A Bit of Country in the City

It’s been three weeks since we moved into our new place. We found a quirky, cozy little house to rent on the outskirts of town and have happily settled in to semi-country life. Our neighbors on one side are wonderfully neighborly, and the neighbors on the other side keep to themselves. The yard is big and waiting for someone to plant flowers and veggies. Outside the window, a bluejay is in the Japanese maple gathering supplies for his family that inhabits the old oak tree next-door.

We have several rose bushes, two grape vines, an avocado tree, and a lemon tree. The boys have been busy making fresh lemonade; the youngest wants to open a lemonade stand over the summer. He gathers bright yellow flowers from the sour grass patches for bouquets. We’ve been weeding, pruning, and digging in preparation for a flowerbed.

The house was built in the 1920s. It’s a Winchester Mystery House mishmash, with some slanty walls and floors. The outside is a cheerful yellow, with a white picket fence. The baby has her own room, which sadly has not led to her suddenly sleeping all the way through the night, but I am hopeful that she will eventually learn that sleep is a good thing for everyone.

We are very happy in our new surroundings! Being out of tiny apartments and having a bit of earth to dig around in is so much better for the soul. We are looking forward to growing beautiful flowers and good things to eat. This spring is a bright new beginning for our family, and I’m sure the future holds many blessings.

Will you be my bridesmaid?

Proposing to the bridesmaids is a cute trend that I wanted to include in my wedding plans. I’ve seen a lot of clever ideas but wanted to keep it fairly simple since one of the main reasons I’m making things myself is to save some money. Weddings are expensive!

Google “will you be my bridesmaid” and tons of ideas pop up! There are boxed ring pops, bridesmaid dress cookies, humorous cards, paper dolls, and care packages. I came up with my own project that would acknowledge my relationship with each girl, ask them if they wanted to be a part of our wedding, and pass on the information they needed for the role.

Here is what I came up with.

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I bought a pack of blank white linen cards and added my own embellishments. The hangers are paperclips! I wrote a personalized note to each of my bridesmaids inside.

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Then I got some fun, glittery photo books in different colors. I took out the sample photo in the front window and added something decorative.

IMG_0945Finally, I used Microsoft Word and created tables sized to the pages in the photo books and printed out four pages of wedding info on vellum paper. Some pretty card stock with flourishes was cut to the same size and placed behind each piece of vellum. This gave the information a nice presentation. The pages included wedding details, bridesmaid contact information, dress shopping details, and my hopes for the fun we’ll have creating memories in preparation for our wedding day.

IMG_0952I hand-delivered three out of four and mailed the final booklet to my out-of-state bridesmaid. The girls loved receiving these personal touches inviting them to be a part of our celebration!

Wedding Dress Upcycle Project

At the end of August, the boyfriend and I got engaged. As soon as the ring was on my finger I had a dozen plans envisioned. We’re planning a wedding on a very small budget, so I will be crafting several do-it-yourself (DIY) projects over the next several months. My first big project is the dress.

Casablanca Dress

I found this dress on eBay for $130. It’s a sample gown from Casablanca Bridal. You can see it modeled here. I love this dress! It’s silky ivory taffeta with pearls, beads, crystals, and a fabulously long train. The only real defect was that the zipper head was missing.

To make the dress more personal, I decided to add some colored tulle to the underskirt and exchange the zipper for a corset back. I’ve seen tons of articles about dying crinolines to match the wedding colors, but I didn’t want to mess with dye. Instead, inspired by this post, I went to Jo-Ann Fabrics and loaded up on navy netting and medieval blue tulle. I ripped the seam that connected the underskirt to the dress lining and sewed on a few layers of the blue tulle. This is the petticoat removed from the dress. Plain white. Blah.

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I ripped out the zipper so that I could add in a corset-style back. Here is the back as it looked originally. The zipper was quite boring.

Wedding Dress Back

Here is the back just after removing the zipper.

Zipper Removed for Corset Back

I’m following the instructions found here to add a corset back. The modesty panel will be in a matching ivory silky taffeta. I plan to see what it looks like with blue or silver lacing, but may likely end up with matching ivory lacing. I sort of like the idea of a secret splash of color just in the underskirt, but we’ll see.

After adding eight yards of blue netting and tulle, I sewed the petticoat back into the dress. I wasn’t quite satisfied with the amount of blue though, so I got some more tulle and will be adding it in soon. Here’s what it looks like so far.

Tulle Underskirt

This is such a fun project! It makes me wish I had a professional dress form and more time for sewing. I’d love to make all my own clothes!

Annulment In Hand

Friday afternoon I anxiously checked the mail, as is my daily habit. In May, I received the initial judgment on my petition for an annulment from the local Tribunal. They had tentatively granted the annulment, but the case had to be sent to another diocese for review. There’s no exact timeline on how long the review process takes; they simply said they’d notify me when the decision was final. After months of waiting, the letter arrived!

Looking back through the paperwork in my files and the posts I’ve written here about the process, I can see that it took a total of 18 months. I began gathering the necessary documents in March 2012. I then met with my parish priest to discuss the background of the case and fill out the petition. To open the case I had to gather the following: a written affidavit stating that I was conditionally baptized when I was privately received into the Catholic Church in February 2001, a new copy of my baptismal certificate from the Episcopal church where I was baptized as an infant, a copy of the paperwork stating that my dad adopted me when I was little (which is why my last name on my baptismal record is different than the last name I grew up with), a copy of the marriage certificate from my former marriage, a copy of the divorce decree, and a list of three witnesses who knew me and my ex when we were first married.

After the Tribunal received the documents, they sent me a list of questions to use to form a personal history. I was asked to describe my upbringing, personality, religious history, and to describe all the same for the ex. There were questions about our dating relationship, how we met, what led to the decision to marry, how the engagement went, the wedding and honeymoon, early married life, if there were any psychological problems, infidelity, or addictions, and what led to the divorce. It was deeply personal and not an easy process to dig through every dirty detail of our past life together.

The next step was to have the three witnesses complete similar questionnaires. I named my mom, one of my friends, and another friend known to the ex and myself. My mom didn’t care for the personal nature of the questions. The other friend chose not to share all the details that could have been shared because it seemed like “gossip.” Once their responses were received, the Tribunal began to investigate.

What was involved in the investigation is unknown to me. I’ve read about the process online and in books in a general way, but the Tribunal doesn’t invite you down to witness them discussing your individual case. They do the work and send you the results. If they need more clarification, they contact you or your witnesses. My case required the assistance of a psychologist after the investigation was complete.

At each point along the way, the Tribunal sends a letter to give an update. Each party in the case has an opportunity to respond and to examine the documents, but the timeframe is quite narrow; you must make an appointment within ten days of receiving the letter before the documents are no longer available to review. I wish that I had taken the opportunity, but it just wasn’t practical for me to do so.

I’ve been waiting to hear the Tribunal’s final decision for a long time. For those whose case is more simple, the process is much shorter. If you married and divorced someone who wasn’t baptized, or if you were Catholic and got married outside the Church, the case will go by much quicker. Since we were both baptized Christians when we married in our old church, we both converted to Catholicism, and we were married ten years with two kids–there was a lot more to review.

Eighteen months passed between getting the process started and receiving the final declaration. In that time, my thoughts about the process have changed significantly. When I first began writing my personal history for the Tribunal, I was in a place of deep pain and sorrow. I resented having to jump through this hoop. I wanted to cling to some remnant of the marriage and shout back at the Church, shaking my fist, “It’s mine and you can’t have it!” Since then, my heart has softened and I am thankful that the Church is so diligent in these matters.

Receiving an annulment doesn’t mean that the relationship that occurred was meaningless or insignificant. It doesn’t mean that it never existed, that we never loved each other, or that our children are now illegitimate (who thinks like that these days anyway?). A declaration of nullity is simply the Church saying that the marriage lacked some necessary element and was therefore not a sacrament.

The letter brings a tremendous sense of relief, as well as finality. I am glad that I can move on from that now. Soon the boyfriend and I can meet with a priest to discuss the next chapter of our lives. I am one step closer to being back in communion with the Church. Since the ex will receive a corresponding letter, I pray that he feels called back to the Church and seeks to have his current marriage blessed. For those resentful of the Church’s position on divorce, annulments, and remarriage, I encourage you to surrender to the process and see what comes of it. For myself, I embrace the Tribunal’s closing message, “We are aware that this process of investigation into your former marriage has been lengthy, demanding, and perhaps painful. It is our hope and prayer that you may find a large measure of peace and happiness now that the process has come to a conclusion.”

Starting Over at 35

When I was 13, I remember thinking that I just wanted to grow up and have a family. Being a career girl wasn’t a priority. I wanted an education for the sake of being an educated person, but ultimately I wanted to be a mom. Instead of completing my degree, I got married, had two babies, and began focusing on educating them.

Soon I’ll be receiving my bachelor’s degree in English Writing. Although the outrageous student loan balance would seem to indicate otherwise, I do not feel educated. I feel like I’ve jumped through the hoops necessary to receive external validation for the benefit of potential employers attesting to the fact that I am considered by a public educational facility to be a person who has received an education. What good is an education if that is the only outcome?

Maybe it’s because I’ve had to complete my degree online. In-person classes weren’t an option for me since the divorce. I’ve chipped away at my courses online and I’m finally nearing the finish. But the online experience is not the same as the in-person class experience. If I had to do it over again, I don’t think I would choose online classes. I love going to class in person. I like to hear the lectures and interact with other students. Fulfilling word counts and post limits is not the same. Online, you’re endlessly reading text. There’s no humanity in it at all.

Another thing is that I don’t feel any more prepared for the job market or workforce. In looking at the job descriptions for the positions relevant to my degree, they all want years of experience in the field as well as familiarity with various programs, some of which I’ve never even heard of. I feel like I’ll never catch up. I’ll be 36 and competing with people fresh out of college in their early 20s, who ARE familiar with, and experienced in, all of those programs.

Then I look at my baby girl and think, “What kind of childhood will I be able to give her?” I already can’t give my boys the childhood I dreamed of for them. I had to give up homeschooling in favor of my own schooling. We’re cramped in an apartment when they should be playing in a big backyard. I’m sure that a better way of life is an eventual possibility, but how old will my kids be by then?

Am I better off? I think in the long run, yes. Yes, I will one day be better off overall than I would have had I stayed where I was. Will the kids be better off? I’d like to think so. Their mother is treated better. My parenting of them has remained a source of continuity for them. We maintain our traditions. We have lots of good talks. In my partner, they see the example of a dad who really loves his baby and is devoted to their mother. There are positives, though the long-reaching effects of divorce are undeniable.

The degree, the divorce, the new partner, the new baby, all of these ends and beginnings… I found some posts online from when my oldest was a newborn. I can see that I don’t have anything any more figured out now than I did then. In a way, that’s reassuring. (In another way, it’s frustrating.) It’s reassuring in the sense that I’m more comfortable with myself. I’m secure in the unknowing. (It’s frustrating because I still haven’t found the miracle cure for getting babies to sleep and nap perfectly.)

So here’s to all of us finding our way, continually starting over…

For Posterity

Ever have an old website you wanted to look up? I found my old web page through the Way Back Machine the other day. After the ex and I converted to Catholicism, I set up a page that shared our conversion story and offered a reading list for people wondering why anyone would ever do such a thing. I copied the text and pasted it below.

The journey to this point has been an interesting one. It has been a difficult decision for some of our Protestant friends to accept, which is understandable given the attitude towards Catholicism found in many Protestant churches today. It has also been a lonely journey since we have had no one here to join us in our discovery of this beautiful and ancient Church. Nonetheless, we have arrived and we have no desire to turn back.

I was not raised in a Christian home. My grandparents were fairly religious, but my Papa stopped attending church after my Grammie passed away. He had been “all churched out.” I was baptized in the Episcopal Church when I was one month old. After my mom got married, we moved to a tiny town in Virginia where I attended Vacation Bible School at the local Baptist church. We really only went to church to meet people because our neighbors were so far apart in the country.

We moved back to California in 1986. In my sophomore year of high school I spent a semester at a Christian high school. At this time, I was learning about Wicca, but rarely practicing it. No one at the school told me how to become a Christian or even why I should, but during chapel I felt that I wanted what they had. Through a few Christian friends, I began to learn more about Christianity. After graduation in 1995, my husband (then boyfriend) and I began to read the Bible and became Christian that summer. We were baptized at the Evangelical Free Church. Had I known then what I know now, I would not have decided to get re-baptized.

X was raised in a Jehovah’s Witness home. His family was actively involved in this religion until he reached his teens.

After we became Christian, we were fairly involved in our church for a while before we fell away. We returned to Christianity within a year and soon after decided to attend a Bible college in Oregon. During our year at Bible college, we learned a lot about what it means to be a Christian. We were overwhelmed with the tremendous amount of information we took in. We also made some wonderful friends that we still keep in touch with today.

By this point, X had two main interests within Christianity–uniting the Church and the study of Church History. It wasn’t until the year before we were married that he really began to pursue these interests.

Two months before the wedding, X moved up to Oregon to set up house for us. He found an apartment near his friend, whom he had met at the Bible college. His friend had a roommate who was part of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The three of them attended an Orthodox Easter service together. X asked the roommate about his interest in the Orthodox Church and he replied that if it weren’t for them (the Catholics and Orthodox), we (Protestants) wouldn’t even have the Bible. This seems a bit trite, but it opened a door. Soon after, X read The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware and began to gain an understanding of the ancient churches.

After the wedding, I joined X in Oregon. I was uncomfortable with his newfound interest in Orthodoxy. We argued about it and tried to compromise by looking for a more traditional Protestant church. Lutheran was as far as I was willing to go. We stayed in Oregon for four months before moving back to California due to homesickness and the fact that my sister was going to have a baby.

X toned down his interest in Orthodoxy for a while, but soon became interested in Catholicism and purchased a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This resulted in more arguments about idolatry and false doctrine. As time went on, X’s interest in Catholicism increased. He asked me to read the books that he was reading, so that I would at least be informed from both sides of the argument. Although I didn’t agree with Catholicism at the time, my curiosity was piqued, so I began to read some of the books he had found.

The main reason why I had been so resistant to Catholicism up to this point was that the idea that Catholicism was wrong was all I knew. After becoming Christian in 1995, X and I began working at a local Christian bookstore. I worked there off and on over the next five years. We had a number of employees and regular customers who had left the Catholic Church. I learned from them as well as reading books, debating, and listening to apologetics radio programs that felt Catholicism was in error. Members of our church were vocal former Catholics. Also, X and I took a workshop on Catholicism at Bible college taught by a former priest. We didn’t agree with everything he said, though, because he had a tendency to be extreme in his views on images and idolatry.

As a Protestant, I didn’t question my thoughts on Catholicism until I began to read what they actually wrote, taught, and believed. Slowly my perspective began to change. In the summer of 2000, after much debate, we decided that we both wanted to become Catholic. We announced our decision to our friends and family. In the fall we joined a Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults class (RCIA). X spent endless hours in e-mail debates with our friends who vehemently disagreed with our decision. We received a range of reactions from the idea that it’s “spiritual suicide” to, “I don’t agree, but I know you’re saved” to, “as long as you’re happy.” Now most people just don’t bring up the topic.

Unfortunately, the RCIA class leaders occasionally had a tendency to teach things contrary to the teachings of the Church, so we decided to meet privately with a priest at a more orthodox parish. They claimed that Catholics were allowed to use contraception if they wanted to, that the Eucharist was more of a symbol, and that morality was relative. They were exceedingly proud of all the changes they had made since Vatican II. At the other parish, the priest helped us understand more about the Sacraments, grace, and sin, as well as answering the questions that we had.

The day after we were received into the Church, we went to confession and had our first communion. It is all a very different experience. I don’t know if it’s possible to be fully prepared for the living out of Catholicism after being a Protestant. It’s a gradual adjustment, but we are enjoying it. We have found a beauty and richness that wasn’t there in our previous experience of Christianity.

Some wonderful news: X’s friend was received into the Church at the Easter Vigil on Saturday, April 14, 2001. He had been interested in Orthodoxy for a few years now, but decided to become a Catholic after studying the teachings on the Pope and Church authority. Also, we are training to become natural family planning teachers!

We still have a lot to learn, but it is a wonderful journey of discovery. I hope that one day, our family and friends will be able to see why we have chosen this path, and maybe some will even choose to join us.

Newest Arrival

A little over two weeks ago I had given up all hope and accepted that I was just going to be pregnant forever. College spring break passed, then the kids’ spring break began. My due date came and went. No amount of pineapple, spicy food, or bouncing on an exercise ball seemed to be doing any good. The old wives’ tales are just that, and babies arrive when they’re good and ready.

Relief came just three days after my due date. At four o’clock in the morning, I felt a little twinge. It just felt a little crampy, so I wasn’t sure it was a contraction. Twenty minutes later, another one came along, and again twenty minutes after that. I browsed through my iPod’s pregnancy apps to see which contraction timer was most aesthetically pleasing. (You know you’re only in early labor when you can choose a contraction timer based on its aesthetic value.)

Boyfriend was still sleeping and the midwives had said that anyone can have practice labor and it’s best to save waking up your partner for when you know the contractions aren’t going away. (I’ve never experienced practice labor, but since my water didn’t break on the first contraction like it did with the boys, I thought I’d wait and see.) He got up to use the bathroom around 6:00 and I was still contracting. He asked how I was doing and I said, “Fine. Just having a few contractions.” He got all excited and started timing them. Once the sun came up, he filled up the AquaDoula tub in the living room and left a message with the midwife to say that contractions had begun.

From seven to nine, I began to feel it wasn’t going anywhere. I walked around the apartment, leaning on furniture when a contraction hit. Then I went back to my room and sat on the exercise ball for a bit. I lay in bed and watched Gabriel Iglesias: Hot and Fluffy on Netflix to have something funny to take my mind off of labor. I tried to watch another show but lost interest and went back to focusing on contractions. It was then that, in retrospect, we probably should have called the midwives back.

I had it in mind that we shouldn’t call them until contractions were four minutes apart for an hour. By then it was really too late. I was breathing through them, but not able to talk during one. The kids were hungry so I asked the boyfriend to get them something from the local fast food joint. Once he got back, I told him we should call again. The contractions had progressed from 20 minutes apart, to 15, to 10, to five, to four, and they were getting more intense.

It was just after ten o’clock. Boyfriend called the midwife and said it was time to drive down. Then things took a rapid turn. The contractions got much closer together. I kept asking if the midwife was close. I wanted to get in the water, which was waiting for me in the living room, but the midwives had said not to get in until they were there. It was getting difficult to relax through the contractions. Then, all of a sudden, my water broke. I told the lovely boyfriend to call the midwife again, that the baby was coming. She suggested lying on my left side. I rolled over. It didn’t help.

My uterus went into overdrive. Whether I wanted it to or not, whether I was participating or resisting (I was trying with all my might to resist), my body was pushing that kid out! Boyfriend told the midwife, “She says the baby’s coming.” The midwife replied, “Well, get a towel.”

I truly felt like I was splitting in half. I reached down and felt the head crowning. I told the boyfriend, “You’re going to have to guide the baby out.” And he did. My germaphobe, easily icked out, gets nauseous at seeing blood drawn boyfriend delivered our daughter. He placed her on my chest, wailing, just as the midwives walked in the door. They quickly took over and took care of all the rest. They stayed for a few hours, helped clean up, looked after the boys while boyfriend and I bonded with the baby, and then they quietly left. My dad came and got the boys after they had a chance to hold the baby, and then it was just the three of us, quiet and peaceful and in awe of this precious little being who had joined us so suddenly.