child, I would have smacked her and then given her a lecture that would have rivaled the smack and lectures I used to get as a kid. As much as I hated getting smacked, the lectures were always worse. I still thank God for the parents I had and the discipline they taught me...because I could have become one of those kids and grown up to be one of those adults. You know the adults I am talking about, the I-get-what-I-want-regardless-of-who-I-inconvenience-adults. They're often seen at places like Whole Foods, reaching over you as you are trying to get some overpriced tomatoes in your basket...or cutting you off in the aisles because they feel entitled to it. You can be as environmentally-friendly and organic as you want...but no amount of yoga, organic food, or hybrid cars will ever justify a nasty persona.

I prayed for that whining child and suppressed the urge to address her directly. I also ended up going through my purse before the collection to retrieve a St. Anne/Holy family medal for the mother because heaven knows how she could last that long with a kid acting like that. It looked like she may need all the help she can get and I felt bad for her.  I was very close to awarding her "Mother of the Year," when she did something that led to a Twilight Zone moment....something that got that little girl quiet. It wasn't a smacking. It wasn't a lecture. It was a phone. She gave her daughter one of those fancy phones and this girl was instantly cured of her thirst, hunger, weariness, etc. in an instant (because she had been faking it all along, I am sure). In an instant she was engrossed in a game without the whining, fake tears, screams, fits, etc. It was eerie how this phone was able to captivate her...forget about the miracle of transubstantiation or a much-needed lesson in patience. The little girl would get none of that. She was too busy playing a game in the middle of mass.

That moment broke my heart because it occurs all too often on the streets of NYC, on the subway, on the train, etc. Parents, rather than investing their time and effort in teaching their kids the value of patience, mass, kindness, charity, etc....are using phones to keep kids distracted. The kids, in turn, are missing out on the important lessons of life. They are playing games instead of working on the ability to sit still for an hour. They are playing games instead of learning how to handle the word "NO" when their demands are not met. They are playing games instead of dealing with the small disappointments in life that ultimately prepare us for bigger disappointments in life. They are playing games instead of learning coping skills. They are playing games instead of being children.

I have learned enough about the developing brain to know that things like environment and behavior have a big influence on the circuitry necessary for learning and basic functions. Mindless games are a poor substitute for the social cues they pick up from their parents and they are a poor substitute for the just love of a parent. I say "just love" instead of "love" because I feel that an overly indulgent love is also detrimental for children. When I say "just love" I am talking about the type of love that is willing to correct mistakes and teach lessons, the type of love that a parent has when the ground you for breaking a window after playing ball in the house...the type of love that leads a parent to force a kid to pay for this window out of their allowance. Phones cannot show children this type of love. Phones can show kids how to play a game or call someone...but they cannot teach children how to behave, how to love, how to be responsible, how to be respectful, and how to be patient.

I am afraid that this "just give the kid a phone to keep them quiet" attitude towards parenting is going to give us a generation of overindulged people who seek distractions instead of solutions when faced with problems. With that said, I am afraid that some parents may one day regret the shortcuts they seem to be taking whenever the give phones to kids to keep them quiet...instead of correcting the errors they see.

I hope that enough parents experience a wake-up call when it comes to parenting...before the next generation is raised to be like the kid from "It's a Good Life." We have already started seeing some awful news stories of kids killing parents for the sake of video games. I won't link them here because the stories are just plain awful... a simple online search will lead to plenty of gruesome results. I can only imagine how many more will pop up in the future if things keep going as they are now. May God help us all if it gets any worse.

Pax Vobiscum


On Weddings: It's not About Just YOU

The more I get sucked into wedding culture, the more repulsive it seems. Ever since I got engaged it feels like I've been continually assaulted by emails, envelopes, phone calls, etc. all demanding that I purchase some kind of object or service because it is all about my special day. Heaven forbid I don't buy whatever it is that they're selling because it means that my wedding...MY DAY will be destroyed. I don't think they really understand who they're marketing to, because I've pretty much been feeling disgusted with all of the garbage I'm being sold. Don't get me wrong, I want my wedding to be nice...but I feel that everything that is NECESSARY to make it nice is, essentially, free.

Sacraments are free and they are wonderful. Reading scriptures is free. Getting married in the presence of God is free. The homily is free and even the liturgical music is free. The mass is free. As you can probably see, I am very excited about the sacrament of marriage...but not so much about the multi-million dollar industry that makes you feel inadequate if you don't have a dozen orchids decorating each dessert plate at the reception. Yeah, I don't buy it either. I don't buy the need for orchids, the whole unity sand crystal vase BS, or the laser teeth whitening and shoes that cost a semester's worth of science texts. I've been told by this industry that I should pay at least $20,000 for a wedding that is worthy enough to be my special day. I've been told by this industry that it is all about me and that if I want to wear a tacky dress that makes me look like a prostitute...then I should wear it to please myself...because I should not have to listen to or respect family opinion and church dress codes. I'm constantly bombarded with the message that unless I get EVERYTHING I want and do everything the way I want to do it...my wedding is officially ruined.

That may work for some brides...but not for me. I don't want to get a mortgage to pay for a wedding. I don't want to max out my credit card just so I can get a golden chocolate fountain to be displayed by an ice sculptured vodka fountain (which looks worse than it sounds, believe you me). I think there are quite a few other things I would rather spend money on....like a house or some other big investment for my future. If I am going to pay a mortgage...it better be for a house. Nothing fancy, just a roof over my head and a pet- and child-friendly neighborhood. That's what I am concerned with most...not the prosciutto towers (yes, these exist, apparently), the stretch limos (Gandalf will do just fine, in my opinion), or diamond-encrusted dresses (even if I had all the money in the world, I can imagine better uses for that kind of cash).

I simply don't understand this "I deserve EVERYTHING I WANT for my perfect day" mentality. I mean, who am I getting married to? Don't they have an opinion too? Aren't they allowed to express it? What about the family I've known and loved? Shouldn't I take their needs into consideration when getting everything together? What about the bridal and groom party? Why aren't they allowed a say in what they are to wear?

BridezillaThankfully, I realized very early on during the wedding planning process that I was going to put more care into the sacrament part of marriage than the "wedding" part of marriage. Mainly, I wanted to focus on building my relationship in a way that put God, rather than my own selfish needs and feelings, first. The first thing I did was contact a priest and book a date at the church where I am to be wed. After that, I kind of allowed everything to fall into place. I let the bridesmaids pick the color and dress (using a convenient survey), which then gave me a color to work with. I even willingly and gladly accepted the advice of my future mother-in-law (who, according the wedding magazines, is not supposed to get along with me). We even went wedding dress shopping together and it was not that bad. 

As much as I wanted to believe that the bridal shop attendants were honest and sincere, it did not take me long to realize that they must have a list of standard compliments that they must memorize before they get hired. The purpose of these comments is to make an unsuspecting bride-to-be feel special and unique in a sea of other brides-to-be shopping in a store with dozens of copies of the same dress styles. They must then repeat these comments over and over, with some variation to order of comment, whenever a new bride-to-be comes in. I know it must make some brides feel special, but I did not buy any of it and to be honest with you, the whole commercial bridal shop circus is just that...a circus. It almost makes you want to learn how to sew your own dress from curtains. Now THAT would be special and unique.

When all was said and done, I did get a nice dress that was simple, but pretty. Nothing too fancy and it only cost me about the price of a standard laptop (isn't it funny how I gauge prices based on academic items?). After the dress was down, I scoured the internet and different stores for centerpieces, a veil, and various other accessories. Etsy turned out to be a wonderful resource, as did Pier One's clearance section. A friend of mine happens to be a pretty awesome milliner, so that took care of the head gear. Everything else either already fell or is currently falling into place. I made the Save-the-Dates using a standard post-card printer because as soon as you add "wedding" to anything, the price for it jumps at least 1500%. You can't beat 150 postcards (with 2 sides of color) for $33. The only hard part is finding out what to do with the extras (since I could only purchase in increments of 50). 

To make a long story short, I've received and accepted input. I've let others call some shots. I've compromised on my refusal to buy live flowers and the Fiance's wanting flowers at the wedding (he may or may not deny this)...but getting dried flower arrangements. The ability to compromise is very powerful. I haven't stressed out over every minor detail...and I've taken it easy. A laid back attitude is also a HUGE help. For me, the pomp and circumstance of a typical wedding doesn't mean anything to me. I've focused on more important things...like becoming learned in the lore of NFP (mainly, the Creighton Method...which helped in my recent endometriosis diagnosis and surgery after years of semi-misdiagnosis by birth control pill-pushing ob/gyns...who just thought I had PCOS and assumed the pill would make it all better). I am also practicing celibacy and learning the meaning of chastity within a marriage...at least marriage as God intended it. 

I think that my marriage will ultimately benefit from making my wedding a special day for God instead of me. God gave us the gift of marriage so that we could not only "be fruitful and multiply," but so that we could live the union that Christ has with his Church. In doing so, we learn to love as selflessly as he loves and we sacrifice of ourselves for the behalf of another...much as he sacrificed himself for us. I think it is also important to note that marriage allows us to also take part in creation...however small this part may appear at first. I hope to become a mother one day and add my own threads to the tapestry of creation and hope that these threads will remake this world into something better than I now see. I want to create more citizens for the Church Triumphant and I want to share in God's delight when I greet my children in heaven. I also want to ensure that my husband also attains heaven and share in this joy as well. I want to be an example of holy marriage in a modern world where divorce seems to be the norm and I think it would be especially nice if I am ever blessed to celebrate a 50 year wedding anniversary with my husband, children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren all around me. Love, family, selflessness, and holiness

At least, this is what I think about as I plan for my wedding on the feast day of St. Faustina Kowalska. If only these wedding marketers knew this...because I am sure my inbox would be a lot more empty and my mailbox a lot less cluttered with spam. 

Pax Vobiscum

Say "YES" to Life

I was clicking through my morning news, Chicken Soup for the Soul stories, etc....when I chanced upon this gem in Rome Reports and fell in love with Pope Francis even more.
“All too often, people do not choose life, they do not accept the ‘Gospel of Life’ but let themselves be led by ideologies and ways of thinking that block life, that do not respect life, because they are dictated by selfishness, self-interest, profit, power and pleasure, and not by love, by concern for the good of others.” 
- Pope Francis
I don't know what it is about him, but I love the way he approaches the subject...and just about every other subject. We all know I'm a Papa Francis groupie so of course I'm a fan of anything he's got to say...but this prolife tidbit just made my morning.

The Video: Pope's Angelus: Say 'yes' to life!

Enjoy!

This Chubby Catholic

I'm a chubby Catholic.

I vaguely remember not being chubby...but this was mostly during my days as a toddler and young child. At some point I became "fat." I remember dieting as a middle school kid because I was too fat to be beautiful. I dieted, I got sick, I got better, and decided at some point that I loved myself for who I was.  At some point during 7th grade, I weighed myself and found that I was 170 pounds (for a 5' 4'', that's overweight) and was able to maintain that weight throughout high school and 2 years into college. Then I met a boy I liked, we started dating, and I started joining him for breakfast at the dining hall. He was a breakfast person, I was not. Before I met him, I was like a ninja in the mornings I had class. Class would start at 8:30 and I would get up at 8:15. During that 15 minutes, I jumped out of bed to hit the alarm before the second beep (I was on a top bunk), put oatmeal in the microwave, brushed my hair, got dressed, and brushed my teeth. With oatmeal in hand, I got my books, and ran to class. I usually made it on time...but all of this ended when I started joining the now-Fiance for breakfast.

WOW. For someone who had spent most of their life eating a quick bowl of cereal (and now oatmeal) in the morning, I quickly realized just how much I had missed out on. This dining hall had grits (a new favorite), buttermilk biscuits right out of the oven (another new favorite), turkey sausage, turkey bacon, doughnuts, cream of wheat, pancakes, waffles, and all kinds of other tasty food (which all became new favorites at one point or another). I proceeded to gain that infamous freshman 15 like it was nobody's business. Thankfully, I didn't really drink at all during my undergrad years.

One summer, I decided that I weighed way too much (I was 195 pounds) more because of the stretch marks appearing than my hating my body. I felt good about my body, but I was not too happy about my health and the stretchmarks. I figured that it would only go downhill if I continued gaining the weight...so I lost it. All of it. I went back down to 170ish and stayed that way until my masters degree....when the stress eating began. Again, back to the higher end of the 180s, but I managed to get back down to the high 170s by the end of the summer following my thesis defense.

Then I started my PhD and that led to a whole new world of stress eating. I've never been more stressed out in my life like I have been for the past few years between finals, avoiding any grade below a B at all costs, qualifying exams, and a string of failures as a researcher (because who doesn't have those?). I am back up to the 190s. Last summer, I got down to the mid-180s as I trained for a Warrior Dash...but it has been some time since I got back down to the 170s. If you go by body mass index, I am obese at anything above ~175...so you can say that it's been a fight with obesity for about 7 years.

Research life involves a lot of standing around or sitting down, so I don't get as much exercise as I would like throughout the day. I do get at least a good 30 minutes of walking a day...not counting the sprints in Penn Station...but that's about it. Factor in the PCOS with lack of physical movement in the day, and I have to say that it has been HARD to lose weight. I don't want to be model-thin and already have a wedding dress that fits my current size in a flattering way...so I don't want to lose weight for vanity.

I want to lose it because it may help with the PCOS (seems like a catch-22 here, weight loss and PCOS). However, based on the weight log I have kept since last year, I have been fluctuating between high 180s and low 190s for the past year. Don't get me wrong, I am happy that I actually weigh less than I did when I hit the 195 mark...but it feels like a hopeless endeavor at times. Still, I haven't given up.

I've been eating pretty healthy (lots of vegetables, not too much meat, and very little fried food). I still get tripped up with chocolate, especially when stressed out or I've hit that time of the month (at least this has been somewhat regular in the past few years...and now less painful since my surgery). However, I have started an ab challenge as well as a squat challenge. The incremental design of these routines has been pretty good on the knees even if the muscles are complaining now as I type. I haven't lost any weight, but I have already started feeling differences in my legs. They seem more muscular and I can now somewhat-easily (at least compared to before) do 50 squats without falling over dead. I could barely do 16 the first day. I feel that I am making progress day by day, even if it isn't drastic and even if the results aren't as immediate.

I got a couple of comments during a birthday party I went to recently about my weight. I didn't believe them at the time, but maybe they were right. It is finally starting to feel like my body is responding to the exercise and I haven't started slacking off yet. Perhaps in due time, I can get a bit more rigid with my workout...but I will take it one day at a time and see where I stand once these 30 day programs are completed. Right now it seems like I can fit a quick workout at night...but I am worried that it may be tough to keep it up once I have to start spending long nights in the lab. I guess I should just take it one day at a time.

One thing I haven't really done yet is getting God involved in my quest for a healthier lifestyle and body weight. I don't intend to ask Him to make me just lose 10 pounds overnight without any effort on my end...but I simply don't know how to pray for something like this. How do I pray for help in weight management when I am uncertain of how well I can keep it up? How do I pray for help in maintaining a routine...without it sounding superficial? Has anyone out there ever prayed for help in this department? I mean, I have more than enough experienced praying for His help in school, help with the family, the dead, the sick, those who have lost loved ones, etc. These seem like legitimate needs that should be prayed for. Can stress-eating count as a health issue? Is that legitimate enough?
"Manducare Panem Tuam" from Catholic Memes
Praying for weight management just doesn't sound as important as praying for the sick, etc. I mean, I am not really suffering from weight issues (except for the PCOS, which can be more manageable if I lose some weight)...and it sometimes feels like it would be selfish of me to pray for this when there is so much else to pray for.

Anyone out there have any ideas? Has anyone out there tried to involve God in their weight management? Anyone have any success? PLEASE let me know! It's times like these and questions like these that sometimes make me wish that I had gone for a theology degree and not biology...

Pax Vobiscum

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine...

"Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!”
-Belloc

I don't want to talk about how our Nobel peace prize-winning leader just got us involved in Syria's war and associated death tolls. As far as I'm concerned, both sides are just as likely to be using chemical warfare and there are far too many self-interests at play for me to even begin considering that this act is done out of good will in order to ensure democracy. Syria may not have WMD's (much like another country we helped liberate), but they have oil...and I feel that oil speaks louder than oppression or human lives. 

I especially don't want to talk about Cuomo's idiocy, over-the-counter Plan B carcinogens for kids, Belgium's ideas regarding euthanasia, and countless other "death is the easiest solution" stories that have been popping out in the news lately. It sickens me and makes my blood boil reading some of these stories because it demonstrates how callous and disgusting we have become as a culture and as a world. Forget investing in science to develop treatments and cures to ease suffering or investing in programs to empower pregnant mothers (teenage or otherwise) or families with disabilities, genetic diseases, etc...we have become lazy and callous.We take care of the problem by killing... whether it be euthanasia, abortion, war, etc. To be quite frank, it disgusts me and I don't feel like talking about it. 

Instead, I want to give you readers a small taste of what God intended us to feel whenever we get up in the morning. Forget the trashy celebrities we are told to idolize or the awful news we are told to stomach...and embrace life as it was meant to be embraced...with joy. I want to give you some ideas to help you imagine a world that has not been corrupted by sin. I want you to imagine waking up to this world every morning, without the pain of this world weighing you down. I want you to remember that you were born to be happy and that God wants you to be happy. Don't worry, I haven't jumped onto the televangelist bandwagon that tells you that God wants everyone to be millionaires. That's a snake oil version of what God wants for us. No, God wants us to have a much simpler form of happiness that is meant to be but a taste of the happiness we have in store for us in heaven....

There is plenty of joy in the small things and in a world of sorrow, we tend to forget the happiness we can attain by sitting back and enjoying things like Belloc's laughter and good red wine. As much as the world tells us that copious amounts of money, drunkenness, and sex are the ticket to happiness...happiness does not require vices or very much material wealth. Happiness can be attained by appreciating the things that haven't been ruined by us. It can be attained by walking through a forest that hasn't been bull dozed for a shopping mall. It can be attained by playing with your dog instead of ignoring your dog for some game on your iPad...I've seen this in the park before, and it was sad watching the poor doggie attempt to get its owner to play with it. I can say the same for parents I've seen playing with their phones instead of paying attention to their kids.

If you're currently fed up with the world and want to see the sort of good (and Catholic-friendly) times Belloc was talking about, here are a few ideas:
  1. The first thing I want you to do as soon as you finish reading this post is either watch a movie like Anne of Green Gables or listen to an album like Loreena McKennitt's "The Book of Secrets." Anne of Green Gables, while wholesome, will probably have you doubled over laughing or fawning over good guys like Matthew or Gilbert. For people on a budget, just add a Loreena McKennitt station to Pandora or look up Anne of Green Gables on Youtube for some great clips. Loreena's music will transport you through the ages and to every corner of the known world...as well as a few fantasy realms. Her beautiful voice, clever use of music, and meaningful lyrics are a feast for anyone who feels they haven't heard any good music lately. Any one of these options will bring you back to simpler times when role models were good, intelligent people with a sense of humor instead of the "flavor-of-the-week" celebrity who may or may not be doing drugs and sleeping around depending on the trashy magazine you see by the checkout counter. Speaking of trashy entertainment, I saw a poster on the subway this morning that made me crack up. It was part of an genius ad campaign by New York's public broadcasting station WNET. These posters feature ridiculously awful reality tv show spoofs like Bayou Eskimoes, Knitting Wars, Married to a Mime, etc with this tag line: "The fact you thought this was a real show says a lot about the state of TV. Support quality programming. Join us at thirteen.org." Though some find this ad campaign snobby and infuriating, they have a point. Reality TV is cheap to produce versus shows like Downton Abbey and so the market has been swamped by these shows...the worst of which tend to get way too much attention on magazines, the internet, etc. 
  2. After you've had your fill of great music and good movies, find a book that will inspire you. Allow me to offer you a shortcut by suggesting Padre Pio: The True Story. I believe I read that the author (C. Bernard Ruffin) of this book was Lutheran...but he did a wonderful job of putting this book together. It brings that beloved monk from Pietrelcina, Italy to life with stories of Padre Pio miracles, biographical information, and even some stories from people who were blessed in knowing Padre Pio during his time on earth. He was tough, he was gentle, he knew how to appreciate life, and he took no nonsense. I was inspired by Padre Pio's words to the faithful as well as the example he set with his humble life. As simple as he was and as sick as he could get sometimes, he knew how to make the most of his life and the life he lived was a rich one. 
  3. If books aren't your thing, I have to recommend Verily Magazine. I ended up subscribing after I picked up the teaser issue at the doctor's office and found myself reading articles I actually liked.  As soon as I saw a Loreena McKennitt mention in the magazine...I knew it was the magazine for me. The current June/July issue is full of pictures, features, etc. that have me grinning from ear to ear. The swimsuit section almost made me weep tears of joy at the normal bodies they used and the flattering (and not uncomfortably revealing) swimsuits. I can't remember the last time I didn't feel too fat, short, etc. while looking at a magazine's swimsuit spread. No dangerously rail-thin and overly made-up and airbrushed models here...just beautiful women who look like they could be you, your best friend, your coworker, etc...you know...NORMAL women of all body types. The makeup tips were reasonable. The relationship advice was sound. The clothing advertised was, for the most part, affordable and elegant. I especially enjoyed a feature about a woman who works, home school, and is a mother to 9 beautiful children...all at a very young 39 years of age. Imagine that. A happily married woman who can have a career AND a family. Any magazine that features a role model like this one is a great thing in my book. Cosmopolitan can keep its sex tips along with all of the other trashy magazines....I'm sticking with Verily. For the guys out there, I suggest checking out The Art of Manliness which features everything from how a man should dress to how a man should shave...I'm still dying after reading some of the comments on the Learn How to Shave Like Your Grandpa post by Brett McKay. (FYI: Verily has an excellent article by the same Brett McKay on women and men being "just friends.")
  4. Three words: Blackberry. Cabernet. Sorbet. MY GOODNESS, this stuff is delicious. It is so good that I am beginning to believe that Belloc only mentioned wine in the poem above because there are simply too many syllables in blackberry cabernet sorbet. I'm not a big fan of wine in general, but this sorbet is pretty good. I bought mine, but you can make your own if you are feeling adventurous. 
  5. Love. If you are with someone, love them and tell them you love them. Write to them that you love them. Call them and tell them how they make you feel. Make sure they know that you appreciate them. Make sure they know how irreplaceable they are. Do it with a note, a letter, a hug, a text, whatever it takes...just make sure you let them know. If you are not with anyone right now, no worries. Chances are there is at least one person in your life that you appreciate. Well, do something out of the ordinary and make them feel loved. If you get an urge to buy someone flowers, do it before your rational, boring mind talks you out of it. If you want to take them out for a movie or dinner, do it before you rational, boring mind tells you that you have too much to do. FIND new ways of showing and expressing your love. If, for whatever reason, you are feeling down...APPRECIATE YOURSELF. Take a few moments for yourself and do something that makes you happy. 
  6. Pray. Pray when you are upset. Pray when you are happy. Pray whenever you wish! You can pray the prayers you learned as a child, or you can make up your own. Tell God about every worry you have and take some time to listen. Meditate on His words and try to read some scripture stories that make you feel better. I LOVE the book of Tobit, and some of the psalms are simply too lovely to go unread and unexperienced. God speaks through the Bible, the Church, the Saints, etc. Seek his words and try to find out how they are relevant to your life....then try to apply them in a way that strengthens your hope and deepens your resolve to love and be happy...regardless of the evils that seem to be taking over the world sometimes. 
  7. Speaking of world...I highly suggest checking out Places to See Before You Die. We may be good at tearing apart natural beauties or overlooking the simple beauty that is all around us...but there are still places in this earth that inspire awe, whether or not they are completely natural or some levels of man-made. The beauty of enjoying these images is that you don't necessarily have to travel to these places to enjoy them. If you have a good imagination, you can transport yourself anywhere and simply enjoy yourself for a few split seconds on any given day.
  8. Then there's Pope Francis...he always seems to say and do wonderful things that, at least for brief moment or two, restores my faith in humanity. 
Check out Saint Peter's List for more images like this one and plenty of awesome stuff to read.
Pax Vobiscum

A list of 5 things, places and people I want to see before I die....

  1.  An end to Communist China, Laos, Cuba, and Vietnam...and an end to Juche North Korea. If I could at least live to see China free before I die, I would die very happy. Why China?  I have gone there, I have seen the oppression, and I met some wonderful people there that should be allowed to live and believe as they wish...without state-run media, state-controlled churches, without state-mandated 1-child policies, and without all of the stress that comes when big government abuses people for the sake of profit and power. I guess you can say I have a soft spot for this nation...which could be so great if they could do what they do now without exploiting the Chinese people and robbing them of freedom. 
  2. Ireland remaining pro-life. As the country with the lowest maternal death rates and no abortion, you'd think the world would "get" it when it comes to the risks associated with termination of pregnancy. Unfortunately, there are some pretty powerful lobbies out there and these lobbies don't often really care about what is right or wrong as long as they get what they want. Abortion is murder, plain and simple, regardless of how you wish to justify it....and women deserve better.  
  3. My guardian angel. After reading about the lives and experiences of a few Catholic mystics, I have come to the conclusion that I would love to one day see my guardian angel. They seem like one of the best companions and friends anyone could ever have and mine even has a sense of humor. Even so, I would be afraid of seeing my guardian angel because I get the feeling that I have been a great disappointment when it comes to living a holy life. I cannot even begin to tell you how ashamed I am of some of the things I have done in the past...especially after reading about some of the guardian angel rebukes the saints have had to deal with. 
  4. The Pope. I came so close to seeing Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI when he came to NYC in 2008 (I caught footage of him on my camera...but my hobbit-like stature prevented me from being able to see him above the crowd). Though I did not realize it at the time, this event slowly turned me into a Catholic fangirl over time. Though I had wanted a cardinal from Brazil to be elected Pope and showed no interest in this German fellow, over the years I became a big fan and defender of Papa Bene. At the party following the Young Adult mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral last night, I found myself talking to a nice young man about Pope Benedict. Though we both seemed to love Pope Francis, we could not help but still appreciate that quiet, but incredibly wonderful Pope who we have grown to love over the years. At the mass last night, I got a chance to take part in a mass with some pretty amazing people. Cardinal Dolan's homily was wonderful and I even got to say hi and shake hands with Lino Rulli (without acting like too much of an idiot...which is surprising for me). You should have seen how excited I was at meeting or simply just listening to these larger-than-life Catholics. I absolutely love Pope Francis for so many reasons, ever since he won my heart on that balcony by asking us to pray with him. It was a moment I will never forget. Taking part in worldwide Eucharistic adoration last Sunday was also a moment I will never forget. Throw in the homilies, the humility he has shown, the tweets, and the upcoming pro-Life mass on June 16th...and...well, you can only imagine what my inner Catholic fangirl is looking like these days....
    With that said, I am still looking for a way to get an audience with the Pope...so if any of you have any advice, feel free to pass it along. 
  5. Every holy site possible. I've been to Fatima, Portugal twice and I have been to some pretty amazing cathedrals in Europe. I've been to some pretty amazing shrines too. Even so, my thirst for holy places has yet to be quenched. I want to hike the Camino de Santiago. I want to visit Lourdes. I want to visit Jerusalem. I want to visit Rome. I want to see so many more Cathedrals and go on so many pilgrimages. I think right now, I want to start with Italy...maybe Rome or Padre Pio's San Giovanni Rotondo (I'm a HUGE fan of this saint and would love to pray here). 
Pax Vobiscum