All posts by peppermintfrost

About peppermintfrost

My Catholic faith is a crucial part of the person I am. I teach high school English in an urban, diverse school. It's my dream job. I am also a runner, having completed half marathons, a marathon, and obstacles races such as the Spartan Race and Tough Mudder. I'm also a beach bum, dog lover, and eternal optimist.

Father Larry Richards – Prayer

Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend the second two days out of Father Larry Richards’ four-day mission at St. Gregory the Great parish in Hamilton Square, NJ.

This year, he returned to New Jersey for the mission at the Co-Cathedral of St. Robert Bellarmine in Freehold, NJ.  I was still unable to attend Tuesday’s talk since I teach CCD, but this time I was able to go on Monday.

Here are the blogs that I wrote last year based on the last two days of the mission: Day 3: Confession and Day 4: Adoration and Healing.

These are the things that resonated with me from Monday’s talk:

“Be a saint.  Or go to hell.”

Those words sound really tough, but those are really the only two options that we have.  I remember how I never used to want to be a saint.  I had heard stories of many of the saints of the Church; I knew how much they suffered.  It isn’t until more recently that I realized that anyone who has made it to heaven is considered a saint.

I guess I had thought that a saint was a special person in Heaven since the canonized saints have to go through the very specific canonization process and need to have verified miracles.  I thought that I would be happy just getting to heaven, but without being a saint.  If our deceased loved ones are in heaven, they are saints just as much as St. Therese or St. Teresa of Calcutta; they are simply not recognized specifically as a saint by the church.

Anyway, I now realize that I obviously want to be a saint because it is that or hell.  Plain and simple.  Do we love God above all else and want to be with Him forever?  Or do we want to deny Him and be separated from Him for all of eternity?

Father Larry had us do an activity during which we wrote down 5 things on 5 pieces of paper that were stapled together.  He told us to write down what we love the most.

Then, we had to rip off one of the pieces of paper.  The first paper I removed was running.  I love running, but I could give it up if I had to.

Time to rip off another.  The beach.  I love it, but sure, I could live without it.

And he continued until we were down to two pieces of paper.  I’m assuming that most people had their spouses, children, and maybe God on those 2 pieces.  What a difficult task.

Once we made our decision, he explained that if the last paper in our hand said anything other than God, we had just chosen hell.  My friend and I looked down at our papers and they both said God.  We smiled and felt proud of ourselves for choosing God.

Not so fast, said Father Larry.  He knew that some of us would be sitting there feeling smug, maybe even judging those around us who hadn’t chosen God as their last piece of paper.  He asked us if our choice was really true.

Do we always put God first?  Do we give our time to Him?  If not, then although we may acknowledge that God should be first, He isn’t actually first in our lives.  Ouch.  Quick jab to my ego right there.


24,000 children will die today from hunger.  Father Larry said that if we are unable to preach the Gospel to the mother who is holding her dying child in her arms, then we don’t truly know the gospel.  After all, the death of a child should be a moment for rejoicing since that child will likely join God in heaven.  Of course, it’s a sad moment for the family members, but if we really have faith, then we should be overjoyed that that little one is already experiencing the fullness of God’s love.


There is a heresy called pelagianism which asserts that we can earn our way to heaven, but that is simply not the case.  We are save by grace.  If we reject God and go to hell, it’s not because we didn’t earn heaven; rather, it’s because we refused to accept God’s grace and mercy.


We’re offended by everything, thinking that makes us holy.  I can definitely relate to that.  I hate being around people who curse, drink too much, do drugs, or act promiscuously.  Now, I don’t think Father Larry was saying that we should place us in those types of situations since some of them could lead to the near occasion for sin, but we also must not condemn those around us.

He said how Jesus was never shocked or offended.  He spoke to adulterers, tax collectors, you name it.  He didn’t judge them or condemn them.  Rather, he loved them.  He never said that any sin was acceptable and he told the adulteress to sin no more.  But he did not judge anyone.

Father Larry said how a man once told him that he thought it would be a good idea to refuse to attend the wedding for a couple who was living unchastely.  Father Larry asked what good that would do.

The better option, he said, would be to fast every Friday for their conversion rather than judging them.  Wow.  I usually fast during two days of the year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  I have been hearing a bit more about fasting recently, and how we are actually supposed to fast every Friday (except the Friday after Easter).  That doesn’t always need to be a fast from food, but we are supposed to give up something in order to remember that it is a penitential day.

I can’t imagine that man’s reaction.  Yes, you should attend the wedding.  And, by the way, you should fast once a week for the couple.

Imagine how significantly the world could change if we all fasted on Fridays for a particular cause (and if we had the true faith that it would work).  If you have someone who you know is living in sin, you should sacrifice yourself for their conversion rather than condemning them.

Father Larry said that he fasts 23 hours a day.  He only eats dinner.  I cannot even imagine doing that, though I have heard of saints who fasted in very extreme ways.

He said how Father John Vianney was very harsh and how he would give people very challenging penances.  However, we would them make sure that he would do the penance himself for them, offering himself as a sacrifice for their holiness.


He said that our prayer should always focus more on listening than talking.  This is definitely a struggle for me.  Even at Eucharistic Adoration, it’s tough to just listen.  When I was younger, I would struggle to get through an hour of adoration.  I find it much easier now that I go every Monday night.  It’s easy to pray with rote prayers, the Rosary, and petitions/intercessions.  I also usually have the Bible to read, or a book based on something faith-related.  But sitting there and doing nothing but listening is incredibly difficult.  I find that my mind wanders almost immediately, and I eventually notice that I’m daydreaming and try to get back on the listening train.  I guess I’ll have to continue practicing.


Father Larry also spoke about how our love for God should be what leads us to stop sinning, not our fear of hell.  It’s a selfish act if the only reason we stop sinning is to avoid hell.  Rather, we should choose to give up our sinful ways because of our complete love for God and our desire to strengthen our relationship with Him.

He said how he is a virgin because he chose to give that to God.  He’s not a virgin because of his fears of eternal damnation.

If we consider a married couple, we could ask the husband why he chooses not to commit adultery (aside from his love for God).  Hopefully the man’s response is that he makes that choice out of love for his wife.  He’s not living that way to avoid punishment.  If asked, “Why haven’t you cheated on your wife?”  “Because I don’t want her to be angry with me” isn’t the most romantic response.  Similarly, we choose to avoid sin out of our love for God and to avoid hurting Him through our selfish acts.

Good parents don’t want kids who fear them and only behave to avoid being beaten.  That’s not love, but fear.  Perfect love casts out fear; it doesn’t exacerbate it.


Anyway, I could go on for quite a while, as he spoke about many more topics than just these, but these were the ones that stuck out to me the most.

I’m thankful that I had another opportunity to hear Father Larry speak and I hope that if he is in the area again in the future, I will get to see him on day 2 since that is the one that I’ve missed.

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Arm Teachers With Guns or Students With…Rocks?

The other day, I was scrolling through the news headlines when I saw this article: “School Supplying Rocks for Students to Throw at Any Shooters: ‘They Will be Stoned.’

I guess it’s better than having guns in the classrooms, but really?  This sounds so absurd I can’t believe that it’s true.

Let’s grab piles of rocks, keep them in buckets, and in the event of a school shooter, let’s train the kids to pelt them with rocks.  Yep.  That’s a great solution.

Come on.  Are rocks really going to stop a person (who is likely mentally unstable) who is armed with an AK-47 or AR-15?  Doubtful.

Not to mention the safety concerns of intentionally providing weapons in every classroom.

I would be nervous that the kids would start using them if they get into an argument with another student (or maybe even a teacher).  Before even thinking, they can easily reach for a rock to throw across the room.

The superintendent of the district said this: “Every classroom has been equipped with a five-gallon bucket of river stone. If an armed intruder attempts to gain entrance into any of our classrooms, they will face a classroom full students armed with rocks and they will be stoned,” he said, per WNEP 16.

How can he say that seriously?

Helsel said he came up with the idea himself and chose river stone because the rocks are “the right size for hands, you can throw them very hard, and they will create or cause pain, which can distract.”

Thank you for the clarification, Mr. Superintendent.  I’m grateful that these aren’t just ordinary rocks.  River stone makes all the difference.

I’m curious what practice lockdowns look like in his schools.  Are these river stones just flying across the halls?

How about we address more of the heart of the issue?  Why don’t we try to determine why so many of our youth in America experience this desire to kill?  Arming students with rocks to kill school shooters doesn’t solve the problem of school shooters.

What about mental health problems in America and the way they are dealt with?  What about stricter gun control so that ordinary Americans cannot obtain assault rifles?  What about stricter laws about background checks of those purchasing guns?  What about bullying and cyberbullying?  What about the breakdown of the family and the problems that correspond with that, in addition to the foster care system?  What about violent films and video games?  What about the media and the way it sensationalizes criminals so that others begin to desire to go down in similar infamy?

There are so many problems.  I understand that this superintendent probably has good intentions; he wants to keep his students and faculty members safe.  But piling river stones into buckets just sounds silly.

 

 

No, We Don’t Need More Guns in Our Schools

The headlines over the past week have been awful.  Unfortunately, that isn’t just because of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, but also because of President Trump’s reactions to the shooting.

Despite the idiocy of Trump, though, I am so impressed by the many Parkland teens who are standing up and advocating for stricter gun laws.  Emma Gonzalez showed such passion in her speech:

She even confronted a spokeswoman from the NRA who was evading her question about banning bump stocks and semi-automatic weapons.  She brought up the fact that Trump was the one who helped to repeal a law that made it more difficult for people with mental illnesses to purchase guns.  She is adamant that the laws become stricter.

But while the students fight for tougher gun laws, President Trump does the opposite.  His solution is to arm teachers.

Initially, there was outcry from numerous sources upon hearing Trump’s idea, so he later followed up prior comments by explaining that he doesn’t mean that any teacher should be given a gun.  Instead, it should be teachers with military backgrounds.

He cited random, fake statistics, saying that 10% of teachers in one school might fit the situation while 40% in another school would.  Now, I don’t know what schools are like in the south, but I can promise you that here in New Jersey, we don’t have too many ex-military teachers.  I can think of two in my entire high school.  Does he really believe there are schools where 40% of the teachers used to be in the military?

He even made a comment about coaches being good candidates to be trained with weapons because they have experience in that sort of thing.  Excuse me, Mr. President, but our coaches are mainly teachers.  They aren’t ex-military.  Why is a coach more likely to be equipped to handle a gun?  We have a problem with fake news these days, which is no surprise considering our own president spreads his own fake news.

Then he suggested giving special bonus money to the teachers who are armed.  He said that “teachers love bonuses.”  Trump speaks as if we’re children.  “Teachers love bonuses.”  I mean, isn’t that true of anyone, really?  Who isn’t happy to receive a bonus at their job?  He just always has such a condescending attitude.

I would rather forego the bonus than have that sort of power in my hands, and I know that many teachers agree with me.  Police officers are highly trained with their weapons, yet they still shoot and kill innocent bystanders from time to time.  Has Trump considered how likely that is to happen in a school, especially in a chaotic moment like a mass shooting?

He said that it takes about 8 minutes for the police to arrive at a school shooting and the shootings have only lasted for 3 minutes on average.  Hypothetically speaking, let’s say 5 teachers in my school are carrying concealed weapons.  What is the chance that one of the five of them will be less than a three minute’s walk away?  And if they are, how likely is it that they will kill the criminal without accidentally taking an innocent life?

Then, who will be there to protect the teachers when lawsuits arise?  Will legislators protect them from accidentally killing an innocent student?  And even if they could be protected financially, who is going to protect the guilt that they will likely face forever?

Trump suggests that teachers take a training course and then revisit the course once every six to twelve months, but who will pay for it?  A man posed that question to him yesterday and he completely evaded the question, making it sound like that shouldn’t be a reason to turn down his idea since it’s so crucial for the safety of our children.

But that is exactly what continues to happen with education in America; laws are passed, but they lack funding.  Schools sometimes need to fire teachers in order to find the funds to comply with government mandates.  Trump keeps saying that this will be “basically free” to the schools.  I don’t think he understands what the word free means.

The courses to learn gun safety and shooting accuracy will cost money.  The purchase of guns and ammunition will cost money.  And the bonuses he says the teachers should be given will also cost money.  So even if people agree with his idea, it’s financially disastrous to education.  We would lose teachers so that a select few teachers could carry guns.  I’m not even going to get into our failing education system, but I would prefer tax dollars to be spent on improving education, not purchasing weapons.

Trump reminds me of a child who makes reactive, impulsive decisions without considering them fully.  School shooting?  Uh…let’s arm teachers.  Oh, people think that’s dangerous?  Okay…uh…we’ll only arm a select few who have a military background.  Where will money come from?   Shoot…haven’t considered that one…well, if you love your kids you’ll find the money.  Yea…that’s the answer.

How is this our president?  How do people still support him?  He sounds like a rambling fool.

Trump said this about the shooting in Florida:  “A teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened.  These teachers love their students. And these teachers are talented with weaponry and with guns. And I’d rather have somebody that loves their students and wants to protect their students than somebody standing outside that doesn’t know anybody and doesn’t know the students and frankly, for whatever reason, decided not to go in even though he heard lots of shots being fired.”

So a teacher would have shot him as a result of their love for their students?  A+B does not equal C here.  Teachers loving their students has no correlation to being able to shoot a criminal before he could kill more students.  There is zero causation between the two.  I love my students; therefore, if trained, I could “shoot the hell” out of any perpetrator?  No, that’s not how it works.

Cruz had an automatic weapon.  What will a teacher have, a handgun?  Does Trump honestly believe that one teacher with a handgun could have prevented all of that?

He made that comment after learning about the armed officer who was outside of the high school and who never entered.  His response about that was that “A security guard doesn’t know the children, doesn’t love the children. This man standing outside of the school the other day doesn’t love the children, probably doesn’t know the children. The teachers love their children. They love their pupils.”

First off, I’m an English teacher, and I cannot get over Trump’s repetitive, elementary sentence structure.  He loves to repeat key words and short sentences.  But him saying that we love our students while security guards don’t has no evidence or support.  Trump’s rhetoric is that of a child.  Yet some people still side with him?  I just don’t understand.  I feel like I’m living in the twilight zone.

He is so completely off base and out of touch with reality.  He even made a comment that “now is no longer the time for political correctness.”  That insinuates that he was previously being politically correct, but I can’t remember one instance when we held back from spewing insults at someone.

Trump likes finding scapegoats.  Immigrants, Muslims, it doesn’t really matter.  He needs someone to blame.  In this case, it’s the officer.  Now I don’t know the situation surrounding that officer.  I don’t know why he didn’t enter the building, but I’m sure that he is carrying some guilt right now.

He was also pointing the finger at California today, since California won’t go along with some of Trump’s ideas.  He started talking about the gang MS-13, and how those people aren’t even human beings; they’re animals.

MS-13 has nothing to do with this school shooting.  Yes, they actually are human beings.  No, that should not even be part of the conversation, but because he can point a finger, he will.

Trump pointing fingers is not helping anything.  And neither is his plan to arm teachers.

I miss the compassion we saw from President Obama following mass shootings like the one in Sandy Hook.  He appeared visually upset, tears streaming down his face as he discussed the events.  Families felt incredibly touched by his kind words to them when they met in private.  I don’t know how Trump reacted privately, but on camera, no matter the situation, he always has that smug grin plastered on his face.  It’s revolting, really.

I’m curious what changes are going to be passed by lawmakers in the upcoming months.  All I know is that, as a high school teacher, the last thing that I want is a bunch of my coworkers armed with guns.  That is not the answer.

Anyway…I really like this editorial that was posted in the New York Times:

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,

I don’t think you understand the problem that our country is facing.  We are in the midst of a school shooting  and mass shooting epidemic.  There is something that is intensely wrong in our country at the moment.

Students from Florida are protesting gun laws.  Most of them want the laws to be made more strict so that students can not so easily obtain guns.

I absolutely understand that guns are not the only problem.  I’m a teacher and I deal with high school students on a daily basis.  There are problems with bullying, mental health, narcissism, you name it.

But it’s also true that in most of these mass shootings, the perpetrators are not killing with a simple handgun that is purchased for protection.  They’re also not using guns that are typically used to hunt deer.

These are assault weapons that are being used: AK-47s, AR-15s.  For what purpose should any American be purchasing that sort of gun?  To hang on their wall?  To go target shooting? Just look at the name.  Assault weapon.  They were created for the purpose of eliminating human life on a grand scale.

Should that be a part of our right to bear arms?  I would say no.

Yet you, Mr. Trump, are taking the opposite stance.  You see the shootings.  You try (in an embarrassingly awkward manner) to comfort the families before going to relax at Mar-a-Lago.  You decide that arming teachers is the best solution.

Bringing more guns into schools is no sort of solution.  I am a teacher and I feel safe in my school despite…no, not despite…as a result of the lack of guns.  I would feel much less safe knowing that there are guns all over my school.

The more guns we have, the greater a chance we have of having a gun accidentally getting into the wrong hands.

Arming teachers doesn’t hit the root of the problem.  Arming teachers says, “well, since we can’t stop the students shooting up the schools, we’ll at least train teachers to kill them so that fewer students will end up dead.”

Arming teachers?  Is that a solution?  Absolutely not.  That’s a band-aid.  That lets the criminals win.  That tells them that we’re afraid, that we don’t know how to fix the problem, so instead, we’ll add more guns and more violence.

Let’s look into mental health problems.  Let’s address cyberbullying.  Let’s change our gun laws.  Let’s be more strict about the violent video games that our children begin playing at a young age and the gory films they are watching despite the R rating.  Let’s make sure that our school systems and FBI actually look into potential threats.  Let’s pray and remember that God is still very present in this country, waiting for us to turn to Him.

You’re supposedly a man of faith.  I hope that’s true and that you pray to God.  I really hope you can find Him.  Because right now, you’re giving all of Christianity a bad name.  You mention your faith in God, but then you berate poverty-stricken nations, calling them sh**-holes.  Is that what Jesus would do?

You’re the first president to attend the March for Life to end abortion, saying that you respect life in all forms, but then you act as though immigrants are a lesser sort of human being.  Is that what Jesus would do?

You’re a hypocrite in every sense of the word.

Please, don’t bring our nation into further ruin by trying to push for teachers to be armed with guns.  That is not what we want.  That is not what the students want.  Denounce your NRA affiliations and stop the madness that you’re spewing every time I turn on the news.

In the meantime, I will continue to pray for this country, especially for all of the victims of the shooting in Florida, their family and friends, the rest of the student body, the teachers and staff, and anyone else affected by the tragedy.  You are all loved.  God is still here, ready to pick you up out of  the darkness if you let Him.

 

Wedding Blues

I feel like such a complainer, but I can’t even describe the hatred I feel towards wedding planning.  I know, I sound like a stupid, stuck up, spoiled girl.  Oh, life sucks, my boyfriend proposed and I’m getting married.  Life is so hard.  But it does suck.  I hate it.

I have seven weddings to attend in 2018 including my own.  Yes, SEVEN.  I’m a teacher and my fiance has tons of student loans.  It’s not like we can easily afford all of this.  Not to mention, I’m a bridesmaid in two of the weddings and he is the best man in one and a groomsman in another.  So we’re involved in a significant way in 5 out of 7 of the weddings.  Oh, and one will require a flight to Michigan (plus hotel), one will require a flight to Texas (plus hotel), and one will require a six-hour drive to Pittsburgh (plus hotel).

Right now we’re expecting to pay over $5,000 just on the other weddings between the flights, hotels, dresses, tuxedos, presents, showers, and bachelor/bachelorette parties.  For ours, we’re trying to keep a tight budget, but getting married in New Jersey by the shore is not cheap.

I’m not having an engagement party or bachelorette party.  We’re having brunch instead of dinner, we removed the cake to save some money, I’m probably going to use old shoes and do my own makeup, possibly even my own hair.  We’re hoping to rent SUVs instead of hiring drivers or limos or fancy cars.  We got free engagement photos and super cheap save the dates.  We’re using a videographer who is a friend and a DJ we know through family.  I’m looking for cheap invitations that still look nice.  My mom is hemming the dresses I need for the other weddings we’re attending.  I feel like we’re trying to cut prices wherever possible.

I am also doing everything I can to save money in my day to day life.

Ibotta app?  Got it.  I’m sending in every receipt when I go grocery shopping or to the drugstore because every 50 cent reward adds up.  So far I’ve earned $22.  Dosh app? Got it, but since we’re not going out to dinner since it’s cheaper to eat at home, I haven’t really made money there.  QuickThoughts survey app?  Yep, that too.  I’ve made $30 since January.

IPSOS I-Say surveys?  Yep, I do those.  I’ve made $25 since January.  Not bad.  MyPoints website?  Yep, I do that also.  $10 made since January.  Ebates installed to my computer?  Yes, but I don’t really buy much online, so it’s taking time to earn much.

But all of that work still only comes to a grand total of $87.  That’s enough for my left shoe.  (Okay, that might be a bit hyperbolic, but that’s how it feels.  I’m actually most likely re-using shoes I already own because who the heck is going to see them anyway?)

I’m thankful that I can grade AP exams in June and teach summer school this summer to earn extra money, but still, it’s all overwhelming.

And then there’s everything I’ve given up.  My sessions hot yoga ran out, so I’m not buying any new ones.  I’m not signing up for any Spartan races or half marathons this year.  My fiance and I aren’t going out to dinner, out to aquariums or museums, or really doing anything that costs money.  I bought a Groupon the other day so that we could at least get a cheap dinner at a pizza place because there is nothing to do anymore on the weekend aside from reading and building puzzles and discussing more wedding plans.

I used to only buy organic foods, but now I’m buying regular eggs, some regular produce, and even some regular meat.  I hate that because I know how unhealthy that is, with all of the antibiotics present, but I can get 3 pounds of turkey for $7.  Wild salmon for $17.99/lb is a thing of the past.

I even have frickin frozen pizza in my freezer.  I cannot even remember a time when I bought non-organic frozen pizza.  I honestly don’t think I ever have before.  But guess what?  Freschetta frozen pizza was not only on sale at the supermarket — it also came with a $1 rebate on Ibotta.  So one pizza cost me $3.  That is 2 to 2 1/2 meals for me.  I just can’t beat the price.

Yet at the same time, I’d like to be in my best shape for the wedding, so I’ve been working out any time I have a free moment.  Unfortunately, that time is limited since I’m staying late at work any time I can to help students with assignments so that I can earn a few more dollars.  So my workouts are inconsistent, and I’m occasionally eating garbage like frozen pizza, yet working toward abs.  Yes, I know, it doesn’t really work like that.

I don’t want to go to any doctors.  I should go to the eye doctor because my contacts have been bothering me, but instead, I’m just using eye drops to remove my red eyes.  My students probably think I’m high or something.

I am looking into a naturopath to go to for my Lyme, but again, it’s unlikely to happen unless my insurance covers it because I know how expensive that will be if I’m paying out of pocket.  I should find an OB-GYN since I haven’t gone to one of those since living in CT, but that’s another expense.  I’m praying for no cavities because my dental insurance sucks, so if I get a cavity, that’s a chunk of our wedding budget immediately gone.

And I’m not even going to get started on the whole living situation.  I’d like to buy a house in the near future, but every $1000 spent on the wedding is $1000 less in our savings to purchases a house one day.

I just feel like there is nothing to look forward to other than my honeymoon.  I have no spring break plans, obviously.  I can’t afford to plan a fun weekend for my fiance’s birthday like I did last year.  On my 30th birthday, we’ll be driving 6 hours to a wedding.  I’m not excited for anyone else’s birthday because again, that’s just more money being spent.

I should be excited for our wedding, but all I can think about is how excited I am for the wedding to be over.  I don’t really enjoy weddings anyway, so I have a lot of weekends of wedding showers and weddings coming up in 2018, which isn’t my favorite thing in the world.

And I usually go on a mission trip every summer, but I’ve cut that from my expenses as well.  So now I feel even worse because here I am spending all of this money on one day of my life when that same amount of money could have saved so many children from poverty across the world.  I could travel on at least five overseas mission trips for the amount we’re spending on our wedding and others.  That just hurts my heart.

Is this all really worth it?  I wish I could go back, un-invite everyone, and have a small Catholic ceremony with my closest family members and call it a day.

I’m obviously just in a terrible mood today, but I feel like this is where wedding planning has brought me.  The usual happy, optimistic, joyful Stephanie has turned into this negative Nancy.  I don’t like it, but that’s where I am right now.

I don’t even look forward to weekends anymore because weekends are just extra time to grade papers, begrudgingly work on wedding plans, and take as many surveys as I can to save up a few more bucks.

Welcome to the engaged life.

 

 

 

Wedding Planning Woes

I hate wedding planning and I hate the whole wedding industry in this country.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely ecstatic about being engaged and planning a future together with my fiance.  But the wedding planning?  Ugh.  Gag me.  I cannot stand it.

Both AJ and I are deeply invested in our Catholic faith.  We’re excited to celebrate the sacrament of matrimony.  But because we live in the year 2018, it is impossible to avoid the secular world of weddings, along with all of its astronomical costs and extravagance.

First stop: engagement ring

I knew that I didn’t want a blood diamond (if you don’t know what that is, read this: “Blood Diamonds”). Finding out about the company, Do Amore was an incredible blessing.

I love my sapphire, ethical engagement ring that is made out of recycled white gold helped to pay for the drilling of a well in Bihar, India.  I am also excited that we ordered our wedding bands on Do Amore as well, so that we are contributing even further to the drilling of a well in India.

I don’t understand why more people won’t stand up against blood diamonds and support companies like Do Amore.  But don’t get me started, I could go on forever.

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Next stop: proposal

Everything in our society seems to be a competition of who can top everyone else.  There are now ridiculous proposals involving flash mobs, helicopter rides, and camera crews.  These poor men are spending thousands of dollars (the average cost of an engagement ring in 2017 was $7,000!!!…don’t worry, mine was not nearly that pricey) on engagement rings, and then thousands more on the proposal.

I guess now that promposals have become so ridiculous, the adult men feel the need to top the seventeen-year-old boys gifting Michael Kors watches to their girlfriends when doing their promposals.

Thankfully, my fiance knew that I wouldn’t have wanted a big to-do for my proposal.  He proposed with printed pictures of us that were all over the floor of my apartment, each with a note on the back.  It was simple and sweet and not at all flashy.

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Engagement party?

We skipped that part, but today it is typical to have someone throw the newly engaged couple an engagement party.  I know the upcoming marriage is exciting, but we already have showers, bachelor/bachelorette parties, rehearsal dinners, the wedding, and the honeymoon.  An extra party to celebrate the engagement seems to be a bit much.

Maybe a nice dinner out with parents or with the couple’s closest friends?  Fine.  But extravagant engagement parties?  Come on, there’s more about the marriage than a gazillion parties.

For us, it went something like this: get engaged, call parents, walk on the beach, call more people, get sandwiches for dinner, go to adoration, call more people, the end.

I love the fact that we got engaged on a night when my church has Eucharistic adoration because we were able to start out engagement in prayer, thanking God for His blessings while praying for our future.

Choosing a venue.

We picked the venue based mainly on the cost.  Gosh, is the pricing insane.  I know that it doesn’t help that we live by the beach in New Jersey, but still.

Fortunately, we’re having a brunch wedding.  I’ve always wanted a brunch wedding because A) people don’t usually get as drunk at noon as they would at night and B) breakfast is my favorite.  Option A was the main factor for me since I despise drunkenness so much.  I love a good steak or seafood dinner like anyone else, but I’d rather have a nice little brunch, have my wedding over by 5pm, and hopefully not have to witness the sloppy drunkenness that will probably take place once people go to after parties that evening.

But back to the venue choices…

I thought that brunch wedding options would be cheaper.  Relative to the dinner options, they were, but gosh, I cannot believe how much people are spending on their weddings.  All of the venues I researched, with the exception of three, offered brunch prices between $97 and $150 per head.  At $97, I could invite just 150 people and already spend almost $15,000.  That is insane.

I guess that’s why the average cost of a wedding in New Jersey is $47,000.  That is more than I spent on two years of tuition at the college I attended.  My wedding day is important, but how can I justify spending that kind of money on ONE day?

In the end, I spent hours of research on venues before finally making appointments with three locations.  I went to the first one on my own.  It was lovely, but I just felt blah about it.  The next I went to with AJ and both of us loved it.  The last was the most beautiful location since it was right on the water.  If I was choosing based on aesthetics alone, that would have won hands down, but their brunch options were limited.

We went with the place we both loved.  The location isn’t phenomenal, but that doesn’t really matter since a wedding reception is mainly indoors.  There is an outdoor area if the weather is nice, so that can be used for the cocktail half hour.  And the biggest benefit is that it’s a hotel, so many of our guests can stay right there, which makes everything easier, especially since we have lots of out-of-state guests.

Photographers/videographers

The photographer is one of the most important parts of the wedding to me because I love looking back at old photographs.  I still print photos and I have a whole bunch of photo albums in my home.  I love looking through them when I have some spare time.

I understand that photography is an art, but the prices are simply unreal.  A friend who was engaged before me warned me that if I wanted photography and videography, that it was going to cost about $6,000.

I initially hoped to find a photographer for $1000 to $1500, before realizing that was completely impossible.  Fortunately, I found one who offered a discount if we didn’t get engagement photos, so that helped with the cost a bit.  I just had no idea how expensive everything is.

Engagement photos? Save the dates?

AJ and I went back and forth on this one.  Eventually, we decided to skip the engagement photos and I figured that I would just make a save the date with pictures we already had.  In the end, AJ’s cousin offered to take engagement photos for us at no charge, so we were really blessed and thankful for that opportunity.

Now, some girls go buy new outfits and get their hair and makeup done before the engagement photos.  I just got dressed in clothes that I’ve had forever.  Actually, the sweater that I wore has a hole in it (but it’s behind my neck, so you can’t see it).  None of my clothes had been purchased within even the last two years.  I wore slightly more than what I use for my typical makeup routine (no foundation, contouring, highlighter, [insert other makeup guru term here]). Yet the pictures came out beautifully.  Go figure.

Along those same lines, we also went back and forth between whether or not to send save the dates.  I would have preferred to have just sent invitations out super early, but everything online suggested against doing that.  We mainly chose to make save the dates so that people traveling long distances would have advance warning for the dates.

Black Friday had some amazing prices for Save the Dates, so it didn’t really end up being a significant amount of money.  If they had been expensive, I think we would have just skipped save the sates and verbally told our closest friends and family members about the date.

Wedding dress squad?

I’m an introvert, so I know this is different for extroverts, but I did not care to have a big group of people providing me with their input on my wedding dress.  I felt like that would make everything more stressful and that it possibly even cause me to choose something different from my own preferences if I let the opinions of others begin to dictate my own thoughts.

My mom came down from Connecticut for the weekend and I made appointments at David’s Bridal as well as a local bridal shop.

The first store, I liked nothing.  The second store, I had two favorites that I couldn’t decide between.  We were able to squeeze in an appointment at the third store, where I liked nothing, and then we went back to store #2 (just in a different location).

By that point, I wanted to go home to decide between my 2 favorite dresses.

I went back to store #2 on a random Tuesday afternoon after work.  I tried on the two dresses that I loved and decided that I wanted to go with the one that just seemed more “Stephanie.”  Both dresses had their positive qualities, but I felt much more like myself in the dress I chose.

I am happy that I made my decision by myself because although I did have some input from others (I texted the pictures to a few of my friends), it was ultimately my own choice and I didn’t pick my dress because of what anyone else preferred.

I still have to find a veil.  Did you know they can cost $400!?!?  I found that out last week.  So I will definitely be shopping around trying to find one under $100…preferably under $50 if that’s possible.

Bridesmaid dresses

My sister in Brazil is my matron of honor and my bridesmaids are from Texas, Virginia, and New Jersey.  I wanted something that would not be too much of a hassle for them.

I figured that David’s Bridal would be the easiest choice since they’re located all over the country.  I picked the color that was closest to what I wanted.  Is it the exact shade I would have preferred?  No.  But it’s pretty close and that was good enough for me.

I decided the color and length of the dress and let the girls all choose the style they prefer.  I think it often looks better when brides do this because everyone has a different body shape.  I love how V-necks and halter tops look on me, while other girls hate those styles and prefer other shapes.  I have a square-shaped body with virtually no waist or hips, so I prefer styles that give me the allusion of a waist.  Other girls have to try their hardest to hide their wide hips.

I know that most girls hate their bridesmaid dresses, so hopefully since the girls at least got to pick the style of the dress, it will be flattering to each of their body types.

Tuxedos

AJ went to the mall with his dad.  They went to two stores and picked out the tuxes for AJ and his groomsmen.  I met up with them since I happened to be in the mall that day because a friend of mine was visiting.  AJ initially picked a gray tux and I just mentioned how I thought grooms usually wore black.

He switched to black and used gray for the groomsmen and just picked colors that would match my bridesmaid dresses.  I actually don’t really know exactly how the tuxes look, but I just don’t care. That’s AJ’s job.  He chose what would go well with the help of the person working at the bridal store and I’m sure it will all look great.

I’m not the type of bride who wants to control every tiny little detail of my wedding.

Transportation

This part has not yet been figured out yet.  I don’t want anything fancy.  I’d prefer no limos, sports cars, trolleys, or party buses.  But we do need to have transportation for our wedding party, so I’m hoping to maybe use a car rental place and order two or three SUVs.

That’s the plan right now.  It seems way more affordable than other options, but we’re still figuring it all out.

Glam squad?

This has not yet been finalized.  I plan to wear makeup, but I’m not sure how much.  I’ve never worn foundation, contouring powder, false eyelashes, etc, and I think I plan to keep it that way.  I like the way I look more naturally.

People keep warning me that my pictures may look bad without full face makeup and that since it’s August, I may look shiny, but I have recently realized that if that were true, I would hate how I look in other pictures I have.

I like the way I do my makeup.  Will I do a little bit extra for my wedding?  Yes, but  I don’t want to look different from me.  I picked my dress because it felt more “Stephanie” and I think that has to be my ultimate goal with my hair and makeup as well.  I want to look like myself.  I’ll try to find something to remove the shine since it might be a hot day, but I don’t want my face to look fake.

I also have no idea how to do my hair because I have curly hair and sometimes it air dries perfectly while other times it gets frizzy.  I don’t want ti to look really fake, though, so I’m still figuring out what to do there.

Flowers

I’m not a flower person.  I told AJ right from the start that he shouldn’t ever buy me flowers.  I just don’t really appreciate them very much.  They look pretty for a few days and then they die.  I like potted plants or flowers growing outside, but bouquets aren’t my thing.

I looked into alternatives to flowers.  They make bouquets out of lollipops now.  Others are made out of feathers.  But I felt like they were just a little too silly.  I need the bouquet when I’m walking down the aisle, and it’s the Mass that is my main priority, so I feel that having a candy bouquet would just be silly and kind of make a mockery out of something that is so important.

So I do plan to have a bouquet, but hopefully just a small, simple one.  I love bright colors, so I’d love either a bright blue/pink, or hot pink bouquet for me and a tiny bouquet or single flower for my bridesmaids.  I’m leaning toward fake flowers since they cost a bit less.

Honeymoon

This was very high on my list of important wedding plans.  I could not wait to plan my honeymoon.  I could write an entire post on this, but here’s the short version.  We’re going to Bali!

Extravagant?  People would assume so, but it’s actually surprisingly affordable.  I was able to purchase flights that were cheaper than any international flight I’ve taken to Brazil, despite the fact that it’s significantly farther away.

The travel time will be long (11-hour flight followed by a short layover and another 11-hour flight), but I know that it will be worth it.  AJ and I love mission trips, so I don’t think we will take fancy vacations once we’re married.  We would probably prefer to volunteer.  I know that this trip is truly a once in a lifetime experience.

In Bali, AJ and I can afford what in most other countries would be luxury accommodations.  We will visit Ubud and Sanur.  In Ubud, we can afford a private villa with a private swimming pool and in Sanur, we can afford a private bungalow that is pretty close to the beach!  Yet it’s significantly cheaper than one night in a regular hotel in New Jersey on the same date.

Once there, we can have a nice meal for two people for under $10!  So yes, Bali is very far away and traveling there will cut some time off of our trip (it’s technically a 10-day honeymoon, but only 8 days in Bali), and we may experience jet lag, but we will bet to experience all of the beauty of Bali without spending a huge amount of money.  I can’t wait!

Wedding gifts

Apparently it’s now a thing for the bride and groom to give each other gifts.  I didn’t know this, but have stumbled across the topic during my wedding planning.

I love gifts, but if we truly understand the purpose of a wedding, there should be no need for extra, tangible gifts.  AJ is giving me the gift of himself and I am doing the same to him.  We are becoming one union under God.  What greater gift can there be than that?

I feel like giving him a tangible gift would almost undermine the beauty and significance of matrimony.  Here is a nice watch/thermos/[insert man gift here] for you because giving myself to you isn’t enough.  Spending thousands of dollars on this wedding isn’t enough.  Traveling to Bali for our honeymoon isn’t enough.  I think this watch will be what really proves my love.

I would like to write a letter to AJ for him to read on the morning of our wedding, but that’s it.

Maybe if couples would stop co-habitating and sleeping together before marriage, they wouldn’t feel the need for a separate wedding gift.  For those couples, the wedding changes very little.   I guess they need the diamond necklace to make their day complete.  I’m truly sorry for those couples because they have no idea how life-changing marriage could be if they had put things in the proper order.


I know that there are many other aspects of wedding planning that I didn’t mention.  DJs, favors, cake, room blocks, invitations, and on and on.

Honestly?  Just writing about all of this is beginning to get to me.  Maybe cathartic at the start, but now it’s getting old.  You get the idea.  I want the wedding because of the actual marriage.  I don’t care about the extra extravagances.  I don’t want to feel like a queen.  I want to feel like myself.

I want to give myself to AJ fully through the sacrament of marriage, during which time we will become one flesh.  I want God’s blessing for our marriage and I want to enjoy spending time with my closest family members and friends.

I am excited to leave for our honeymoon the following day and after the honeymoon, move in together as a couple for the first time.  All of that is what is important; not the hair extensions, fake tans, and false eyelashes.

 

 

“Bomb Cyclone” in New Jersey

This past Thursday here at the Jersey shore, we had what the news outlets were calling a “Bomb Cyclone.”  I’m not a meteorologist, so I don’t really know what that means.  In lay man’s terms, it means a huge, windy snow storm.

I was hoping for a lot of snow, but last year there was hype about a different snow storm that never really materialized into much.  Schools had closed the night before and we didn’t really get much snow.

This time was very different.  I woke up on Thursday to huge snow drifts.  It was difficult to tell how much snow we actually got here because it was extremely windy, so snow was being blown into massive snow drifts.

I thought that AJ and I could go outside to play in the snow, but we didn’t last too long.  The wind was insane and if you faced it, the snow pelted you in the face, which wasn’t exactly comfortable.

But we still had some fun before going inside for hot chocolate:

2017: My Year in Review

As I’ve done for the past three years (201420152016), here is my 2017 year in review.  Last year, I was incredibly thankful for having met my new friends from Bible study and starting a new relationship.  Now, I have even more to be grateful for this year.  So here is what happened since last year:

January:

-AJ and I rang in the new year at Devin and Elise’s wedding in Connecticut

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-Then we went hiking at Lover’s Leap in New Milford, CT and Kent Falls in Kent, CT the next day

-Frost Valley in Claryville, NY

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-I met up with Lizzy in Philadelphia since she was there for clinicals for vet school (before graduating in May!!!)

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-Camden Aquarium with AJ

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-Hiking with AJ and Bolt in Freehold

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February:

-Hiking at Lover’s Leap in New Milford, CT again with AJ

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-Grandma’s birthday party

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-Valentine’s Day dinner at Rooney’s in Long Branch

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-Going to Absecon Lighthouse, the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and Lucy the Elephant in Margate with AJ, Sway, and Denielle

March:

-My mom’s birthday

April:

-Escape room in Freehold with AJ, Daniel, and Brady

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-AJ’s 25th birthday party

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-United States Marine Corps Educator Workshop in Parris Island, South Carolina

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-Sway’s Confirmation at the Easter Vigil

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-Easter in Connecticut

-Hiking at Bushkill Falls for AJ’s birthday

-Finishing the Spartan Beast with AJ in Vernon, NJ

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May:

-Bible study at the Freehold Mall

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-Battleship USS New Jersey in Camden

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-Father Larry’s talk with Bible study

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-Abby & Lauren’s Irish step dancing recital

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-My cousin Lauren’s first communion

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June:

-Scoring AP exams in Tampa, Florida

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July:

-Acro yoga in my back yard

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-4th of July in Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday

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-Vacation in LBI with my mom

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Barnegat Lighthouse

-Churrascaria for my early 29th birthday dinner

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-Acro yoga attempt #2 in my back yard

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-Volunteering in Uganda with Go Be Love International.  Sole Hope in Jinja

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-Free day at the Nile River

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August:

-Volunteering with Go Be Love International at Amani Baby Cottage in Jinja

September:

-Phil and Marissa’s wedding in Pennsylvania

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-Chris and Grace’s wedding in Pennsylvania

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-Visiting Franciscan University for the first time since I graduated 7 years ago

October:

-Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook

-Getting engaged on October 9th

-Connecticut for a family party

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-Pro-Life dinner at Doolan’s in Spring Lake

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-Lizzy visited & we went Halloween bowling

November:

-AJ’s cousin, Jared, took engagement photos for us

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-Celebrated Thanksgiving with AJ’s family in Somerset, NJ

-Hiking at Hartshorne Park

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December:

-Christmas Eve in Connecticut at Grandma & Grandpa’s house

-Christmas Day in Connecticut: morning at Grandma & Grandpa’s house, shoveling snow, and then Christmas Day at Aunt Suzi & Uncle Bob’s house

-Young Adults in Faith Christmas celebration at St. Robert’s in Freehold

2017 was a great year.  Looking back at January, when AJ and I had only been together for a month, I never expected that by New Year’s Eve, we would be planning a wedding, figuring out where we want to live, and having intense conversations about the future.  So much can change in one year and I am thrilled to see what 2018 entails.

I thank God for all of His abundant blessings and pray for an amazing 2018.

 

 

God’s Perfect Love Story

It’s amazing how much life can change over the course of one year and how God’s plans are far superior to our own plans.

Back in October of 2016, I was finally feeling joy again after a rough start to that year.  I was thankful for my apartment right by the beach, for my career as a high school English teacher, and for my Bible study, which I had found just a few months back.

Everything was going well.  While out for a run with my friend, Gabriella, I had commented to her about how I was really content with my life.  She immediately replied, “You know what that means, don’t you?”  She explained how I would probably find a new relationship since I wasn’t actively seeking one.  I laughed and shrugged it off.

But as the weeks passed, I found myself drawn to AJ every time we would meet at our weekly Thursday night Bible study.

The first time I met AJ at Bible study, I actually had him pegged as a dumb jock.  He speaks somewhat slowly, so I just pictured the stereotypical attractive football player who has little intelligence.  I didn’t even know his name.  His friend, Sway, introduced him as “Gaines,” so it actually took me a few weeks of Bible study before I learned that his name was AJ…and months before I knew that his actual name was Alan.  

How wrong I turned out to be with my dumb jock assumptions.  Once he opened his mouth about the Scriptures, I knew that he had a phenomenal knowledge of the Bible.

As weeks passed, I noticed how similar we were, primarily how we both had to work at finding a balance between our careers, our workouts, and our faith journeys.  I was impressed when AJ told me about the commitment that he made to God, promising that he would not work out for more time in any given day than he had spent in prayer.  That blew me away.  

After previous failed relationships, I had started to doubt that I would ever find a guy who was quite as interested in his faith as I was.  And yet here I was, feeling completely humbled by AJ.  I knew that in all of my marathon training, there were many days when I had run for two or three hours, but I definitely had not also spent two or three hours in prayer with God.  I actually felt intimidated by AJ and his faith, even unworthy at times, not thinking that I was holy enough to push him further in his faith journey.

I started looking forward to Bible study even more than I previously had, always hoping to be in AJ’s group when we would split up, or trying to sit near him during dinner.  However, AJ seemed to be a lot younger than me.  I didn’t really know his background, but I knew that he was studying for his physical therapy boards after having recently graduated from college.  I assumed that he was around 22 years old.  I was 28 at the time, so I viewed him as the cute guy at Bible study who I had a bit of a crush on, knowing that nothing would ever come of it.

Wrong, once again.

Yes, he had only recently graduated from college, but that’s because he was earning his doctorate for physical therapy.  Once I learned that and knew that he was only four years younger than me, I was even more interested in him.

On October 8th, I went to Catholic Underground in New York City with some of my friends from Bible study.  AJ was just a few weeks away from his boards for physical therapy, so he was studying during the drive up to NYC.  I was sitting next to him in the back seat, quizzing him on his notes and also chatting about life to him and the rest of our group.

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During adoration, I noticed that he took out his phone.  Initially, I totally judged him, wondering what could be so important that he would look at his phone during adoration.  Then I realized that he was actually looking up the words to the Hillsong United song, “Touch the Sky,” which was being played.  And then I I noticed how he was singing aloud — something that isn’t that common among the Catholic men I see at any given Sunday Mass.

At the end of the night, I told AI that I would pray for his boards and he told me that he would pray for my upcoming marathon.  It turned out that these significant events were both happening during the same week: my marathon on October 23rd and his exam on October 27th.

We didn’t talk much outside of Bible study at that point because we didn’t even have each other’s numbers.  He sent me a private message on Slack, the app our Bible study uses to inform everyone about our events.  He said that he hoped that my race went well (but he was a little early, so I thanked him and explained the actual date of my race), and I promised him that I would pray for his exam.

I always try to pray for people when they need me to, but often I forget to pray at the exact right moment when their test or other significant event is happening.  Not this time.  I couldn’t believe how many times I thought of AJ and his exam on October 27th.  Even while I was at work, I kept thinking about the test and how he was doing, saying a little prayer every time I remembered.

October 27th was a Thursday, so we had Bible study that night.  He came late since he was busy that day, but I remember feeling so excited to see him since I had prayed for his test so much that day.  We didn’t really get to talk, but I was so hopeful that he would pass.

The following Thursday, November 3rd, I hosted Bible study at my apartment.  It turned out that a larger group than normal was available that night, so we faced a good problem: too many people here for Bible study.  I made penne a la vodka with chicken and squished 15 of us into my living room.

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It was a very warm fall last year, so I was always looking for people to come kayaking with me.  I posted an open invitation on Slack, but I did secretly hope that AJ might take me up on my offer for anyone to join me for kayaking.  He responded that he was interested, so we exchanged numbers, waiting for a nice day to kayak.
Before we actually had time to go kayaking, my friend, Kate, invited a bunch of us to go to a bar crawl in Asbury Park to raise money for the Covenant House on November 5th.  I don’t drink at all, so a bar crawl was not very high on my list of desired things to do, but I was excited that I would get to spend time with Kate and Gabriella, and I was hoping that AJ might come as well.  Gabriella and I planned to bike to Asbury, so I was excited to at least have fun with her and Kate.

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In the end, the bar crawl was great.  AJ and I talked here and there throughout the day, but we also spent time talking to other friends.  I was able to catch up with some of my teammates from a relay race that we had completed in August.  

Then we got to the last bar, Johnny Mac’s, and some of the bar crawl crew had gone home for the night.  There was an outdoor bar that had these huge heaters blasting (it was November in New Jersey, after all), but nobody wanted to sit directly under the heaters because it was so hot.  Well, I quickly learned that both AJ and I love being hot.  We sat at the bar under those heaters for a long time, just chatting and getting to know each other.  I knew for sure at that point that I was interested in him, and I was hoping that the feelings were mutual, but I really wasn’t sure.  I’ve always been pretty terrible at knowing when guys are interested in me.

Soon after that night, we were started hanging out together pretty often, since I was free every afternoon after work and AJ hadn’t yet gotten hired as a physical therapist since he was waiting on his license to come in the mail.  It also helped that I had extra days off from work for teacher convention.

I’m so thankful for this time that we had because if he had already had a job when we first met, we never would have been able to hang out.  God’s perfect timing was definitely at work.

On Tuesday, November 8th, AJ and I got to go kayaking on Shark River when I got out of work.  We kayaked and talked and had a really good time.  The following day, Wednesday, we went to see the movie Hacksaw Ridge.  I remember texting Gabriella about it, unsure whether or not it was a date, not knowing whether I should pay for my own ticket or not.  In the end, he planned to get to the theater before me to get the tickets, so I just figured he would get the tickets.  But then we both showed up at exactly the same time, so when the cashier called him up, I just let him purchase both of our tickets.  He told me later on that he did not intend the movies to be a date, but he realized that I may have thought that when I let him pay.  Regardless, it was a great movie.  

On Thursday, we had a young adult Mass at my church, followed by fellowship at a local bar, Anchor Tavern.  

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Because I was one of the people organizing the event, I didn’t have time to talk to AJ because I had to walk over to Anchor Tavern first to make sure that the reserved tables had been set up for us.

I sat at a table, just hoping that AJ would end up near me.  That event had a great turnout, with over 20 of us at the bar and many more who attended the Mass.  AJ did, in fact, sit near me.  This time, I really felt like he was interested in me, even though I was still a bit unclear on the whole situation.  

The next day, Friday, we went hiking at Hartshorne Park in Atlantic Highlands.  Unfortunately, AJ didn’t have his own car at this point.  He had to borrow his brother’s car, so we were only able to hike for a short time before he needed to return the car.

Then on Saturday, a group of us from Bible study were driving to the campus ministry house at Rider University to film this video.  That was the fifth consecutive day that AJ and I had been together.

Some time during that week I had talked to Gabriella, completely unsure whether or not he was interested in me.  I felt like he had to be since we were spending so much time together, but at the same time, he would always just say goodbye when he left, not really hugging me goodbye or anything.

The following week, we went kayaking again on Wednesday, November 16th.  At one point, though, he mentioned a friend who may have been interested in someone else at Bible study and he said how he didn’t want Bible study to become a singles group.  When he said that, I was really confused.  Did he direct that towards me, trying to show me that we were just buddies and that no relationship would come out of all of our hang-outs?  Or did he just mean that he didn’t want his friend to come to Bible study with the sole purpose of finding at mate?  I was extremely confused.

On Thursday, we had Bible study Friendsgiving.  I had to arrive late since it was the same night as parent-teacher conferences, but I was glad that I got to at least come to part of it.

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Then on Friday, we had a holy half hour in Freehold, followed by fellowship at Moore’s Tavern.  It was pretty loud in the bar that night, so it was difficult to talk to people.  Every time AJ tried to talk to me, he put his hand on my back to pull me closer to him so that we could hear each other.  I remember how tingly his touch felt every time he put his hand on the small of my back.

We talked about Spartan races and I told him about one that I was planning to sign up for.  He was interested and said that he was going to look into signing up for the same race.  He said that he could help me to increase my strength and I could help him to get back into a running routine.  He reminded me that Spartan training came with one stipulation — that he would not work out for more hours a day than he spent in prayer or at church.  I thought that was incredible.

He also invited me to go to a party that his parents were throwing for him the following weekend to celebrate his graduation and passing the boards.  Later on, I asked Gabriella if she had been invited.  When she said no, I was pretty confident that he had invited me because he was interested in me.

The following weekend, on Saturday, November 20th, we helped Kate deliver Thanksgiving baskets to families in need.  Then AJ and I went to Twin Lights in Highlands, before hiking for a really long time again at Hartshorne.  It was absolutely one of the most fun days that I had ever had.  We had so much fun doing such ridiculous things and making up silly games.  We ran through the reeds, played hide and seek, climbed fallen trees, played balancing games, Simon Says, you name it.

Then we created a game where one of us would close our eyes and the other person would try to lead us through the woods.  We were in a really thick part of the woods, so it was relatively difficult to navigate alone, let alone helping another person.  It was hilarious and we had a great time.

We were there for hours, ultimately hiking five and a half miles (partially because we thought we were going in a loop, but when we got to a dead end, we had to go back the entire way).

Afterward, we were starving for dinner, but we were both filthy from hours of hiking.  It was Jersey Shore Restaurant Week, so we ended up going to Mr. Shrimp for dinner, despite our filth.  Dinner was also hilarious because we kept finding random leaves and branches stuck to our clothing or in our hair.  My diary entry on that day says, “It was such a blast,  I have a feeling he’s going to end up being my next boyfriend but I still want to wait for him to take the lead.  I guess we shall see what happens.”

The following Saturday, November 27th, was his graduation party at his house.  I was a little bit nervous since I had never met his family or friends, and I only knew three people who were going to be there.  It was really fun though.  

During the bonfire, somehow the topic of blood diamonds came up and AJ said how he never wanted to buy a diamond.  I was absolutely blown away.  He was the first person I had ever met who even knew about blood diamonds.  I had been saying for years that I never wanted to own a diamond.  There were just so many things that AJ and I had in common — even our distaste for diamonds.

Later, people started leaving, but he asked if our friends, Sway and Denielle, wanted to stay so that the four of us could play some games, so we played Blokus and Scattergories.  Eventually, Sway and Denielle were also leaving and I really wanted to stay to talk to AJ for a bit since we hadn’t been able to talk much during his party, but it was already getting late.  Fortunately, AJ felt the same exact way.  He has a dog named Bolt who is very mean to most people other than his immediate family.  Knowing my love for dogs, though, he asked if I wanted him to introduce me to his dog.  Of course I excitedly agreed.

I guess I’m a pet whisperer or something, because Bolt was initially scared, but let me pet him.  Eventually, he came right up to me, licking my hand and everything.  AJ couldn’t believe it because Bolt is usually so mean to everyone he encounters.  

AJ and I ended up talking on his couch for hours, before he finally kissed me for the first time.  It’s funny looking back, because I felt like we had been hanging out for such a long time before he kissed me, but really the first time we had hung out together without other friends from Bible study was November 8th, so it was only about three weeks later.  I think it felt like more time than that since there were many times when we hung out for four or five days in a row.

I don’t usually kiss guys who I’m not in a relationship with, but I remember being happy that he kissed me.  He made it clear that we were dating and not seeing other people.  But he wasn’t officially my boyfriend just yet.

We signed up for the Spartan Beast in April.  Looking back, I’m really surprised that I did that because we could have realized that we weren’t right for each other between November and April.  It could have made the race really awkward, but everything worked out just fine.

I can’t remember exactly how long we ended up hanging out and talking that night, but it was really late.  I think I only left his house around 5am, which is a big deal for me since I am not typically a night person.

After that night, we continued hanging out, volunteering, running, working out, and playing games together.

One night we went to look at the ice sculptures in Neptune before walking around Belmar to look at all of the Christmas lights.  We decided to take silly pictures imitating the sculptures.

Everything we did together was an absolute blast.  At this point, I started telling one of my coworkers about him and she said she’d wager that we would be engaged in 6 to 9 months.  I disagreed since we weren’t yet an official couple, but she just told me to wait and see.  It’s funny now, looking back on that conversation, because she had us pegged from the start.

In early December, AJ was hired as a physical therapist, so his life started to get really busy.  I am so thankful for all of the time that we had during the month of November because I didn’t realize how much that was about to change.

On the weekend of December 10th, one of our friends was having a birthday weekend celebration in the Poconos.  I only knew Sway from Bible study, but he had been AJ’s friend for years.  AJ invited me to come with a group of their friends to the Poconos.  I was initially really nervous about going since I didn’t really know their group of friends yet and I wasn’t sure about the sleeping situation.  I didn’t want to have to share a bed with AJ, but I wasn’t sure how much space there would be for everyone.  I also didn’t know how much drinking would be involved, since I am not interested in alcohol at all and I really hate being around drunk people.

In the end, the weekend was a ton of fun and I’m really glad that I went.  I got to know AJ’s friends better, go hiking in the Poconos, go swimming in the pool, and enjoy time with AJ before his life got super busy with work.

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The first night, we slept on the kitchen floor in sleeping bags, but we were talking for such a long time that we looked at the clock at one point and realized that it was 6am.  Oops!  That day we went hiking for hours and I can’t believe that we even had the energy, considering our lack of sleep.

The second night, on December 11th, AJ made it official that I was his girlfriend.  I’m really happy how everything turned out.  I like the fact that we we met in Bible study and got to know each other through our discussions of the Scriptures, rather than on awkward first dates.  There was never a time that I was trying to act a certain way to impress him.  He even heard me talk about things I would rather have him not know about, like some conversations I had about previous relationships.  Initially, I didn’t expect to end up with AJ at all, so I didn’t really care what I talked about when I was at Bible study or with that group of friends, and I think the same was true for him.  We got to know the other person in an open, prayerful environment, which ended up being perfect.

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We never really had a first date because initially we were hanging out kayaking and hiking, but it never really felt like a date.  We were just friends.  Then everything just developed into a relationship with the passing of time.

Fast forward a bit and now we are engaged, set to get married in August 2018.  It’s amazing all that has happened in the past year and I am so thankful that God allowed my path to cross AJ’s path.  We only had a short window of time to find each other between the start of Bible study and the start of AJ’s physical therapy job.

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As I had become older and experienced more failed experiences, I think I had grown a bit cynical about relationships.  I expected to have to settle a bit, never expecting to find someone who was quite as faithful or adventurous as me.  I didn’t think I would find someone who has a passion for mission trips and volunteering.  I didn’t really believe that God had that perfect love story in my cards.  Boy, was I wrong.

Right now next year, I will be married to the most amazing man I know.  I am excited that I will get to call him my husband and that he will call me his wife.  Our short life on earth should be lived with one goal in mind: heaven.  There is nobody I would rather have beside me during that journey, pushing me to grow in holiness each and every day.

 

My Jury Duty Adventures

A few months ago, I received a juror summons in the mail, asking me to appear at the superior court this past Monday for jury duty.

Initially, I was somewhat disappointed about the timing since I had the entire summer off because I’m a teacher, so I didn’t really want to miss a day so early on in the school year.  But once the date approached, I became excited because I was interested in learning more about the whole process.

People had warned me to bring a book because jury duty is usually a long day of waiting.  I read the FAQs online so I would know what to bring and what to wear, and then I waited to check the website the Friday night before my Monday appearance.

I was on call for Monday, which meant that I could go to work on Monday, but I would need to check the website again that evening to see about Tuesday.  I was definitely disappointed that I didn’t get to go on Monday, so when I checked the website that evening and saw my number, I was excited.

I changed my mind about my outfit so many times.  I wanted to look appropriate while also being comfortable.  I didn’t want to wear anything that might cause lawyers to excuse me from a jury if I got that far.  I chose blue dress pants, a white and blue striped shirt, a salmon cardigan, and Sketchers brown simple shoes.  I had my hair in a low ponytail.  I debated not wearing my crucifix necklace because I didn’t know if they would want to avoid a religious person, but then I decided against it.  If they didn’t want me because of my faith, then their loss.

The morning of jury duty was extremely boring.  We reported at 8:30am to sit in a huge room full of people who looked bored and annoyed.  We had the rules explained to us before checking in.

We were told that we would receive a $5 stipend for the day.  I can’t believe it’s only $5.  This is 2017.  You can’t even go buy lunch for $5.  As a teacher, my pay isn’t docked for jury duty, but I can’t imagine being someone who lives paycheck to paycheck.  If they are selected for a 3-day trial, they will receive a measly $15.  That seems absurd.  I know that they say that a person is excused if they can prove financial hardship as a result of being on a jury, but I don’t know how lenient they are with that.

Then, we were told that if we are public school employees, we needed to tell them when checking in because we were not allowed the $5.  He said that we couldn’t “be greedy.”  I was not upset about the lack of $5, but found it funny that he could even say with a straight face that we would be “greedy” if we took the $5.

While in line to check in, they played a video about the importance of jury duty and our rights as citizens of the US.

By 10am, nothing had happened.  Thankfully, there was wi-fi, so I actually got quite a bit of work done on my laptop.  They announced a bunch of names and everyone called got to go up to a court room.  I was hoping to hear my name, but I didn’t.

Around 11:40, a man told us that there were three cases and that the only one that still needed jurors would not be ready to call them up until after lunch.  So while we were supposed to leave for lunch at 12:30, we got almost an entire extra hour!

I had packed lunch, planning to eat outside or in my car, but I have a friend who lives close to the courthouse, so I went to her house since she works from home.  It was really nice to get to have a random Tuesday afternoon lunch with a friend since I’m usually working at that time.

After lunch, we went back to waiting.  Then they started calling off more names.  The line of people was getting really long, so I was not expecting to hear my name.  Then I realized that they were reading the names alphabetically, so I waited in anticipation as they got closer to my name.

Sure enough, I heard, “Stephanie….” and a long pause before the woman butchered my name (typical, since I have a foreign last name).  While other people were visibly upset when their names were called, I had the opposite reaction.  I was absolutely ecstatic to get to go up to the court room and see the whole process.  But because the group of us was so large, I knew that my chance of actually being chosen for the jury was quite small.

We entered the courtroom and each of us had to grab a pad of paper and a pencil.  The judge introduced the lawyers, the plaintiff, and her family to us and then explained a brief overview of the case.  It was a civil case.  The defendant had hit the plaintiff’s car, which had already been admitted, but the plaintiff was suing due to health problems that she has been having in the three years since the accident.

He told us that he would be asking us 22 questions as a group and we were instructed to write down “Yes” or “No” on our notepad.  Once it came time to call jurors into the jury box, anyone who responded “No” to every question could take a seat to be questioned further.  Anyone who responded “Yes” had to go to speak to the judge and the lawyers to see if they could be excused from the case.

The initial 22 questions asked us things like this:

-Did we recognize the plaintiff/lawyers?

-Did we recognize the names of any of the witnesses / medical providers?

-Had we ever been involved in a lawsuit?

I was really excited when we got to question #22 and I had answered “No” to each of the questions.  I was wishing that instead of randomly calling jurors, they could have just asked who answered “No” to everything and even who might volunteer to serve on the jury.  I definitely would have raised my hand.

I snuck a peek at the papers that the people on either side of me had.  Both of them had a few questions marked “Yes.”  The man to my left was clearly aggravated with jury duty and just kept sighing through everything.  And then there I was, hoping and even praying (I know, I’m ridiculous, but I really wanted to experience court) that I would get called.

Most people had answered “Yes” to at least one of the questions, so it took forever to get seven people into the jury box.  Once they got to the seventh person, I was feeling disappointed.

Then the judge told them that he would ask them more questions so that the lawyers could get to know them.  He explained that the lawyers had a certain number of jurors that they could excuse for any reason, which is called a peremptory challenge.

These questions went as follows:

-Occupation / former occupations if you were in other fields

-Household – spouse? his/her occupation / children? their occupations

-Hobbies

-Favorite TV shows and new sources

-If you could speak to anyone, dead or alive, for 15 minutes, who would it be and why? (excluding anything religious and family)

-Is our country too litigious or is it too strict in its regulations that prevent people from suing others?

-Would you make a good juror and why?

Since I had all the time in the world while sitting there, I wrote down my answers to each of the questions.  I was struggling with the one about which person I’d like to speak to.  I’m glad that I wasn’t juror #1 because she didn’t have any extra time to think about her responses and she was visibly nervous.

I first thought of Jesus, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi, but they’re all religious.  Then I thought of the machine gun preacher.  Nope, still religious.  I have always loved Eminem, so I wrote his name down first, but even though I love his music, I think it would actually be terrifying to speak to him in person, and I would probably have nothing to say.  I settled on Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone.  I thought that might be a risky answer since it’s very different from everyone else’s answer, but it was the best option I could come up with.

Jurors kept getting eliminated left and right and I found the whole process fascinating.  I loved hearing all of their answers.  More people watch the Food Network than I had realized.  Nobody has any opinion about whether or not people sue too much.  That baffled me since I feel like I have an opinion on everything.  Most people also didn’t really have hobbies.  Their hobbies were just playing with their kids and grandkids.  I thought that was a little sad.  I know I’m younger than everyone else who was questioned, but I’d like to think that I will have something else that I enjoy doing in my life other than playing with grandkids.  Some people mentioned different types of sewing or painting.  One lady was a drummer.  But most of the responses were dull.

I’m really interested in racial equality in our country and I’m currently reading a book called The New Jim Crow about mass incarceration in the United States today and how much racial discrimination exists within the justice system.

In this case, everything the book said was absolutely true.  Now, this was not a criminal case, so it’s a bit different than the cases against drug dealers, or people caught with drugs or weapons, but I was still observing everything.

The plaintiff was an African American woman.  The judge and all three lawyers were white.  The first seven jurors were all white.  I started looking around the courtroom at the other potential jurors.  There had to be over 60 people in that room and there was not one African American.  There was one Hispanic woman and one Indian woman.  Everyone else appeared to be Caucasian.

I know that alone does not mean that the case would involve any racial discrimination, but it sure does make it more likely.  From this experience, I would argue that a jury is definitely not a random sampling of people in a particular county.  Anyway, I could get carried away with all of this, but back to my actual experience yesterday…

While listening to each of the potential jurors, I was trying to guess which ones would be excused.  I was correct about many of them.

-That lady has a husband who is a physician and her children are also physicians, so they’ll eliminate her since it’s a carse involving bodily injury. “Juror #2, thank you, but you are excused.”

He said he would meet his great-grandfather.  They clearly said not to choose a family member.  I would eliminate him for being a bad listener.  Yep, juror #4 was excused as well.

Her boyfriend is a state trooper and she hesitated for way too long when they asked her if she would be able to be impartial.  Juror #5, gone.

-She just keeps saying how nervous she is.  I don’t think they’ll like that she’s terrified this entire time.  How will she make a good decision if she can’t calm down? Juror #1, dismissed.

I know that this is not nice, but she has lots of visible tattoos and seems kind of trashy.  I doubt they’ll take her. 

Why does everyone keep saying they would be a good juror because they’re honest?  It’s driving me crazy.  You’re in the jury – your honesty doesn’t really matter.  More significant qualities include: ability to remain impartial, decision-making skills, focus, good listener, etc.  All of these women just keep telling us they’re honest.  Congratulations, but you’re not the one on trial!

Okay, you get the point.  Next thing I knew, they were dismissing the woman I had judged for her visible tattoos and my name was being called.

“Stephanie _____?” said the clerk.

“Yes.”

“Did you respond “Yes” to any of my 22 questions?” asked the judge.

“No,” I said, trying to stop myself from grinning.  I grabbed my bag, and walked into the jury box and into the sixth seat.  I had to try really hard to avoid smiling too much.  I didn’t want them to think I was the ditzy blonde who was overly excited about this experience.

I had to answer each of the questions and because I had written them down, I was ready to go, unlike many of the other people who had been in the jury box.  I was getting so tired of hearing the judge repeat the questions over and over again.

I talked about my job as a teacher and my college job as a sports medicine assistant.  I mentioned how I enjoy working out, running, and volunteering.  I said that I get my news from Yahoo, BBC, and Al Jazeera and that I don’t watch any TV, but that Prison Break was the last show I had watched.  I explained why Ishmael Beah was the person I would choose to speak with, mainly because I love volunteering in Africa.  And I told them that I do believe our society is too litigious.  I gave them the example of people suing for their hot McDonald’s coffee and how that type of lawsuit just causes more restrictions on the rest of us.  I said that I did believe that I would be a good juror because I could be fair and impartial.

When I finished, I was nervous that they wouldn’t like my answer about the 15 minute conversation.  The other jurors either couldn’t pick anyone or they picked famous musicians.  Then came little miss Stephanie, explaining why she wanted to talk to a former child soldier.  I though it seemed a little too extreme.  Every time a lawyer would pick another juror to dismiss, I would hold my breath, hoping that my name would not be called.

Then, the defendant’s lawyer said something in lawyer-speak that I understood to mean that he was happy with the seven of us.  My eyes widened.  The judge turned to the plaintiff’s two lawyers.  They went to speak to the plaintiff.  I heard her say “Yes,” and tried to calm myself.  These lawyers also said that they were satisfied.  YESSSS!

While some of the people around me were visibly disappointed, I was so excited that I would get to go to an actual trial.

The judge told us that we should feel proud of ourselves since they had gone through 38 people before selecting the 7 of us.

The judge explained all of the rules.  We were not allowed to speak to anyone about the case until its completion.  We could not research anything regarding the case online, including looking up the names of the judge, lawyers, witnesses, plaintiff, or defendant.

After he explained everything, we were sent home and told to report back at 9am today.

I called my mom, so excited to tell her the news since she had always wanted to serve on a jury and has never been selected.  I couldn’t tell her any details about the case, but I was so excited to see the trial.

Today the seven of us jurors sat in the waiting area.  Some of them seemed content with being selected.  One woman said she had served on a criminal case previously and that she was happy because this was supposed to be a two-day trial, whereas her last one lasted longer than a week.  One man was pretty disgruntled, saying how he must have selected the short straw.

The clerk met us and escorted us into the court room.  After sitting down into the same seats in the juror box as yesterday, he judge said that he had good news for us: the case had settled, so jurors were no longer needed.

What?  My hopes were crushed.  I was so excited to experience the trial.

He explained that situations like this happen sometimes because the parties involved realize that they really have no idea what the jurors will conclude about their case, so it might be more prudent to just settle.

I did not expect that, especially since we had been told that this case had taken three years to get to court.  Oh well.

Despite my disappointment, I was able to get home much earlier than I had planned and the weather was beautiful today, so I even had time to go to the beach, which I couldn’t have done if I had been at work all day.  It’s also good that I’ll get to go back to work tomorrow so that my students don’t need another substitute.

I’m still excited that I was picked.  It was a fun experience.  Maybe one day I’ll actually serve as a juror for a trial.  Or maybe not.  But that was my experience and I really enjoyed it.  Now I won’t be summoned again for at least three years, so I guess we shall see what happens next time.

I know that this blog makes me sound ridiculous, but these past two days were really exciting for me.  It’s kind of a weird topic to be so excited about, but you know, it’s the simple things in life.