Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Works for me: meal packs

For more helpful hints, visit Works for Me Wednesday at Rocks in My Dryer.

Before I was married I often cooked meals that made multiple portions. This saved me time, money, and the risk of opting for convenience foods at lunch time or at the end of a tiring day. Plus, I enjoy leftovers and don't mind eating the same food several days in one week. Thankfully, my husband feels the same way and is just as committed to taking meals to work with him as I am. So we continue to do something I began years ago: making "meal packs" with our leftovers.

Rather than storing large amounts of leftovers in one big container and then divvying them out each night or morning to take them to work, we save time and dirty fewer dishes by portioning our leftovers into containers as soon as we're done eating dinner. Since we've been married (almost 10 months!) we've primarily used these Pyrex bowls with lids because we can just vent the lid and pop them into the microwave at work (I no longer microwave in plastic containers so as to avoid having chemicals leach into the food).

Meal packs are a "grab and go" time-saver, money-saver, energy-saver (fewer dishes), and health-saver. That works for me!

PS For the curious: the meal pictured is a simple broccoli and chicken stir fry using Asian Essence seasoning and served over brown rice. Light and delicious!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The right writing

I haven't posted in a long time, and the longer I wait to write something the stranger it feels. These past two weeks of anticipating and then starting the new job have been demanding upon my mind and energy and they've left me emotionally exhausted. But this long weekend has helped me to relax a little and gain some perspective (11 hours of sleep Friday night, oh yeah). My work as an associate editor is challenging, and technology problems have made it even more difficult. I knew that I would grow in virtue by taking this position - I didn't know that patience would be first on the list. Computers are so powerful and so necessary, and thus they are sometimes (often?) so complicated (prone to "issues") and so frustrating. Lord, help me be patient as I await a reliable computer and help me to remember always that technology is a gift not to be taken for granted.

In my first week of work I did quite a bit of writing. Nothing very long, but several different projects that required researching saints and their writings. I enjoyed the challenge of condensing life stories and the essence of books into a few sentences. But it did sap my creative energies a bit and left me wondering whether I still want to blog.

Soon after we began
Loving and Serving, David asked me to explain why I wanted to blog. He wrote my answers down:

1) To foster community with like-minded people (e.g., young Catholic couples, frugal Christians, homeschooling moms) and family and friends (especially those we do not see regularly).

2) To evangelize by sharing about God's blessings in our lives and reflecting on faith, love, and beauty.

3) To practice writing and to get our work "out there" just in case someday someone would see what we've written and open doors for us to fulfill our dreams (for me, to work in the Catholic publishing industry, preferably as a freelance editor, and for David, to write novels with spiritual meaning).

Well, four months into blogging we were making headway with the first two goals. Then, beyond my wildest imagining, the third possibility
became an actuality for me. My prospective employer actually visited the blog and thereby determined that I can write and I have some aesthetic sensibility. I'm still amazed.

The Director has mentioned the possibility of my blogging for Saint Benedict Press. We haven't fully developed this plan yet, but I'm wondering if I will be spreading myself too thin by writing and blogging on the job
and writing here, too. Of course, what David and I share on Loving and Serving is different than what my work requires of me - this is more personal and not limited to one subject area.

What do you think? If you write for your work and maintain a personal blog, I'd love to hear how and why you balance the two.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

You know you're married when...

I have this unhealthy desire to hug my pillow, especially after a long day. (Yes, I know I’m losing manhood points, but this is worth it.) So, after a long day, I’m sitting on the couch hugging my pillow, which my wife knows is a security blanket substitute, and she sits down next to me and puts her foot on my pillow.

I gave her a withering look. “Is your foot on my pillow?”
After a small pause, a defiant smile crept upon my wife’s lips.
I continued, “Lift up your leg and I’ll move my pillow up.”
She complied.
I flipped the pillow over so as not to smell possible lingering foot odor and the uncovered part of the pillow ended up near my face.
Frances’ eyes narrowed and she lifted the uncovered pillow away from my face. “Don’t get your face oils on the pillow.”
“Are you instructing me on how to hold my pillow?”

Without warning, she lunged for the pillow with a wicked grin. She pulled gently as if testing me, but my mind reeled from the fact that my wife was trying to take my pillow away from me. (How dare she!) She pulled; I pulled back.

Inward struggle revealed: I was giving too much attention to the pillow as I was holding it. It was attention that she wanted. She was demanding that attention. The long day’s frustration was revealed in our eyes as they began to tear up.

I relinquished the pillow. “I love you.”

Within two seconds, she smiled and put the pillow back on my lap (open end away from my face…).

In the memorable words of Garfield: AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

A more visual representation of today's post will be portrayed by Linus' struggle with a certain beagle.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Now THAT'S customer service!

These past two weeks have been a bit stressful for me as I transitioned out of my Library job and prepared for my new Saint Benedict Press job. One would think that all my years of moving to new states, new homes, new schools, new relationships would have prepared me well for changes like this...and one would be right, to a certain extent. I can settle in fairly quickly, make new friends, and hit the ground running with my work. But I still stress a great deal in anticipation of it all!

My PLCMC coworkers did a fabulous job of reassuring me that, though I will be missed, I am doing the right thing. I almost felt like I floated out of the building on a cloud of well wishes and encouragement today. Everyone has a lot more confidence in me than I do in myself, it seems! Anyway, one of the loveliest things my supervisor did for me was organize a farewell luncheon with twelve of my coworkers for Wednesday. They took me to a nice little restaurant Uptown called Feast, where they serve food in a French-Moroccan style. I'd love the opportunity to try most of their menu choices, but I opted for the chicken satay on this visit and was delighted by the moist, flavorful chicken with avocado and carrot salad over rice. YUM!

We were fortunate to have the restaurant manager as our waiter that day. In addition to his warm welcome and attentive service, he provided two especially generous treats that I want to share with you. First, he came to visit our table while we waited for our food. While my coworkers responded "fine" or "good" to his "how are you all doing?", I burst out with a candid "I'm hungry!" and a smile. He slipped away quietly and, not five minutes later, bestowed on me a plate of fresh fruit, including the most delicious strawberries I've eaten yet this year. "On the house," he assured me, noting his special privilege as the manager to attend to his customers' needs this way.

Later in the meal one of my coworkers found a bug in her salad. The manager apologized and offered her a replacement, which she declined without hard feelings. He then explained that the organic greens they use are more prone to intruders than the pesticide-laced salads we might eat elsewhere. Makes sense! But he would not let the incident remain at that - near the end of our meal he set a silver platter of chocolate-covered strawberries with whipped cream at my coworkers' place and invited her to share it with everyone - again, on the house. The strawberries were even more delicious under chocolate!

Now that I am no longer working Uptown I don't know if I'll ever have the opportunity to eat at Feast again. But if I do, I definitely will!

Photo credit: Joits

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Deo Gratias: God gave Frances a new job!

To continue the story from this post...

Exactly one week ago today I received a phone call from a fellow parishioner (the NFP dad). In his voicemail he told me that his company had a position opening that he thought I might be well suited to and he invited me to call his brother-in-law to find out more. I was on my way to an appointment, so I debated whether to make the call in the 20 or so minutes I had before the appointment or wait until afterwards. I waited. Then, safely in my car in the parking deck (with shade, silence, and privacy), I made that fateful phone call.

I am not sure how much detail to provide here - if you have questions about some specifics I neglect, feel free to ask in the comments or via email. Here goes:

The Director of Publishing of Saint Benedict Press, currently based in Gastonia, NC, (about 20 minutes outside of Charlotte) is expanding the business and looking for an Associate Editor to help him write book prefaces and back cover descriptions and contribute to decision making on all aspects of the business, from marketing to artwork to book selection. For various reasons deadlines loom and he needs a right-hand man (or woman) as soon as possible. Ideally, this person would possess writing and editorial skills, the ability to handle all sorts of practical and creative business needs, AND a lively Catholic faith with a strong appreciation for quality Catholic literature.

We chatted for about half an hour and then he invited me to meet him in person - as soon as possible. I shared without any need for secrecy that I was on my way to Adoration and Mass at St. Ann's and would not be available until 8 pm. He agreed to meet me at a coffee place five minutes from where I live at that time.

With my heart racing and my mind reeling, I called David as I drove to church. He listened and then encouraged me to be open and put it all before the Lord in prayer. We met in the church parking lot and went in for some awesome Jesus time. As I prayed I realized all the things I love about my current job (great environment, varied work, excellent pay and benefits, and not too much stress) and all the reasons I had concerns about taking a new job at this stage of our life, especially one that was further away, promised to be more stressful, and paid less. I left Mass believing that this was not the right opportunity for me.

But when I spoke with the Director on the phone on my way home, he listened to all of my concerns and countered them: the commute isn't really very long or difficult (just 35 minutes going the opposite direction than most on the highway), the job might be stressful at times but not constantly, and he was willing to negotiate salary. When I told him point-blank "we're hoping to be blessed with a baby soon and I'm concerned about starting a new job, being sick in the first few months, and then having to leave less than a year later" he assured me "we can work with that." Can you believe it? (Keep in mind that he and his wife have five children ages six and under. And that they met at Franciscan.)

So I agreed to meet with him as planned. We spent almost 2 hours sitting at a table in the open air, talking about Catholic classics, business practices, artistic design, and my background. I left with a lot of excitement and uncertainty.

On Thursday afternoon the Director called. He wanted me to visit the offices of Saint Benedict Press and its parent company, Good Will Publishers. The CEO and other key personnel needed to meet me. We coordinated our schedules and I drove out to Gastonia that very afternoon. (Can you believe how quickly this was all going?) For another 2 hours I toured the facility, learned all about Good Will, chatted with employees, and endured a grilling from the CEO. Once again, I left excited. But was I ready for such a big change? Was this really what God wanted me to do?

I spoke with friends and family and discussed the pros and cons. I prayed fervently - I haven't been so communicative and close with God in a long time (I call the whole ordeal the "spiritual kick in the pants" I needed). On Friday morning I shared the possibility of a new job, my dream job, with my supervisor and a few friends at work. Their overwhelming response: do it. This is an opportunity not to be missed.

Mid morning the Director called: "we want to offer you the position." (Fact check: that's less than 48 hours from finding out about the job to being offered the job. Whoa!) My response: "my husband wants to meet you" (quite a logical request, considering that I would be spending much time one-on-one with this other guy). The Director agreed to meet us for lunch. Over lunch, David asked all the questions that he needed to ask, in a gentle but serious way. I loved him so much for that! The Director's answers satisfied David, and we told him we would take the weekend to discern our response.

Lots of great conversations and prayers ensued and by Sunday we were certain that God had orchestrated this blessing. Despite the sacrifices taking this job necessitates in our lives (I will be away from home more, our costs will go up and our income will decrease, and the stress might further delay our hope for pregnancy), we see that God will use it to challenge me spiritually in the best of ways (I will be reading awesome spiritual texts) and provide a beautiful opportunity for me to evangelize (I will be writing to encourage others to read these awesome spiritual texts). I will use all the skills I've developed in school and my previous employment experiences. And, I do believe, this work will bring me great joy. (It makes me chuckle to realize I actually told the CEO I have a gift of joy. It was so refreshing to be completely transparent about my faith the entire time.)

I filed my two-week notice at the library on Monday. Friday, May 16, 2008, will be my last day with PLCMC. Although my first official day at Saint Benedict's will be the following Monday, I've already started writing for an assignment. Here I go!

We truly appreciate your prayers as we go through this transition and prepare for whatever God might have in store for us!

I'll take my towels without the tags, please

This week Shannon asked participants in her Works for Me Wednesday roundup to submit posts about what DOESN'T work for us.

Towel tags do not work for me!

I recently decided to remove all the tags from our wash cloths, hand towels, and bath towels. They kept scratching my skin and getting in the way, like thorns on a rose (though, I have to say, rose stems just aren't the same without them - thorns seem to add a painful beauty to roses). Back to the matter at hand: towel tags really serve no purpose for me. I always wash my towels the same way, regardless of what special treatment their tags say they need. So, off with their heads!

And now washing and drying (for me, not the towels) is a much more pleasant experience.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Frances' new job: the background

First, let me set the scene: my junior year of high school we were required to complete a career project that included a presentation in front of my English class. I chose to research and share about being a Book Editor because I excelled in spelling, grammar, and writing and thought editing books sounded like a pretty cool job. I still remember the B.E.B. (Book Editor's Bag) I brought to class for my presentation - a brown paper bag decorated and filled with funky props that helped me tell the story of book editors. I had a little plastic ladder that prompted me to talk about the steps one goes through to become a book editor and how to make one's way up the chain of the command in a publishing house.

In college I majored in English - mostly literature with a little creative writing thrown in for good measure. I also took a class called "Composition Theory and Pedagogy" as training to become a tutor in our college Writer's Workshop. In the workshop (usually 4-6 hours each week) I helped hundreds of students develop, edit, and revise their scholarly papers on a variety of exciting and not-so-exciting topics. Overall, I really enjoyed the work.

As I thought about a future career for myself (although I never really saw myself as a career woman - I knew I'd leave work in a heartbeat when the Lord blessed my future husband and I with our first child), my love of editing and my love of my faith came together in one thought: Catholic publishing. I knew I'd have to start entry-level and gain experience to become an editorial assistant (or maybe something even higher!) with a publisher of Catholic books.

After college I became a Benedictine Lay Volunteer at Queen of Angels Monastery in Mt. Angel, Oregon. I'd love to share more about that some other time.

From Oregon I moved to New Jersey. I searched for Catholic publishing houses online and discovered that they are mostly in New York and Chicago. I found one in Eastern PA but it didn't call me for an interview. I applied to a couple of secular publishing houses in Philadelphia (to get my foot in the door of the publishing industry) but got no responses. Instead, I took a job with the Diocese and ended up loving it.

When I searched for a job in Charlotte I barely considered publishing. I found a great position in the Public Library and have worked there for almost 2 years.

Near the end of last year David and I went out to lunch with a family from our parish (the couple had instructed us in Natural Family Planning during our engagement). As we chatted over our food the subject of schooling or employment came up and I spoke of my dream to work in the Catholic publishing field as an editor. The father of the family shared that he works for his wife's family's business, a Christian publishing company. He said it wasn't hiring at the time but he would keep me in mind if something ever came up. I proceeded to forget about that conversation for 6 months - that is, until I received a phone call on Wednesday.

To be continued...

Photo credit: sgs_1019

Friday, May 2, 2008

Oh, the cuteness!

I cannot keep all the cuteness to myself! Check out these recent submissions to Cute Overload:

Momma otter showing off baby from Radikal Foto.

A smiling fishy!

Nose nibbling monkey from

I do not appreciate the foul language Cute Overload host Meg uses in some of her posts, but I've received so much joy from the doses of cuteness she provides. Just thought I'd spread the love. :)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

O God Beyond All Praising

God is awesome! This morning as I left the church parking lot after Mass on my way to work, I was still praying intensely for guidance regarding a new opportunity. Ever since I discovered this possibility yesterday I have opened wide my mind and heart to God's will and knelt before Him in awe and love. Radical changes like this require radical reliance on God - and I find Him to be so trustworthy! As I passionately seek God's direction for my life I am also falling passionately in love with Him again. It is very good.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I turned on my car radio to listen to some calming classical music (I highly recommend WDAV 89.9 FM to my Charlotte readers) and Gustav Holst's "Jupiter" from The Planets was playing. And not just any old section of Jupiter, but THE VERY SECTION that Michael Perry set the lyrics of "O God Beyond All Praising" to. I fell in love with this hymn two years ago. My friend Ben gave copies to my fellow LOJ music ministers and I, hoping we would use it in a Mass or prayer meeting. Since then, I've heard Libera sing a different hymn ("I vow to thee my country") to the same music so beautifully on their Free CD. Then the Charlotte diocesan choir chose it for their concert at a Eucharistic Congress and our own parish choir (which, at the time, included me) sang it several times. I just discovered that "O God" was sung during Pope Benedict's Mass at St. Patrick's in New York on his recent US visit.

Check out these fabulous lyrics:

O God beyond all praising,
we worship you today
and sing the love amazing
that songs cannot repay;
for we can only wonder
at every gift you send,
at blessings without number
and mercies without end:
we lift our hearts before you
and wait upon your word,
we honor and adore you,
our great and mighty Lord.

Then hear, O gracious Savior,
accept the love we bring,
that we who know your favor
may serve you as our king;
and whether our tomorrows
be filled with good or ill,
we'll triumph through our sorrows
and rise to bless you still:
to marvel at your beauty
and glory in your ways,
and make a joyful duty
our sacrifice of praise.
I love this song so much that I practically begged David to let me include it in our wedding Mass. He gave in lovingly agreed, and the St. Ann's choir did a beautiful job of singing it during our procession into the church (none of that "Here Comes the Bride" froo fra - our wedding was all about giving glory to God).

O God, You ARE beyond praising, but I praise You still, even in the midst of my uncertainty. If this opportunity is a gift you are sending, I will receive it with wonder and gratitude. In the meantime, I lift my heart before you and wait upon your word.

Bag Tag Clothing System

If you read my random fact about the system I use to let me know how many times I've worn my clothes and thought, "wow, she is truly weird," then stop right here. The rest of this post is not for you. For those of you who requested more information, here goes:

I can't remember exactly when I developed my clothing timekeeper system, but I think it was during my volunteer stint at a Benedictine monastery in western Oregon. Every morning I'd dress up for Mass, especially when I was helping with music ministry (I played the guitar and sang). After breakfast I'd return to my room and change into my rugged jeans and sweatshirts for outdoor or kitchen work. When I put the skirts and blouses back on their hangers I knew I had only worn them an hour or two and they could be worn several more times before they needed to be washed. But how many times? And how would I know when they had reached the quota? I needed some way to indicate how many times or how long I'd worn my clothes so I won't under or over wash them. So I dipped into a stash of bread bag tags and twist ties in the kitchen and devised a very simple way to label the clothes I'd worn:

  • white and yellow = one full day (up to sixteen hours)
  • blue and green = half day
  • red and orange = quarter day (four or fewer hours)

Different hangers call for different markers - while the bag tags slip easily over wire hangers, only twist ties will loop around the thick plastic ones. Then bag tags can be attached to the twist ties. As tags add up, I usually change them out for larger denominations (this is getting crazier as I type!). Two reds and a blue can be exchanged for a white (which I usually have an abundance of - white seems to be the most popular bread bag tag color).

Three is the arbitrary number of days I chose to prompt a washing, so when I wear a dress that already had two whites on its hanger, it goes into the hamper at the end of the day. Only hand wash, dry clean only, and outerwear (jackets and sweaters) clothes get worn more days.

This methodology certainly won't work for everyone; I am fortunate to sweat very little (on the other hand, I am almost always cold). But because I genuinely care about being a good steward of my clothing, the earth's resources (water and energy fuels), and our finances, I employ this system to limit the amount of clothing I wash each week.

But I'm not obsessive about it. If the tags fall on the floor, if I travel and have to take everything off of hangers, if I wear tshirts and shorts out of my dresser drawers and have no way to tag them when I put them back in...oh well!

Did I miss anything? Feel free to ask questions. Oh, and, for the record, I do not inflict this craziness upon my husband. He employs a "scatter things on the floor or drape them over the cabinet doors" system of clothing disorganization.