Meet Rita Buettner:

“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” After struggling with infertility, my husband and I were blessed to adopt our two sons from China. I’m a working mother who writes about family fun and faith. Oh, and I own hundreds of flyswatters. Join me on Twitter, say hello at, or follow me on Facebook


October 2015
September 2015

Email Subscription

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Recent Comments

Happy anniversary!! Sushi looks so good!! :)


I'm totally stealing the "10 times Looking At You" Rule for my own kids. Ah, I'm not a small purse person either right now. That will be my "mini-retirement" period when my youngest hits age 8, right? Thanks for making me laugh this morning!



Adoption catholic charities children chocolate world christmas family guangzhou memories papa john's perry hall high school pizza Recipes religion
Open Window

7 Quick Takes: Celebrating our steel anniversary, car shenanigans, a visit with Pete the Cat, lessons from soccer photos, and my new purse


Last week John and I celebrated 11 years of marriage. The traditional gift for 11 years is steel. But in our household the traditional gift for 11 years is looking at each other the night before and saying, “Oh my goodness, what is tomorrow? Please tell me you didn’t get me anything because I have nothing for you.” Whew. Match made in heaven.

So we celebrated 11 years by taking each other—and our boys—out for sushi.

We had this wonderful meal as our sons ate their way through course after course and let us have occasional nibbles.

And my parents gave us some of my father’s homemade cookies, which our kindergartener found in the car in the dark and enjoyed on the way home.

Here's a post I wrote last year on our anniversary when I was much better organized...or less distracted by the Pope's visit to the U.S.


We were driving home from school last night when a teary-eyed child sitting behind me started yelling, “He’s LOOKING at me! Mama, he’s LOOKING at me!”


I let the drama continue for a few minutes, but finally I couldn’t bear it any longer.

“OK,” I said to the person being looked at. “Let’s count how many times he looks at you. If we get to 10, you win. If it’s under 10, your brother wins.”

They spent the rest of the trip home giggling and counting. And we certainly didn’t reach 10.

It won’t work the next time, but it worked this time. And the boys might not realize it, but I know who the real winner was.


Our kindergartener is all excited because this is his week with the class stuffed animal, Pete the Cat. Any family would be thrilled to have Pete the Cat visiting, and we are overjoyed. But he’s a little demanding.

“We need to do something special with Pete the Cat!” I hear over and over again. “He wants to go eat at Macaroni Grill! We need to do special things!”

So we pulled out a Pete the Cat book and let Pete read it himself. And I gave him a job to do.

We even fed him dinner one night.

But I hear what Pete the Cat really wants is a big package of Swedish fish. And he really wants to eat out. Hmm.

Welcome to our dull world, Pete. Keep rocking those school shoes.


Our one chance at excitement will happen when we celebrate John’s birthday this weekend. Baba’s birthday is the most fun because he doesn’t have any expectations and the boys and I can do as much as we want. He’s not secretly hoping for a Wii—or, if he is, he’s going to be disappointed. We can bake and decorate and wrap or do nothing at all and he will be content.

It’s good he has low expectations because we are preparing for a wet, wet weekend here in the Mid-Atlantic. It even has a name.

So we probably won't be doing much of this this weekend.


I’m not rooting for Hurricane Joaquin to come this way. We really don’t like losing electricity or ending up with water in the basement—or both.

But I would kind of like to have a soccer-free Saturday this weekend, especially after spending five hours at the field last weekend for two games and two sets of soccer photos.

This concept of soccer photos may have been invented by some kind-hearted person who knew a mother would look back on soccer season with tears in her eyes, wishing she had thought to snap a single photo of her little soccer star.

In reality, though, soccer photos mean that I spent most of the day entertaining bored, hungry children who had to wait for their photos to be taken.

Don’t even get me started on what the photos cost. I’m still trying to get my mind around the fact that I could have ordered a $27 statuette of each of our children.

The best part? That night when I was telling my brother, father of four—including two soccer players—he said, “You did what? Oh, no! You skip the soccer photos! Skip all sports photos! We never go to those.”

So learn from my little brother—and my mistake. Or go whole hog and get the statuette.


My purse was wearing out, so I ordered this purse online. I love it, and I feel so cool having a cheetah purse, but it’s just not quite big enough.

I like to think I’m a small purse person, but I’m just not. If I am going to carry five matchbox cars, 10 pens, a notepad, a phone charger, and saltines and other treats to keep people from looking at each other, I am going to need to invest in a larger purse.

But I do like faux fur. And I especially like that my name rhymes with cheetah.


This week was a week of victories. I remembered to send an apple for our kindergartener—a project I failed two years ago. I even sent an extra in case someone forgot, but no one did.

Of course. Who would ever forget to send an apple with a kindergartener?

Read more quick takes at our hostess Kelly’s blog, where she has promised all kinds of fun quick takes fun for October! We are celebrating 7 years of 7 quick takes! My first 7 quick takes (since you are wondering) was posted on Feb. 22, 2013, and it was cleverly titled "7 Quick Takes Friday."

October 02, 2015 06:50
By Rita Buettner

Watching the Pope’s Mass in Philadelphia from the comfort of our domestic church

We don’t tend to watch much TV. You’re probably thinking that’s because we’re all reading War and Peace or reciting Robert Louis Stevenson poems. Actually, it’s because if the TV is on, it’s usually Netflix.

But a Papal Mass on a Sunday afternoon? That’s the perfect chance for a family to gather around the TV. And, although we have talked quite a bit about the fact that Pope Francis is visiting our country, and our kindergartener has even been learning about him in school—yay for Catholic school!—we hadn’t watched any of the papal visit as a family.

To make it fun, I told our boys we would have a little party. They spread towels out in front of the TV and waited. And waited. And waited. Mass couldn’t start soon enough.

We ate hot dogs (Franks in honor of Pope Francis), “pope-aroni,” “Vatican Veggies,” bags of “pope-corn” (leftover from the ones we gave to Loyola students at our campus PopeFest last week), and fruit cut into cubes. Let’s just call them St. Peter’s Squares.

I had planned to offer Pope-ettes (there are mini-chocolate donuts called Popettes) and pope-sicles for dessert, but somehow our kindergartener talked me into buying a small package of Starburst, which became “Vaticandy.”

I regret not serving Vati-canned tuna or picking up Pope-yes fried chicken. Maybe next time.

Pope-corn created by my talented colleagues

Before Mass started, John and I explained that even though we would be watching Mass, we had already attended Mass, so we could talk and ask questions. That ended up being the best part.

Thanks to our sons’ questions, we talked about who the Pope is and what he does. We explained about deacons and bishops and cardinals. We talked briefly about vocations. We talked about the Catholic Church and how it includes people from all over the world. We listened to the readings in other languages and our second grader, who has learned the sign of the cross in Spanish was excited to hear the word “espíritu.”

Together we marveled at the crowd and wondered where Uncle George was spending the day.

As we watched the Pope kissing babies, we reminisced about how our younger son had been blessed by an archbishop in China. Somehow we had never mentioned that to him, and he listened with interest. And we talked, as we often do, about the Catholic Church in China.

We didn’t just focus on the Church, of course, but also on Jesus. And I loved hearing John’s answers to our sons' questions. Thank goodness for that master's in philosophy.

My favorite question of the day, though, came from Daniel, who is 5.

“Mama,” he said, “why is the Pope’s heart the goodest in all the world?”

I had to stop and think. First I explained that the Pope is actually a man just like any other person, and that he still does the wrong thing sometimes. But, I said, the Pope has Jesus as his closest friend. And he is always talking with him and listening to him and trying to show other people how to live life well for God. And, I explained, when God asked him to be a priest, he said yes. And then eventually he became the Pope. And now so many people love him because he loves Jesus and that shows.

By the time the Pope’s homily ended, our children had drifted away to play. Still, I am so happy we enjoyed that time together, watching the Holy Father celebrating Mass and sharing our faith in a special way.

I had had an offer to go to Philadelphia today. I realized it wasn’t going to work for my schedule, so I backed out, but even this week I was thinking about what I might be missing by not going. But sitting in our living room together, as a family, listening to Pope Francis talk about the family, I knew I was right where I needed to be.

“Faith opens a “window” to the presence and working of the Spirit,” the Holy Father said in his homily. “It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. ‘Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded,’ says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.”

Get a taste of my experience at the Papal Mass in Washington, D.C.

September 27, 2015 10:50
By Rita Buettner

Reflecting on an unforgettable experience at the Pope’s Mass in Washington, D.C.

I had the opportunity to attend the Pope’s Mass on Sept. 23 in Washington, D.C., with 25,000 of my closest friends.

If you were there too, I’m so very happy for you! If you weren’t, I wish you could have been, and I wish we could have crowded together against the barricade as we waited for the Popemobile to pass.

For now, I thought I’d reflect on how the experience has made me think about the beauty and richness of our faith.


Our Catholic Church is truly universal. I know that, but I don’t always think about it. As we were waiting for hours for Mass to begin, I met people not just from California but from Panama—who traveled in just for this Mass.

Not everyone around me was speaking English, and yet we all came together in prayer—in Spanish—and with intercessions read in different tongues.


I love the Mass—and all the traditions. We had incense and bells. The ceremony was extraordinary. The music was incomparable. Even though the Mass was in Spanish, I was able to follow along easily. Even though it was more than two hours long, the time flew. I hung on every action on the altar, the participation of each person selected to have a role in our prayer. Every movement exuded reverence and love for the Lord.


Thank you, God, for vocations. Hundreds of bishops and more than 1,000 priests came to the Mass.

They gathered in front of the altar hours before the Mass, smiling at one another and engaged in what looked like a giant reunion. They were a diverse group and an excited one. I loved thinking of each of them joining the Pope in celebrating the Mass and then heading home to tell their parishioners all about it.


Confession is such a gift. Before the Mass began, I walked around the area where the congregation was gathering. I noticed that lines of people were waiting to approach the area where the priests were, and I thought for a moment they were waiting to take photos. Then I realized they were in confession lines. Priests were standing on one side of the barricade and quietly hearing confessions one by one.


It’s a small world. Now I hadn’t traveled far from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. So you might not be surprised that I managed to bump into friends—a former neighbor, a former babysitter, a fellow blogger, a colleague, a former colleague—unexpectedly in a group of 25,000.

Patti and I went to the Mass together.

The most astonishing encounter, however, happened when I spotted a priest getting in line to buy lunch and I realized he was the priest who had baptized my niece at a church that is hundreds of miles north in New England. When I met him at the baptism, I joked that I would see him in D.C. I wish you could have seen his face when I hurried across the grass to reintroduce myself and say hello. It was a mixture of shock and who-in-the-world-are-you-and-how-do-you-know-my-name?


Receiving the Eucharist is always so, so wonderful. You actually take Jesus into yourself. What a miracle! So receiving communion shouldn’t have felt different at this Mass.

But I couldn’t help thinking that the Body of Christ had been consecrated by Pope Francis, the direct successor of St. Peter. Jesus is Jesus. The Eucharist is the Eucharist. But as I received, I was overcome with the beauty of the tradition and the link we have to Christ through our Church.


Being part of a huge group of people who are united in faith is extraordinary. During Mass everyone was focused on the actual Mass. Before Mass we all waited for the Pope together. Some people jockeyed for a better position, but for the most part people were polite. They were Christians. They were respectful and kind. I had several interesting conversations with people I will likely never see again. But we were united as friends—at least in that moment.

When the Pope came past us in the Popemobile, I had no plan for what I would say. I didn’t need one.

As one voice, the crowd yelled, “Papa! Papa! Papa!” And I was yelling with them, tears in my eyes, touched with the emotion of the moment, rejoicing in the gift that the entire experience was for me—and so many.

Joining Theology Is a Verb and Reconciled to You for Worth Revisiting Wednesday on Sept. 30, 2015.

September 24, 2015 11:43
By Rita Buettner

A Little Pope-ourri

Pope Francis lands in Maryland Tuesday evening, and we will continue to pray for our Holy Father and his visit to our nation. Both of our boys want to meet him, but no one in our family will be shaking the Pope’s hand.

This morning as we were driving to school, I was explaining to our sons that even though I am very, very fortunate to be attending a Mass that the Pope will celebrate—with several hundred priests and bishops—I won’t actually meet him. But I still feel so blessed to be participating in his visit at all.

“This will be my third pope,” I said.

Ten years ago when Pope Benedict XVI came to Washington, D.C., I joined a group of students from Notre Dame of Maryland University for the Mass in Nationals Park. The Pope was so far away, but he was there, and the Mass was magnificent.

When I saw Pope John Paul II in 1998, I just happened to be lucky. After I graduated from college, I traveled to Rome with a few friends. We went to the Vatican on a Sunday because we wanted to find a Mass—not with any thought of seeing the pope. When we arrived at the Vatican, thousands of people were gathered in St. Peter’s Square for an enormous Mass. You had to have a ticket to get in, but somehow we talked our way in—even though (or maybe because) we didn’t speak the Italian a guard was using. I could barely see the Pope, but it was an unforgettable day.

As I was describing that day to our sons this morning, our second grader interrupted me.

“Wait, Mama,” he said. “You got to see…a saint?”

Sometimes it takes a child to put everything in perspective.

I still can't believe I’m going to see Pope Francis this week. And I wish I were taking our sons along, but traveling to see a pope would demand so much of them. So I’ll tell them all about it afterward.

So instead we will watch the Mass in Philadelphia together from the comfort of our living room. We could even print out these Pope Francis coloring pages and paper doll.

Meanwhile, have you seen this greeting from Pope Francis

A group of Catholic women bloggers in the Mid-Atlantic will be posting during the Pope’s visit, and I am looking forward to joining them.

I hope you will be able to participate in the Holy Father's visit either in person or from afar!

You might also enjoy:

Why Pope Francis should come to Baltimore

Papal poetry on the anniversary of the Pope's election

Dear Pope Francis, please don't forget those who long for motherhood

September 21, 2015 10:44
By Rita Buettner

7 Quick Takes Friday: Character building through soccer, may the soup be with you, a bow tie, a hero, and the countdown to the Pope


When we signed our boys up for soccer, I figured they would get some exercise, learn some new skills, and experience what it’s like to be part of a team.

What I didn’t realize is that they would also learn that you don’t stop playing just because of bad weather. At Leo’s game last weekend, it started pouring—a deluge so bad that I put my camera away after taking some photos. Daniel’s teeth started chattering so badly I had to take him to the car and blast the heat. It was miserable.

Still, our second grader played happily on the field, running through the deluge of rain. And, to be honest, although I was not happy to be sitting through the rain and ringing out our clothes later, I was happy that the children learned that sometimes the show must go on. These children grow up in a world where school is delayed for cold, and dismissed for heat. What a great lesson to keep playing through the rain--though I really think it was raining especially hard on the sidelines.

I think what I’m trying to say is that I knew soccer might build character in our children. I just didn’t expect it to build it in me. And I’m not sure it will. But if I cheer through the rain at enough games, maybe I’ll shave off some purgatory time.


As we count down to the next Star Wars movie, I expected to be able to find Star Wars everything. But we were still surprised to find Star Wars chicken noodle soup. Around here, we have chicken noodle soup almost every morning for breakfast—and Star Wars chicken noodle soup is a dream come true.

"What do you think you'll like more, the soup or the movie?" I asked.

"The movie," they insisted.

I wonder.


Our kindergartener wanted to wear a bow tie to his cousin’s baptism last weekend, and I couldn’t find one in the house. So while his big brother and I were shopping, I dragged him into the girls’ hair accessories section to pick out a hair bow.

They were $2 each, much less expensive than your average bow tie. Leo helped me pick out a sparkly silver one we knew Daniel would love. I trimmed the ends so it looked less like a hair bow, and it looked so cute on him.

I’m not sure how long the bow tie phase will last, so we might as well limit our purchases to $2 a tie.


While we were shopping, I also spotted a Raggedy Ann doll, so I picked it up for our niece. I remember the Raggedy Ann stories and I think we must have had one of the dolls growing up.

Both of our sons, though, independently told me how creepy the doll was. They did not think their cousin would like it at all.

Here’s hoping they’re wrong.


We do have indoor plumbing. Really, we do. In fact, we have 2 ½ bathrooms. Yet the other night when I was cooking dinner, a child announced he needed to use the bathroom. Instead of going to the bathroom, he opened the back door, ran into the yard, and used a bush instead.

Resourceful or gauche? I’ll let you decide.


Our second grader is learning about saints and heroes in school. When he was asked to draw a hero, he drew this picture. I thought it was a firefighter, but I wasn’t positive, so I asked.

“It’s Uncle George’s brother,” he told me. And yes, he’s a firefighter.

Which hero would you draw?


Are you participating in the Pope’s visit? The Catholic Review had kindly offered to send me to Philadelphia for the Mass next Sunday, and I had accepted. They applied for media credentials for me and saved me a seat on one of their buses. But then life became too busy, and I realized I just couldn’t pull off the trip. So I felt bad, but I declined their offer.

Then a friend of ours offered me a ticket to the Mass in Washington, D.C., which works for my schedule and should be fantastic.

If I happen to meet Pope Francis, our boys want me to ask him to come and bless our house. So if I do, I will ask. That’s an easy promise to make. I just don't think he'll come. But maybe I should add it to the list of reasons why he should come to Baltimore.

For more quick takes, visit Kelly’s blog at This Ain’t the Lyceum.

September 17, 2015 11:16
By Rita Buettner

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single baptism invitation

Before I tell you what we did last weekend, I should probably explain that I grew up with a skewed understanding of what a day trip is.

I have a vivid childhood memory of the Easter Sunday when we woke up, went to Mass, jumped in the car, drove 5 ½ hours to New Haven, Conn., had a picnic lunch with my two older sisters, who were in college, climbed back into the car, and drove home.

Now let’s fast forward 20-ish years to this past weekend.

Our niece, who was born a few weeks ago, was being baptized on Sunday. And John is honored to be her godfather.

Of course we would be there. The only question was: How?

The church was in New England. If we hit no traffic and barely stopped, we could make it in about seven hours—one way.

And John had to work until late Saturday afternoon.

Even though the situation wasn’t ideal, we were determined. I requested couch/floor/bed space at my sister’s house, which is sort of a midpoint, for Saturday. We drove four hours on Saturday evening and our boys were overjoyed to arrive at their cousins’ house—complete with a Wii, a luxury they only dream of, and a cage full of rats just waiting to be petted.

We finally fell asleep, woke up early Sunday, and drove three hours to the church.

When we arrived, I said to Daniel, “This is your first time at this church, so don’t forget to make your three wishes.”

“All I want,” our kindergartener said, reaching for the church door, “is to find a bathroom.”

Well, at least that wish came true.

We went to Mass, watched as our niece and cousin became a child of God, let our boys play tag with their cousins in the grass outside the church, and then spent 90 minutes partying at my brother’s house with a delightful group of family and friends.

Then we climbed in the car and headed home.

It was a long drive. We stopped once to change drivers and once to get food that wouldn’t be considered edible if there were any other options. My usual policy is to stop fairly frequently so we all can stretch our legs. But we just wanted to get home.

Seven hours after we left New England, we pulled into our driveway. The entire 750-mile trip took 29 hours. It was exhausting.

It was also so, so worth it. We met our precious baby niece. John held the candle at her baptism and promised to help her grow in her faith. Our boys had the chance to spend time with eight of their cousins—and we were able to be with family we don’t see often enough. We made some great memories. And we learned that we will never consider Connecticut a day trip from Baltimore, but our children handled the long ride remarkably well.

As one final bonus, during the endless hours in the car, as our children gobbled their way through a smorgasbord of snacks with scarcely any nutritional value, we spent some time reading the two-page study guide for our second grader’s religion test on Monday. The topic? Baptism.

Let's hope he aced it.

September 16, 2015 11:13
By Rita Buettner

Why Pope Francis should come to Baltimore

Next week the Holy Father is flying from Cuba to spend time in Washington, D.C., before traveling to New York City and then Philadelphia.

We are so very excited for him to come to the United States—and to the East Coast. But he's missing out on the best the area offers. Just a few miles up the road from D.C. and a few miles south of Philly is a city full of charm, history, culture, and cuisine.

CR File Photo

Pope Francis, we invite you to stop in Baltimore. You will love it:

1. You can taste the Catholic history. Looking for the oldest diocese in the nation? The premier episcopal see of the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S.? The first cathedral constructed after the adoption of the Constitution? Come on in. The Basilica is a symbol of our nation’s religious freedom. It—and our archdiocese—are dedicated to the Blessed Mother. And the Basilica is absolutely stunning.

2. Let’s talk U.S. saints, especially since you’re canonizing one while you’re here. Wouldn’t you like to see the city where the first American-born saint, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, made her first vows? St. John Neumann ministered in Baltimore, too. And, if you are feeling inclined to canonize American saints, you could also canonize Blessed Francis Seelos, who served in Baltimore, Cumberland, and Annapolis; Mother Mary Lange, Baltimore-based foundress of Oblate Sisters of Providence (the first sustained religious community for African-American women); and Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin, the “Apostle of the Alleghenies,” who ministered in Western Maryland. Not that I'm trying to tell you how to do your job, Holy Father. That's just a friendly suggestion on how to make the most of your visit.

3. This is Jesuit territory. It was a Jesuit, Andrew White, who helped found the Maryland colony. This town is full of Jesuits. Stop by Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. Visit Loyola Blakefield. Go to St. Ignatius Academy. Then stop by Loyola University Maryland, one of the most beautiful university campuses you’ll ever see—and full of students who would be thrilled to meet you. I have no doubt one of your brother Jesuits would be happy to give you a tour. If you have time, you could even drop in on the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen just up the road.

4. Baltimore is used to being overlooked. Being so close to Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, Baltimore is often overlooked. D.C. especially casts a large shadow. That’s why we won’t even be surprised if you don’t come to Charm City. In fact, a few years ago Pope Benedict XVI came to D.C. and skipped Baltimore. We understood. It happens. But the welcome mat is out.

5. Hungry? We’ve got Old Bay to awaken your taste buds, crab cakes so succulent they’ll bring tears to your eyes, Berger cookies lathered in sweet chocolate goodness, and cuisine from every corner of the world. Looking for simpler fare? We have that too.

6. Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York. They are all fantastic cities. You’ll enjoy them. But Baltimore? Baltimore is best. No, really. That was our slogan a few decades ago. And it’s still true.

7. Baltimore is the home to the Star-Spangled Banner. Our Washington Monument is the oldest in the country. We have an Aquarium and art and painted screens and kitsch and a Natty Boh sign that winks at you. You are in for a treat.

8. Baltimoreans have so much pride in our city. We also have our challenges. Maybe you've heard about some of them. The problems are raw and they are real. But we have so many people working to bring justice and peace to this city. You just have to believe in the bright future for Baltimore—especially when you meet the amazing people who live in and work in and serve and value this community.

CR File Photo

We know it’s a long-shot. Your schedule is packed. And more than a few Baltimoreans are thrilled to be joining the millions who will travel to see you. So if you decide you can’t fit Baltimore in, will you do us a favor? As you’re flying over Charm City, please send us your blessing. We’ll keep you and your visit to our nation in our prayers.

September 14, 2015 11:42
By Rita Buettner

7 Quick Takes Friday: The pope is coming, visiting a dinosaur forest, a baptism gift, the Blessed Mother’s birthday, a school project, and a praying mantis


So…the pope is coming! Are you going to see him?


We headed over to Clark’s Elioak Farm last weekend.

The highlight was the pony rides, of course, but we also went to explore what used to be a pine tree maze. Now it’s a dinosaur forest.

We talked with the owner of the farm and she told us that a friend of hers had offered her the dinosaurs. They are really fun, and we had a great time running and climbing and talking about what we saw.

In another year or two (or three?), our sons might be too old to enjoy it as much, but it was a perfect Sunday afternoon trip.


After our farm trip, we were all hot and tired, but we were also just a few minutes away from the St. Anthony Shrine in Ellicott City, Md. The shrine has a Catholic gift shop, and we needed a baptism gift for our newest baby niece and cousin.

So we went to the shrine and our boys were excited to pick out a crucifix. I was a little nervous to take them into a gift shop full of breakable items, but I set clear rules for being quiet and careful. Leo picked out a lovely crucifix that wasn’t what I had in mind, and Daniel picked out a toy. I thought we should get a pink one—she has three big brothers and is the first girl—but he disagreed. Who am I to argue?

As Leo and Daniel were standing nicely with me at the register, one of the Franciscans came in. He started talking and joking with them, and our boys, who think priests and brothers and sisters are the best, started joking around, too. Suddenly I feared that my next purchase might be a pile of fragments of the $430 statue of the Blessed Mother that Daniel had admired on the way in.

Perhaps because of all those St. Anthony novenas I’ve said over the years, we made it. My helpers filled a bottle with holy water on our way out.

As we walked outside, we saw the same Franciscan brother, so we asked him to bless our crucifix.

He blessed it for our niece by name and prayed that whenever she looked on it, she would know Christ’s love. We can’t wait to give our gift to this precious little baby girl.


Did you celebrate the Blessed Mother’s birthday on Tuesday? Daniel picked out cupcakes with American flags on them. We decided it was appropriate because the Immaculate Conception is our nation's patron saint.

Then Leo asked me who the patron of China is. My research says that China has two patron saints: the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. So now you know.


Daniel had to decorate a plastic shoebox to hold the little books he’ll be creating in school. I meant to go buy stickers and let him pick a theme before he decided to use what we had in the house.

I’m not sure everyone has a bag full of plastic spiders lying around, but most people could probably find a few empty candy wrappers. Those are my favorite.


John and I went to Back to School Night and it was as much fun as you can imagine. We got to go to school, hang out with our sons’ teachers, sit at little desks on little chairs, and slip secret notes into our boys’ desks for them to discover the next day.

Daniel had left us a sweet little note.

Leo’s teacher gave us two assignments. We had to write one wish for our child for the year, and then we had to tell her about our child in 1 million words or fewer. It was just about my favorite assignment ever. I made myself finish it last night because otherwise I would have written a whole book.


We had a visitor this week!

This praying mantis hung out at our house for a whole day. We were so excited when it was still there when we got home after school, though we haven’t seen it since.

We pulled out our encyclopedia and looked up praying mantis (SEE: Mantid) and learned all about it.


Fourteen years ago today I was supposed to go to work a late shift as a newspaper reporter when my mother woke me up with the news of what had happened. I remember watching the empty, quiet skies that day, wondering how anyone could ever raise a child in a world with such evil.

Here I am today, with no more answers than I had then but also with hope that our children can help make the world a better place. I’m also praying, of course, for all those whose lives were touched by the events of Sept. 11—and for peace in our world.

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

September 11, 2015 09:49
By Rita Buettner

Overcoming fears to take his first pony ride

Our younger son is always excited about the idea of pony rides, but then at the last minute he backs out. It seems like a fun idea, but the reality is too frightening.

Then over the weekend I took both boys to Clark’s Elioak Farm. They spotted a pony and they both started asking for rides. But I didn't think much of it. When I bought the tickets, I knew that one boy might be taking two rides. We have been through that before. But I didn't remind Daniel that he is always afraid.

Then we went over to meet the pony.

His name was Bruce, and wow, was he tall.

Even I wasn’t sure this was a good idea for Daniel’s first ride. But I didn't say so. He and I watched as his big brother rode proudly around the paddock on Bruce’s back.

I could tell Daniel wasn't sure this was a good idea. But when Leo came back to the starting point and dismounted, he assumed his little brother was going to ride. He started giving advice on how to sit, how to hold on.

Suddenly, almost before I realized it was happening, Daniel was up on the pony.

He was nervous. But he was there, holding on, his legs dangling over the horse’s back. And, as the pony started his slow walk, Daniel began to smile.

And when he rode up to me to climb back down, he was beaming.

It was the highlight of his day.

On the way home, as we were talking about the pony ride, I was thinking how brave Daniel was to climb onto that horse. He was frightened, but he swallowed his fear, pulled himself up onto the pony, and enjoyed the ride.

Maybe there’s something you’re nervous to do right now—and maybe it’s not skydiving or bungee jumping. Maybe it’s speaking about your faith or sticking up for someone whose voice isn’t being heard. Maybe it’s applying for a job or taking a step on your spiritual journey. Maybe it’s committing your time to something—or walking away from a commitment that isn’t making good use of your talents.

I’m not sure what it is for me, but I’m thinking about it. After all, I watched as our frightened little boy climbed aboard that pony. And, as he finished his ride, I saw his radiant smile.

September 09, 2015 11:07
By Rita Buettner

Remembering Monsignor Valenzano

As my sister’s matron of honor, I had several responsibilities on the altar at her wedding. I had to adjust the bride’s train on her dress, hold the bouquet, adjust the train again, head down the aisle to bring up the gifts, hand back the bouquet, and adjust the train again.

At the sign of peace, the two concelebrating priests came over to shake my hand, and one of them greeted me with a big smile.

“We’re keeping you busy up here,” he said. “You’re doing a wonderful job.”

Here I had thought I was invisible. And, to almost everyone else in the church, I was. But not to Msgr. Art Valenzano, who noticed and connected with everyone he met.

Msgr. Valenzano, third from left, at Treasa and George Matysek's wedding

When I learned today that he had passed away at 66 after his battle with cancer, I thought of him in that moment—how he went out of his way to connect with me, to make me feel seen and valued. What a gift he was to our community—and to every single person he encountered. He was a man of God, a priest who demonstrated the love of Christ, a true light shining through the darkness.

At the time I knew Msgr. Valenzano only by reputation. That was my first exchange with him. To be honest, I would have guessed it would be our last.

Then not quite a year later my sister and brother-in-law lost their son, Georgie, when he was stillborn at 34 weeks. The night Georgie was born, I drove to the hospital to see them, praying on the drive that I would find the strength and the words to be with them in that moment.

I was in a mental fog as I arrived at the parking garage at Johns Hopkins. But as I approached the elevators to head into the hospital, I saw a man walking toward me. He was clearly focused on his own thoughts—or, more likely, he was deep in prayer. But I recognized him. And I felt obligated to thank him for coming.

“Monsignor,” I said, and he turned. I re-introduced myself and he greeted me with compassion and concern. You would have thought I was just the person he wanted to see, yet another person who needed his emotional support at this late hour in a dimly lit parking garage.

As we spoke about Georgie and his parents, he showed such spiritual strength, courage, love, and a sense of peace.

I don’t remember what he said. I just know that when I left his side and headed into the hospital to hold my nephew for the first and last time, I felt prepared. I have always been grateful to him for that conversation—and for his support of Georgie’s parents and my whole family during that time of grieving.

Msgr. Valenzano and I were not friends. He knew me only through my sister and brother-in-law. But he was one of those people who, through his presence, his strength, his concern, and his serving as an instrument of Christ’s love, managed to have an impact on me—and on so many others who knew him better.

September 06, 2015 10:10
By Rita Buettner

« Older Entries