Archive for July, 2011


Do you remember those days where you cry, and cry, and cry and it feels as if suddenly your heart is filled with an ocean, the pressure just pounding on your chest, the only escape through your two small, swollen eyes which let the tears pour out?

I remember crying like that years ago, standing in the middle of the William and Mary University Center, watching the news of the Virginia Tech shooting. The newscasters at that time were only reporting one student had died, but after talking to my mom who lived 30 miles from Blacksburg, I had knew it was more. She had told me it was eight.

Eight students. It seemed so horrible, so gut wrenching. With 20 out of the 25 people in my high school who went to college going to Virginia Tech, I knew, I knew I would know someone who had died.

And so I cried, standing in the middle of the UC watching those TVs. Some kind stranger gave me a hug and slowly the crowd started to grow, watching that TV.

I had a doctor’s appointment an hour later which I cried the entire way through, making the attending physician, who had probably not had much of a break to watch the news, obviously uncomfortable. The number on the screen slowly started to grow. From one to eight to thirteen to twenty to twenty four to thirty two, although somewhere around twenty one I stopped crying. I could no longer comprehend. The ocean in my heart had gone dry.

I see these pictures from Norway and I can barely look at them, barely read the articles. I catch the headlines to enough to stay informed and although I feel guilty not paying greater attention, not feeling their sadness more deeply, I cannot read any more. I see those pictures, and I know that feeling of watching helplessly, of crying until your eyes heart and refuse to produce any more tears. Until your body aches from your muscles shaking so hard for hours on end. Knowing the killer’s name, his twisted motives, or the exact extent of the carnage won’t help me understand any more.

We all know that feeling, from some day some where. I don’t know if I can ever describe the heaviness I felt in my heart waking up the morning of September 12th. Having been too young to experience a hangover, I had nothing to which to compare the cold, heavy, saddened, sober feeling. In a way, my childhood was over. The America, the invincible, never defeated, never anything put perfect America I had been taught about as a child was a lie. People hated us, and they were willing to let us know.

So we cry, because it seems like the only logical thing to do is to mourn a world so full of hate. And we know that no amount of hand holding and kumbayah-ing can change that reality. But on that day when the tears have flown dry, we will stop between the shaking sobs, and began to breathe.


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7 links

So Jenna of That Wife tagged me in a meme called “7 Links” and so I decided to play along. It was originally started by Caitlin of Healthy Tipping Point and I haven’t done one of these since middle school so I figured it would be fun to play along. The premise is picking different posts you have done but since this is a relatively new blog, some of these my be kind of a stretch.

Most Beautiful Post

One of my favorite posts is this one titled Wind” href=”https://blueberriesforme.wordpress.com/2010/04/08/wind/” target=”_blank”>Wind which I actually wrote on my old blog (spocrazy.blogspot.com, though all the content is now on this one) to chronicle my JVC experience for friends and family. One of my favorite JVC experience was spending Easter in Hays, Montana, a tiny reservation town of 400 people, an hour and a half away from the nearest grocery store. The Easter Vigil was one of the most surreal and beautiful things I have experienced even though it was a holiday like none other.

Most popular post

Far and away, my most popular post is In Which I Attempt Advocacy, a post about why I am against the death penalty. I think it’s mainly because people come across it searching for death penalty statistics, but I think it’s a good one. Montana came a little bit closer to taking it off the books this year.  I’d love to hear more discussion on the topic; I think in states where executions are less common (unlike in Virginia and Texas) it’s easy to forget about.

Most Controversial Post

Unfortunately, my blog hasn’t stirred up too much controversy. I try to ruffle people’s feathers but no one ever takes the bait! I guess you could say this post on Is Marriage a Right or a Privilege? is controversial, especially since it goes against the Church’s current position on gay marriage. I believe that religious ideologies and civil liberties are separate issues, however, and that to truly love and accept people, we must fight for their rights.

Most Helpful Post

This one isn’t going to be universally helpful, and I can’t say that it has really even helped anyone. But it was helpful for me to right and hopefully encouraging to others dealing with the same problems I am. I have a chronic bladder disorder as well as pelvic problems, so I have been doing Physical Therapy to help deal with the pain. Since PT for down-there-problems isn’t too common, I wrote out my experience so that people who are considering it might have an idea of what to expect.

I also feel like my post on How Not To Bike Like an Idiot might be helpful, but I don’t think my readers are idiots so it’s probably not reaching the right audience.

Post whose success surprised you

Probably this post on Ten Things To Donate to a Homeless Shelter Besides Your Old Socks. I’ve worked at homeless shelters for a couple years, and we deal a lot with donations. My two biggest suggestions for those of you who won’t read the post: 1) only donate stuff that you would think people would actually want; it’s not a way to just get rid of stuff you’d otherwise throw away and 2) call ahead!

A post you feel didn’t get the attention it deserved

Okay, maybe this is just because I’m not as good of a writer as I think I am, but back around Easter I shared a piece of fiction which was a re-writing of the biblical passage where Simon helps Jesus carry his cross into a modern day setting involving two homeless men. I was kinda nervous about sharing it and a little disappointed it didn’t get much feedback. Even if it was just like “Please, for the sake of us all, never post fiction again.”

The Post You are the Most Proud of

Ugh, this is a tough one! I have more I want to link too! ‘Cause I’m self absorbed like that. Why else would I blog. I’m gonna nominate two, cause I can. First is Getting Upset Over Boys Wearing Nail Polish is Bad – for Girls, a post about the hooplah over a J Crew ad where a kindergarten boy had pink toe nail polish on. The horror. The second is Abuse: What Can We Do, my response as a parishioner to my role in the Catholic Church’s sex scandal.


I feel like I’ve linked to all my social-justicey type posts, so hopefully you think I am really smart and pensive all the time. If that’s the case and you choose to explore my blog more, please skip over all the posts where I talk about being a terrible wife and how hard it is to fly to Montana. Please.

And the nominees are….

Emily at Day in the Life

Lisa at Granola Catholic

Nina at All Tumble Down

Dweej at House Unseen

Margaret at  Felice Mi Fa 

I have no idea if these people are meme type people, but if so, have fun at play along! If not, go check out their blogs anyway.

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For the purposes of this post, I am going to talk mainly about homeless women, because I think our expectations of homeless women is more different than the reality than it is with men.

We have this idea of helping the poor. A PB&J sandwich made with love. A warmly knitted hat. A few quarters in a tin can that were only going to find their way to the bottom of the your sock drawer. Then we get the warm and fuzzies and think to ourselves, I want to do more.

So we decide to volunteer at the local women’s shelter. And it’s different than we thought it would be. Can’t quite put my finger on it at first. Sure, we expected it would be hard to see the struggles and torments of some of these women’s lives, but that’s not it. We think about it and mull it over and suddenly realize it. We feel awful for thinking it but the truth is, I don’t always like the clients.

In some ways, we have idolized the poor, picturing them not as individual humans in need, but as a potential object for our charity. We first think their role is to be served, and second think of them as actors in a world that has created their life situation.

So when we come bearing gifts of time, food, money, clothing, the reaction can easily be disappointing.

“These clothes are ugly.”

“I’m sick of spaghetti for dinner.”

The people I know who have dedicated significant portions of their time to working with low-income and homeless women, good, knowledgeable, and well-intentioned people, often express this disenchantment when first starting to work with homeless women.

Maybe they are brash and crude, not the kind, silent “battered women” victims of television. Maybe they didn’t say thank you for the homemade cookies. Maybe they yell at their kids more than makes you feel comfortable. Maybe you question their judgment about buying a new cellphone when they could’ve spent that money on getting groceries instead of going to the food bank that week. Maybe they struggle with drugs and alcohol and other problems besides abuse and poverty.

The truth is, poverty isn’t pretty. We picture people’s lives being so empty and barren that we think even this small glimpse of kindness will make a difference, make them smile, make them grateful. But think back to the lowest, most difficult, absolute worst time in your life. Were your words gracious? Was your demeanor sunny and full of hope? Were you grateful for everything that came your way or did you ever just want to scream, I don’t need another casserole! I need a Valium!!

The stress of abject poverty can put a toll on a person, and as we all know from experience, chronic stress can make us not so fun to be around. But remember, although we are called to treat everyone we serve as if they were Jesus, they aren’t required to act like Jesus to be served. So if you are considering volunteering with homeless or low income women, don’t be surprised if your experiences don’t line up with a Lifetime movie or Chicken Soup for the Soul excerpt. It will still be worth it.


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If you’ve ever been to a youth group, or a young adult’s bible study, or read a Catholic/Christian blog, or turned on a presidential debate, you’ve heard about sex.

And Christians like to criticize the mainstream media for being obsessed with sex. Hypocrites, we are.

Seriously. There is a lot of talk about sex. Sex. Sex. Sex. Done blushing? Okay, good. ‘Cause we’re going to talk about sex more in this post.

Gay sex. Straight sex. Teenagers having sex. Teenagers having sex and having babies. Unplanned consequences of sex. How to prevent those unplanned consequences. Abstinence only. Sex education. Gay marriage. Protecting marriage. Waiting for marriage. Modesty. The pill. Little blue pills (okay you know what, I’ve never heard a Christian argue against that one). Celibacy. Gay celibacy. Straight celibacy. Whose having sex that shouldn’t be having sex. Children out of wedlock. Civil unions. Birth control. Abortion. Wearing white on your wedding day. Divorce. Kissing. Not kissing. Porn.

I swear, looking at Christianity from the outside, you would think it was a bunch of rules talking about sex. Take this comment I received after my post on gay marriage:

I think it would really benefit you to attend a few RCIA classes at your Parish to find out what Catholicism is all about. If you disagree with many of the teachings….gay marriage, abortion, getting married without any interest in having children….maybe you should look for a new Church.

While I appreciate the offer to leave the Church (though I thought invites were supposed to go the other way around?), I was surprised to hear this fella’s definition of what Catholicism is “all about.” Apparently, it’s all about sexual ethics.

Last I checked, that wasn’t the case.

What was the greatest commandment? Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind. The second? Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:36-40

Now don’t get me wrong. Sexual ethics are important and they deserve a place in faith discussions. But when we start acting like sex is the most important thing, we’ve gone way, way off base.

Take all the discussion of modesty, for instance. While rabbinic scholars might have debated how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, modern day Christians spend ages discussing which is sexier: a t-shirt falling just below the collar bone or a skirt that comes right above the knee. Either way, the consensus is that too much of the female body should not show lest it tempt some man into lustful thoughts.

I don’t appreciate the insinuation that my body is for sex and for sex alone, and that any sight of it must be equated with sex. This is the body God gave me, to worship with, to work with, to bear children in, to enjoy the world through, to be a temple for him. It is not solely for sex and thus the sight of it need not be equated with sex.

Or gay marriage. Even if its legalization does mark the end of society as we know it, though even conservatives have admitted that’s not true, what about all the other things tearing our civilization apart? The hunger crisis in Somalia, or the fact poverty is contributing to excess mortality? We have far more important things to worry about than who is getting it on with whom.

Let’s stop talking about sex. It’s not what we are all about. I mean, Paul said we should stop having it anyway, so…. But we’re better than this. We’ve got a better message to send than this.


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In short: because hamburgers are the most delicious food ever invented.

In long:

We don’t eat a ton of meat at Chez Blueberries. Which might surprise you if you know us, because we’re big fans of the stuff. But the truth is, 3/4 of our dinners are probably vegetarian, and virtually all of our breakfasts and lunches. If you count fish (’cause you know, fish don’t have little animal souls so they don’t really count) it’s probably more like 1/2 of our dinners are truly vegetarian.

Growing up  Irish Catholic, we both would go exactly 8 days a year without eating meat (Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent). I’m assuming for John anyway, but I know for me, at least two meals a day would feature meat as the star of the plate. Fast forward to college when I began living with a vegetarian (well technically a pescatarian but no one walks around calling themselves a pescatarian), though having no real ideological basis for her vegetarian state, she had little interest in converting me to her veggie only ways. The experience of cooking for myself full time meant that meat was becoming less and less a part of my diet. It was definitely still an every day part but occasionally I would mix up a meatless spaghetti-and-jarred-sauce entree. I was quite the chef.

I think the transition to meat-less (to be distinguished from meatless) began with this cookbook:

The Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special. To survive during my insanely busy college years (I swear, I think I hardly sat down besides to study before 10 most nights) I took to stirring up a pot of potage each week. Black bean soup, tortilla soup, Texas two bean soup, cucumber soup. Name a vegetable and I have probably pureed it into soup form. My JVC housemates in Spokane joked that whenever it was my turn to cook, it was soup. They were probably right. I think I made ziti once though.

The Moosewood cookbooks are incredible. People like to say “I don’t know how to cook vegetarian” to which I snarkily reply “Its easy, you leave out the meat in recipes.” And while that is how most of our JVC-induced vegetarian cooking went (when you have a budget of $14 a week per person for food, meat is not common), the Moosewood recipes are solid enough that you are halfway through the dish before you realize its veggie.

But I’m not a vegetarian. And even though this summer, with a CSA, an odd work schedule, and no air conditioning, our frying pans haven’t seen too much meat, I have no plans to become one. First off is the fact that I am on a strict low-acid diet, so cutting out a whole food group is a bad idea (and veganism would be beyond impossible so I won’t even go there).

But mainly, I have no qualms eating meat. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the country, but I am okay with the idea that some animals are dinner and some are pets. While I believe that animals are valuable creatures who contribute to the complexity of our eco-system and were put on this earth by God, I do not believe they have souls.

On the other hand, I do understand that vegetarianism is more sustainable, and if we truly want to feed all these people in the world, we need to think about how we are eating. Cows eat way more than we do, and thus take up a lot more land to feed one person than if you were just growing edible produce on that land. And so I believe that, if you eat meat, it should be done with consideration; it should be viewed as a luxury and not as a necessary part of your diet. To me that’s a far more convincing argument than animals have souls. ‘Cause you know, I’m a selfish person who believes human needs come first, and so if eating less meat is better for people (both health-wise and feeding-the-world-wise) then so be it.

But you know what? Besides this blog, I don’t go around talking about the fact that I don’t eat a lot of meat. I’m not going to label myself a “flexitarian” or create rules like “I only eat meat that I know where it comes from.” I’ll make a concerted effort to eat meat that is better for me, better for the earth, but that’s about it. Maybe I just don’t care enough and maybe one day I’ll care more, but for now I’m good. I’ll sink my teeth into a buffalo burger any day of the week. Well, unless it’s a Friday and during Lent.

I am at peace with this decision. I believe it’s honoring God’s creation without being legalistic. While I don’t miss meat at a meal without it, I certainly appreciate it when it’s there.

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It’s a hot one today.

Eighty degrees and climbing. I know I’m still resting in the shade of the Rocky Mountains, one of the coolest places in the country as this heat wave blasts through the nation as if someone had opened an oven door and let the heat pour out.

I love it.

Nothing feels better than holding a cool ice cube up to your forehead and letting it melt, dripping down your face an onto your lips, salty as the water mixes with your sweat. Pouring a cool cup of water over your head as you finish a bike ride, a race, or a day of gardening. Stepping into a shower and letting the water hit you in that one unbearable spot on your back between your shoulder blades, sending shockwaves of coolness right through your body.

I love it.

Summer time is freedom.

No extra layers to add on, worrying if you are bundled up enough, calculating how quickly you can get from point a to point b in the snow. There is no scraping windshields or shoveling sidewalks. Sandals, shorts, t-shirts and out the door.

Maybe not everyone would trade the shivering for the sweating, but I would in a heart beat. In the summer all you need to do is to be. To rest. To find a glass of sweet tea and some shade and to just sit and listen to the world.

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I’ve seen a lot of searches coming to my blog lately with JVC questions like “what to wear” and “what to pack.” So to any future JVs leaving for orientation in two weeks that might be reading this blog, or anyone who is considering a year of service, I, as a former Jesuit Volunteer with 2 years of experience, can tell you (with 90% assuredness) what your year will be like.

Orientation will be the longest week of your life

You discerned, you prayed, you talked to your friends and family, you applied. You were interviewed, and interviewed again, and maybe even a third time. You have filled out countless forms and completed your physicals, graduated from college and for the 1000th time explained to someone what the Jesuit Volunteer Corps is (it’s kinda like a faith based Americorps type program where I will live in community, volunteer at an organization and make $80 a month) and can say it in one breath. You have waited during a painfully long summer, saying goodbye to everyone and everything you’ve known, you have packed in two impossibly small suitcases and have boarded your plane for this grand adventure.

And finally, finally you are here. And now you must wait another week before you go onto actually starting your JVC year. But relax. Listen. You will get there soon enough. You might come away scared out of your mind, convinced that your housemates are crazy, and sore from sitting in plastic folding chairs all week. But you will be home soon.

Your expectations will surface and then be shattered

Now after spending a week hearing “let go of your expectations” you have convinced yourself you have. But trust me, they will arise when you are least expecting them. Maybe sometime mid-winter when you have realized JVC wasn’t exactly what you were expecting, but you still have that nagging desire to (fill in the blank) play more, pray with your house more, travel more, live a more simple life, have a job with more responsibilities, have a job with less responsibilities.

Observe them as they come up, and do not judge them. Do not be heartbroken when your expectations are not met. But learn to see what else is in store for you.

You will fall in love

For me, it was with my housemate that I thought was pretty cute as soon as I got his picture in the mail. 6 weeks later we were dating, terrified that we would somehow wrench our house apart. But they were nothing but excited and supportive and thrilled to be at our wedding two years later.

You will fall in love. With someone, with something. I don’t know what it is yet. But if you keep your heart open you will fall in love with your town, with the tribe, with the mountains surrounding your house, with biking to work, with that new food you had never heard of, with your clients, with God in a new way, with the big sky. It will happen if you let it.

Whatever you do for Christmas, it will feel like the wrong decision

During orientation, your leaders will urge you to stay in your community for Christmas and immediately you will say “well I would, but I promised my mother I would go home and while my community is important my family is more important and I just don’t think I am ready to do that yet and unless my job requires me to work I am going home.” And then you will go home and think about your housemates you left behind.

Or you will stay, and it will be hard. You might have to work and while you may have this incredibly moving life changing Christmas experience that so many others have had, you may just end up working like it’s any other day, and watching movies with your housemates that night. You might spend the afternoon alone trying to call all of your friends who are too busy celebrating to answer, leaving you to stare out the window, alone and crying.

But you will remember that that is what Christmas is about. Loneliness, coldness, and tiny star in the night sky telling you that hope has come. It is light in the darkness, and it will be a Christmas like none other.

You will realize $80 is a lot of money, and not a lot of money.

You will quickly see that the monthly stipend of $80 is more than some of your clients have in their pocket, ever. And that when you have room and board taken care of (though you will probably have to budget some to cover those), $80 of “fun money” left over is not that bad of a deal at all.

Then you will run out of shampoo, of toothpaste, and the holes in your jeans have worn completely through. And a friend gets married and sends you the link to her registry, an all of a sudden $80 (or the $20 you have left over after buying jeans and toothpaste, well, make that $18.03 because you treated yourself to a cup of coffee earlier that month) is not a lot of money at all.

But while you may have to turn down social invitations and send people homemade gifts, you will be surrounded by others doing the same thing. You will never worry about going hungry or becoming homeless. And you will realize that’s all the financial stability you need.

You will have fights over what to have for dinner

There is no way around it – deciding what to eat will be tough. You will shudder at the thought of putting expired, canned, processed, commodity food into your body since to you, “simple living” meant returning to nature, to real food, to wholeness. Or you will roll your eyes at the suggestion that you only shop organically, since to you “simple living” meant eating in solidarity with those rummaging through garbage cans and shopping at the food bank.

But let it go. You are breaking bread together, and that is what is important.

You will work hard

You will come home at the end of the day tired, exhausted. Not every day, maybe not every week, but there will be days. It may be the ache of an honest days work, or it may be the relentless frustration of ramming your head up against a wall of social injustice day after day. You will work hard. So rest hard; play hard.

You will deeply regret your decision to do JVC

There will be times of deep doubt, where you are thisclose to calling home and booking the next flight out of there. You will hate your job, your community mates, your town, the winters, the eighth-day-in-a-row of tomato soup for dinner. And you will be done. You quit, you tell everyone.

Have a little mercy on yourself, on those around you. Take a deep breath and rest a while. The (especially in the northwest) long hard winters cooped up with nothing to do but fight with your housemates can take a toll. Get out and stretch your legs a little. Pray hard. Remember why you came on this adventure in the first place and what you have left that you would like to do. Spring will come, and you will survive and wonder what was ever the problem in the first place.

You will have fun

Despite the work, the struggles, the challenges, you will have a blast. Hiking or biking or canoeing. Getting your car stuck in the mountains in rural Montana. Getting lost on your way back from Canada. Spinning around in the backyard until you fall down. Playing games you haven’t played since you were in middle school. Exploring your house and the treasures left from JVs past. Potlucks. Lots and lots of potlucks. Playing with the children in your day care. Cracking jokes with a homeless man. There will be joy.

You will make a difference

You probably won’t see it, but it will be there. I promise you.

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