Meet Rita Buettner:

“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” After struggling with infertility, my husband and I were blessed to adopt our two sons from China. I’m a working mother who writes about family fun and faith. Oh, and I own hundreds of flyswatters. Join me on Twitter, say hello at, or follow me on Facebook


February 2016
January 2016

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Thank you, Marie Bernadette! I'm so glad you enjoy the magazine. I really like the new format. :)


love the drawing! have a great New Year celebration :) sidebar, it's fun reading your articles in the new Review magazine :) I like it a lot more than the unwieldy newspaper.



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7 Quick Takes Friday: Preparing for Lent, excitement about Chinese New Year, signs your children are growing up, Catholic Schools Week, and more!


Suddenly Ash Wednesday is next week. How did that happen? Are you ready? I am still figuring out what I want to do for Lent. Right now my plan is to give up buying things online and to try to go to daily Mass at least once a week. I like the idea of adding something and taking something away.

Some of the people who are closest to me don’t think I can handle not buying things through Amazon. So I’ve either hit on a wonderful idea or a terrible one.

What are you planning to do for Lent?


Last year I created a coloring book for Lent, and you can still click through and print the pages for free. You can find it here.

When I made it for a Lenten crafts linkup that my friend Rosie was hosting, I just thought it would be fun. Now, of course coloring books are very complicated and trendy. So maybe keep your expectations low when you click through, and keep in mind that I created it for our children.

There are some other great ideas for children’s Lent activities here. I have no plan yet for what we might do with our children for Lent. I am trying not to add too much to our lives right now.


Signs our children are growing up: 1. Our son tells me he doesn’t think I should wear my cheetah-print pajama pants outside the house. 2. I find this on their bedroom door.

I’ll listen to him about the pajama pants. But it’s going to take more than a sign like that to keep this mother out of their room.


Happy Catholic Schools Week! John and I love our Catholic school and are so grateful to be able to give our children a Catholic education.

I have written about Catholic schools a few times, including in my latest column for The Catholic Review:

Reasons abound to love Catholic schools

I love talking about Catholic schools. Here are a few more posts I have written:


Chinese New Year begins on Monday, Feb. 8! Here’s what you might want to know:

1. It’s the Year of the Monkey. If you were born in 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, or 2004, you are a monkey and this is your year!

2. A list of things that are taboo on the first day of the Chinese New Year (I won't be following all of these, but just for fun).

3. You can celebrate by wearing red (a lucky color in China), give red envelopes with money inside to the children in your life, and eat Chinese food—particularly fish and dumplings. Yum.


We get so excited about Chinese New Year in our house. And by “we,” I am really referring to me But the rest of my family goes along with it. This week we have been busy getting ready to celebrate. We will have a group of friends and family over this weekend for a casual, food-filled party that has grown a little bit every year. It is such a fun mix of people and we always have a fantastic time.

This year I have had to cancel the banana hunt I had planned because our yard is still covered in snow. Even if the snow melts, our yard will be a swamp. And I don’t know where we might be able to do the piñata. But we will play pass the present, and we’ll have monkey bowling and pin the tail on the monkey.

And, of course, we will play the ever-popular (at least around here) Chinese New Year bingo.

Then next week I will go visit both boys’ classrooms. I’ll tell them about Chinese New Year, read a book or two, let each child decorate a lantern, give each of them a red envelope with a surprise inside, and maybe hand out fresh Mandarin oranges. If we have time for bingo, great!

I also have this secret wish that we will parade around the school with our lanterns, but I actually don’t think we’ll have time, though maybe the kindergarteners will work quickly and surprise me.

For now our sons have been busy helping me fill goody bags and red envelopes and making sure the crafts for our party work. If we’re lucky, we’ll still have some craft materials left when our guests arrive.

At least we have plenty of monkey bottles for the monkey bowling.

I can’t wait.


When our kindergartener brought home this picture this week, I knew he was the person. I just wasn’t sure what was happening until he explained.

"That's me feeling like God is the stars, in the trees, and all around."

Here’s hoping you feel God’s presence in your life today.

Read more quick takes at Kelly’s blog, This Ain’t the Lyceum.

February 04, 2016 11:00
By Rita Buettner

Movie Review of Kung Fu Panda 3: Just as the first two were, the third time's a charm

As Kung Fu Panda 2 ended, we saw a panda sitting on a mountain saying, “My son is alive.”

Since then, my family and I—and maybe you too?—have been wondering how the main character Po would reconnect with his panda father and what that reunion would be like. I was especially curious how the film would delve further into the adoption theme. After all, the main character Po, a panda, has been raised by a goose, Mr. Ping, and we learned more about that in the second movie.

Then, finally, finally, Kung Fu Panda 3 opened on Jan. 29. And even though we had an otherwise full day of no school for children (thank you, blizzard) but work for both parents, at the end of the day we headed straight to the theater.

If I had been able to find a Kung Fu Panda marathon leading up to the movie premiere, we might have gone. And I hardly ever see movies in the theater. But this is Kung Fu Panda.

If you haven’t seen Kung Fu Panda or Kung Fu Panda 2, maybe you can’t appreciate our excitement. You should stop reading now and go get your hands on the first one—or just skip to the second.

These are fantastic movies. They have riveting story lines, engaging characters, catchy soundtracks, and they are visually a delight. Our sons laugh hysterically and I laugh right along with them. We quote them all the time, they involve kung fu, and they take place in China. How can you top that?

Oh, and they always leave me hungry for Chinese dumplings—but that may not be a plus.

Anyway, we went into Kung Fu Panda 3 with high expectations. I have to admit I also had a little trepidation. Adoption can be depicted in bizarre, confusing ways in children’s movies, and sometimes I am scrambling to re-frame and re-explain that poor betrayals of adoption do not reflect the actual experience.

I had no need to worry. We absolutely loved this movie.

It is an action-packed film and we were easily swept up into the storyline. We laughed and laughed. Even the villain made us laugh a few times. Yes, I cried a few times. There were some beautifully touching moments. It’s a movie full of heart—and I am a softie.

Overall, I felt the movie handled Po’s adoption and the reunification of Po and his birth father in a positive way, while leaving room for the relationship between his two fathers—birth and adoptive—to grow.

Setting the adoption theme aside, I love the lessons of the film. Po has to consider what is the right path to take. He has to show forgiveness. He and his friends and family make mistakes, but they find strength by trying to become the best versions of themselves.

Kung Fu Panda 3 is full of life and love and a story of family and friendship and the war of good versus evil—where the future is in the hands of a humble and somewhat muddled but always lovable dragon warrior. You’ll love it.

And, if you’re like me, you’ll walk out humming the theme song and longing for Chinese dumplings. If only they sold those in the theater.

January 30, 2016 11:07
By Rita Buettner

7 Quick Takes Friday: How to survive a blizzard, a lost tooth, fishy valentines, why I actually ironed, and how you know you have a fantastic sitter


Have I mentioned that it snowed last weekend? The snow is still here, although most of it has been shoved aside. Here are a few tips on how to survive a blizzard:

Bake cookies.

Live close to a teenager with a snow clearing business.

If it’s too cold for outdoor play or you're tired of seeing how many clothes you can throw in the hamper in a day, bring the snow inside.

Live in an area where the schools close and stay closed with no indication they will open again.

Well, maybe skip that last part. I'm not actually sure I understand why our school is still closed except that we follow the public schools' decisions. And I don't think I'll go any farther down this road right now because these are supposed to be quick takes.

Let’s just say that I even caught one of our children saying, “I can’t wait to go back to school next week…um…I mean, well, when we have to go back to school next week....”

I’m onto them. Even our children are ready to return.


I took many photos during and after the storm, but when I was looking through the shots from the week, I was thinking how much I like the ones I took through our windows.

This is my van. We started digging it out and gave up. The van is to the left in this picture.

This is a view of our yard after our children had claimed the mountain of snow with a shovel.

And here they are playing in the snow. Light sabers work for everything.


Leo lost a tooth! This is one of the big ones up top, a real milestone for him.

He wanted me to pull it out earlier in the evening, and I tried and couldn't do it. Dentistry is not my thing. So he wiggled it out while he and his brother watched Penguins of Madagascar for the 571st time. If you haven't seen it, you should. It's hilarious. I can't believe I still laugh at it after so many viewings.

Last night as our second grader was writing a note to the Tooth Fairy asking her to leave his tooth for him, his little brother was looking over his shoulder.

“The Tooth Fairy is a billionaire,” Daniel said. “She has all this money and she doesn’t have to do anything.”

That may be. Still, I couldn’t handle doing her job every night. Putting your hands on low bills can be hard even for a billionaire. Not that I would know.


While we were snowed in, we finally took down the Christmas tree. It’s always a little sad to me, especially since my parents raised me to believe the tree comes down in March—a family tradition that started the year their fifth child was born at the end of February.

But it is nice to have part of the living room back, and I do need that space in the house so we can celebrate the Chinese New Year appropriately. We really need the space for the dragon parade. I think I’m kidding about the parade.

We also put the final touches on Daniel’s Valentine’s Day cards. He wanted fishing valentines, and I couldn’t find any online. So we bought pencils, made paper fish, and attached each to a pencil with thread.

I thought we would write, “So glad we’re in the same school” or “You’re a great catch!” or “Hooked on you, Valentine!” But I am not the brains of this operation, and Daniel thought that a silly saying wasn’t needed. So they are blank.

They are cute. If you decide you want to do this—though I’m not sure what the demand is for fishing valentines—make them one at a time. Once you start making multiple fish on strings, they get caught on one another, and it’s a huge untangling job.

But I have a happy kindergartener, so I’d say my work here is done.


You know those toys you say you’ll never buy? One of those for me was fuse beads. We have had tiny, one-item kits, and I always think anything larger will make a mess. So I have avoided them.

But then the snow came. And thinking of fun and easy craft ideas for our boys isn’t always easy. And they love fuse beads. They play with them in their after-school program, and they get so creative with them. And when friends came over for a play date this week, they brought some and we had the best time with them.

So I bought a huge thing of them yesterday, brought it home, and managed to spill dozens of them on the floor right after I walked through the door. While I was picking them up, I noticed how badly I needed to vacuum. So I did.

Then you have to iron to get the beads to stick together, so I did that, too.

Vacuuming and ironing in the same day? Or ironing at all? Talk about things I thought I’d never do….


We have had an extra nail in our living room wall. I haven’t noticed it and haven’t been worried about it. But Daniel spotted it and knew it couldn't stand empty. So he hung this portrait he drew of our family.

Guess which one is Daniel. Nope. Our kindergartener is the tallest one. When you are the artist, you get to make yourself look however you want.


Yesterday my cousin’s daughter came over to babysit for our boys so John and I could go to work. They love her and always have a great time playing with her.

When I came home, I saw they had built a snowman in the front yard—their third of the day apparently, since they also built two next door with the neighbors’ grandchildren who came over to invite them to play.

Then I came inside and saw that our sitter had made more progress on our 750-piece Star Wars puzzle in one day than we have made during the entire snowstorm.

I may need to ask her to come back just to work on the puzzle.

~Bonus Take~

Is anyone else ridiculously excited to see Kung Fu Panda 3 this weekend? We can't wait!

Oh! And I am featured on this Catholic Mommy Blogs site! Stop by and discover other bloggers.

Read more quick takes at Kelly’s blog, This Ain’t the Lyceum.

January 28, 2016 10:33
By Rita Buettner

This snowman is for the birds

I had suggested that we build a snowman several times over the past few days, but no one ever seemed interested.

So we have spent most of the time throwing snowballs. It’s hard to top snowball throwing.

But today while I was brushing snowballs off my coat—our younger son has a decent arm and I am not good at hiding in the fort the boys built for me—I noticed that our kindergartener had finally decided it was time to build a snowman.

“Mama,” he said, kneeling in the snow, “do you have any seeds?”

“Seeds?” I said. “I’m not sure I do.”

“You do,” he told me—with the confidence and knowledge that only a 6-year-old who is building a snowman on his own can possess. “You have pumpkin seeds.”

So I went inside and looked. He was right. I had pumpkin seeds and a few cashews. I brought them—and a carrot—outside.

He was pleased with the carrot, which was obviously "Snowshoe’s" nose. Then he very carefully placed the cashews in a plastic container and balanced it on the snowman’s head.

Then he pressed the seeds into the snowman’s face.

“They’re for the birds,” he said. “And the nuts too.”

That's our boy, always thinking of the little creatures he encounters in the world.

“I love all little animals, Mama,” he said. “Why won’t you let me get a dog?”

Ah. That. So we talked for the 4,973rd time about allergies and why we aren’t getting a dog. We talked about allergies and cats and dogs and what fun pets are but how some people can’t have them. We covered a lot of ground, standing in 2 feet of melting snow in our yard, waiting for the birds to come and eat the food off our little boy’s snowman.

“OK,” he said, as I relaxed. I had obviously handled that well.

Then he smiled sweetly up at me. “But what about a baby bunny?”

Hmm. Well. Let’s start by waving at the birds who stop by to eat our seeds.

January 26, 2016 10:01
By Rita Buettner

When the snow days just keep coming

Before the blizzard started Friday, I ordered Chinese food for lunch—and for leftovers for our snowed-in weekend.

My fortune cookie should have said, “Your children will not return to school until February.”

OK, so that might be a bit of a stretch, but I think there’s a good chance they won’t go back this week.

Do you hear them complaining? I don’t. They really like their school, but they also love being home.

For the record, I’m not complaining either...yet. We’re enjoying having the whole family off together. We don’t often take the time just to be here, the four of us. That won’t last. Cabin fever will set in. Also, at some point John and I will need to return to work. Then you'll find me making child care arrangements and grumbling a bit about the lack of routine.

But for now? We’re playing in the snow.

There are mountains of snow out there. The snowballs are ready made, ripe for throwing. The children climb and try to run and fall and laugh and get up and keep trying. Then they come inside, totally exhausted, eat well, and collapse into bed at night.

Today, even though the ground is covered in all this snow, the weather was sunny and even warm. The children were dropping articles of clothing as they played and shoveled and built two forts for the snowball fights we are going to have.

We also did a science experiment, thanks to my friend Abigail who suggested it in a post she wrote about an emergency homeschooling day.

We stripped the paper off of some crayons, placed them gently on the snow, and watched to see which ones sank the lowest into the snow over time. Here's the link directly to the experiment.

Here they are at the beginning:

Here they are a few hours later (we moved the red crayon at the beginning, so that smudge to the left is due to human error):

I’m afraid I did a terrible job explaining about solar energy, but the good news is that when we do talk about it again later, I will say, “Remember the crayons?” And everyone will remember the crayons.

In case you are wondering, we are hoping the snow won’t melt for a long time. Our kindergartener is very anxious about it. He’s afraid it will all melt away right now. I keep reassuring him that it is going to be here for a while and that, much as I hate to admit it, we may get even more.

And we might. So...uh…yay?

Maybe it will be February when the children go back to school, or maybe it will be March.

As I say, no one under the age of 9 in our house is complaining.

At least they’re happy. They’re eating well, getting good exercise in the snow, and they are learning a few things along the way.

So maybe the fortune cookie should say, “One day you’ll give up and stop worrying about whether your children will ever go back to school.”

Or maybe it should just say, "You'll forget about those crayons until the lawn mower discovers them in the spring."

January 25, 2016 11:00
By Rita Buettner

Snowed in and surrounded by a winter playground

There’s something special about the first real snow of the season. I’m not sure we needed this storm to be so special—with something like 30 inches and biting winds—but my children would disagree. This storm is the answer to their prayers.

For them, it’s like having oceanfront property. They can walk outside and find endless amusement—in our very own backyard. Amazing.

In fact, the greatest challenge of Snow Day #1 was that their mother wouldn’t let them play in it after it got so deep and windy and bitterly cold out there.

They are so excited to build forts and have snowball fights. They can’t wait to sled (which I think they might be able to do when it’s less fluffy) and stomp around and shovel and do everything you do in the snow.

I would be content to stay inside in the warmth and sip hot chocolate, but I go outside because they are having so much fun. And we have so much snow.

I remember big snows as a child when the world was brand-new and different and exciting. So I go outside with my camera and play and trail them around the yard and yelp as the snow slips down into my boots and I realize that I really need better snow gear for myself.

But the experience is really magical. When we came in from one of our trips outside, I was helping Leo take off his clothes when we noticed that some snow had stuck to the door behind him.

And it looked just like a fish.

A few minutes later, it had melted in the warmth of the house, just as the snow outside will all melt eventually. But not anytime soon.

We are completely snowed in. If we can dig ourselves out—and I’m relying on a friendly entrepreneurial teen who came once today with his snow blower to help us—we will escape at some point. But right now that’s hard to imagine.

As we were working on a 750-piece Star Wars puzzle that may take us until next winter, I thought I should let the children know that this weekend would be different.

“We probably aren’t going to make it to Sunday Mass,” I said. “We can watch Mass on TV, and we can have our own Mass in the living room. Maybe we can say a Rosary or think of something else special we could do.”

From across the room, Daniel piped up, “Like not hitting each other.”

I hesitated just a moment and then said, “Yes, like that.”

So that’s how we’ll spend our Sunday—not hitting one another.

Hope yours is just as wonderful.

January 23, 2016 11:15
By Rita Buettner

7 Quick Takes Friday: Preparing for a blizzard, friendly procrastinators, cooking with kids, a monkey piñata, when your children want a dog, and more


A blizzard is coming.

This will be our first real snow this winter, and our children are so excited. And, of course, schools are closed even though the snow hasn’t started. About 39 flakes fell from the sky on Wednesday night and the schools were delayed two hours the next morning. So our boys went outside to “sled.” That seemed like a fine idea until I caught them sledding down a small flight of steps.

“You can’t sled down steps!” I told them.

“You always let us sled down the steps when it snows!” came the retort.

“But it didn’t really snow!” They didn't believe me. I mean, look at how much snow there was.

Just wait until they see real snow this weekend. I hope it won’t be too cold and windy to enjoy it. If not, we'll be spending even more time in the elaborate fort our couch became yesterday.

And yes, sharp-eyed reader, those are still stockings hanging in the background. Maybe if we get snowed in, we'll take the tree down this weekend.


All week I knew that this storm was coming, but somehow I didn’t make it to the store until last night at about 9 p.m. I had tried to go earlier and the parking lots were overflowing so I decided to wait.

By the time I got there last night, this is what I found in the egg section.

It was funny to see the flavors of items that were left behind. It also turns out that people really prefer French-cut string beans to regular green beans. And they don’t care much for okra.

I was getting a little anxious in the soup aisle until I saw that there were boxes of Italian wedding soup and one of our favorites, Chickarina, sitting in a cart waiting to be shelved...or purchased by me. Victory!

When we are getting ready for a storm, I always buy paper plates and cups because I worry about losing power and having a sink of dirty dishes. This time I also bought antibacterial hand wipes. We aren’t into antibacterial products here, but if we don’t have hot water, we will be very happy to have those wipes.

This was part of my cart as I was getting ready to check out.

We’re as ready as we’ll ever be.


Some of my Facebook friends had posted miserable stories of run-ins with rude grocery shoppers, but I didn’t find that to be the case at all.

I really believe that people who procrastinate and don’t plan ahead are some of the friendliest people you’ll meet. Shoppers were joking in the produce aisles, grinning as they waited in line at the deli, and when I went to take a picture of the egg-less egg section, a woman and her teen daughter started laughing and chatting with me.

Say what you will about my lack of planning, but maybe the procrastinators are the most relaxed and most willing to try the wasabi-flavored SPAM when it’s the last can left on the shelf. Not that I saw any, but if they make it, we procrastinators would give it a go. We'd have to.


Cooking with children is not always easy, but I have been trying to step back and let our boys do more on their own. This has resulted in losing a whole batch of cookie dough when the bowl fell to the floor, but it also yielded these Chinese dumplings.

Sure, they aren’t perfectly shaped and they fell apart. But they were absolutely delicious.


As I’ve mentioned a dozen or so times here, we are gearing up to celebrate the Year of the Monkey when the Chinese New Year begins on Feb. 8. I took the boys to a store with me last week. We weren’t there to shop for the Chinese New Year, but as we turned down the party aisle, our boys noticed the piñatas.

“Maybe they have a monkey piñata!” one of them said.

It seemed unlikely. But astoundingly one of the five piñatas in the store happened to be a monkey. So home he came with us. As I was pushing the cart out to the parking lot, I said to the boys, “Look! Monkey in the middle!”

We laughed and laughed and stopped to take a photo. Then they started playing “Monkey in the Middle” with an invisible ball.

Now I have to decide what to fill the monkey with. What can you put inside a piñata besides candy?


Our friend and neighbor just added two little dogs to her family and they are adorable. I took both boys over to meet them one night this week, and they loved the dogs.

They loved them so much that they came home talking about how much we need a dog, and it’s so unfair that they can’t have a dog, and why can’t they have a dog, and it’s so unfair, and on and on and on.

They have my empathy because I begged my parents for a dog for 13 years before they accidentally gave in. But John and I are both allergic to dogs, so they really can’t have a dog.

But we have dogs as friends, and that is almost as much fun, right?


Our second grader will be making his First Communion this spring. I can hardly believe it, and I am so excited for him. I went to an information session to learn a little about how we can prepare him to receive the sacrament, and they showed us this beautiful video about the Mass

I love some of the quotes that are included in this piece. I just hope we can make it to Mass this weekend!

Please join me in praying for the safety of all those who don’t have a safe, warm place to sleep and for all who will be working to help others during the storm.

Read more quick takes at Kelly’s blog, This Ain’t the Lyceum.

January 21, 2016 11:42
By Rita Buettner

Do you want to build a Chinese snow lion?

The kindergarten homework assignment said our family should make a snowman or some other snow creature. We went through several ideas.

“How about a snow fisherman?” I said.

“No,” he said.

“A snow fish?”


“A snow dog? A snow bunny? Just an ordinary snowman?”

Nothing I suggested was quite right.

Then the Chinese lion marionette I had ordered arrived in the mail. Our kindergartener walked it around the house like a puppy, talking to it, wearing it as a hat, cuddling with it in bed—until I slipped it out of his bed after he fell asleep.

The next day he knew exactly what he wanted to make: a Chinese snow lion.

Easy enough, right? I sketched the outline for him and we started to decorate. Our project just took off. We spotted some sparkly gem stickers in the clearance bin at the store. I found a package of feathers while looking for something much less interesting. We hunted down two Chinese coins for the eyes. And I pulled out some Chinese New Year stickers I was planning to save for closer to the New Year—but I hadn’t been planning to create a Chinese snow lion.

Our kindergartener was the one who thought of hanging a lantern sticker from a thread attached to a pencil in the lion’s mouth.

And he was the one who carried it carefully to school to stand in front of his class and show them his snow creature.

That night I asked him what his classmates thought.

“They loved it,” said our boy—never a child to understate emotion. “Everyone loved it.”

I bet they did. But they would love a real one even more. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

January 20, 2016 10:37
By Rita Buettner

Doing service with children: Working to inspire hearts for others

Most days we’re just trying to get out the door without forgetting a backpack. But in the midst of the mostly fun chaos of our lives, my husband and I are trying to raise children with loving hearts. We talk to them about people who are in need, locally and around the world. But finding age-appropriate service opportunities for young children can be challenging.

And, even though we haven't done much to introduce our children to the Year of Mercy, it would be wonderful if we could perform a few works of mercy with them this year.

So I was excited when I learned that Catholic Charities would be offering a service opportunity specifically geared toward young children on Jan. 16. We signed up to make casseroles for My Sister’s Place.

I knew our sons would have questions, but I wasn’t anticipating the first one: “What’s a casserole?” That was an easy one.

Once we arrived, we learned we would be making macaroni and cheese—a casserole we all know well. The children colored place mats...

...listened to a beautiful version of Stone Soup...

...learned a little more about the people who would eat our food, and talked about sharing what we have. Then we started to cook.

We all wore gloves, which is as exciting as it sounds. We got to count and do math and measure and pour and stir.

Somehow most of the food stayed off the floor and in the bowls and pans. Including the children in the cooking was harder than cooking without them, of course. But it was also important. After all, we want them to grow up to do the same for others.

Eventually our children lost interest and started playing tag, but later at home they were still talking about the food we had made. That night during dinner, we discussed how women and children at another dinner table might be eating the macaroni and cheese we had made.

“What would we do if a man who was hungry came to the door?” our younger son asked. “We would have to let him in.”

Wow. Great question. We talked about what we would do if that happened, some of the ways we could help, and whether we would be able to welcome a stranger into our home. Naturally, I think I’m teaching my children, but they are the ones who are challenging me to do more and to be more compassionate.

The next day I hosted a prayer gathering for an expectant mother and her baby girl. We said the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, borrowing these beautiful prayers from Revolution of Love. During the final meditation, we prayed that the baby’s parents “may be strengthened in their love for you and each other, so that together they may raise a holy family seeking to live each day with heroic charity.”

“Heroic charity?” I thought. Most days I am just trying to make sure everyone is fed and clean and dressed and not getting too much screen time or jumping into too many wrestling matches on the living room floor.

But of course that’s the goal. Maybe, just maybe, we are planting a seed for our children and—let’s be honest—reminding ourselves of the importance of giving, too.

You can learn more about service opportunities that might work well for your family—or your colleagues or friends or others—on this page on the Catholic Charities site. And, if you know of a great service opportunity for children, please leave a comment here or on my Facebook page.

January 19, 2016 10:43
By Rita Buettner

7 Quick Takes Friday: Solving mysteries, genius baby clothes, the best place for dinner, a first fishing rod, Pete the Cat's visit, and a dragon delivery


A few days ago I wrote about my frantic search for our younger son’s baptism photo and I referred to the “anonymous family member or friend” who had taken it.

That's my thumb covering our son's face, just to add to the general confusion. The actual photo is thumb-free.

Naturally you have been scratching your head wondering how I didn’t know who the photographer was—and so has she. I found the photo posted on an old blog I had written, so I didn’t know where it had originated.

It was so late that night that I didn’t email everyone who had come to the baptism to try to identify the photographer. Which might be fine if the photographer isn’t one of the three people who actually read every single one of your blogs.

So before we go any farther, please allow me to express the highest praise for Treasa Matysek’s photography skills. Treasa, my dear sister, I am so very grateful to you for taking that photo, for saving me from failing my homework assignment, and for preserving that historic moment for posterity.

So now we all know who took that photo!


Speaking of solving mysteries, we had some fun at work this week when a bottle washed up on a beach in France with a note inside that had Loyola University Maryland’s mailing address. The office I work in manages Loyola’s social media and it was fun to see how quickly the mystery was solved and the bottle’s origins were identified. Don’t you just love a good story? Here it is. 


The other day I was looking for a baby gift and I saw this outfit.

I am really confused about why a parent would put a child in an outfit that says, “Genius.” But I don’t fully understand the words-on-children’s-clothing phenomenon, and I also don’t really believe in emphasizing that children are smart. In fact, I don’t like to tell our children that they are smart—for a few reasons.

  1. How do people know that their children are “smart”? What if they are smart in math but not in reading? Do you say that? What does intelligence mean? How do you measure it? Is it like telling your children they are “skilled” or “talented” without telling them how?
  2. If I tell my children they are smart, what are they supposed to do with that information? Does it help them do things better? I think it would be more effective to tell them that they worked hard at something and tried, so they would know how to try harder the next time. It seems like totally unhelpful praise since it’s something outside their control.
  3. If we emphasize that our children are smart, are we telling them that they are better than others? I don’t like the idea of setting our children apart from others in that way.

I do say things like “That was a really smart thing to do,” or “I love how you thought about that!” But I’m not big on praising their intelligence. And…well…how do people really know? What does it mean?

For the record, though, I am a genius


Daniel had no school on Wednesday. In fact both boys have no school today. I can’t write a quick take on how I feel about schools being closed and how that disrupts parents' lives, even when the days off are scheduled. Only a real genius could do that briefly.

Anyway, Daniel spent the day with his Grandma. Later that evening he said to his father, “Baba, guess where I had dinner. Where have you had the best dinners?”

“I don’t know,” John said. “Did Mama take you somewhere?”

“No,” Daniel said. “I ate at Grandma’s house! I had dressing and meat and noodles with sprinkle cheese!”

Needless to say, our kindergartener will be dining at Grandma’s again.


Last weekend while Pete the Cat was visiting, we all went to buy Daniel his very first fishing rod. He had received some money for Christmas, and he couldn’t wait to buy his first rod.

We went to Bass Pro Shops, where they have a huge fish tank. We were there for feeding time, which was fun and made me think I am really going to love fishing as long as someone else handles all the parts that involve worms and dead fish.

Daniel is thrilled. On the way home, he said, “Now my wish has come true.”


We had to return Pete the Cat to school on Monday after his second weeklong visit with us. Daniel was very concerned that he might not have had quite enough fun with us, but I think we did OK.

He got to go with us to buy the fishing rod, and he also went with us to Chuck E. Cheese on Sunday. Oh, and he went to Mass and reminded me why we don’t bring stuffed animals to Mass because they seem to make our children even wigglier than usual. But we all survived and I think Pete enjoyed himself.

And, for the record, in our house Pete is a boy. I read this piece in the Washington Post about how there are too few girl characters in children’s books. I was surprised to read that. I don't know about quantity, but I actually think that the girls who are in children’s literature tend to be strong, dynamite personalities, while the male characters tend not to be caring, intelligent, or adaptable characters. I mean, is the pigeon who drives the bus supposed to be a male role model for our boys? And can’t books just be fun instead of being life lessons?

Besides, I want our boys to be able to identify with a character regardless of gender—just as they will have to relate to people who aren’t exactly like them in life.


A package arrived on our porch one night. It was big and flat.

“What is it?” I said.

“A dragon,” Daniel said, matter-of-factly.

He was right. We opened it and found a long, jointed cardboard dragon I had ordered for Chinese New Year. We won’t celebrate it for a few weeks since the Year of the Monkey starts on Feb. 8, but we are definitely gearing up here.

At least we have a dragon.

Read more quick takes at Kelly’s blog, This Ain’t the Lyceum.

January 15, 2016 09:19
By Rita Buettner

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