Fishsticks and Champagne

The story goes like this:

In August of 1969, my aunt and uncle were celebrating their 5th wedding anniversary on August 15 and my mom and dad were celebrating their 1st anniversary on August 17. They all lived in San Francisco, my parents having recently graduated from the University of San Francisco and my uncle finishing up law school in the city.

My mom and dad on their honeymoon, August 1968

My mom and dad on their honeymoon, August 1968

So Lesley doesn't know when this picture was taken, but I am guessing late 70s.

My aunt and uncle, late 70s.

My parents lived in a small walk-up near the university. This means is that they had a second story apartment in an already hilly city. Think stairs, indoors and outdoors. Everywhere.

This will be important later in the story.

They had no money. My mom and dad were 23, my aunt and uncle not much older. But they decided to celebrate the anniversaries together. So my mom cooked up a bunch of frozen fishsticks and someone—probably my uncle—found deeply discounted (because their labels had fallen off) bottles of champagne.

I know exactly what this party looked like, even though I was only a prayer two years in the future. I have seen the four of them like this many, many times in my life—joyful, loud, carefree. Full of laughter.

But not always making top-notch decisions. Because, fishsticks. And champagne. A combo that has trouble written all over it, like prosciutto and margaritas, or brie and beer.

Sure enough, by the end of the night, they were sideways. My dad was getting reacquainted with his fishsticks. My aunt couldn’t manage the stairs down the hill to the street in an upright position. She slid down them on her bum, howling with laughter all the way. Of course.

Then some poor fool had the audacity to cut my uncle off at a stop sign.  The way he tells it, he just barely got hold of the back of her pants to stop her tumbling out the window after she rolled it down to give the guy a piece of her mind.

This night is legend in our family, part of the fabric that holds us all together. Not just how silly and funny it was, but how my uncle’s eyes still twinkle when he tells the part about my aunt. Or the lesson we absorbed about the importance of celebrating wedding anniversaries, even with fishsticks. How my mom tilts her chin defiantly and says “That’s all we had, so that’s what we did!”

This August, they will celebrate their 51st and 47th anniversaries.

Last week, we were in Canada with my cousin and her family for their 11th anniversary. It was the last day of a visit that had ten of us staying in one house—six kids under the age of 10. A big night out was not in the cards.

But there was champagne in the fridge.

We contemplated fishsticks. We really did. For a good half second. And then we got our feet under us and ordered sushi. Luckily, we are twenty years older than our parents were on that fishstick night and more financially secure. We crammed everyone around the dining room table, poured the champagne into half-pints because we couldn’t find any Solo cups, and went at it.


Alas, we only had one bottle of champagne, so the night was tame. No sliding down the stairs required.


Yes, a tiara is normal Friday night attire for Lesley. It’s one of the reasons I love her so much!

The Pieces of My Heart


Yesterday our pastor, Father Mike, came to talk to the adult formation class. He was supposed to have a list of questions to answer, but he left it at home. So instead, he asked “Does anyone have anything they want to ask?”

One of the dads said “Sure” and opened up the can of gay marriage.

At which point, most people screwed themselves down into their seats. I know I did. When religious folk start talking about gay marriage, I listen fearfully, waiting for them to say the thing that means I have to get up and walk out, the thing that breaks tiny pieces off my heart.

Those pieces have names, children I have known and taught. Most of their faces blend down into one specific child, bullied into cutting precisely spaced lines up both his arms.

Three of those pieces belong to good friends, married almost as long as Shea and me, and their sweet son, who they had to fight to get baptized in a Catholic church. They are good moms, with a strong devotion to Mary, like most Catholic moms. They try to go to Mass every week, but sometimes the tension is too much.

Two pieces belong to distant cousins, together for almost fifteen years.

And two to the couple who have lived next door to my parents for over twenty.

Four to the family down the street, with their sweet and wonderful daughters.

One to a dear friend who is a fierce defender of our faith and also gay and drinks far too much to reconcile those two truths in his life.

So when people of God rail angrily against the dangers and threats of gay marriage, I want to hold these pieces of my heart up and say “But what about them? They are beloved children of God too. And we are hurting them in God’s name. We are turning them away. How can this be right?”

But it wasn’t like that yesterday. No fire and brimstone. No black and white. And best of all, no anger.

Father Mike explained the church’s position clearly, and the biblical basis for definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. He delineated between legal marriage and sacramental marriage. He revisited the church’s position on the sanctity of life and the way we are called to treat all people with love and kindness.

But then he said the thing that I have been waiting for a priest to say. I don’t remember his exact words but here’s the gist:

“This is a tough issue. And we have to struggle with it. It’s not enough to simply say one thing or the other. We have to engage it and pray over it and look to the Word of God.

Because we have these people in our lives who are good and we love them. So we have to understand that it’s messy.”

It’s messy.

Shea and I stand apart from our church on homosexuality. We struggled with it. We prayed. We saw the people that God walked through our lives and we know that love does not come from evil. We contemplated leaving the church. We walked out of Mass when priests preached hellfire and brimstone and sanctioned bullying. We wrote letters to the bishop to complain.

We decided to stay.

We decided to choose love.

Love for our friends and family and their relationships. We witness and support their commitments, and share the struggles of marriage and parenting.

Love for anyone searching for who they are. I always tried to be a safe and soft place for my students to land when they were wrestling with life. Now we try to be safe and soft as a family.

Love for the goodness of the church, for our faith and traditions.

Love for the humility of Pope Francis and Father Mike who remind us that it’s messy.

I asked Father Mike yesterday if my friends would be welcome to sit in his church, as a family. To raise their son as a Catholic.

And he said yes. Because of the sanctity of life. Because we shouldn’t keep anyone from a relationship with God. Because Jesus called us to love.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I think Father Mike has the right idea.


90 Days and Counting!

My friend Paula is pregnant for the first time. Paula and I have been friends for 20 years. We played volleyball together in high school, then taught and lived together for ten years until I married Shea.
This Spring, her husband Jimmy, who is a National Park Service Ranger, got transferred far away. They moved in her first trimester. New place, new home, no job for Paula. The baby was a surprise in the fact that she thought that ship had sailed, and she worried about being able to get a teaching job with a November due date.
When I talked to her in May, she didn’t sound great. She was lonely, stressed about the job search and trying to process all these tremendous life changes. Who can blame her? So the Committee decided someone needed to go see her.
Because that’s how we do.
It was a toss up for Lisa and me: we both wanted to see Paula pregnant, and we both wanted to meet sweet baby girl when she gets here. In the end, I came now, and she will go later. We pinkie-promised to take lots of pictures.
And off I went to see my pregnant friend.
In Maui.
Did I forget to mention they moved to Maui?
Maui is one of my favorite places in the whole world. Paula and I went to Maui in the summer of 2002 to reward ourselves for making the jump to public school. We had a blast. When I met Shea a year later, and found out he grew up on Maui, it felt like a sign from God that he was for me.
But this trip was not about Maui. If Paula and Jimmy had moved to South Dakota, I’d still be going to visit her, even though I have no real desire to see South Dakota. She’s my friend and she’s having a baby! So the Maui part is neither here nor there, beyond the fact that we got a beachfront condo for the weekend.
The point was to get things ready. There’s no Babies R Us on Maui. Or Target. There’s a Walmart, but Paula feels the same way I do about Walmart, so that’s out. And Paula and Jimmy are super low-key folks. A lot of people don’t even know she’s pregnant. If she was closer, she might have let us throw a baby shower. Maybe. Probably not. She is just not a big fuss kind of gal.
But a baby requires equipment. And equipment requires shopping, which is not Paula’s favorite thing. And help wading through the crap that the baby industry tells new mamas that they need.
Like a wipes warmer. I could have just set $30 on fire for the good that thing did anyone.
The first thing we did was throw a wi-fi baby shower. I came armed with love and gifts cards, and we bought a mattress, swing, bath and the two cutest towels you ever did see.
Then we rolled through the baby section and reloaded her registry, which shocked her into silence when it reminded her that she has 90 days to go! I am happy to report that while there is plenty of pink out there for baby girls, there’s also a ton of fun blue, green and melon. And car mirrors have come a long way. The one she picked has flashing lights, plays music and even comes with a remote control so mom can reset while driving.
Paula is feeling better and looks great. She got a teaching job where she is facing down the challenges of being a haole. She and Jimmy are super excited to meet their baby. And you heard it here first: Jimmy doesn’t stand a chance when Miss Thing gets here. He loves himself some Paula, and when Mini-Paula shows up, he’s going over the edge. No doubt.
In other news, Paula took me to see Oprah’s Maui estate, which is right down the road from them. It looked kinda nice:
This is the main house on the Winfrey compound. There were at least five smaller (and by smaller, I mean normal) houses too. #itsgoodtobeoprah

This is the main house on the Winfrey compound. There were at least five smaller (and by smaller, I mean normal) houses too. #itsgoodtobeoprah

And Maui? Maui’s doing all right. Not that I noticed:
These flowers smell heavenly.

These flowers smell heavenly.

The view from our beach.

The view from our beach.


Towards Kihei.

Towards Kihei.




Every Marriage Matters ~ Guest Post by Terri

It’s a big day! Everyone, please meet Jen’s mom Terri, our special guest blogger. She has been married to Ted for almost 46 years, and together they raised Jen and her two brothers, which was no small adventure. Now there are 8 grandkids begging her to retire from her impressive health care career.

We are so proud to have her here today, with such an important message about marriage.

I ran into you at church and asked, “So where is Dave today?”  You said, nonchalantly, “He is not here. We are getting a divorce and he is going to another church now. ” Trying to discern your mood I said, “Oh Beth, I am so sorry. “  You looked me in the eye and said, “No big deal. It doesn’t matter.”  Then you walked back towards your car and left.

I stood there shocked and pondered your announcement and your response. As a believer in marriage, committed to my husband for over 45 years, I felt so sad. Sad that your marriage was ending but just as sad because you think it doesn’t matter.  Every marriage that fails impacts those of us who are married.

I remember when the first of our friends announced that they were splitting up. We had been married about 10 years. We got caught up in their battle and started arguing ourselves. We each felt that there was this little voice saying “Whoa, if it can happen to them, maybe it can happen to us.”  We finally shared that fear and realized that our relationship required increased vigilance and constant attention and that we were NOT going to let that happen to us.

So your broken relationship does matter very much to those of us who are committed to loving and living together for the long haul. It is a little bit of failure for all of us.

I have thought about you so many times since that day. And I have thought about my own children, all of whom have been together with their spouses about 10 years. What issues are they facing and what could I say to help them understand the value of their married relationship?

Some critical things came to mind.

Every married couple needs to remember that they are the primary relationship.  Their family started with just the two of them.  The children will grow up and fly away, as children are meant to do.  And the couple needs to be sure that they have nurtured their marriage.  There will be crazy, busy times:  crying   hungry babies, work deadlines, PTA meetings, running from practice to scouts to dance recitals.  But when things get too hectic or too distant, one of them needs to say “Stop.  I miss you and need your time and attention“   There is nothing like hearing that from the person you love most.

The marriage also matters to the children.  It is hard for them to overhear the arguments but it really hurts trying to tell their friends that their parents are divorcing.  It is painful to hear their parents talking poorly about each other, to live in two homes, carrying precious belongings back and forth. And it is even worse to feel like a prize in a carnival game, where the winner gets the most and best days.

When I was 28, a married mother of 2, my Dad left my mom.   I was devastated!  I cried and cried and raged at him for hurting my mom, for not being willing to stay the course, for separating himself from me and my family, for giving up.  Over time they resolved their issues after long and intense counseling but it was a painful and difficult time for all of us and I was an adult, beyond depending on them for food, shelter and support anymore.

So separate is not necessarily better for your kids unless the living situation is riddled with fear or abuse. They just want to feel safe, happy and together, not drawn into your “stuff”.  They want peace in a unified home.

And marriage matters to your married family and friends.  It impacts those who love you, watch your life splatter and feel your pain. It hurts those who thought it was a relationship to emulate and are shocked to find that it was not.  And what about your unmarried friends and relatives who still have hope that there is a great person out there for them?  They lose a bit more of their hope and anticipation.  They want the marriage, the long term relationship but become fearful about making a commitment because they see your pain and are disenchanted.

What could you have done?

I don’t know much about your relationship and my perceptions may be all wrong.  I have only seen you in our church setting.  But you two seemed to have so much going for you.  And if there has been substance abuse or physical or mental abuse, these words do not apply.  But if you have just drifted apart I would like to tell you some things I noticed.  When you spoke about him to others you often did so without respect.  You poked fun at him when you told stories about the things he did.   I know, I know, a lot of people do that—it helps to be able to unload on someone uninvolved and he laughed, too.  But when you talk disdainfully about someone often enough, eventually you start believing that they really are stupid and worthless.   Instead of affirming him, you ridiculed him and no one can take that for very long.

I also noticed that you both seemed to choose activities with your friends over activities with your spouse.  I heard you talking after church about activities and trips with friends, not spouses.   I saw pictures of you on Facebook and it always seemed that you had an entourage of girlfriends and family.  Where was your attention?  Who was prime in your life?

Your commitment to your children is obvious but you made a vow to commit to your marriage.  If you don’t pay attention, your partner becomes a stranger.  You cannot put “spouse-ing” on hold while you do 20 years of parenting and expect to find a happy spouse waiting with open arms.  Not too many people thrive when they feel second or third in your life all the time.  And it is so true that the best gift you can give your children is to love and honor your spouse.

I think you are a caring woman, an amazing mother and a committed friend to many.   I care about you and pray for you to have whatever you want in life.  I will support you in everything that I can.  But I want you to know that the demise of your marriage does matter to many of us more than you may ever understand.


Ted and Terri, 45 great years kater

Ted and Terri, 45 great years later

Ted and Terri, August 17, 1968

Ted and Terri, August 17, 1968


Terri and Ted have done Marriage Preparation and Marriage Enrichment classes for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for twenty years. They can  be reached at

Receiving Mode ~ Jen


Shea and I have a big decision to make. For three weeks we have been talking it around and around, with no success. Finally, at 11 pm the other night, when we had covered all the options and their pros and cons for the third time without coming to any kind of clarity, I told him that I couldn’t go in circles anymore.

“I know” he said. “We have to pray.”

I took a moment to bask in the warmth of that.

But then I reminded him it took me a year to hear the answer about having another baby. And that was all my fault. I wasn’t in receiving mode. I was praying, but not listening. I let all my own thoughts and worries fill my head and heart and drown out everything else. Finally, I got bored of myself, and stopped. And into that quiet space came my answer.

“So we have to go into receiving mode” I told him. “We can’t talk about it. We can’t think about it. Not chew on it. Not worry about it. Trust that the answer will come.”

Shea thought for a moment and then said “I like that analogy. Just wait for God to throw the bomb.”

I stared at him. What?

Then I started to laugh.

Because when I think receiving mode, I see this in my head:

Is Anyone Out There

And when he thinks receiving mode, he sees this in his head:

San Francisco Herald

San Francisco Herald

I know that God will meet us where we are, but I hope he has a spaceship. Because it’s roughly 75,000,000 miles from Venus to Mars.

I Fainted at my Wedding. So? ~ Jen

The story starts like this: I opened my eyes to the sound of my mom calling my name. I saw my dad’s face and realized I was looking up at him. He’s not supposed to be on the altar, I thought.

“Did I just faint at my wedding?” I asked. Then “I’m going to puke.”

Moments earlier, I felt it coming. I leaned over to my cousin and whispered “I think I’m going to faint.”

“No, you aren’t,” she said with a sunny smile, and turned her face back towards the priest.

So I leaned over to my husband. “I’m think I’m going to faint”, I told him. “Ok” he said. That was it. Next thing, I’m looking up at my dad.

I was not drunk. I was not pregnant. And I was not scared.

I was hot. And kneeling. And trussed into my dress like a dang rump roast on Christmas Eve.

I enjoy telling this story to people. The reactions are fun. Some people laugh with me. Some shake their heads. But it’s the ones, usually single women, whose faces collapse in horror and pity that are my favorite.

It becomes a learning moment.

I fainted on the altar at my wedding. So?

“What do you mean so?!” one of my students asked me once. “All that money! All that planning! Ruined! I would be humiliated!”

I’ll admit that I had to do a magnificent job of shaking it off, a la Scarlett O’Hara: I’ll think about this tomorrow. I could have let it ruin my day.

But I didn’t. Look at the pictures. If you didn’t know I fainted, you wouldn’t know it from the pictures.



One of my favorites!

One of my favorites!

Who fainted??? Party Time!

Who fainted??? Party Time!

Beautiful, happy bride. Beautiful, happy day.

But most important of all: Almost nine years, three kids and two dogs later, beautiful, happy marriage.

That’s what a wedding does—it begins a marriage. Despite the wedding industry’s best efforts, we don’t say “We’re having a wedding!” We say “We’re getting married!”

Besides, a wedding is just one day. Not even the whole day. I waited eleven months for my wedding day and spent too much money on the details of making it lovely. For what? A blur. One moment I was fainting on the altar and the next I was lying on a beach in Mexico.

And I’m not saying that weddings shouldn’t be big and sparkly and fun. All of the weddings in our family have been big and sparkly and fun. We love weddings!

But that day, when you wear the crazy expensive dress and feed people food they will not remember, pales in comparison to the day you hold your baby in your arms.

The love you feel for your fiancé at your wedding is nothing to what you will feel when your spouse gets up with that baby at 3 am.

You think it’s the best day of the rest of your life? It’s not. It’s just the first best day.

We learned lesson #1 about marriage at our wedding: It wasn’t perfect.  It was human and loving and beautiful. There was a moment it went a bit left, and then the moment passed, with the help and concern of our family and friends. Which is exactly what happens in a marriage.

When I look back, I regret nothing. Especially not the fainting. Because when we got home from our honeymoon and watched the video, we saw a  church hushed with concern. My mom’s good friend Lu, a doctor, walked up the aisle to see if she could help. My bridesmaids held hands and prayed for me. Except for my sister in law, who crawled underneath my veil, hairdo be damned, and loosened my dress so I could breathe. When I finally was up and seated on a chair, wobbly, teary, embarrassed, everyone applauded.

I fainted on the altar at my wedding. So?

Brides and Bridezillas, don’t plan a wedding. Celebrate a marriage. It’s a very different thing.

The first lasts a day. The second lasts a lifetime.