Wednesday, February 8, 2012

30 before 30: i scuba dived

When we visited Maui in 2006, I planned on hiking, snorkeling and relaxing. For the most part, that is exactly what happened. But then a friend of ours asked if I wanted to go scuba diving, and I said yes.

I am a pretty adventerous person. I like to try new things. But the ocean has always scared me a lot a little because the currents are strong and the animals are wild. Although I know that it is unlikely I will be attacked by a shark, I am still terrified of it happening. Plus when you scuba dive you are underwater and, you know, BREATHING THROUGH A TANK. Oh ya, totally natural.

I don't remember all the details, but basically it comes down to this: if you are with a master diver, you can take a brief training session and go scuba diving without becoming scuba certified. I was shaking when I jumped in the water the first time and demonstrated the necessary skills. My heart was pounding so I focused on the breathing and repeating the instructions over and over again in my head.

And then I was scuba diving.

I thought that the mask, tank and breathing apparatus would make me feel weighed down and claustrophobic, but the amazing thing about scuba diving is that it is freeing.

It is difficult to describe the feeling of scuba diving. I felt empowered as I did something that should be impossible for the human body to do, but tiny as I experienced how small and fragile I am. I was weightless. It was beautiful to experience the ocean by being in the ocean. I felt like I became part of the environment that surrounded me. It is simultaneously silent as all noise of the world disappears, but loud with the sound of your own breath.

Simply stated, it was one of the most amazing experiences that I have ever had. I felt free. I was at peace.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

30 before 30: cooking from scratch

I am blogging my way through 30 things I have done before I turn 30! This is a bit of an extension of the blog I already wrote about cooking.

I will never forget when I learned that you could make pancakes from scratch. I was having some sort of morning emergency that necessitated pancakes but there was no Bisquick to be found. Oh, woe is me. What will I do with NO PANCAKES?!

And then my roommate said: "Why don't you just make them from scratch?"

Umm, excuse me? You mean to say that you can make pancakes without a box? I was flabbergasted. And intrigued. Ladies and gentleman, I am here to tell you that yes, indeed, you can make pancakes by mixing milk, eggs, melted butter, vanilla, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. I follow the recipe from my cooking Bible, "The Joy of Cooking" but there are plenty of recipes out there.

I make GOOD pancakes. Don't believe me? Be here on Saturday mornings. You won't be disappointed.

I've learned from my mom that most things that seem complicated can be made from scratch. And I have learned through experience that I find great joy in creating things out of nothing.

Today at work Brandon and I were discussing our dinner plans. His dinner suggestion required tortillas, which I told him required a trip to the store. Then my coworker spoke up and said, "why don't you make them?"

So? I made them. I made tortillas from scratch. They were delicious.

Dough. Rolling out the dough. Cooking the tortilla. YUM, tortillas.

We are a society that loves instant gratification and quick, easy solutions. Trust me, there are days when I choose the easy way to feed my family. But I am proud that I am capable of making my food for my family from scratch. I am proud that I can control the ingredients that go into our bodies. And I am happy to show love to them through the food prepared by my own hands.

Monday, February 6, 2012

30 before 30: US travel

You'd think it was planned... I counted up the states that I've stepped foot in and it turns out I've been to 30 states. I've been to 30 states in 30 years. Pretty cool, right?

At least two of these were just for flight layovers, but most of them were destinations, or at least extended stop overs. I've been lucky to travel so much in my life and I am grateful for the people I have met and the experiences I've had along the way! I am sure I could write a long story about many of these... but instead I'll just give a quick explanation of what I did there.
  1. Alaska: in 2000 we took a cruise to Alaska to celebrate my Papa’s 90th birthday! We went to Juneau, Sitka and Skagway.
  2. Arizona: visited my grandmother who was living in Tucson. It was my first time flying alone!
  3. California: I live here, so I imagine I have a lot of stories to tell about this state.
  4. Colorado: Brandon lived in Denver for a year and half. This city is amazing and I was lucky to visit him several times. We dined in downtown Denver, hiked in the Rockies and visited Breckenridge. Brandon once asked me to move to Denver. If he had asked me to marry him, I would have moved there. I LOVE Colorado!
  5. Connecticut: part of our East Coast trip that started in Vermont, took us north to Canada and then back to New York City.
  6. Delaware: same East Coast trip.
  7. Florida: my parents took us on a surprise trip... they didn't tell us where we were going. When we got to the airport and found out we were connecting to Orlando, we started screaming. It was awesome.
  8. Hawaii: Maui, oh Maui. I have been to Maui four times (I think) with my family. I love, love, love Maui and I can't wait to go back with my husband and family.
  9. Idaho: Couer d'Alene. Beautiful!
  10. Illinois: I have flown through Chicago lots of times... but spent a bit of time there on my way to...
  11. Indiana: I WENT TO VISIT NOTRE DAME!!!
  12. Maine: Part of our East Coast trip. We spent a few nights here on the coast. Gorgeous.
  13. Maryland: Visited Maryland when I went to DC.
  14. Massachusetts: I've been to Boston and Cape Cod.
  15. Michigan: One of my favorite trips! We visited our friends in Kalamazoo and then went to Mackinac-- an island with no motorized vehicles. This whole trip was amazing. It deserves its own post.
  16. Minnesota: this is one of those states that only experienced my presence during a layover.
  17. Montana: When we visited Couer d'Alene we drove to Montana. I can't explain why, but somewhere there is a picture of me standing in front of the "Welcome to Montana" sign!
  18. Nevada: Reno, Vegas and driving through Nevada to get to Utah.
  19. New Hampshire: Part of our great East Coast tour. I remember that we had a really good dinner here...
  20. New Jersey: Went to New Jersey when we were in NYC. I don't remember why.
  21. New Mexico: I went with my parents to Santa Fe for a business trip, and we took a day trip to Las Vegas, New Mexico to visit the town my grandmother grew up in. Very humbling to visit the place where she grew up and experience such a beautiful state like New Mexico.
  22. New York: I went to New York City for the first time when I was 16 to see the Macy's 4th of July fireworks celebration. I went back again two more times for the 4th of July celebration. How lucky to experience New York that way!
  23. Oregon: We spent many summer vacations in Black Butte. I have hiked and biked miles and miles of that state. I LOVE OREGON!
  24. Rhode Island: Yup, part of the great East Coast tour.
  25. Tennessee: one of my flight layover states. But this is definitely a place I want to visit again!
  26. Texas: We flew into Houston and then drove to Galveston to leave for a cruise!
  27. Utah: We spent one summer vacation outside of Park City. Hiking, biking and a near death experience involving a lightning storm.
  28. Vermont: The starting point of our great East Coast tour. We arrived in Stowe, Vermont with no luggage and bought oversized t-shirts from the visitor center to sleep in. I also remember Vermont for the Ben and Jerry's factory. YUM.
  29. Virginia: I stayed in Alexandria when I visited DC for the first time.
  30. Washington: For as "close" as this state is, I haven't spent enough time there. We flew into Spokane and drove to Couer d'Alene. Seattle is on the top of places I want to visit!
There is my not-so-brief history of visiting 3o states in America... here is to crossing off the last 20 in the next 20 years!
+ the District of Columbia: my grandma took me to DC when I was in fifth grade. I was there for three days so we crammed a lot in, but I did get a private tour of one of the FBI buildings because she knew someone who worked there! My whole family went back in 2009 (on our way to Ireland!) when my friend Richard got married. It was a blast!!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

30 by 30: love of books

My parents started reading with me as a child. I remember my dad laying with me and reading to me when I was just a little girl. I loved it. My love of books comes from my parents who are both avid readers themselves. My parents always read before bed, a habit that I learned from them.

When I was a kid I used to read all the time. When I got home from school I would sit on the couch and read. I read late into the night, even after my mom told me to turn off the light. I couldn't get enough of books. By the time I was in middle school I would try to read whatever my mom was reading.

I am a romantic and a bit of a pack rat, therefore I have book shelves full of books that I have been saving for my kids. My favorites like Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, Ender's Game and A Wrinkle in Time are all stashed away in different rooms of my house, waiting for my kids to be old enough to read the books I loved so deeply.

I know that I can't make my kids love reading, but I hope that our daily reading habits and watching Brandon and I read will be enough to spark their own joy for books.

Today I am much busier than I ever have been before and I have less time to read. But my joy for books is still great and I love any opportunity I have to read!

What book do you love that you hope your children will love too?

30 by 30: the gang

Oh holy moly, 30 blogs in 30 days is a lot! My sister has been in town so I am a few days behind... playing catch up now! I am blogging my way through 30 by 30...

The Gang

Sometime in the late 80s my mom joined a local moms group. She formed a close relationship with a few other moms and they started a friendship that has lasted 25 years. There are five moms (and dads too!) who have helped raised me, who have loved me, supported me and who even fought over who would be giving me a bridal shower. When I had my girls, they were here with meals and offers to clean, watch babies and cook.

In our five families there are 11 kids. We range in age from 24 to 31, six girls and five boys. We vacationed together and spent Friday nights in Mexican restaurants. We spent years on the same swim team, dancing in the same dance studio and attending the same schools. We found each other dates to school dances and sometimes went together. We competed against each and with each other. We laughed. We fought. We argued over forts and video games and who was the smartest.

We grew up together because we had to. Our parents were friends and it meant that our social plans were dictated by them. It wasn't always easy. We are 11 individuals with distinct personalities, interests and opinions.

Today we are friends by choice.

It is hard for me to verbalize how important these people are to me. When I try to describe them to others all I can say is they are like family. I've certainly spent more time with them than a lot of family members. Some of them stood up for us in our wedding and every one of them attended. One of them is the godfather to one of our kids. They are the ones I want to email first when I have news.

A few years ago we decided to have a reunion trip each year. Now that we are spread across the country, seeing each other is more difficult. But this trip, which includes our growing group of spouses, shows how important we are to each other. We have known each other for almost 25 years, since we were children, and today we choose to be together.

I am so grateful and blessed to have these ten people in my life. Our relationships have not always been easy, but they have been worth it. When I think about what I want for my own kids, it is a group of families like I grew up with, with friends like I have. Thank you Matt, Dina, Richard, Cristina, Sarah, Kevin, Sara, Allison, Ryan and Brian. (That's in order of age. I think!)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

30 before 30: I breastfed twins

I am blogging my way through 30 things I have done before I turn 30! Today's post is partially a recycle from a post I wrote a year ago (almost to the day!) (you don't really need to read the link since most of the post is here).

My girls were born at 33 weeks, 5 days. I knew I wouldn't be having that amazing bonding experience where they place the baby on the chest and have that immediate connection when baby starts to nurse. Nope, my experience was even close.

In fact, I was still recovering from my c-section and hadn't even seen my girls when the nurses rolled in a hospital grade breast pump and got me started on expressing milk. Although I planned on breastfeeding, no one ever really asked me. So I diligently started pumping every three hours, even through the night. Very quickly I was producing more than enough milk for my little preemies in the NICU.

It wasn't until my girls were nearly ready to leave the hospital that the nurses suggest that we give breastfeeding a try. Until that point I was pumping and they were eating expressed milk. Grace tried to nurse first and really had no interest. So she went back to the bottle. Several days later we tried with Ana. She was better but clearly still needed to take a bottle as well. My babies were less than 5 pounds and they sent me home with them without any clear plan on how to feed them. I had never successfully breastfed before bringing them home at two weeks of age.

Despite what "they" say, breastfeeding is at first completely unnatural. It feels awkward and strange. Add in an enormous pillow for support and there is nothing discreet or normal feeling about holding a baby to your boob. There was no way for me to fail at pumping, so I stuck with my machine for the first few weeks my girls were home. Eventually pumping became a chore while breastfeeding felt unsuccessful. The girls had a painful latch and ate poorly from the breast. I had to give them a bottle after every feeding. It was time consuming. It was awkward. It was painful.

I hated breastfeeding. While I was also not particularly fond of my relationship with the pump, at least it didn't hurt and wasn't frustrating. The nurses, lactation consultants and the books all said that breastfeeding should never be painful. They are full of shit. It hurt and it hurt badly. There were moments of pure pain when I cried as the girls latched on. There were moments where I wanted to scream and give up.

To top it off, I felt no bonding as a result of breastfeeding. Everything I'd read said that breastfeeding allowed for a special bond between mom and baby. I saw it only as a means to an end.

I don't know why I didn't give up. At 3 weeks I was miserable. At 4 weeks I was still in pain. At 5 weeks I was sure that I was going to give up. So I started setting small goals. Instead of thinking about nursing for 6 months, I gave myself permission to reevaluate every week. I started to increase the number of times I tried to nurse. In the beginning I only nursed once a day. By 12 weeks I nursed 7-8 times a day (per girl). At some point it just clicked for us; suddenly the girls' latch improved, eventually the pain disappeared and slowly but surely I replaced the bottles with the breast.

By the time we mastered nursing, I didn't even like the one time a day that the girls get a bottle (pediatrician ordered-- a formula supplement for preemies with higher calorie content). I came to appreciate that there was no prep work, no dishes and my ability to do it anywhere.

And most importantly, I fell in love with that time with my girls. Occasionally I tandem fed (read: feed both at the same time), but usually I prefered to take my time with each girl. Sure, it slowed down the pace of my day, but it gave me a moment to observe each one. They were distinct in their eating style, in their sounds and in their needs. With twins I spent most of my day bouncing between the two of them, so I learned to appreciate the opportunity to just be with one for a few short minutes.

By the time I went back to work, we were nursing nearly every session. I went back three days a week and reestablished a relationship with my pump. I desperately missed nursing my babies when I was gone, but I looked forward to any time they wanted to nurse in the mornings, afternoons or evenings.

In the beginning of August Grace started to refuse me. By the middle of August we were done nursing. I was so sad to be done nursing her. I was scared it would cause problems that I was only nursing Ana. But it went on fine and I continued to love my moments with Ana. I found other ways to share quiet moments with Grace. Just short of 14 months Ana also stopped nursing. I was devastated to be totally done nursing my babies. Many days I still miss those quiet, peaceful moments that only we shared.

But I am also proud. I nursed my babies. For nine months I nursed twins and I nursed Ana for almost 14 months. I feel accomplished and I am proud.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

30 before 30: Master's degree

When I started working at Loretto I had completed a handful of undergraduate education courses and had spent several summers teaching and directing a summer camp for elementary school kids. I was completely qualified on content, but felt I needed more teacher training. Although I do believe a lot of teaching is an innate quality, and, I believe teaching can be learned while doing, I knew that I needed more training to be as good a teacher as I wanted to be. So in my second year of teaching I simultaneously began a program to earn my Master in Education.

Many of my courses were amazing for helping me to become a better teacher. After every course I went home thinking about how to apply what I had learned in my classroom. I took courses that helped me employ different techniques, challenged my philosophies on learning and encouraged technology in the classroom. I can honestly say that I became a better teacher because of things I learned during my master's program.

I completed my entire degree while teaching full time. It took three years. In my final year of courses I wrote my thesis about Baby Think It Over, the electronic babies used to teach students about the demands of parenting. It was a program that I facilitated as a teacher and it was fun and fascinating to learn about as a method of teaching about teen parenting.

I started my final semester just days before I found out that Loretto was closing. And I received my diploma just days before I closed up my classroom and moved on to a new career.

Today I work in an entirely different industry, but I am grateful for what I learned while earning my master's degree. I met a lot of wonderful people. The technology courses have served me even in a different field and learning about different theories and philosophies of education have helped me to better understand the varying needs of people. But mostly I am grateful that those three years helped me to be a better teacher to the young women who sat in my classroom. And if anything I learned and put into practice helped any one of them to learn, then it was three years well spent.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

30 before 30: I built a house

I am blogging about 30 things I have done before I turn 30! If you want to read from the beginning, start here.

I built a house. In five days.

Now don't be calling me to construct your dream home or anything. This wasn't the kind of home that we are accustomed to. No, this was the kind of house in an impoverished area of Tijuana that makes you grateful.

In my fourth year of college (that would be my first senior year) I started volunteering with a local youth group. I loved those kids. In fact, I can thank them for the inspiration to become a teacher and to delve deeper into my faith.

Every summer they took a trip across the border to Tijuana to build homes. It was quite an undertaking. I don't remember the specifics, but there must have been 50 high school kids as well as 15-20 adults. We camped on a mesa in tents (with armed guards, by the way). We used outhouses that remind me of that opening scene in Slumdog Millionaire. Our showers were literally buckets hung on a string. There was the incident with the rattlesnake under my tent, but I prefer not to talk about that. At night there was prayer, song and fellowship. It was beautiful.

But during the day? Man, oh man. We worked. Our group was at two sites, building two houses. Thankfully there were some adults who were experienced from years past. We had a manual on what to construct and we were given the hardwood and supplies for the home itself. The tools all came with us from San Diego.

On the first day we laid a foundation. We hand mixed dirt, rocks, water and concrete. We poured and leveled it. It was backbreaking work.

Then we went back and I spent a day sawing 2x4s. With a hand saw. My entire hand was a blister. We assembled a frame. We constructed a roof. And walls. I used a hammer. (Aside: remember that episode of Gilmore Girls where Rory shows up at Habitat for Humanity with the hammer that Lorelai decked out with pink feathers? Ya, that kind of hammer would never have worked) Once the exterior was wrapped with tack paper (I think that is what is that right? anyone? I don't really know), we wrapped the house with chicken wire. It had to be really taut because the next thing we were doing was stucco-ing the wall. With concrete. In case you were wondering, concrete doesn't stick to walls very easily. But it is awfully fun to do it!

If you aren't familiar with the impoverished parts of the Mexico border, you need to know that it is dry desert. There are hills and canyons. There are no trees. There are no paved roads. There is no plumbing. The people who live there have barrels which are filled by water trucks a few times a week. There are wires running in the sand; people just keep cutting into the lines to draw power to their homes.

One day I was invited into the current house of the family we were building for. It was a one room house with no foundation. It was filthy and lacked insulation. The home we built had a flat, concrete foundation, two rooms and windows. The high school kids pooled their personal money so that we could buy drywall and paint to do a little extra on the interior than the original plan called for. What a moving experience--to see kids throw their own money into a hat to do more for those who have less.

I worked hard that week. It was physically exhausting. But it was fun too. What a blast to be "at camp" with all those awesome high school students. While we were working on the house we sang. When we were back at the camp we sang and laughed. One afternoon we stopped at a taqueria for great food. And there was the adventure when I was driving a van out of Mexico and nearly killed myself and some students while trying not to lose the caravan...

The kids from St. Therese were filled with faith and passion. I went on that trip because their enthusiasm to work on that project was contagious. I am grateful to those students (who are all adults now! AHH!) for all that they taught me about faith and fellowship. I am grateful that they invited me to take this trip with them and share in such an amazing weeklong experience. I am grateful to the family who accepted our help and allowed us to work with them.

I helped to build a home in Mexico.

Monday, January 30, 2012

30 before 30: chasing dead relatives

I am blogging my way through my  30 accomplishments before I turn 30...

In 2010 we took a family trip to Ireland. It was an amazing trip for many reasons and you can click on that link if you want to read about our trip.

What I loved most about that trip is how we spent one memorable day "chasing dead relatives" as our guide Liam called it. He said it is quite common for people to return to Ireland and look for family history. I thought we were going to go visit the towns my great-grandmother and great-grandfather were born in. Turns out we took a little adventure.

We started by meeting up at the home of some distant cousins. Let me tell you-- we thought it sounded a little sketchy. We landed in Dublin and were told that these cousins we had never met were sending us transportation to take us to their home. We had no idea what to expect and we joked that all eight of us would be showing up in some tiny apartment with some crazy people. We were wrong.

First of all we got picked up in some fancy cab bus that fit all of us. Then we pulled up to a gorgeous home where the table was set with the fine china. My grandfather met his first cousin and there were lots more cousins of varying degrees and of all ages.
Brandon, me, an Irish cousin, my sister Cristina, my brother Ryan and another distant cousin Pedraig
Then there was a traditional Irish dinner that was pretty amazing. And wine. And beer. And cake. And all our fears about this dinner with our Irish family were gone. They were fabulous people and quite the dinner hosts.
They had a fancy cake for us.
The next day we left Dublin and headed west and north into areas not usually destined for tourists. My mom had done some primary research and so we knew what towns we were headed for. We were in search of the home where my great-grandfather was born. We ended up in a town where we learned that our name was actually a variation of "Towey" and it turns out just about everyone in the town had the same last name. Liam divided us up and sent us into local bars and told us to ask people about our great-grandfather. Yes, we actually went into bars and markets and asked people if they knew about a man who died 40 years ago. First of all, let me tell you how difficult is to ask about a guy named "Anthony Towey" in a town where everyone has an uncle or cousin or brother named "Anthony Towey." Secondly, we actually got some useful information.

The "Towey" kids
So we did what anyone would do next: we went to the cemetery and started searching for headstones. Since my great-grandfather died in the United States, we were looking for the burial sites of his parents. We spent at least an hour searching through a cemetery from the late 1800 and early 1900s. The thing about old cemeteries in Ireland is that amongst the many marked graves there are hundreds and thousands of unmarked sites for those who died in the famine. Due to the mass of poor people who died during the famine, many were placed in mass graves. Others were marked simply with a stone. It was humbling, sad and educational. As we walked through the final resting place of so many Irish, I was full of mixed emotions for so many people who had died. We read so many headstones and wondered about so many of the people who are buried there. It felt a bit strange, so I appreciated when Liam told us that he believed that the dead were to content to have any visitors.

My parents trying to read the worn down inscriptions

After we failed to find what we were looking for on the "old" side of the cemetery we crossed the street to the more recent side. Naturally, my brother and dad struck up conversation with a grave digger. All of a sudden the grave digger is on his cell phone talking to the guy who is the holder of the church records. And 15 minutes later I am walking down a country road in Ireland with my family with some vague instructions on how to get to the home of this guy. We find his home and he leads us to his backyard where he has laid out several books on the table.

Handwritten church records.

Unfortunately the record books didn't have exactly what we were looking for. But it was pretty amazing to be sitting in an Irishman's backyard, looking through handwritten death records. 

Next thing we knew we were back in the van on the way to the little village where we had heard the family property was. We had a small description from the Dublin family of what we were looking for, so we started looking for a "boreen." Now if you know what a boreen is, you are far ahead of where we were (turns out it is a little path-- a little path that the cows took).
 We were on a tiny little road in our huge van and we started stopping at people's homes to ask if they knew where the "Towey" property was. People kept pointing. The kids followed us with bikes. My dad introduced himself to all the neighbors, each time repeating the story of what we were looking for.

My dad talking to one of the locals.
Finally we found the boreen. After a days worth of searching, we walked down a little worn out path to find the remains of a one room home where my great-grandfather was born.

The boreen.
There was little left to be seen on the property where my great-grandfather was born. We found a few rusty tools and some falling down walls. But I was standing in a place where three generations ago my family had humble beginnings. I reflected on how lucky I was to be there with my parents, my siblings, my grandfather and my husband. I marveled at how amazing it was that in one short day we had such an exciting adventure, searching for just a little proof that one day our family before us had walked those same streets.
Remains of the home.
We continued our trip as planned and had a lot of other amazing experiences unrelated to searching for our family. At the end of our trip we made a brief detour to have lunch in the town where my great-grandmother was born. But that one day was special to me and all of my family. On that day we put aside our own desires. We put aside our biases and fears. We trusted in our Irish guide and we met a lot of people along the way. One day in Ireland we chased dead relatives.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

30 before 30: I went to university

My parents were the first in their families to graduate from college. Although they hoped for us to go to college, they never made a big deal of it. What I mean to say is that they never said we had to go to college; but they did make a big deal out of what college was for and what it would do for us and our lives. They laid the framework and as a result I never had any doubt that I wanted to go to college.

Since I attended an all-girls college preparatory school, there was quite a lot of discussion about college and universities. At that time I wasn't really interested in leaving the west coast, so I applied to several private, Catholic colleges in California, Oregon and Washington, plus UC Berkeley. I also applied to Stanford on a wish and a prayer since it was my grandma's dream to have a grandkid go to Stanford and she threw out that she would pay for college if I got accepted. Ya, that didn't happen.

I was home alone one evening in December of 1999 when I received my first acceptance letter from Gonzaga University. I cried. It made college feel real. I was going to college.

In the end my choices came down to Gonzaga, University of San Francisco, University of San Diego and Santa Clara. I loved every one of those schools, but in the end I ended up at the University of San Diego. The Toreros.

I started at USD in the fall of 2000. I declared Political Science as my major and moved into the dorms. I had chosen Theology and Religious Studies as my minor, but very soon into my courses I fell in love with that field and chose to double major in Poly Sci and Religion.

In my first week of school I started working for Banquets and Catering, a job that I worked at until the day I graduated. That job defined a lot of my experience at USD. I made many lifelong friends working in B&C. I also had amazing opportunities in that job. As a server and supervisor in that job I was blessed with the chance to attend many special events at USD. I served dinner to Jimmy Carter and Jenny Craig. I served a private breakfast to Supreme Court Justice Scalia. I regularly served in the home of the University president.

In addition to working at Banquets and Catering, I chose to work for The Vista, the USD student newspaper. As a freshman I was a staff writer. My sophomore year I was a page editor. My first senior year I was the Opinion editor and my second senior year I was the Managing editor.

I thrived at USD. I made lifelong friends. I learned lifelong lessons. I had the opportunity to live in Spain (story forthcoming). I believe that attending university made me a better critical thinker and challenged me to be a life-long learner. USD gave me the chance to grow in my faith and in myself as a person. In it is a time in my life that I am grateful for. Most of all I am grateful to my parents for knowing that it would help me grow and prepare me for my life. I am thankful that their experience was valuable enough to them that they made whatever sacrifices necessary to send me and my siblings to college.

In one short blog post I can't describe all the ways I loved my experience at USD and how happy I am to have had my time there. But I am proud of what I accomplished there academically. I made amazing friends. And one day I hope that my kids will want to follow in my footsteps and go to college as well.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

30 before 30: half marathon

If you are just joining us, I am blogging my way through 30 things I have accomplished in my life!

In March 2009 I achieved my greatest athletic feat thus far. I ran a half marathon.

I ran 13.1 miles.

As I've mentioned before, I am not the most athletic person in my family. Training for a half marathon was difficult. It took at lot of focused planning and dedication. I fought a lot of battles in my head to avoid quitting. But thanks to the encouragement of my husband and sister, I spent several months training and preparing for the half. (If you want, you can read my complete history of running here.)

I didn't win any awards or set any records. But in 2009 I ran 13.1 miles and I am proud of that. I am proud that I set a goal and I achieved it.

Kevin (friend), Brandon (husband), me and Cristina (sister) after we finished the Shamrock'n Half Marathon.
In the last couple weeks I have started running again. My brother challenged us to run a half marathon in April. I am not sure that I can physically prepare that quickly. I am not sure that I even want to try to run that distance again. But I am happy to be running again and I look foward to whatever races are in my future!

Friday, January 27, 2012

30 before 30: we own a home

This afternoon I loaded the girls up in the wagon and we went to the park. I put the girls in the swing and within minutes I had a fan club. A group of four girls, aged 7-9, were asking me questions about my babies. When I took Grace and Ana out of the swings, the playground girls asked if they could play with my babies. It was adorable.

Swinging at the park this afternoon

A little over two years ago we started looking for a home. Since Brandon and I worked more than 30 miles apart, we had a lot of choices of towns to live in. We finally decided on a county and went to work looking at different homes in several different cities.

In the end it came down to two different homes. I wanted a small, rundown, 1970s ranch style home in a pretty posh town within walking distance to the lake. I loved the huge backyard, the established trees and the proximity to outdoor activities. I loved the charm and the idea that we could make it whatever we wanted since it needed a significant amount of work. Brandon wanted the early 90s suburban home near a school and parks in the town that I grew up in. It was move-in ready (except a necessary coat of paint inside), was on wide streets and was much bigger and nicer. In the end, we went with the house Brandon loved.

This house has had more than its fair share of issues. Let me tell you, homeownership can be a bitch when things are leaking, falling over or overflowing. I don't know how many times I have cursed being a homeowner and wishing I had a landlord to call. But this is our home. This is the home we bought so we would have a safe place to raise our children. This is the home that together we have decorated and filled with furniture and joy and laughter.

And today when my babies were surrounded by neighborhood children who wanted to talk to me and play with my babies, I remembered how blessed I am that we are able to own a home in this great town and how happy I am to be in this house. Our house. Our home.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

30 before 30: I cook

(Dinner always tastes better with a beer)

When I was growing up we rarely went to restaurants. We never had take out. My mom was a working mom and then she came home and cooked dinner. Every night.

Of course there was the occasional special night out, but for the most part I remember having dinner around the table with my family. Dinners were healthy, balanced and homemade. Did I mention that they were good? My mom is a fabulous cook and I've spent more than ten years learning from her.

Some things I learned by doing. I remember when I was probably 13 years old she called before she left work and talked me through browning beef, onion, tomato paste and then adding the ingredients to make spaghetti sauce. Other favorite recipes have been learned by writing down her recipes by hand and attempting them over and over again in my own kitchen. The favorites that now grace my kitchen are enchiladas, Dijon chicken and sausage soup. Many nights were simple and healthy: grilled chicken, rice and vegetables. Others like swiss steak and chicken cacciatiore were specialties that still remain mysteries to me.

I am grateful to my mom for a lot of things, but cooking is one that will always be high on my list. She taught me to cook healthy, cook well and to cook out of love. This is better for my family and our budget. I look forward to sharing family dinners around our kitchen, creating the kind of memories I have with my dad, mom, sister and brother. I have learned to love the kitchen and not to be afraid to try new things.

I am proud that I can cook. And I am proud that I cook for my family.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

30 before 30: I got married

When I was 18 and not totally sure of myself, I met a boy when we were both cast in a high school musical. He had a girlfriend and I wasn't interested in him, but we were friendly and enjoyed each other's company. We went on to graduate high school and saw each other a few more times before I went off to college in the fall.

In October of that year I received one of those chain emails from him, asking me all sorts of "get to know you" questions. I played along. Soon enough we were chatting on AIM. Then there were phone calls. I came home on fall break and he asked to meet me and my friends at a restaurant. My friend said if he was wearing cologne, a collared shirt and sat next to me it meant he liked me. I am not exaggerating when I say that he climbed over a table to sit by my side. He looked adorable and smelled of cologne. A month later we went on our first date.

He told me after only months that he knew he wanted to marry me.

It took some time and a lot of growing before we finally got around to it. Sometimes meeting the person you love when you are young is difficult. We had some rough patches while we both figured out who we were and what we wanted from life.

But after six years he stood on a mountain and proposed to me. On July 7, 2007 I married Brandon Christopher. The Catholic mass was everything we wanted it to be as we selected the readings that represented what we believed about marriage and music that meant so much to us (sung by a dear friend that we love).

Brandon kissing the bride =)

In front of our surprise wedding transportation-- a classic car owned by Betty Grable.

Photos at sunset.

Yes, I know everyone has a photobooth at their wedding these days. But we invented that shit!
And the party? Let's just say that I am sorry if you weren't there. It was that good. 

I was 25 years old on the day I got married. I am proud that this year we will celebrate five years of marriage. I look forward to all the days and years ahead with the great man I married!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

30 before 30: World Series

I didn't grow up as a baseball fan. But somewhere along the lines of being with Brandon I had a change in heart. I grew to love the San Francisco Giants to the point where I watch games by myself and listen to all the sports talk radio I can when I am driving.

Even though we live 100 miles from San Francisco, we have been blessed with lots of opportunities to go to SF Giants games. But in the midst of the San Francisco Giants' playoff run in 2010, it never occurred to me that I would be attending a World Series games. Until my dad handed me two tickets, that is.
World Series, Game 2.
One of the best conversations I have ever had with my husband was when I told him that he was going to see his favorite team play in the World Series. People spend their whole lives wishing to go to a game this important. And here I was, only 28 years old, lucky to have such a chance.
Did I mention that I was 33 weeks pregnant? And that after we watched game 1 of the World Series we went to Labor and Delivery because I was having contractions? Don't worry, I got the clearance to go to the game. 
Brandon outside of AT&T Park before Game 2 of the World Series.
The entire experience was surreal. I cannot even describe the electricity that was pulsing through the crowd. I will never remember the score, but I remember that it was fun. I remember that I was excited. I remember that the San Francisco Giants won. We had amazing seats near third base and it was the best baseball game I have ever been to.

Buster Posey in his first at bat.
So much of that experience gets glazed over in my memory of that time, because only four days later I went into premature labor. But I got to go with my husband to the World Series to watch our favorite team on their way to becoming World Champions. I am blessed to have been given such a gift and it stands among one of my greatest memories to have been there with my husband.

Monday, January 23, 2012

30 before 30: my first career

When I decided to start my 30 before 30 project, I sat down to make sure I had 30 things I wanted to write about. What I didn't consider was the order in which I wanted to write about them. Due to lack of planning on my part, the follow up to my high school post is appearing much sooner than anticipated because today is kind of a special day... the birthday of Mary Ward, the foundress of the IBVM, the order who ran Loretto.

Once upon a time I was a teacher...

Just days away from graduating from university I received a phone call letting me know that a teaching position was opening up in theology department at the very high school I had graduated from. Every college student's dream is to have a job offer out of school. I was graduating midyear so I spent the spring substitute teaching and preparing for my first career. Teaching at Loretto was a dream come true and I looked forward to spending many years there.

When I started teaching at Loretto I was 23 years old. I was young and enthusiastic. I was dedicated and excited to learn. Brandon was living in Colorado so I dedicated every moment I had to teaching. In my short four years I taught Old Testament, Intro to Catholic Christianity, Sacraments, social justice, sexuality and morality. I went on service trips, led retreats and coached swimming. I was a moderator for class council and part of the faculty spirituality team. I lived every moment for that school and for the young women who went to school there.

It is hard to describe what those four years meant to me. The years I spent there as a teacher only reinforced everything I had loved about being a student there. I was empowered. I was encouraged. I was welcomed. I grew. And I grew up.

Most of all I had fun. Working in an all-girls high school is entertaining; the priorities and values of 15 year olds are often amusing. I enjoyed their laughter, their learning and even their occasional bouts of the dramatic. I loved their school spirit and their class spirit and their willingness to serve. I loved their attempts to distract me in class by asking about music, television or my impending wedding. I adored the silly pictures they drew in class or the terrible pottery they discarded on my desk. And I lived for the moments when one of them "got it"-- that moment when suddenly all the hours of preparation pay off because maybe just one student learned something about the subject, themselves or their faith.

And my coworkers? Some of the best friends and mentors I have ever met. We shared so much stress, joy and laughter with one another. I loved our late nights in pajamas on retreat, our after school "meetings" at the bar and just our simple moments in the faculty room. Mornings gathered around the coffee pot before the warning bell will always be one of my most subtle, but significant memories. Those men and women (many who were also my own teachers) welcomed me and supported me through every step of my short teaching career.

It is cliche to say that I learned so much more as a teacher than I ever did as a student, but it couldn't be more true. My students and my peers taught me about faith, dedication and love. I learned about trust and spirit. I learned how to lead by example and was constantly challenged to think about the choices I made. My time there reinforced that I am valuable and creative and that I can make a difference.

Almost exactly three years ago we learned that Loretto would be closing. It was an announcement that shook me to my core. A school as established, as beloved, as supported as our Loretto should never have to close its doors. The good people who worked there--some for longer than I had been alive--had to look for new jobs. Students had to choose new schools. Like the rest of the faculty, I spent months trying to decide what to do next with my life. I had opportunities to teach in different capacities, but my heart wasn't in it. So just four years into my teaching career, I put education aside and went to work for my dad.

Teaching isn't easy. Sure, there are a few months off in the summer and some time off during the school year, but don't be fooled. Teaching is physically, mentally and emotionally exhuasting. Classes were done at 3pm, but I was often grading or lesson planning until late in the evening. I spent hours preparing for just 45 minutes of teaching. Maybe the most difficult part for me was carrying the weight of my students' worries with me. In the course of teaching you learn the stories of students. It is difficult not to go home and think of those kids and the troubles they have.

When I left teaching I told myself that I could go back. Today I am not sure if or when that will be. I am sure that I would be fine in any school, but part of me knows that I would always be comparing it to Loretto, to a time in my life that wasn't perfect, but was pretty damn amazing.

Once upon a time I was a teacher. And I loved it.

Save Loretto Rally

On retreat at Lake Tahoe, 2009

Chaperoning Prom 2009- all Loretto alumnae!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

30 before 30: Hitting the slopes

If you are just joining us, I am blogging my way through 30 things I have done in my life.

I am not the most athletic person in my  family. My sister and brother are the natural athletes, excelling at pretty much any sport or endeavor they have ever undertaken. They were named MVPs of swimming, water polo and and soccer while I prided myself on earning awards for team spirit. Although I was never the best at any sport, I do pride myself on trying hard and being aggressive. While athleticsm doesn't come naturally to me, I don't use it as an excuse to sit on the sidelines.

With that said, extreme sports were definitely not in my life plan. I had no false illusions that I was going to be great on anything that involved a board. Yet here I am, almost 30 years old, and I CAN WAKEBOARD and I CAN SNOWBOARD!

After I graduated from high school my dad bought a boat. We loaded it up with wakeboard gear and I was so excited to learn to wakeboard. Too bad I sucked. Actually, it wasn't even that positive. I couldn't even get up. I tried over and over again. My dad gave me hints. My sister tried to explain how it worked for her. My brother kept saying "you can do it!" My mom patiently waved the flag over and over again. I just couldn't do it. Day after day I felt like my arms were falling out of their sockets from letting the rope pull me. I spent an entire summer failing at getting up on a wakeboard. It was terrible. But the next summer I tried again. Again. And again. Finally I succeeded. And ever since then I have been able to wakeboard. I am not a great wakeboarder. I happily practice small jumps and enjoy the view from the back of the boat while my brother and his friends do 360s and tricks I don't even know how to name. But I did it; I learned to wakeboard and I can say that I AM a wakeboarder!

While wakeboarding is a big accomplishment, I think that snowboarding is probably a bigger deal to me.

So much talent that I can photograph myself while boarding. I know you are jealous.

We all started skiing when we were young kids. Through lots of practice and skiing with my parents (who are great skiers), I actually became quite a good skier by the time I was in middle school. Right about that time snowboarding gained in popularity. My athletic sister and brother, along with most of our family friends, became snowboarders. I continued schlepping my skis and poles and wearing awkward boots while the cool kids had their single snowboard and more fashionable snowboard clothing.

I continued skiing for another 10 years before I decided to take the plunge into snowboarding when I was 23 years old. I had just graduated college and moved home. I was looking for a way to reintegrate myself into life in Norther California. I was looking for new challenges and ways to hang out with friends. So I went to Tahoe and took snowboard lessons with my friend. Then I went back by myself and took more lessons. After years of speeding down black diamonds on skis, I spent hours on the bunny slopes by myself practicing turns and falling on my ass, riding my sister's long since discarded snowboard that Santa had purchased at Costco in the late 90s.

My view.

Learning to snowboard wasn't easy for me. My body ached. I suffered a lot of foot pain as I looked for the right boots. I spent a lot of time alone while my family and friends sped off on more difficult terrain. But today I am proud that I can snowboard and that I challenged myself to do something that wasn't easy.

Yes, I am such a badass that I wear a helmet.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

30 before 30

(Oh, hi! I am back! Some of you probably have forgotten who I am... well this blog series will be a good reminder! Thanks for welcoming me back after a six month hiatus. I appreciate it!)

In exactly 30 days I will turn 30 years old...

30 used to seem so far away. When I was in my teens and early twenties, I thought 30 was an age of accomplishment. I expected to feel and act a certain way. Now that I am just 30 days away, I can't say that I feel older or accomplished like I imagined I would. I just feel like me.

Many people have a 30 before 30 list or some sort of life list. There are things I want to do and accomplish in this lifetime, but as I have gotten closer to this milestone age I have found myself thinking less about what I haven't accomplished and more about what I have.

I am dedicating these next 30 days to writing about the things I have done in my life. Some of them are big things, others are significant only to me or my family. But they are all things that I am proud of.

So without futher ado...

30 before 30: I graduated from high school

Ok, don't judge me for choosing that as my first accomplishment. There was never any doubt that I would graduate from high school. Graduating is not what I am most proud of. What makes high school an accomplishment for me is that I allowed it to shape me. I learned how to be comfortable with myself and my relationships. I learned that who I am is valuable and worthy. And I had fun.

I went to an all-girls Catholic school named Loretto. My parents encouraged me to go there because of the academic challenge. I was excited to go there because I needed a change from the small, suburban public school system I had grown up in. It was scary to change school systems. I knew only one acquaintance going there. I was terrified that I would be judged and disliked. I wasn't sure if I would make friends.

And you know what? I loved that place and the people I met there. I revered the teachers and built life-long relationships with my peers. I learned to believe in myself and my abilities. I learned how to be a good friend. I grew in my faith and spirituality. I left high school more whole.

I am proud of the four years I spent in that place. I am proud to have been a student there and thankful that I had the opportunity to walk through the gates there each and every day. And most of all, I am happy that the relationships that started on that small campus in 1996 are still thriving in my life.