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


February 2015
January 2015

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Recent Comments

I wonder whether I am especially bad at that, Rosie! But I am definitely loving this new approach. I hope we can carry it forward. :)


Now I'm curious about how often I get up during dinner... Although to be honest, I mostly task the 4 and 5yo with getting forks/napkins/drink refills because I'm lazy!



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Open Window

7 Quick Takes Friday: Meatless Friday recipe, Lenten fasting, living room redesign, still more Chinese New Year celebrating, snow day excitement (or not), and more


What are you doing for dinner tonight? We’re headed to a soup dinner at our church. I’m not sure this counts as a Lenten sacrifice since it means a night off of cooking for me, but we have two very enthusiastic soup fans in our family, so we are set.

Because it’s a Friday in Lent, I thought I’d share with you a delicious vegetarian recipe my mother makes from The Moosewood Cookbook. If you like cauliflower and cheese, you will love it.

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbs. butter
1 medium cauliflower, broken into one-inch flowerets
3 medium cloves crushed garlic
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. basil
2 cups tomato puree
Salt and lots of black pepper
2 cups mixed, grated parmesan and cheddar cheeses
1 lb. (uncooked) thin spaghetti

Heat 2 tbs. olive oil in a deep, heavy skillet. Add crushed garlic, bay leaf, and basil. Saute about 1 minute, then add cauliflower, and sprinkle it with about 1 tsp. salt. Saute until the cauliflower is tender. You might want to add some water (1/2 to 1 cup) to steam it along. When cauliflower is tender, add tomato puree, and lower to a simmer. Simmer 15 or so minutes.

Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling water. Drain and toss with remaining olive oil, butter, and half the cheese. Spread onto a platter and pour the cauliflower sauce over. Top with more cheese. Serve immediately.


On Ash Wednesday I announced that once John and I started eating, we weren’t getting up out of our seats until after the meal was finished.

“It’s Lent,” I told our sons, “and we are fasting.”

Now Daniel won’t let us leave the table during a meal. I start to get up to get a fork for someone and Daniel yells, “Stop! It’s Lent!”

I never realized how often I got up during dinner before. This is wonderful. Now I’m thinking we should take this approach at least through Pentecost.


Ever since we moved into our house in October 2013, we have been trying to figure out what to do with our living room. Somehow the furniture never seemed to be in the right place, but we didn’t know what to do.

We finally decided to take a chance and move the couch and the piano. John and I became furniture movers for the afternoon and pushed and pulled everything around. And it improves the whole space.

Now I wish I had taken "before" pictures so you could see the difference. Trust me. There was less room for the Hot Wheels track.

We’re still using the room for the same kinds of activities.

But it feels much more spacious than it did before.

One day I will give you a photo tour of the whole house, but that would require cleaning and organizing. So maybe after the boys are in college.


I’m tired of snow, but I’m even more tired of the lack of routine. I like going to bed knowing what is happening in the morning. And lately most mornings seem to start with phone calls telling us that school is delayed or closed. Sometimes it’s for snow, sometimes for ice, and—my least favorite—cold.

Snow days sound fun, right? But changes in routine are hard on children and families. It’s a frantic scramble to figure out which schools are open, who’s staying home, and what other options we might have.

We are ready for spring. Anyone else?


The highlight of our snow day yesterday was when we looked out the window and saw two bucket trucks wrangling a new telephone pole. The boys were transfixed.

Then Daniel stumped me with a question: “Why do we need telephone wires?”

I used to be able to answer that, but now? I have no idea.


As the Chinese New Year festivities continue, we all went to celebrate with our friends, another family we met online—gasp!—right before we were traveling to adopt Leo. They live about two hours from us, and every year we get together for a Chinese New Year lunch at a restaurant halfway in between our homes.

Their son, who is also adopted from China, and our two boys are great friends. This year they made fleets of paper airplanes as the grown-ups talked. And every year having almost-uninterrupted conversation is a little easier.

And we always find time to race outside the restaurant afterward.

My only regret is telling the boys that this group of appetizers is called a Pu-Pu Platter. That cannot be as funny as our children think it is.

And would you believe we are still not finished celebrating the Year of the Sheep? This weekend we will wrap it up for the year.


Have you heard about The Drop Box? It’s a documentary about a man in Korea who provides a box where parents who can’t raise their children can leave them. I saw the trailer a while ago and have been waiting to see the actual movie.

It’s coming to our area next week, and John and I will be there. 

We’re actually going out together on a weeknight. Yes, this is the wild and crazy life we lead.

~Bonus Take~

I’ve created a coloring book for Lent!

I’m participating in Rosie’s weekly Lenten craft linkup, so I’ll be posting it on her blog and on mine with the coloring book next week. I am really excited to share it with you, especially since it is kid-tested.

Find other quick takes at Kelly’s blog.

February 26, 2015 10:49
By Rita Buettner

Embrace the Ordinary: What do you do when you're snowed in for the day?

We knew snow was coming yesterday, but we had still planned to run out in the morning to get the boys their haircuts for the Chinese New Year. But when snow started falling a little after 10 a.m., we decided to stay home. We were glad we did.

What do you do when you’re snowed in for the day? Here is a glimpse into our house on a snow day:

After complaining that he was bored, Daniel spotted a piece of blue poster board and decided to make a crucifix. He was having trouble cutting, so he turned to his big brother, who was happy to help.

Then Daniel drew Jesus hanging on the cross.

Once Daniel had hung the crucifix in the living room, he knew we had no choice but to hold Mass there.

So he gathered a group of stuffed animals, asked me for some crackers and water and two candles and we got started.

How do you begin Mass? No, not with the Sign of the Cross. This is 2015.

Daniel stood beside the crucifix and announced, “Please turn the cell phones off.”

“Or at least make them quiet,” Leo added.

We skipped the homily and made it all the way to the final blessing.

At lunchtime Leo built the Grape Wall of China next to his plate.

All day, though, as the snow fell, our boys were asking to go outside. But I was watching the thermometer hovering around 20. I knew they would go out and come right back in, bringing cold, wet clothes with them. It hardly seemed worth it.

So I took a plastic bin and went outside to fill it with snow. Then I brought it into the kitchen, dropped a cup, a cookie cutter, a Pez, and a handful of pennies into it, and told the boys to have fun.

They loved it. We even built a snowman and used a marker to decorate him. In fact, Gina just wrote a great post about creating little snowmen with colored pencils.

After they finished playing, though, Daniel knew how wonderful snow was and he wanted to go outside even more. Sigh. So eventually, at long last, we bundled them up and sent them outside.

They lasted about 15 minutes. Then they came inside shivering inside their cold, wet clothes. Good thing we had built our snowman indoors because it was too cold to do much outside.

Then we got down to the business of the day—making Chinese dumplings.

We typically make them once a year, and yesterday seemed like the perfect day.

They are a bit labor-intensive, and one year I will probably buy the dumpling wrappers they sell in the store. But yesterday we were home. And being snowed in makes me want to cook.

We made two fillings this time, the pork filling we have made a few times before and a shrimp filling I created on the spot.

Every year the boys have helped a little bit, but this year they took the project over entirely.

Leo showed me how to use the dumpling maker we have to create dumplings that look like dumplings.

His are the beautiful ones. Mine are the bigger, sloppier ones. Daniel liked making “baby dumplings,” tinier versions of the large dumplings.

Leo decided to make double-decker and triple-decker dumplings, which are sort of like the turducken version of dumplings with another one (or two) wrapped inside.

The boys were excited to eat their very own dumplings.

At bath time John said, "Who's taking the first bath? Let's flip a coin." Daniel didn't miss a beat. "OK," he said, "I'm both sides."

Was that a boring day? I hope not because we might end up having a similar day today.

February 22, 2015 12:02
By Rita Buettner

7 Quick Takes Friday: Brrrr, a shrimp pasta recipe for Lent, other Lenten activities, Chinese New Year fun, classroom visits, and our new lanterns




What are you making for dinner? Lenten Fridays never feel like a big sacrifice to me since I love canned tuna and fish sticks. But my family doesn’t share my enthusiasm there, so the other day I decided to try to make a shrimp pasta dish. It turned out well and the house smelled so good all evening.

So, in case you are trying to decide what to make for dinner tonight, here’s an idea:

Savory Shrimp Pasta

I pound shrimp peeled

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. parsley

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

1 Tsp minced onion

Ground black pepper to taste

½ cup apple juice

½ pound cooked spaghetti

Sauté the shrimp in the oil with the parsley until the shrimp curls up and turns pink. Add the garlic powder, minced garlic, minced onion, and pepper and cook for 5-7 minutes. Add the apple juice and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the pasta to the pan and stir as the spaghetti absorbs the liquid.

Serve with Parmesan cheese. Enjoy! If it's too delicious for Lent, you can just wear your hair shirt for an extra hour tomorrow.


How are your Lenten activities going? Our boys have a few daily projects to update, but we struggle with anything that has to be done every day. So I have a feeling we’ll be playing catch-up this weekend—well, except for the sticker project we’re doing because Leo finished that on Ash Wednesday.

We aren’t talking about 25 days of chocolates in an Advent calendar. It’s a series of stickers about Jonah’s stories. It didn’t seem worth the effort to stop him.

This is the Disciple Ship.

I’m pretty sure Easter will come anyway.


You know how they say that the first day of the New Year will define how the rest of the year will go? Well, the Chinese New Year started yesterday, and this is how it started for us:

-          We forgot Daniel’s lunch.

-          I spilled 50 red envelopes full of chocolate coins in our driveway and had to pick them all up. Did I mention how cold it is?

-          I was late getting to work because of the lunch incident.

-          My hair was damp when we went outside and I forgot a hat. It froze solid.

-          When we arrived at preschool, we realized that Daniel had put his shoes on the wrong feet.

Will every day of the Year of the Sheep/Goat/Ram be like this? Only time will tell.


Our boys have had four of their cousins visiting town this week. Is there anything quite like fun with your cousins? Our sons are 7 and 5, and this set of cousins is just-turned-6-this-week, 7, 10, and 11. A friend invited us to bring the younger two cousins with Leo and Daniel to her daughter’s birthday party at a gym.

So I loaded four children into our van. As we drove, they had real conversation, chatting about TV shows (Lego Chima, of course) and reenacting favorite episodes. They talked about their last visit together and things they had done with Grandpa and Grandma and the other cousins.

As someone who has watched these children grow, I loved hearing them having an actual conversation.

The party was so much fun. I mean, who doesn’t love a ball pit? How many children can you see in this picture?

The only moment of stress for me was when the instructor leading the party announced the children were going into the other room for cake, and that their parents would collect all their things. I had no idea what the cousins’ coats and shoes looked like. But I managed to get it all together, and we had fun.

I think the lesson is that four children can be as easy as two if they are the right four children? Or if they are all part of the same group of spies. Wait, did I say they were spies? Whoops.


Yesterday I went to visit both our boys’ schools to give Chinese New Year presentations. It was so much fun. I read a few books, and we made Chinese dragon puppets out of paper bags.

Leo and Daniel passed out a red envelope and a fortune cookie to each child—and yes, I am aware that fortune cookies are not Chinese, but they are a Chinese-American treat, and they are simple and fun.

I over-scheduled for Leo’s class and ran out of time. As we were packing up to leave, he said, “What about Chinese New Year Bingo? And the bubble wrap?” We will have to save those for another day.

Next year I may not even be needed. During his preschool presentation, I noticed Daniel was sitting on a ledge waving an American flag.

“Do you want to make a dragon?” I said.

“No, Mama,” he said. “I’m the boss of the Chinese happy new year festival.”

So I may be able to hand over the reins soon enough. I mean, he is the boss.


Last weekend we went to our local Families with Children from China event.

It is one of the highlights of our year, with a Lion Dance, many fun crafts, Chinese food, and—here’s the best part—other families formed through adoption from China.

Some are close friends, some we only see once a year, and others we have never met. But we always enjoy connecting with them.

And this year we actually got to talk to some of them before we had to go help make a lantern or color a dragon.

And we came home with two lanterns our sons decorated. Aren’t they wonderful?

Are you tired of hearing about Chinese New Year celebrating? Well, I’m not quite finished. We have more celebrating to do this weekend if the weather doesn’t get in our way.

Have a wonderful weekend—and stay warm!

Read more quick takes at This Ain’t the Lyceum.

February 20, 2015 07:32
By Rita Buettner

Xin Nian Kuai Le! 8 simple ways you can celebrate the Chinese New Year

This year both our sons want me to visit their classrooms to talk about Chinese New Year—and their teachers are welcoming me with open arms. I am really excited and a little nervous.

Here’s the thing: I’m not actually Chinese. Thanks to our sons, our family certainly has Chinese heritage. But these are not traditions I grew up with, and I have only spent four weeks of my life in China. I am no expert. At best I am an enthusiastic learner.

It occurred to me that as Chinese New Year begins, you might enjoy finding some simple ways to mark this holiday. Because regardless of your heritage, it’s fun. And if your winter weather is as dreary as I suspect, you could probably use a few fireworks and maybe even a dragon puppet.

So here are some ideas for how you can celebrate:

1.       Eat Chinese food. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can make your own Chinese dumplingsMongolian beef, shrimp stir fry, or chicken lettuce wraps. But Chinese take-out is always a great option.

2.       Clean your house. Get a haircut. Buy new clothes. These are all traditional ways to celebrate the Chinese New Year. See how easy those are to integrate into your celebration? Well, except for the cleaning one?

3.       Read a book on Chinese New Year. Find a video of a Chinese New Year parade online. Or look up a video of a lion dance. We saw a lion dance in person last weekend and it was as memorable as ever, though a little scary. But I believe that’s the point since the lion is scaring away the old year to make room for the new one.

4.       Make a craft. Here’s an easy dragon mask to print and make. Here are two more paper dragon crafts. And here are some Chinese lanterns

5.       Celebrate the animal of the year. 2015 is the Year of the Sheep or the Goat. We’ll be pulling out our stuffed goats and any sheep we can find and putting them on display. I’m planning to make sheep cupcakes, which will never rival the strawberry shortsnake my sister Treasa made, but we can’t all be as talented as Treasa is. (Obviously I'm speaking for myself here.)

6.       Give the children in your life red envelopes. They can be fancy with Chinese designs on them, but they can also just be red envelopes. Ideally you would put cash in them, but we usually just put chocolate coins inside. No one has ever seemed disappointed or handed them back.

7.       Spend time with family and friends. That’s another easy one.

8.       Set off some fireworks. We just jump on bubble wrap.

When our children are older, they might have higher expectations, but so far, so good. Whatever you decide to do, I hope you enjoy celebrating!

February 18, 2015 11:05
By Rita Buettner

Design your own Lenten journey

What are you doing for Lent? Are you giving something up? Taking something on?

I do something different every year. One Lent, before we had children, I went to daily Mass almost every day. At the time I could hit Fr. Jennings’s 15-minute Mass on my way to work, so it wasn't as difficult as it might sound. Another Lent I gave up iced tea. That was much harder and not as fulfilling.

Some years I haven’t chosen a particular sacrifice because I felt life was handing me enough on its own. But this year is looking promising, and I am excited to take something on. I also know that for me I need to be specific and intentional or it will suddenly be Easter and I will regret not using this time as a time of penance and prayer.

So this year I am creating what you might call a Lenten bucket list. I am not typically a bucket list person, but I am seeing this as my Lenten smorgasbord—a few things to choose from and integrate into my days. And I’m figuring that whatever I don’t manage to achieve during Lent can spill over into the Easter season. I’m trying, though, to keep these as manageable, realistic goals.

Here is my approach for this year:

1.       Share the journey with a companion. A friend and I are setting concrete goals together. Each week of Lent we will attend one weekday Mass and say one Rosary. We are also reading the Gospel of Mark (and maybe more of the Bible if we fly through Mark). They are manageable goals. And I am hoping we will keep each other accountable.

2.       Make a pilgrimage. This might just mean attending one weekday Mass at a church that isn’t our parish church. But I am actually hoping we might make a joint family trip to an area shrine or church. John and I took our boys to St. Anthony’s Shrine in Ellicott City for Good Friday services last year and it was a highlight of our Lent.

3.       Get more screen time. No, not that kind of screen time. I mean checking in with Jesus through the screen in the confessional. And yes, I prefer going through the screen to face-to-face. But you can do whatever works for you.

4.       Find simple ways to mark Lent as a family. We are going to try to take our boys to the Stations of the Cross—and the simple soup dinners our parish holds on Friday nights during Lent. We also have a few child-friendly Lenten countdowns to measure our progress toward Easter, and our sons are excited to start putting a fish a day into the Disciple Ship (yes, it’s called that), create a sticker scene, and build a Lenten mobile. They come with Bible verses and prayers and stories. I feel a little overwhelmed by the amount of work involved, to be honest, but I’m sure Leo and Daniel will keep us on task.

If I happen to do more than this, great. If I miss some, that’s OK, too. Jesus isn’t sitting in Heaven putting a black mark next to my name. In fact, I’m pretty sure He’s cheering us on as we try to grow closer to Him.

How will you spend your Lent? Do you have specific goals?

February 17, 2015 02:32
By Rita Buettner

Learning Love: A Lesson a Year in Marriage

Just a little more than 10 years ago John and I stood before God and our family and friends and said our vows.

Now, with Valentine's Day coming to a close, I’m joining Mary at Better Than Eden to share 10 lessons in honor of our 10 years of marriage.


We don’t have to make every decision together. When we were dating, it seemed to be important that we picked a restaurant or movie that worked for both of us. But as a married couple we approach many decisions separately. John and I both wanted to send our children to Catholic school, but I picked the school and filled him in on the details. If John sees a need for home improvement, he takes care of it. When we went to buy a new car last week, the salesman asked me whether I wanted to drive it. “No,” I said. “You need to sell my husband on the car and me on the price.”


My husband is better at laundry, cleaning, work on the house, and almost everything that really matters. I'm better at cooking, living with mess, completing adoption paperwork, arguing with customer service, and remembering extended family birthdays. Even though we both have similar professions and many of the same interests, somehow our differences help us balance each other in a way I never would have expected.


Parenthood doesn’t automatically come with marriage. I think I had a vague understanding that that might be the case, but I didn’t really appreciate that until we had been married a few years and still didn’t have a child. But wow, the journey to parenthood strengthened our marriage in the most extraordinary ways.


I knew our faith would be important to us, but I had no idea how much it would matter to our marriage. I am so blessed to be married to someone who shares my faith and who helps me grow spiritually. I am a better person because I am John’s wife. And because we share our faith, we have a common language to approach problems. At our most challenging moments, we have had that faith to turn to and to find strength, and I am profoundly grateful for that. I look back on our infertility struggles and our adoption journeys, and I can’t imagine going through those without our common faith.


Being a daughter-in-law doesn’t necessarily come naturally. I figured since I knew how to be a daughter and a sister and a sister-in-law and friend that being a daughter-in-law would be a cinch. But it is a very different kind of relationship and an important one. And it doesn’t matter that we are both from large Catholic, Irish/German families. Every family has its own distinct culture, and there is an adjustment. Just when you think you’ve mastered it, you become a mother and it’s new all over again.


If I am at a party with John, and I overhear him in a passionate conversation about Rottweilers, horse dressage, or some other topic I know he doesn’t care about at all, it's time for me to make excuses, take his arm, and get us out the door. Don't ask me how I know. Ask him. His versions of the stories are so much better.


Money doesn't really matter. When we were first married, I stressed about every purchase. We had a box we put every receipt in. It was supposed to help our budgeting, but it added an astounding amount of stress. At some point we realized we had to stop obsessing about the money. I try to save where I can. But when John says we need to replace something in the house, I try not to ask whether we can afford it. What is money, anyway? And it really comes down to a matter of trust.


I have to decide what issues really matter to me and which matter more to John. Sometimes I catch myself voicing an opinion on something that really doesn’t matter to me—but which matters much more to him. I am so full of opinions. But how many day-to-day issues really matter that much to me? Actually, the lesson I’m trying to learn is to speak less and listen more. Maybe I’ll learn that in my eleventh year of marriage.


Our marriage is important to our children—and they know it. They love that we love each other. At Mass Daniel reaches over and puts my hand into John’s and beams. When I showed them the card I was giving to John for Valentine’s Day, I pointed out how one goldfish was jumping into a bowl to be with another. “Which one do you think is Baba?” I asked. “You’re the one who is jumping into the bowl,” Leo said, “because you’re bursting with your love for Baba.”


I am not the same person I was when we got married. Neither is my husband. Time changes people. Experiences change people. But our vows are the same. Our commitment to each other is the same—and maybe deeper and richer. And the sacrament that unites us is as beautiful and powerful as it ever was.

Oh, and if my husband calls me at 4:30 p.m. at the office and asks me whether I am too tired to cook dinner, the correct answer is always yes.

What lessons have you learned in your marriage? Share yours and then click over to Better Than Eden to read more!

February 14, 2015 11:11
By Rita Buettner

7 Quick Takes Friday: What features you'd want in your dream car, homemade pierogis, gearing up for Chinese New Year, and raising a Godly man


When we went car shopping last week, my father convinced us to leave our sons at home with him. Thank goodness we did.

First of all, John and I are boring. We barely cared about the color of the car, never mind whether it could go underwater or carry as many people as a school bus.

Second, do you have any idea how long it takes to buy a car? Hours and hours. And you have to say no over and over and over again.

There are warranties upon warranties—and they try to sell them to you in a room where the wall you’re facing is painted a deep, frightening red.

They even try to sell you insurance in case you lose your keys.

At one point the salesman took us to a display, sprayed paint on a fake hood and set it on fire. Then he wiped it away. This amazing feature, he told us, could be ours for a mere $750.

We kept the $750.

The good news? The car sales place had free popcorn—or the most expensive popcorn ever, depending on how you look at it.

The better news? We have a new car. It’s not shaped like a fish, and it’s not a school bus, but it’s a car. And we feel very fortunate to have it, even without the extra layers of warranties.


When the salesman asked us what features we were looking for in a car, I told him that we wanted to be able to press a button on the key and have the doors unlock.

John told him we didn’t need anything fancy like GPS. Of course, everything is fancy to people like us­—just not to our 5-year-old. After Daniel took his first drive in the car, he said, “Mama, did you know that the TV in Baba’s car only works when you’re backing up?” (It has one of those screens that come on to show you what is behind the car.)

Since then I have been considering the special features I would like to see in a car:

-          Seat belts that automatically strap your child in for you

-          A robotic vacuum that sucks up all the snacks that fall on the floor

-          A trash can

-          A baby wipe container that doesn’t freeze in the winter

-          A drink machine

-          An actual place to store my purse while driving

-          A conveyor belt to deliver snacks to the back of the car

-          A grocery unloader

-          An automated system to remind us to bring lunches, backpacks, library books, etc.

My sister says she would like a binky replacer to reinsert her daughter’s pacifier.

Dream big. What special features would you want in your dream car?


After more than five years of motherhood, I may finally have figured out how to make our mornings go like clockwork. Unfortunately, it requires that I get up before everyone else, and that means less sleep. Now I know why I had chosen the alternative.


Have you ever had homemade pierogis? My sister and brother-in-law created authentic, homemade pierogis just for us last weekend, and they were amazing.

My brother-in-law made them entirely from scratch, and we ate them with kielbasa and pickled red cabbage. They sprinkled sugar on top of the pierogis, and so Daniel and I did, too. Yum.

Isn’t it wonderful how many different cultures take thin pieces of dough and put something delicious inside? I think my favorite are Chinese dumplings, but I love ravioli and tortellini. But the pierogis...well...those are on the list.


Chinese New Year begins next Thursday, Feb. 19! Chinese New Year is not a one-day holiday. It's actually a two-week celebration, and this year we are marking the Year of the Sheep or Goat. This is one of my favorite times of the year! I am going to visit our boys’ classrooms, so I will be busy this weekend getting ready for those presentations. We’ll also go to a big celebration this weekend with other families who have children from China.

I am hoping to find time to cook some Chinese food, and especially the dumplings we all love. Here are a few recipes we tried last year. The dumplings require some effort, but they are well worth it.


When an enormous box landed on our porch this week, I couldn’t imagine what we had ordered. Then I remembered.

“Oh, the fireworks!” I said.

The boys went running for a set of keys to open the box. They could not get it open quickly enough.

Before they opened it, I told them that I hadn't actually ordered fireworks. The box was full of a giant roll of bubble wrap we will jump on in lieu of fireworks to celebrate Chinese New Year.

Naturally the box itself was more fun than anything I could have ordered, and Leo and Daniel have played inside it for days.


The other night Daniel and I were having some discussion about something he was able to do—I forget what. And he said, “Well, you know...I'm a Godly man." Then he walked away.

I have no idea where he got that phrase. But he certainly knows how to close a conversation.

~Bonus Take~

Hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day with those you love! John and I will be watching a Lion Dance, but we will also be remembering how 12 years ago John asked me to marry him. You can read all about that here

Lent begins next week! I am still planning my Lenten journey. What are you giving up or taking on? 

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

February 12, 2015 11:56
By Rita Buettner

7 ways to help children be open to religious vocations

As parents, John and I try to find ways to help our children understand that God might call them to the religious life one day.

Obviously we don’t constantly talk about vocations, but we do drop pebbles into conversation from time to time, encouraging our sons to consider the possibility.

If you are trying to introduce the conversation with your family, here are a few ideas:

1.       Tell stories. John and I often speak about priests we know or have known. John shares memories of Msgr. Anthony Sauerwein, and I tell them about my mother's uncle who was a Jesuit priest. I love telling our boys about Fr. Tom Pietrantonio, a Franciscan priest, who told us how he realized God was calling him to the priesthood—and to the Franciscans. At 11, he was sitting in a chapel watching a Franciscan open the windows with such reverence that he felt the first tug of his vocation. I want our children to know that a calling doesn’t necessarily come with fireworks.

Our friend Fr. Tom

2.       Help them see priests as people. Talk with the priest after Mass. Visit a local monastery or convent. We talk about the priests beyond church, how one grew up in the same neighborhood Mama did, how another has a brother who is also a priest. Priests are real people, and we want our children to realize that you don’t need a halo to be called.

3.       Make the religious life feel accessible. Whenever we drive past St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, I explain what it is. I hope they feel that if there is a school where you can learn to become a priest, it’s not as if it’s some unreachable goal. Yes, they need to be called first. But we want them to be open to the possibility.

4.       Watch movies with priests and sisters as characters. Maybe seeing Boys Town and The Keys of the Kingdom isn’t going to affect our sons much. But we watched The Return of the Jedi last night, and today they were battling with light sabers. It’s worth a shot.

5.       Help them learn to listen for God. We don’t know whether our children will be called to the single life, the married life, or the religious life. So we are trying to help them build a relationship with Jesus—and learn to listen. That’s a lifelong goal, of course, but we can certainly start now.

6.       Pray together for them to grow to be all God created them to be.

7.       Stay out of their way. We are their parents, of course. But parents’ wishes and hopes for the future could so easily interfere with their child’s calling. They are our children, but God is the one who created them. He knows them better than we ever will.

This morning at Mass Daniel, who is 5, was watching the priest closely and I whispered, “I wonder whether you will be a priest one day.”

“I don’t know,” he whispered back. “I’ll wait to see what God tells me I can do.”

So will we.

How are you introducing the conversation with your family? We are always looking for ideas!

You might also enjoy this post I wrote after speaking with a Jesuit about vocations:

February 08, 2015 10:48
By Rita Buettner

7 Quick Takes Friday: A week without a snow day, a white whale, that Nationwide commercial, snapshots from our week, why the vaccine conversation upsets me, Chinese dance performance, and making valentines


Where’s all the snow? Did we actually just make it through a week without a snow day? No wonder our boys can’t believe they have school for a fifth day in a row.

Most parents talk about the “No!” stage and the “Why?” stage. Our 5-year-old’s current stage is, “What day is today?”

I answer that question many times a day. “No, it’s still not Saturday.” “No, today is Thursday.”

It might be time to give someone a calendar.


The other day I was driving with our boys and Daniel yelled out, “Mama! See? It’s a white whale!”

You can imagine my surprise and confusion. Then I saw a train going by and a light bulb went off.

Ah, yes. The light rail. That’s exciting, too.


We sort of watched the Super Bowl. Some of us may have used special spy glasses to watch.

What we loved: The dancing sharks in the halftime show

What we didn’t love: The Nationwide commercial

What a poor decision, Nationwide.

Please don’t tell me it was a good time to start a conversation with my children about death. We talk about death with our children. But we don’t want them to fear it. We talk about death as a new chapter in life, the next step on this journey, and one where we’ll meet Jesus in heaven.

That commercial was about shock value and fear. As I kept one eye on the TV and one on my children—who were fortunately distracted halfway through—I kept thinking of families who have lost children, and how horrifying it would be to be hit with that during the game. This father shared how hard it hit him and his family. 

Want to make an effective commercial that saves lives? Make it cute and fun and child-friendly, with a message to encourage children to ask their parents to make sure their home is safe. What parent could ignore a plea from a child to check household safety?


Four snapshots from our week:

When Daniel heard our piano teacher was coming over, he asked to dress up. Then he put on not one, but two ties.

Leo spent an afternoon with Grandma and Grandpa and took photos of household items through my father’s microscope. Can you tell what he photographed?

While I was cooking dinner one night, our boys turned the living room into a city scene with their Hess trucks.

One night Leo wrote us a message in peas.

Then he ate them and shared them with us.


My Facebook feed is full of people talking about vaccines. It’s such a heated, angry conversation, and it makes me sad.

I understand why people are passionate. I just wish sometimes we could find a better way to exchange ideas. In my experience, you hardly ever persuade people to change their minds when you are yelling at them and treating them as if they are selfish.

There is so much animosity that if I were on the fence in this debate, I wouldn’t want to join either camp. Wouldn’t we make more progress if we assumed that the people who disagree with us are good, kind, and rational?

If you are just venting or spouting off or wanting your friends to click “like,” then your approach doesn’t matter. But if you are trying to make someone stop and think and change perspective, please consider: It may actually be true that you attract more flies with honey than vinegar.


Last Friday we went to the mall and ran into a lady selling tickets to the Shen Yun performance at The Lyric. She was from Leo’s province in China, she thought our children were really cute, and the show sounded amazing. So we bought tickets to see a live, afternoon performance of classical Chinese dance.

To be perfectly honest, I thought it might be disastrous. Daniel had had dental surgery a few days earlier, and he came out of that with a bounce in his step that could have rocketed him to the Moon. But we also believe that our children need to learn that sometimes entertainment comes from something that's not Netflix.

The performance was outstanding. For the first half-hour, our boys were riveted, fully absorbed by the tumbling and dancing, the vibrant colors, and the live music. By intermission, they were ready to leave, but we knew there was a segment with the Monkey King in the second half, so we stayed through that part and left a little early.

Just to build character and save a little money (which, now that I think about it, might be why Daniel thinks we’re poor), we parked the car in a free spot far away and made the children walk uphill both ways.


Are you sending valentines? I will be making some for our children to distribute at school, but I haven’t started. I know the valentines will be “Octonauts” and I suspect we’ll use Tootsie Pops as we did for the Ninjago ones we made last year

If you have children, do you make valentines or do you buy them? Our sons are usually interested in something that isn’t available on the shelf, so we have been making ours. I am not particularly crafty, but I like to be creative now and then.

~Bonus take~

Here’s a love quote for you as we count down to Valentine’s Day:

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

February 05, 2015 11:53
By Rita Buettner

A 5-year-old's lesson in finances and faith

“We’re poor,” Daniel announces at dinner.

He doesn’t sound worried. He’s just a 5-year-old stating what he feels certain is the truth.

“Why do you think we’re poor?” I ask.

“Because we don’t have any money.”

Ah. Well. That is sort of true. His mother never has any cash. And so often when he wants to buy something, I tell him we don’t have the money because we need to buy food or gas for the car or—this week, at least—a new-to-us car to replace the one that just broke.

I don’t want our children to worry that we won’t be able to afford to put food on the table, but I also want them to learn how to spend wisely—and to give to those who don’t have enough.

John and I try to explain that we have money our children don’t see, and that we keep it in a bank. It might not be a huge amount, but it’s enough, and we are very grateful to have it.

Then we talk about what it means to be poor. Some people don’t have enough food or a place to sleep. Some don’t have clothes to keep them warm. We feel so fortunate to have food and a home and clothes.

“But we don’t need any of that!” Daniel says.

“We don’t?”

He gives us a big smile. “All we need is to go to heaven! I can’t wait to go to heaven.”

I have so much to learn from this little boy.

“Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them;
and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.
But Jesus called them to him, saying,
‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them;
for to such belongs the kingdom of God.
Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God
like a child shall not enter it.’” —Luke 18:15-17

February 04, 2015 10:50
By Rita Buettner

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