Rita and her husband, John, adopted their two sons, ages 6 and 4, as toddlers from China.

She writes about adoption, parenting after infertility, and other topics relevant to Catholic families. Follow her on Twitter: OpenWindow_CR or email her at openwindowcr@gmail.com  Also check out her Facebook page


October 2014
September 2014

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Oh, I can't wait to hear how you like them, CM! Why can't a bag of chocolate chips follow me home from the store? I think we're making more pumpkin cookies here this weekend.


A can of pumpkin and a bag of chocolate chips just followed me home from the grocery store. Hmm. I think you are to blame for this. (Kidding, of course! Can't wait to try them...even if they don't taste like dumplings.)



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Open Window

7 Quick Takes Friday: It's a girl, what hampers are for, a birthday dinner for Grandpa, Lego fun, silver sandals, and a gift from the Vatican


My sister and brother-in-law welcomed a baby girl this week, and we are all just so excited. She has full, rosy cheeks, the sweetest little pink lips, hair that I think might be reddish, long fingers, and parents and aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents who are totally in love with her.

She also has the most beautiful girl’s name you can imagine. Now, because I don’t use our boys’ real names here, this little one will have to have a pseudonym too. Treasa and George said I can call her what I’d like here. Anyone want to suggest a blog name for this snuggly bundle of cuteness?

Daniel and I didn’t want his new cousin's big brother, Georgie, to feel forgotten. So the day after she was born, we headed to the store and picked out flowers and a balloon to take to Georgie’s grave at the cemetery.

Daniel called it "the Bigfoot balloon"

Georgie went to heaven on Halloween last year. It doesn’t feel coincidental that his baby sister arrived just before that anniversary.

We miss Georgie. We are so happy to have both Georgie and his little sister in our lives.


I walked into the boys’ bedroom the other day and saw this.

It’s terrible to have clothes on the floor. It should upset me.

But that pile of discarded clothes made me smile.

Maybe it’s because there have been times our boys haven’t wanted to remove their shoes and coats in unfamiliar places.

Maybe it’s because it reminds me of my own brothers, and their constant wardrobe changes between school and sports.

Mostly, though, I just love that our children feel so at home.

In their defense, they do like to use the hampers sometimes. See?


My father celebrated his birthday this week, so we went out for an adult dinner at Tio Pepe’s.

It was fun to have adult conversation with my parents and two of my sisters and my brother-in-law.

It was also fun to have swordfish.

While we were out, my cousin’s daughter was babysitting the boys. She brought with her some Lego sets her brother used to play with. The sets were carefully organized, and replacement pieces had been ordered so that the sets were intact.

Leo was beside himself. He has had the best week building Lego sets.

How can Christmas morning ever compete?


Daniel has started referring to these gray flip-flops as “Baba’s silver sandals.” I find this much more amusing than it probably is.


John was busy last Saturday, and I had a funeral to attend, so the boys and I went without him. They behaved exceptionally well, all things considered.

I mean, it was outrageous that on a Saturday morning I expected them to put on shirts and ties and leave the house. And to go to church?

But it was a new church to all of us, so we each got three wishes. One of my wishes was that we would make it through Mass. And we did.

It made me realize how far we have come with our Mass behavior. We still have work to do, but I do think that relaxing and not noticing as many problems has helped make it a more pleasant experience for everyone.

Now that I have said this, I may have guaranteed that Sunday’s Mass won’t be as successful.


Treasa and George sent away to the Vatican for a blessing for our 10th wedding anniversary.

Isn’t it impressive?


This weekend I’m giving a talk after a Mass for couples experiencing infertility. The Mass is at 3 p.m. at St. Michael’s in Overlea (Baltimore). If you know someone who would like to attend, please pass the information along. And, if you think of it, say a prayer for the couples who are there—and maybe a tiny one for me that I will find the right words to share our story.
Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Read more quick takes at Jen’s blog.

October 23, 2014 11:40
By Rita Buettner

The next best thing to a fairy godmother and a pumpkin coach: A pumpkin cookie recipe

Back when my parents were newlyweds, my mother baked a batch of cookies.

“These are good,” my father said, “but not as good as the ones my mother makes.”

“That’s fine,” she told him. “You can make all the cookies from now on.”

So, when I was growing up, my father baked all the cookies. At some point he found this recipe for pumpkin cookies, and they became a family favorite. If you like pumpkin anything, you will love these.

I made these the other night after the boys were asleep, and the next morning I said to them, “Who wants a pumpkin cookie?”

Daniel came running to the kitchen to get one.

“Maybe I’ll have one,” Leo said. He’s not a baked goods fan, so I was a little surprised. Then he came into the kitchen and peered at the cookies.

“Mama,” he said, “are they really made out of dumplings?”

Ah. Not dumpling cookies, I said. Pumpkin cookies.

“They don’t look like pumpkins,” he said.

So just so you aren't disappointed, these cookies will not be shaped like pumpkins. They are made of pumpkin. And they are quite good—unless you’re looking for cookies made of Chinese dumplings. Then I’m afraid you’re out of luck.

Pumpkin Cookies

½ cup butter

1 cup canned pumpkin (if you double the recipe, you can just use a standard 15 oz. can)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1 ½ cups sugar

1 egg

2 ½ cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

The dough may not look like much, but the cookies are worth it.

Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in egg, pumpkin, and vanilla. Stir in all dry ingredients except flour. Then add flour and mix well. Add chocolate chips, if you'd like. Drop by teaspoonsful onto well-greased cookie sheet. (I use parchment paper and it works beautifully.)

Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, or a little longer if they are larger. You want to take them out of the oven before they are fully firm, but not gooey. Cool on wire rack.

Eat them hot or eat them after they cool. Just eat them. Or inhale them. The aroma while they are baking is incredible.

October 21, 2014 10:38
By Rita Buettner

7 Quick Takes Friday: Pretending our kitchen is a restaurant, school fundraisers, a trip through a corn maze, my high school reunion,


When we dropped Leo off at school the other morning, I rolled down Daniel’s window so he could yell goodbye. You may have heard him. He has quite a voice.

As we were driving away, the fall air was coming into the car, and Daniel was smiling.

“Mama,” he said, “I love the whole earth.”

“You do,” I said.

“Yes, and all the animals and everything,” he said.

I hope you can find a fresh autumn breeze somewhere today.


Today we are having a race to raise money for Leo’s school. Two of my friends and I have been the main people coordinating these efforts. I can’t even begin to tell you how challenging and rewarding it is to be involved in a school fundraiser.

The other day when I found out that a friend is expecting her first baby, I may or may not have given as my one piece of parenting advice: “Think twice before you volunteer to run a school fundraiser.”

I truly believe it is going to be a wonderful day. If you think of it, please say a quick prayer for our student runners, their marvelous teachers and staff, and all the people who gave to support the race.


Our boys love Macaroni Grill, and I know it’s not because of the food—even though the food is good. It’s because they cover the tables with paper and let you color all over them.

So the other night for dinner at home, I taped pieces of paper together and put a pile of crayons on the table. You would think I was the coolest mom ever. The boys sat down and colored and colored and colored. And no one writhed on the kitchen floor, groaning, “I am soooooo hungry.”

We won’t do it every night. But maybe we’ll do it once every few weeks. It was so simple and yet so special.

"My name is Mama," I told my customers, writing my name on the paper. "If you've been here before, you're familiar with our menu. I pick the menu, and you eat what I serve."

And they did. The service wasn't stellar, but neither were the tips. The drawings on the tablecloth were a lot of fun, though.


I went to get Daniel from school one day and he ran into my arms for a big hug. Then he said, “I wanted Baba to pick me up because I like him the best.”

“That’s nice,” I said. Sometimes it’s better not to argue with a 4-year-old.

“Yes,” he said, “because it was just Baba’s birthday. So when it’s your birthday, I’ll like you the best, and when it’s my brother’s birthday, I’ll like him the best, and when it’s my birthday, I’ll like me the best!”

So now we know.


I went to my 20-year high school reunion last weekend, and I had the best time.

As I was driving there, I was feeling a bit ambivalent. I was thinking about the fact that we graduated from high school 20 years ago. And I was wondering what I thought I would achieve in 20 years. Shouldn’t I have published a few books, won a Pulitzer, or at least know how to pick a decent bottle of wine to bring to a potluck with my classmates?

Then I got there and fell into conversation with my friends. We talked some about the past and some about the future, but mostly about now. And I realized, just as I do whenever I run into one of my 53 high school classmates, that some friendships only improve with time.

We have more to talk about and more in common than we did 20 years ago. We have less angst, more confidence, better senses of humor, and richer perspectives.

And, when someone announced it was time for us to sing the school song, I still knew how to sing my part. That may have been the biggest surprise of all.


A few days before going to my reunion, I had a sudden realization.

I was thinking about how John and I had gone together to our 15-year reunion, and I was trying to remember whether we had hired a sitter.

Then it occurred to me. We didn’t have any children yet. We adopted Leo in December 2009, and we went back to China for Daniel almost two years later.

What a difference five years makes.


Leo loves mazes. So when we mentioned the corn maze idea, he couldn’t wait to go.

We headed over to Fresh McKenzie Farm in Baldwin, Md., where the corn maze this year is Charlotte’s Web-themed. Does it get any better than that?

We all went in together, map in hand, compass at the ready, and with more confidence than fits in most corn fields.

We had 10 clues to find. If we found them and answered correctly, we could unscramble the letters into a word and enter to win a Christmas tree. What could possibly be better than winning a Christmas tree?

We ran into that field. This is what I learned during our trek:

1.       All corn stalks look the same.

2.       I’m a little claustrophobic.

3.       When your son says, “I sense we should go this way,” you are just as likely to end up in a dead end as on the right path.

4.       There is no better time to make new friends than when you are lost in a corn maze. They helped us find clues, and it was just nice to see other people as we wandered through the corn.

5.       In a corn maze a compass is even more worthless than a map.

6.       A 4-year-old does not have the attention span that a 6-year-old has.

7.       Some children refuse to let their parents cheat or leave the maze without completing it.

8.       Mazes are easier to solve on paper.

9.       Doing a maze in person makes me feel like Harry Potter, but without the wand.

10.   It was worth it even if we don’t win the Christmas tree.

I can’t believe I am mentioning Christmas trees in an October post. I hope you’ll forgive me.

Read more quick takes at Jen’s blog.

October 17, 2014 12:01
By Rita Buettner

Parent-teacher conference time: Seeing our son through his teacher's eyes

Last week the link to sign up for parent-teacher conferences went live while I was in the middle of a work meeting. By the time I had escaped, all the slots were full.

Unbelievable. So I emailed the teacher and she invited me to come one morning before school.

The teacher's aide set Leo up with a game in one classroom, and his first-grade teacher and I sat down on undersized chairs in another.

I can never imagine what we'll discuss in these conferences. It's first grade. Sometimes I wonder whether I should carve out the time for them. But John and I get very few reports from our first grader, and our boy comes home tired but apparently content. Something must be happening in that classroom.

So I sat down and listened. And right away I realized that this teacher knew our little boy.

She talked about how he was doing socially. She named his closest friends, and she told me about their creative play.

She described the craft projects he creates for himself, cutting intricate characters out of paper.

And she talked about how quiet he is. Quiet, hmm? She should see him yelling with his brother at home. But I'm sure he is quiet at school.

I don't know why, but I find parent-teacher conferences to be very moving. In fact, I started tearing up a bit. The truth is that these teachers are so invested in our children's lives. Even though Leo is just one child in her class, this teacher's understanding of who our little boy is, after just six weeks, was spot on.

And I am sure she can speak with equal knowledge and understanding of every single one of his classmates.

We also talked about academics, but that's not really my concern. I just want to make sure everything is generally going well for our son socially, that he's behaving himself, and that there's no big family tree project right around the corner.

As I was getting ready to leave, the teacher said, "He's such a dear little boy. When he comes to me with something to say, I know it's going to be interesting."

That's when I realized why our son is so happy in school.

He's not just supported.

He's heard.

He's understood.

And he's valued.

How is he doing with his sight words? Is his handwriting up to par? Should he be reading chapter books? I haven't a clue.

His teacher knows who he is, and she likes to listen to him.

And that's all I really needed to know.

October 14, 2014 10:31
By Rita Buettner

7 Quick Takes Friday: New fashion trends, the King of Pickles, a trip to the Baltimore Museum of Industry, Baba's birthday, my newest accessory, and more


Daniel has started wearing two different shoes. I mean, I realize that doesn’t sound unusual. I wear two different shoes, and I bet you do, too. But he wears two that don’t match. One is a sneaker and one is his brother’s handed-down school shoe.

Maybe he’ll start a trend.


Somehow someone talked me into buying him a glow stick yesterday.

We always have problems with glow sticks. They leak and the liquid goes everywhere. And, even though I don’t insist on buying organic everything, I can’t see how a liquid that can glow in the dark is good to ingest or even touch.

Maybe I should research before I panic, but when you open the glow stick outside the store, it’s so much easier to panic, throw the glow stick away, and grumble all the way home.


Our sons were so excited about John’s birthday last weekend. Apparently Daniel explained to his whole pre-K class that his Baba’s birthday was coming, and Leo had the whole first grade sign a card he made for Baba.

Envelope by Daniel (but I helped with the R)

Then on the morning of the big day, Daniel said to me, “Mama, when is everyone getting here for Baba’s birthday party?” That’s when I realized that I had perhaps not kept expectations low enough.

Still, we found ways to celebrate, and the boys and I set out to make a cake together. We couldn’t agree on which kind to make, so we made two cakes. Then my helpers were being so helpful that we managed to botch the cake batter and we had to throw it all out and make an emergency trip to the grocery store.

In the end we had our UFO cake for Baba, and everyone was happy.


We made our first trip to the Baltimore Museum of Industry over the weekend.

The best parts:

Children under 7 are free. And we have two children under 7 for a few more weeks.

There was so much to see. There were old cars, a gas lamp, and a linotype machine. Oh, and there was a blacksmith shop.

A tour guide was assigned just to our family, and she was kind and understood our boys weren't going to want to discuss the history of oyster canning. She really catered to their interests, setting things on fire, pointing out what they could touch, and describing them as "spirited." I need to remember that word.

We know we want to go back as the boys get older because some of it was too much for their attention spans. But it was a lot of fun. Even though Leo believes we should spend our weekends at home, he enjoyed it.

Leo just loves being home. And when I read this quote attributed to Mother Teresa in this post, I thought of him:

“Try to put in the hearts of your children a love for home. Make them long to be with their families. So much sin could be avoided if our people really loved their homes.”

So maybe it’s a really good thing that our bigger boy loves to be home.


The best part of all was that when we left the museum, we noticed a farmers’ market. You have to stop when you see a farmers' market. And there was a pickle booth. In fact, it was run by Pat Fitzgibbon, the King of Pickles. And we have three pickle enthusiasts in our family.

So we bought pickles and sat by the water, looking out at the boats and the Domino Sugar factory, and ate pickles. 

Then we walked back so John could tell the King of Pickles how good his product was, and he said to John, "Send your princes over here." And he gave them each a free pickle to chew on in the car on the way home.

I have no doubt that that the pickle-eating (or, in my case, the watching the pickle-eating) will be the memory we’ll all hold onto from that day.


We moved into our house last October. I keep meaning to post photos to give you a glimpse into this house that has become our home. Then I glance around and think maybe I’ll wait until the house is clean or we figure out where to put the sofa or we get a sofa that matches the other things we have. But that isn't going to happen anytime soon.

The other day, though, Leo surprised us by cleaning up the toy room, on his own and unprompted. So here it is.

He also made me a bracelet on his own and unprompted. He said other students in his aftercare program were making them with their names on them. He made “I love you” bracelets for me, his brother, and his father.


Leo also wrote a story this week in school. It’s a fable telling the story of a horse and a pig. The horse steps on the pig, and that doesn’t go over well.

At the end Leo wrote, “The lesson was you cannot step on people.”

It’s a great lesson.


I have my 20th high school reunion this weekend. What are your plans? I hope you have great plans--and maybe great seats for the Orioles game, even if they are in your living room.

October 09, 2014 11:33
By Rita Buettner

And on the field trip, we had some lunch, E-I-E-I-O...

For weeks Daniel has been talking about his field trip, how he would ride a real school bus to a farm. And he knew Mama or Baba would go.

You are allowed to send your preschooler on a field trip without a parent attending, but I have never risked it. Maybe they don’t place a black mark in your parenting file if you miss one, but who wants to take the chance?

Besides, these moments are so brief. So off we went, boarding the school bus to head off to the farm.

We had a wonderful time.

The farmer told us all about the land, the produce, and how their crops are used.

Farmer Wayne at the Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture

The children rolled off of the straw bales they were supposed to be sitting on, poked each other with pieces of straw, and asked to go to the bathroom--one child twice in five minutes.

The parents took a million pictures and took in all the information the farmer shared.

Tonight at dinner I said, “We learned something really interesting about cauliflower today.” The farmer had described how white cauliflower would turn yellow if the farmers didn't tie the leaves over it as it grows.

“Yes!” Daniel said, and I was shocked to think he had heard and remembered that fact. “Cauliflower grows on a farm.”

See. He was paying attention.

We petted animals and climbed on an enormous tractor--truly a dream come true--and picked pumpkins to take home.

We also enjoyed a picnic lunch. And Daniel, in a beautiful moment of generosity, decided to share his M&Ms with his friends. He walked from person to person giving each one an M&M.

As he returned to his bench, he looked sadly at the four or five M&Ms left in his bag.

“Now I don’t have much left,” he said.

“Well,” I said, “you were so kind to share. I’ll give you some more when we get home.”

Then off we went, back to school. Then I headed off to work for the rest of the day. When I picked Daniel up at the end of the afternoon, he climbed in the car, and we started driving and talking about the field trip.

“What was the best part?” I said. I was sure he’d mention petting a pony, or climbing on the tractor, or meeting a real, live farmer.

We drove all the way to a farm, walked right up to stalks of corn, listened to a honking goose up close, climbed on farm equipment, and saw his teacher dress up as a beekeeper.

What would he name as his favorite moment?

“The part when you said I could have more M&Ms when I got home,” he said.

Wow. Well, we could have skipped the field trip and just had M&Ms. I'm comforting myself with the reminder that if I hadn't gone, I wouldn't be part of his favorite field trip memory.

October 07, 2014 10:40
By Rita Buettner

7 Quick Takes Friday: Orioles magic, lots of drama, shopping without children, apple picking, gearing up for Baba's birthday, and my only pumpkin carving tip

How 'bout dem O's? 

It's a great year to be an Orioles fan. O, how I do love Baltimore.


Besides, we have enough drama here without worrying about the baseball playoffs. The other day Daniel was trying to load blocks into a toy truck, and they kept slipping out. I let him do it for a while, and I pretended not to notice that he was getting more and more frustrated.

Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer.

“You’re getting upset because that’s not working,” I said. “Maybe you should play with something else.”

He let out a sigh.

“Mama,” he said, “this is my destiny!”


To extend our 10th anniversary celebration John and I took the day off on Friday and decided to do things you just can’t do easily with young children.

We ordered a bed at the Pennsylvania Dutch Market, where the market was coincidentally also celebrating its 10th anniversary.

We shopped for shoes. We looked at couches. We shopped for mattresses.

We ate lunch at a place without a children’s menu.

It was all kind of crazy. We missed having our little guys with us, but we chose things they wouldn't have liked--or not liked much.

Oh, and my sister and brother-in-law went to the trouble to ask the Vatican to send us a blessing on our anniversary. When it comes, I’ll have to share it with you. The Archdiocese of Baltimore sent us a lovely certificate, too.


On Friday night I announced we were going to go apple picking on Saturday--as long as the weather cooperated.

“Then I hope it rains or snows,” said Leo. He loves being home so much, and I always feel a little guilty taking him away from his favorite place on earth.

Then we pulled into Baugher’s Orchards and he realized they had a playground and a jack-o-lantern moonbounce. And he loved the actual picking.

Daniel enjoys almost every experience, and apple picking was basically a dream come true.

There was even a tractor.

We filled four bags of apples and brought them home.

I made apple tarts and apple pie.

The pie was great, but the tarts...oh, the tarts. They vanished.

I have to make them again because they were so popular and so I can pay more attention to how much of everything I used and share the recipe with you. They were two bites each and they were delicious.

And we have plenty of apples, so I have no excuse for not baking more.


Leo is a morning person, and he almost always wakes me up. The other morning he came into my bedroom and climbed onto our bed.

“Mama,” he said, “I wish there were no bad in the world...only in movies.”

I think I mumbled, “So do I.” It was only later that it hit me how much I wish that, too.


Tomorrow is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi! This has been such a wonderful week for feast days.

As if that weren’t exciting enough, this weekend is also John’s birthday weekend. Baba’s birthday is one of our favorite events of the year. All week the boys have been whispering secrets about Baba’s birthday planning to each other. I will never be able to create the cakes they have described in serious whisperings into my ear, but it has been fun to hear what they have in mind.

And by now the only gifts Baba hasn’t heard about are the ones his 4-year-old son doesn’t know about.

How will we celebrate? I have no idea. But everyone else has plenty of thoughts on the planning. It will be fun to see what happens.


I carved my first pumpkin of the year this week, and it was for a work project. I thought it would be fun to create some Loyola University Maryland-themed pumpkins and encourage our social media followers to do the same.

My colleagues and I had a great time. Mine turned out OK, but some of them were wonderful!

It's a Greyhound head--and clearly not by me.

It was interesting to see the different approaches to carving. One we all noted was that people felt passionately about cutting off the top vs. the bottom. I grew up in a family where we cut the top off and used it as a lid, but while John and Leo were on a field trip to a farm a few years ago the farmer explained the benefits to cutting the bottom off instead. The carved pumpkin lasts longer, and you can insert the candle easily.

Some traditions you carry on from your childhood, and others you create on your own. Do you have any fun Halloween tips or traditions?

October 02, 2014 11:02
By Rita Buettner

When a much-loved teacher leaves

As I was dropping Daniel off at preschool this morning, I noticed a note hanging on his cubby.

One of his teachers had left. It was sudden and there was no explanation.

I was immediately upset. And my first thought was our son. Did he know?

So I asked the other teachers. Yes, they had told him yesterday. I wanted to know what exactly the children had been told, and how they had reacted to the news. I listened. Then I reached down and hugged Daniel.

"You didn't tell me Ms. Teacher wasn't going to be at school anymore," I said. He didn't say anything, just squirmed happily in my arms.

As I waved goodbye to head to work, I was worried. This teacher is so warm and sweet. She calls Daniel "my little shadow" and I know he confides in her and follows her around the room. He has an open, loving heart and he loves other teachers there, too, but I know he loves her.

And now she was gone. He hadn't had a chance to say goodbye. I know that can't always happen, but especially for our children, who have had to say some significant goodbyes, I always hope they have a chance to talk and process and understand.

So off I went to work, sad and concerned and confused. And as the day went on, I realized I wasn't just upset because of Daniel's loss. I was upset because of mine.

Before we enrolled Leo in preschool, I was terrified to consider a formal daycare setting. Then I went to look at schools, and I was even more unsure. They were academically rigorous, sleek and modern, and they felt high-pressure and unwelcoming.

I still remember how one director told me the children played on the playground so they would develop fine motor skills so they could learn to write their ABCs. Couldn't they just play to play?

Then I walked into what would become our sons' preschool. The facilities weren't the fanciest. They didn't have rubber mulch or high-tech everything.

It felt comfortable, homey, and warm. The teachers were smiling. The children were smiling. It was small and inviting. There was no marketing spiel or 10-page curriculum. It just felt right.

Very quickly, and to my surprise, I realized the teachers aren't strangers who are taking care of our children. They are our partners in helping our children grow into all they could be. They genuinely care for them. They tell us stories about the cute things our children do. They celebrate their victories. They marvel at their abilities--whatever they may be. They are like our extended family.

So when we lose a teacher, the loss isn't just Daniel's. It's ours, too.

When I picked Daniel up, I said, "So I guess Ms. Teacher wasn't here today."

"No, Mama," he said. "She's not coming anymore."

"I miss her," I said. And I do. This is a teacher who would often greet me with a hug, who laughed with me many times, who cried when I told her about the loss of our nephew, and who could probably write our family Christmas letter--if we had one.

"Mama," he said, "now Ms. Other Teacher is with us all day! And I really like her."

That's our boy. Living on his silver-lined cloud.

"Yes, you do like her a lot," I said.

"Mama, do you know what snacks we have at school?" he said. "We have chicken nuggets and apples and cheese and soup and...."

The world keeps turning for our little guy. And it will keep turning for me, of course. But I am really going to miss his teacher.

September 30, 2014 11:03
By Rita Buettner

Ms. Fulwiler goes to Washington (and so do I)

Every single time I drive into Washington, D.C., I get miserably lost or trapped in a huge traffic jam or both. It's a fabulous city, full of culture and history. But you have to get there. And then you have to find your way out.

No matter how many times my father says, "It's a grid," I still cannot figure out how to get around the city in a car.

So I would need an extraordinary reason to head down there on a weeknight during rush hour.

I found one.

Jennifer Fulwiler, author of Something Other Than God and blogger at Conversion Diary, was visiting D.C. And since she lives in Austin, Texas, and I live in Baltimore, this seemed like a fantastic opportunity to meet her. So I cleared my calendar, invited my mother to join me, and we drove into our nation's capital.

I had the opportunity to speak with Jen briefly before her talk, but other people were vying for her attention, and I wasn't going to stand in others' way. I had had the opportunity to interview her by phone, and this was their chance.

When Jen started speaking, I realized listening to her was like reading her book or her blog. I knew she was talking to me.

I already knew the story of her conversion from atheism to Catholicism, but her presentation was still captivating.

She spoke about atheism: "You can take a number that is the most beautiful number in the world, but if you multiply it by zero, it's still zero."

She spoke about the rules of the Catholic Church: "I came to see them as a prescription for a lifetime of love more than rules."

She spoke about her journey: "Not only is this a story of fulfillment and happiness," she said. "It was the fulfillment of my atheism."

She spoke about raising her children in a world where living out your Catholic faith is not easy: "I've done a lot of studying of missionaries. I just look at it as we are in a mission field."

At the end of the evening, I asked Jen to autograph a book for me and one for my sister, Treasa.

I left the Catholic Information Center flying high on the excitement of the evening, renewed in my faith, and encouraged by the reminder that people experience their faith journeys at different times and in different ways.

And I even managed to drive home without getting lost or stuck in traffic. It's just a grid, you know.

September 29, 2014 11:35
By Rita Buettner

7 Quick Takes Friday: Best dinner ever, celebrating our anniversary with food and furniture shopping, sight words in preschool, wildlife encounters, and hula hoop fun


Last night, and this is not unusual, I wasn't feeling inspired to cook dinner.

I reheated leftover originally-frozen Swedish meatballs from Ikea and served them over leftover noodles. Usually I don’t get much interest in leftovers, but this time our boys could not get enough.

“Mama,” Leo said--sincerely and without any exaggeration, “this is the best dinner ever.”


How do you celebrate 10 years of marriage? John and I took the afternoon off from work and went to lunch at one of our favorite special occasion restaurants, Petit Louis.

I mentioned it was our anniversary, and our waitress surprised us with an appetizer. I wondered whether John would mind that it was eggplant, which is not a favorite of his. But as he says, “I don’t always eat eggplant, but when I do, it’s eggplant Napoleon.”

Then he had his French onion soup...

...and then some charcuterie...

...while I had some mussels.

It could never compete with leftover frozen meatballs, of course, but it was very good.

Then we went and did the most romantic thing we could think of. We went shopping for furniture.

Our plan had been to shop just as a couple, but Leo’s after-school program was canceled, so we picked him up and took him with us.

I quickly remembered why we had planned to make this trip alone. When you are almost 7, the only thing harder than shopping for something interesting is shopping for the most boring thing on earth--furniture.

And as Leo walked around looking at the price tags, I could tell he was appalled.

“If you buy furniture, you are going to spend a thousand dollars!” he said.

“Well, maybe,” I said. “We’re just looking today.”

“You are going to spend all our money on furniture,” he said, exasperated. Clearly he envisioned his birthday and Christmas gift hopes disappearing into a couch. “Why don’t you just spend infinity dollars?”

Testing a chair, of course

Instead, we didn’t spend much more than 20 minutes, and we didn’t buy a thing.


At Parents’ Night at preschool, we were a few minutes into the meet-and-greet with Daniel’s pre-K teacher when I realized not all the parents were on the same page.

A father asked about the county curriculum standards for Pre-K. Then a mother requested a list of sight words kindergarteners are expected to know.

Sight words? For 4-year-olds?

Here’s what I want to know about my son’s preschool:

1.       Is my child safe?

2.       Is my child happy?

3.       Do the teachers care about my child?

And...um...that’s about it. At one point the teacher mentioned that her infant cousin occasionally visits the school. Apparently Daniel is very protective and gentle and loves holding the baby. Now that I care about.

And when the teacher posted sight word lists on every child’s cubby yesterday, I threw ours straight into the trash.


Daniel has been dreaming of holding a bird. And when we went to SARC’s 5th annual Rising Above It Family Fun Day on Saturday, the Baltimore Bird Fanciers club was represented with a table full of birds.

You could even touch them.

We went over and I encouraged Daniel to go touch a bird. All he wanted at that point was lemonade. So when he finally had the chance to stroke a beautiful bird, he was muttering not-quite-under his breath, “I am SO thirsty. I am SO thirsty.”

It was a little bit of a letdown for me. I'm not sure he was disappointed. He was so thirsty.


At the Family Fun Day we also stopped to look at a hedgehog, some snakes, a tarantula, and a bearded dragon. When we were looking at the snakes, I watched as he carefully poked his head around the back of the aquariums and looked at the wooden backs. He seemed to be investigating.

Then we watched as he touched the bearded dragon’s tail.

“What did I feel like?” John asked him later.

“Well, Baba,” Daniel said, “it was made of cardboard. I looked.”


Do you know the secret to hula hooping? Apparently larger hula hoops are easier to keep in the air.

When we found ourselves taking a mini-lesson in hula hooping at the Family Fun Day, John turned out to be an exceptional hula hooper. It all has to do with the size of the hoop. Or, at least, the size makes it easier.

Leo and Daniel also got to run the bases at Ripken Stadium, where the event was, and Leo even ran and touched the outfield wall.


The morning of the Family Fun Day, I mentioned that the festival would have pony rides.

"Yay!" Daniel said. "I love pony rides!"

"You do? I don't think you've ever been on a pony ride," I said.

"Yes, I have!" he said.

And suddenly I felt terrible that I couldn't remember, especially since he has become so brave with approaching animals. Immediately I started thinking that this was because he is our second child, and I am losing track of milestones.

"Um...do you remember when?" I asked.

"Mama," he said, "I've been on the merry-go-round!"

Oh, yes. Yes, of course. How could I forget?

Read more quick takes at Jen’s blog! And if you're in the D.C. area, come see her!

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September 26, 2014 12:02
By Rita Buettner

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